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The Hurricane In His Veins

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“Pidge, no offense, but you have officially lost your damn mind.”

Pidge looked up from their furious scribbling and raised an eyebrow at him. They had covered an entire notebook page in what looked like the deranged ramblings of a madman – Lance could make out the words “rosary,” “mirror,” and “Nosferatu.” And, of course, “blood.” That was written at least twenty times, along with “undead” and “bite.”

Hunk wrung his hands from where he sat on the bed. “I know you’ve been, uh, researching this stuff a lot, but Pidge, c’mon, you don’t…you don’t really think the woods are full of vampires, do you?”

Pidge scowled. “You guys don’t believe me. Wow. Even after all the evidence I collected –”

“A bunch of scratched up trees and some dead animals with holes in them doesn’t automatically mean vampires!” Lance exclaimed.

“Dead animals with no blood,” Hunk corrected.

Pidge glared at both of them. “Well, then what’s your highly scientific opinion, huh?”

Lance folded his arms. “Bears scratch trees, and wolves, and probably deer too. And maybe the holey, bloodless animals are caused by…by a weird parasite or something.”

“A weird parasite called a vampire,” Pidge declared.

“No!” Lance threw up his hands. “The Bigfoot on the beach thing two years ago was crazy enough, and the Mothman in the movie theater thing last summer was even weirder, but this is just…I mean, you’ve filled up an entire notebook with this stuff! Don’t you think that’s at least slightly worrying?”

“I think vampires prowling a few miles from town is worrying,” Pidge said, stubborn. Hunk and Lance groaned. “Oh, shut up, you guys just don’t get it.”

“We get that you’re into supernatural stuff, but the whole point of supernatural stuff is that it’s not real,” Lance told them.

“This is,” Pidge insisted. They brandished one of the Polaroid photos like a weapon, waving it wildly in Lance and Hunk’s faces. “Do those marks look like they were made by an animal to you, genius?”

And, okay, Lance could kinda see where they were coming from – the five long scratches on the side of the tree trunk did look like they could’ve been caused by something with humanoid hands and big-ass claws, but still…there was no way. He shook his head. “Pidge, listen, you know we’ll go out there with you if you really want us to –”

“We will?” Hunk said with dismay.

“– but I don’t want you to be disappointed when we don’t find a single Dracula.” Lance finished.

Pidge sniffed. “I almost hope one bites you, just so you believe me for once.”

Lance rolled his eyes. “I’ve already been on three chupacabra hunts, thanks very much. Turned out to be wild dogs with mange every single time.”

“This isn’t wild dogs,” Pidge muttered.

“Giant bats?” Lance suggested. “Huge snakes? Particularly angry birds that poke things to death in pairs? A hunter armed with a tuning fork?”

“None of those things are good,” Hunk said. “Maybe we should just leave the possible-vampires alone.”

“And wait for them to leave the forest?” Pidge snapped. “No way. They’re sticking to rabbits and elk for now, but who knows how long it’ll take for them to get tired of that?”

Hunk shuddered. “Can we just…find a different town to stay in for the summer?”

“Sorry, bud, but I don’t think our parents would agree that ‘vampire-infested forest’ is a valid reason to pack up camp. It took ages to persuade them to let me drive us up here in the first place, remember?” Lance patted his knee and turned back to Pidge. “Okay, if they’re vampires – and that’s a huge if – wouldn’t they have been hanging out in those woods for, like, eternity? You wouldn’t just be noticing this stuff now.”

“They haven’t been there for their whole lives…unlives, whatever. I’m pretty sure vampires are transient, and they move around, even if it’s just in the same large area. Shasta-Trinity Forest is the biggest forest in Cali, y’know. Besides, this isn’t the first time people have noticed this stuff,” Pidge added, and admittedly Lance’s interest was piqued.

“Wait a sec. There’s proof that this happened before?”

Pidge nodded, and flipped through their notebook until they reached a page covered in old newspaper clippings and shreds of printed-out articles. “See? Back in the early 1800s, when people first settled here, there were reports of ‘various beasts more or less drained of blood, through evenly-spaced holes in the jugular veins or carotid arteries.’”

“Spooky,” Lance agreed. “But there was a lot of spooky shit back then. Maybe it was a, uh, less-effective version of Jack the Ripper or something.”

“Everyone thought it was a witch,” Pidge continued, ignoring him. “So nobody dared to go into the woods, y’know, Puritan superstition and fear of nature, et cetera. Except for this one guy – Takashi Shirogane.” Pidge pointed to a small sketch on the clipping, of a handsome Asian man with a strong jaw, messy black hair, and a smile that seemed strangely sad.

Lance raised an eyebrow, aiming for cool though his skin was prickling. “Let me guess…didn’t end so well?”

Pidge shook their head. “He was a Japanese sailor who was rescued from a shipwreck just off the coast, and decided to stay. Sounds like he was respected and a lot of people genuinely thought he might stand a chance against the ‘witch,’ which he dismissed as nonsense. He went into the woods with an axe and a rifle, and just…vanished. Never seen again, not a single trace.”

“Bears?” Lance suggested weakly.

“Bears don’t eat entire people,” Pidge countered. “It would’ve been messy.”

Hunk looked nauseous. “Just, just a thought, but have you ever heard the phrase ‘learn from past mistakes’? ‘Cause that seems really, really applicable right now.”

“Yeah, I have,” Pidge said, and shoved another article at him, dated a few years after the first. Lance peered over his shoulder as Hunk opened it and read the headline.

Three Gold Prospectors Murdered.” Hunk blanched. “Oh god…is that picture what I think it is?”

Lance was really, really glad that cameras sucked back then, because from what he could make out, the photograph was of three corpses covered in blood, their necks twisted at unnatural angles. “Jesus,” he whispered.

Pidge stabbed their finger against the page. “This is the work of the unholy Vampyre, there can be no doubt.”

“That is a much cooler spelling of vampire,” Lance said.

“Well, there you go, case solved, awesome, guess we don’t have to wander around in the dark after all!” Hunk squeaked.

Pidge folded their arms. “Oh, yes we do. We won’t be defenseless, though – I have enough garlic, crucifixes, iron, and stakes for each of us.”

“And if those don’t work?” Lance asked.

“I thought you said there were no vampires,” Pidge retorted. “So you should be fine.”

*

Rosewood was the most cliché, picturesque small town imaginable. Sandwiched between the forested wilderness of the Trinity Alps and the city of Redding, it boasted a population of barely one thousand people, most of whom were over the age of fifty-five.

The Holts were one of the few exceptions to that – three years ago, Samuel and Colleen Holt had both gotten job offers in Redding; Samuel at Mercy Hospital and Colleen at Shasta High School. Pidge’s older brother Matt, who was a senior at the time and planning to go to college at Santa Clara, was happy to move away from sunny Los Angeles. But Pidge had put up more of a fight. As in, Pidge had locked themselves in their room for three days and refused to come out until Matt forcibly removed the doorknob.

There had been a lot of crying – Pidge had moved to L.A. in sixth grade, an awkward short kid with glasses too big for their face, standoffish, smart-alecky, and not exactly a people person. But Pidge had clicked with Lance and Hunk right away. Lance and Hunk had been inseparable since kindergarten, after they’d managed to build a Lego replica of the Death Star together, which had been pretty awesome considering it was built by five year olds. Lance still had pictures of it somewhere.

Anyway, Lance and Hunk took Pidge Holt under their wings and they became the Three Musketeers, partners in crime all through middle school and beyond, and so when Pidge had to move away in sophomore year, it was A Big Deal. Like, such a big deal that Lance, who had just gotten his driver’s license at the time, begged on his hands and knees to drive up with Hunk to visit Pidge for the summer.

Miraculously, Lance’s parents had said yes. No, that was a lie. They flat-out refused to let Lance drive anywhere that summer, let alone with Hunk in the passenger seat. Hunk’s moms were no doubt relieved by the eventual decision to have Matt drive them up instead. It was a long way from L.A. to Rosewood, but man, it was worth it.

And Lance had driven them up all by himself this summer, thank you very much.

Which was why he was currently wondering if that had been worth all the effort if it was only going to end in him dying in the middle of the woods.

Lance was a city boy, okay, he wasn’t going to deny that. This nature thing was not doing it for him. He was pretty sure he’d had at least ten bugs fly into his face, some of which were alarmingly large, and every little creak and snap around him made him flinch. Because it was really, really dark out there – his flashlight barely penetrated the shadows, and there was no light pollution out here, so the sky overhead was black and endless, stars blocked out by the treetops, moon barely a sliver. Lance grumbled under his breath and pulled his jacket tighter around himself as he walked into a wide clearing – Pidge was probably just waiting by the tree line and smugly taking notes while he and Hunk trudged around in the pine needles.

An owl hooted loudly and Lance swore so vehemently that if there were any stupid vampires around, it probably would’ve scared them off. Or so he hoped. Or were vampires drawn to swearing because they were evil? Lance didn’t know, but he was kind of wishing he hadn’t refused the string of garlic Pidge had offered him. It was spooky out here.

Crunch.

Lance stopped walking. That hadn’t been a regular forest sound, he was pretty damn sure. It sounded like a footfall. Oh god, please let it be an animal and not a bear, Lance prayed. Maybe an elk. A nice elk. A baby elk. Or a bunny. Please, please, please, let it be a bunny.

Lance turned, slowly…and almost fell on his ass when he saw the figure standing across the clearing, face pale and eyes glowing a faint yellow in the darkness. Lance’s flashlight beam cast shakily over the figure and it flinched back, but Lance saw the guy’s face, androgynous to the point of pretty, shaggy black hair falling over his brow, eyes wide and dark, but most importantly, lips parted and sharp white fangs gleaming.

A cry died in Lance’s throat and he stumbled frantically backwards, only to trip over a tree root and fall back against a pine tree, dropping the flashlight, the tree bark rough on his back through his hoodie and scraping his palm where he caught himself.

The cut was shallow, little more than a rug burn, but the guy – vampire, he was a literal vampire – noticed it immediately. His nostrils flared, pupils dilating and body gravitating towards Lance like a straining hound, his mouth opening wider and head tilting. He was scenting, and the hunger in his expression was unmistakable as he took a step forward, then another, moving in a way that Lance could only describe as prowling. The flashlight lit up the clearing unevenly from where it had fallen, making the whole scene look even more like something out of a shitty horror movie.

Lance grabbed the crucifix hanging on his belt and shoved it out in front of him. The vampire stopped, paused, tilting his head and blinking at the new object with apparent curiosity, and slight confusion. Then his mouth quirked and he snorted, continuing to advance. Lance tried to move, tried to run, and suddenly found that he couldn’t. He couldn’t even open his mouth to scream, trapped against the tree, unable to look away from the vampire’s steady golden gaze.

When the vampire reached the crucifix, he easily plucked it out of Lance’s fingers and tossed it to the ground alongside the flashlight, utterly undeterred. Lance’s breath shallowed as the vampire leaned in, intent, reaching for his cut hand. Lance’s wrist twitched abortively in his grip – this thing was strong, even if he was shorter than Lance, and there was no way Lance could get away if he decided he didn’t want to let go. The vampire lifted Lance’s hand towards his mouth and Lance made a strangled sound of terror and dismay – it was his right hand too, fuck, he really needed that –

The vampire licked him.

Lance stared. “Um,” he said, shaky. “What…what the fuck, dude?”

The vampire was licking the scratches on his palm in long, slow laps, eyes hooded. There was barely any blood, but he seemed determined to get every last drop, and though Lance waited tensely for the sharp prick of teeth, it never came. Instead, he just continued to lick, harmless as a kitten, and if Lance wasn’t mistaken he was purring. The vampire’s grip on his arm gentled, still too strong for Lance to break, but his thumb was reverently rubbing small circles over the veins in Lance’s wrist.

Lance half-expected him to have wickedly curved claws, but they were just normal, human-looking nails. In fact, the guy looked mostly human – minus the glowing eyes, the fangs, and the unnaturally pale tint to his skin. But, Lance couldn’t help but notice, his cheeks seemed to be flushed when he lifted his head from Lance’s hand.

Lance didn’t have long to ogle him, because then the vampire pinned him against the tree. Lance did scream then, and struggled – whatever hold the vampire had over him seemed to have suddenly broken – maybe he was distracted. The vampire growled and slapped a hand over his mouth, voice low in Lance’s ear as he hissed, “They’ll hear you.”

Lance gulped. “Who?”

“Galra,” the vampire said with obvious distaste. “They’d…mmm, why do you smell so good?”

The vampire’s face was pressed against his neck and his body was flush against Lance’s; hard, lithe muscle. Lance couldn’t move a single inch. He squeezed his eyes shut. “Don’t,” he gasped, heart pounding. The vampire was nuzzling into his throat, and Lance could feel his breath on his skin, which was…well, not hot, actually, not at all. Not cold, either, just kind of…lukewarm. It was weird. It was even weirder when the vampire licked him again, this time right over his pulse point. Lance jerked and made a bizarre whimpering noise that he was going to be really embarrassed about later, if he wasn’t dead by then. The vampire’s open mouth slid wetly over his throat like a sloppy kiss, fangs barely covered by his lips, one hand tight on Lance’s wrist and the other covering his hip.

Lance was scared but also kinda turned on, which was even scarier.

The vampire hummed and inhaled deeply. “So different,” he mumbled, half to himself.

“Keith! Get away from him, now.”

The new voice startled them both. It was loud and male and distinctly authoritative, and the vampire leapt away from Lance as if burnt, looking very guilty. Lance looked around wildly for the source of the voice…and then saw a pair of slitted golden eyes glowing from the darkness, out of the flashlight beam’s range. There was another one?

“Keith,” the voice said again, warning, and the vampire – Keith? The vampire was named Keith? – slunk away, towards the other pair of eyes. Lance stood frozen against the tree, vampire spit drying on his neck and palm.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Keith said to Lance, shoulders hunched and mouth twisting. “Go away. Or they’ll kill you.”

Then he slunk away into the shadows, and the other vampire disappeared along with him, leaving Lance alone in the clearing.

Lance leaned his head back against the tree and stared up at the stars through the treetops, panting and shaking uncontrollably. “I hate you so much, Pidge,” he whispered.

Chapter Text

“He licked me!” Lance shrieked hysterically for the third time. “Ohh my god, it was horrible, I thought I was going to die, the dumb crucifix didn’t do shit, his fangs were like right there, and his name was Keith, how ridiculous is that –”

Hunk squeezed his shoulder awkwardly. “Uh…no offense, but…you sure it was a vampire and not just some really drunk guy?”

Lance gawked at him, betrayed. “Hunk! You wound me! I think I know actual fangs when I see ‘em, and plus his eyes were glowing! Alcohol doesn’t do that!”

Pidge was taking notes, typical. They also looked very smug. “What’d I tell you? This is what happens to skeptics.”

“You guys seriously didn’t see anything?” Lance asked. “There was another one, another vampire who told Keith to stop, and that’s how I know his name.”

Pidge blinked. “Really? So…maybe those vampires don’t go for human blood?”

Lance flushed. “Pretty sure they do.”

“Then maybe they’d already eaten? Or…” Pidge frowned, tapping their pencil against their chin. “Or maybe they actually have some kind of conscience, and choose not to go after humans.”

“But you said this guy tried to bite you,” Hunk pointed out.

Lance scratched his head. “I don’t know if he was trying, actually,” Lance said. “If he was, he wouldn’t have had to try very hard – I couldn’t move.”

Pidge and Hunk paused. “Whoa, what? Explain,” Pidge demanded.

“He did something, with his eyes, it was like I was paralyzed,” Lance said. “I mean, sort of paralyzed, like I could move but only if he wanted me to. And…and then whatever it was went away after he tasted my blood, like maybe it broke his concentration?”

“A vampire’s thrall,” Pidge said. “Holy shit, I thought that part was too wild to be true.”

Hunk raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t know you thought anything was ‘too wild,’ Pidge.”

“Oh, hush.” Pidge flipped through their notebook for a bit until they found the right page, brow furrowing. “Yeah, here it is. A vampire can use its thrall to subdue potential prey via prolonged eye contact, causing the prey to be incapable of flight or fight.”

“That’s horrifying,” Hunk said faintly.

Lance nodded. “It wasn’t exactly fun.”

Pidge looked back up at him. “You need to go find that vampire again, Lance.”

“Excuse me?” Lance spluttered. “Did you not hear the part where I nearly died?”

“No,” Pidge said. “I heard the part where Keith the vampire didn’t kill you, though.”

“Pidge, I am not going back out there. He even told me not to! He said…” Lance faltered, remembering. “He mentioned something called the Galra. Said they would kill me if I came back.”

Pidge did look a little wary. A little, before they shrugged and said, “Well, we’ll send you with more weapons this time. Crucifixes don’t work, so it’s safe to say all the other religious stuff is bullshit too. So we can try garlic…or maybe not, because we want him to smell you and find you again –”

“No, we don’t!” Lance exclaimed.

Pidge continued. “We can give you an ash or hawthorn stake, but we don’t wanna kill him, that’s a last resort. Also some juniper sprigs, and silver…we can give you a silver ring, how about that?”

“What’s a silver ring gonna do against a vampire?” Lance demanded.

“You need to make sure the ring touches him somehow,” Pidge said. “If it really is a vampire deterrent, he’ll probably make it obvious, flinch back or hiss or something.”

“Very specific, thanks.”

“I dunno, Lance, you’re the new vampire expert since you got licked by one.” Pidge smirked while Lance scowled and flicked an eraser at them. “Anyway, we’ll be close by, and we can go at dusk instead of midnight if that makes you feel better.”

“It doesn’t,” Lance said. “This is a bad idea, I’m telling you.”

Hunk huffed. “That’s exactly what I said, and did anyone listen? Nope. And now Lance got molested by a vampire and you want him to do it again.”

“Oh, c’mon, chin up,” Pidge retorted, “you’re being so wimpy. This is awesome.”

“Says the one who isn’t vampire bait.”

Pidge rolled their eyes. “Not my fault that Keith likes you.”

Lance did not justify that with an answer.

*

He still couldn’t believe he was doing this. Again.

The forest was only slightly less creepy when the sun was going down, and Lance had a single moment of nervous amusement as he realized it was twilight before a twig snapped loudly and he almost had a heart attack. Night hikes were not his thing. Especially now that he knew that there were actual monsters out here, and he was supposed to be actively seeking them out. He twisted the silver ring on his left hand nervously, glancing around and gripping the flashlight with white knuckles.

He had been in the forest for less than fifteen minutes when gold eyes appeared in the gloom – it wasn’t fully dark yet – and Keith stepped out from the underbrush, arms folded, looking much pissier than last time. He also looked…healthier, somehow, with more color in his cheeks and a more natural glow to his previously pallid skin. Still pale, but not quite as corpse-esque. And still very, very pretty.

“I told you to leave,” Keith said, clipped and frosty.

“You also shoved me up against a tree and licked me,” Lance reminded him, impressed by how steady his voice was. “I got some mixed messages.”

Keith faltered, taken off-guard. “I…apologize,” he gritted out. “You interrupted my hunting, and you smell…better than a deer.”

Lance opened his mouth, then closed it. “Uh…thanks? I guess?”

Keith grimaced and glared harder at him. “Do not thank me. Leave this place, now. You are in danger and…what are you doing.”

Lance had started to walk towards him. Keith looked bewildered again. “So you’re a vampire, huh?” Lance asked, aiming for casual and conversational.

Keith’s brow lowered, shoulders tense. “…Yes,” he said, after a beat, watching Lance warily as he approached. “And you are a human. A very stupid human who cannot follow simple directions.”

“A human who’s never met a vampire before,” Lance corrected. He stopped several feet away. “And I wanted to ask you why you didn’t bite me.” Keith’s eyes widened. “Because I was like ninety percent sure you were going to brutally murder me. Still kinda unclear on whether you’re going to, actually.”

“What?” Keith wrinkled his nose. “No! We – I – don’t eat human blood.”

“Why not?”

Keith frowned. “It isn’t right,” he said. “I would not murder a human for food.”

“Just slobber all over him?”

Keith made a supremely frustrated noise. “What do you want, annoying boy?”

“My name is Lance,” Lance offered, and stuck his left hand out to shake. He tried to angle the flashlight beam so it didn’t glint off the metal. Keith squinted at his hand. “You shake it,” Lance told him.

“I know that,” Keith snapped, and jerkily took Lance’s hand – and immediately recoiled with a sharp cry, clutching his fingers and baring his teeth. Lance almost felt bad, until he saw the teeth. Keith took a step back, eyes narrowed.

“Are you okay?” Lance asked, outwardly feigning confusion, inwardly fist-pumping.

“Your ring,” Keith growled. “It’s silver.”

Lance blinked, turned his hand to look at it. It was Pidge’s, a plain silver band with a zodiac sign – Sagittarius – engraved in it. “Oh, shit,” he said. “Sorry, Keith.”

Keith seemed to momentarily forget his pain and looked shocked instead. “How do you know my name…?”

“Last night, when that other vampire was calling you,” Lance said. “Speaking of which, I’m hoping he doesn’t eat people either?”

“He is the one who taught me not to,” Keith said. He hesitated, and looked a bit sheepish. “He would not be happy to know I am consorting with you again.”

“He your dad or something?” Lance ventured.

Keith eyed him, uncertain. “My sire,” he said after a beat.

“Doesn’t that mean father?”

“More like an, uh…older brother,” Keith muttered. “Sort of. It is…a complicated bond.”

“Is he one of those…what did you call them, the Galra?”

Keith immediately bristled. “No,” he snapped. “He is most definitely not. The Galra are evil; they are the true demons, and they are why you should not be here, Lance.”

“Are they vampires, though?” Lance pressed, even though Keith was kinda looming, and his eyes were flaring brighter.

“Yes,” Keith said. “They are not like us, though. They are much, much worse.”

“How so?”

“They murder humans without a second thought, for one thing,” Keith said. “Or they play with their food.” He folded his arms. “There are many of them, and you would be foolish to dismiss their power.”

“If there’s so many of them and they’ve got a taste for human blood, then why haven’t I run into any Galra?” Lance asked.

“Because you have been wandering around our territory,” Keith retorted. “The Galra’s domain is deep in the forest, farther from your human civilization. There is no telling how long it will remain that way, however, since you humans can’t seem to stay put.”

“Whoa, this is your territory?” Lance whistled and looked around. “Nice. I guess. Where do you live, in a cave or something?”

Keith wrinkled his nose. “We live in a house. As people tend to do.”

“Ooh, so like, a witch’s hut? Like in Hansel and Gretel?”

Keith looked at him blankly. “A house,” he repeated. “It’s just a house.”

Lance frowned. “That’s disappointing.” He glanced up at the sky – it was darkening fully, the stars glittering brightly overhead. “So, guess the thing about being burned by sunlight is true, then?”

“Humans are burned by sunlight too,” Keith said. “Vampires are just more sensitive to it. We do not go up in flames, if that is what you think.”

“Oh,” Lance said, deflating a little. “Well, that’s boring.”

“We are nocturnal, though. Less meddling humans are out at night…though you apparently haven’t gotten the message that now is the time for you to be sleeping.” Keith squinted at him. “How old are you? Do you not have school to attend?”

“It’s summer,” Lance said. “And I am a newly graduated adult, thanks very much.” He grinned. “Wait, how old are you?”

Keith shifted cagily. “Older than you,” he said.

“Oh, c’mon,” Lance whined, “you’re not gonna tell me? Can I guess?”

“No,” Keith snapped, “you may not guess, because you need to leave now.” He turned on his heel and started to stalk off.

“Wait!” Lance exclaimed. Keith paused, looking tense and annoyed. “I want to see you again,” Lance told him, trying to sound as genuine as possible. It worked, if the way Keith froze and stared at him was any indication.

“Why?” he gritted out.

“I think you’re really cool,” Lance said.

Keith furrowed his brow. “Vampiric body temperature is normally lower than a human’s, however I –”

“No, no, not cool like that, cool like awesome. Like, I think you’re interesting.”

Keith blinked. “Oh,” he said. “Well. I…when do you want to see me again?”

“Tomorrow night?” Lance asked hopefully.

Keith shook his head. “We will be hunting. It would be unwise of you to interrupt.” His eyes narrowed. “Again.”

“Then the night after that,” Lance said.

“Very well,” Keith said reluctantly. “I will find you then.” And before Lance could say another word, he was gone.

*

“Why do you even have this?” Hunk asked with dismay as he picked up the giant steel net that Pidge had dragged out of the Holt family garage. Pidge had modified it with silver plating spray, which had to be expensive, but Pidge apparently thought it was worth it.

Pidge shrugged. “Matt got it from a friend who did construction stuff. He was gonna use it for some project, but, you know him. Never really finishes anything.”

“Remind you of somebody?” Lance quipped.

Pidge swatted at him with their notebook. “I don’t see you providing us with any vampire-hunting materials, so shut it, Espinosa.”

Lance frowned at the net. “That’s gonna hurt him really bad,” he said.

Pidge saw his expression and elbowed him lightly. “Don’t worry. He could hurt us way worse if he wanted to. Besides, we’re just trapping him.”

“He’s not going to like it,” Lance warned.

“Noted,” Pidge agreed.

Hunk made a despairing noise. “Natural selection is very real, you guys,” he sighed.

*

Lance walked through the forest with dread, the little GPS tracker Pidge had clipped to his belt feeling heavier with every step. He was supposed to find Keith – or rather, Keith would find him – and then Pidge and Hunk would catch up. Lance had a bad feeling about this whole plan, and wondered if Keith would attack them if it went south. He’d claimed not to drink human blood, but…he’d seemed pretty keen on doing that when they’d first met.

“Lance.”

Startled, Lance whirled around. Keith was leaning against a tree, arms folded. “Keith,” Lance said, trying to keep his voice even. “Wow, you really snuck up on me. Uh, how’re things?”

“Things are fine,” Keith replied, taking a step away from the tree and sniffing the air delicately. “You smell scared.” His eyes narrowed. “What is wrong?”

Lance shuffled his feet and willed himself to smell not-scared, however that worked. “No, it’s…I’m good. It’s just kinda freaky to suddenly hear a voice in the darkness, I guess.”

Keith tilted his head. “But you were expecting me.”

“Still not fun to have someone sneak up on you, dude.”

“Vampires are creatures of stealth,” Keith said. “I cannot help it.”

Lance swallowed. “Yeah, got it.” He had to keep up small talk with Keith for enough time that Pidge and Hunk could pinpoint his location. “Um…so, how was your, uh, hunting last night?”

Keith raised an eyebrow. “It was adequate,” he said. “We had elk.”

“How often do you guys need to do that?”

Keith shrugged. “Depends. If we share one deer, we must hunt every other night. If we manage to get one each, we can go up to a week without feeding.” He frowned. “That is not advisable, however.”

“Do you guys go rabid or something?”

Keith shrugged again. “That is…not the word I would use, but not terribly inaccurate either.”

“Did you go rabid when you licked my hand?”

Keith folded his arms. “I thought we had agreed not to speak of that. I apologized. And I did not hurt you.”

“I felt pretty traumatized, dude.”

Keith scowled. “If that is your idea of trauma, then you live a very sheltered life, human.”

“Lance,” Lance reminded him. “And what d’you mean? Clearly I’m an adventurous soul, why else would I be out here?”

“Because you are an idiot?”

“Ouch,” Lance said. “You’re not very nice, are you?”

“Did you expect me to be?” Keith snapped. “I highly doubt things have changed so much that vampires are portrayed as angelic figures in society now.”

Lance snorted. “Uh…maybe not angelic, but have you heard of Twilight?”

“No…?”

“Oh, man,” Lance said with glee. “They’re books about sparkly vampires with lots of feelings. Wait, you don’t sparkle, do you?”

Keith looked mildly disgusted. “Excuse me?”

“Thought not. Hey, can I ask if werewolves are real too?”

Keith laughed. It was a surprisingly lovely sound. “Werewolves? Don’t be absurd.”

Lance gestured to him. “Oh, c’mon, it wouldn’t be that far-fetched at this point.”

“Werewolves do not exist and vampires do not sparkle,” Keith said flatly. “Any other silly questions?”

Lance narrowed his eyes. “Why did you say I smelled good?”

Lance hadn’t been sure if vampires could blush; he didn’t even know if they had blood for that matter, but Keith definitely blushed then. “I was hungry and you were in the way,” Keith gritted out. “That is all.”

But Pidge and Hunk were also walking around in the forest, and you didn’t pounce on them, Lance didn’t say. “Well, what do I smell like?”

Keith’s mouth twisted. “Now, you smell like sweat and old socks.”

“That is a lie and you know it,” Lance exclaimed, offended. “I have great hygiene, and the lotion I use is lavender-scented and very effective against body odor. Plus, my socks are brand spankin’ new.”

“Lavender,” Keith mused. “Hm.”

“So is that what I smell like to you? Lavender?”

Keith blinked. “Oh. Yes.” But he seemed distracted; his eyes had gone weird and hazy, and Lance didn’t totally believe him.

It was then that Lance saw the flicker of movement from the trees, saw Pidge and Hunk creeping up with the net. Lance immediately doubled over, coughing violently in an attempt to muffle the sound of their approach – he had no idea how good vampire hearing was, but the coughing seemed to do the trick.

Keith’s eyes widened and he took a hesitant half-step forward, reaching out but stopping before he even came close to touching Lance. “Are you alright?” Keith asked, and shit, he suddenly looked super concerned. There was something like genuine fear in his eyes, and Lance didn’t understand why until he whispered, urgently, “Do you have consumption? You…you smell healthy, but I know sometimes it is hard to detect –”

Lance straightened up, confused. “Do I have what now?”

Keith opened his mouth to answer, a line between his brows, when Hunk and Pidge threw the steel and silver net over him.

Lance had imagined it would hurt him, but the sound Keith made was chilling in its agony as the metal cords touched his skin. He fell heavily to his knees, writhing against the net and only making it worse – Hunk had been worried that the net wouldn’t be big enough, but Lance saw then that it was too big, and Keith was hopelessly tangled in it, screeching like a wildcat as netting covered his bare arms and even seemed to sear through his jeans. The silver plating left angry red lines over his face and neck and he hissed and spat, eyes flaring fully gold, kicking and thrashing in a blind panic.

Pidge and Hunk were trying to hold the net down with matching expressions of shock. Lance was thinking that this had been an awful, horrible idea, especially when Keith started screaming, “Shiro! Help, help me, Shiro, Shiro, Takashi, please!” and in a blur, a much bigger and much angrier vampire burst out from the trees and into the clearing.

Hunk shrieked and all but leapt away from the net. Pidge scrambled back hastily. Lance was not so lucky and found himself slammed down onto the ground, heavy hand square on his chest as the other vampire snarled into his face, and yep, those were definitely claws digging into his T-shirt, wickedly curved; and if they were sharp enough to carve into pine bark, Lance didn’t want to see what they could do to human flesh.

In a strange moment of clarity, Lance realized that the other vampire was the man from the newspaper clipping, Takashi Shirogane. He had a white forelock of hair and a wide scar over the bridge of his nose that hadn’t been in the sketch, but otherwise, the resemblance was unmistakable.

“Shiro!” Keith screamed again, and the larger vampire, Shiro, growled at Lance as he got to his feet, like a warning to stay down. Gaining a new understanding for the phrase ‘paralyzed with fear,’ Lance did. Shiro hurried over to Keith and the net, wrapping the fabric of his jacket around his hands as he carefully untangled the steel-sprayed-silver cords. Lance could barely see around Shiro’s bulk from where he was lying on the ground, but he saw Keith’s trembling fingers cling tightly to the back of Shiro’s neck as he was finally freed, also clawed. They were scoured with red lines; though as Lance watched the skin began to fade slowly back to its original pale tone. The claws remained.

The two vampires stood; Keith unsteady and Shiro tense with fury. He eyed the net with disgust, cold gaze sweeping over the trio of very, very regretful humans. “Do you all have a deathwish?” Shiro asked.

Hunk and Lance looked helplessly at Pidge, who gulped. “We…we just wanted to know if there were really vampires in these woods,” they whispered.

“Well, congratulations,” Shiro growled, “you found us.” He redirected his glare to Lance, who cowered. “You thought you would trick Keith into a trap, did you? And what would you have done if you’d managed to catch him? Drag him away, lock him up in some lab, let him be put on display in some freak show?”

“No!” Lance protested, because that was fucked up and they hadn’t been planning on doing anything like that at all.

Keith raised his head and pinned Lance with a look of pure betrayal and loathing. “You used me,” he hissed.

“We were just curious!” Lance blurted, panicky. “C’mon, I’m sorry, okay, we’re sorry; we’re too young to die –”

Keith’s glower intensified. “So were Shiro and I. Yet here we are. Dead.”

Hunk whimpered. “Nooo, please don’t kill us, I didn’t even want to do this in the first place!”

Shiro frowned. “We are not in the habit of killing humans, luckily for you. But you are not welcome here, especially if your intent is to hurt us.”

“What’re you gonna do if we come back?” Lance said without thinking.

Keith’s lips peeled back from his teeth, a vicious slice of white in the darkness. “What we do best,” he said.

“No,” Shiro said firmly. “Keith, there will be none of that.” He sighed and looked at the three of them again, this time with less vitriol and more consideration. “How did you even know we were in these woods? We take great pains to remain hidden.”

“Pidge has a thing for snooping,” Lance explained, pointing to the frightened teen in question. “Especially if it involves the supernatural.”

Shiro raised a perfectly arched brow at Pidge. “Y-yeah, Lance is right,” Pidge mumbled. “I got them into this. I found some of the drained animals, and some newspaper clippings, and –”

“You found the animals?” Shiro demanded. “That’s impossible. We dispose of them all where they will not be found, so as to conceal ourselves from curious humans like you.”

Keith growled low in his throat and turned to Shiro. “Unless the Galra are trespassing again,” he snapped. “I told you they were sneaking around and stealing our elk.”

Shiro’s frown deepened. “It would not be the first time,” he admitted. “But, human…Pidge, was it? Strange name.”

“It’s a nickname,” Pidge said. “And it’s not as weird as Hunk.” They gestured to Hunk, who managed a little wave that looked more like a terrified flail. “Lance is the only one with a halfway normal name and even his is kinda weird.” Lance sat up and stuck his tongue out at them.

Shiro snorted. “Hmph. I see. Anyway, you mentioned newspaper clippings as well. Explain.”

“We found a paper with a drawing of you in it,” Lance told him. Shiro blanched, and Lance backpedaled. “You’re Takashi Shirogane, right? It was talking about your disappearance, about how you tried to face the witch or vampire or whatever in the woods, and you were never seen again. Until now, apparently.”

Shiro blinked. “I…I did not know they cared enough to give me an article, let alone a drawing.”

“Apparently so,” Pidge said. “So, what happened? Did those Galra attack you and turn you into a vampire?”

Keith’s grip on Shiro’s arm tightened, and so did Shiro’s jaw. “That is the short version, yes,” he said after a reluctant pause.

Pidge started forward, eyes huge. “So how does that work, exactly? Is it a chemical component in your blood? Does it hurt? Are you technically dead? Can you eat normal food –”

Keith stiffened but to Lance’s relief, Shiro just laughed a bit nervously and said, “Whoa, whoa, slow down. Clearly you have many questions, and…well, you don’t seem to be a genuine threat despite the fact that you have somehow come into possession of a silver net. Which I am going to throw over the nearest cliff as soon as possible, if you don’t mind.” He glanced up at the sky, which was fully dark. “It is rather late. Do you need to return home now, or would you like to return to our home so I can answer your questions properly?”

“Shiro, no –” Keith protested angrily.

“Hush. They are inquisitive youths, not heavily-armed hunters.” Shiro nodded to the garlic and crucifixes looped over Pidge and Hunk’s necks. “You might as well remove those. The garlic is simply smelly and Catholicism, much as it would like to, has no influence over our kind. Whatever herbs and other nonsense you have can go as well.”

“But silver does harm you,” Pidge said, removing the garlic with relief. “And it’s not really a silver net – it’s steel, sprayed with silver plating in a can.”

“That sounds…highly unpleasant,” Shiro said, looking grudgingly impressed. “I hope you have learned your lesson and don’t plan to attack either of us again. One question I will not answer is how to kill us, but I can tell you that staking us in the heart will only make us angry.”

With a sigh, Hunk took a stake out of his pocket and dropped it on the ground alongside all the other useless objects. Keith snorted and folded his arms indignantly. “I do not want them in our home, Shiro,” he tried again. “Especially not him.” Pointed glare at Lance.

“Don’t be so dramatic, Keith, they’re not moving in,” Shiro retorted. “You can even be a hermit in your studio and avoid them the whole time, if you really want to be like that.” Keith scowled and hunched his shoulders.

“Right, then,” Shiro declared, “follow me. And if anyone tries to throw that net on me, I will drag you out of our woods and make sure you stay out. Is that clear?”

“Crystal,” Lance muttered.

“Why do you guys have no sense of self-preservation,” Hunk moaned unhappily as they picked up their flashlights and started off into the forest after the pair of vampires.

“Why don’t you have a sense of adventure?” Pidge countered, and skipped merrily through the trees.

Chapter Text

At first glance, Shiro and Keith’s house was, in one word, creepy.

Not that Lance had been expecting a modern condo in the middle of the forest or anything, but he also hadn’t been expecting a faded gray two-story Victorian, complete with a tower, a wrap-around porch, and a large chimney. It looked eerie and out of place amidst the tall oaks and pines, a relic from the past just like its owners. The walls were covered in climbing ivy, though it wasn’t in disrepair – the paint was chipped and it was clearly very old, steps creaking as the five of them walked up to the door – but the vampires seemed to take care of it.

Inside, it was…surprisingly cozy. There was electricity, which was a far cry from the flickering circles of candles vampires always seemed to have in their lairs in movies. The parlor, as Shiro called it, was painted a cheery shade of yellow, and the sofas were so comfortable that Lance seriously considered curling up and falling asleep on one. The parlor also contained several overflowing bookshelves, a cluttered coffee table, an antique baby grand piano, a boxy old TV set, and dozens of paintings.

There might have been other points of interest in the parlor but Lance didn’t see them because he was stuck on the paintings. They were framed and hung up on the walls in varying sizes, and though Lance didn’t know much about painting they looked to be all from the same artist, and they were beautiful. They had to be expensive – they were museum quality, because although the brushstrokes were messy and the style was distinctly nonrealistic, the detail was amazing. There were some landscapes – some sunsets, some beaches, some night skies, some skylines, and some of animals and flowers too…and there, hanging above the mantel, was a striking portrait of Keith and Shiro sitting side by side, wearing clothes that belonged in a film noir.

Lance must have been staring a little too long, because Keith, leaning against the nearby doorframe, snapped, “What’re you looking at?”

“The paintings,” Lance said honestly. “They’re really good.”

Keith narrowed his eyes like he wasn’t sure if Lance was messing with him or not, then grumbled something under his breath and stomped out of the room and presumably upstairs, judging by the loud thump-thump-thump of his receding footsteps.

Shiro sighed from the other doorway. “Keith doesn’t particularly enjoy socializing,” Shiro apologized. “And he doesn’t know how to take compliments. He’s the one who painted all of these, you see.”

Lance’s jaw dropped. “Seriously?”

“Wow,” Hunk said, awed. “He could be famous, they’re awesome.”

“Practice makes perfect, right?” Pidge said. “Bet you guys have a lot of time on your hands.”

Shiro smiled ruefully. “Yes, we do. We’ve both taken up our respective hobbies – I prefer reading, piano, and aikido, while Keith likes painting, astronomy, and birdwatching slash making all the ravens in the vicinity his minions.”

“Sorry, what?” Lance said, alarmed, because he didn’t want someone with raven minions to be mad at him.

“It started out as a joke,” Shiro explained. “There were these pesky ravens that kept following us everywhere…probably because ravens feed off of carrion, and we were the number one carrion-creators in the vicinity. Anyway, Keith started feeding them scraps –” Hunk wrinkled his nose, “—and the ravens decided he was their new best friend. Ravens remember faces, so they must have passed down the message that Keith equals food through the generations, because now they’ll come whenever he calls and follow him everywhere.”

“That may be the spookiest thing I’ve heard about you guys so far,” Pidge said.

“How…how many raven generations are we talkin’ about, here?” Lance asked.

Shiro shrugged. “Hmm…I’d say it’s close to ten, at this point.”

“And how long do ravens live?” Lance pressed.

“How old are you guys?” Pidge said bluntly.

Shiro shifted. “I can see this might take a while. Would you like anything to drink?”

There was an awkward silence.

“Uh, what do you…have?” Lance ventured.

“Tea, coffee, and wine,” Shiro retorted, rolling his eyes. “We don’t just drink blood, there’s one of your endless questions answered.”

“Wine?” Lance repeated incredulously.

“Ah, I forget, you have drinking ages now. Never mind. It is perhaps not a good idea to be a drunk human in the house of two sober vampires, anyway.”

“Aw,” Lance said, slightly disappointed. Hunk elbowed him and gave him a Mom Look.

“I’ll have some tea,” Pidge said. “Do you have green?”

“Of course. Anything for you two?”

“I’m good,” Hunk mumbled, still looking mildly freaked out about this whole situation.

“Sure the wine offer isn’t still on the table?” Lance wheedled.

Shiro left the room.

“Jeez, these vampires are kinda savage, huh,” Lance said.

“We are extremely cultured and refined, thank you very much,” Shiro called from the kitchen.

Lance grinned. “Guys. They don’t know about modern slang. Do you realize what this means –”

“No, Lance,” Hunk said. “You are not going to educate them about memes.”

They spent several minutes arguing about that, and when Shiro returned with Pidge’s tea and a cup for himself, Lance was trying to persuade Hunk of the societal value of reaction GIFs. Shiro eyed them with bewilderment and handed Pidge their tea. “I must say, you are some of the strangest humans I have ever met,” he said.

“Met with a lot of humans lately, have you?” Lance asked.

“Not lately, no,” Shiro conceded. “We do go into towns occasionally, to get whatever we cannot get here. But we keep a low profile, and with good reason. I expect I don’t have to tell you that you must not breathe a word about us to anyone, or we will be forced to flee and you will learn nothing.”

“Understood,” Pidge vowed. “Our lips are sealed. We don’t want to tell people about you; we actually went looking because we were afraid history might repeat itself, and people might start getting murdered instead of elk.”

“So you thought you would charge into the forest and stop us?” Shiro shook his head. “Your naiveté is charming, but it could get you killed. The Galra certainly would not have hesitated if you had trespassed into their territory instead.”

“Okay, question one,” Pidge said, “who are these Galra?”

“A complicated question,” Shiro said. “They are vampires who, ah, do not see the value in controlling their instincts and retaining their humanity, or any morality at all, for that matter. They are more beastly than us, both in appearance and in nature – I believe when vampires rely so heavily on their baser selves, over time they become them. And many of the Galra are very, very old. Their king, Zarkon, has ruled for many centuries, since before anyone settled these lands.”

“And they feed off of humans?” Pidge asked. “Why isn’t that all over the news?”

“They’re…terribly clever.” Shiro sipped his tea and fidgeted. “They feed off of humans, but no one goes missing. No one in the outside world ever notices all the blood that the Galra spill.”

“So they don’t kill them?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“They’re keeping humans captive,” Lance said suddenly. “Aren’t they?”

“Yes,” Shiro murmured. “They captured them a long time ago, and raise them like cattle, deep in the forest, often underground, where no one will ever find them. I doubt the humans would even have the good sense to want to escape; they’re treated as walking blood bags for their entire life. That is all they know.” Hunk shuddered and Lance echoed him emphatically.

“Speaking from experience?” Pidge asked carefully.

Shiro set down his tea. “What is your question? Speak plainly.”

“Did the Galra capture you?”

“Briefly,” Shiro said after a pause. “I was lucky. They decided to turn me because they admired how stupidly brave I was to go after them. For a year, they tried to integrate me into their twisted way of life, but I resisted. I managed to escape, half-starved and half-mad, and I suppose I caused enough chaos that they decided my absence was for the best. So they let me claim this land as my territory and leave me and Keith alone, for the most part.”

“Were you the one who killed those gold prospectors?” Lance asked.

Shiro blinked. “Oh. That. Yes, that was me. They were very rude men, and came after me with their pick-axes after they saw me feeding. I was not as patient then as I am now, so I killed them.” He sniffed. “It was messy business, but it did dissuade anyone else from intruding.” He took another sip of tea. “Anyway, yes, that’s the Galra in a nutshell.”

Hunk shook his head. “That’s…that’s horrible. Why doesn’t anyone stop them?”

“It’s not that simple. Even if you managed to somehow take down the Galra here, they have garrisons in other forests. To take them down you would need to reach Zarkon, and last I heard he was hidden away in his remote citadel, somewhere in the Siberian taiga.”

“Siberia?” Lance slumped back on the sofa. “So, they’re everywhere, is basically what you’re saying.”

“In most large forests, yes,” Shiro said. “Though this forest’s garrison is one of the more important ones – one of Zarkon’s sons rules over it, Prince Lotor.”

“Sons?” Pidge perked up. “Vampires can reproduce?”

“No, no, all vampires are infertile,” Shiro said. “Son, as in, Zarkon is Lotor’s sire. Zarkon has chosen to sire only those who he wishes to be his heirs, in the extremely unlikely event that he was killed.”

“You’re Keith’s sire, right?” Lance said. “Does that mean he’s like your son, too?”

Shiro frowned. “Er…not exactly. Keith and I have more of a…codependent relationship. Whereas Zarkon treats those he has sired like underlings, or so I imagine.”

Pidge leaned forward. “You’ve met King Zarkon before?”

“He was at Lotor’s garrison for a brief time while I was held prisoner there,” Shiro said shortly. “He is a tyrant. Little more need be said about him. Moving on, you were asking how old we are, correct?”

Pidge nodded eagerly.

“Very well,” Shiro said. “I was born in the Edo period of Japan in the city of Osaka, in the year 1790.”

If Lance had been holding a cup of tea, he would’ve dropped it. He was impressed by how steady Pidge’s voice was when they whispered, “You’re kidding.”

“I am not.” Shiro sighed. “I was turned in 1813, at age 23, and have not found a single wrinkle since.”

“So you guys really are immortal?” Pidge whistled. “Wow.”

“Technically, yes,” Shiro said. “Vampires do age, just…slower and differently than humans. I met a very old vampire once, not a Galra but a loner like us. She was turned five centuries ago – her skin wasn’t quite opaque. It seemed as thin and translucent as parchment, and her hair had turned entirely white. As you can see, I’m halfway there, though I am grateful not to have parchment skin yet.” He ran a hand through his white forelock self-consciously. “Vampires, unlike humans, get stronger with age. We have abilities that can take time to manifest.”

“Such as?”

“I can turn into a cat,” Shiro said.

Lance spluttered. “You’ve gotta be shitting me. If you say it’s a black cat –”

“It’s a black cat.”

“Ay carajo,” Lance muttered. “This is getting wilder by the second.” He threw up his hands. “So, what does Keith turn into? A raven?”

“Keith can’t shift,” Shiro said. “He’s only 127; that power hasn’t manifested yet.”

“Only 127,” Lance repeated faintly. “Wow, he’s practically a baby.”

“What other powers manifest?” Pidge pressed.

“Hmm…flight and the ability to become incorporeal, as in, Zarkon and other ancient vampires can turn into wraiths at a moment’s notice.” Shiro folded his arms. “I’m still waiting for that ability. In addition, some vampires practice what you might call arcane magic – I’ve dabbled in it before, but it can be a very destructive force. All vampires have enhanced senses, speed, strength, healing…the usual.”

“Keith said you don’t burn in the sunlight, though,” Lance said. “Is that true? You can walk outside without turning to ash?”

“Yes,” Shiro said, “but we don’t like to. Sunlight doesn’t just hurt our skin; it lessens our powers, too. Vampires in daylight are more sluggish and vulnerable – don’t get any ideas,” he warned.

Pidge held their hands up innocently. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Sooo…” Hunk said hesitantly, “not to bring up the obvious elephant in the room, but…you and Keith don’t drink human blood, like, at all?”

“No,” Shiro said firmly. “We don’t.”

“I didn’t think vampires could survive off of other types of blood,” Pidge said.

“It’s not…ideal.” Shiro furrowed his brow and looked at them seriously. “Vampires are meant to consume human blood, but animal blood can act as a substitute. We have to feed more often and consume more at once than we would if we hunted humans, but that is a small price to pay for not murdering innocents.”

Hunk, whose moms had recently adopted a vegan lifestyle, said, “I mean, aren’t the elk sorta innocent too?”

Shiro raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps, but we picked the lesser of two evils, I believe.” He snorted. “Besides, elk can get quite nasty when you’re trying to chase them. Antlers are painful.”

“If you did feed on humans, how often would you have to?” Pidge asked. “And does a bite turn a human, or is it more complicated than that?”

Shiro took a long drink of tea and closed his eyes, as if he was summoning up his remaining patience. “When I fed on humans, I would usually have to do so once a week. And a bite does nothing; to be turned the human must be drained of blood and then drink the vampire’s blood. It is a long and agonizing process, and not to be taken lightly.”

When you fed on humans?” Hunk exclaimed.

“There was a time when I did,” Shiro said vaguely. “That time is long past. You have nothing to fear from me now – or from Keith, who is all bark and no bite.”

Pidge was lost in thought. Lance flicked their arm and they started. “Oh – sorry, but you said that the human has to be drained of blood…so, vampires are technically dead, then? Do you have blood now?”

Shiro shook his head. “I feel as alive as I did before I was turned, and I’m not in a state of decay, so I don’t think ‘dead’ is the right word, although as a human, my heart stopped before I was turned…so it’s complicated. And yes, we have blood. It’s different from human blood, and it doesn’t satisfy our thirst, but it’s there.”

“But you’re colder than humans,” Lance said, remembering Keith’s strange lukewarm breath. Hunk gave him a look which Lance ignored. “I mean, you are, aren’t you?”

“Slightly, I suppose,” Shiro said, also looking at him oddly. “We have slower metabolisms – slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, and we can go into periods of dormancy after a large meal.”

“Like snakes,” Lance said under his breath.

“Do you sleep in coffins?” Hunk asked.

“What do you think?” Shiro retorted. “No. Beds are much comfier.”

There was a sudden crash from upstairs that made them all jump, except for Shiro, who just sighed.

“Keith is getting antsy and seeking attention; you’d better leave before he breaks all my antique vases,” he said. “I hope I answered all of your questions.”

“Can we come back?” Pidge asked eagerly. “I want to run some tests, if that’s okay.”

“Tests…?” Shiro heaved another sigh. “I suppose. In a while, though…Keith needs some time. You three might not have realized the net would hurt him that much, but it did, and he feels that you betrayed him. Which you did.”

“We know,” Lance muttered. “We’re sorry.”

“Don’t tell that to me,” Shiro said, standing and taking Pidge’s empty mug. Lance looked towards the stairs and Shiro quickly added, “And don’t even think about trying to talk to him now, if you prefer your limbs to be intact.”

Lance flinched. “Okay, okay, got it. Keith hates me.”

“Hate is a strong word, and not what he feels towards you,” Shiro said. “Angry and upset, yes, but he is also scared.”

“Of us?” Pidge said, surprised.

“I have taken great pains to keep us away from humans,” Shiro explained. “Keith has interacted with very few, especially in recent years. I expect he doesn’t quite know what to make of you.”

“Is that why he licked me at first sight?” Lance asked.

“You’re lucky all he did was lick you,” Shiro said. “If I hadn’t found you when I did…” He trailed off. “But enough of that. You must go home, and rest. Humans are not nocturnal, much as you apparently try to be.”

Pidge yawned. “Sounds like a plan.”

But Lance wasn’t sleepy, guilt coiling tightly in his gut as they left the creepy yet cozy house in the woods, the expression on Keith’s face through the steel cords seared into his brain.

*

That night, after Hunk and Pidge had promptly passed out, Pidge in their bedroom and Hunk in the guest room he and Lance were sharing, Lance booted up his laptop and searched “consumption.”

The guilt twisted tighter when the results popped up – “an old term for a wasting disease, especially pulmonary tuberculosis.” Why had Keith asked him if he had TB? Did he not know that almost nobody had that these days, and if they did it wasn’t usually deadly? Lance frowned at the glowing screen. It was weird that Keith had automatically assumed ‘consumption’ just from Lance fake coughing, and even weirder that he had gotten so worried about it.

“Dude,” Hunk mumbled from his bed, “you better not be doing what I think you’re doing right now.”

“What? Ew, no. Just some research. Hey, did you know tuberculosis is also called consumption?”

Hunk grumbled something unintelligible into his pillow. Lance took his cue and closed the laptop.

It took a while for him to fall asleep.

*

Pidge and Hunk slept late. Lance woke up when Pidge’s parents left for work around ten, and was too restless to lie in bed for hours doing nothing, so he got dressed and went out to take the Holt’s dog, Gunther, out on a walk.

Gunther was the muttiest mutt of a dog that Lance had ever seen – he had no discernible breed whatsoever, and was a weird beige-gray color with bristly fur and whiskers all over his pointy snout. His ears were sometimes pricked up and other times flopped over, and his legs seemed too short for his body, while his head seemed too big, giving him the appearance of a wonky cartoon character. Sam Holt claimed he had some Berger Picard blood in him, but Lance highly doubted that a scruffy shelter dog was in any way related to a rare French shepherd breed.

Even though he didn’t exactly inspire sonnets about his beauty, Gunther was a pretty great dog. Lance had always wanted a dog, but the closest he’d ever gotten was a betta fish. Gunther was a lot harder to take care of than a fish – for one thing, he was always bursting with energy, so he had zero complaints about trekking halfway across town and into the woods.

The woods were a lot nicer during the day. Jays and chickadees flitted overhead with squawks and trills while squirrels chattered angrily at Gunther from their safe perches. Lupine, azaleas, and bleeding hearts bloomed in bright splashes of color that attracted buzzing bees and even brighter butterflies. As they passed through the underbrush, Lance even saw a deer through the trees, grazing in a small clearing, a lone buck. Well, it was good to know that Keith and Shiro had spared some of them.

Gunther was in heaven, tongue lolling, tugging on the leash with excitement. Lance laughed and scratched behind his ears, narrowly avoiding getting slobbered on. “Wow, you act like you’ve never been outside before, bud,” he said. “Guess they don’t walk you around here much, huh?”

Gunther woofed in agreement and dragged Lance onward, ears bouncing and tail wagging uncontrollably. It was a surprise, then, when he suddenly skidded to a halt, head shooting up and wiry body tensing. Lance frowned. “Gunther? What is it, boy?”

Gunther growled, taking a careful step forward, ears pricked and on high alert. Lance blinked, and squinted into the trees. “Bud, there’s nothing there – oh.”

There was a small figure sitting in the shade of a large oak tree up on a rise just ahead, hunched over and dressed in dark clothes, face concealed by the hood of their jacket. Their knees were tucked up to their chest and their arms were looped around, head resting in one palm. Lance thought they might be asleep until Gunther barked and the figure started, turning to look.

It was Keith. Because of course it was.

Keith glared at him. “You,” he said, voice dripping with disdain.

Lance gave him a little wave. “Hey. Aren’t you supposed to be sleeping?”

Keith scowled and turned away again. “Aren’t you supposed to be leaving me the hell alone?”

“Dude, how was I supposed to know you were out enjoying the sunshine? I’m just taking the dog for a walk,” Lance retorted. “Why’re you out here, what’s your excuse?”

“It’s my forest,” Keith said. “I don’t need an excuse.” He paused, and added in a gruff undertone, “I am…displeased with Shiro. I needed some air.”

“Displeased? Why, ‘cause he didn’t rip our throats out?” Lance said incredulously. “Because if that’s why, then you’re even more of an jerk than I thought.”

One of Keith’s gloved hands curled into a fist. “I do not need to explain myself to you. Shiro may have welcomed you into our home but I did not. He trusts you to an extent which I think is unwise.”

“You don’t trust us?” Lance exclaimed. “How could you distrust this face?”

Keith lifted his head and pinned him with a decidedly unimpressed look. “You’re still wearing the ring,” he said flatly.

Lance blinked, and looked down at his hand. He was. “Oh,” he said. “I forgot.”

Keith snorted. “Of course you did.”

Lance frowned, took the ring off, and put it in his pocket. “There, is that better?”

Keith hunched over further. “Not particularly.”

Gunther was still growling. “He doesn’t like you,” Lance told Keith. “It’s not a very good sign when dogs don’t like people.”

“The feeling is mutual. I don’t like dogs,” Keith said. “Or you.”

Gunther barked again. “I know, bud,” Lance said, petting him comfortingly. “The creepy emo vampire is pretty mean and bitter, isn’t he?”

Keith chucked a pinecone at him.

“Ow!” Lance clutched his head. “Do all vampires have such good aim?”

Keith ignored him.

“Okay, I’m sorry,” Lance said after a long silence. “Is that what you want me to say? I’m sorry that we threw that net over you, it was a dumb plan and we didn’t know it would hurt you so much. If we had, we wouldn’t have done it. Pidge just…got it into their mind that we’d found a vampire and now we had to catch it, but we’re not the bad guys here, okay? Just stupid teenagers.”

“You are,” Keith said. “Stupid.” Lance opened his mouth but Keith added, “I hope you know how lucky you are that it was me you tried to capture and not a Galra. If it had been one of them, you would have died an agonizing death.”

“You wanted to kill us too,” Lance pointed out.

Keith shifted, hands curling into his hoodie. “I wouldn’t have,” he muttered. “I would’ve scared you, but I wouldn’t have…killed you.”

“Scared us?” Lance repeated, and laughed. “You’re not very scary, Keith; hate to break it to you.”

Keith chuckled. It was a low sound, somewhere between sinister and alluring. “You were scared when we first met,” he said.

Lance’s grip on the leash tightened. “I was surprised,” he said defensively.

“No. Scared. Terrified, even.”

“Do you want me to throw a pinecone at you, too?” Lance snapped.

Keith eyed him. “I want you to leave me in peace.”

“You’ve had 127 years of Lance-free peace,” Lance said. “I think that’s plenty.”

Keith folded his arms. “So Shiro told you.”

“Yeah…but c’mon, don’t get mad at him for that too. We asked, he was just answering our nosy questions.”

“They weren’t just his questions to answer,” Keith grumbled.

“He didn’t share anything, like, super personal,” Lance said. “Just your age.”

Keith paused. “He…didn’t say anything about how I was turned? About my…my life?”

“No,” Lance said. “Why? Were you a wanted criminal? Or did you have a really weird life, were you like a circus performer or a –”

“No, and no,” Keith interrupted. “It wasn’t…anything that exciting.” He hesitated. “I was orphaned at a young age, or abandoned, I don’t know. My mother was Korean and my father was American, or so I was told. I was raised in an orphanage and later worked in a factory. Then Shiro found me and turned me.”

“That’s the most abridged version of a life that I’ve ever heard,” Lance said. “How old were you, when you were turned, I mean?”

“Nineteen.” Keith huffed. “All you do is ask questions.”

“Not my fault that you suck at conversation.”

“I’m tired,” Keith admitted. “I was trying to take a nap.”

“Out here, in the open?” Lance frowned. “Isn’t that dangerous? What if the Galra really are sneaking into your territory and one of them finds you?”

“Why do you care?” Keith asked suspiciously.

“I wasn’t lying when I said I think you’re cool,” Lance said. “And maybe you wouldn’t care if I got mauled by a Galra, but I’d feel pretty bad if you did. Especially since it’s our fault that you’re out here, avoiding Shiro.”

Keith’s brows drew together. “Humans are exhausting,” he said, and slumped back against the tree. “And your dog smells terrible.”

Gunther had decided the nearest tree trunk was more exciting than Keith, and was digging around the base of it, getting dirt everywhere. “Oh, shit,” Lance said, yanking on the leash uselessly. “Gunther, stop. No, bad dog! Pidge is gonna make me give you a bath now!”

Keith snickered. “Cats are much cleaner,” he remarked.

“Ugh, you’re not helping,” Lance said. “Well, have fun brooding, you got your wish – I’m leaving before Gunther decides to start rolling in mud or something.”

“Hmph,” Keith said. “About time.”

Lance turned to go and paused, looking back over his shoulder. “You know I really am sorry, right? And it won’t happen again. You and Shiro seem like…well, not vampires who deserve to get trapped in silver nets. I’m sorry we thought you were.”

Keith blinked, face veiled in his hood’s shadow, eyes gleaming briefly gold. “Goodbye, Lance,” he said.

Chapter Text

It had been a week since Shiro invited them into the Victorian house in the woods, and since then, they’d visited three more times.

Lance never told Hunk or Pidge about meeting Keith during the day – he didn’t know why, but it felt somehow private, and he didn’t want to disrupt the uneasy truce that had formed between him and Keith. Keith had stopped ignoring and avoiding him, but their conversations were still ninety percent snark and sarcasm, and Shiro all too often had to act as the peacemaker.

Keith seemed to have forgiven Shiro, at least – the vampires were practically inseparable, always sitting side by side on the loveseat in the parlor, completing each other’s sentences, and occasionally bickering like only family can. Lance supposed that was what happened when you spent over a century with someone. He was still curious about why Shiro had turned Keith in the first place – despite his past, Shiro was very insistent about not feeding on or killing humans nowadays, and he didn’t seem like the kind of guy to turn someone on a whim. So, Lance figured, it had to have been a pretty serious reason. But Lance doubted Keith would tell him, and Shiro had so far successfully dodged the topic.

Shiro did answer other questions, and when Keith (reluctantly) joined their little chats, he gave his own clipped answers to a select few. In that first week, Shiro had elaborated on the ‘arcane magic’ he’d mentioned earlier, showing them charms and runes and potions (“They are decoctions, Lance,” Shiro kept saying), and explaining that vampires could make such things work because their energy was inherently “magical.”

“He means ‘unnatural,’” Keith added. Shiro shot him a look. “It’s true.”

“Unnatural? You mean, vampires aren’t a naturally occurring phenomenon?” Pidge asked.

Shiro shrugged. “It’s hard to say. We’ve certainly been around for long enough that we could just be another species. But…some believe the first vampires were created by some form of corruption, or a genetic mutation. In either case, our energy is distinctly different from humans – it allows us to use magic and to use our thralls, which are also magic of a sort.”

“Fascinating,” Pidge murmured, and scribbled a note in their increasingly full notebook.

Shiro and Keith also spoke about their travels – they hadn’t stayed in the Victorian house forever, though it was their base; they always returned to it. Listening to them talk about distant lands and distant times, Lance felt awe, but he also felt keenly aware of how young and ignorant he and his friends must have seemed to the vampires, and that always dampened the mood.

Judging by Hunk and Pidge’s amazed expressions, it didn’t bother them, but…Lance disliked the thought that Shiro and Keith probably saw them as mere children; infants, even. The vampires never spoke to them condescendingly – Keith spoke to Lance rudely, but that was different – but still, Lance was sure that privately, they complained about the meddling humans who knew nothing and whose lifespans were brief flickers of light compared to their own eternal fires; fleeting and artless.

But other than that, it was pretty awesome to have vampires for friends. Sort of friends. Allies? Acquaintances?

“We are not your friends,” Keith had snapped when Lance broached the topic.

Shiro had frowned. “Why not? Friends are not such a terrible thing, Keith.”

Keith had opened his mouth to argue, then sighed and slumped into Shiro’s side. “Fine. As long as we don’t have to get too friendly with them.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from the big bad humans,” Shiro had said, and ruffled his hair. Keith had smiled, a rare sight, and shoved him lightly. Hunk had been in the bathroom, and Pidge was too busy writing in their notebook to notice, so only Lance had witnessed it. It felt like something he shouldn’t be watching, and he didn’t know why; he only knew that Keith had looked up and caught him watching, and flushed, smile falling from his face as he straightened back up and folded his arms, back to his usual broody pose. Shiro had frowned slightly. Lance had left the room with an excuse to get some tea. He didn’t even like tea.

He couldn’t stop thinking about Keith’s smile.

He couldn’t stop thinking about Keith, period. And it got even worse when Lance was around him –especially when Keith looked at him with those dark doe eyes that gleamed gold when they caught the light in just the right way. Lance couldn’t look away – his palms got sweaty and his heart sped up and his thoughts tapered off into white noise for a few seconds, before Keith’s gaze moved elsewhere. Lance thought he was going crazy until, one night, it struck him – he felt almost exactly like he had when he and Keith had first met, when Keith had used his thrall on him.

Well into the second week of knowing Keith and Shiro, after they’d just snuck back in from their usual late night excursions and narrowly avoided detection by the sleeping Holt parents (“Our luck is gonna run out one of these days,” Hunk warned), Lance went to Pidge’s room and planted himself on their bed.

Pidge, who was of course not sleeping, looked up irritably from their laptop and took an earbud out. “What?”

“Can you tell me more about the vampire thrall thing?” Lance asked.

Pidge raised an eyebrow. “Uh…why? Wait…did one of them try to use it on you again or something?!”

“I don’t know, uh…maybe?” Lance shrugged uncomfortably. “Anyway, do you have more notes on it? I just wanna check something.”

Pidge gave him a weird look, but opened their notebook and thumbed through it, tossing it at Lance once they found the right section. “That’s all I have. Most of what Shiro told me I already knew, but it’s there, if that helps…?”

Lance scanned the page. He searched for butterflies in stomach, or maybe heart palpitations, or alarmingly fuzzy feelings. The closest phrase he found was helpless desire and…whoa, whoa, wait, what?

“Helpless desire?” Lance repeated, dismayed. “A thrall can do that?”

Pidge blinked. “Uh…basically, yeah? If a vampire’s thrall is strong enough, it can convince the prey that they really want to be bitten and make the bite somehow feel good; it makes them stop seeing the vampire as a threat and as more of a –” They stopped and squinted at him suspiciously. “Lance, do you want them to bite you?”

Lance squawked and tossed the notebook back. “No!” he exclaimed, because he absolutely didn’t, why would Pidge even say that. “Are you kidding? Ugh.” He shuddered and stood up. “Can you imagine how much that would hurt?”

Pidge still looked suspicious. “A lot, probably. Kinda depends where the bite is and how clean it is, but…Lance, why’d you ask about the thrall? If you really think one of them is doing that, then I think we both know that it’s not Shiro, and you should confront Keith about it –”

“No way,” Lance retorted, backing out of the room. “If he is doing it, talking to him wouldn’t make it stop!”

“He could be doing it on accident,” Pidge suggested. “I mean, Shiro said himself that Keith hasn’t been around many humans, and I hate to bring up the licking thing, but –”

“I’m not talking to him,” Lance said stubbornly. “If it’s his thrall, then he can try all he wants, but this dude isn’t falling for it. Nuh-uh. If it’s a battle of the wills he wants, that’s what he’ll get.”

“Lance, hate to break it to you, but your ‘will’ would probably get crushed by a vampire’s. Squashed. Like a bug.”

“Did I ask?” Lance huffed. “Whatever. Thanks for the notes. ‘Night.”

“Don’t let the vampires bite,” Pidge called, sing-song.

Lance scowled. “They can damn well try,” he muttered to himself.

But the next time they visited the vampires, Keith hardly ever made direct eye contact with him, and when their eyes did meet, Keith was always the first to look away, brow furrowed and mouth downturned. As they were leaving, Keith hissed to him, “Why were you staring at me? You’re acting stranger than usual.”

Before he could stop himself, Lance retorted, “Why are you using your thrall on me? Cut it out.”

He booked it outta there, hurrying after Pidge and Hunk before Keith could answer, but when he glanced back at the house, Keith was still standing in the doorway, looking stricken, yellow eyes huge.

The next time they visited, Keith was quieter, more contained. He wasn’t usually talkative, but this time he seemed almost…sad. Shiro seemed confused by it, which probably meant that Keith hadn’t told him about Lance’s accusation, which just made Lance feel worse. If Keith had been using his thrall, he clearly hadn’t been doing it on purpose. Keith left halfway into the chat and Lance, after a moment’s hesitation, excused himself a few minutes after under the ruse that he had to pee. (He kinda did, he’d had way too much coffee, but that was beside the point.)

Lance had never gone upstairs before – there was a kind of unspoken rule that the humans were not allowed on the second floor of the house, as if there was an invisible RESTRICTED sign on the landing. But Lance tiptoed his way up nonetheless, determined to make Keith smile again, or at least stop looking so miserable. He figured that no matter how quiet he was, Shiro and Keith could probably hear him and know where he was going anyway, but hopefully they wouldn’t be too mad about it. His intentions were pure, okay? He was trying to be the good guy for once – Keith hadn’t been very nice to him but admittedly Lance hadn’t made himself very likable in the first place.

The second floor was…darker than the first one, somehow. The walls were wood paneling, and there were more paintings, but there were also photographs in the hall, mostly black and white. Lance turned away from them – he wasn’t here to snoop. There were several doors, but only one was slightly ajar, and Lance went to it, rapping on it lightly.

He expected Keith to snarl in his face and demand that he get the hell away. But instead he said dully, “Lance, you shouldn’t be here.”

Lance pushed the door open the rest of the way, revealing the room beyond – Keith’s studio, he realized. It was a small room, with a single window that had a telescope propped up in front of it, and tons of canvases stockpiled in the corners, along with paints and brushes and a few unfinished works. There was a desk, and an easel and a stool where Keith sat, but the easel was bare and Keith was just sitting, slouched over with his arms and legs crossed like a depressed pretzel. Keith hadn’t even turned the light on.

“You’re just sitting up here in the dark?” Lance asked, stepping over the threshold. Keith didn’t answer, but his shoulders tensed.

“Come back downstairs.” Lance took another step closer.

“I would never use my thrall on someone who was not a threat,” Keith blurted. “I – I mean, I know I used it on you, accidentally, when we first met, but I thought…I thought I could control it, when I wasn’t hunting, and if I did somehow use it on you again, I didn’t mean to and that wasn’t right.” He bowed his head, still turned away.

“Keith…buddy,” Lance said. “I don’t know if you were using your thrall. You probably weren’t. Okay? So don’t…don’t beat yourself up about it. Really, it’s fine, I’m sorry I even mentioned it. Just come back downstairs, ‘kay?”

Keith whirled around, an abrupt, unnatural movement that made Lance’s heart leap into his throat, reminded that hello, this was a supernatural being he was talking to. “But what if that’s just the thrall talking?” Keith said, shaking his head. “What if I’m still doing it right now, to make you feel bad for me, and –”

“Oh my god, you think I need to be thralled to feel basic sympathy for you? Ouch, dude,” Lance said.

Keith blinked, biting his lip. “The Galra use their thralls to make their humans attuned to their every emotion, want, and need,” he whispered. “They take away their free will.”

“If I didn’t have free will, could I do this?” Lance asked, crossing the room and flicking Keith’s arm, hard. “You’re not using your thrall. I mean, you weren’t even looking at me earlier, so how could you be?”

“Prolonged eye contact is only part of it,” Keith muttered. “There are other ways that vampires can bend humans’ minds to their own.”

“Like?”

“I – I don’t know, but Shiro said there were, and he’s always right,” Keith snapped defensively.

“If you don’t even know how to do that, then why do you think you’d even be able to?” Lance pointed out. “That makes zero sense.”

“You make zero sense,” Keith said, but there was no venom in his tone. He looked at Lance cautiously. “Why…why did you think I was using my thrall on you in the first place?”

Lance did not want to answer that question. He shrugged equivocally. “Oh, y’know,” he said. “Just a weird feeling.”

“A…weird feeling.” Keith blinked owlishly. “Weird in what way?”

“Just weird,” Lance said. “It’s hard to explain.” It was not. It was not hard to explain at all. In fact, it could be explained by a single word, a word which Lance refused to use in reference to Keith. Even if Keith looked really cute with that confused expression, and Lance was suddenly very sure that his feelings were – unfortunately – not at all thrall-related.

“Oh,” Keith said. “Um…okay.”

“Anyway, we should get back to the party,” Lance said, grabbing Keith’s wrist without thinking with the intent of leading him back downstairs.

But Keith didn’t budge. Instead, he grabbed Lance’s arm instinctively, startled, his grip as unyielding as iron. They stared at each other. The room seemed to be getting smaller.

Then Keith wrenched his arm out of Lance’s grasp violently, clutching it to his chest like Lance had burned him. “Don’t touch me,” he said, and it was meant to be a threat but it came out fast and panicky, and he hurried down the stairs without waiting for Lance to catch up.

*

Lance was spending more time in the woods than he ever had before. It had reached the point where even Pidge’s parents had noticed how often Lance walked Gunther out there during the day, and Pidge and Hunk had definitely noticed how often Lance went there at night. He never went too far into the woods, and when he was alone he didn’t stay for more than half an hour at most, claiming that he just liked the night air or was trying to get more into astronomy. Hunk and Pidge bought the astronomy thing – Lance had always loved space, so it wasn’t that weird.

But although he did look at the night sky, that wasn’t why he was out there. Lance didn’t know exactly why, himself. It was related to the vampires, definitely. He knew that much. It was like he was waiting or searching for something…or maybe he just liked the thrill he got out of walking around with a flashlight and knowing that he wasn’t alone out there. Knowing that they might be watching, or at least know he was trespassing, and let him get away with it. So far they’d let him, anyway.

He went out on nights when he knew full well that Shiro and Keith were hunting, half-hoping to catch a glimpse of them. He always stayed on the fringes of the woods on those nights, because he wasn’t a complete idiot, but occasionally he would hear sounds in the distance – snarling and growling and, a few times, the terrifying bitten-off scream of a deer dying.

Lance always had to hurry back to the Holt house when he heard that.

But he would just lie in bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep, that horrible, haunting sound echoing in his head, imagining what it must have looked like. Imagining how Keith and Shiro hunted together, working in tandem to take down their prey. Like a pair of wolves, maybe, but smarter, faster, stronger, deadlier. Shiro had vaguely mentioned that vampires changed while they were hunting – reverted to their instincts, relied entirely on their senses, gave in to the bloodlust for the sake of survival.

Okay, so maybe Lance was a complete idiot after all, and he was hanging around the woods because he wanted to see that for himself. Wanted to know if their friendship – or whatever it was – would even matter when Keith and Shiro got hungry enough. And maybe going out himself – effectively making himself live bait – was a pretty dumb way of figuring that out, but…Lance had been overly curious for eighteen years and it hadn’t killed him so far.

It was towards the end of the second week when it happened.

Lance was walking through the woods, and according to his mental calendar, tonight was not a hunting night, so he dared to go further than usual. There was a rough path that he followed, flashlight beam swinging cheerfully through the gloom as he listened to the chirping of crickets and the loud hoots of a distant owl, occasionally swatting bugs away from his face. He was distracted by a particularly annoying mosquito when the crickets stopped chirping, so it took him a few seconds to notice.

When he did, though, Lance stopped. The silence was heavy, expectant…ominous. He swallowed, deciding to call it a night and get outta there, when he saw the darkness shift up ahead. Lance swallowed, shining his flashlight into the gloom. “Keith?” he called, shaky. “Shiro?”

A pair of glowing yellow eyes lit up the shadows. Lance took a step back. “Guys? I – I’m sorry I’m out here, but I just –”

The shadows growled, low and menacing and animal, and Lance realized with a cold stab of fear that those eyes didn’t belong to a vampire he knew. So, in a moment of pure human instinct, which was not nearly as impressive as vampire instinct, Lance screamed at the top of his lungs, turned on his heel, and sprinted the fuck away.

The other vampire snarled and followed in hot pursuit. Lance urged himself to run faster, even knowing that it wouldn’t be enough, but hoping for a miracle. He found himself turned around, and realized he was running deeper into the woods rather than towards the town. He swore under his breath and behind him, he heard the other vampire laughing, and also knew it wasn’t chasing him at top speed – it was playing cat and mouse.

Lance focused on not tripping and trying to remember his old track coach’s inspirational pre-meet speeches, and kept running even though his chest was burning and he was panting shallowly. The house, he had to get to the house. This other vampire – this intruder – wouldn’t be welcomed by Keith or Shiro, he was certain of that; and even if they would be pissed at Lance for being a little creep, that was better than being dead.

“Help!” Lance screamed again into the darkness, the cry tearing itself from his throat, breath ragged as he struggled to keep his pace. He didn’t know how far he’d run, only that the trees were taller and older and closer together, and the underbrush was thicker and tore at his jeans and in a moment of disoriented panic Lance misstepped, left foot landing in a shallow hole left by some asshole gopher. His ankle twisted, his balance shifted, and he fell with a curse, landing hard in a patch of brambles and catching himself on his hands. Thorns caught in his palms and scratched across his cheek as he stumbled hastily back to his feet, smearing thin trails of blood across his skin.

Lance couldn’t run. His ankle protested painfully as he hobbled out of the thorn patch, slumping against the nearest tree and grabbing a big stick from the bushes, snapping it in half so that one end was sharp and jagged. Crucifixes and garlic did jack shit, but Lance would bet that stakes weren’t totally useless. Stab anything enough, and it would at least slow down. He clung to that logic as the yellow eyes emerged from the gloom again, growl filling the air again…

…and then Keith darted from the shadows with a snarl.

Lance’s heart briefly stopped, because holy fucking shitballs, vampires really were creatures of stealth. The other vampire hissed, equally startled, eyes briefly widening before narrowing back to slits. It prowled forward, into the flashlight beam, and Lance drew in a sharp breath.

If that wasn’t a Galra, then he didn’t know what was.

Chapter Text

The Galra was bigger than Keith, and its shape looked male, but it was wearing weird, loose, ragged clothes and its face didn’t look at all human, so it was kinda hard to tell. Its skin was tinted a strange color, almost…purplish, and thin enough to clearly see the dark veins and arteries underneath. It seemed to have fur or some kind of growths on its face, sticking out from its shoulders and either side of its head. It had claws and, obviously, fangs; long and sharp and on display as it growled at Keith.

Keith growled back. “This is not your territory,” he said, voice tight and furious. “Go, now, before I show you what we do to trespassers.”

“I’m not the only one trespassing,” the Galra hissed. “Or have you finally realized that you are meant to feed on humans instead of common beasts?” It grinned wolfishly. “If that’s the case, it’s a cause for celebration – I’ll even let you share him.”

Lance gripped the makeshift stake tighter. He wanted to say something cool like Over my dead body, but that was kind of the Galra’s end goal here, anyway, so he kept his mouth shut.

“Fuck you,” Keith retorted viciously. “We’re not monsters, unlike the Galra.”

It kept smiling, and tilted its head, nostrils flaring. “He’s a sweet one, isn’t he? Don’t lie, you smell it too – he’s already bleeding.”

“Lance, don’t move,” Keith gritted out, moving more fully between him and the Galra, his back to Lance. “I’m warning you, leave now, or you’ll be sorry.”

“I doubt that,” the Galra snapped, smile falling, and leapt at Keith.

Keith grappled against the Galra, and as Lance watched, Keith changed – his ears elongated, tapering to thin, slightly curved points like an elf or a faery, pinning back against his skull. His shoulders seemed to broaden, the line of his body becoming leaner, lither, and the pallor of his skin intensifying. His hands became clawed, and his face, from what Lance could see of it, became…sharper. Less human. So did his teeth.

The Galra swiped at him, snapping its jaws and trying to reach his throat. Keith twisted out of its grasp, kicking out and landing a hard blow to the Galra’s midsection. It roared in pain and lunged at him with more force, and this time Keith was knocked to the ground. Lance watched in horrified fascination as the vampires fought, Keith bucking and scratching under the Galra like a feral cat while the Galra struggled to keep him pinned. Its claws raked viciously across Keith’s bare arm and Keith howled, shoving his elbow into the Galra’s chest and, seizing its moment of pain, sank his fangs deep into its shoulder.

The Galra shrieked and leapt off of him, clutching its bleeding bicep. The blood running through its fingers was distinctly not human – it was darker, thicker, and more purple than red. But it was strangely satisfying to see that vampires could, in fact, bleed. Keith bared his bloodied teeth at the Galra, who was circling, more cautious than before. “You protect this human?” the Galra growled. “Why waste your energy? If it’s not me who gets him, Prince Lotor will send another. His kind are precious to us.”

“He is not yours to take,” Keith retorted. “He is not one of your thralled slaves. People will notice if he goes missing. People will search for him. You are putting your entire garrison at risk.”

“Worth it,” the Galra said. “Besides…if they went looking, they will find you and your sire first.”

“No,” Keith said. “They will find your corpse.” And they were back to the lunging and biting.

Keith might have been smaller and weaker, but he was faster, and more accurate in inflicting wounds. The Galra landed more blows but they were clumsy and random, shallow slices and scratches all over Keith’s body. Keith aimed with deadly precision, going for the major arteries, claws gouging lines in its chest, tearing through the fabric, teeth fastening into the Galra’s forearm and not letting go until the Galra ripped him away with an agonized yelp. Both vampires were covered in their own blood, yet as Lance watched he could see the smaller injuries already healing, the blood clotting quickly and keeping them on their feet.

The Galra was backing Keith against a tree, chest heaving with exertion and claws fastened into the front of Keith’s shirt. Keith resisted every step of the way, boots skidding in the dirt and hands shoving at the Galra anywhere he could reach, scrabbling at its face and neck and shoulders, digging his claws into existing wounds brutally. But the Galra was stronger and had the upper hand, and as Lance watched, heart pounding, it shoved Keith against the tree with a dull thud, yanked his head back, and went for his throat.

Keith’s eyes flew wide, and Lance thought it was over, thought that the dark cascade of blood down the front of Keith’s shirt couldn’t possibly be survivable. The Galra lifted its head, chin covered in Keith’s blood, revealing the torn flesh of his neck, and grinned. Then the grin froze on its face.

Keith’s claws were buried in its chest, as deep as they could go. The Galra made a choked, wet sound. Keith pulled, and Lance gagged as the Galra’s chest, slowly but surely, parted, and with a disgusting squishing sound, Keith twisted his wrist and yanked the Galra’s heart out.

It beat, frantic and stuttering, in his palm. The Galra stared at it with shocked, hollow eyes, then crumpled at Keith’s feet, still. Keith let out a breath of relief, dropped the heart, and slumped against the tree, holding a hand to his torn neck and gritting his teeth.

It took a few seconds for Lance’s limbs to start working again. “Keith,” he whispered, taking a step towards him, and then, louder, “Keith!” He hurried to him as fast as he could, carefully avoiding the Galra’s body. “Oh, shit, that is not good. Dude. Dude.

Keith tried to move away from the tree and toppled forward. Lance caught him, swallowing back his revulsion when blood soaked into his T-shirt and wrapping an arm around Keith’s waist. Keith didn’t stop him, just made a horrible gargling sound. Lance winced. Keith tried again, and this time it was still gross and wet-sounding but Lance heard him say, “Shiro.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m taking you to Shiro,” Lance assured him, supporting Keith as they hobbled out of the bramble patch together. “Could you maybe, uh, point me in the right direction?”

Keith grumbled but pointed weakly to the direction he’d come from before letting his head fall onto Lance’s shoulder. His hair was really soft, even if it did have some blood in it. Lance decided to stop that train of thought immediately, got a more secure grip on Keith, and started off into the woods. Keith was quiet, though Lance could feel him breathing unevenly, and Keith’s body was tense against him.

Lance tried to move as fast as possible, especially when Keith started rubbing his face ever so slightly against Lance’s shoulder and making weird whimpering noises, which wasn’t a great sign. “It’s okay, you’re okay,” Lance mumbled consolingly, even though Keith had a gaping wound in his neck, which was decidedly Not Okay. It seemed to sort of work, though, because Keith calmed and resigned himself to just snuffling Lance’s shoulder instead, leaning more heavily into Lance’s side.

Lance barely resisted cheering when he saw the Victorian house through the trees, and Keith made a weak noise that vaguely resembled “Shiro” again.

“Shiro!” Lance called, walking faster, half-dragging Keith. “Keith’s hurt really bad! A little help here, please!”

The front door flew open, and Shiro stepped out, confused, expression sharpening when he saw Keith draped limply against Lance. His brow lowered and he strode down the steps and to them with purpose, jaw set and mouth pressed into a thin, grim line. He took Keith from Lance, shushing him when he made that whimpery noise again and weakly tried to hold on to Lance’s arm. “No, no, let go of him,” Shiro murmured, lifting Keith up fully into his arms. “I know what you need; it’s going to be alright.”

Lance faltered as Shiro carried Keith back up the steps and through the door, unsure if he should follow. Then Shiro called over his shoulder, “I could use your help, but you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to, Lance.”

“It’s okay, I can help,” Lance said, secretly relieved, and hurried up after him.

“What happened?” Shiro asked as the door shut behind them.

“I was taking a walk and…there was a Galra,” Lance said. Shiro stiffened, his grip on Keith tightening, gathering him up closer to his chest. “It chased me, I ran, called for help, and Keith found me just as it was about to attack. He got between us and tried to scare it off but it was pretty determined and, well…”

“What happened to the Galra?” Shiro asked, crossing the foyer and going down the hallway.

“Keith killed it,” Lance said. “Ripped its heart out. It was…pretty gross.”

“That’s my boy,” Shiro murmured, proud and fond, stroking Keith’s sweaty bangs away from his face. He looked back at Lance. “But not before it took a bite out of his neck, right?”

Lance nodded, biting his lip. “Is…is he gonna be okay?”

Shiro stopped in front of a plain door, and when he opened it, it revealed a flight of stairs going down, down, down. “He needs blood to heal,” Shiro explained, starting down the stairs with Keith. “Thank you for getting him here, Lance. I’m glad you didn’t get hurt, too.”

“Needs blood…?” Lance peered down into the darkness. “Oh. Oh, so that’s why he was sniffing me.”

Shiro chuckled, but it was strained. “Yes. Vampires do heal faster than humans and we can sustain far graver injuries, but if we lose too much blood and do not feed soon after, we will wither away and die.”

“So…so you have blood in your basement?” Lance asked nervously, because it was either that, or he would be providing the blood, which…he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. Although, it was because of him that Keith was in this mess in the first place, so maybe Lance owed him that much.

Shiro didn’t seem to notice Lance’s inner turmoil, and replied easily, “We keep a small store in the cellar, just in case.” They reached the bottom of the stairs and Shiro flicked the light switch on, flooding the space with bright fluorescents. Keith whined, claws kneading into Shiro’s shirt, and when Shiro set him down gently on the floor his gaze went immediately to Lance, pupils blown wide. He made a pathetic, drawn-out, wanting sound that made Lance flush.

“None of that,” Shiro scolded, keeping an eye on Keith as he went to the fridge. Lance was expecting it, but he was still a little shocked when the door opened to reveal several dozen blood bags. Not real blood bags like at a hospital – they looked like storage-size Ziplocks, which was bizarrely funny to Lance, though he felt less amused and more ill when Shiro grabbed four of them, the refrigerated blood sloshing alarmingly. “This is where you can help,” Shiro said, carrying the bags over. He nodded to the cabinets on the wall, next to the fridge. “There’s gauze and bandages in there. You’re going to need to wrap his neck up and keep pressure on the wound on his neck while he feeds, to make sure it all gets down. Can you do that?”

Lance hesitated. “Is that…is it really safe to be so close to him while he’s…”

Shiro understood. “Normally, I would say no, but…he is very weak, and not a threat to you, especially with me here. However, if you are uncomfortable –”

“No, no, it’s okay,” Lance said, hurrying to the cabinet. “I got it. This is all my fault anyway.”

Shiro frowned, but did not reply. Lance found the gauze and bandages and sat down next to Keith, with Shiro on Keith’s other side. Shiro pulled Keith’s upper body into his lap, petting his hair as Keith hissed in pain. “Shhh, sweetheart. I’ve got you.” Shiro glanced at Lance. “Alright, get the gauze pad over the wound and wrap the bandage around his neck.”

Hands shaking, Lance complied, not missing the way Keith’s eyes tracked the path of his hand. But Shiro kept him immobile, and Lance remained unscathed. He pressed down over the gauze. Shiro picked up one of the bags and pressed it to Keith’s parted lips. Keith looked up at him hazily, eyes half-lidded. “Go on,” Shiro said, and Keith’s eyes fluttered closed, fangs puncturing the plastic with a pop.

Keith shuddered and swallowed, scarlet dribbling out of the corners of his mouth and lashes fluttering. He drank fast, draining the whole quart-sized bag in what seemed like only a few minutes, licking his stained lips and wordlessly begging for more, not yet sated. Shiro complied, keeping a hand in Keith’s hair encouragingly as he drank, messy, throat bobbing and vampiric features – ears, claws, the sharpness of his face – receding. His ashen skin flushed with blood and Lance could feel the heat coming off of him in waves, as if he had a fever.

“Lance, keep putting pressure on it,” Shiro reminded him.

“Right, sorry,” Lance muttered. He redirected his focus from Keith’s blissed-out face to his neck, which, incredibly, was starting to heal. All the other wounds were closing up too, becoming bright pink lines instead of angry red ones, as if they’d been there for a couple weeks instead of less than an hour. Keith’s neck was still bleeding, but it was sluggish, more of a trickle than the frightening gush it had been earlier.

By the time Keith got to the fourth bag, the bleeding was reduced to a normal amount and the cut was clotting. Keith made a sleepy, contented sound and retracted his fangs from the bag without warning when it was still halfway full, spilling chilled elk blood all over the three of them. Lance recoiled, looking down at his T-shirt in dismay. Oh, well, it was ruined anyway from Keith’s blood earlier.

Shiro clicked his tongue at his own blood-splattered jeans. “Oops. Guess he’s full.” Shiro maneuvered Keith back down to the ground and stood up to throw the bag away. Keith hummed and curled into a ball on his side, eyes still shut, mouth covered in blood. Without thinking, Lance reached out to wipe the blood off with the extra gauze. The instant his thumb touched Keith’s lips, Keith’s eyes snapped open, surprised. Lance flinched back. Keith’s eyes softened, gaze falling to Lance’s fingers for a brief second, and closed again.

When Lance wiped cautiously at his mouth then, Keith didn’t stop him.

“You know, Keith has more control around you than I expected.”

Lance yanked his hand away guiltily, looking up at Shiro, who was peering down at them with an indecipherable expression, mouth quirked. “S-sorry, I was just –”

“Don’t worry,” Shiro said, kneeling back down only to scoop Keith up again. “It’s a good thing. Hey, bring some extra gauze and bandages, would you? There should be surgical tape in there too.” Seeing Lance’s incredulous expression, he added defensively, “What? Never hurts to be overprepared.”

Rolling his eyes, Lance grabbed the items and followed Shiro up and out of the cellar, and upstairs. He realized, as Shiro walked down the hall and pushed open the last door on the left, that this must be Keith’s bedroom. Lance tried to remind himself that both vampires could totally hear if his heartbeat sped up, and followed Shiro into the room with a deep breath.

Keith was stirring again, and he seemed distressed, clinging to Shiro’s arms as the older vampire set him down on his bed. It was a large bed, with dark sheets – perfect for hiding blood stains, Lance’s traitorous mind quickly supplied – and took up most of the space in the room. Lance wavered uncertainly in the doorway as Shiro sat on the edge of the bed and spoke softly to Keith; soothing, unintelligible words. Keith’s expression was one of pure anguish. Lance’s chest ached just looking at him.

“Keith, shhh, you’re safe now, alright? You’re home. You must rest, heal,” Shiro murmured.

“Hurts,” Keith whispered, voice rasping but better than before. “My neck – my lungs, it feels like – I feel sick again, I’m going to die again –”

“You’re not going to die,” Shiro said, shaking his head. He looked at Lance, brow furrowing. Lance felt cold. Had Keith just said…? “I promise, you’ll feel better, sweetheart, you just need to sleep. Can you do that for me? Just sleep. I will be here when you wake.”

“Promise,” Keith breathed.

“I promise. Of course. Always, Keith.” Shiro leaned down, kissed his brow, and guided him under the sheets. Keith curled up again, and within seconds he was out.

“Put the medical supplies on the nightstand please, Lance,” Shiro said quietly. “He’ll need them when he wakes up.”

Lance did so, gut twisting as he looked at the ink spill of Keith’s hair over the white pillows, the pale curve of his neck and cheek. “I’m sorry,” Lance whispered.

“Lance.” Shiro was waiting in the doorway. “It isn’t your fault.”

“But I –”

Shiro held up a hand firmly. “The Galra did this to him, not you. Now come here, I can lend you a change of clothes.”

“Okay.” Lance left the room with him, chest still tight. Shiro went to a hall closet, rifling through it and tossing Lance a worn black T-shirt with the Sex Pistols logo on it. Lance held it up and raised an eyebrow.

Shiro snorted. “Keith had a phase.”

“Oh my god,” Lance said, delighted. “Keith was a fanboy?”

“He was a punk rocker, if you ask him,” Shiro said, rolling his eyes. “The seventies and eighties were…heh. Interesting.” Shiro looked into the closet. “He has several Black Flag and Misfits shirts somewhere around here too.”

“Is that why he has a mullet?” Lance cackled.

“You think it’s a mullet now?” Shiro shook his head. “Should’ve seen it back then. That was a mullet.”

“I didn’t know I needed this information until now.” Lance grinned, then, remembering why Shiro had to give him a change of clothes in the first place, sobered. “Um…thanks for the shirt.”

“No problem.” Shiro grabbed a new pair of jeans and a shirt for himself. “You can change in the bathroom downstairs, if you’d like.” He paused. “And when you’re done…meet me in the parlor. I believe we need to have a talk.”

“A…talk?” Lance eyed him uncertainly. “About…?”

Shiro shook his head. “You’re not in trouble, no need to look so scared, Lance. I just want to clear a few things up, things pertaining to Keith…and yourself.”

“Um…okay,” Lance said, not feeling any less nervous about that very vague statement.

Shiro inclined his head and went into another room to change. Lance went downstairs, holding Keith’s shirt tight.

*

Lance had thrown his bloody shirt in the trash and was waiting on the really soft couch by the time Shiro came downstairs. “On second thought, let’s sit at the kitchen table,” Shiro suggested. “It feels too serious and formal here, don’t you think?”

Lance stood up and followed him into the kitchen. “Uh…is this a casual talk we’re about to have, here?”

“I hope so.” Shiro turned on the kitchen light and poured himself a mug of coffee from the half-full pot. “Would you like any? I know it’s late for you.”

“Why not,” Lance sighed. He had a feeling he wasn’t going to get to sleep tonight anyway.

Shiro handed him a blue mug and sat across from him at the table, blowing on the hot coffee and sending the steam into swirling wisps. “Firstly, I want to thank you for bringing Keith home,” he said. “That was both brave and kind of you.”

“He’d just saved my life, I wasn’t about to just leave him there,” Lance said, frowning. “And I wasn’t brave, I ran like hell away from the Galra –”

“If you had not run, you would be dead,” Shiro interrupted calmly. “Or worse.”

“Worse?”

Shiro looked down into his coffee. “I…am unsure how to phrase this in a way that will not make you feel uncomfortable here.”

“Oh, well, that’s a great start,” Lance muttered, taking a hasty sip of coffee.

Shiro sighed. “Apologies…well, it’s like this, Lance. To you, all human blood would likely taste more or less the same – metallic and unpleasant. But to vampires, each human’s blood has a unique flavor, one that reflects to a small degree their diet, and to a greater degree their emotions and energy. Humans have energies as vampires do – auras, you might call them – and though they are not inherently magical, some humans’ auras are more attractive to vampires than others.”

“The Galra, it told Keith I was a ‘sweet one,’” Lance mused. “And it mentioned that my ‘kind’ were valuable to Prince Lotor. Is that what you’re talking about?”

“Yes.” Shiro pursed his lips. “Certain humans, such as yourself, present a greater temptation to vampires not just because your blood tastes better – sweeter, according to the Galra – but because your blood is inherently more powerful.”

Lance leaned forward. “Whoa, what? Powerful how?”

“For you, it doesn’t do anything special,” Shiro said ruefully. “But for vampires, consuming your blood would be, ah…similar to shooting up with heroin, minus all the obvious negative side effects. It gives vampires a rush, and makes them more powerful until the effects wear off.”

“So it’s a drug, basically.”

“Basically,” Shiro admitted.

Lance drank his coffee nervously. “Well,” he said. “That’s…new.”

“Please do not think that means you are in danger here,” Shiro added hastily. “You aren’t, Lance.”

Lance considered this. “How long did you know?” he asked. “Ever since we first met, when Keith was all over me?”

“I had my suspicions,” Shiro said. “Keith didn’t know anything except that you smelled better than the average human. But after spending enough time around you, I became certain of it, and explained the situation to Keith. So he is aware, now.”

Lance was pretty sure he didn’t have nearly enough coffee to deal with this new development. “Hey, uh, do you guys still have wine?” he tried.

Shiro chuckled. “I am not sending you home past midnight and drunk, Lance.”

Lance sighed and slumped down in his chair. “Okay, so that news was just awesome. What else did you wanna talk about?”

“Why were you wandering around the woods at night?” Shiro asked.

Lance opened his mouth, then closed it. “Um,” he said. “I…enjoy looking at the stars?”

Shiro folded his arms. “Lance. You put yourself in danger. If Keith had not been patrolling our territory tonight, you would be a prisoner of the Galra right now. Do you understand the gravity of this situation?”

“So, what, I’m not allowed to take walks at night now?” Lance snapped. “Since when do you tell me what to do?”

“Since your walks at night led to the death of a Galra in our territory,” Shiro retorted. “The Galra will find out, even if we hide the body. And when they do, they will try to retaliate. They will send others, and if they find you alone, they will take you, and they will take full advantage of the power in your blood.”

Lance gulped. “Okay, okay, jeez,” he mumbled. “I hear you, loud and clear. I’m sorry I was dumb and I’m sorry it got Keith hurt –”

“Apologize for your foolish decisions, yes, but not for that,” Shiro said. “Keith will recover. This isn’t the first time he has gotten into fights, but…it is the first time the fight has ended in a death.”

“Why would he risk his life for me?” Lance asked, frowning. “Why would he defend me, knowing the consequences?”

“If it makes you feel less guilt, he was not only defending you, he was defending our home,” Shiro pointed out. “He would have felt an obligation to fight the Galra even if you weren’t there, simply because it was intruding.”

Lance frowned into his coffee.

Shiro regarded him thoughtfully for a few moments. “Something is bothering you,” he guessed.

“Besides the fact that I’m a walking beacon that says ‘bite me for a power trip?'”

“Besides that, yes.”

Lance chewed his lip. “Before we threw that net over Keith…I pretended to have a coughing fit, to cover up the sound of Hunk and Pidge sneaking up on him. Keith got really concerned and asked if I had consumption.” He looked up at Shiro, who looked like he already knew what Lance was about to say. “And just now, Keith said that he felt like he was sick again, and he was afraid of dying…again.”

Shiro nodded, resigned. “Yes. Keith had consumption, and would have died from it.”

“Is that…is that why you turned him?” Lance asked carefully.

“He was so weak,” Shiro murmured, his gaze distant and haunted, fixed on a point far, far in the past that only he could see. As he continued to speak, though, Lance could imagine it. “He was lying in a filthy alleyway, left for dead, blood all over his torn shirt and open mouth. I knew he was sick; I could smell it – it was no wonder that none of the Galra wanted him. He smelled like death. Consumption was given that name for a reason…he was utterly consumed by the disease; pale, reduced to little more than skin and bones, with eyes sunken deep into his face, watching me as I went to his side.”

“Was he afraid?” Lance asked quietly.

“He was delirious,” Shiro replied. “He reached out to me, whether to fight me off or to pull me closer, I don’t know. I didn’t want to feed on him, but vampires cannot catch nor carry diseases, so I wasn’t afraid to be near him, and gathered him up into my arms.” Shiro bit his lip. “He coughed blood all over my shirt and asked me if I was a demon sent to take him to Hell.”

Keith, human, dying, in Shiro’s arms – Lance’s chest twinged at the thought. It was hard to picture Keith as frail and sickly, but…as a human, apparently he had been.

“I asked him why he thought he was going to Hell,” Shiro continued. “And he said…he told me, ‘I was cast down in life; why would I not be cast down in death also?’ I realized that he was alone, an outcast – he had no one. And I decided that I should put him out of his misery.” He sighed. “Then, when my fangs touched his skin, he started crying. And he said, ‘I want to live. Please, let me live.’”

“So you turned him.”

“Yes,” Shiro said. “I took him back to my home and I turned him. It is…a painful process, but I stayed with him through it. I was alone through my turning, and I did not want that for him. It was a hasty decision, but I do not regret it. Becoming a sire made me a much better vampire, I think. Or a much better person, at least.”

“Because you had to look out for him, too?” Lance guessed.

Shiro nodded. “I was selfish and threw caution to the winds before Keith. But he was even more impulsive and foolish than I was, so I had to change my ways, for the safety of us both. I taught him not to hunt humans, in fact I taught him to avoid them, though apparently I did not teach him well enough.” Shiro smiled a little and Lance, hesitantly, smiled back.

“But you hunted humans, before,” Lance said, after a pause, and Shiro’s smile faded.

“I did,” Shiro admitted. “It was a crowded city, filled with drunks and the poor, and the hunting was…too easy. I would make a game of it, sometimes.” He looked guiltily away.

“A game,” Lance repeated, not sure if the twist in his gut was disgust or…something else. “You would kill them?”

“Sometimes,” Shiro said. “As I said, I was…selfish. I was not cautious when I fed, and often I took too much. Humans are so delicate at times…even if I didn’t take enough to kill them, if I bit them in the right vein or artery they would bleed out on their own.” He shuddered. “After I turned Keith, I became well-versed in the anatomy of the human circulatory system. I learned where not to bite in order for the victim to live, and taught him the same.”

“But you don’t feed off of humans,” Lance said unsurely.

“We don’t,” Shiro agreed. “But it was just a safeguard.”

“A safeguard in case of what?”

Shiro leaned back in his chair and shrugged. “I don’t know. It is good to be prepared, though. Especially now that we are friends with humans.”

“Yeah, please don’t let me bleed out,” Lance joked. “That would be awkward.”

Shiro’s brow lowered. “We would never bite you, Lance,” he said seriously.

What if I asked you to, Lance didn’t say, because Shiro did not need to know he was that much of a freak. “Well, good,” Lance said instead. “Looks like it would hurt.”

“It does,” Shiro said. “In a way.”

Lance raised an eyebrow.

Shiro set down his mug of coffee with a little too much force. “Anyway,” he said, “that’s why Keith was so concerned when you started coughing. Consumption is nasty business. You’re lucky you live in a day and age where it’s virtually eradicated.”

“Yeah, but have you heard of Ebola?”

Shiro rolled his eyes. “Try the Spanish flu epidemic, Lance.”

“Next you’re gonna tell me you remember the good ol’ Black Plague.”

Shiro swatted at him. “Oh, hush.”

Lance’s gaze drifted to the clock on the wall, and when he saw the time he started and almost spilled his coffee everywhere. “Shit! How is it almost two am? Ugh…I should get back.” Lance wasn’t looking forward to making the long trek back through the woods after being chased through them.

Shiro tilted his head. “You could stay the night here,” he said. Lance blinked at him, not processing. “There’s no way I’m letting you walk back alone, and I’d rather not leave Keith alone here when he’s so vulnerable.”

Lance weighed his options. “I don’t want to go back out there, either,” he finally admitted. “Um…can I just crash on the couch in the parlor?”

“Of course.” Shiro smiled brightly, and his dimples were unfairly attractive; why were vampires so pretty, and how was this Lance’s life? “I’ll get you some blankets and proper pillows.”

“Thanks,” Lance said. “I, uh…better text Hunk and let him know I’m spending the night in a vampire lair.”

Shiro gave him a look, but he was still smiling.

*

“Anything else you need?” Shiro asked after Lance had been basically smothered in fluffy blankets and comforters. “Are you warm enough? Do you need more ice for your ankle? Are you –”

“Shiro, chill,” Lance laughed, peeking at him from over the edge of the blanket. “It’s perfect, thanks.”

“Oh, well…good.” Shiro ran a hand through his hair, bashful. “Clearly I am unused to having human guests. But I am glad you’re comfortable. I’ll try my best to be quiet; I’ll be upstairs if you need me for any reason.”

“Cool, thanks again. ‘Night.”

Shiro patted the blanket awkwardly. “Goodnight.” He flipped off the light switch, eyes flaring gold before he turned away.

“Don’t let the vampires bite,” Lance said under his breath.

“Not funny,” Shiro whispered back, and closed the door behind him.

art by @gummibois

Chapter Text

When Lance got back to the Holts’ house after the unexpected sleepover, one would’ve thought he’d just returned from war or something by the way Hunk threw himself at Lance and wrapped him up in a bruising hug. Pidge, on the other hand, stood off to the side, looking even more judgmental than usual. Lance made a face at them. Hunk was babbling nonsensically.

“We thought you were dead, you jerk!” Hunk sniffled when he finally let Lance breathe.

“I texted you!”

“It wasn’t the most comforting text in the world,” Pidge said flatly. They whipped out their phone, and read, “keith just had a near-death experience & saved me from a hungry Galra (they are BAD!!!) Shiro’s keepin me here for the night bc i twisted my ankle and he is stressed af. if im not back by morning then they probably ate me lol. xo lance

“Probably ate me lol!?” Hunk wailed, for emphasis.

“Uh, woops,” Lance said. “I guess I have an even drier sense of humor at two in the morning, sorry guys. But they didn’t eat me, it’s cool. Their couch is super comfy, by the way.”

“It is not cool!” Hunk retorted. “Keith saved you from a hungry Galra?! We need context here, Lance!”

“We also need context for why you’re wearing a Sex Pistols shirt,” Pidge muttered. “Although to be honest, I’m not sure I want context on that.”

“My other shirt was covered in blood!” Lance said defensively.

WHAT?!” Hunk shrieked.

“Not my blood!” Lance added hastily. “Keith’s. Okay, so there was this Galra chasing me, and Keith saved my ass and killed the Galra, but it sort of chewed his throat open –”

Hunk made a retching sound. Pidge looked morbidly interested. “Wait, vampires can survive mortal wounds like that?”

“Apparently,” Lance said. “Keith had to rip the Galra’s heart out with his bare hand for it to die.”

Pidge whistled lowly, impressed. “Tell me more. How did they fight? How did Keith recover? Tell us everything.”

“Well, it started with a pair of yellow eyes…”

As Lance recounted the harrowing tale, Hunk covered his face and made a sound that indicated he had given up with their shenanigans.

Lance didn’t blame him – and Hunk didn’t even know that he was now crushin’ bigtime on one of their new fanged friends. Maybe best to keep it that way, so Hunk didn’t have an aneurysm. Maybe best to just keep it a secret until it went away. Because it was gonna go away, eventually. Probably. Yeah.

*

It didn’t go away.

*

Lance had occasionally entertained the possibility of not being the straightest arrow in the quiver, but he’d never guessed that a damn vampire would make him question his sexuality. Okay, not question. That question had been answered the second stupid Keith slunk out of the shadows and got all up in his business. It just wasn’t fair – Keith was seriously pretty, prettier than a lot of girls, even, which was saying something because Lance loved girls. But Keith, despite his long dark eyelashes and pouty pink mouth and soft wavy hair, was definitely not a girl. And Lance still really, really liked him.

Lance had, eventually, caved and told Hunk. He ended up telling Hunk most everything, so it was really just a matter of time. He only lasted three days – three days of angst and denial – after the Galra Incident before he spilled the beans to Hunk. Lance did not tell Pidge because Pidge was evil when it came to matters like this – Lance had learned that lesson the hard way in eighth grade when he told Pidge about his crush and Pidge spent the rest of the year unsubtly bringing it up whenever the girl was nearby and bugging Lance about asking her to every school event ever. Two months later, Lance had gotten a crush on someone else out of sheer desperation to make the torture end, probably.

But Hunk was cool. Hunk just flailed his hands around and sighed heavily a lot. “Why, Lance,” he sighed. “Why.”

“Why am I into guys? I dunno, man, I –”

“No, not that,” Hunk said. “That part isn’t surprising. No, I mean why vampires.”

“Isn’t surprising?!” Lance squawked. “What do you mean?”

Hunk blinked. “I didn’t realize this was like, a sudden epiphany for you,” he admitted. “I just kind of assumed…I mean, you always talked about that one kid in, uh, sophomore year I think? Y’know, the quarterback?”

Lance folded his arms. “I talked about him because he was my rival, that guy was the worst –”

“Uh-huh,” Hunk said, raising an eyebrow. “Well, you talked about his hair and the color of his eyes a lot for someone who apparently hated him.”

Lance scowled at him. “Rival,” he repeated.

Hunk was unconvinced. “And, don’t get me wrong, the high school quarterback is one thing, but a vampire we found in the forest is a totally different ballgame, Lance!”

“It’s not like I made a conscious decision to have the hots for Keith!” Lance retorted. “He just – he just had to go and lick me and be weirdly thoughtful and then save my life, okay!”

Hunk flopped down on his bed. “Lance,” he said. “I can’t beat up a vampire for you.”

“You can’t beat up anyone,” Lance reminded him, flopping down next to him. “You’re way too nice for that.”

“I know,” Hunk said miserably. “But I would still try. If Keith, or whoever, hurt you, I mean.”

Lance was oddly touched. “Thanks, dude,” he said, patting Hunk’s belly affectionately. “But I doubt you’re gonna have to worry about that. Keith’s not exactly my biggest fan, if you hadn’t noticed, and I dunno if he even likes dudes.”

Hunk gave him a mildly bewildered look. “Uh…aren’t him and Shiro sort of…?”

“What?!” Lance spluttered and shook his head. “No! Keith said that they’re like family, y’know, like brothers or something. Don’t make it weird.”

“Weirder,” Hunk amended. “But…brothers? You sure about that?”

“Let’s hope,” Lance muttered. “Because if Keith’s already taken by Shiro, I don’t have a chance. I mean, have you seen Shiro?”

Hunk squinted at him. “Hold on, do you like Shiro too?”

Lance smacked him with a pillow. “Don’t pretend like he isn’t super-hot, Hunk.”

“Okay, okay!” Hunk shoved the pillow away, laughing. “I see your point. The guy’s muscles have muscles. But you know it’s okay if you like them both – I mean, it’s not okay, because they’re vampires, but it’s okay in that some people like two people at once and – blaughh!”

Lance hit him with the pillow again.

“I like Keith!” he exclaimed. “Just Keith, alright? This thing is bad enough as it is.”

“You’re telling me,” Hunk sighed, but patted his hand sympathetically.

“Remember when our summers were fun and normal?” Lance asked after a long pause during which the two of them just stared at the vaguely rabbit-shaped stain on the ceiling together.

Hunk sighed with feeling. “Yeah. But something tells me that this one’s just going to get stranger and stranger,” he said.

*

Lance was now required to use the Buddy System when walking in the woods, even if it was daylight. He thought that was kinda dumb because he was an adult, okay, but Shiro and Hunk had left very little room for argument. Gunther did not count as a buddy, so Lance had to go on his morning walks with either Hunk or Pidge or both, usually both. At night, Shiro had decided he would have to personally escort them through the woods.

Keith was still on bedrest, technically, but when they visited the Victorian house shortly after Lance had broken the news to Hunk, he was up and about, ignoring Shiro’s fretting. “You need to go back to bed,” Shiro insisted. “Or at least lay down on the sofa!”

Keith rolled his eyes, but sat down on the sofa, coincidentally next to Lance. “Happy?” he asked, yawning just wide enough to reveal his fangs before slumping back into the pillows with a little huff.

“Ecstatic,” Shiro retorted, and went back to answering Pidge’s questions. Hunk, sitting next to Pidge, narrowed his eyes at Keith before joining in on the questioning and Storytime with Shiro.

Lance tried to glance at Keith subtly, but found that the vampire was already looking at him, mouth quirked. “Uh,” Lance said. “How are you feeling?”

“Peachy,” Keith said. He tapped the faintly scarred skin of his neck lightly. “We heal fast. When there’s enough blood in our systems, anyway.” His mouth tilted down into a frown. “But you already know that.”

“Yeah,” Lance said. “I guess you were kinda out of it, but I helped Shiro get you some snacks from the fridge. I didn’t wanna just leave, after you’d saved me and everything. I thought that would be pretty ungrateful of me.”

Keith’s gaze slid away. “I…I’m sorry you had to see me like that. Shiro assured me that I did not attack you, but…” He cleared his throat. “Seeing a vampire feeding is rather…personal. Especially when said vampire is starving.”

“Oh,” Lance said. Keith had said the word personal with a strange tone, one that made Lance’s face heat up slightly. “I didn’t know. But I don’t, like, think any less of you if that’s what you’re worried about. I mean, sure, it was a little gross, but you needed it to survive, so. It’s fine. I get it.”

Keith blinked. “You do?”

“Well, yeah. What, you thought I’d be a dick about it?” Lance shook his head. “If not for you, I’d be dead…or being used as a blood bag by the Galra.”

Keith winced. “You’re lucky I heard you shouting, and that I was able to pick up your scent. If those filthy Galra dare to step foot in our woods again, I’ll –”

“You’ll keep out of harm’s way,” Shiro finished, eyebrow raised as if daring Keith to argue. “The Galra aren’t welcome here, but killing them isn’t going to help matters.”

“It means one less Galra to deal with,” Keith muttered.

“No,” Shiro said, “it means that now we’ve caught their attention. And so has Lance.”

“What’s so special about Lance?” Pidge asked.

Keith looked away, embarrassed, shoulders hunched. Lance played with a string on his jacket. “His blood is very powerful,” Shiro said reluctantly.

And then they had to have that conversation.

Hunk, understandably, was not pleased about the new development, and as soon as they got back to the Holts’ house he grabbed Lance’s arm and hissed, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Lance sighed. “Why do you think, Hunk?”

“I wonder if we can get blood samples from you,” Pidge mused. Lance wrapped his arms around himself protectively. “Oh, don’t be like that. Not too much, just enough to look at under a microscope.”

“I doubt you can see whatever's in my blood, Pidge,” Lance said. “And no, I’m not letting you prick my fingertips to find out.”

“Who said anything about letting?”

“Pidge! I think the vampires have better concepts of consent than you.”

“Okay, okay,” Pidge relented. “But seriously, this is interesting. All this time, I’ve been friends with a vampire magnet. Just wish I’d known sooner, is all.”

“So you could use me for bait?” Lance exclaimed.

“Of course not,” Pidge said, but their eyes looked kinda shifty.

“Sleep with one eye open, Lance,” Hunk muttered. “Or I’ll build a wall of pillows to keep the gremlin out.”

“This is my house!” Pidge said. “I could make the rent be blood samples, and you can’t stop me.”

“I could seek shelter with Shiro and Keith instead,” Lance retorted.

Pidge snorted. “I think they’d demand a lot more than samples for rent, Lance.”

Lance blanched. “They would not! They’re not like the Galra.”

“Shiro himself said that animal blood is just a substitute for the real thing,” Pidge pointed out. “I bet having you around all the time is like being forced to stare at a three-tier chocolate gateau cake for them.”

Lance flinched. That hurt, even if it was probably true. It hurt more because it was true. Hunk and Pidge saw the expression on his face and Pidge realized they’d fucked up. “Wow,” Hunk said. “Way to spell it out for him, Pidge, jeez.”

“I didn’t mean it like that!”

“Really? You didn’t mean ‘your friends only see you as food and it’s only a matter of time before they get hungry enough?’” Lance snapped. “Thanks. Thanks a lot.”

Pidge folded their arms. “I’m sorry, okay? They probably don’t see you like that, and if they did they’re too polite to admit it. If that makes you feel better.”

“Not really, no,” Lance muttered.

Pidge looked guilty for the rest of the night and didn’t bring up the blood samples again. But Lance still couldn’t stop thinking about what they’d said, or about the memory of Keith’s breath on his throat and the desperate, dangerous hunger in his eyes.

*

Samuel and Colleen Holt were busy people, even in the summertime, which made it pretty easy to keep sneaking out to visit vampires at night. Samuel worked late nights at the hospital and sometimes even worked the graveyard shifts, while Colleen spent her summers working at the Rosewood Animal Shelter, which kept her more than busy. Matt was spending the summer with his girlfriend in San Francisco, and wouldn’t be back until September.

They were barely halfway into June, though it sometimes felt like they’d discovered the supernatural beings living in their backyard ages ago. Hunk seemed to think it was only a matter of time before the Holts discovered their secret, but Pidge was confident that it wouldn’t be an issue.

“I love my parents, but they’re some of the most oblivious people on the planet,” Pidge told them. “I mean, c’mon, don’t you remember that time last summer when Matt brought back Jack Daniel’s and got you guys completely wasted, and then my dad walked in to find Lance on the floor, waxing poetic about Hunk’s hugs, clearly drunk?”

“My memory’s not real clear on that, actually,” Lance said. “But we’re not banned from ever hanging out with you again, so I’m assuming he didn’t notice.”

“He didn’t,” Hunk admitted. “He just laughed and agreed with you that I was a great hugger, said he was glad we were having fun, told Pidge to empty the dishwasher, and left.”

“Case in point,” Pidge said. “So don’t sweat it. Besides, they’re going on that San Juan Islands trip in a week, so they won’t even be here.”

“Holy shit, I totally forgot about that,” Lance said. “Oh my god. No parents.”

Hunk gave him a look that said, I know what you’re thinking, you dirty, dirty boy.

Lance gave him a look that said, I am pure and have no idea what you mean.

Pidge said, “Can you guys stop doing the eyebrow communication thing?”

“You and Matt do it all the time,” Hunk protested.

“No, they just stare intently at each other,” Lance said. “The Holt siblings have a telepathic bond.”

“True. But anyway, we should 100% take advantage of the lack of supervision. I vote that we take Keith and Shiro to see the sights. They don’t get out much,” Pidge said.

“Do you really think they’re gonna go for that?” Hunk asked doubtfully. “Shiro especially seems pretty set on their hermit lifestyle.”

“Shiro’s set on it, but Keith isn’t,” Pidge said. “And where Keith goes…Shiro will follow, I bet.”

“We should take them to the beach,” Lance blurted.

“The beach seems like a terrible place for vampires,” Hunk pointed out.

“Not if we go at night,” Lance countered.

“Nightswimming, hell yeah,” Pidge said. “I’m in. We can go to that little cove on Trinidad State. The beach won’t be crowded either, so there’s no chance of them being seen.”

“But what about sharks?” Hunk pleaded. “Remember last year, when we couldn’t go to Trinidad because of that surfer and the great white?”

“Sharks are cool,” Pidge said, nonplussed. “If you pat their noses, they’ll leave you alone.”

“Boop the shark,” Lance said.

“I can’t boop the shark if it’s eating my leg!” Hunk retorted.

“There’s mostly just leopard sharks by Trinidad, don’t worry,” Pidge added. “They’re cute.”

“Fine,” Hunk relented. “But it’s at least a seven hour drive to Trinidad from here. Maybe six if Lance is driving. Shiro will never agree to going so far away from home.”

“They’ve been all over the world, this is nothin’,” Lance argued. “Besides, we’ll make it fun. We can stop at other cool places on the way. Road trip!”

“You’re really set on this, aren’t you.” Hunk sighed. “Okay. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but okay.”

“Like we needed your permission,” Pidge said, grinning. “Right, so it’s decided. After my parents fly up to Washington, we’re taking a road trip. Until then, we start planning.”

“And trying to convince the vampires,” Hunk added. “Good luck with that.”

Lance shrugged. “Eh, how hard can it be?”

*

Very hard, as it turned out.

“Absolutely not,” Shiro said, for the third time in five minutes.

“But it’ll be fun –”

“You know what would not be fun? If we returned to find that the Galra had overrun our territory!”

“Oh, c’mon,” Lance wheedled, “they wouldn’t move in that quickly! It’ll only be one day, maybe two.”

Shiro folded his arms. “While I appreciate your kind invitation, we cannot accept it. Besides, our presence would only be an inconvenience to you. You will have far more fun if we are not there.”

“That’s not true!” Lance snapped. “The whole reason we planned this trip was to bring you guys along!”

Keith was unhappily hunched over on the couch next to Shiro, but he looked up at that, brows drawing together. “…really?” he asked.

“Yes really!” Pidge chimed in. “Don’t you guys wanna get out of this place for a little while? It can’t be healthy for you to stay cooped up here all the time.”

“It’s our home,” Keith said quietly. “But…it would be nice to see new places.”

“Keith…” Shiro shook his head. “You know it’s a bad idea to leave this place undefended.”

“The Galra care about Lance, not our territory,” Keith retorted. “As long as Lance isn’t here, they’ll stay out, more or less.”

“How can we know that for certain?” Shiro demanded. “We cannot possibly. It would be foolish and irresponsible to abandon our territory now, so soon after one of them was slain. We burned the body, true, but it is only a matter of time –”

“We have nothing but time, Takashi!” Keith interrupted fiercely, standing up so he was staring down at his sire. “I know you’re afraid of the Galra but trying to be so damn stoic is just making it worse. When was the last time you had fun, really?”

Shiro blinked back at him, startled into silence. Then he looked down, frowning. “I…I don’t know,” he admitted.

“We should go,” Keith murmured, reaching out and laying a hand on Shiro’s shoulder. “It’ll be good for you. For us. Help take your mind off…things.”

There was a silence. Lance held his breath. Then Shiro sighed, resigned, and looked back up. “We will need to take necessary precautions before leaving,” he said.

Keith’s face broke into a grin. “Of course,” he agreed, “yes, yes, whatever you think is best.”

“So you guys will go?!” Lance exclaimed. “It’s a yes?”

“It’s a yes,” Shiro said, shaking his head, but he was smiling slightly. “But you better choose a good route. I expect all the tackiest tourist destinations.”

“Don’t worry, we got it covered,” Pidge promised, gleeful.

“But what transportation will we use?” Shiro asked. “I understand automobiles are quite commonplace now, but you are all too young to drive –”

“Nah, I got my license ages ago,” Lance declared. “I’ll be the chauffeur, at your service.” He did a little mock-bow.

“You can drive?” Shiro asked, nonplussed, as Keith asked, “You have a car?”

“Yep,” Lance said to both. “Her name’s Azula. She’s not exactly state-of-the-art, but she gets the job done.”

“You named it?” Shiro furrowed his brow. “But…it is a machine.”

Keith snorted. “Don’t act like you didn’t call the coffee pot Mr. Coffee for weeks.”

Shiro glared at him. Hunk chuckled and Shiro glared harder.

“Is your car blue?” Keith asked.

“Yep.”

Keith tilted his head. “And you named it Azula because ‘azul’ is blue in Spanish? Do you speak Spanish?”

“I mean, yeah, I do, but I named her after Princess Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Keith looked at him blankly. “Y’know, Azula? Zuko’s older sis? Firebender with blue fire?”

“Are you feeling alright?” Keith asked, confused.

“Oh my god,” Lance said, appalled. “You gotta watch it. Best show. My childhood, basically.”

“Show? Like, on the television?”

“Well, yeah, but you’d have to watch it on Netflix,” Lance explained.

“Net…flicks?”

“And chill,” Pidge said under their breath. Shiro looked puzzled and intrigued.

“There’s a lot we gotta get you guys up to speed on,” Lance added quickly. “Which is exactly why this road trip is the best idea ever.”

“That remains to be seen,” Shiro said.

“Oh, cheer up,” Keith said. “I know you get to be pretty jaded after two centuries but at least try to be optimistic about this.”

Shiro raised an eyebrow. “Coming from the most pessimistic person I know.”

Keith stuck his tongue out at Shiro. Lance’s heart melted a little. Shiro flicked Keith’s ear. “Being a pessimist is good,” he said. “You’re either right or pleasantly surprised.”

“Well, then they’ll pleasantly surprise you,” Keith said sweetly. “Isn’t that right, Lance?”

Lance swallowed. “Um. Yeah. ‘Course. We’re full of pleasant surprises.”

Hunk elbowed him. Lance elbowed him back, knowing he had the sharper elbow out of the two of them.

“I am looking forward to meeting Princess Azula,” Keith said earnestly.

Lance didn’t know how he was going to be able to wait a week.

*

During the day, Lance had gotten into the habit of walking Gunther around town in the morning, since he wasn’t allowed to go into the forest. Rosewood was a cute town, a mere speck of land compared to L.A., and though it was a little weird that everyone knew each other, Lance liked it well enough. It definitely felt safer than walking around L.A., though maybe that was silly because of their close proximity with vampires.

Lance memorized the general layout of Rosewood pretty quick – just down the street from Pidge’s house was a little coffee shop and café called Gemma’s, an even littler bookstore called The Quill, and a park that was often frequented by other dog friends and nice old ladies feeding birds. On the next street there was a post office, a Target, a Goodwill, the animal shelter, a small hiking depot, and a pizza place. Everything else was residential. There wasn’t a lot to remember, so that was why, halfway through that long, long week before the Holts left for Washington, Lance was surprised when he stumbled upon a shop he’d never seen before.

It was small and startlingly blue, with wide display windows strung with glittering jewelry and window sills covered in various potted plants, all of them green and thriving. The store’s sign swung gently in the slight breeze over the doorway, and in large, looping letters it read: ’Twixt & ‘Tween.

Gunther barked at it. “Yeah, it’s weird, huh, bud?” Lance muttered as he started, hesitantly, towards the door. The windows were tinted, so that he couldn’t see very far into the shop from outside, yet as he grasped the door handle and opened it, a little tremor went up his arm, like a static shock. A bell jingled when he entered. Gunther stopped barking, and huddled close to Lance’s side, sniffing the air nervously.

The shop was crowded inside, lit dimly and unevenly by old-fashioned hanging lamps that illuminated the various crowded shelves of crystals, statuettes, books, plants, boxes, cards, and pendants in an eerie white-blue light. Lance swallowed. The shop was empty. “Hello?” he called, lingering near the door in case he needed to bolt. “Anyone here?”

There was a sudden movement towards the back of the shop, and Lance started…only to pause and stare as a tall young woman with dark bobbed hair, wide hips, large white hoop earrings, and an outfit that looked straight out of the 70’s stepped out from behind a particularly overflowing bookshelf. She beamed at him, and as Lance took a hesitant step closer, he noticed the strange hue of her eyes, somewhere between amber and gold.

“Hello!” she exclaimed. “Oh my, it’s been ages since I’ve had a new customer.” She peered at him curiously. “Which portal did you come from, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Lance blinked. “Did you just say portal?”

“Yes, of course,” she said, frowning a little. “Also called gateway, or in the olden days, ley line. Unless…” Her strange eyes widened. “Oh, dear. Did you enter the portal on accident?”

Gunther barked, his tail beginning to wag. Lance stared at her. “What…what are you talking about? This is just a shop. A normal…well, kinda weird, new-agey shop, but it still obeys the laws of physics! There was no portal, just a door.”

“Portals can take many forms,” she said, puzzled. “A door is a very common one.”

Lance gestured to the windows. “I can see the sky outside,” he said. “We’re still in Rosewood. It’s just a door.”

She pursed her lips. “So you did enter by accident. How intriguing. Well, you must have found my humble shop for a reason. Is there, perchance, something you are in great need of? It might help to know what manner of being you are.”

“Manner of…I’m a human!” Lance spluttered. “Wait, what are you?”

She sighed. “My name is Shay,” she said. “And you are not human, dear, or you would not be able to see my shop or cross through the portal.”

“Not human,” Lance repeated, incredulous. “Well I’m not a vampire, so what am I?”

Shay paled slightly. “A vampire? Vampires are not particularly welcome here, I will have you know! Do you consort with vampires, then? Or…” She paused, her expression suddenly sharpening with realization. “Or do you hunt them?”

Lance folded his arms. “I’m friends with two vampires, as a matter of fact.” Shay flinched. “Not Galra,” he added hastily. “They don’t drink human blood, either. Strictly vegetarian.”

Shay’s expression dissolved into confusion again. “Well. That is certainly…unconventional.” She cleared her throat. “But anyway, to be quite honest, I do not know what you are. I had thought perhaps a witch, since I suspected the dog to be a familiar, but I see now he is just a dog, and you carry none of the usual sigils and charms of a witch.”

“He’s a good dog,” Lance said defensively, patting Gunther’s head. “But no, I’m not a witch; I could’ve told you that. I already told you, you’ve got it wrong. I’m human. I only found out vampires existed a few weeks ago. And now you’re trying to tell me that I’m supernatural, too?”

Shay shrugged. “As I said, it is impossible for humans to see my shop. The glamour concealing it is far too powerful.” She squinted at him. “I suppose you might be half-fae, though fae tend to keep to themselves these days, and see humans as little more than nature-destroyers. So perhaps not.”

“My parents are both definitely human,” Lance said.

“They could have created a glamour to hide themselves from you,” Shay said, but she sounded doubtful. “Hmm…I would be able to sense if you were possessed, and luckily for you that is not the case.”

“Possessed?” Lance squawked, alarmed.

“By a spirit,” Shay explained casually. “Sometimes benevolent, usually not. But you are free of spirits, don’t worry.”

“Oh, awesome,” Lance said. “I was really worried there, for a second.”

“You know, there is a certain…aura about you,” Shay said thoughtfully. “It seems familiar…but I can’t quite put my finger on it, I’m afraid.”

“I don’t know if this means anything to you, but my vampire friends said that I have blood that smells really good. It’s extra-powerful for them, or something like that.”

Shay looked, suddenly, as if she had seen a ghost. “Oh,” she said.

Lance furrowed his brow. “Does that actually mean something to you?”

Shay didn’t reply, but instead turned and gestured for him to follow. “I believe I know why my shop appeared to you, Lance Espinosa,” she said.

He almost tripped over his own feet. “How d’you know my name when I never said it?!”

Shay tapped her head. “You asked what kind of being I am. A being who knows many things which remain unsaid, that is what I am.”

“So, a psychic, basically.”

“If you wish to call it that, I suppose.” Shay stopped in front of a shelf full of crystals of varying sizes, colors, and shapes, and stepped back to give him space to peruse them, or something. “Let me know if you see anything that catches your eye,” she said.

Lance shook his head and was about to say that he didn’t want or need a crystal, thanks very much, when suddenly the dim lights glinted off of a small, clearish, aquamarine rock. It wasn’t even nicely cut into a crystal shape, just a raw, weird chunk of stone, but Lance found himself unable to look away from it. His hands loosened on Gunther’s leash and, instinctively, he reached out and picked up the crystal.

The room flooded with blinding blue light.

¡Ay carajo!” Lance cried, mouth falling open as the crystal burned in his palm like a live coal, so bright it looked almost white. Gunther cowered on the floor with a startled yelp. Lance dropped the crystal back onto the shelf immediately, stumbling backwards and staring accusingly at Shay. “What the actual fuck was that?!”

Shay was smiling. “That was a Balmeran crystal,” she said brightly, as if Lance hadn’t just somehow triggered an impromptu lights show. “It can release immense amounts of energy; however it requires a power source to activate it.”

“A…a power source? Like electricity, or what?”

“Like magic,” Shay replied. “Very rare magic. I have never seen it activate before.”

Lance clutched his hand to his chest, the hand that should have been burned by the searing crystal but remained perfectly unmarked. “Are you saying…I have magic?”

“Indeed.” Shay inclined her head. “There is ancient magic in your blood, Lance. Ancient, dangerous magic with power that may seem irresistible to many other beings…particularly vampires. They have the easiest access it, after all.”

“My friends have already promised me they’d never do that,” Lance retorted. “The Galra, though…they’re another story.”

Shay’s yellow eyes hardened. “Yes, and a terrible story at that,” she agreed. “If Prince Lotor got his hands on you, dear, it could be catastrophic. Not to mention a waste.”

“What do you think he would do?” Lance asked, not particularly wanting to know the answer.

Shay folded her thick arms grimly. “Use you and your magic until he becomes greedy enough to drain you. And he would. Ancient magic taken by force has a way of seducing others to darkness, of worming its way into their minds and hearts, and twisting their morals and intentions.”

Lance’s gut lurched. “Do…do you think it would do that to my friends, too?”

Shay tilted her head, considering. “Hmm…you seem to trust these friends of yours an awful lot, so I would say no. Ancient magic freely given is different, and often more powerful and benevolent. But I am no expert on this; I cannot even tell you what you are.”

Lance looked back at the crystal. “Will it…will it activate every time I touch it?”

“No,” Shay said. “In fact, it could help you learn how to control your magic. Focus on suppressing it, and the crystal will remain deactivated.”

Lance frowned, but took a deep breath and reached out to touch it. There was a brilliant spark as his fingertip connected with the glassy surface, and he flinched back, but Shay murmured gentle encouragement so he tried again, biting his lip and trying to calm himself, or the force inside of him, or whatever. This time, when his fingers closed around the crystal, it flickered briefly, before settling on a dim silvery glow that faded out in Lance’s palm. He grinned at it. “How was that?”

“Very good,” Shay praised. “The more you practice with it, the better at controlling your magic you will become.”

“It’s kinda dumb magic if all it does is make a rock glow and make other people want to take it from me,” Lance pointed out.

Shay clicked her tongue disapprovingly. “No magic is ‘dumb magic,’ Lance. Yours certainly isn’t. It may be very useful to you, someday. But in the meantime…I believe you should take this crystal with you. It is yours to keep.”

“How much –”

“It’s free,” Shay said, amused. “A gift. Besides, I don’t think the usual prices in my shop would be considered usual at all to you.” She plucked the crystal delicately from his palm and Lance felt a strange surge of possessiveness towards it which he quickly tamped down. Then the air shimmered, like a concentrated heat wave, and when Lance’s vision cleared the crystal had a fine silver chain attached to it, making it a pendant.

“How did you…”

Shay handed him the necklace and wiggled her fingers slyly. “I sense you will need to keep this crystal close to you, so I simply coaxed it into a more convenient form.”

Lance slowly slipped the chain over his head and around his neck, where the pendant slipped easily under the hem of his shirt to rest squarely over his heart. Shay covered her mouth with her hands as it touched his skin, eyes widening. “Oh, dear,” she murmured.

“What?” Lance said, confused and alarmed. “What’s up?” The crystal didn’t seem to be glowing, though he was very aware of its presence, and his skin felt warmer than usual.

Wordlessly, Shay reached into her pocket and handed him a compact mirror. Lance peered into it…and froze.

It looked like someone had turned the saturation of his irises all the way up, and though the crystal was not glowing, his eyes were; shining with an eerie, electric blue light like some kind of bioluminescent plankton. The glow intensified the longer he stared into the mirror, until the whites of his eyes seemed swallowed up by the sapphire glow. “What is this?” Lance murmured, entranced rather than afraid. There was a warmth in his chest, pulsing outward from the crystal, a sensation he had never felt before.

“It is a visible manifestation of your magic,” Shay told him. “The crystal…awakens it, if you will.”

“I can’t walk around with glowing eyes,” Lance said. “Pretty sure someone would notice.”

“No you cannot, and that they would,” Shay agreed. “Focus on shielding your magic again, as you did before.”

It took longer, but eventually the warm pulses faded and so did his eyes, until they had returned to their usual dull gray blue. It was almost disappointing.

Shay cleared her throat and he looked back up at her. “Lance…I believe it is for the best that you keep this a secret.”

“From who?”

“Everyone,” Shay said. “Your friends, vampire or human, must not know. They might not wish you harm, but if word got out, and less friendly beings caught wind of you and what you can do…it may end badly.”

“Jeez, okay,” Lance said. “I mean, I’ll try my best, but if I start glowing outta nowhere, I think I owe them an explanation.”

“If you are worried about that, do not wear the crystal constantly,” Shay said. “Until you are certain that wearing it will shield your magic rather than expose it, then wear it only when you must.”

“I’m guessing you don’t want me to flaunt the crystal around, either,” Lance said, a little sad. It was kinda pretty.

“Others are not drawn to it like you are,” Shay replied. “It won’t hurt to let others see it. But do what you think is best.”

Gunther was whining and staring up at Lance with big brown eyes. Lance knew that look. “Uh, listen, sorry, but I gotta go before my dog pees all over your interdimensional curio shop.”

Shay laughed and waved a hand. “Goodbye, Lance. We will meet again, whether here or…perhaps elsewhere.”

“Will that door take me back to Rosewood, or will I end up halfway across the world?”

Shay raised her eyebrows. “It will take you where you want to go.”

Shaking his head, Lance turned and walked Gunther out the door…and found himself in the woods. Disoriented, he whirled around, only to find that ’Twixt & ‘Tween was gone, and the door had been replaced by a large pine tree. Gunther happily raised his leg and peed at the base of the tree portal.

Lance rubbed his eyes. “So, that happened,” he muttered, and just to check, he felt for the chain around his neck. Sure enough, it was still there, and so was the crystal. It flared brightly at his urging, and Lance looked down at it with equal parts excitement and dismay. “What am I?” he asked it. The crystal flickered equivocally. “What can I do?”

A loud, croaking caw startled Lance out of his thoughts. He looked up into the boughs of the tree and saw a large raven peering down at him with beady black eyes. “Don’t tell Keith,” Lance called up to it. “I swear, I didn’t mean to come into the woods alone. A psychic lady sent me through a portal.”

The raven cocked its head, puffing up its throat feathers. “Keith, Keith, Keith!” it trilled loudly.

Lance almost had a heart attack. “Qué carajo, the birds talk, of course the birds talk, why would they not,” he grumbled. He looked down at Gunther, who was attempting to eat a pinecone. “Do you talk too? Just tell me now so we can get it over with.”

Gunther ignored him.

“Keith!” the raven shrieked again, swooping from the pine tree to the smaller one next to it, still staring unblinkingly at Lance.

“Is that all you can say?” Lance asked it, relaxing slightly.

Then it said, “Lance, Lance!” and Lance’s heart really could not take this much stress, thank you very much.

“Yep,” he said faintly, “that’s me. Y’know, there is something super creepy about hearing a raven say your name. Kinda ominous.”

The raven clacked its beak innocently and shuffled around on its branch.

“Right, well, I’m going to leave now,” Lance said. “Bye, birdy.”

“Goodbye! Goodbye!” The raven leapt from the tree and into the air, its cries echoing through the woods.

*

Later, Lance Googled “can ravens talk?”

The answer was yes, but they could only say words they were taught, or words they had heard often.

Which meant that Keith had talked about Lance to his ravens.

Chapter Text

Thankfully, the ravens didn’t tattle on him, or if they did Keith was keeping it under wraps.

So Lance remained in Shiro’s good favor as the day of the road trip drew closer and closer, and both vampires tolerated their plotting and complicated map-drawing – Lance was pretty damn sure Pidge was making this way more convoluted than it needed to be, but Lance was not about to get in the way of Pidge’s intense planning.

Besides, he was too distracted to focus much on the road trip – he was still excited for it, of course, but all too often he found himself catching moments alone and holding the crystal in his cupped palms, trying to control the intensity of its glow and, more importantly, trying to figure out what he was if not human. He figured he didn’t have much chance of figuring it out if Shay had been unable to, but…he tried, anyway. His Google searches about magical blood that tasted good and made rocks glow were pretty fruitless, and though he tried to find ‘Twixt & ‘Tween during his morning walks, the little shop had vanished into thin air.

On the day that Sam and Colleen packed up their bags and piled into their mini-van, they gave everyone big hugs, except Gunther, who they were taking with them. “You three be good,” Colleen said, stroking Pidge’s hair and making them squirm away. “I know you’re great kids, but we still worry about you!”

“We’ll be fine, Mom,” Pidge said. “Promise.”

“Two months is a long time!” Colleen fretted. “Lance, Hunk, dears, please remember to stay in contact with your parents. They want to be sure that you’re safe –”

Mom,” Pidge said.

“What? I’m trying to be a good, responsible guardian! It isn’t easy, you know!”

“Trunk’s loaded and ready to go!” Sam declared from the doorway. “Any last requests for souvenirs, kiddos?”

“Send us pics of the orcas!” Hunk exclaimed.

“You’re afraid of sharks but not killer whales?” Lance asked him.

“Shamu forever,” Hunk retorted.

“Alright, can do, bud,” Sam said. “Katie, I’m guessing you’d like whatever shells we can find to add to your collection?” Pidge nodded eagerly. “I know we haven’t been to the beach in ages – maybe we can plan a trip when we get back, huh?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Pidge said innocently. Pidge made Lance never want to have children, sometimes.

“Anything for you, Lance?” Colleen asked with a smile.

Lance shrugged. “Aw, thanks for asking, but your hospitality is all I need, Mr. and Mrs. Holt,” he said.

Pidge kicked his ankle. Colleen put her hand over her heart. “You really are too much, Lance. We’ll keep an eye out for anything space-related, alright? I know you like those astrology-astronomy things.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Holt,” Lance said, biting his tongue to stop himself from correcting her, because astrology and astronomy were two totally different things (even if he was kinda obsessed with both of them). “I appreciate it.”

“Of course, dear. Well, goodbye all! Katie, I expect calls and texts regularly! You’d better communicate, got it?” Colleen warned.

“Have I ever let you down?” Pidge asked, hugging their mom one last time before pushing her towards Sam. “Go on, get outta here. You guys deserve all the island resort time in the world.”

Colleen blew them all a kiss, Sam gave them a thumbs up, Gunther slobbered all over Pidge’s face, and then they were out the door. The three of them listened to the rumble of the car engine starting up and the crunch of wheels over gravel as they pulled out of the driveway and drove off.

“We’re free,” Pidge said.

“You’re an awful child, I hope you know that,” Lance informed them.

Pidge stuck their tongue out at him. “I’m the best at being awful, though. Alright…time to pack up the last of our stuff and go fetch our vampire friends.”

*

It took some convincing to get Shiro into the car.

“I don’t know,” he said, eying Azula in a way that made Lance very offended on her behalf, because she wasn’t that bad, jeez. “Are…are you certain this is safe?” He shot Lance a nervous look. “You have experience controlling this machine?”

Hunk came to his rescue. “Lance is a great driver!” Hunk said, pointedly leaving out the fact that Lance thought speed limits were kinda arbitrary. “He’s gotten us all the way from L.A. to Rosewood safely not once but twice, and he’s gotten out of L.A. rush hour traffic in one piece, which is a feat in itself.”

“L.A.?” Keith asked, confused, poking his head up from the trunk where he was putting his and Shiro’s small bags of stuff. “Is that where you live?”

“Yeah, Los Angeles,” Lance replied, and Keith’s face fell. “What, you’re not a fan of the City of Angels?”

“No, it’s not that,” Keith said. “It’s just that…Los Angeles is far away, isn’t it?”

“Yep, it’s like an eight hour drive to get up here,” Hunk agreed. “And that’s if there’s no big accidents on the way, which is super rare.”

“Accidents?” Shiro repeated.

“When cars crash into each other,” Pidge provided helpfully. Shiro blanched. “Lance has only gotten into one accident though, and it was mostly not his fault.”

“It wasn’t my fault at all!” Lance snapped. “Some idiot in a BMW rear-ended me!”

Shiro started backing away from the car. Keith shoved him back towards it, rolling his eyes. “But it’s totally fine,” Hunk added hastily. “That happened ages ago. And Lance’s car is really safe, Honda Civics are like, the number one safest car.”

“Actually, the Toyota Camry is a little more –" Pidge started.

“Azula is awesome!” Lance interrupted loudly. “Everything is fine! Shiro, you should get shotgun since I dunno if you’ll really fit in the backseat.”

“Shotgun?!” Shiro exclaimed.

Keith shoved him again. “The passenger seat,” he said, exasperated.

“Which means we’re crammed together in the back,” Pidge said. “Fantastic.”

“Hey, it won’t be too bad! Road trips are a great bonding experience,” Hunk said. “Plus, me and Lance have the aux.”

Pidge sighed in defeat. “Fine, fine. And here I had a whole playlist ready.”

“Wait, really?” Hunk asked.

“Yeah,” Pidge said, and pulled up iTunes, holding up their phone for all to see. It was just “What’s New Pussycat?” repeated twenty-seven times.

“Why,” Hunk said. “Why are you like this.”

Keith peered at Pidge’s phone screen curiously. “I don’t understand,” he said. “It’s just the same song over and over again…with one other song in the middle?”

Pidge grinned. “Oh, young Padawan, you have much to learn.”

Lance rolled his eyes and got into the car. “C’mon, kids, chop chop,” he said. “Time’s a wastin’.”

It took some more coaxing for Shiro to climb into the passenger seat, but Keith hopped into the back eagerly, looking at everything with wide eyes and rubbing his hand over the leather seats. “Buckle up,” Hunk said, and Keith spent a couple more minutes of complete fascination with the seat buckle.

Shiro meanwhile, was struggling. His belt was all twisted and had gotten stuck so he couldn’t even get it close to the buckle. Lance took pity and asked, “Hey, you need some help with that?”

Shiro heaved an aggravated sigh and nodded. “I don’t know why it isn’t –”

“Okay, one sec,” Lance said, and reached across the console to tug at the belt until it gave and went slack. Except, too late, Lance realized he had to lean over Shiro’s lap to help him, and he fumbled with the belt a little because his hand brushed against Shiro’s thigh and his face was right next to Shiro’s chest and it was a lot, okay, when the buckle clicked Lance pulled back hastily and hoped he wasn’t blushing.

Hunk gave him a knowing look in the mirror. Lance narrowed his eyes and backed out of the driveway with perhaps a little too much force, prompting Shiro to yelp and clutch the glove compartment, popping it open and sending papers and CDs everywhere, which made Shiro panic again.

Lance suppressed a sigh. This was gonna be a long trip.

*

It was about an hour’s drive north to their first destination, and Shiro managed to have a panic attack for almost the whole way up. The music managed to distract him somewhat – it was hard to focus on the road with three teenagers belting out their own renditions of Hips Don’t Lie, complete with dance moves. He did, however, shriek when Lance brought the car into their dance, swerving in the rhythm of the song.

“I don’t want to die like this,” Shiro moaned, sliding down in the seat and covering his eyes.

“Sorry, what?” Lance yelled over Wyclef Jean’s rap part. “I can’t hear you!”

Keith put his chin up over the edge of Shiro’s seat and snaked his arms around to pat Shiro’s chest reassuringly. “You’re not going to die, hush.”

Shiro’s head thudded back against the seat and Lance tried really hard not to ogle the gorgeous line of his jaw and neck. “Why did I agree to this?” he whined piteously.

“Because this is going to be fun,” Keith reminded him.

The song changed to Fergilicious. Pidge groaned. “Did you guys just make a playlist of all bad early 2000’s pop?”

“Bad?!” Hunk demanded. “You take that back!”

“You think this is bad?” Lance asked. “Tik Tok is next, so get ready.”

“Kill me,” Pidge said.

“This is pretty bad,” Keith remarked towards the end of the song, though he did look impressed by Lance’s complete memorization of Fergie’s rap.

“Oh, shut up, Mr. Punk Rocker,” Lance laughed.

Keith flushed, and Shiro paused in his panicking long enough to smile. “I still need my shirt back,” Keith muttered.

*

The first stop was Burney Falls, a gorgeous series of waterfalls that they could see even from the parking lot, cascading in sheer white ribbons down the side of the cliffs and into the cold blue pool below. It was meant to be a quick stop, just a pretty sightseeing spot on the way, but Shiro, probably in an attempt to prolong his time outside the car as much as possible, declared that they should all hike down to the base of the falls.

It was kind of ridiculous how bundled up he and Keith were – it was a sunny, eighty degree day, but while Lance had a tank top and shorts and Pidge and Hunk wore T-shirts and jeans, Shiro and Keith had zipped up jackets, scarves, sunglasses, gloves, hats, and jeans.

“Aren’t you overheating in there?” Lance asked, peering into the dark lenses of Keith’s sunglasses.

“Slightly, but it’s better than my skin burning off,” Keith retorted as they picked their way down the rocky forest path to the pool.

“Why don’t you just wear sunscreen?”

Keith paused. “What?”

“Oh my god,” Pidge said. “Shiro, do you guys not know what sunscreen is?”

Shiro raised an eyebrow (or at least Lance was pretty sure he did, under the visor of his cap). “No…? But it sounds…useful?”

“Holy shit, this is gonna change your life,” Lance said, and proceeded to launch into a detailed explanation of ultraviolet rays, SPF, and Banana Boat. The other tourists looked a little concerned by his enthusiastic tirade about sunscreen, but Keith and Shiro were intrigued, so it was worth it.

After they’d gotten plenty of pictures and wiped all the mist off their phone cameras (or, in Shiro’s case, a really nice actual camera), they hiked back up to the car, where Lance immediately dug out his tube of sunscreen from his bag and handed it over for Keith and Shiro’s further education. Keith popped the cap and squeezed some out onto his finger. He eyed it doubtfully. Shiro stole some from his finger and sniffed it, nose wrinkling immediately.

“You really think this will work for vampires?” Keith asked.

“Shhhh, not so loud!” Hunk cautioned. There were still a lot of people milling around the parking lot.

“I mean, only one way to try it out,” Lance said. “You might wanna get a stronger SPF though, just in case.”

“Thank you, Lance,” Shiro said, and, after a moment, smeared some over the scarred bridge of his nose. “Hm, it is rather cooling. Like lotion.”

“You have to rub it in,” Lance said, and got into the car before he could do something stupid like help Shiro with that.

*

They didn’t have any other stops for about four hours, and it was still broad daylight, so they unplugged the aux for a while so Shiro and Keith could sleep. They didn’t trust Azula’s tinted windows to shield them from the increasingly bright rays of sunshine, so they’d brought along blankets and wrapped themselves in those tightly, covering as much skin as possible.

In the mirror, Lance could see Keith snuggled up in the backseat, the top half of his face peeking out from his blanket burrito, cast in shade as he slept. He’d drawn his legs up on the seat so that he was curled into a little ball, and he was kinda infringing on Pidge’s space but they were scribbling in their notebook while casting furtive glances at Keith, so Lance figured they weren’t too upset.

Shiro, meanwhile, was fully concealed by his blanket; only a white tuft of hair was visible from where he’d contorted his body to fit comfortably, broad shoulders hunched and legs bent. Both of them were eerily quiet – no snoring, no sleeptalking, not even any heavy breathing. If not for the slight movements of Shiro’s shoulders rising and falling and the flickers of movement under Keith’s eyelids, they would have looked dead.

Hunk had his headphones on and was looking distractedly out the window, so only Lance and Pidge noticed this. “I get where all the undead corpse stuff came from,” Pidge said quietly, looking at Lance in the rearview mirror.

“Yeah,” Lance agreed, just as quiet. “They look different during the day. Almost…not real, y’know? Like mannequins or something.”

“They’re nocturnal, it makes sense that they’d look less lively,” Pidge said. “But yeah, I know what you mean. Their skin is grayer, I think. Or waxier, maybe. And have you noticed how much slower and subdued they are?”

“They’re right here, not so loud,” Lance hissed.

“I don’t think there’s any chance of us waking them up,” Pidge said. “Vampires sleep like the dead, especially ones who missed their bedtime because of some pesky humans dragging them on a road trip.”

“Heh,” Lance said. “We are pretty pesky, aren’t we.”

Pidge was silent. Then, “I still don’t know why Shiro trusted us. Why he and Keith let us into their lives like this. They’ve been alone together for over a century.”

“I don’t know,” Lance said. “Maybe they just got tired of same old, same old. Or maybe they got lonely.”

“Maybe it was you,” Pidge said. Lance glanced back at them so fast he almost got whiplash. Pidge folded their arms. “Don’t look at me like that, it’s possible. Maybe you’re intriguing to them. Or something else.”

“Something else,” Lance said flatly. “What, like food?”

“No,” Pidge said, actually looking guilty for one of the few times in their life. “I did apologize for that. But no, I don’t think they see you as food, Lance. They don’t look at you like food.” Pidge paused. “Or like a friend.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lance snapped.

Pidge rolled their eyes. “You’re so dense, Lance. Anyway, I’ve seen the way you look at them, and you’re not fooling anyone. Aren’t you glad I made you go out into the forest alone that night?”

“I hate you,” Lance told them with feeling, and put his foot down on the gas pedal, the open highway stretching out before them, an endless asphalt avenue.

*

They arrived in Eureka, California in midafternoon, when the sun had shifted from its blazing point directly above to a milder westerly position, casting the world in a softer yellow glow. Shiro and Keith put on sunscreen as directed, but still kept their jackets (unzipped, this time) and hats on. They looked a little uncomfortable walking around without all their protective layers, and even more uncomfortable when they got to Old Town, where all the tourists were.

“There are…many people on this street,” Keith said, stepping unsubtly closer to Shiro. “How long will we be staying here?”

“Just a few hours,” Lance promised them. Shiro and Keith looked at him with expressions of equal dismay. “Oh, c’mon, this isn’t even a city, you guys, it’s a beach town. And you’re supposed to be the scary ones here.”

“It’s just…been a while since we were in a public place like this,” Shiro admitted. “But it is good that we have you three to guide us, or we’d be very lost.”

“These buildings do not look so different from the ones in Redding when I was growing up,” Keith said, looking up at the cheery Victorian-style storefronts and museums. “They are much cleaner, though. And prettier. And there are so many streetlamps.” His eyes lit up and he pointed down the street. “And look, there’s a horse-drawn carriage! I thought they’d done away with all of those.”

“Most of them,” Hunk said. “But these are for tourists, to give them the whole old-timey atmosphere.”

“I see,” Keith said, less enthused, but still smiling.

“Well, Pidge, you’re the boss here,” Lance said. “What big surprise do you have planned for us?”

Pidge grinned. “We’re going on a tour of one of the most haunted houses in America, the Carson Mansion.”

“Excuse me?” Lance said. “I don’t think so.”

“Yep,” Pidge said. “I made reservations. There’s gonna be a séance, and a Oujia board session, and they have EMF readers we can use.”

“It sounds exciting,” Shiro offered.

“Lance doesn’t look very excited,” Keith said.

“There’s no way in hell I’m going to a haunted mansion, Pidge,” Lance said firmly. “Nuh-uh.”

“You went to Haunted Mansion in Disneyland,” Pidge said.

“Yeah, that’s fake,” Lance snapped. “And we also didn’t know vampires were a thing back then. But now that they’re real, who knows what else is real? I’m not about to use a Ouija board to figure it out, thanks very much.”

Pidge shrugged. “Well, be my guest. You’re missing out, though; the Carson Mansion got great Trip Advisor reviews.”

“Oh, darn, now I have to go,” Lance said sarcastically.

“I don’t think ghosts are real, Lance,” Keith told him.

“Well, actually, it’s possible…” Shiro started, and stopped at Keith’s glare.

“It’s fine, you guys go with Pidge,” Lance said. “I’ll just walk around; check out the rest of the town.” Shiro opened his mouth and Lance added, “And if you say a single thing about ‘oh, Lance, it’s not safe for you!’ then you can walk your ass all the way home, got it?”

Shiro blinked, taken aback, and closed his mouth.

“Actually, uh, can I go with you?” Hunk asked Lance. “Ghosts kinda freak me out too.”

Pidge facepalmed. “Great, so I’m the vampire chaperone now?”

“It was your idea,” Lance pointed out. “Besides, the tour’s like, what, an hour or two? It’ll be fine. We’ll meet you guys back at the car when you’re done, text me.”

“I do not need a chaperone,” Shiro said under his breath, looking vaguely offended. “I am two hundred and twenty seven years old, thank you very much.”

“Can I text him?” Keith asked eagerly. “You can teach me how, Pidge.”

“Sure, Keith,” Pidge said with a sigh. “Okay, Lance and Hunk, whatever, I won’t force you to join our Ghostbusters team. But you’re gonna be so jealous of all the cool pictures we’re gonna show you later.”

“I bet,” Lance snorted. “Adiós, y’all.”

Shiro gave him a dorky little wave as they crossed the street. Lance saluted back to him with a grin.

Hunk elbowed him.

“Not a word, bud,” Lance warned. “Not. A. Word.”

*

They wandered around Old Town aimlessly, stopping at a little independent coffee shop to get iced teas and croissants, occasionally reading the historical blurbs that had been put up on the sides of buildings and street signs. Lance found them interesting enough, but Hunk was a real nerd about historical stuff. Even if he’d chosen to go into engineering, Lance was sure he would’ve been a historian in another life, one of those dorky college professors talking passionately about one obscure subject or another in documentaries.

“It’s so cool that Keith and Shiro were alive while all of this was happening,” Hunk gushed. “I wish Pidge would ask them more about their pasts instead of their species.”

Lance tore off a chunk of croissant and raised an eyebrow. “You sure they’d be willing to tell us about that?”

“Why wouldn’t they?” Hunk asked. “I mean…I know Shiro used to drink human blood and Keith’s life kinda sucked, but you don’t think they have like, really dark pasts, right?”

“Shiro was captured by the Galra and murdered people,” Lance said. “Keith was an orphan who died of tuberculosis. Seems pretty dark to me.”

“Oh,” Hunk said, deflating. “Well…I mean, they could just tell us about the good parts, then. The cool parts.”

“Maybe,” Lance said. “I wouldn’t push the envelope too much.”

“You think they’d get mad or something?” Hunk frowned.

“Not mad.” Lance shook his head. “Uncomfortable or upset, maybe. If they do have a dark past, I don’t think they’d want us knowing too much about it. It’d ruin their image as the good guys.”

“But they are the good guys,” Hunk said. “Right?”

“Now, yeah. But people change, y’know? And there’s a lotta room for change in a century or two.” Lance sighed. “Anyway, I’d just be careful not to pry. If they wanna tell us, they’ll tell us. Otherwise…maybe best not to open that can of worms.”

Hunk shrugged. “Okay, if you say so.”

They walked along for a few more minutes, until they came to a red and white shopfront with the name Eureka Books scrawled across the sign. “Bookstores are always interesting,” Hunk said, turning towards the door. “Let’s see if we can find any really old or weird ones.”

“This would be the place to find those,” Lance noted, glancing up at the two other signs, which read Out-of-Print and Antiquarian.

Inside, the store was larger than Lance had expected, a sprawling space with a fair amount of people perusing the shelves. There was a staircase to a second level, and all the genre signs were painstakingly handmade. It was cute. Lance ran his fingertips over the signs they passed – Bestsellers, Native American, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction.

Hunk was hurrying upstairs, where there were less people. “What’s the rush?” Lance called.

“The antique books section is up here,” Hunk called back over his shoulder. “I’m gonna go check it out.”

“Alright, go for it,” Lance said. “I’ll just…huh.”

Squinting, he could see another section upstairs, cryptically named Magic & Mysticism. Hunk was long gone, so Lanced went upstairs alone and stepped in between the narrow bookshelves, peering at the faded spines and the titles embossed on them. The section was strangely empty, so when the crystal around Lance’s neck began to glow suddenly, there was no one to see it. He still clutched at it hastily, willing it to fade, but it just seemed to flare more insistently.

Then Lance had a thought. A soft, odd thought – follow it.

Hesitantly, Lance uncovered the crystal, and sure enough when he started walking down the aisle, the crystal’s light increased in intensity like a homing device. Lance walked slowly, watching the crystal carefully, so when it flared incredibly bright and began to flicker violently, he stopped abruptly and turned to look at the books on the shelf.

His blood ran cold.

How to Kill a Vampyre.

The crystal sputtered out, its job done. Lance stared at the book. It was unmistakable – it was the only book on the shelf next to him, thick and bound in leather, pages yellowed with age. Swallowing, Lance picked it up, and even as he felt guilty for doing so, the same part of him that had known to follow the crystal’s light knew that this book was meant for him to have.

It was very heavy, a thin layer of dust swirling through the air when he opened it. This book had not been moved or even touched for a long, long time – in fact, Lance realized, perhaps it had been here, waiting for him, all along.

The pages were warm against his fingertips, like a living thing. The text within – and on the cover, he realized – was not written in English. It was written in a language he did not know, should not have been able to read at all because it was an entirely different alphabet with what looked like glyphs…but Lance could read it. Somehow, if he focused, the foreign lines and squiggles reformed into something familiar, though it hurt his head.

Absently, he flipped through the pages, and stopped when he saw an illustration, small and rendered in black ink. It was a vampire’s head – just the head, complete with a mess of severed tendons and arteries in the neck, mouth open, fangs extended and tongue lolling. Lance recoiled – it didn’t look like a Galra, it looked human. It looked like Keith or Shiro, not like the real monster that had chased him through the woods.

The illustration was captioned, When in doubt, complete removal of the head or heart does the trick for all but the most powerful vampyres, though the head may remain sentient for up to an hour.

Lance slammed the book shut.

“Find anything good?”

Lance almost dropped the book, whirling around…only to see Shay, of all people, standing there. “Thanks for the heart attack,” he snapped. “Why are you here? Did I accidentally go through a portal again?”

“No,” Shay said, frowning. “This place is simply a hub for magical energy. This whole town is, actually.” She gestured to the shop around them. “This particular building, however, was one of the most violent places in Eureka in the 1930s. It was also home to the most risqué burlesque shows in town – this upper floor housed the Alpine Brothel for years. Downstairs was the saloon, where there were a plethora of stabbings. And of course the Louvre Café was out back, where a man named Tom Slaughter shot and killed his business partner and was found innocent of any crime. The murdered man’s ghost seeks retribution to this day.” Shay’s eyes sparkled. “Or so they say.”

“I don’t want anything to do with a vengeful spirit,” Lance told her sharply. “Or a damn magical book about killing vampires written in cuneiform!”

Shay’s eyes widened. “A what?!”

“This!” Lance said, holding it up. “The crystal you gave me led me to this thing!”

“But that’s a cookbook,” Shay said.

“It’s a…what?” Lance blinked. “You can’t…see it?”

“Ahh,” Shay said. “One moment.” She dug around in her pockets, until she found a small, shiny black stone with a large hole through the middle of it. To Lance’s bewilderment, she held it up to her eye and peered at the book through the hole. “Oh, dear,” she said. “Yes, that is powerful glamour at work. As powerful as the glamour I use for my shop, if not more so.”

“What’s that rock?” Lance asked.

“It’s called an adder stone,” she murmured, stepping closer and looking more closely at the book. “Used by the Druids long ago to see through such glamours. Tsk, tsk, this is an ancient object you have, here, and quite a dangerous one from the looks of it.”

“Great,” Lance said, putting the book back on the shelf though it made his chest ache to do so. “I don’t want it anyway.”

“It appeared to you,” Shay said seriously. “If you do not take it now…it will appear to you again, elsewhere, and soon. I’m afraid there is no escaping things like this, Lance Espinosa.”

“No escaping what?” Hunk came around the corner, looking from Shay to Lance and back again with confusion. He was holding some really old books in his arms, and Lance was glad that at least one of them had found something good.

“Oh, hello,” Shay said, smiling and stepping forward. “Hunk Garrett, correct? Lance was just telling me about you. My name is Shay.”

Hunk looked at Lance with mild panic, then coughed nervously and said, “Uh, hi, Shay. Yep, Hunk, that’s me. Um, no offense, but how do you guys know each other?”

“I walk my dog through Rosewood in the mornings, too,” Shay said easily. “Lance and I have run into each other a few times.”

“So you live in Rosewood?” Hunk asked, and he was definitely blushing a little. Lance wanted to try to warn him, but figured that Shay would be more than a little miffed if Lance told Hunk to steer clear of the weird witchy interdimensional psychic.

“Oh, no, I just live nearby,” Shay said vaguely, waving a hand. “It’s a lovely area, don’t you think?” Hunk nodded dreamily. Lance narrowed his eyes at Shay, on full alert for any possible spells or love-potions-via-eye-contact.

Lance folded his arms and cleared his throat. “Right, anyway, I was just about to head out and it looks like you’ve got what you need so let’s go, Hunk!”

“Do you?” Shay said to Lance, eyebrow raising. “Have what you need, that is?” Her gaze drifted pointedly to the discarded book.

“Yes,” Lance gritted out. “I’m fine, thanks. Later, Shay. Stop makin’ heart eyes, Hunk.”

“Bye,” Hunk said, oblivious, waving to Shay as Lance dragged him away. “Maybe we’ll see each other around?”

“Oh, I think so,” Shay said, smiling, and she was blushing a little too. “Goodbye, Lance. Hunk.” Hm. Lance wondered if maybe there was no magic involved here, just a plain old crush. In which case, get it, Hunk.

After he’d bought his old books, Hunk said, “Shay is the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen, I think.”

“She’s kind of strange,” Lance told him.

“You’re one to talk,” Hunk retorted. “At least my crush doesn’t have the potential to literally rip my heart out.” Remembering the illustration, Lance blanched. Hunk’s joking smile fell off his face. “I mean…sorry buddy, I didn’t really mean it like that –”

Lance was saved by his phone vibrating with a text from Pidge which was actually from Keith.

WE ARE DONE. MEET US AT CAR. PIDGE SAYS TURN ‘CAPS LOCK’ OFF BUT I LIKE CAPS. LIKE A TELEGRAM BUT LESS WORk oh pidge turned it off i do not like this it seems too quiet

Then another text,

pidge says it is common to sign texts with xo sender name. so XO KEITH. I FIGURED OUT CAPS LOCk

“It isn’t common,” Hunk said, looking at the screen. “Only you do that.”

“XO Keith,” Lance repeated. “Wow.”

“Adorable,” Hunk said. “What? It kinda really is.”

“I can’t believe I’m going to see Keith shirtless tonight,” Lance said. “Will I be able to survive that? I just don’t know, Hunk.”

“Shiro, too,” Hunk added.

“Don’t remind me,” Lance said, pressing his palms to his eyes, because he definitely wasn’t going to survive that. “Oh, god, don’t remind me.”

“The beach was your idea,” Hunk pointed out.

“It’ll be dark,” Lance said. “Maybe I won’t even be able to see them very well.”

“But they’ll be able to see you perfectly,” Hunk shot back, smirking. “Nocturnal, remember?”

“Make sure I have a rockin’ funeral, ‘kay?” Lance said.

“I’ll tell Keith and Shiro to bring you back,” Hunk chuckled.

Something twisted inside of Lance at that, the same something he’d felt holding that book in his hands, something deep and instinctive. “Don’t,” he snapped, and stopped, because he didn’t know why he’d said that with such vehemence. Hunk gave him an odd look. “Oh, hey, look, here they are,” Lance exclaimed, too loud. “Hey, XO Keith, how was the house of spooks?”

To Lance’s delight, Keith came over to him. “It was alright,” he said. “There were no ghosts, but Shiro said the mansion made him think about death a lot. I don’t know if that’s out of the ordinary, though.”

“Oh, ha, ha,” Shiro said. “It was very macabre. And Keith got you a gift from the gift shop, Lance.”

Lance faltered. “You did what now?”

“Yes,” Keith said, and stiffly held out a little white gift bag. “Pidge told me that you liked space, and it reminded me of you. I don’t know. It’s, er, the same color as your eyes.”

Lance took the bag and lifted from it a blue pendant. At first he froze, and thought it was another crystal, but upon closer inspection it was round, a shade darker, and streaked with beautiful lines and swirls. And there was another little pendant in the tissue paper wrapping, a small silver trident barely bigger than Lance’s thumbnail.

“It’s the planet Neptune and its symbol,” Keith said, shifting awkwardly. “I mean, you probably knew that, but. I thought you might like it, I don’t know –”

“Yes!” Lance said. “Dude! This is great, thank you so much.”

Keith smiled, tentative. “You like it? I thought, maybe, you could just put the pendants on the necklace you have on.”

The crystal seemed to want to flare at that, Lance tamped it down and forced himself to smile back. “Good idea,” he said. “And, y’know, this is really fitting since Neptune was the planet of the ocean and guess where we’re headed next?”

Pidge let out a whoop. “Beach time, fuck yeah!”

As they all piled into the car, Lance caught Keith’s eye, and to his delight Keith didn’t break his gaze, just gave him that small, secretive smile again.

Lance was smiling the whole way to the beach, the book forgotten.

For now, anyway.

Chapter Text

When Lance parked Azula atop the cliffs of Trinidad State Beach, the sun was just beginning to set. Everyone piled out of the car, Shiro and Keith shedding their protective layers on the way. As everyone was heading down to the beach, Lance took off his crystal and glared at the blue stone glinting in his palm.

“I don’t need you or your creepy books about killing my friends,” Lance told it.

The crystal flickered briefly in retort.

“Stop doing that,” he snapped. “Stop doing…whatever you’re doing. This magic thing? I don’t want it.” He shoved the crystal deep in his bag, ignoring the twinge in his chest when he did so. “Especially not if it’s meant to hurt Keith and Shiro.”

“Hey, Lance, you coming?” Hunk shouted from the sandy shore.

“You know it!” Lance shouted back, and shed his shirt, leaving on his swim trunks and running down to join them, taking off his flip flops as soon as he got down the rocks.

He’d missed the feeling of sand under his bare feet and between his toes, even if it had only been a month or two – there was something innately comforting about the sensation. Even though the sand was cooler now that the sun had sunk below the horizon, Lance could still feel trapped warmth in the fine grains, just below the surface, a final remnant of the dying day.

“Man,” he said blissfully as he reached the others, “I fuckin’ love the beach.”

“And the sky is blue,” Pidge deadpanned, but they were looking out at the waves with something like nostalgia.

“It’s more black than blue right now,” Hunk pointed out. “Whoa, look at all those stars.”

“Fuuuckkk,” Lance breathed, tipping his head up towards the glittering blanket of space. “Guys.”

“Keep it together, Lance, I know this is like all your favorite things at once right now,” Pidge said.

“The night sky is quite beautiful,” Shiro remarked, and Lance turned to reply…and abruptly forgot how to speak.

Luckily he stopped himself from saying something super embarrassing like “Not as beautiful as you,” though it almost slipped out, because yep, unsurprisingly (but still unfairly), Shiro and Keith were prime specimens of men. Well, Keith was a little more on the lean side but to be fair, anyone except, like, the Rock would look lean next to shirtless Shiro. Shiro had the battle-hardened warrior look down pat, along with all the scars, but they didn’t detract from his hotness at all. Lance idly wondered if all vampires were ripped and if so was it the whole blood diet that did it or –

“Lance, help me get some driftwood for the bonfire,” Hunk said loudly, grabbing him by the elbow and hauling him away from the slightly confused vampires before Lance’s mental drooling could manifest physically.

“Thanks, bro,” Lance said once they were out of earshot.

“You are hopeless,” Hunk told him. “I mean, they’re pretty hot, but please at least try to control your thirst.”

“Pretty hot?!” Lance squawked, and then lowered his voice after remembering that vampire hearing was a lot better than humans’. “Did you even look at them?” he hissed.

Hunk shoved a piece of driftwood into his arms. “Yes, Lance. I looked. They’re Roman statues that glow in the moonlight and put all mortals to shame, what do you want me to say, here.”

“Exactly,” Lance sighed. “Oh my god, they’re perfect.”

“Really? ‘Cause I think the whole ‘razor sharp fangs and subsisting off of blood’ thing takes away from the perfection aspect just a tiny bit.”

“I’m willing to overlook that,” Lance declared.

“More than willing, I’d say,” Hunk said under his breath.

“Are – are you judging me?” Lance gasped, affronted.

Hunk shook his head with a snort. “I’m just glad you finally admitted to yourself that you have a crush on Shiro too,” he said, and hurried back to the others with his own armful of driftwood before Lance could defend himself.

He wasn’t wrong, anyway, Lance glumly conceded as he followed the deep footsteps Hunk left in the sand. Which meant Lance had just set himself up for twice the pining and twice the inevitable heartbreak. Great, just great.

Pidge was helping Hunk stack the driftwood in a vaguely organized fashion which Lance immediately ruined as he dumped the rest of the wood atop their pile. Hunk sighed. Pidge shook their head, flicked their lighter, and touched it to the wood.

Shiro and Keith startled back from the sudden blaze, edging unsubtly towards the water. The fire reflected in their eyes like flares, a red-gold gleam that didn’t fade entirely when they looked away, irises glowing faintly as the sun set fully and their night vision took over. The fire spread over the chunks of driftwood with a series of loud crackles and the vampires flinched noticeably.

“Oh, shit, are you guys afraid of fire?” Lance asked. “We can put it out –”

“Not afraid,” Keith said defensively.

“It’s alright,” Shiro added, smiling thinly and taking a step back towards them, though he watched the fire with some wariness. “It is one of the few things that can harm us, that is all. And we know you three mean us no harm, so. There’s no need to put it out.”

Unbidden, Lance thought of the book. He hastily pushed it out of his mind. “Good, ‘cause not all of us can see in the dark here,” Pidge said, plopping down on the sand next to the now roaring bonfire and pulling out a bag of marshmallows and several metal skewers. “Woops, guess you guys can’t eat these, huh?”

“I don’t think we’re missing out on much,” Keith muttered as Lance plucked a couple from the bag, eying them quizzically.

“Ah – I almost forgot,” Shiro said, and started back up to the car without explanation.

“Did he bring vampire-exclusive s’more supplies or something?” Pidge asked, eyebrow raised.

“What would that even be, frozen blood slabs for graham crackers?” Lance mused.

“You are disgusting,” Keith informed him. “We do not eat frozen blood.”

“Is he carrying what I think he’s carrying?” Hunk asked, squinting into the darkness as Shiro hurried back.

When he got close enough for them to see, Lance gasped in delight. “Shiro! I thought you were the responsible adult here or something!”

“Never said I was,” Shiro retorted, tossing one of the wine bottles at him. “Hunk can be the responsible one.”

Hunk sighed. “I did agree to drive back home already.”

“You can laugh at the rest of us and our drunken shenanigans,” Lance assured him. “I bet drunk vampires are hilarious.”

“I doubt Keith and I will be the drunk ones,” Shiro countered. “It takes more than this to get vampires drunk.”

“Tipsy, maybe,” Keith said.

“This is nice-ass wine,” Pidge noted, taking the bottle from Lance and peering at the label. “Wait. Do my eyes deceive me or is this from eighteen-fucking-ninety-five?!”

Shiro shrugged one shoulder with a slight smile. “They just don’t make wines like they used to.”

“Lemme see that!” Lance snatched the bottle back to gawk at the label, which was weird, old, and very faded, but he could still make out the very clear MADEIRA 1895 on the side. “Dude! Do you know how much money a bottle like this would go for?”

Shiro narrowed his eyes. “Don’t sell my wine, Lance. Besides, this bottle is 1907 vintage, which was a better year.”

“This is so exciting,” Pidge hissed. “19th century wine, what the fuck.”

Hunk leaned over Lance’s shoulder to look at the label, and shook his head. “Are you sure that’s, like, safe to drink –”

Lance’s pocket had started vibrating violently. Confused, he fished out his phone…only to freeze.

“My mom is calling me.”

Hunk and Pidge also froze with deer-in-the-headlights faces, both holding the bottle of wine. Shiro blinked. Keith looked intrigued.

Lance put a warning finger to his lips and tried to give them all his best I will literally be murdered if you try any shit right now expression, and then took a deep breath and picked up. “Heyyy, Mamá!”

“Mijito,” his mom greeted over the phone, her voice familiar; cheerful but with the usual underlying current of exhaustion that came from trying to be the big boss lady of the house all the time (and succeeding). “¿Qué tal? Colleen told me they just arrived in Seattle, so I thought I’d checkup, make sure mi niño was on his best behavior.”

That was a veiled threat. Lance’s mom was a very sweet lady, but she also had a very good Bullshit Detector. Luckily, Lance had evolved to counteract that.
“Who, me? C’mon, Ma, I’m with Pidge and Hunk. The craziest thing these two ever get up to is pulling all-nighters.”

This said while Pidge was trying to uncork the bottle of expensive vintage wine given to them by a 227 year old vampire, on a beach, 150 miles west of where Lance was supposed to be. Pidge gave him the stink-eye. Hunk covered his face with his hands. Shiro and Keith, who were slowly grasping the situation, were grinning, damn them.

His mom laughed. “Lance! So mean. But they are good kids, I know. That’s the only reason why I let you go up there all these summers.” She sniffled a little. “Part of me wishes I hadn’t let you go up there for your last summer before you leave us, cariño.”

Oh man, he was totally going to Hell.

“Aw, you know I’m probably not leaving yet,” Lance assured her. “Still figuring my sh – stuff out, and –”

“¡Qué tontería! You are going to be an astronaut! A smart scientist just like your friends.”

Lance cringed, turning away from the others and lowering his voice. “Um…yeah, maybe, Ma. But remember the whole GAP year thing? Becoming an astronaut takes a lot of work.”

“You’re the hardest worker I know, cariño.”

Lance rubbed his eyes, his mood for the night significantly dimmed. “Thanks, Ma. Well, uh, anyway, how’re things back home?”

His mom sighed. “Oh, you know. It gets so busy here, the two little ones underfoot – not just children, they had to bring puppies into the mix too. Sometimes I think Stella and Ricky are more of a menace as twelve-year-olds than two-year-olds,” she grumbled.

Lance shuddered. He doubted that. “I’ll pray for you,” he told her. “How’s Dad? Everything good at work?”

“Sí, sí, they just moved into a new office building so that’s very exciting for him.” She chuckled. “He’s buying all these shiny new things for it. Useless little decorations, fake plants, paperweights, the works. So silly. I try to tell him this, but you know your Papá. Stubborn like his son.” He could feel her smile through the phone. “And very smart.”

“Right,” Lance said, smiling back. “But I’m pretty sure the smartness isn’t just from him. Or the dashing good looks.”

“We are a family with very good genes,” she agreed proudly. “But anyway, enough about me! What are you up to? Where are your friends, Lance? Can I talk to them too?”

Ah, and they were back to the veiled threats.

“Suuure!” Lance said as casually as possible, turning on his heel and marching back over to the bonfire, making distress signals with his eyebrows at Hunk and Pidge. Only Hunk got it. Pidge was too busy uncorking the bottle with silent direction from Shiro. “Hunk, my man! My mom wants to talk to you!”

He gave Pidge a look that said, You’re next.

Pidge uncorked the wine and smirked evilly.

“Here’s Hunk!” Lance exclaimed, and shoved the phone into his hands.

Lance’s mom loved Hunk, so really he had nothing to worry about. And Hunk’s moms were cool. If they found out he’d gone on a roadtrip to drink wine on the beach at night with vampires they probably just would’ve been sad he hadn’t invited them.

If Lance’s mom found out about this, he would be dead. Deceased. Or at least he’d get yelled at for a solid hour before getting everything he loved taken away.

The phone got passed to Pidge, who went from wine-opening-gremlin to innocent-angel-child in two seconds flat. While Pidge cooed and spun sweet, sweet lies to Lance’s mom, Lance ground the heels of his palms into his eyes and fervently prayed for forgiveness to whoever was listening.

“You okay?”

Lance peeked out from between his fingers at Keith, who was standing in front of him, head tilted. “Me? Oh, yep. Doin’ awesome. Just love being an awful son.”

“You are not an awful son,” Keith said, mildly amused.

“My mom would straight up murder me if she found out about this,” Lance hissed.

Keith’s eyes widened. “Murder you?! Is…is parenting done differently nowadays, or –”

“Not literally,” Lance said, shaking his head. “But she’d be mad. Well, not mad, exactly. More like freaked out and scared for my safety. Which would make her mad.”

“Oh,” Keith said. He was confused.

Pidge handed the phone back over to Lance. “I’m so glad you three are having such a good time!” his mom gushed. “I love that you’ve made such nice friends, Lance. So nice. Well, I have to go! Your Papá and I have a date tonight, actually. At some new fancy seafood place. If it’s any good, maybe we can take you there when you get back, hmm?”

“Sounds great, Ma,” Lance told her. “Have fun on your date.”

“Or maybe you can take a date of your own. You know what they say about oysters!”

“Ma!”

She laughed. “Buenas noches, cariño. Te adoro.”

“Love you too, Ma.”

She ended the call and Lance did his best to put on a smile again as he sat down next to Pidge around the bonfire. “Everything alright?” Shiro asked, eyebrow quirked.

“Uh, obviously,” Lance shot back. “We have rare vintage wine and marshmallows which I’m about to stuff in my face.”

“Not before you set them on fire, though,” Pidge said. They already had two on a skewer, shoved into the center of the bonfire, slowly charring into a gooey mess. Pidge was gross, and liked their marshmallows like that.

Hunk, meanwhile, was toasting two to delicately browned perfection and being sure to keep them far away from Pidge’s sugary conflagration.

“You…roast them?” Keith asked, sitting next to Shiro on Hunk’s side of the circle. “They’re not made of meat, are they?”

“Well, technically marshmallows are made out of animal bones,” Pidge said. “But no, they’re not really meat. Mostly just sugar and water. You guys might actually be able to eat them, if you want.”

“Animal bones?” Keith repeated.

“Sorry, Pidge ruins everything,” Hunk told him.

Pidge didn’t deny it. They actually looked proud.

Shiro’s curiosity was piqued, anyway. He dug one out of the package and popped it in his mouth. “Hmm,” he said. “The texture is odd.”

“That’s the animal bones,” Pidge said.

“Would you just call it gelatin?” Hunk snapped.

“It’s good, though,” Shiro added. “Very sweet. Keith, try one.”

Keith looked less enthusiastic, but took a small bite. It was kinda adorable. “Oh,” he said. “It’s…fluffy.” He looked at Pidge’s skewers. “Can I light it on fire?”

Shiro snorted. Pidge handed him a skewer, and he carefully stabbed the marshmallow with it before shoving it straight into the fire.

“There’s a technique,” Hunk exclaimed.

“It smells good,” Keith said.

“Like crème brûlée,” Shiro said.

Keith’s marshmallow burst into flame. “Ooh, now it’s blue,” he said.

Lance angled his marshmallows away, into Hunk’s safe zone. “You gonna use that as a torch, or actually try it?” Lance asked Keith.

Keith removed it from the flames and reached out to touch it; Shiro grabbed his wrist. “Burns take a longer time to heal, remember?” Shiro murmured.

Keith huffed but moved his hand away and waited. By the time it had cooled, Lance and Hunk had four perfect marshmallows (okay, Hunk’s were perfect, Lance’s were slightly less so) and Pidge was licking half-burnt goo pieces off their fingers while Shiro watched with an expression of fascinated disgust.

Keith didn’t look as enthusiastic about eating the burnt marshmallow as Pidge. Lance leaned over and slid one of his marshmallows off, holding it out to him. “Here, try mine. Your first taste of roasted marshmallow shouldn’t be with charcoal.”

“But –”

“Just take it, dude, there’s a whole bag left,” Lance said, rolling his eyes and dropping the marshmallow in Keith’s palm.

Keith looked down at it like it was pure gold.

Lance hastily refocused his attention on toasting more marshmallows, and definitely did not hear the small, happy sound Keith made when he bit into the marshmallow.

Definitely not.

They passed the opened wine bottle around between marshmallows, and Lance wasn’t a huge fan of wine, but when he tasted this wine he decided he’d changed his mind. “This is magical,” he told Shiro seriously after his fifth or sixth or whatever swig. “There’s gotta be more than just fermented grapes in here.”

“Madeira wine has brandy in it too,” Shiro replied, amused. “And a long aging process changes the wine’s flavor considerably.”

“It’s like I finally understand all that bullshit about ‘light citrus notes’ and ‘oaky aftertaste’ that they put on the labels,” Pidge said dreamily. “I can really taste it.”

“Are you guys drunk already?” Hunk asked.

“Nah. Hey, the tide’s coming in,” Lance noticed, pointing to the waterline which was slowly but surely creeping up to their bonfire. Maybe he was a little tipsy, because he decided the next logical course of action was to stand up and start wading into the ocean.

“Bye, Lance,” Pidge said.

Hunk pinched the bridge of his nose. “I thought you said you weren’t a lightweight, Pidge.”

“I’m tiny as fuck, obviously I was lying,” Pidge mumbled, flopping down into the sand and making an attempt at a sand-angel.

“Oh, dear,” Shiro said, but he didn’t sound that concerned.

Lance was pretty sober. He just loved the ocean. “The water’s really nice,” he called over his shoulder. “I don’t even see any sharks, Hunk!”

Hunk waved his marshmallow shish kabob at Lance. “I’m good, thanks! Rather take my chances on the beach, where nothing can bite me.”

“Really? Nothing?” Keith said slowly, raising his eyebrows.

Hunk blanched and held his skewer up like a shield. Keith snickered and drank some more wine. Shiro chuckled and stood up and okay, he was wading out towards Lance. This was fine. This was not making Lance’s heart beat out of his chest at all.

Shiro sniffed the air lightly when he got closer, and smiled. “Oh, good,” he said, “you’re not drunk like Pidge.”

Lance pushed off from the sand and swam out a little farther, until he was treading a good amount of water. “No,” he said. “Not yet, anyway.”

Shiro stayed at a distance, drawing his fingertips over the smooth surface of the sea, making patterns in the ripples. “You like to swim?” he asked quietly, voice still carrying in the still night air.

“Yeah,” Lance said, rolling onto his back so that he was floating, staring up at the sky. “I do. It’s calming, I guess.” He turned his head to look at Shiro, who was still only waist-deep. In the dark, it was hard to make out all the scars marking his torso, but Lance could see the silvery slices of them here and there, slightly darker lines on pale skin, a long history of hurt. “What about you? D’you like swimming too?”

“I don’t,” Shiro said bluntly, and smiled as if in apology. “You told me, when we first met, that you knew who I was.” Lance nodded. “So you know that I was a sailor in a shipwreck.”

Lance’s eyes widened and he flipped over again guiltily. “Oh, shit. So…guess you kinda hate swimming, then.”

“Swimming did save my life,” Shiro pointed out. “But…well. It was a near thing. And drowning is…unpleasant. Stormy seas are unpleasant, too. It was a very long time ago, but some memories do not seem to care how much time has passed. They keep coming back anyway.”

“I’m sorry,” Lance offered. “That sounds terrifying. I mean, I love swimming and the ocean, but when I was little I had this fear that our house was gonna be swept away by a hurricane, and everyone I knew would die. Pretty dark, huh?”

“Yes,” Shiro said. “But the ocean should be feared, or at least respected. It’s stronger than any one being.”

“Can’t kill you though, huh?”

“I don’t know,” Shiro said pensively. “I’ve never tried.”

Lance blinked. That didn’t sound like a joke, but it was hard to tell with Shiro, sometimes. “Well, don’t try to find out, ‘kay?” he said as Shiro waded back to shore. “We’d miss you.”

“For a while,” Shiro replied. His face was impassive as he glanced back at Lance.

“Do we need to get you a therapist or something?” Lance asked.

Shiro did chuckle at that, and Lance relaxed. “No, no,” he said. “I’m sorry. Ironically, being immortal makes one think an awful lot about dying. But please, do not worry. I’m fine.”

Keith had left his spot by the bonfire to stand uncertainly at the edge of the water. Shiro brushed past him as he walked back to Hunk and Pidge, a quick touch of fingertips to shoulder. Keith looked up, said something to him. Shiro shook his head, murmured something in reply, and continued on.

“You gonna swim with me, or just stand there?” Lance called.

“Can’t swim,” Keith called back. “How deep is it?”

“You can wade up to about…here-ish,” Lance said, swimming forwards until his feet touched the bottom. “Maybe not that far, you’re shorter. And what d’you mean, you can’t swim?”

“We’re almost the same height,” Keith retorted, tentatively wading out. “And I just can’t. I never had reason to learn.”

“Yeah, but you’re tellin’ me that not once in 127 years did you think to yourself, ‘Huh, this might be a useful skill to know’?”

“I lived in an orphanage, a factory, and a forest,” Keith snapped. “None of those places involved large bodies of water.” A little wave crashed over him and he spluttered, blinking with dismay through his saltwater-soaked fringe of hair. “And Shiro never thought it was necessary to teach me.”

“Well,” Lance said, “you should at least try to float. That’s easy. Especially in the ocean, because it’s saltwater, so. More buoyancy.”

“Float?” Keith pursed his lips, considering. “How?”

“Here, I’ll help you,” Lance said, paddling over. “You gotta push up off the bottom until you’re on your back.”

“Won’t I just sink back to the bottom and drown?” Keith asked.

“Firstly, no, bodies are naturally less dense than saltwater; secondly, you can’t drown so you’ve got a natural advantage already.” Alright, so Lance wasn’t positive on that last part, but hopefully he wouldn’t find out. “You just gotta relax.”

Keith still looked unconvinced.

“Here, like this,” Lance said, and demonstrated. He felt weirdly vulnerable floating next to Keith, who was staring down at him unblinkingly. “Now you do it,” Lance said up to him. “Pretend you have a string attached to your bellybutton that’s pulling you to the surface, and kick a little if you have to.”

“I don’t think this is going to work,” Keith warned, but waded out a little deeper and took a deep breath before flopping inelegantly onto his back. Obviously, that didn’t work out, and he flailed around in a panic until Lance swam over to him and got his head above water. “See?” Keith wheezed, glaring up at him. He was still kinda on his back, though his hips and legs were mostly submerged. “Not working.”

“You have to relax,” Lance retorted, and stretched out an arm to tug Keith’s legs up above the surface. Keith tensed at the contact, which just made him sink more, and Lance clicked his tongue in irritation. “Close your eyes, if that helps.”

“Why would that help?” Keith snapped, but he did it anyway.

“Stretch your arms out, it’ll help you balance,” Lance suggested. Frowning a little, Keith did, throwing the muscles of his chest into high definition and…Lance paused. Unlike Shiro, Keith’s skin was unmarked, except for the bright white scar between his pectorals. It was small, just two vaguely round puncture marks with a couple inches between them –

Lance blurted out, “Is that where Shiro turned you?”

Keith’s eyes flew open. He would have sunk again if Lance hadn’t been supporting him. He covered the scar with a hand, face reddening and brows drawing together. “Yes,” he gritted out.

“On your…heart?” Lance guessed.

Keith looked at him warily. “My aorta,” he said, “yes.”

“So…Shiro killed you.”

“That is how the turning process works,” Keith muttered, rolling away from Lance’s hands and managing to stand instead of flail in the water. He swept his wet hair away from his face, not meeting Lance’s eyes. “Thank you for the swimming lesson, however unsuccessful it was.”

“Um…sorry if that was like, too personal or something…?” Lance said haltingly.

Keith bit his lip. “A little,” he said. He glanced up. “But I know you didn’t mean to pry. It’s fine. You’ve already seen me feeding so I suppose this isn’t any more intimate.”

“Do vampires normally keep their scar…hidden?”

Keith nodded. “Most, I would think. It’s a sign of weakness. A reminder of when we were human.”

Lance folded his arms. “So, humans are weak, is what you’re saying.”

Keith shrugged. “In some ways, yes.” His eyes glinted. “In other ways, you hold great power over us.”

“Explain.”

Keith tilted his head. “In the most basic way, we rely on humans to survive. All the superhuman powers in the world could not save us if all humans died out, or managed to escape us.”

“That’s not true. You and Shiro prey on animals, not humans.”

“Shiro and I are not like most vampires,” Keith said. “And besides, it is a substitute, and prevents us from reaching our full potential.”

“‘Not like most vampires?’” Lance repeated with air quotes.

“Shiro did not choose to share that particular piece of information with you and your friends, and it is not my place to share it for him,” Keith said primly. “But yes. We are, in some ways, quintessentially different.”

“Dude! You can’t just say something like that and leave me hangin’!”

“I can and will,” Keith snapped. Lance flinched back a little and he sighed, softening his tone. “It has to do with Shiro’s sire, or rather lack thereof,” Keith said. Lance furrowed his brow. “You are free to form your own conclusions, or ask him if you really want to know. But it is not his favorite topic.”

“Noted,” Lance said.

There was an awkward beat of silence until Keith cleared his throat and said, “I am going to drink some more wine with the others. Are you going to stay out here, or…?”

“I’ll go get drunk with you,” Lance said. “But the bonfire looks like it’s in serious danger. Tide’s coming in fast.”

The two of them watched the trio on the shore scramble to grab all their things before the hungrily lapping waves could carry them off to sea. The bonfire hissed steam, sputtering as the ocean washed over the logs and extinguished the burning cinders within them. Shiro actually picked Pidge up at one point, since they kept trying to go out to sea instead of back up the cliffs the way they’d come.

Lance snickered. “Pidge is gonna kill him for that later,” he said.

“Heh. If they even remember it,” Keith added.

“What would Shiro even do if Pidge yelled at him?”

Keith snorted. “Give them a look like a sad puppy?”

“Really? He does that?”

“Oh, yes. The guilty face is his signature,” Keith replied.

“Huh,” Lance said. “Cute.”

Keith blinked at him. Lance didn’t notice, he was too busy yelling at Hunk to make sure he had his phone. Hunk fished it out of his pocket and held it up, Lance grinned and shot finger guns at him. Best friend test, passed.

“I’ll race you back to shore,” Lance said to Keith. “Or to where the path up begins, I guess, since the shore’s kinda gone now.”

“It’s not a very fair race,” Keith told him.

“Hmph,” Lance said, and sprinted off towards the cliffs.

“Hey!” Keith shouted, starting after him.

For a second, Lance remembered the Galra chasing him through the woods, and the back of his neck prickled, veins filling with adrenaline and legs pumping harder, faster. For a second, he thought that if it had been Keith, he wouldn’t have run so fast. If it had been Keith, he might not have run at all.

Keith reached the cliffs before him, of course, but it was a close race, and Lance prided himself in that.

*

The five of them sat atop the cliffs watching the tide come in and getting progressively less sober.

Pidge conked out around midnight, which they’d probably be embarrassed about later, but maybe they were a blackout – they’d drunk almost half a bottle, according to Shiro, and this wine was powerful stuff. Lance hadn’t even had that much – well, okay, maybe he had, it was sorta hard to keep track because unlike most alcohol it tasted good, and he kept coming back for more.

His eyelids were feelin’ kinda heavy and he kept slumping into Hunk’s side even though part of him wanted to lean on Keith instead. But Keith would probably freak out, the dude had a thing about touching, Lance was tryin’ to respect his boundaries. But it was difficult when Keith looked so pretty in the starlight, smiling at all of Lance’s stupid jokes. This too shall pass, Lance tried to tell himself, but it wasn’t working all that great.

“You sure you’re not tryin’ to drug us, Shiro?” Lance mumbled against Hunk’s hoodie.

Shiro, who was still working his way through the bag of marshmallows, raised an eyebrow. “If I wanted to kill you I would have done it a long time ago,” he said, and that would have been vaguely threatening if not for the marshmallow stuck on one of his fangs.

Keith giggled. Shit, maybe he was drunk too. “Shiro – y’got a little…” He tapped one of his own fangs, still giggling.

“Are you okay, Lance?” Hunk asked. Lance halfheartedly looked up from where he was attempting to burrow into Hunk’s shoulder.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, I’m good. Hunky dory. Get it?”

“Yes, ha ha,” Hunk said, patting his head. Lance hummed. “You’re hilarious.”

“I know.” Lance patted Hunk’s head too. “You should go to sleep, bud. You’re the driver, remember?”

“Yeah,” Hunk said, but hesitated, lowering his voice. “You sure you’re okay out here? Alone, with…”

“Hunk,” Lance reproached. “C’mon. You know it’s fine. Wouldn’t be the first time, either. Go on, go to sleep.”

“You’re really gonna stay out here and get even drunker?” With Keith and Shiro remained unspoken.

“I’m not that drunk,” Lance retorted, sitting up straight and leveling his gaze at Hunk, daring him to argue. “You’re just super warm and snuggly.”

“Okay,” Hunk said, finally relenting, and stood up, brushing sand off his shorts. “I’m gonna go crash in the car with Pidge. Keep it PG.”

Keith and Shiro looked confused. Lance snorted. “Underage drinking, so that bumps it up to PG-13 already,” he said.

Hunk rolled his eyes. “Whatever. ‘Night, guys.” He tossed Lance his hoodie. “Bundle up.”

“Goodnight!” Keith and Shiro chorused, perfectly in-sync. It was weirdly hot. Lance wondered what else they could do in-sync.

Lance blew him a kiss, tugged on his hoodie, and took another drink of wine as soon as Hunk was in the car.

The temptation to lean on Keith was even greater once Hunk was gone, so for his own sanity Lance flopped down onto his back instead. It was harder to drink that way, but maybe that was a good thing. They were on the second bottle already, and Lance was feeling very warm, not just because of Hunk’s oversized, super-soft hoodie.

Shiro stood up abruptly and cleared his throat. “I’m going to go for a walk,” he said. “Along the cliffs, or further if something catches my interest. I’ll be back in a while.”

Keith glanced up at him with what looked like mild panic.

“Sure y’don’t wanna stay?” Lance asked.

Shiro looked at him, again with that strange, sad smile. “I’m sure,” he said. “But thank you, Lance.”

“Suit yourself,” Lance said, waving clumsily.

“Goodbye,” Keith said, reaching up and squeezing Shiro’s hand before the other vampire inclined his head and walked off into the darkness, down the endless shoreline.

Keith took a long drink from the bottle. His knees were tucked up to his chest, arms wrapped loosely around his legs. He didn’t look particularly happy, Lance realized. Lance sat up, and touched the wine bottle lightly.

“You look sad,” Lance said, by way of explanation.

Keith handed the bottle over to him. “Not sad,” he said. “Just thinking.”

“’Bout what?”

Keith shrugged. “Life.”

“Wow, how specific.”

Keith sighed. “What is your life like, Lance?”

Lance blinked at him, startled. “Uh…”

“Sorry. That was too personal. I –”

“No, no, it’s okay,” Lance quickly assured. “Not too personal. Maybe just give me some details, I mean, that’s a pretty general question.”

Keith thought about it for a few long seconds. Then he asked tentatively, “Do you…have a job?”

“Yep,” Lance replied. “It’s a pretty fun one, too.”

“Where do you work?” Keith looked adorably excited now.

“A school,” Lance said. “I help out with their aftercare programs, switching off between the older kids and the preschoolers.” He glanced at Keith. “The preschoolers are my favorite, though. They always manage to make you smile, y’know?”

But Keith shook his head, somber once more. “Kids scare me.”

Lance laughed. “Scare you? Why, ‘cause of The Shining or something?”

Keith blinked, confused, and looked away. “No,” he said. “They’re just very…fragile. I’m scared of that. Of how easily they can get…hurt.”

Lance wanted to laugh again, because he’d seen preschoolers get some serious cuts and scrapes without batting an eyelash, yet they inexplicably burst into tears at the tiniest bruise or paper cut. But he sensed there was something more that Keith wasn’t telling him, so he leaned a bit closer and asked carefully, “Why are you scared of that?”

Keith was quiet, his brows drawing together. Then he sighed, and said, “When I was younger…before I was turned, there was a child at the orphanage. A little girl.” His mouth tilted up in a smile, but it was small and sad. “Her name was Adelita Huerta, and she came to the orphanage as a toddler, barely able to walk.” His smile fell and Lance saw his hands clench into fists in his lap. “Her parents were lynched.”

Lance’s eyes widened. “Lynched? But –”

“Lynchings didn’t just happen in the South,” Keith said. “Even if the land belonged to them originally, Mexicans were not treated kindly in California. At least not in Redding. But of course nobody would say Adelita’s parents were lynched. It was just ‘an unfortunate accident.’” He shook his head bitterly. “They even tried to take her name, you know. The nuns always called her Adele or Addy.”

“No surname?”

“Oh, no,” Keith said. “They told her if she was lucky, her husband would give her a fine American name.”

“Jesus,” Lance muttered. “I’ve never been so glad to live in the 21st century.”

“They did the same to me,” Keith said. “Keith isn’t a very Korean name. And I never had a surname, either, until Shiro gave me one.”

Wondering if he’d misheard, Lance said, a little choked, “Sorry, what?”

“Shiro gave me the surname Kogane,” Keith explained. “It means gold in Japanese, while Shirogane means silver. I suppose he thought it fit us.”

“I see where he’s coming from,” Lance said, still recovering from his minor heart attack, because of course Shiro and Keith weren’t married, why would he even think that. “Did you ever give yourself another first name?”

Keith shrugged. “Not really. We didn’t have Google, and there weren’t many people speaking Korean nearby, so. I didn’t even know where to begin. Adelita called me hermano, though. I loved her more than anything, and I tried…” He swallowed, closing his eyes. “I tried so hard to protect her from the world, the world that hated her for who she was, hated me, hated us both. I thought I could be strong enough to keep her safe, to make things right for her, somehow.”

Lance bit his lip. “But…?”

“But then she got sick,” Keith said. “She was only ten years old. I was seventeen, and I knew they’d turn me out on the streets or send me to a factory as soon as I turned eighteen. So I did everything I could to make her get better. I didn’t even know how she got the consumption, only that I had to get rid of it.” He looked down, shoulders hunched. “She was so small to begin with, I realize now she never really had a chance at survival. It was so horrible, Lance. It’s a horrible way to die. The doctors said her lungs were disintegrating inside her chest and she was drowning in her own blood, so maybe it’s for the best that it only took her three months to die.”

“But not before she infected you, huh,” Lance murmured.

Keith’s mouth twisted and with a pang, Lance knew he was right. “I didn’t know I was sick until soon after they sent me to work in the factory. I’d had some dizzy spells and coughing before that, but nothing too serious. Then one day I was working the machinery and I fainted. I woke up, coughing harder than I’d ever coughed before, and there was blood, and I knew.”

“What did you do?”

“I kept working,” Keith said grimly. “There was nothing else to do.”

“You worked yourself to death?!”

“I was dying anyway,” Keith said matter-of-factly. “It was only a matter of time. Nobody was going to pay for a doctor to treat a halfbreed street urchin.”

“Keith…”

“Don’t,” Keith said. “It’s in the past. I don’t even think about that life much, now. And if I do, I try to remember Adelita before consumption took her from me.”

“She sounds like a great kid,” Lance said, hesitantly reaching out and laying a hand on Keith’s knee. Keith jolted a little, and glanced at him, but didn’t move away. Instead, to Lance’s surprise, he sighed and leaned into Lance slightly, until they were pressed against each other, side to side.

It was the wine. It was definitely the wine.

“Y’know,” Lance blurted nervously, “speaking of Americanized names, my name isn’t really Lance. See, my family’s from Cuba originally, and there’s a lot of family names my parents wanted to keep. Lance is just an acronym for Leandro Alejandro Núñez Cuesta Espinosa.”

Keith blinked. “Well,” he said after a long pause. “That’s…a mouthful.”

“Yep, tell me about it,” Lance snorted. “Teachers are relieved when I tell them ‘it’s just Lance’ after they stare at the attendance sheet with horror.”

“Leandro,” Keith said slowly, like he was trying it out, curling his tongue around the vowels with remarkably accurate pronunciation. Lance definitely did not shiver. “Hm.” He smiled. “Thank you for telling me. I hope my story didn’t depress you too much. I…I would like to hear more about your life, if that’s alright.”

“Sure thing,” Lance said with a grin. “And it wasn’t depressing. I like it when you tell me about yourself.”

Keith flushed.

They talked for a long time.

Or maybe it wasn’t that long, because somewhere along the line they ran out of wine and Lance groaned, slumping fully against Keith, who was still shirtless, which in hindsight was maybe not the best idea because it made Keith twitch violently and start to pull away, eyes wide and glowing in the darkness.

“Sorry,” Lance slurred, though he didn’t move away. “’M sleepy. Gonna be so hungover tomorrow, heh.”

Keith eyed him cautiously, then slowly relaxed, leaning back and letting Lance drop his head on Keith’s shoulder. His skin was cool, as strangely inhuman as the first night they had met, and Lance idly wondered how long it had been since he had fed. “Just don’t throw up on me, please,” Keith mumbled, and for some reason Lance’s drunken mind thought that was hysterical.

“Ahahah, why, you’re not into that?” he cackled, tipping his head up to look at Keith. “Blaarrghhh.”

Keith wrinkled his nose and elbowed him. “Gross.”

“Your face is gross,” Lance told him impishly.

Keith pouted at him. “You’re mean when you’re drunk.”

“I’m not, don’t mean it,” Lance told him, dropping his head again, eyelids heavy. “I like your face, Keith.”

Keith stilled. “Lance,” he said.

“Don’t you like my face?” Lance asked, peering back up at him, and their heads were tilted so close together, it would only take a few inches to close the gap between them, and Keith’s lips were parted and his eyes were half-lidded and maybe it was the wine and maybe it wasn’t –

“You are being silly,” Keith told him, turning his head away. “You should go sleep in the car with your friends.”

“But you’re my friend too,” Lance whined. “And there’s no room in there for me, I’m like a giraffe man, Keith, my limbs will be all folded into pretzels if you make me sleep with them. Hunk will crush me. Pidge will shank me in my sleep if I get in their bubble.”

Keith huffed. “You’re not a giraffe man, Lance. But you are very dramatic.” Lance looked up at him with big, pleading eyes. “And you’re doing the Shiro puppy face. I hate you, you know.”

“Nahhh, you don’t,” Lance said with certainty. “I’m your favorite human. Aren’t I?”

“No,” Keith said. “I prefer Hunk. He is much less clingy.”

Lance slumped, dejected. “Oh,” he said.

“That was a joke,” Keith said, poking him and looking worried. “Do not be sad.”

“Well, good,” Lance said, and yawned, and nuzzled against Keith’s bare shoulder. “It’s not my fault you’re so cling-able.”

“What does that even mean, Lance.”

Lance yawned again, lashes fluttering, another wave of sleepiness overtaking him. “Dunno,” he said. “You’re just cuddly. Hey, is this uncomfortable for you? You feelin’ overwhelmed by any sudden urges to go all Dracula on me?”

Keith blinked, alarmed. “Uh…no?”

“’Kay, great,” Lance mumbled, “because I’m gonna crash on you right now,” and before Keith could voice a word of protest, he was out like a light.

*

Lance woke up feeling like he’d just been run over by a steamroller. No, make that three steamrollers.

“Jesus fuck,” he moaned, clutching his head.

“Oh, Lance is up,” Keith said. “Wow, you look terrible.”

Lance flipped him off.

They were in the car; he’d presumably been manhandled into the backseat sometime during the early hours of the morning, and Lance had an equally hungover Pidge doubled over in the seat next to him, mumbling incoherently (though it sounded like profanity). Keith was in the far seat, and Shiro was still in shotgun. He was curled up and sound asleep, and Lance immediately hated him for how peaceful he looked. Hunk was driving, and shot Lance a sympathetic look in the rearview mirror.

“What time is it,” Lance gritted out, throwing a hand over his eyes to block out the weak sunlight filtering through the surprisingly heavy clouds which had gathered overnight and feeling like a really not-badass vampire.

“Ten twenty,” Hunk replied. “Figured you might want something to eat when you got up, so we’re headed into town to get some food.”

“I’d rather get fucked gently by a chainsaw than eat right now,” Pidge grumbled.

Keith looked mildly horrified. “Pidge…are you okay?”

“I will vomit all over your shoes,” Pidge warned. “That is not an idle threat.”

Keith swiftly tucked his feet under him on the seat and eyed Pidge like they were a venomous snake.

“He’s not into that,” Lance told Pidge, managing to crack a smile as he remembered the night previous…and then freeze in horror, because why was he such an idiot, he had rubbed his face all over Keith’s bare arm, Lance was going to die.

“How ‘bout you, Lance, you hungry?” Hunk asked.

Lance’s stomach rebelled at the very thought, but food had helped in the past. “Yeah,” he muttered. “Somethin’ really greasy. Burger. I wanna burger.”

Hunk sighed. “Predictable. But easy, I’m sure we can find some cheap burger joint.”

With effort, Lance turned to look at Keith. “Why aren’t you asleep?”

Keith shrugged. “I slept a little last night,” he said. “Turns out enough wine can knock out vampires too.”

“But you didn’t get hungover?” Lance felt betrayed. “That is so unfair.”

“Sorry,” Keith said. “I also didn’t want to move with you passed out on me. I figured you could use all the rest you could get.”

Hunk gave Lance a sharp look in the mirror. Lance glared daggers at him. He was so not in the mood.

“Thanks,” he muttered, hunching over in his seat. “Real thoughtful of you.”

“Are you –”

“Shhh!” Lance held up a hand. “It’s quiet time now.”

“Thank you,” Pidge moaned. “I was about ready to rip someone’s vocal cords out.”

“Pidge, you’re so violent when you’re hungover. It’s kinda funny. Like an evil bunny rabbit.”

“Do not test me, Hunk Garrett.”

Luckily everyone made it to the restaurant in one piece.

*

Shiro woke up for the little escapade into the restaurant, and both vampires watched with sleepy, horrified fascination as Pidge and Lance devoured their burgers and fries. Well, Lance devoured his, Pidge just kind of chewed miserably.

Hunk, who was trying to follow his moms’ newly-adopted veganism at least a little, had just gotten a shake and curly fries. “Lance, you may wanna…slow down there,” he suggested, shaking his head at Lance’s absolutely despicable table manners. “Y’got some sauce…like, all over your chin.”

“Let me live my life, Hunk,” Lance said through a mouthful of burger.

“Why,” Shiro said, looking like he’d much rather be asleep in the car. “Why must I endure this.”

“This is your fault,” Lance said, pointing accusingly at him. “You got us that devil juice.”

“Devil juice?” Keith snorted. “It was aged port.”

“I’ll age your port,” Lance retorted.

“The burger does smell good,” Shiro said. “Even if you are destroying it.”

Keith handed Lance a napkin. Lance made a big show of dropping it in the puddle of burger juice.

“I could live off of fries,” Pidge said to themselves. “Mm. Salt.”

Hunk chewed his curly fries nervously. “Pidge, please eat the fries instead of licking them lasciviously, people are staring.”

“I think people are already staring at the crime scene Lance made on his plate,” Keith said.

Lance ignored the haters. The burger was delicious, and Keith and Shiro literally made bloodbaths every time they ate so who were they to be talking? Hunk made noises of dismay as Lance made an even bigger mess of the ketchup and fries, and then sucked down his water ridiculously fast. (He’d wanted to get soda, but in true Mom Friend fashion, Hunk forcibly got him water, because dehydration, or something.)

“So,” Hunk said, in an attempt to distract from the mess that was his friends, “what’re we gonna do when we get back to Rosewood?”

“Sleep until I die,” Pidge suggested.

“I’m thinking something a little more positive, but thanks for the input. Lance?”

“I’m with Pidge,” Lance said.

“Great, well, how about after you guys are done with the sleeping and the death?”

“Hmm,” Lance mused. “Maybe Shiro and Keith should take us somewhere, since it’s like, their turn. Forest tour!”

“You know that isn’t safe,” Shiro reproached.

“‘You know that isn’t safe,’” Lance mocked, sing-song.

Shiro rolled his eyes. “I am never giving you alcohol again.”

“Great, keep it away from me,” Lance said, and shoved a handful of fries in his mouth. Keith facepalmed, and looked ashamed for him. Lance was gonna have to use so much facial cleanser later, but it was worth it for the sweet, sweet grease of the moment.

“Maybe you guys could take us on a safe forest tour?” Hunk tried. “If such a thing exists?”

“Maybe,” Shiro said. “Once the rude boy finds his manners again.”

Lance flicked a fry at him. Shiro bared his teeth. Lance almost fell off his chair.

“Shiro!” Hunk hissed. “Public place!”

“I am annoyed,” Shiro said primly, but sheathed his fangs.

Keith just looked relieved that Pidge had stopped threatening bodily harm to anyone who so much as breathed on them.

*

It was only a three hour drive back to Rosewood, but it felt like forever. Shiro was asleep, Keith was asleep, Pidge was asleep, but Lance’s brain was mad at him and had decided withholding melatonin was the way to get its revenge, apparently.

“How you holdin’ up?” Hunk asked in a loud whisper.

“Eh,” Lance said, staring at the ceiling. “Better, I guess. Still got a migraine. Everything aches like hell, too.”

“Sorry, bud,” Hunk said. “How much did you drink?”

“Dunno,” Lance admitted. “Lost track. Keith and I finished the second bottle, though.”

“What else did you and Keith do?”

“Hunk!” Lance exclaimed, hushed. “Nothing, for your information. Okay, there might have been some minor cuddling.”

“Wow,” Hunk said. He sounded jealous. “I thought that was our thing.”

“You know it is,” Lance said. “I wanna do more than cuddle Keith, though.”

Hunk was about to reply, but paused as he looked out the window. “Damn, when did it get so dark?” He frowned up at the clouds, and yeah, that was definitely a T-storm brewing. “Uh-oh,” he said. “Lance, you know I hate driving in the rain.” It was already sprinkling a little. Hunk preemptively turned on the wipers, even if Azula was a little broken and all they really did was smear the water around and blur the glass.

“It’ll be okay,” Lance said, hoping he was right. “Maybe it won’t even start until we get back. Besides, there’s like, no one else on the road here, it’s just in the middle of the forest.”

Hunk bit his lip. “Yeah,” he said. “Lance, I don’t like this. We’re kinda in the middle of Shasta-Trinity…isn’t this technically Galra territory?”

Lance’s eyes widened. “Dude, why’d you have to mention that?” He peered into the endless evergreens lining the road, interspersed by tall, ancient sequoias and redwoods. “Now I’m creeped out too.”

“Lance,” Hunk said. “Lance, it looks really dark. It’s –”

The rain came down in a sudden torrent, and Hunk yelped, clutching the steering wheel. “Great,” he said, “just, great, awesome, the one time I’m the only one capable of driving; we get stuck in a freakin’ supercell!”

“We don’t know it’s a supercell!” Lance said. “It could be a really quick storm, watch, maybe it’ll be over in like five min – holy shit! Hunk, turn!”

There was something standing in the middle of the road. A figure, tall and dark and broad and – Lance’s breath caught. Yellow eyes. It had yellow eyes.

Hunk screamed and swerved out of the way, waking up everyone in the car.

“Who do I have to kill?” Pidge mumbled, rubbing their face. Keith and Shiro were upright and alert immediately and Lance knew they sensed danger – their pupils dilated and they looked at each other with matching expressions of dismay.

“They’re here,” Shiro said, shocked. “They – the Galra, we have to –”

Hunk screamed again. There were three more in the road, blocking their escape off.

“Pump the brake, pump the brake!” Lance shrieked.

“Are you kidding?! Hit the gas!” Pidge shouted. “Hit them!”

“They’d wreck the car before it wrecked them,” Shiro said, just before Hunk swerved away from one lunging Galra and hit another head-on. Azula’s brakes screeched, and the sedan slid across the flooded road, tires squealing in protest, airbags deploying with ear-splitting pops, glass shattering and seatbelts pulling taut. Lance was thrown forward, breath leaving his lungs as the car skidded to a halt, panting and bruised, too shocked to move as the door next to him was torn open.

He wasn’t too shocked to scream when clawed hands ripped him from the seat, though, and through his panicked tunnel vision he saw another Galra trying to carry Keith away. Keith was fighting, but he was obviously stunned from the crash, and he gave up pretty quick when another Galra came for backup.

“Shiro!” Keith screamed, clawing at the Galra’s back as it threw him over its shoulder. It was hard to see his face through the rain, but from what Lance could see it was a blur of terror. “Shiro, wake up! Please, fuck, no, they got Lance!”

But Shiro was out cold, slumped into the airbag. The Galra carrying Lance threw him over its shoulder too, and Lance watched helplessly as they were carried away from the smoking wreck of his car and his unconscious friends. “Hunk!” he shouted. “Pidge! Shiro! Help! Anyone, please, help!”

He shouted until the Galra got tired of his noise, and knocked him over the head, into oblivion.

Chapter Text

Lance awoke groggily, dizzy and confused, vision blurring in and out – he was being dragged down some sort of hallway, windowless with high, stone arches and wall sconces that emitted a harsh violet light. It wasn’t meant for human eyes, that was for sure. Panic jolted through him, momentarily overriding the splitting pain in his head. The car crash, the Galra, Keith, it was all coming back to him. He’d been captured, carried off to what was presumably the Galra garrison, which meant he was a human currently surrounded by hungry vampires who, unlike Keith and Shiro, had no moral quandary about ripping him to pieces.

But I’m not human, Lance thought suddenly. My blood…the magic, the book, the crystal…

His relief was short-lived when he realized that, of fucking course, he’d left the crystal in his bag in the car. And the book was probably laughing at him and his stupidity, wherever it was. Shay had said it would reappear to him soon, but Lance couldn’t see that happening here – it wasn’t just a ridiculous idea, there was something in the air here, a different kind of magic, one that made Lance want to curl up in a ball and hide. It was a corrupting sort of magic, one that would try its best to keep the book out; that was all Lance knew for sure.

There were two Galra dragging him, guards of some sort from the look of their armor slash uniforms. They both looked similar to the Galra in the forest – purple, veiny skin, almost animalistic features, with large, pointed ears and tall, broad frames. They were less furry than the forest Galra, though, and they didn’t seem too interested in eating Lance at the moment, which was a plus.

Lance mentally debated the pros and cons of pretending to stay unconscious. Curiosity won out after a few seconds, and he asked, “Where’re you guys taking me?”

The Galra barely reacted, which meant they’d probably already known he was awake. “To the Prince,” one said after a pause.

Lance gulped. Okay, not good. According to Shay, this was very Not Good. “Why?” he pressed.

The Galra exchanged looks. “You are a rare human,” one said. “Thus the Prince desires to have you for his own use.”

“Use?”

“Quiet,” the Galra snapped, jerking his wrist sharply. “We are almost there.”

“What do you mean, his own use?!” Lance hissed. “Do you realize how that sounds?”

“Yes,” the other Galra said, and they turned a corner in the hallway and passed under a much larger archway, into a large, round chamber that had to be the throne room, judging by the giant, ornate chair on the far end of the room, which sat on a raised dais. The ceiling was higher than the hallway outside and strung with more glittering purple lights, but there were still no windows. Lance had a sneaking suspicion that they were underground.

All thoughts about the décor flew out the nonexistent window as soon as he saw Keith.

Keith had just been led through another archway on the far curve of the room, and looked worse for the wear – his pale arms were mottled with ugly bruises and he had a black eye blooming under his messy fringe of hair, which hung into his face as the Galra forced him to walk towards the throne.

“Keith!” Lance cried, and Keith’s head shot up, eyes wide and fully yellow, shifting back to normal when he saw Lance. He blanched, and started tugging at the cuffs around his wrists frantically, ignoring the growls and shoves of his captors. Keith looked scared, and angry, and Lance had a feeling it wasn’t because he was worried about his own wellbeing.

Then another figure flanked by guards strode in through the third archway in the throne room, but this figure was definitely not a prisoner. Lance’s heart sank as the Prince strode up the steps of the dais, flanked by guards, and settled upon his throne with all the grace and haughtiness of a spoiled cat.

“Well, well,” Prince Lotor said, leaning his chin on one hand and sweeping his cool golden gaze over the scene before him. “What do we have here? A murderous little rebel sired by the Champion himself and his pretty human friend with sweet blood. My, how exciting.”

Keith spat on the steps. Lance tried not to cringe visibly at the word “pretty.”

Speaking of pretty, Lance hated to admit it, but Prince Lotor was beautiful – though he was beautiful in the same way that venomous snakes and toxic flowers were. He was lean-bodied and fine-featured, with a smirking mouth and sharp jaw framed by long white hair which fell over his shoulders in waves. He looked more human than some of the other Galra, with no fur, only pointed ears and lavender skin, but there was a distinctly inhuman aura about him. The corrupt magic, Lance realized, surrounded Lotor like a second skin. His gut twisted. Lotor wasn’t the source of it, he didn’t think, but it was drawn to him like a moth to a flame.

Lotor raised an eyebrow at Keith, unimpressed. “I see the Champion has taught you no manners,” he noted. “Unsurprising, as he was nothing but a savage brute during his time here. However, it is surprising to me that he continues to pretend he has such scruples when it comes to killing humans. Living off of forest animals, how hilarious. As I remember, he had no qualms about killing them by the dozens in the ring. Tsk, tsk, but he’s such a changed man, now.”

“You forced him to do that,” Keith snarled. “He didn’t enjoy the killing; he just didn’t have a choice. You starved him, you tortured him, you turned him against his will and –”

“I gave him a gift,” Lotor interrupted coolly, studying his claws. “One that he has, unfortunately, squandered.”

“You didn’t give him shit – mmph!” The guards shoved Keith down into the stone floor mercilessly, keeping him down with boots digging into his back and head.

Unfazed, Lotor redirected his attention to Lance, his smile widening in a terribly unsettling way, exposing his fangs. “My apologies for that display,” he said. “You look rather shocked, darling. I’m afraid your friend is a criminal, and so we must treat him as such. You, however…I see no reason to degrade you to that level. Guards, release his wrists. I think you are far too clever to run off, darling. Am I right?”

Lance swallowed and rubbed his sore wrists nervously as the guards let go and stepped back. “I won’t run,” he said.

“Good, good,” Lotor said. “Would you be so kind as to tell me your name, darling? Unless you prefer ‘darling,’ of course.”

“Lance.”

“Lance,” Lotor repeated, pleased. “Perhaps I won’t change your name after all. Not for the first decade, anyway.”

Lance paused. “First…decade?”

“Oh, yes,” Lotor replied. “You are to be my thrall, Lance. Do not look so frightened, it is a great honor. And as the thrall of a vampire as powerful as myself, you will be effectively immortal, ageless, for as long as I desire. I do tend to reward good behavior, as you will learn soon enough.”

“No,” Keith gasped, muffled, squirming under the guards’ hold. “No, no, no –”

“I’m not,” Lance said, taking a step back, “going to be your fucking thrall, what the fuck.”

Lotor’s smile fell. “There is no need for such vulgarity, Lance. I’m afraid that this is not negotiable.”

“And I’m afraid that you’re a complete asshole!” Lance retorted.

The throne room went utterly silent.

Lotor rose from his throne, smooth and swift, eyes narrowing. The guards removed their boots from Keith, who staggered to his feet, looking as shocked as all the other vampires in the room. Apparently sass was not a common trait in humans here. Lance didn’t back down, hands curling into fists at his sides, tipping his chin up defiantly as Lotor glared down at him.

“You insolent brat,” Lotor snapped, baring his fangs. “You’re going to regret that.”

“Nope,” Lance said, “I don’t think I am.”

Lotor’s breath hissed out through his teeth. “I had hoped,” he gritted out, “to do this the easy way. I had hoped that you would be obedient. But I see now that was nothing but wishful thinking. We’re going to have to do this the hard way, I’m afraid.”

Keith shifted uneasily, eyes flicking between Lotor and Lance.

Lance glared right back at Lotor. “You can damn well try.”

“I will do more than try,” Lotor said. “I will mark you as my own right here, right now, and you will beg me to do it.”

Every fiber of his being rebelled against the thought of that. “I’m not begging you to do anything except get the hell away from me,” Lance told him.

“You will beg for my bite,” Lotor said with certainty. “And you will like it.”

Lance didn’t understand until Lotor’s yellow eyes focused solely on him and he was hit with the full force of the vampire prince’s thrall. It felt like a punch to the gut, every muscle and joint locking up, spine bowing and nerves screaming as he tried to resist it. Lotor focused harder, and the sharp pain in Lance’s head exploded into white fireworks behind his eyes before fizzling out into dull, crushing pressure.

Years ago, Lance had gone to the planetarium at Griffith Observatory and watched a program about black holes. He’d left the planetarium terrified out of his mind, unable to stop hearing the echoes of the narrator’s calm British voice explaining the horrific physics of black holes, of spaghettification and singularities and supernovas and, most importantly, that nothing – not even light – could escape from them once they passed the point of no return.

That point, Lance remembered distinctly, was called the event horizon.

He felt very much like he had just passed the event horizon of Lotor’s thrall.

He couldn’t move away. Couldn’t say a single word of protest. He couldn’t do anything, except slowly walk towards the throne and stare back helplessly into the vampire prince’s smug, glowing gaze. Oh sure, he tried to fight it. He tried to resist, tried to blink, tried to turn his head, tried to stop walking, tried to scream, but all he managed were small, useless twitches of his muscles and strangled, soft sounds in his throat that just made Lotor smile wider.

“Stop!” Keith cried out, more distressed than Lance had ever heard him. “Lance, snap out of it!”

Lotor clicked his tongue, taking a step closer to Lance and making his knees wobble dangerously, threatening to give out under him. Keith struggled violently against his bonds. “He cannot,” Lotor purred, eyes never leaving Lance. “He’s just a human – weak, malleable, breakable. You should have fed from him when you had the chance. Tsk, tsk. Too late now.”

Keith was silent. And suddenly, there was another force in the room, another gravitational field pulling Lance in, slowly but surely, competing with Lotor’s, stretching Lance thin until he snapped. In the moment of brief, confused clarity, Lance blinked. His gaze shifted, away from Lotor…to Keith. Keith, whose glowing eyes were fixed determinedly on Lance, anchoring him with his own thrall. If Lotor’s thrall was a black hole, Keith’s was an ocean – familiar, rolling over him in waves, dragging him gently into its depths, filling his lungs and leaving him breathlessly numb.

And unlike Lotor’s thrall, Lance wanted to succumb to it, and that made all the difference.

Lance let himself drown in Keith’s eyes, tension easing out of his body as he started to approach Keith instead, arms falling limply to his sides and head bowing. I’ve got you now, Keith’s eyes seemed to say. I won’t let anyone else touch you. Maybe that shouldn’t have been comforting, but it was, and Lance’s eyelids felt heavy, a pleasant, sleepy, warm feeling washing over him. “Yes,” he murmured, tipping his head to the side, perfectly willing; more than that, desperately wanting.

Lotor let out a shrill, infuriated screech. “No! How dare you!” He whirled towards Keith and the guards. “Why does he respond to your thrall instead?! You have not marked him! You have not even fed from him! He is not yours!”

“He is not yours either,” Keith retorted, low and sharp. “As long as I live, he will not be yours. And if you kill me, we both know Shiro will know what you did, and he will raze this garrison to the ground.”

“Your sire is not that powerful,” Lotor spat, but he looked uncertain.

“Willing to put that theory to the test?” Keith asked archly.

Lotor gritted his teeth, eyes narrowed, looking from Keith to Lance and back again. Then, abruptly, his anger dissipated and he straightened up, folding his arms and smirking. “Very well,” he said. “If the two of you are so close, then you wouldn’t object to sharing a cell for a while, would you?” Without waiting for an answer, he snapped his fingers at the guards. “Take them to the solitary cells. Give the human food and water. The other can starve…we’ll see how long his pathetic ideals last then.”

Keith blanched, his thrall breaking. Lance swayed, blinking in slow confusion as a guard grabbed his arm and hauled him down the hall with Keith. It took a while for Lotor’s words to sink in, but when they did he fully understood the panic on Keith’s face. Lotor watched them go, and gave Lance a little, self-satisfied wave. “Enjoy your friendship – and your intact neck – while it lasts, sweet one!” he called.

Keith tried to lunge at him and got a smack to the head for his trouble. Lotor snickered to himself as the guards dragged them around a corner and down, down, down.

*

Lance lost track of the doors and buildings they passed, and by the time they reached the small, empty cell they were apparently sharing, he was disoriented and tired, head still aching from being knocked out earlier and having a mild hangover. The guards threw them into the cell carelessly, and as Lance fell his elbow scraped against the stone, drawing tiny beads of red. Lance was glad for the locked cell door when the guards’ nostrils flared, lips parting to expose their fangs.

Unfortunately not all the vampires were outside the cell, but Keith was used to Lance’s various minor injuries and moved in front of him, hissing and baring his teeth at the guards. They glowered at him, shaking their heads and stalking off, muttering about crazy loners who should be grateful for the gifts they were given. Lance was pretty sure he was the gift they were referring to, but Keith was looking less appreciative and more anxious and angry.

“Well,” Lance said, leaning back against the cold wall. “This isn’t good. Better than being Prince Lotor’s thrall, though.”

“He wants to see me turn into a monster like them,” Keith seethed, hands clenched into fists. “I won’t let that happen. Never.”

“I mean,” Lance said, raising an eyebrow, “it’s gonna happen in like, a week, right?” Keith turned away, shoulders hunched. “Wait, when was the last time you fed?”

“Two nights ago,” Keith muttered. “Which means we have five days, optimistically, before I…” He gritted his teeth. “But that’s not going to happen. Shiro will get us out of here before then.”

“You, uh, you sure about that?” Lance asked.

Keith frowned. “Yes. Do not doubt him, Lance. He…he’s never failed me before. And I wasn’t exaggerating when I told Lotor that Shiro would destroy this place.”

“I’ll hold you to that.” Lance sighed, tipping his head back against the wall. “This would be a pretty bleak place to die.”

“Die…?” Keith shook his head firmly. “You’re not going to die, Lance.”

“Not all of us are immortal here, dude.”

Keith’s brow furrowed. “You know what I mean – ugh. I won’t let you die here, now. Okay? We’re going to get out, and it’s going to be fine.”

“If you say so,” Lance conceded.

“I do,” Keith said firmly. He paused. “I want to apologize for using my thrall on you, Lance. I know I promised not to, but –”

“Are you kidding me?” Lance interrupted. “You literally just saved my neck back there. I should be thanking you.”

Keith sighed. “Please don’t. Don’t thank me yet, anyway.”

“Hey, you know that if it came down to it, I’d rather it was you chowing down on me than Lotor,” Lance offered. Keith wrinkled his nose and gave him a look. “What? I’m trying to, y’know, make light of the situation.”

“This is not in any way a light situation,” Keith said. “This is a very bad situation.”

“Ugh, I would get locked in a cell with a total killjoy,” Lance muttered.

“I think my pessimism is the least of your problems right now,” Keith said.

“I thought you said Shiro was going to save us?”

“That was before my pessimism kicked in,” Keith sighed, leaning back against the wall.

“So…” Lance bit his lip. “When you get really hungry, do you completely lose control? Or would you be able to –”

“I do not want to talk about this,” Keith gritted out.

Lance frowned. “So, total loss of control, then.”

“Lance, stop.”

Lance blinked, startled by the pain in Keith’s voice. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “We won’t talk about that.”

“Thank you,” Keith said, closing his eyes and exhaling shakily. After a pause, he added, “I’m sorry that Azula is wrecked. I know you cared deeply for that car.”

“Aw, she’ll be fine,” Lance said with more cheer than he felt. “Hunk’s a pretty great mechanic. I’m more worried about him and Pidge than Azula. I’m…I’m glad the Galra didn’t get them, too.”

“So am I,” Keith agreed. “Small mercies.”

There was an awkward pause. Then Lance asked, “Back to the thrall thing…why did Lotor back off so quickly when I responded to your thrall instead of his? Why didn’t he just try harder?”

Keith looked a little embarrassed. “It is very difficult to overcome a thrall as powerful as his,” he murmured. “He was shocked by your ability to do so, and humiliated by the fact that it was a weaker outsider like me who you chose over him.”

“Chose?” Lance wrinkled his nose. “There wasn’t much choice involved in what happened back there.”

“Not much,” Keith agreed, “but some. It is far easier for vampires to maintain a thrall over a human who isn’t vehemently opposed to the idea.”

“So you figured I was probably more into you than Lotor? Safe bet.”

Keith flushed. “I didn’t know if it would work,” he admitted. “I just knew I had to try. According to Shiro, Lotor is a cruel being who sees everything as a tool to be used and discarded. I couldn’t let that happen to you.”

“Aww,” Lance said. “So you do care.”

“Of course I care,” Keith snapped, ducking his head and sounding a little choked. “Fuck. I’m…I’m so sorry you got dragged into this, Lance. You should’ve gone your whole life without knowing we even existed. If I hadn’t been so stupid that night in the woods, you wouldn’t have. You would be safe.”

Lance swallowed back the lump in his throat, and reached out, putting his hand over Keith’s. Keith flinched, but didn’t move away.

“I’m glad I met you and Shiro,” Lance whispered. “I don’t regret that, Keith. Okay? I don’t regret that at all, whatever happens.”

Keith made a miserable sound and curled away from him. “I’m so sorry,” he said again, and the silence stretched between them until exhaustion finally caught up to Lance and he drifted up into an uneasy sleep on the cold stone floor, dreams filled with shadowy figures and a pulsing blue light.

*

Lance was rudely awakened by Keith shrieking and two Galra dragging him out of the cell.

“Don’t touch him!” Keith screamed, lunging at the bars as they slammed the door shut on him, holding Lance’s sleepy, dazed form between them. That woke Lance up pretty quickly – Keith was shrill.

The Galra guards growled at Keith, ears flicking in irritation. “Your attachment to this human is pathetic,” one of them said. “Do yourself a favor and forget about him.”

“Where are you taking him,” Keith gritted out furiously, clutching the cell bars with white knuckles.

“He’s going to pay a little visit to the Druids,” one of them said.

Keith’s eyes widened in horror. “No,” he said, “no! What are they – what do they want with Lance?!”

“That is for them to know and you to find out,” the other guard retorted. “If they deign to return him, that is.”

“Anyone wanna tell me who the Druids are?” Lance asked.

“They’re vampires with magic,” Keith told him shakily. “They’re powerful, they’re cruel, oh god, don’t let them get to you, Lance, please –”

“Enough,” the guards muttered, and dragged Lance off, ignoring Keith’s frantic cries from the cell. Lance bit his lip nervously – they were heading down a different hallway from the one they’d come from; this one was narrower and darker, though it was illuminated in places by series of glowing violet glyphs on the walls, which grew more numerous the further they walked.

That would have been unsettling enough, but then a pair of figures walked out of a nearby archway and hurried past them. Lance only got a brief glimpse, but it was enough to make his stomach lurch with revulsion and alarm – the pair was a vampire and a human, the vampire tall and slim and vaguely feminine, holding a leash which was attached to a thin golden collar around the human’s scarred and scabbed neck. While the vampire looked proud and strong, the human was waiflike, her eyes shadowed by huge dark circles and her skin so pale it looked almost translucent. It was a wonder she was walking at all, especially with the long, gauzy fabric draped over her thin frame, which she looked liable to trip over at any given moment.

The vampire cast her gaze briefly over Lance, critical yet curious, before continuing on with her…pet? Lance didn’t know what else to call it; “companion” was far too much of a euphemism. Or perhaps the correct word was “thrall.” Was that what a thrall looked like? Listless, empty-eyed, mindlessly obedient enough to be collared and leashed and fed upon without respite?

“Was that a thrall?” Lance asked the guards timidly.

“One on its last legs, yes.”

“She’s going to die?”

The Galra glowered down at him. “You talk too much. Yes, the thrall will die. You humans are too weak to last for long enough to keep up with our appetites.”

“Then maybe you’re not supposed to be feeding off of us,” Lance retorted.

“Shut it,” the other guard warned, and he scared Lance more than the other one, so he closed his mouth.

At length, they turned a corner and stood before a closed set of doors rather than an archway. The doors were heavy, dark wood with ornate handles, which were engraved with glyphs like the ones on the walls. The magic was so heavy in the atmosphere here that Lance felt choked by it, and he had a feeling it would be even worse beyond those doors, but he tried to conceal his unease and keep his head high.

The guards rapped at the door and in a few moments it opened. Another female vampire stood there, her skin a darker shade of purple than theirs, with long reddish lines running down her face, from under her eyes to either side of her thin lips. She tilted her head at them, and the guards stepped away hastily, inclining their heads and making a quick retreat. Lance got the distinct feeling that they were scared of her.

He had little time to consider that, because the female vampire seized his arm and all but yanked him through the doorway, closing it tight behind them and leading him briskly across the room. It was…it was a parlor of some kind, Lance guessed, hung with sheer canopies and heavy velvet drapery, furnished by various sofas and chairs made with the elegance of an era long past. Victorian, maybe, or Regency, but it all looked really antique and really expensive.

The room was not empty. The sofas and chairs were occupied by around a dozen other vampires, lounging about or conversing quietly, mostly female with a few equally slim and androgynous males in the mix, all with the red marks on their faces. They looked up at Lance with cool, detached interest as the vampire led him through the room, and to a side chamber, which was smaller and tiled, with a large sunken bath in it. To Lance’s horror, there were two humans – probably thralls – kneeling at the side of the bath. His horror only increased when the female vampire said curtly, “They will attend you. Haggar will see you afterwards.”

Before he could so much as open his mouth to reply, she was out of the room, and Lance realized there was no door, only a heavy velvet curtain separating him from the dozen vampires just outside. That was not a comforting thought, especially when he looked at the bath and put two and two together.

The humans rose to their feet silently after she was gone. They were both guys, which made Lance feel only a little less awful about this whole situation. They were dressed in much the same way as the thrall from earlier – gauzy fabric meant more to show off all their delicate parts – wrists, thighs, neck – than to actually clothe them.

One of them started taking off Lance’s shirt and he yelped, yanking it back down and staring at them.

They kept their gazes lowered and dull. “Please allow us to undress you,” one murmured. “It is necessary in order for us to bathe you.”

“Why…why am I being bathed?” Lance asked.

“The mistress ordered it,” the other said, just as toneless.

“Who is the mistress?”

“Lady Haggar, leader of the Druids,” the first one said. “Please, allow us to undress –”

“Okay, okay,” Lance said, slowly letting his arms fall to his sides, trying not to flinch away when the thralls pulled his shirt up and over his head. He unzipped his shorts and kicked them off and away before they could get too touchy, and they didn’t seem to react except to bring him over to the filled bath and tell him to sit.

It was more of a suggestion, really, or a plea – there was no authority or strength in their voices, and it made Lance’s chest ache. They were human, but they sure didn’t act like it. The thralls were almost robotic in their motions as they took cloths and soap and began to wash him, which was one of the most uncomfortable experiences of his entire life, probably. He soon gave up trying to ask them questions – their repetitive, monotone responses were more eerie than their silence.

They poured various oils and perfumes over him, working some of them into his hair and lathering the rest over his skin. One of the bottles in particular caught Lance’s attention – the liquid within glowed a faint purple, although it lost its glow entirely when they poured it over him. The stuff smelled pungent – a thick, heady scent that faded slowly, but still left an unpleasant tickle in Lance’s nose, and made his skin tingle wherever they’d rubbed it into his skin.

“What is that stuff?” he tried to ask, pointing to the bottle.

That did draw a slight reaction. The one with darker hair glanced up at him cautiously. “It…it’s infused with Druid magic,” he mumbled. “It is meant to amplify your natural scent.”

“Why…?” Lance paused. “You mean, the scent that vampires smell. The scent of my blood.”

The thralls nodded wordlessly.

“How much does it amplify it, exactly?” he asked, a bit choked.

“It is meant to make you irresistible,” the darker-haired one said quietly, and said nothing more until they’d gotten him out of the bath and bundled up in towels.

Once they’d dried him off, they pulled something from a nearby cabinet – thrall clothing, gauzy and revealing, a shimmery shade of blue, and Lance took a step back. “Oh, no,” he said. “Uh-uh, I’m not wearing that.”

“Would you rather go nude?” the lighter-haired thrall said.

Lance scowled. “I’d rather just wear what I had on –”

“You cannot,” they said. “It would mask your scent. Please. Allow us to dress you.”

“Goddamn it,” Lance hissed, but unfolded his arms and, silently seething, let them drape and fasten the sad excuse for clothes onto him. At least they were a pretty color. Although, come to think of it, that would probably just draw more attention.

“Please, follow us,” the thralls said, and started towards the curtained entrance. Lance wasn’t too keen about sauntering into a room full of vampires smelling like this, but there was nowhere else to go. Reluctantly, he followed, and found a dozen pairs of eyes locked on him as soon as he stepped past the curtain. The thralls bowed their heads hastily. Lance folded his arms defensively over his chest and stared them all down, which elicited some amused and surprised murmuring. All murmuring stopped abruptly however when the main doors opened and another Druid strode in, wearing a long cloak with a hood, her silvery hair spilling out from under it. The other Druids were obviously deferential to her, adopting postures much like the thralls.

That, of course, just made Lance all the more determined to tip up his chin in defiance.

The Druid, who he assumed was Haggar, stopped several feet away from him. He saw her lips twist critically under the hood. “Come here, boy,” she said, snapping her long, gnarled fingers.

Lance wrinkled his nose. “Sorry, I don’t respond to ‘boy,’ try again.”

Haggar’s lips curled, this time in obvious disdain. “I said, come.” This time when she snapped her fingers, Lance stumbled forward, as if he was being dragged by an invisible chain, and it didn’t release him until he was standing directly in front of her, close enough for his skin to prickle – it was the magic.
She was the source of it. He didn’t recoil, but it was a near thing, especially when she reached out and cupped his cheek with her hand.

That magic, it was poisonous, insidious, evil. Lance could feel it trying to worm its way under his skin, trying to strip him of his defenses, trying to bare his secrets to her. He silently vowed to keep it the hell out.

“Hmm,” she said. “You do smell exquisite. Shame such a rarity is wasted on such a…” She trailed off, appraising him. “I suppose it could be worse. You do have the most beautiful eyes…so very blue.” She brushed a clawtip over the corner of his eye and he sucked in a breath.

“What do you want from me?” he snapped, still glaring.

“I want to give you a proposal,” Haggar replied. “And I would like to test a certain hypothesis I have about you.” She turned, gesturing for him to come with her, and started across the room, to a smaller set of doors opposite the main one. Lance followed before she could use that awful magic on him again, though he doubted that he was going to like whatever it was she had in store beyond that door.

The thralls did not follow, and neither did the other Druids, so when the door closed behind him it was just the two of them in the small room, which vaguely resembled a sort of office, though not a very conventional one. There was a large, finely-made desk in the middle of the room, with various items scattered over it, some of which were quite alarming – syringes, manacles, a human-sized muzzle, various glowing vials – and others which were just puzzling – little wood and stone figurines, polished pieces of antler and scale, a rabbit foot, a large book covered in runes, and a collection of long feathers tied together with twine.

There were two chairs at the table, one on each side. “Sit,” Haggar said, pointing to the chair farthest from the door.

Curious despite himself, Lance did. Haggar went to one of the many cabinets and shelves lining the walls of the room, and withdrew from it a small black box which she set on the center of the table before sitting down in the other chair. She pushed the box towards him. “Open it,” she said.

Lance touched the lid lightly, his fingertip cold when he pulled away, heart thudding. But he knew that if he refused, Haggar would just force him to do it anyway, so he popped the lid of the box…and stared.

It was a crystal. Almost exactly like the crystal Shay had given him, except it was purple, and emitted the same magic that had taken root in everything in this place. Lance did not want to touch it, but he knew that he didn’t have a choice.

“Hold the stone in your hand,” Haggar ordered.

Lance took a deep breath. He knew, deeply and instinctively, that Haggar must not find out about his own magic. He didn’t know what she would do, only that it would be very, very bad. But he also knew that as soon as he touched that crystal, the magic in him would respond. Lance bit his lip and, helplessly, picked up the crystal.

It felt terrible, like holding a jagged shard of freezing glass in his palm, but it didn’t glow. Somehow, it didn’t glow. And Lance realized – his magic was hiding itself. Or maybe he was hiding it, and just didn’t know it.

Haggar frowned at him. “No,” she muttered, “impossible. I was so certain…”

“So certain that what?” Lance asked innocently, putting the crystal back into the box.

Haggar stood up and, without warning, strode over to his chair and put her hands around his neck. Lance’s eyes widened when she squeezed, her claws digging into his throat and under the hood he saw a glimpse of her eyes, and they were blue, colder and brighter than his own had been, but they were definitely blue. Lance didn’t understand. Her lips pulled back from her teeth, curved and deadly, and he felt the tendrils of her magic seeping into his veins, searching frantically, finding nothing.

She released him with a hiss, and as soon as she broke contact, her eyes reverted to yellow. Lance’s breath came out in a ragged gasp and he touched his neck gingerly, wondering what had just happened.

“Well,” she snapped, “it appears I was mistaken. Either that…or you are hiding something from me, in which case you are going to regret ever trying to deceive me.”

“I – I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lance stammered, and it wasn’t entirely a lie.

Haggar scowled and sat back down in her chair. “Nevermind. All you should know is that you have just decreased in value, however, luckily for you, Prince Lotor still desires to have you as his thrall.”

“I said no,” Lance replied, shaking his head. “I don’t want that.”

“Yes, you made your position quite clear,” Haggar retorted. “If you were any other human, I expect the Prince would have ripped your throat open on the spot. Unfortunately, he did not, and so the offer still stands – though with a bit of a twist. Would you like to hear it?”

“No, but you’re going to tell me anyway, aren’t you,” Lance muttered.

“Yes. The proposal he has for you is this – agree to be his thrall, allow him to mark you, and he will set your little friend free and let him return to his sire and home. Our soldiers will respect the boundaries set by the Champion and they will not trespass into his territory. You will remain here, living a life of enviable luxury for as long as the Prince sees fit.” Haggar tilted her head. “Or, you can refuse to be his thrall and remain in the cell with your friend until his hunger overtakes his sense of reason, and no amount of fondness for you will dissuade him from tearing you apart like a rabid dog. Your friend will remain imprisoned and you will be dead. Those are your choices.”

Lance stared at her. “What the fuck is wrong with you people.”

“It is a very fair proposal,” Haggar countered, tapping her claws on the desk. “And it has a very obvious right choice. Only one option ends in both of you alive, after all.”

“Being a thrall is not living,” Lance snapped. “I’d rather die than be Lotor’s blood bag, thanks very much.”

“But would you also rather let your friend live with the crippling guilt caused by killing you?” Haggar asked.

“Keith isn’t going to do that!” Lance exclaimed.

Haggar clicked her tongue. “You are terribly naïve to think so. Let me tell you a story that might change your mind.”

“I’m not letting you do anything,” Lance pointed out. “You’re just doing it anyway.”

She ignored him, and did it anyway. “Once upon a time, there was a human who thought he could defeat us,” Haggar told him. “He was strong enough, for a human, but of course he didn’t make it very far. Still, we didn’t kill him, because his tenacity amused us. Intrigued us, even. So we kept him alive. He would have been wasted as a thrall, so we gave him a different purpose – he became our lab rat. We kept him down here, in the Druid Halls, and tried all sorts of things on him. Some worked, some didn’t. Eventually his strength started to wane and his sanity started to slip away, because in the end he was still just a human, weak and mortal. So we tried something new – we turned him.”

Lance had a sinking feeling that he knew exactly who she was talking about.

Haggar smiled wickedly. “Not in the conventional way, of course – that would be too boring. No, he is a vampire without a sire, the only one of his kind. We created a serum, an artificial sort of vampire blood, and forced it down his throat once we had emptied the blood from his veins. We had no way of knowing if it would work, and if it had failed, he would have died…but oh, how it worked. He was monstrous, when he turned. Ravenous, tearing at everything he could reach – he killed three thralls within minutes of opening his new eyes. And we knew we had created something incredible.”

“I don’t think I want to hear this story,” Lance whispered.

“Oh, I think you need to,” Haggar said smugly. “We sent him to the old fighting ring – it hadn’t been used in decades, but there was nowhere else to put him, he was more animal than vampire.” She chuckled. “For a while, we wondered if, in the turning, we’d broken his mind. He killed without mercy, without hesitation, and he let them bleed out into the sand, wouldn’t even eat most of them. He killed for the sake of killing, you see – he enjoyed it. He was our Champion, Takashi Shirogane.”

“But he escaped,” Lance mumbled, trying to get the images of Shiro ripping his way through cowering thralls out of his head. “He didn’t want to do any of that, so he escaped.”

“Wrong,” Haggar said. “We released him. He was getting too difficult to manage, killing too many thralls – he was insatiable – so we let him go free. I suppose freedom changed him. Creatures in captivity do tend to behave differently.”

“You let him go,” Lance repeated. “You…he…but he said he tried to resist the Galra’s way of life.”

Haggar laughed. “By murdering as many as he possibly could? That is certainly not my idea of resistance. He was the most bloodthirsty of us all.”

“You’re lying,” Lance said. “That’s not Shiro. He’s not…like that.”

“How long have you known him?” Haggar asked archly. “How intimately? Do you honestly believe he’s bared his soul to you? If he even has one.”

“Stop it,” Lance said.

“Anyway, then he went and turned your friend,” Haggar said. “We were all quite fascinated, because we didn’t think it was even possible for him to become a sire, but evidently we were wrong. It is a shame he wasted such power on a mere street urchin, but –”

“Keith’s more deserving of that power than you’ll ever be,” Lance snapped.

“So quick to defend him,” Haggar noted. “I wonder if you’ll be as eager when his teeth are buried in your throat? I would not be surprised if the same streak of uncontrolled savagery in his sire runs through him as well. Oh, I do hope he makes a mess. That might make him hate himself so much he tries to end his own pathetic life. How dramatic that would be.”

Lance didn’t want to chit-chat anymore. He wanted to get out of here. He wanted to go home. He wanted to be saved. He wanted to save himself.

But there was nothing to do except close his mouth and sit there stubbornly as Haggar went on and on, trying to get a rise out of him, until she realized he was done and sent for the guards to take him back to the cell.

“Goodbye, Lance,” she told him as he left with the guards. “I wonder if you’ll just be a red smear on the floor the next time we meet.”

“I wonder if you’ll ever shut up,” Lance told her tiredly.

Her eyes flashed under the hood, briefly blue once more. “I’ll be watching you,” she promised, and he didn’t doubt it.

*

By the time they reached the cell, Lance’s stomach was churning with a sickening mix of trepidation and uncertainty.

“Oh, good,” the one of the guards on duty snapped, “you brought the human back.”

“We can finally get some peace and quiet. The prisoner’s been yowling like a cat in heat nonstop since he left,” the other guard muttered.

Keith, who was slumped against the far wall of his cell, perked up when the guards led Lance back to the cell. Lance offered him a small, nervous smile, one which fell as Keith’s nostrils flared wide, his head lifting and pupils dilating. Shit. The guards snickered amongst themselves and shoved Lance into the cell, door shutting with a clang behind him.

Keith had him against the wall in two seconds flat. Lance’s breath left his lungs in a rush and he stared into Keith’s glowing eyes desperately, searching for a hint of something other than hunger. He didn’t have long to stare, because Keith almost immediately shoved his face up against Lance’s neck, making him stiffen and try futilely to control his breathing as the vampire sniffed at him and made strange sounds in his throat, a kind of cooing purr.

Lance swallowed hard and Keith paused, pulling back slightly. His eyes were still entirely yellow, but Lance swore they looked somehow concerned.

“You are afraid,” he whispered, and sounded sad. “Don’t be afraid, Lance.”

“You’re kinda freaking me out, Keith,” Lance said, strained.

Keith tilted his head, puzzled, and then his face was pressed right up against Lance’s throat again, great. “I was so worried you weren’t going to come back,” Keith murmured, and Lance could feel his lips moving against his skin. “Did they hurt you? There’s no bites on you. Still unmarked. Mmm. Lance, you smell –”

“Yeah, I know,” Lance managed, “it’s Druid magic, it amplifies the scent of my blood – oh, f-fuck, Keith, what are you doing –”

Keith was dragging him down the wall until they were both sitting, their legs tangled and Keith resting pretty much all of his weight on Lance’s chest and shoulder. The thrall clothes really did not provide a lot of coverage, holy shit. Luckily Keith was just nuzzling into his neck, and it was a little nerve-wracking, but Lance could cope with nuzzling. Then Lance felt Keith’s mouth open, and tensed in apprehension, letting out a thin, involuntary whine which made the guards exchange knowing looks.

“Well, took even faster than I expected for him to break,” one of the guards muttered.

But Keith wasn’t biting him. He just sucked the skin into his mouth, and Lance felt the barest brush of sharpness, and then Keith pulled back, shuddering and leaning his head on Lance’s barely-clothed shoulder, drawing in deep, frantic breaths.

The guards grumbled. “Or not. Even with the Druid magic he doesn’t know how to be a proper vampire?”

“Doesn’t want to, more like,” the other one said. “He likes the human, as ridiculous as that is.”

Lance ignored them and hesitantly put a hand on Keith’s back, rubbing it in the same soothing way he used for his younger siblings. Keith seemed to be grappling with control, his hands on Lance’s chest turning from nails to claws and back again.

“You okay?” Lance whispered. “Are…are you going to bite me?”

No,” Keith said harshly, though he seemed unable to move his face any further from Lance’s neck. “I’m sorry. I’m trying, Lance, I’m trying.”

“Haggar used that magic on me because she said it would make you turn on me,” Lance told him quietly.

“I won’t,” Keith promised, still trembling. “It’s. Easier, up close. I can smell your real scent under the magic, here. But – oh God, I almost…” His fingertips touched the faint bruise he’d left on Lance’s neck, and both of them shivered.

“It’s okay,” Lance said. “Whatever…whatever helps. It’s okay, Keith. I’m not mad.”

“Still a little scared, though,” Keith pointed out. “Though I don’t blame you.”

“I’m not scared of you,” Lance replied. “I know you’ll try your best to resist it, and that’s all you can do.”

“Then what are you scared of?” Keith asked softly.

Lance briefly considered telling Keith about the deal Haggar had offered to him, and quickly decided against it. Instead he said, “This whole damn place. I…I saw thralls, when they were leading me to the Druids.” Keith made an angry, sympathetic sound. “They’re so brainwashed, Keith. They don’t have minds of their own, they’re just…food.”

“I won’t let that happen to you,” Keith whispered fiercely. “I don’t…I don’t know what I’ll do, but I won’t let them touch you, Lance.”

“Won’t let them bite me, you mean.”

Keith didn’t deny it, and indulged in another nuzzle. Lance let him.

Is it because you don’t want me to be bitten or because you want to be the first? Lance didn’t ask. He had a feeling he already knew the answer…or maybe just knew the answer he wanted to be true.

It wasn’t the answer he should have wanted, but. He probably shouldn’t be wanting a vampire, in the first place.

They sat there, tangled, for what felt like a long time. Then Keith exhaled loudly and backed off with obvious effort and reluctance, leaving Lance alone against the wall, feeling strangely cold and exposed in his wake.

“Is it any better?” Lance asked.

Keith nodded jerkily. “I mean, it’s still…a lot. But I’m more used to it. You’re safe from me, for now anyway.”

“Awesome,” Lance said. “And, uh, thanks for not…y’know.”

“I know,” Keith said heavily, running a hand through his hair and sighing as he got to his feet and walked to the other end of the cell, not that it was very far away. “I think…I’m going to try to sleep.”

“Good luck,” Lance said. “I’ll be here.”

Keith snorted, the mood momentarily lightened, and curled up in the corner. “You better be,” he mumbled, and tucked his head under his arm, breaths slowly evening out.

Lance tipped his head back against the wall and tried to make the magic inside of himself do something, anything. A cry for help, an explosion, some good old-fashioned mind control, even…but there was nothing. Without the crystal, he couldn’t even feel the supposed magic in his blood. He was just Lance. Just normal, human, probably-utterly-doomed Lance.

Keith whimpered in his sleep.

Lance didn’t sleep at all.

*

Time passed strangely in their cell. Lance tried counting down the minutes sometimes, but without any hour attached to them they were meaningless. He thought that maybe the meals the guards brought him were a decent measure of time, but they were all bland bread, oatmeal, water, sometimes a bit of meat or fruit, so it was hard to tell what was breakfast or dinner. Lance wasn’t good at dealing with long periods without any stimulus or activity whatsoever, while Keith seemed content to just slump glumly against the wall and nap or stare forlornly into space.

Lance got bored easily, which Keith was learning the hard way.

“Hey. Keith.”

“For the hundredth time, what,” Keith groaned.

“We should talk about stuff,” Lance said. “The guards are finally gone, since their shift switched or whatever, so we don’t even have an audience now.”

“What do you want to talk about?” Keith sighed.

“Hmm,” Lance said. “Let’s play a game.”

“Oh, wonderful,” Keith muttered.

“Nah, nah, it’ll be fun. I ask you a question and you get to ask me a question and I get to ask you another question and you –”

“I got it.”

“Okay, so I’ll go first. Have you ever –”

“Am I allowed to veto questions?” Keith interrupted.

Lance spluttered at him. “I haven’t even asked it yet! And no, where’s the fun in that? Jeez, okay, anyway, have you ever been on a plane?”

“A plane?” Keith blinked. “Uh…yes, several times. Shiro and I traveled overseas for quite a while. Mostly on ships, though.”

“Cool,” Lance said. “Your turn, now.”

Keith frowned. “Um…what is your favorite…food?”

“Boring, but I love pastelitos de guayaba. They’re these pastries filled with guava fruit and sweet cheese. My abuelita makes ‘em all the time.” Lance smiled weakly. “Guess I can’t ask you the same question…huh, wait, actually, what was your favorite food, y’know, before you got turned?”

“Tomato soup,” Keith said immediately.

Lance laughed. “Wait, seriously?”

“Yes,” Keith grumbled. “Don’t laugh at me. It may resemble it somewhat, but blood does not taste like tomato soup, regrettably.” He bit his lip. “Also, potatoes. I miss potatoes.”

“I can’t imagine life without potatoes,” Lance said sympathetically.

“It’s very sad,” Keith said. “Do you want to continue working at the preschool, or do something else in life?”

“Hell no,” Lance said. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love those kids, but I think I’d go crazy if I had to work there for the rest of my life.” He looked down at his feet. “When I was younger, I really wanted to be an astronaut.”

“An astronaut,” Keith repeated, soft and wondering. “Like the ones who went to the moon?”

“Yeah,” Lance said. “I guess. But, y’know, that’s an unrealistic goal now, obviously. Gotta keep my head outta the clouds, right? So…I dunno.”

“You could be an astronaut, Lance,” Keith told him.

“Moving on,” Lance said briskly, “what was it like living in the 1900s?”

“The entire century?” Keith asked. “That is a very broad question.”

“The cool parts of the century.”

Keith huffed. “In the early 1900s, everything was much…dirtier than it is now. There was always smoke in the air, grime on clothes and skin that never came out…it was a shorter, harsher life, I suppose. Although Shiro showed me a different side of society. He was quite wealthy, you know. Had a manor, servants, a carriage, horses, fine clothes, et cetera. I was terrified of him, at first. Didn’t know why he was wasting his time with someone like me, who had nothing and no one.” Keith cleared his throat. “It was very different,” he finished.

Shiro, an aristocrat? Now that was an image - much more pleasant than the image Haggar had given him. “I almost wish I’d been there,” Lance said.

“No,” Keith said. “No, times are better now, I think.” He eyed their surroundings. “Well, relatively speaking.” He nodded to Lance. “Tell me about your family.”

“That’s not really a question, but fine,” Lance said. “My mom’s name is Lucia and she’s a force to be reckoned with. She works in marketing and sales at Macy’s, but she wishes she was an actress. My twelve-year-old sister Stella is super into acting, so my mom thinks she’ll carry on the legacy someday. Her twin Ricky is quieter, more introverted I guess. He’s a sweet kid. Really into art. My mom hangs up all his paintings – she still has some from when he was like five.” Lance smiled, thinking about it. “My dad works in IT, which is like, technology stuff. His name’s Hugo. He’s a pretty great dad, even if he’s gone a lot – he has to travel for his job. But it’s cool, he Skypes us and sends really sappy emails.” Lance shrugged sheepishly. “Uh, sorry. Guess I kinda rambled there.”

“No, it’s alright,” Keith murmured. “I enjoy hearing about your family. They sound…I’m glad you have them.”

“Me too,” Lance said. “Okay, next question…” He hesitated. “Did you, uh, have a special someone when you were still human? Y’know, a pretty orphan girl or –”

Keith snorted. “No.”

“No? That’s all you’re gonna give me? C’mon, I’m sensing a story, here.”

“There were no pretty girls, Lance,” Keith said. “I have never been attracted to the fairer sex, if you must know.”

“Never been…?” Lance faltered. “So you just. Like guys?”

“Yes,” Keith said warily. “Why, is that a problem?”

“What?!” Lance squawked. “No! Nooo, that’s not a problem. At all.”

“Oh,” Keith said, relaxing visibly. “Well. Good, then.”

“That’s not a big taboo or anything nowadays, y’know,” Lance said. “I mean, you do know that, right? That most people are totally okay with that, especially in this part of the country? I mean, Hunk has two moms, so. It’s fine.”

“I had some idea of the…shifting attitudes towards it,” Keith said. “But I am used to keeping it hidden.” He tilted his head. “Do you have a pretty girl in your life, Lance?”

Lance swallowed. This felt like flirting. Was this flirting? “Um, no,” he said. “I mean, not currently. I had a couple girlfriends in the beginning of high school, but nothing serious.”

“Ah,” Keith said. Did…did he sound disappointed?

“But I like guys too,” Lance blurted, oh my God, why did he say that, that was so not casual at all.

But Keith paused and looked at him in a new way, surprised. “Oh,” he said. “Huh. Like Shiro, then.”

“Shiro’s bisexual too?” Lance said incredulously.

“Yes,” Keith said. “If that is what you'd call it.”

“Wow,” Lance said.

“Why ‘wow’?”

“Just surprised, that’s all,” Lance said lightly, and hoped Keith couldn’t tell he was lying and inwardly praising the heavens above, because he was stuck in a Galra prison cell, but Keith and Shiro liked guys and that was all that mattered at the moment.

“Now you know,” Keith said, and shot him a look. “I hope this does not…change anything between us.”

“What? ‘Course not. Still friends, don’t worry.”

“Good.” But Keith didn’t sound all that good. Kinda worn out and defeated, actually. And he looked worn out too.

“You still wanna play the question game?” Lance asked.

Keith sighed, but cracked a small smile. “Nothing else to do, right? And…well, it does help to distract me from other matters.”

“Exactly,” Lance said. “So…what’s your favorite city, ever?”

*

They played the game for a while, until both of them started yawning and the guards returned with food for Lance. They lapsed into silence then, but it was a more comfortable silence than before.

*

Lotor paid them a visit on what Lance thought was around the third day.

The vampire prince and his guard strode into the hall like they owned the place, which Lance guessed they sort of did. Keith bristled and got to his feet immediately. Lance stayed back against the wall, arms folded. He was Not in the Mood.

“If it isn’t my two favorite prisoners,” Lotor declared, cocking his head at them, yellow eyes bright and narrow. “I must say, thrall attire suits you quite well, Lance. Blue is definitely your color.”

“Shut up,” Keith growled. “Don’t talk to him.”

Lotor chuckled. “Oh, are you going to stop me? Come now, don’t deny it. He’s such a pretty one, even if the words that come from his mouth are so ugly. But there are easy solutions for that…tongues are hardly vital organs.”

Lance glared at him though his heart was pounding.

“He is quieter now, though, isn’t he?” Lotor peered at Keith. “Been training him, have you?”

“He isn’t your damn pet,” Keith snapped. “Or mine. Or anyone’s.”

“Of course not,” Lotor simpered, rolling his eyes. “Ugh. I expected something interesting would have happened by now, but apparently not. We’ll have to add an unexpected variable to the mix, won’t we?” He inclined his head. “Farewell. I shall send some special visitors later…and maybe then I’ll get results.”

*

The special visitors turned out to be the Druids.

Four of them walked into the hall as silent and smooth as ghosts, cloaks rustling around their ankles. The guards stepped hastily out of the way. The Druids turned their unblinking lantern eyes upon Lance, and opened the cell without a key. They were keeping Keith in the corner somehow, perhaps with the same invisible bonds Haggar had used on Lance, so he couldn’t do anything but shout and growl when the Druids took ahold of Lance’s arms and hauled him out, into the hall, letting the door clang shut and releasing Keith as soon as it locked.

Haggar wasn’t there, which was a small mercy, but the Druids that were present didn’t exactly look friendly. And, disturbingly, one of them had just unsheathed a gleaming silver knife.

Lance eyed it worriedly. “Uhhh,” he stammered, “what’re you guys doing with that, exactly?”

The Druid with the knife looked at him steadily, her eyes devoid of emotion. “The Prince ordered us to cut you however many times it took to make the criminal lose control.”

“No!” Keith cried, panicky, pounding on the bars uselessly. “Stop!”

“C-cut me?” Lance’s arm jerked in their hold, and ten claws dug sharply into each wrist in obvious warning. The Druid raised her knife. “Whoa, whoa, wait a second, let’s talk about this! Humans aren’t as tough as vampires; you can’t just go around cutting us up and expect us to be fine and dandy!”

“They will not be lethal cuts,” one of the Druids told him calmly, like that was supposed to make him feel better, what the hell.

“You made this choice,” another Druid told him, her eyes glinting. Lance glared at her, because he was pretty damn sure that Lotor would’ve cut him up regardless.

“It will be quick,” the Druid with the knife said, and drew the blade sharply over Lance’s forearm in a gash of pain that made Lance gasp, turning his face away, not wanting to see the startlingly scarlet blood dripping hotly down over his wrist and palm, biting his lip hard when the knife left his skin and the cut widened in its wake.

The effect on Keith was immediate.

Turned away from his own arm, Lance was facing the cell, and flinched back when Keith lunged at the bars, snarling and stretching his arms out through them, trying to get at Lance with vicious, single-minded intent, fangs fully extended and eyes flaring too-bright. Lance’s gut lurched. Keith was salivating, hair hanging down in his face and claws scratching at the bars and the air like an animal.

The Druids pushed Lance towards the cell. “No, please, don’t do this –” he gasped, fighting them weakly. But of course they didn’t listen, and the next second Lance was in the cell and Keith had shoved him to the ground, claws tearing at his clothing and holding him down, and panic flashed blindingly through Lance’s head as Keith’s lips touched the side of his neck, searching for a vein…

…and then Keith whispered into his ear, “Pretend that I’m biting you.”

Lance froze in confusion.

“I’m not going to, actually,” Keith added hastily. “Just pretend. It’ll make them leave you alone.”

Lance swallowed and nodded almost imperceptibly.

“Okay, now,” Keith murmured, and opened his mouth against Lance’s skin, no teeth, as promised. Lance screamed at the top of his lungs even though it didn’t hurt at all, and made a big show of scrabbling at Keith’s shoulders and tugging at his hair, bucking and thrashing under him. Keith responded to the façade, growling and slamming Lance back down, though he did it with less force than met the eye. Lance’s screams started tapering off, as he figured they probably would, and he made a strangled sound like a sob, still pushing weakly at Keith’s chest, before going limp and letting his eyelids flutter dramatically.

The Druids turned away and left as soundlessly as they had arrived, seemingly satisfied.

Both of them slumped in relief.

Keith clambered off of him, smoothing his hair back and looking sheepish. He offered Lance a hand and pulled him to his (slightly unsteady) feet. “Sorry about that,” he said.

“You really need to learn to stop apologizing when you save my life, dude,” Lance retorted, moving his cut arm and immediately wincing.

“I know how scared you were of me; I’m apologizing for that,” Keith said. “But nevermind – that cut is pretty nasty, we need to cover it up.”

“The thrall clothes are kinda gauze-esque material,” Lance pointed out. Keith nodded, and without warning reached out and sliced a strip away from Lance’s sleeve with his claws. “Well, that’s one way to do it.”

“Here, let me,” Keith murmured, and Lance held out his arm hesitantly. Keith wrapped the strips of fabric around the cut with utmost care, though Lance noticed his fingers were shaking slightly. When he’d finished wrapping and tied it off, he took a big step back.

“How hungry are you, on a scale of one to ten?” Lance asked.

Keith shook his head dismissively. “Don’t worry about it.”

“That’s not an answer, Keith.”

Keith sighed. “Hungry enough that I wasn’t entirely acting back there,” he admitted. “Unlike you.”

“How’d I do?” Lance asked. “I thought I nailed it.”

“It was convincing enough,” Keith said. “Although, the screaming was slightly over-the-top.” He frowned. “Do you really think it would be that agonizing?”

Lance blinked. “Well, I mean…I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be a pleasant experience.”

Keith flushed slightly and looked away.

Lance’s eyes widened. “Wait, is it?”

Keith hastily shook his head. “No. No, you’re right, it is quite painful.” He cleared his throat. “Maybe, let’s not talk about this.”

“Right. Right, ‘course, sorry.”

Keith closed his eyes for a second, then headed back over to the other side of the cell. It was then that Lance noticed he was moving slower than usual – not just that, he was sort of limping, like it took a lot of effort just for him to walk that short distance.

“Keith…please be honest with me. How’re you holding up?” Lance asked quietly.

Keith sat down slash collapsed on the ground and put his head in his hands. “Not well,” he mumbled after a long pause.

“How…how many days d’you think it’s been?”

Keith was silent.

“Keith?”

“Too many,” Keith said, and curled into a small, miserable ball, hiding his face.

*

Lance awoke during the night – day? – disoriented and blurry-eyed, skin soaked in sweat and hair plastered to his face and forehead. He lifted his head and saw a motionless tangle of pale limbs several feet away. “Keith,” he croaked, his voice sounding like rusty hinges.

Keith stirred, and lifted his own head, eyes piercing in the gloom. “Lance?” His voice was smooth and sweet in comparison, clear water tumbling over stones in a stream; oh God, Lance was so out of it.

“Keith,” Lance said again. “I don’t…I don’t feel so hot, buddy. I mean – I do, I feel hot, but like, too hot –”

Keith moved fast. Lance blinked and he was there, his palm feeling shockingly cold against the heat of Lance’s brow. “You have a fever,” Keith whispered. “What…?”

“My arm fuckin’ hurts,” Lance groaned, weakly lifting the offending limb.

Keith held it up gently to his face and sniffed, immediately wrinkling his nose and peering at Lance with worry. “It’s infected,” he said. “I don’t…I don’t know how badly. But your temperature is very high.”

“You’re cold,” Lance slurred, grabbing at Keith’s arm and tugging him closer. Keith went stiffly, eyes wide. “Like an ice bath. Stay here, cool me down, yeah?”

“Lance,” Keith mumbled, “I don’t th-think that’s such a good idea – ah.”

Lance had curled snugly into his side, shivering and shaking violently, hot and cold and hot again. His brain felt like it was cooking in his skull, and he could feel beads of sweat sliding down his back, but Keith was blessedly cool, and there was no way Lance was moving away.

“This…helps?” Keith asked.

“Yeah,” Lance sighed, closing his eyes. “Yeah, it does.”

“Okay,” Keith said, shaky but resigned. “Okay.”

Lance swallowed. “What if it isn’t infected,” he mumbled. “What if they poisoned me?”

“Go to sleep, Lance,” Keith whispered, his hand curling around the back of Lance’s neck, fingertips carding through his hair.

Lance obeyed.

*

He awoke just as sweaty and confused as before, but this time Keith was cradling him in his arms, so it was much better. Lance made a sound that he hoped conveyed how much he hated fevers and how much he appreciated Keith and burrowed deeper against Keith’s chest, wracked with chills.

“Shh,” Keith murmured, his voice tight and his grip on Lance even more so.

Lance wasn’t sure why until he heard one of the guards say, “What happened to the human? He doesn’t look well.”

There was an awkward silence. Then Keith gritted out, “The cut on his arm is infected. He has a high fever.”

“Well. That’s…not good.”

“Oh, dear,” the other guard said nervously. “Lotor is not going to be pleased.”

*

Lotor was not pleased at all.

He stormed into the hall an hour or two later with several Druids in tow, shrieking at the top of his lungs. “Which one of you imbeciles cut him with a contaminated blade?!” he screeched, whirling on them furiously. “How could you botch such a simple task so completely? We can’t have such a valuable asset dying of a mere infection!”

“Our apologies, my Prince,” one of the Druids said, head bowed.

“Save your empty apologies,” Lotor hissed. “I expect him to be in prime condition, do you understand?!”

“Yes, my Prince.”

“No,” he said, “I don’t think you do. Let me make it even clearer for you: if you fail to return him to his previous state of health, I will personally tear out your spleens and feed them to your fellow Druids. If he dies, I’ll take a kidney from each of you, too.”

The Druids huddled together contritely. The guards looked terrified. “We understand and will do as you say, my Prince,” the bravest Druid said. “We live to serve you.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Lotor snapped. “Get on with it already, can’t you see he’s suffering?”

The Druids moved towards the cell. Keith bared his fangs at them and clutched Lance closer. “I won’t let you take him,” he snarled. “Don’t even try it.”

Lotor’s eyes narrowed, then widened in surprise. “I thought I told you to cut him until the criminal bit him!”

The Druids exchanged expressions of mild panic. “That appeared to be the case at the time, my Prince –”

“And yet he remains unmarked,” Lotor retorted, but he didn’t seem entirely upset about that. He considered the two of them with blatant curiosity. “He resisted Lance’s blood even when consumed by hunger, hm? Not only that, he now embraces him like a lover…aha, I see.”

“You are blind,” Keith growled. “And I will blind you further if you try to drag Lance away to some Druid torture chamber.”

“Torture chamber?” Lotor repeated, genuinely bewildered. “His injury will be treated, not worsened. Release him.”

“No,” Lance whimpered, clinging to Keith’s shirt. “Don’t wanna go.”

But the Druids were opening the cell and Keith’s body went tense with their magic, his arms falling away from Lance against his own volition. “Lance,” Keith gritted out, and as the Druids pulled Lance away from him he saw the dullness in Keith’s skin and eyes, the lankness of his hair, the translucency of his arms and neck, veins too dark and thin under the surface. He really was being consumed by hunger, yet he’d still fought against his instincts in order to keep Lance safe.

Lance’s heart ached and he reached out weakly for him. “Keith,” he whispered.

But the Druids took him away, and Lance could do nothing but squeeze his bleary eyes shut and hope that by some miracle Lotor was telling the truth.

*

He must have been, because when he opened his eyes again, he was back in the cell with Keith, who was hovering frantically over him, and his fever seemed to be gone. “Oh, thank God,” Keith breathed, helping Lance sit up against the wall. “They drugged you, Lance – you were unconscious when they brought you back. But they bandaged up your arm, and put some sort of antiseptic on it, and your temperature’s down even if the infection isn’t quite gone and – Lance?”

Lance hugged him. Keith stiffened. “Thank you,” Lance said. “For…for not turning into the monster they wanted you to be.”

“Lance,” Keith said unevenly. “Please let go of me.”

Hurt, Lance moved back hastily. “What? Why?”

“I’m not,” Keith started, and stopped. “I wouldn’t be so thankful just yet, if I were you. You don’t – you don’t know how hard it is not to – to –” His gaze slid down covetously to Lance’s neck, and he wasn’t even subtle about it, and Lance flushed, because oh.

Keith ducked his head and backed away. “I don’t know how much longer I can last, here,” Keith admitted. “I’m glad you’re alright, Lance. But. But maybe you would have been safer with the Druids than with –”

“I wouldn’t,” Lance interrupted, “don’t say that, Keith.”

“Stay away from me,” Keith said quietly. “Please, Lance. Until…until Shiro gets us out of here.”

“Fine,” Lance sighed, too tired to argue.

*

Keith didn’t sleep. Lance didn’t, either. He could feel Keith’s eyes on him, in intervals, hastily looking away whenever Lance tried to catch him staring. This; this was bad. It had been too long. Keith wasn’t going to be Keith soon, and Lance didn’t want to wait for that to happen.

He did wait for the guards to leave. He didn’t want this to be a public event, for both their sakes. Once they were alone, he steeled himself and got to his feet, turning to Keith.

“We both know Shiro isn’t coming to save us,” Lance said.

Keith shook his head, still avoiding his eyes. “He’ll be here soon,” Keith whispered, low and shaky. “He will, he will.”

“No, he won’t!” Lance snapped, moving towards him. Keith flinched back, flattening himself against the opposite wall. “Even if he was going to rescue us, he won’t get here in time. He’s too late, Keith, and you know it. You can’t wait even an hour longer, can you?”

“I can wait,” Keith muttered miserably, hiding his face. “I can wait, I can wait, I can –”

“No, you can’t,” Lance retorted, slowly closing the space between them. “Look at yourself. You’re shaking, Keith, and your skin is practically gray. You look like shit.”

“Stop,” Keith said. “Lance, stop. Don’t get any closer. Please.”

“I am trying to help you –”

Keith curled into a ball, drawing his knees up to his chest. “Lance, I can’t ask you to do that –”

“You don’t need to ask,” Lance said, sitting down and reaching out, touching Keith’s knee. Keith jerked like Lance had just electrocuted him. “I’m offering.”

“Don’t,” Keith whispered, lifting his head slightly, eyes entirely yellow, and full of pain. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“If you keep trying to resist it, you’re going to completely lose control,” Lance told him matter-of-factly. “This isn’t a battle you can win, here. And if you do lose control, and you attack me, you’ll never forgive yourself.”

Keith winced, his brows drawing together. “What…what are you offering?”

“You know what,” Lance said. “My blood.”

Keith shuddered visibly. “You have no sense of self-preservation,” he said, with equal parts frustration and wonder. “You should be trying to kill me, not…”

“Save your life?” Lance folded his arms. “I’m not gonna kill you, and I know you’re not gonna kill me, either.”

“There is no certainty in that,” Keith warned, but he was leaning away from the wall, towards Lance, eyes half-lidded and lips parting. “I…I do not know if I will be able to control myself.”

“I trust you,” Lance said honestly. Because he did, bizarrely enough, even though Keith’s mouth was opening wider and his teeth were sharp, sharp, sharp, twin knives of ivory, and Lance knew it was going to hurt like a bitch.

“You really shouldn’t,” Keith breathed, crawling forward, until he was practically in Lance’s lap, hands fisting into the front of Lance’s shirt, claws curling from his fingertips. Lance held still, heart pounding, as Keith pressed his face almost tenderly against the side of Lance’s neck, inhaling, making a sound like a moan deep in his throat. “You really, really shouldn’t.”

“Keith,” Lance gasped, grabbing his hair, forcing him closer, until his lips dragged over Lance’s skin, dry and cracked, and Keith wasn’t just hungry, he was starving, and this was really happening. “Just. Do it, already.”

Keith’s tongue flicked out, wet and soft and unexpected, and Lance tensed, startled. “I’m sorry,” Keith whispered, but he didn’t sound sorry at all, and he definitely didn’t feel sorry when he sank his fangs into Lance’s neck.

Lance cried out, nails digging into Keith’s scalp, eyes flying wide. Because. Fuck. Oh, fuck, that hurt, a stabbing, burning sensation that made his spine buckle and his nerves scream in protest. And then…and then, not so much. The bite was clean, precise – and though Keith wasn’t really gentle as he fed, he wasn’t making a gory mess out of it either, which was…good, yes, that was good, Keith was good, oh man, Lance was starting to get dizzy. Woozy. Tired? He realized he’d closed his eyes, somewhere along the line. How long had it been? What was time, really?

Keith was still drinking, and Lance felt the warm drip of his own blood down his collarbones, distantly registered that Keith needed to stop, or something bad was gonna happen. Something, something, Lance couldn’t quite remember what it was; it kept drifting away from him, slippery as an eel. Lance tugged on his hair. Keith didn’t stop. “Keith,” Lance said, his voice faint and strange, like he was hearing it from underwater. “Keith, y’gotta –”

There was a weird, uncomfortable sensation like a suction cup detaching, then a rush of liquid over his chest, and then Lance was on the ground, flat on his back, staring up at Keith. Keith was blurry, going in and out of focus, dark at the edges like a half-developed photograph. There was blood covering his mouth and chin, splattered all down the front of his shirt, but it looked too bright and excessive to be real. Were they in a movie? Lance smiled, bewildered but intrigued by the possibility.

Keith touched his face. His fingers were shaking. “Your lips are blue,” he whispered, and he sounded…horrified. Scared. Upset. Uncomprehending, Lance blinked back sluggishly. “Lance. Oh, Lance.”

Lance figured he should probably reply. People tended to do that, in conversation. But talking required effort, and…Lance wasn’t really feelin’ it. “Keith,” was all he managed to say, still smiling lopsidedly.

Keith was swearing, lifting him up, and Lance tried to sit up properly but just sorta slumped like a ragdoll, head falling forward against Keith’s chest. Keith was warm, really warm, and Lance’s arm didn’t hurt anymore. He hummed happily. Then Keith, still swearing, pressed some kind of fabric to the side of his neck, and it felt sticky and…oh, all of that was blood. Blood, soaking through the fabric even as Keith pressed down frantically, making the whole cell smell like metal. Iron. Lance wondered what it smelled like to Keith.

“No, no, please,” Keith begged, and he sounded choked up, and something wet fell onto Lance’s cheek and that wasn’t blood; that was a tear. Salt. Keith was crying. Lance was having difficulty breathing, and his vision was spotting more, and suddenly the panic set in. Keith was lifting up his head, telling him to breathe. It’s not that easy, asshole, Lance wanted to say, but he could only pant shallowly, chest constricting and fingers numb where they clutched Keith’s shoulders. “Lance, stay with me, it’s gonna be okay, it’s okay –”

There was a thunderous boom that shook the cell to its foundations. Then, the sounds of screams and roars and a series of crashes.

The two of them froze. Keith’s eyes widened, brightened. “Shiro,” he whispered. “He’s here.”

“Great timing,” Lance mumbled sarcastically, eyelids falling closed again.

Keith made a frantic sound and shook him. “Lance, don’t you dare fall asleep on me.”

“Why not,” Lance slurred. “’m tired.”

“If you fall asleep, you’re never going to wake up,” Keith snapped. “You’re dying, Lance.”

“Huh,” Lance said. “Well, that’s not my fault, now is it.”

Keith hugged him tighter. “No,” he said. “No, it isn’t. It’s my fault. I did this.”

“I did tell you to do it,” Lance admitted, eyes closing fully, body feeling heavy. “Not like I had much of a choice. Wasn’t gonna let you die.”

“And I’m not going to let you die!” Keith said, smacking the side of his face. Lance yelped. “Wake up.”

“You suck at being a nurse,” Lance complained. “Hitting patients is bad, Keith.”

“What are you even talking about?!” Keith asked frantically. “Do you have brain damage? Oh, god. I gave you brain damage.”

“Shut up,” Lance mumbled. “I do not. Be quiet, Nurse Kogane.”

Keith opened his mouth to reply but then the hall was filled with guards, and they were headed straight for their cell, and wow, Lance thought, that was probably not good. Keith seemed to agree, if the way he tensed and clutched Lance to him while hissing and baring his bloody teeth was any indication. The blood was attracting a lot of attention, Lance realized. He heard bits and pieces of their conversation – Christ, not so vegetarian after all, is he? and another, I don’t care what Lotor said, I’m gonna get a taste of that blood, just smelling it is torture. It’s a wonder he lasted as long as he did.

And another, shocked, Did…did he keep the human alive?!

One of the guards tried to open the cell, and Keith snarled, and the air rippled with magic, but it wasn’t from a thrall or a Druid. It was, Lance thought dimly, from his own blood. Keith was shifting for the first time – leathery wings burst from his fingertips and his hair lengthened and his face flattened and sharpened and his fangs elongated and Keith was a giant bat.

Lance almost laughed, because how cliché was that? The guards shouted in alarm and Keith’s huge wings wrapped around Lance, cocooning him, shielding him from the fight outside. Lance sighed and leaned against Keith’s significantly fluffier body. Soft, he thought, and in the warm darkness, Lance’s eyes fluttered shut, and he drifted away.

Chapter Text

The events that followed were confusing, to say the least.

Lance still had no concept of time, and everything was pretty numb, so it was hard to tell whether he was being carried or dragged or, at one point, possibly flying. There were lots of voices, tangled, familiar and unfamiliar – Keith, he was always there, and then Shiro, close and concerned, and then unnamed sharp female voices and gruff male ones. Once, Lance thought he heard Lotor screaming in rage. That wasn’t very far-fetched, but thankfully that sound didn’t last long.

Then he was unconscious for a while. When he woke up, he was lying on something soft and horizontal…bed, right, that’s what those things were called. There was a circle of faces around him. Lance looked at them hazily. Someone laid a hand protectively on his brow – Hunk. Lance wanted to say hello, say, I missed you, but his tongue was too heavy and dry in his mouth.

“He’s sweaty, and way too cold,” Hunk said, voice shaking. “We need to get him to a hospital to get a transfusion, ASAP.”

The room erupted into a chorus of dissent. “No!” someone exclaimed, one of the strangers…a vampire, Lance registered, with a narrow face and bushy eyebrows. “We absolutely cannot. What will the human doctors think when they see two puncture marks on his neck and severe blood loss?”

“Animal attack?” another vampire, female with long blonde hair, suggested sardonically. “Or a very strange serial killer?”

“No, they’ll ask questions; questions we cannot easily answer,” Shiro said, frowning and folding his arms.

“He’s going to die otherwise!” Hunk half-shrieked. “Do you want that? Are you just gonna let him die?”

“Nobody is letting Lance die!” Keith snapped.

“Remind me who bit him again,” Hunk retorted.

“Guys!” Pidge shouted, startling everyone into silence. “Arguing isn’t helping anyone. We can’t take Lance to the hospital, they’re right. Not only would the doctors get suspicious, it would take too long, and we shouldn’t try to move him any more than necessary.”

“So what’s your genius solution?” Hunk asked, and it sounded kinda sassy but mostly desperate and scared.

“He stays here, and Shiro and Keith tend to him,” Pidge said. “We can get medical supplies, food, blood bags from the hospital, whatever you guys need, but he’ll be safest here –”

“Safe?!” Hunk threw up his hands. “He isn’t safe with vampires, Pidge! If we learn one thing from this, it should be that!”

“He’s safer here than with the Galra or with us,” Pidge countered. “The Galra are gonna be pissed. They might try to take Lance back. And I don’t know about you, but I think Lance is safer in a house defended by a rebel force of vampires and two vampires who are our friends, and who care about his wellbeing.”

“We’ll take care of him,” Shiro said. “Of course we will. You’re correct that this was partly our fault, Hunk, and so it only seems right that we take responsibility for Lance’s recovery.”

Hunk sighed in defeat. “I’ll be checking up on him,” he warned. “And there better not be another mark on him, you hear me?”

“He is safe here,” Shiro said, firmly. “We give you our word. He is not in danger from us.”

“I trust you two,” Pidge agreed, “but no offense, the rest of you are basically strangers.”

“Understood,” said a grim-looking male vampire with a long white braid and a scar over his right eye. “This is not our territory, after all. We will keep our distance if that is what you wish, Shiro.”

“Yes, Kolivan,” Shiro agreed, “I think that would be for the best. From here on, none of you are to intrude onto this floor. And for your peace of mind,” he nodded to Pidge and Hunk, “either Keith or I will guard Lance’s room at all times. Is that an acceptable arrangement?”

“Yes,” Pidge said.

“Fine,” Hunk said. “But I’m still coming to visit.”

“It would be unwise of you to venture into the woods unattended,” said the vampire standing next to Kolivan, who had impressive sideburns, a neat goatee, and larger, pointier ears.

“Are you offering to escort the humans, Thace?” Kolivan asked.

Thace inclined his head. “I can, yes.”

“As will I,” said the one with bushy eyebrows. He looked to the vampire standing next to him, who was the tallest and broadest by far, his face curiously concealed by a large hood, head bowed. “Antok, will you join us?”

The large vampire grunted affirmatively.

“Rolo, Nyma, I don’t suppose you’re offering any help?” Thace asked two vampires who stood off to the side from the rest, the blonde chick and a moody-looking guy with shaggy white hair.

Nyma lifted her chin, arms folded. “We will defend against the Galra, that is all,” she declared. “We aren’t here to babysit.”

“She means, no thanks,” Rolo added.

“Noted,” Shiro sighed.

A sudden flash of light filled the room, and everyone turned towards the window – it was nighttime, but there was a faint, fading glow outside. “Luxia and Florona must have gotten the protective barrier working,” Keith murmured. “Guess their sigils work after all.”

“As long as it keeps the Galra out,” Kolivan said.

Lance was having difficulty keeping his eyes open, a wave of dizziness and nausea overtaking him. He groaned, curling up on the bed in discomfort, and immediately everyone’s attention shifted. “We should go,” Kolivan decided, and headed for the door, all the other new vampires following in his stead.

“Can you guys leave for a second, too?” Pidge asked Keith and Shiro. “We…we need a minute with Lance. Quickly, before we head off to the hospital.”

“Of course,” Shiro said before Keith could protest, and the two of them left as well.

As soon as the door shut, Hunk all but threw himself on Lance, tears forming in his eyes as he tried to prop Lance up with the pillows to help him breathe. Pidge collapsed on the side of the bed, lower lip trembling. They reached out and took Lance’s hand in their own, and it was such an unexpectedly tender gesture from aloof, prickly Pidge that he was startled into brief lucidity.

“I’m so sorry, Lance,” Pidge whispered, taking off their glasses and wiping furiously at their eyes. “I – I just wanted to figure out what was in the woods, but I didn’t think…I never thought it would be real. I never thought you would actually get hurt and I’m sorry for ever joking that I wished you would, I –”

“’S okay,” Lance mumbled, his eyelids heavy. “Don’t cry, c’mon.”

“Don’t die, then,” Pidge retorted desperately. “Okay? You gotta stay with us until we get back from the hospital.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Lance slurred.

Hunk didn’t say anything, just hugged Lance carefully, his tears dripping onto Lance’s clothes. He was still wearing the thrall outfit, he realized dimly, but he was too tired to care much. Lance patted Hunk’s back clumsily. “Shhh,” he mumbled.

“We were so scared,” Hunk sniffled. “So afraid that…that they got you. That we’d never see you again.”

Lance pressed a light, clumsy kiss to Hunk’s face. “Shhh,” he repeated, softer.

Pidge squeezed his hand and Hunk gave him one last hug before withdrawing. “We’ll be back,” Pidge promised. “Wait up for us, ‘kay?”

“Mmhm,” Lance mumbled, turning his face against the pillow and shivering. He was pretty sure he had a fever again.

“Let’s go,” Hunk said to Pidge, and they wiped their tears away with their shirts and marched out with resolve.

A few minutes later, the door creaked open again. Lance looked up blearily. Shiro.

“Hello, Lance,” Shiro said, using a strange, soft voice Lance had never heard from him before. Almost like the voice one would use when talking to a frightened animal. But Lance wasn’t scared, and smiled faintly at him, lacking the strength for a proper reply.

Shiro’s brow creased as he knelt by the edge of the bed and raised something cool to Lance’s lips – a glass of water. “You need to drink,” Shiro told him in that same voice. “Slowly. Yes, that’s it, good.”

Lance didn’t quite have the coordination to get all the water down, so some of it dribbled out and down his chin, but Shiro just made soothing sounds and wiped it away with his sleeve. The water helped to ease the dizzy feeling, but he was dizzy all over again when Shiro unexpectedly scooped Lance up off the bed and into his arms. Lance could do little more than let out a quiet squeak of surprise, blinking in confusion up at him. Shiro looked back down at him, his expression somber and concerned. “You’re still covered in blood,” Shiro told him quietly, calmly. “Let’s get you cleaned up, alright?”

“Mhm,” Lance hummed, unconsciously slumping into Shiro’s chest. Shiro was carrying him out of the room, across the hallway to the bathroom. There was a fresh change of clothes on the towel rack. Lance barely processed it, and certainly didn’t process it when Shiro closed and locked the door behind them and gently set Lance down in the bathtub.

Lance was sad that they kicked him out of the soft bed, but he could probably fall asleep here, too.

He started to close his eyes and Shiro started to take off Lance’s clothes.

Lance’s eyes snapped open. “Whaa –”

“Hush,” Shiro said, peeling the blood-soaked remnants of the thrall clothing away from Lance’s body. “Just…hold still.”

Lance stared at him and didn’t move a muscle as he was bared to the cool air. He still didn’t understand, not until he was naked and Shiro turned on the water, anyway.

“Oh,” Lance said, feeling stupid as the tub started to fill with warm water, and then, “Oh,” because damn, that felt really good, he needed this.

Shiro gave him a small, lopsided smile. “Better already, see?”

Lance nodded and let his eyes fall shut again, relaxing into the water and letting his head tip back against the side of the tub. He tensed a little when Shiro smoothed a washcloth over his arm, scrubbing off the residual bloodstains and grime from the cell, but Shiro was careful, slow and methodical enough that Lance actually started to drift off. With his eyes closed, it was easy to pretend that Shiro’s hand was just part of the water, warm ripples across his skin. Distantly, he felt Shiro removing the bandage from his arm, cleaning the wound and putting some kind of salve over it before putting fresh gauze on.

When Shiro had scrubbed him clean he washed Lance’s hair, and that made it harder to ignore his touch and how unfairly good it felt. Lance leaned sleepily into it, sighing contentedly when Shiro’s nails scratched just so over his scalp. Shiro chuckled, though it sounded strained. Lance cracked his eyes open after Shiro had rinsed the shampoo out, and was unprepared to see the vampire so close, his bulky frame blocking out the fluorescent light and casting Lance in shadow, making the water darkened by blood even darker.

Lance swallowed; his throat dry as a desert, lips chapped. “Where’s Keith?” he croaked.

Shiro’s expression shifted and he drew back slightly. “He’s…resting,” Shiro replied, evasive. When Lance squinted suspiciously, he added, “Keith is quite distraught right now, Lance. He didn’t know if you’d want to see him.”

Lance frowned. “I do,” he mumbled. “’Course I do.”

“You do remember what happened,” Shiro said cautiously, watching him closely, “right?”

“Yeah,” Lance mumbled. “Told him to bite me.”

Shiro blinked, slow and impassive. “Yes. And then he did.”

Lance’s mouth twitched up into a faint smile. “He was a bat.”

Shiro inclined his head. “The power within your blood triggered his first shifting.” He sighed. “You lost quite a lot of blood, Lance. Keith could have killed you.”

“No,” Lance argued weakly. “Knew he wouldn’t.”

“Lance,” Shiro said wearily, shaking his head and running a hand through his hair. Dazedly, Lance noted that his stained fingertips left pink streaks in the white forelock. “You’re very lucky to be alive right now. Come, let’s get you dried off and dressed so you can go back to bed.”

Lance let Shiro manhandle him out of the tub and into a fluffy towel, his knees so weak under him that he couldn’t stand on his own without being overcome by terrifying waves of vertigo. “I’ve got you,” Shiro murmured, holding him steady and helping him get dry enough to pull on the clothes. They were simple pajamas, and Lance was pretty sure they were Keith’s – faded red flannel pants and a baggy black T-shirt that hung off his frame and made him feel even skinnier. Weaker, like a toothpick liable to splinter when Shiro picked him up again and carried him back to the bedroom.

Lance protested feebly. “Aw, c’mon, not again –”

“Quiet,” Shiro snapped, his voice momentarily losing its softness, gaining a sharp, brusque edge that caught Lance off guard. He flinched and Shiro noticed, setting him down on the bed at once and stepping back ruefully. “I…should leave you to rest.”

He looked so sad. Lance pulled the sheets up over himself, rolling onto his side and peering up at Shiro, who still stood there, wavering. The exhaustion and disorientation was starting to set in again, and maybe that was why Lance said, “I met Haggar.”

Shiro froze, his hands curling into fists at his sides. He looked at Lance with wide eyes. “What?”

“She told me,” Lance mumbled. “’Bout you. Champion.”

Shiro recoiled, horror etched into every line of his face. He took a step back. “I – I –”

“It’s okay,” Lance said, confused, trying to sit up and utterly failing.

“No,” Shiro whispered, “no, it isn’t.”

“So…” Lance’s brain worked slowly. “So she told the truth…about everything?”

“I don’t,” Shiro said, and stopped. “We should…talk about this later. Not now, Lance. I can’t…later.”

Lance shrugged and yawned. “Okay. ‘Night.”

“Goodnight, Lance,” Shiro choked out, and left the room hastily, closing the door too hard behind him.

*

Lance woke up to a sharp prick on his inner arm and the murmur of voices.

Pidge: “It’s Procrit, they use it on anemic patients and people who can’t get transfusions. It increases red blood cell production.”

Shiro: “Where did you get this, again?”

Pidge: “My dad has connections. Let’s leave it at that.”

Lance hissed when the needle was withdrawn. Someone – probably Hunk – put a bandaid over the injection site. Another glass of water was lifted to his lips, and Lance drank greedily.

“There’s cookies and juice and fruit and some other stuff in the kitchen,” Hunk said to Shiro. “Keith’s putting it all away; you need to make Lance eat it at some point so he gets more iron and vitamins in his system.”

“You changed his bandages?” Pidge asked, sounding surprised.

“Yes,” Shiro said. “And I made a salve that should help speed up the healing process and prevent pain and scarring.”

“I don’t know how the one on his neck won’t scar,” Hunk muttered.

“We’ll have to wait and see, but I am confident it will work,” Shiro replied. “He’s certainly more stable now.”

“He is,” Hunk agreed reluctantly. “Guess you kinda know what you’re doing after all.”

“Kinda,” Shiro said.

“Keith’s still keeping his distance,” Pidge noted. “Is he okay?”

“You’re asking if the one who almost made Lance bleed out is okay?!” Hunk squawked.

“Wasn’t his fault,” Lance slurred.

The three of them looked at him in surprise. “Wasn’t his fault,” Lance repeated. “I made him do it.”

“How do you make a vampire bite you?” Hunk asked, doubtful.

“Held his face against my neck,” Lance mumbled. “Told him he had no other choice.”

“He didn’t, really,” Pidge said. “They were starving him out, Hunk.”

Hunk was still frowning, but he sighed and relented. “How’re you feeling, Lance?”

Lance yawned. “Sleepy. Kinda cold.”

“I’ll get another blanket,” Shiro said, and went out into the hall hastily.

“Jumpy, isn’t he,” Pidge remarked.

Lance looked guiltily at the door. Champion. Probably shouldn’t have just blurted that out, but it was too late now. He sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Where’d all the vampires from earlier go?”

“Oh, right,” Hunk said. “Guess we didn’t introduce you yet. “They’re called the Blade of Marmora, they’re a rebel pack of pretty powerful vampires from the north. Shiro met Ulaz when he escaped from Lotor’s garrison, and he’s been in contact with them ever since. Kolivan is the leader, Antok is his bodyguard, and Thace and Ulaz are lieutenants or something like that.”

“Huh,” Lance said. “They broke me and Keith out?”

“Yep,” Pidge said. “That’s why it took a week – Shiro was gathering allies even though he was about ready to rush in there alone. Which would’ve been suicide, obviously.”

Shiro returned with the blanket. “It might not have been,” he said. “It might have been better to go alone. I could have gotten there in time, before…” He sighed and tossed the blanket onto the bed. “Certain events could have been avoided.”

“You wouldn’t’ve made it,” Lance mumbled.

Shiro folded his arms and looked away, his jaw set stubbornly.

Hunk cleared his throat. “Anyway, there’s also Rolo and Nyma, who aren’t part of the Blade, they’re loners who live nearby and had a bone to pick with the Galra. And Florona and Luxia are just super nice.”

Shiro rolled his eyes. “Nice, yes, but only because there is something in it for them.”

“What d’you mean?” Hunk asked.

Shiro shuffled his feet a little. “Ah…well, Luxia and Florona are unique among vampires in that they are far more sensitive to energies and magic than most of us. It allows them to channel that energy into sigils and charms far stronger than the little trinkets I can make. According to Luxia, Lance’s energy is particularly –”

“Oh, no, nuh-uh,” Hunk protested fiercely, “don’t you dare use Lance as a bargaining chip, here!”

Shiro looked rather offended. “Excuse me? I would never do such a thing! I already promised you that none of the others would even come into contact with Lance, much less bite him. What I mean is that Luxia and Florona can benefit from simply being in Lance’s vicinity, that’s how powerful his energy is. It only hones their own powers, and does not harm Lance in any way. Believe me, I made absolutely certain of that.”

“Damn,” Pidge murmured, looking down at Lance with furrowed brows. “Why is his energy so strong? Anyone got theories? Lance, there something you wanna tell us?”

Lance shrugged and did his best to appear innocent. “’S weird,” he mumbled. “I dunno.”

“Hm,” Pidge said. “Maybe we’ll have to do some experiments when you’re back on your feet.”

“Maybe,” Lance mumbled.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Hunk said, reaching into his pocket. “This fell out of your bag in the backseat of Azula…figured it was yours because Keith’s charms are on there, too.” He pulled out the crystal on its chain, and Lance’s heart leapt. He reached out for it instinctively, making grabby hands, but Hunk withheld it for a second. “Where’d you even get this thing, Lance? It looks expensive.”

“Found it at a weird shop around town,” Lance said, which technically wasn’t a lie. He snatched the necklace from Hunk, a strange tremor going up his arm as he did so. He was so engrossed in having the crystal back in his hands again that he missed the expression of bewilderment and faint realization on Shiro’s face.

Lance put the necklace back over his head, sighing and settling back against the pillows as the crystal settled upon his chest, warm and right. “Thanks,” he told Hunk, eyelids heavy again.

“Sure thing,” Hunk said, looking a little confused himself.

“We should leave Lance to sleep,” Shiro declared. “He needs all the rest he can get.”

“He’s been sleeping for like a day,” Pidge pointed out.

“He needs more rest,” Shiro insisted.

“Great, well, whenever you’re feeling up to it, Lance, you need to call your mom,” Pidge said.

Lance froze, eyes snapping open and alert. “Oh, coño carajo, ¡ella va a matarme!

“Your mother is not going to kill you, Lance,” Shiro assured him.

“Yeah, don’t worry, we faked our way out of a couple phone calls and luckily Hunk remembered your passcode so we could reply to her texts, but I think she’s catching on to something,” Pidge told him. “Glad you’re not dead, though, because that would be hard to explain to her.”

Shiro looked at them askance. “Ha, ha,” Lance grumbled, pressing his palms to his eyes.

“Not right now, though,” Hunk said, patting his shoulder gently. “Don’t stress, buddy. Just focus on getting better.”

Anxiety and guilt coiled tight in his chest, Lance wordlessly rolled away from them and into a ball, gathering the blankets around him and over his head.

“Guess that’s our cue to leave,” Pidge sighed.

Lance tried not to think of his mom, over five hundred miles away, biting her cuticles in that nervous habit of hers as she tried to call her son for the fifth time and got only a dial tone in reply. He tried not to think of what would have happened if Shiro had never saved them or if…if he’d taken Lotor up on his ‘offer.’ He tried not to think of missing persons cases and posters with his face plastered over them and police combing the woods and empty coffins and –

The crystal thrummed against his chest, glow hidden by the blankets, soft and soothing. You are safe, it seemed to say. You are alive.

Lance clung to its light, and drifted off.

*

He awoke feeling much more rested than before, orange afternoon sunlight streaming into the room, but to his surprise he was not alone in the bed. There was another person, not laying down but sitting up against the headboard, and they were petting Lance’s hair absently, touch light and hesitant. The touch ceased altogether when Lance opened his eyes and rolled over to face them, finding himself looking up at a startled Keith.

For a moment they just stared at each other, Lance surprised and pleased, and Keith utterly mortified.

“Hi,” Lance said, smiling, and Keith fell off of the bed with a yelp.

Lance blinked. “Keith?”

Keith stood up hastily and started towards the door as fast as possible.

“Keith!” Lance exclaimed, his own desperation painfully obvious, ringing out through the room. Keith stopped in his tracks and glanced back at him, still wide-eyed and flushed. “Don’t leave,” Lance implored, quieter. “Stay. Please.”

“Lance…” Keith turned halfway towards him, brow creasing. “I don’t think –”

“Yes,” Lance said. “Don’t think. Just stay.”

Keith bit his lip, uncertain, and then he turned back away and hurried out the door.

“Keith,” Lance whispered forlornly, deflating, a lump forming in his throat. He buried his face in the pillows, inhaling the clean cotton scent, trying to will the tears of frustration and rejection from welling up in his eyes. Of course it was inevitable, but, God, Lance had hoped…had wanted, so, so badly, and had hoped that perhaps by wanting something so much, he would be able to have it.

But of course that wasn’t how things like this worked at all. He couldn’t have Keith. He couldn’t have either of them, and he was stupid to ever think otherwise.

The door swung open again. Lance sat up too fast, and blinked dizzily at the impossible sight of Keith walking back into the room, closing the door carefully behind him and returning to the bed with a couple juice boxes and a granola bar in his hands. Lance gawked at him as he sat back down on the edge of the bed and wordlessly handed Lance a juice box, setting the rest atop the nightstand.

Lance took the juice box and poked the straw through the top, taking a few small sips, the sugar waking him up a little. Keith kept his head bowed; avoiding Lance’s gaze until Lance put the half-empty juice box on the night stand and put his hand on Keith’s knee. “Look at me,” Lance murmured, a plea more than a demand, and Keith did, brows drawn together and mouth twisted unhappily.

“I told you to do it, Keith,” Lance said.

Keith inhaled sharply. “You shouldn’t have.”

“But I did,” Lance said. “And you bit me, and things are different, now. Aren’t they?”

“Different,” Keith repeated bitterly. “Because I’ve tasted your blood, you mean? Because I gave in?” It looked like it physically hurt him to even say it.

“Because we didn’t let each other die,” Lance corrected.

Keith’s mouth twisted further. “Don’t say it like I did you any favors,” Keith muttered. “Don’t say it like both of us were such big heroes. One of us was a hero. One of us was a monster.”

“No,” Lance said. “You’re not a monster, Keith.” His hand on Keith’s knee slid up to his thigh, slow but unmistakable. If he hadn’t been so nervous he would have been impressed at his own daring.

Keith grabbed his wrist, eyes wide again. “Lance.”

“Stay with me,” Lance whispered again, and moved to make space for him on the bed. Keith stared at him. “If…if you want to, that is.”

Something in Keith’s downcast expression shifted at that, and he let out a breath before shifting more fully onto the bed, and then, incredibly, slipped under the sheets until they were laying face to face, close enough for Lance to feel Keith’s breath on his lips.

“I want to,” Keith told him, eyes half-lidded. “Lance, you know I want to.”

“How,” Lance mumbled, “how could I know that, Keith?”

“Because, you’re…” Keith trailed off, shaking his head. “You,” he finished.

“Me?”

“Yes,” Keith said, and reached out to cup Lance’s face ever-so-carefully. Lance held absolutely still, heart pounding in disbelieving joy. “Lance, I…”

“Yes,” Lance whispered, answering his unspoken question, and leaned in to kiss him.

Keith met him halfway, their lips touching soft and careful, as if afraid to break the uneasy peace they’d found in this little corner of the world together. Lance made a sound against Keith’s mouth, wordless contentment, and Keith smiled into it, his hand cupping Lance’s jaw more firmly, angling their heads until their lips slotted together more easily.

Lance reached up and let his fingers find Keith’s hair, sinking into soft, dark locks and making Keith hum happily. The kiss turned messier when Lance gave a little tug, and Keith’s lips parted in response, a hint of tongue and oh, teeth too, the sharp tip of a fang catching briefly on Lance’s lower lip before Keith broke away.

His mouth was slick and pink and Lance couldn’t stop looking at it, dazed.

“Mmm,” Keith murmured, eyes opening slowly, looking at Lance through his lashes.

“Yeah,” Lance agreed, nuzzling shyly against his cheek. Keith flushed, but let Lance press closer, until they were properly snuggling, and yep, Lance was so about this, this was a thousand times better than he ever could’ve imagined. Keith’s arm was heavy and secure over his waist and his breath tickled against Lance’s jaw and his eyes were dark and fond, fixed solely upon Lance.

“You should sleep,” Keith told him, hand smoothing over his spine and settling upon his hip. “Or I can get more food, if you want.”

“Nah, this is good,” Lance replied, tucking his head into Keith’s neck and closing his eyes. “But you better be here when I wake up, bat boy.”

“Bat boy?” Keith repeated, amused.

“That’s your new nickname, get used to it, bat boy.”

Keith chuckled. “Whatever you say, Lance.”

*

At some point during the night – because it was night again, Lance saw stars through the crack in the curtains – they had shifted, so Lance woke up with a solid weight at his back and uneven breathing in his ear. It took a second to click, but when it did Lance smiled and stretched, pressing back against him. “Keith,” he yawned, ready to go back to sleep…until Keith said his name in a hiss and moved in a very purposeful way against him.

Lance’s breath came out in a rush. “…Keith?”

“I want,” Keith mumbled, and when Lance craned his neck around Keith was staring at him with yellow eyes, arms snaking around his hips with single-minded intent. Keith’s hand pressed down hard between Lance’s legs and he jerked with a shaky, shocked moan, toes curling.

“You smell so good, all the time, fuck, you look so good too, it’s torture,” Keith gritted out, and Lance, still stunned, found himself rolled onto his back, Keith clambering on top of him, thighs splaying wide on either side of his hips, putting himself blatantly on display. “I’ve wanted to, wanted to…”

“What,” Lance gasped, head tipping back against the pillows as Keith’s hips bore down on him and he felt the hot hardness of Keith’s arousal through his pajama pants, which were already soaked through, leaking against Lance’s hip. Lance squirmed up under him, cock stirring and filling out rapidly when Keith ground the heel of his palm against it again and again, rough and insistent friction. “Wanted to what, Keith?”

“Want to suck you off,” Keith whispered against his chest.

Lance groaned, cock twitching at just the thought. Dios, was that even safe? Did he even care? No, no he did not; especially when Keith licked just a couple inches south of the bandage on Lance’s neck, a wide stripe of spit, tongue dragging down over Lance’s collarbones and hand slipping up and under his shirt.

“Can I?” Keith panted, raising his head. “Will you let me suck your cock, Lance?”

“Yeah,” Lance said, shuddering when Keith’s fingertips traced up his ribs, feather-light. “Fuck, yeah.”

Keith grinned, delighted and even playful, and without further preamble yanked down Lance’s pajama pants. Well, Keith’s pajama pants, technically, but Lance was not thinking about nuances like that when Keith’s lips were on his inner thigh. This was moving really fast, he registered faintly, but he wasn’t complaining, because holy fuck, that felt good.

Keith was dragging his fingers up the length of Lance’s cock almost delicately, an obvious tease but enough contact to make Lance arch up for more. Keith rubbed his face against Lance’s thigh instead, coaxing his legs apart and making pleased rumbly noises in the back of his throat that Lance imagined would feel pretty damn amazing around his cock.

“So beautiful,” Keith rasped, tongue laving over the sharp jut of Lance’s hip, forefinger and thumb reaching the tip of his cock and closing around it in a merciless pinch that made Lance whine.

“Says you,” Lance managed, staring down at him in disbelief. “Pretty vampire wonder-boy.”

Keith batted his eyelashes at him and Lance’s cock throbbed. “Aww. You think I’m pretty, Lance?”

“Uh – I mean – nngh, Keith!” Lance’s eyes widened as Keith’s whole hand closed around his cock, sliding down it to make room for Keith’s mouth. He lapped at the tip, slow, wet circles, never breaking eye contact with Lance, and Keith had some serious bedroom eyes. Like. Lance felt like he was melting on the spot, and the feeling only increased when Keith closed his lips around the head of Lance’s cock, flicking his tongue over it. Lance made a choked sound.

Keith’s lips curled in approval and he sank down further, eyes finally dropping, falling half-shut as he focused on the task at hand. The tension eased out of Lance as he realized Keith was really, unfairly good at this, and there was no way a stray fang was going to ruin it. He kept his lips over his teeth, his mouth nothing but slick and tight and hot and Lance had to wonder if he’d fed recently, he must have, to be so warm, and that thought absolutely should not have made him shudder the way it did.

Keith sucked harder and did something magical with his tongue and Lance had to cover his mouth to muffle the sound, bucking up off the bed. Keith hummed around him and yep, Lance was right, it did feel incredible, and he made another super embarrassing sound, fisting his hands in the sheets and trying desperately to control his hips because he wasn’t going to be that asshole.

But then Keith looked back up at him and took one of Lance’s hands by the wrist, guiding it from the sheets to his hair and humming again, in obvious assent. Lance swore and let his hand sink into Keith’s hair, holding his head hesitantly. He wasn’t daring enough to try to control Keith’s movements, although maybe that was exactly what Keith wanted.

He just carded his hand through the dark waves of hair, sort of petting, fingers tightening and tugging just slightly when Keith slid down his cock, giving him a glimpse of the shaft glistening with saliva before sinking back down on it until the head bumped the back of his throat. Apparently, Keith didn’t have a gag reflex. Was that a vampire thing or just a Keith thing?

Was it a Shiro thing, too?

Lance had to squeeze his eyes shut to stop himself from coming.

As if sensing this, Keith swallowed around him and hollowed his cheeks determinedly. Lance’s hips lifted from the bed and Keith didn’t stop him, rather he grabbed the back of Lance’s thigh, keeping him up, and then his palm slid up to Lance’s ass and squeezed. Lance hiccupped out a moan, finally getting the message, and thrust up shallowly into his mouth, hips stuttering, breath coming faster and faster. Keith’s other hand stroked over his balls, rolling and kneading, making Lance writhe from the added sensation, and then, suddenly, lower.

Lance’s eyes flew open as Keith’s thumb pressed unsubtly against his hole and he came with a strangled whimper, spine bowing as he spilled down Keith’s throat, trembling. Keith swallowed most of it, pulling off just before the last pulse splattered over his face. Lance almost got hard again just from the sight of Keith with white streaking his lips and chin; Lance swore there was even some in his eyelashes. Keith sat back on his heels and licked his lips with smug satisfaction as Lance lay boneless on the bed, legs feeling like jelly, lightheaded in a much better way than before.

After several seconds Keith wiped his mouth and tilted his head. “Are you alright?”

Lance wheezed out a laugh. “I am…awesome, bat boy. So awesome. Just gimme a minute. Fuck.”

Keith preened. “It was that good?”

“I mean,” Lance said, “only blowjob I’ve ever gotten, so, yeah, it was great.”

Keith blinked. “Wait,” he said. “What?”

Lance snorted. “Guess I should be flattered that you’re surprised. I’m a bona fide virgin, or at least I was, I dunno if this counts.”

Keith looked a little freaked out. “I – I didn’t know –”

“It’s not that big a deal,” Lance said, although it kind of was, and mentally he was having a congratulatory party for himself. “Dude, calm down. Hey, um, you didn’t come yet, did you?”

“No,” Keith said, and went with a little yelp when Lance pulled him down on top of him, straddling Lance’s waist again and immediately rolling his hips, grinding his straining cock against Lance’s stomach and groaning.

“I wanna touch you,” Lance whispered into his ear, emboldened by the vampire’s frantic, needy state. “Y’got too many clothes on, bat boy.”

“Then take them off,” Keith hissed, nipping the lobe of Lance’s ear and there were his teeth, drawing no blood but stinging sharply nonetheless.

Lance wasted no time in getting Keith shirtless, because he needed to feel the lean planes of his chest with his own two hands, but Keith started getting impatient with Lance’s awestruck muscle-ogling and wriggled out of his sweatpants himself, kicking them halfway down until his bare cock was rutting against Lance’s belly. Lance’s shirt was still on, which was kinda ridiculous, rucked up as it was around his armpits and tangled with the crystal, but Keith was fully naked and that was glorious.

“Thought you were going to touch me,” Keith growled, literally growled, and Jesus Christ, Keith was kinda bossy in bed. It wasn’t exactly a turn-off.

“Aye, aye, Captain,” Lance mumbled, still in a post orgasmic haze slash recovering from blood loss, and wrapped his hand around Keith’s cock, admiring its weight and how dark it was against Keith’s paleness. Keith made a broken sound and thrust into his grip, leaning forward into Lance and going unexpectedly pliant, nosing along the line of Lance’s jaw and panting as Lance’s wrist twisted. Lance tried to make it good, tried to mirror the way he touched himself, and told Keith this, which made Keith moan and come with a sinuous roll, head arching back before he slumped back down atop Lance.

Lance blinked, sleepier than before, and patted Keith’s back. He hadn’t realized Keith had been so close, just from blowing him. Wow.

Keith huffed against Lance’s bunched-up shirt. He was probably smearing cum all over it but it was his shirt so Lance didn’t mind too much. “You should definitely drink that juice box now,” Keith said.

“Not like I was the one exerting a lot of energy, here,” Lance pointed out, but he relented and grabbed the juice box anyway.

“Not right now,” Keith chuckled, shaking his head and lifting up until he was hovering over Lance’s face. “Can I kiss you?”

“Y’don’t need to ask that, bat boy,” Lance mumbled, and tugged Keith down to kiss him, messier and filthier than their first one, more tongue than lips. Keith tasted like salt and bitterness. Lance pressed his tongue deeper, trying to find a hint of iron there, too. All he found were fangs, never quite cutting him but coming close enough to make Lance’s pulse race.

Keith was the one to break the kiss, nipping lightly at Lance’s lower lip before sighing and rolling off of Lance. “I’m going to go clean up and get you a washcloth for that,” he said, nodding to the mess he’d left all over Lance’s right hand. Lance yawned and gave him a thumbs up with said hand. Keith peered at him, uncertain, and then darted forward and left a kiss on Lance’s cheek. “I’m sorry for waking you up in the middle of the night,” he whispered.

“You apologize way too much,” Lance told him with a yawn. He smiled crookedly. “And by the way, I do think you’re pretty, bat boy.” He tucked a black curl behind Keith ear and had the pleasure of seeing Keith blush and smile back.

“I think you’re pretty, too,” Keith told him, rising from the bed, allowing Lance a fantastic view of his fantastic ass before he pulled his pants back on. Lance reluctantly pulled his on, too. “Be back soon,” Keith murmured, and slipped out the door.

Lance yawned again, smiling to himself in the darkness. Oh, man, he was gonna sleep so well after that. The only thing that would make this better would be Keith still snuggled up next to him. And it would be nice if Keith hurried up with that washcloth.

Lance was jolted out of his mounting drowsiness by a dull thud against the wall outside the room.

Blinking, he rubbed his eyes with his clean hand and peered into the dimness, disoriented.

There were voices. Shiro, steady and resigned. “His scent is all over you.”

Keith, panicky and upset. “I couldn’t – he was so – I’m so sorry, I –”

“Keith, no. Don’t apologize. We talked about this, remember? It’s okay. You hear me? I’m not mad.”

“But…we…”

“He chose you,” Shiro said.

“Shiro…”

“No, I’m glad. I’m happy for you. The two of you are good for each other, I think.”

“And what about you?”

There was a beat of silence.

“Takashi. Please, help me, here. I don’t…I don’t know what to do.”

“I trust you,” Shiro murmured. “You know that. And I’m here for you, as long as you need me.”

“Forever,” Keith said, so quiet Lance almost didn’t catch it.

“Yes.”

Their voices faded away, and Lance let sleep overtake him.

Chapter Text

Lance had never been much of a morning person, but there was something undeniably perfect about waking up to Keith Kogane wrapped around him like a clingy octopus. Seriously, Keith was holding onto Lance with all his limbs, face smushed up against Lance’s shoulder slash armpit, and didn’t show any signs of letting go anytime soon. He was also kind of drooling, which was equal parts cute and kinda gross. Then again, maybe they were past the gross stage after last night. Keith had done a lot more than drool on him, after all.

Lance patted his head fondly. Keith made a sleepy mumbling sound but didn’t wake, which wasn’t surprising – the sun was high in the sky outside, so it was past his bedtime. Lance looked to the nightstand, where Hunk had left his phone, along with the two juice boxes, the granola bar, and…a bowl of cereal? His brow furrowed. Shiro, maybe.

Shiro, Shiro…there was something Lance was forgetting. Something that had happened last night…but his brain was hazy, and it continued to escape his memory. Hopefully it was nothing. He did remember that Shiro had sort of promised to talk to him about the whole Champion thing, but he’d been pretty upset and Lance didn’t wanna push it.

Lance looked at his phone again, reluctantly. Then, accepting his fate, he carefully extricated himself from Keith’s grasp with mild difficulty (Keith did not want to let go, but luckily his limbs were more like undercooked noodles than solid marble when he was asleep).

He took a few moments to just appreciate how adorable Keith looked sprawled out on the bed, hair ruffled and fluffy, fingers curling into the pillows, before sighing and picking up his phone. He still didn’t feel super confident about walking, so he just scooted down to the end of the bed and perched there as he unlocked his phone and scrolled through the messages his mom had left, biting his lip. They appeared calm enough, and Hunk and Pidge had done a pretty good job of keeping it convincing enough, but…man, he felt guilty. Even if it wasn’t technically his fault that he’d gotten himself kidnapped by vampires for a week…

Still biting his lip, he tapped the call button and waited as it rang, tapping out a nervous rhythm on his thigh until there was a faint click and his mom’s voice came over the line, slightly frantic.

“¿Cariño?”

“Hey, Mamá. Sorry I haven’t been able to call.”

“I don’t know how a boy can lose his phone so many times!” she exclaimed, though he heard a distinct note of relief. “And then your signal was not working, and your microphone broke, and somebody hacked your Skype account? Did you fix it?”

“Uhh – I’m, I’m still working on it,” Lance stuttered, because he was not in a presentable state at the moment, and he didn’t want to have to explain the strange house he was in or the giant bandage on his neck. “But I’m sure it’ll be fine!” he added hastily. “Pidge is great at fixing that stuff, don’t even worry about it.”

His mom clicked her tongue. “I hope so! I miss seeing your handsome face, mijito. I was about ready to drive up there myself.”

“I miss you too,” Lance said. “I’ll be back soon, okay?”

“You better.” There was a beat of silence. “Lance…is everything alright?”

“Uh. What do you mean, Mamá?”

“I…” She sighed audibly. “I get so paranoid sometimes. Afraid that something might happen to you. You’re just so far away, and for so long…and you’re a grown boy but you know, it can be such a scary world out there, Lance.”

“I know,” Lance said, quiet, thinking, God, if only she knew the half of it. “But I’m fine, Ma. I’m…” He glanced over at Keith on the bed and smiled slightly. “I’m totally fine.”

“I’m so glad,” she said, and he could hear her smile, too. “You stay safe, you hear me, mijito? And Skype me as soon as Pidge fixes it.”

“Got it,” Lance said. “I will, don’t worry. Sorry again for not being able to call.”

“Not your fault, cariño,” she assured him, which almost made him feel worse. “Adiós. Te quiero. Cuidate, Lance.”

“Está bien, no te preocupes,” Lance replied, hoping he was right. “Te quiero, Mamá. Te mando un beso grandísimo y un abrazo fuerte ahora mismo.”

She chuckled. “Esperaré por tu regreso a casa, pero sin paciencia.”

“Soon,” Lance repeated, and they said their goodbyes.

He felt like a weight had been taken off his chest, so it was easier to stand up and walk with only mild shakiness over to the door.

Keith and Shiro’s house felt different during the daytime. It was brighter, obviously, but it was also strangely eerie, with a certain stillness about it. There was no sound save the creak of Lance opening the door to the bathroom, the click as it closed, the sharp intake of his breath as he remembered Shiro carrying him into the bathtub, stripping him and removing every trace of the Galra from his body. Lance steadied himself on the edge of the sink, closing his eyes for a moment. He’d been covered in blood, in his own blood. Shiro must have smelled it, must have been tempted, however briefly…but that perfect control of his had never wavered. Never, that is, until Lance had mentioned Haggar. He swore softly, shaking his head.

He had Keith. He had Keith, so why did his heart still hurt, and why wouldn’t the image of Shiro’s soft, worried expression leave his mind? Lance glared at himself in the mirror. “Don’t be greedy,” he gritted out. “This is the best you’re gonna get, and it’s a miracle in itself that Keith liked you back, so just…stop.”

He didn’t stop. Lance was pretty sure he couldn’t, so it was with slumped shoulders that he trudged out of the bathroom after making himself halfway presentable and heading downstairs.

Of course, Lance forgot that Keith and Shiro weren’t the only vampires in the house anymore, and so he was stopped in his tracks at the base of the stairs by the sight of five vampires sound asleep in the parlor, sprawled or curled up all over the furniture, all still as statues. Shiro was not among them, which just made it even more bizarre.

Lance covered his mouth and just barely muffled his squeak of surprise. It was apparently still audible, though, because a head poked out from around the corner, where the kitchen was, and made Lance squeak again, louder. It was the one named Thace, who smiled in apparent amusement.

“Hello, Lance,” he said. “Are you hungry? Shiro and I made some food if you’re feeling up to it.”

Lance blinked. “Um…what?”

“Oh, apologies, you must be confused,” Thace said. “I’m Thace, of the Blade of Marmora. How do you do? You’re looking much healthier already.”

Lance hesitantly stepped away from the room of sleeping vampires and towards the awake one, who was hopefully less dangerous, somehow. He didn’t seem very threatening, especially when Lance walked fully into the kitchen and saw a pile of pans and what looked to be some failed attempts at pancakes, along with a stack of decent ones. “You and Shiro made…pancakes.”

“Yes,” Thace said proudly. “Obviously we’re unused to cooking, but we figured it out together. Google is very informative. Especially, ah, what is it…YouTube? I could watch YouTube for hours. There is something so undeniably entertaining about cats.”

“Right,” Lance said, trying not to laugh now. “Well, I, uh, I appreciate it. The pancakes smell great, and I am pretty hungry.”

“Good!” Before Lance could even move towards the cupboards, Thace grabbed a plate and piled pancakes onto it before dousing them with syrup, and adding some chopped up strawberries and blueberries from a bowl in the fridge to the side with comical precision. “Here you are.”

“The fruit’s a nice touch,” Lance said, taking the plate and a seat gratefully. “Thank you.”

“Of course,” Thace said, sitting back down at the table. He was drinking coffee and seemed jittery, so Lance figured that was why he was still awake.

“Where’s Shiro?” Lance asked as he took a bite of the pancakes. They were…unique, but not the worst. Pretty good considering they’d been made by creatures who lived exclusively off of blood for centuries. And he was way hungrier than he’d realized. He took a bigger bite, and almost cried because damn, that was a good strawberry.

Thace sipped his coffee and looked shifty. “He’s out patrolling,” he said.

“During the daytime?” Lance asked, mouth full and eyebrow lifting.

Thace shrugged. “He was too restless to sleep. He is a worrier. He is especially worried now.”

Lance frowned. “Isn’t he tired, though? Didn’t he kinda lead the attack on the garrison to get me and Keith out?”

“Not ‘kinda,’” Thace said, “Shiro did lead that attack, completely and utterly. He fought very hard on your behalf, too. Oh dear, please swallow your food before asking another question.”

Rolling his eyes, Lance did. “So why is he worried now that we’re back? Does he think the Galra are gonna come back?”

“He knows they will,” Thace said grimly. “Perhaps not today, or tomorrow – maybe not for a while – but eventually, they will strike.”

“How comforting,” Lance sighed. He frowned again. “So, wait, he’s out there all alone right now? Even though he’s exhausted?”

Thace huffed. “Shiro is hardly defenseless, even in a fatigued state. He has survived worse. It’s likely he just feels a duty to protect his territory.” Thace gave him a meaningful look. “And I don’t just mean his part of the woods.”

“Me?” Lance said around another mouthful of pancake, swallowing hastily when Thace wrinkled his nose. “Sorry. But seriously – I’m pretty sure he’s just protecting Keith. He went to save Keith, not me. If I’d been the only one captured –”

“He still would have gone after you,” Thace said firmly. “I understand your disbelief. You are just a human –”

“Wow, thanks.”

“You are just a human, and have known him for a short amount of time. But that doesn’t mean you don’t mean something to him. I believe he cares a great deal about you, Lance,” Thace told him. “He was in a state of absolute panic and fury after the Galra took the two of you. Shiro is one of the most levelheaded vampires I know, especially for a sire, and I’ve never seen him so upset.”

“Oh,” Lance said, guilt twisting in his belly alongside the pancakes, which felt pretty guilty too once he considered that Shiro had made them. “I…I didn’t know.”

Thace inclined his head. “Let us just be glad that he didn’t charge into the garrison alone in a blind rage. I believe your friends managed to convince him to seek allies instead. If they had not…well, sires’ protective instincts sometimes outweigh their sense of reason and self-preservation. Shiro’s almost did.”

“Yikes,” Lance mumbled, dragging a forkful of pancake around on the plate, hesitating. “Um…how long have you known Shiro, exactly?”

Thace tilted his head, eyes knowing. “I was stationed at Lotor’s garrison as a spy with Ulaz while Shiro was a prisoner there. But I think you have another question, one you are afraid to ask, and rightly so.”

Lance set down his fork and looked up at the other vampire. “I accidentally told Shiro I met the Druids, specifically Haggar, and that she told me about…his past, I guess. About the Champion.”

Thace’s gaze flickered. “That would explain why he was especially pensive this morning,” he mused.

“Yeah,” Lance said, looking down again. “Sore subject, huh?”

“Very,” Thace agreed. “But he isn’t angry at you, if that’s what you’re afraid of. Angry at himself, perhaps.”

“Why?” Lance shook his head. “I already had an idea of what he was capable of as a vampire. Knowing that he actually…y’know, did some of that stuff, that doesn’t change how I see Shiro as a person.”

“It should,” Thace said firmly. “The Champion is a part of him – a hated, hidden part of him, but still there. We are shaped by our pasts, and being the Galra’s chained beast certainly left its mark on Shiro.”

“Haggar said…she said he really was like a beast. Like a monster. Was he –”

“These are not my questions to answer,” Thace told him. “You must ask him yourself if you wish to know, Lance.”

“Fine,” Lance said, standing up with a loud scrape of the chair. “I will.”

Thace blinked. “Not – not right now! You’re still recovering; Shiro specifically said you ought to be in bed all day –”

“I’m not in bed now, though,” Lance pointed out. “And it’s broad daylight. I think I’m safe out there.”

“He isn’t going to be happy,” Thace said, though he sounded resigned, and looked too tired to argue.

“You said he was already unhappy,” Lance replied, and took his empty plate over to the sink. “Thanks for the pancakes.”

Thace sighed, shaking his head and downing the rest of his coffee as Lance headed for the door.

*

Even though it was broad daylight, Lance was uneasy as he walked through the trees, half-expecting to see yellow eyes and fangs at every turn. Of course, there were none, just thick patches of ferns swaying in the faint breeze and the occasional forest animal – a couple rabbits, a multitude of birds, and a large fuzzy green caterpillar crawling along a pine tree’s trunk. But no vampires, and no Shiro.

However, after several minutes of wandering, there was a sound. A weird sort of scratching sound that became steadily louder and louder, but Lance couldn’t figure out what it was until he stepped into a small clearing and saw a giant black panther. It was raking its claws down the trunk of a huge oak tree, which explained the sound, but did not explain why the actual fuck there was a panther in California, and why it was roughly the size of a horse.

Lance shrieked and stumbled backwards. The panther stopped scratching and turned towards him with a growl. Lance got ready to bolt…and then saw the wide, pink scar over the panther’s muzzle and the bright white patch of fur on its forehead, and faltered, jaw dropping. Because…

“…Shiro?

The panther eased out of its defensive stance and peered down at him with familiar pale gray eyes – well, they were about the same height, but panther Shiro was even more muscular than normal Shiro, incredibly. Just as scarred, too – the shining black pelt was marred by old wounds, silvery scratches and thicker gashes that were still pink like the one on his nose.

The tree he’d been scratching was much worse-off, though.

“What the hell,” Lance whispered. “When you said you could turn into a black cat, this is not what I was imagining. This isn’t a cat, Shiro. This is slightly more than just a cat.

Panther Shiro flicked his ears and made a low, distinctly displeased chuffing sound. He sat back on his haunches, and then he was definitely taller than Lance, in fact he was kind of towering, and Lance was more than a little freaked out by this whole thing.

“Can – can you not talk?” Lance managed.

Shiro flicked his ears with greater irritation and shook his head. Then he reached out with one paw – one ridiculously large paw that was easily the size of Lance’s entire face – and nudged Lance away firmly.

“You want me to go back to the house to eat more pancakes and sleep,” Lance guessed.

Shiro gave him a look that seemed to say, Yes, and you will, if you know what’s good for you.

“No,” Lance said, and planted his feet firmly on the ground. “I went to find you, and I found you, so I’m not going anywhere.”

Shiro’s long tail lashed behind him. He made a frustrated growly noise that Lance would never, ever want to hear in the middle of the night. Then he turned on his heel and stalked off into the forest.

“Hey!” Lance exclaimed, jogging after him. It was probably the only time someone had tried to catch up with a panther instead of get the hell away from it. Shiro ignored him and lengthened his stride, which was pretty long to begin with. “Shiro, c’mon. You can’t just reveal that you can turn into a panther and then run off. Besides, I’m still recovering; it’s not good for me to be running!”

Shiro stopped abruptly at that. He huffed, whiskers twitching as he glanced back at Lance. He seemed to be waiting for something.

“Right,” Lance said. “I, uh, I wanted to talk to you. About the thing I accidentally told you about last night.”

Shiro’s pointy ears pinned back and he growled again, though it sounded more distressed than mad.

“Thace told me to talk to you about it,” Lance added. “And he did try to stop me from going to find you now, but, y’know, I figured I should at least try.”

Shiro shook his head, bulky shoulders tense and tail curling close to his body.

“You’re not gonna let me ask questions?” Lance frowned. “Not even yes or no questions?” Lance bit his lip. “Wait, are you moody because of the Haggar thing, or…or is it something else?”

Shiro’s fur bristled slightly and he turned his head away.

Lance had a feeling he knew what this was about. “Oh, shit,” he said. “Are you mad about me and Keith? He told you, didn’t he? Or you figured it out…and now you’re pissed at me.”

Shiro paused, and looked back at him. Then he slowly shook his head no.

“Bullshit, you are, aren’t you?” Lance wrung his hands. “I’m sorry, it was my fault, I take full responsibility, I know you guys are close and Thace was kinda saying you’re really protective when it comes to Keith and obviously you don’t want some stranger with him and –”

Shiro padded towards him and made a softer chuffing sound, almost gentle. He shook his head again.

Lance eyed him nervously. “You’re…you’re really not mad?”

Chuff, chuff.

“You’re sure? ‘Cause, um, I gotta be upfront with you and say that I kinda really wanna date Keith. I don’t just want a fling or whatever. I like him, a lot. Are you cool with that, or –”

Nod.

“Oh,” Lance said. “I…okay, then. Awesome.”

But Shiro still looked depressed. As depressed as a panther could look, anyway. So Lance took a step closer and said, quieter, “If that’s not it, then what’s up? Why are you moping around and mutilating trees when you should be napping?” Shiro sighed with as much angst as his panther vocal cords could muster. “If you’re worried the Galra will come, just chill,” Lance said. “You’re the only vampire out and about right now.”

Shiro eyed him doubtfully. But he didn’t walk away, so Lance counted it as progress.

“What if I stay with you while you nap?” Lance suggested. “Just pick a nice tree or something to curl up under, and I’ll sit next to you and catch up on all the Internet shenanigans I missed this week.” Shiro gave him a quizzical look. “Scroll through my phone,” Lance reiterated. The quizzical look persisted. “Look, you need to sleep. Sleep always helps to deal with, like, everything. And if you’re so worried that I’m gonna get kidnapped again, then won’t it make it better for you if I’m right there? Literally within arm’s…paw’s…reach?”

Shiro tilted his head, ears pricking in definite interest.

“I’m a genius, aren’t I,” Lance declared. “Pick a tree, time’s a wastin.’”

If panthers could roll their eyes, Lance was pretty sure Shiro would’ve. But as it was, he just let out an amused huff, padded over to the very tree he’d just covered in claw marks, and laid down heavily at the base of it with a huge yawn. Lance had to stop for a moment and just stare, because carajo, those were really big teeth. But then Shiro heaved another sigh and put his head down on his paws, watching Lance intently as he walked to the tree and sat down a few feet away, cross-legged.

Shiro lifted his head and made a weird rumbling sound in his throat, eyes narrowing.

“You want me to sit closer?” Lance asked. “Really?”

Shiro stared at him, unblinking.

“Fine,” Lance relented, and scooted over until his knee bumped against Shiro’s leg. Shiro’s rumble turned decidedly pleased, and he lowered his head again and closed his eyes. Impulsively, Lance brushed the back of his hand against Shiro’s shoulder, and found it was soft, smooth as velvet. Shiro cracked an eye open.

“Sorry,” Lance said, snatching his hand away. “That was probably weird, huh?”

Shiro made a sound like rough laughter, a low chuckle, and adjusted his position so that he was leaning more against the tree, and Lance.

“Oof,” Lance said, elbowing him lightly and meeting solid, lean, unyielding muscle. “Was that consent to pet, then?”

Shiro chuckled again. Lance grinned back. Okay, so this was weird, and Lance had no idea how to react to the knowledge that Shiro could turn into a panther and yet Lance was still attracted to him. And Keith could turn into a giant bat so that was a whole other issue; at least panthers were beautiful – bats were sorta freaky-looking. But Shiro was happier and right now, that was all that mattered to him. Lance ran his hand lightly over Shiro’s side and he yawned again, long pink tongue curling. When Lance looked down, he saw his paws were kneading at the earth like a satisfied housecat, which was stupidly adorable.

Then Lance was struck by an idea. “Wait a second,” he said, “can I touch one of your paws? I just wanna see something.”

Shiro huffed but lifted one of his paws up and onto Lance’s knee, which was unexpected. Lance gawked at it for a moment before carefully holding it up and turning it over, so he could see the large gray pads on the bottom of it. “Oh my god,” Lance said, and poked one. “Giant toe beans. That is so cute.”

Shiro’s brow wrinkled up in confusion. “Your paw pads, they look like big jellybeans,” Lance informed him. “And they’re squishy.”

Shiro kind of snorted and shook his head, but Lance noticed he was unconsciously doing the kneading thing again, which was less adorable and more mildly terrifying when his paw was on Lance’s leg and the claws unsheathed enough for Lance to see exactly how long, sharp, and wickedly curved they were. No wonder he’d made short work of the poor tree. Lance carefully moved Shiro’s paw back down to the ground and gave it a little pat before getting his fingers far, far away from it.

“Sorry, I’ll let you sleep now,” Lance told him.

Shiro, of course, didn’t answer, just closed his eyes fully and settled down into the grass.

Lance was two days into his Twitter feed by the time Shiro drifted off, his breaths evening and ears relaxing, body vibrating slightly against Lance – he was purring.

Lance leaned back against the tree and stared up into the treetops. “I can’t deal with this,” he gritted out. “They’re both too cute and it is getting ridiculous.”

Shiro’s nose twitched in his sleep and he covered his face with one huge paw. “Ridiculous,” Lance repeated, but even to his own ears it sounded less fed-up and more hopelessly smitten.

*

Lance must have drifted off sometime while scrolling through Instagram, because he awoke cozy and calm with his cheek resting on something too large, soft, and warm to be a pillow, one arm draped over the side of the bulky mass. He blinked sleep out of his eyes, disoriented, and then something squishy and wet rasped over his hair, making it stick up every which way. Lance squawked, jolted upright, and found himself face to face with panther Shiro, who had apparently just licked him.

Then again, Lance had just fallen asleep on him, so. Eye for an eye.

Lance scrambled away from him and smoothed his hair down, flushed. “Sorry,” he stammered. “Um. Guess I’m still tired. Did you, uh, get any sleep?”

Shiro inclined his head and got gracefully to his paws; stretching luxuriously and yawning before unexpectedly flopping back down to the ground and onto his back, where he began to roll happily in the undergrowth. Lance gaped at him as he stretched his paws up towards the sky and batted them at a passing butterfly.

“Uh,” he managed, “are you…okay?”

Shiro rolled onto his side and blinked at Lance slowly. He made a small chirping sound that didn’t sound like it could come from something so large and stood up again with obvious reluctance, shaking himself off and staring down at his paws for a moment, heaving a sigh.

Lance thought he understood, then. Shiro probably felt freer in this form, in a way. Less bound by societal constraints and expectations, free to simply be, free to prowl around his woods and rely upon basic, straightforward instinct rather than a tangled mess of thoughts and feelings. He wasn’t looking forward to returning to his original form and having to deal with all the emotional weight that came with it.

Lance stood up, brushing himself off, and reached out to lay a hand on Shiro’s side. Shiro looked at him, startled. “We gotta go back,” he told him quietly. “It’s almost four; Keith and the others will wake up soon, if they aren’t already.”

Shiro chirped again, softer, and bumped Lance’s shoulder with his nose affectionately.

“You’re welcome,” Lance said with a smile. “I told you sleep would help. C’mon, let’s go, Shiro.”

Shiro looked at him briefly, and Lance could’ve sworn his gray eyes flickered with something like frustration, but then he looked away and lowered his body as if bowing. Lance stared at the elegant curve of his spine, confused, and then said, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but…do you want me to get on or something?”

Shiro huffed and nodded.

“This is weird,” Lance informed him as he hesitantly slung a leg over Shiro’s sloping shoulders and settled atop his back, unsure what to do with his hands. “You know that, right – ah!”

Shiro bounded forward and Lance had to clutch frantically at his neck to avoid falling, legs clamping tight around his sides as Shiro leapt through the undergrowth, body taut as a coiled spring and singing with power. The forest blurred past, Shiro’s paws thumping with very little sound against the ground, moving through the undergrowth adeptly – he knew this forest like the back of his hand.

It didn’t take long before Shiro reached the house, slowing his pace and padding up to the steps before lowering his body again so Lance could clamber off. They weren’t alone outside the house – two female vampires, the ones named Florona and Luxia, were fixing the sigils they’d put up previously, readying the house’s protective wards for the night ahead. They both seemed delighted by the sight of Shiro and Lance, and beamed with too-sharp teeth. One had white hair, the other red with a large white streak through it.

“They’re kinda creepy,” Lance muttered, and Shiro rumbled in agreement.

Lance half-expected him to change back right on the porch, but instead he just waited for Lance to open the door and padded inside, prompting a panicky shout that sounded like Hunk. Lance followed him in, and sure enough Hunk and Pidge were sitting at the kitchen table alongside Keith and Thace. The other vampires were still in the parlor, most of them awake but still slightly out of it.

“Why is there a panther in the house?!” Hunk cried, knocking over his chair in his haste to get away.

Shiro paused mid-step to look at him, impassive, before continuing up the stairs, tail flicking erratically.

“That’s what Shiro meant by turning into a black cat,” Lance said.

“Well, he can turn into a normal-sized cat too, but he’s in a big cat mood,” Keith said.

“Yeah, I got that vibe,” Lance said, walking over to the table. Keith hastily stood up and offered him his seat. “Thanks,” Lance said, smiling at him and, unthinking, giving him a peck on the cheek.

There was a silence.

Keith turned pink. “Uh,” Lance said. “Oops?”

“Ah,” Thace said, nodding. “So that’s what those noises last night were.”

“Keith,” Hunk said, in his this-better-not-be-what-I-think-it-is voice.

Keith winced and shuffled closer to Lance like he was using him as a shield. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

Pidge facepalmed. “Not that I’m not happy for you guys, because the pining was painful for us all, but why now? Is your kink near-death experiences, Keith?”

“My kink is Lance?” Keith said unsurely. Lance snorted and covered his mouth when Pidge glared at him.

“He was on his deathbed!” Hunk exclaimed. “He had – has – severe blood loss, and you decided that now was the time to make your move?!”

“Why d’you assume Keith was the one making the moves?” Lance cut in. “If you wanna blame people, blame me, I started it.”

“Damn it, Lance!” Hunk put his head in his hands. “You know what, I give up.”

“So, what,” Pidge sighed, “are you guys together now? Have you finally embraced your inner Bella Swan, Lance?”

“One, never say that to me again; and two, yes, we’re together. I think? Are we together, Keith?”

Keith blinked owlishly. “…Yes?” He gave Lance a small smile and put a hand on his shoulder. “Yes, we are.”

“Keith and Lance are boyfriends and Shiro is a panther,” Hunk groaned. “Great.”

“What were you doing in the woods with panther Shiro anyway, Lance?” Pidge asked, wiggling their eyebrows in a very disturbing way.

Lance made a face at them. “He was napping and I was catching up on social media. He’s being all broody so I wanted to try to cheer him up.”

“I don’t think it worked,” Hunk pointed out. “He still looked pretty broody to me when he stalked upstairs.”

“It worked a little,” Lance said, but frowned, because Hunk was right. Shiro had reverted to his previous sulking as soon as they’d returned to the house.

Keith’s hand tightened on Lance’s shoulder before falling away completely. “Maybe I should go check on him,” Keith muttered. “It’s not like him to stay in panther form during the day.”

“Good thing too, because if a hiker saw that thing in the forest, Fish and Wildlife would start snooping around, bigtime,” Hunk said.

“I’ll be back soon,” Keith said, and excused himself, going upstairs after Shiro.

“Hm,” Pidge said, watching him leave.

“What?” Lance asked.

“Nothing,” Pidge said.

Thace was also looking at the stairs strangely, and then at Lance, his brow furrowing like he was trying to make sense of something very puzzling. “What?” Lance repeated defensively.

Thace shook his head hastily. “No, no, it’s nothing, I’m just…surprised. Shiro is alright with you and Keith?”

“Yeah,” Lance said. “I talked to him about it. I mean, he was a panther so he couldn’t talk back, but he’s not upset about it.”

“Oh, well, I’m glad that’s sorted out,” Thace said, relaxing visibly. “I pray you never have to see an angry vampire sire. It isn’t a pretty sight.”

“It really isn’t,” Hunk and Pidge agreed in grim unison. Lance raised an eyebrow.

“Shiro lost it after he woke up from the car crash and realized you guys were gone,” Hunk said.

“Even after he came down from the initial rage slash panic, he was searching for something, anything that was left. He found a shred of Keith’s clothing on a bush and lost it all over again. It was bad,” Pidge added.

“Were you afraid he was gonna hurt you guys?” Lance asked, a bit alarmed.

“Nah,” Pidge said, after a moment’s hesitation. “But I was glad not to be a Galra right then, let me tell you. He was in a kill brutally first, ask questions later kinda mood.”

“So…how did you calm him down?”

“We didn’t,” Hunk scoffed. “We were terrified. No, he calmed down on his own. Swore like a sailor. Took some deep breaths. Then he got calm, like, weirdly calm, and he told us to call a tow truck. He paid for it all. He made us stay with him, here, in case the Galra weren’t just interested in taking you.”

“He did a lot of pacing,” Pidge said. “And he broke some vases. Then he went down to the basement for a long time.”

“The basement,” Lance repeated, and swallowed, because he knew what was down there. Blood. Shiro must’ve…nope, he wasn’t gonna think about it. Not today, brain, not today.

“He was mostly back to normal when he came back up,” Hunk said. “He told us the plan and let us go home. He contacted the Blade, then they found Rolo and Nyma, and Florona and Luxia heard about it through the grapevine, I guess. It took a week to assemble them all, because the Blade were all the way up in Alaska and they had to do some strategizing to make sure the rescue worked.”

“Did…did Shiro think the Galra might have killed us already?” Lance asked.

“He would have known if they killed Keith,” Thace replied. “The bond sires and their progeny share is very deep, and Keith’s loss would have been extremely painful, both physically and emotionally.” He frowned. “But he had no way of knowing what they did to you, Lance, so that was perhaps the biggest source of his distress. He knew Keith was resilient and that the Galra would be more reluctant to kill him. But you…well, it was like sending a sheep into the lions’ den. He feared the worst. Shiro is not an optimist.”

“Really, I had no idea,” Pidge deadpanned.

“I hope Keith cheers him up better than I did,” Lance said.

“I’m sure he will,” Thace said, with a strange amount of certainty.

Something was prickling in the back of Lance’s mind. He pushed it away.

*

But the prickling became more insistent when Keith came back downstairs a while later. Lance swore his hair was more ruffled than usual, and…was that a bruise peeking out from under his shirt collar? No, no, it was just a shadow, and Keith draped himself casually over the back of Lance’s chair as the conversation continued.

And when Shiro came downstairs a short while later he was perfectly composed and polite as ever, and he didn’t mention anything that had transpired in the forest. In fact, he smiled at Lance and Keith, and if it was a little tight, well, that was probably Lance’s paranoid imagination.

It was decided by a majority vote that Lance would go back to Pidge’s house for the night, with their route guarded by Thace and Ulaz and the house guarded by Luxia and some of her sigils which were subtle enough to not be noticed in a small suburban town.

Keith was a little glum about this turn of events, and Lance mourned the lost opportunity of having Keith in his bed again, but he gave him a reassuring kiss at the door as the sun began to set. “Stay safe,” Keith implored, his eyes beginning to glow as the afternoon light faded.

“I will, don’t worry, bat boy,” Lance said. “I gotta stay alive until we have our first date, at least.”

Keith smiled. “I’ll hold you to that,” he said, and squeezed Lance’s hand before retreating back into the house.

Lance turned to go but suddenly Shiro was there, his expression serious. “Lance,” he said quietly. “Can I have a word, quickly?”

“Yeah, go for it,” Lance said, trying not to sweat. The others were waiting at the end of the steps. Pidge wiggled their eyebrows. Lance ignored them.

Shiro’s mouth twisted slightly. “That crystal around your neck,” he said. “You didn’t have it on when the Galra took you.”

“No,” Lance said, not sure where he was going with this.

“You need to keep wearing it,” Shiro told him, brows drawing together. “Don’t take it off.”

“Why…why not?” Lance asked.

“It’s some kind of protective amulet,” Shiro murmured. “Against vampires. Even the necklace itself is made out of silver. It burned me earlier, when you fell asleep.”

On me, Shiro didn’t say.

Lance’s eyes widened. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry about that. I didn’t even think –”

“Do not apologize,” Shiro interrupted, folding his arms. “Protection against vampires is a good thing. Do not let your guard down around us, unless you’re with Keith.”

“Or you?”

“Do not let your guard down,” Shiro repeated, and there was a note of pain in his voice. “Promise me, Lance.”

“I promise I won’t let my guard down.”

“And?”

“And I promise to keep wearing the crystal,” Lance added, gut twisting as he looked up at him.“Shiro, what’s this about, are you –”

“Do not worry about me. Goodnight, Lance,” Shiro said, and closed the door.

Lance blinked at the shut door, stung and confused, and hurried to rejoin his friends and their vampire guards.

*

When they reached Pidge’s house, Ulaz handed Lance a small glass bottle. “From Shiro,” he explained. “It’s the salve he made for your wounds. Spread it over the afflicted area after cleaning it once every day, to make sure no scars are left behind.”

Lance swallowed back the lump in his throat and tucked the bottle into his pocket. “Thanks,” he said. “Please tell him I really appreciate it.”

“Of course,” Ulaz said, and he disappeared with Thace into the shadows.

Chapter Text

The next morning Lance felt well enough to Skype his mom. It was fun, and she was excited to see him and his friends – she went on and on about how Stella had a recital coming up and she’d be sure to send Lance tons of pictures, and then Ricky came into the frame and showed Lance the comic he’d been working on. It was about the Knights Templar, and it looked pretty awesome.

“That’s so cool, hermanito,” Lance told him with a grin. “Seriously, I’ll buy a hundred copies once you get it published.”

Ricky flushed happily. “Thanks, Lance,” he said. “But…there’s one thing, I dunno if you can help with it, but…the story really needs some good villains. Do any of you guys have any ideas?”

“How about vampires?” Pidge blurted.

Lance frowned slightly. But Ricky beamed and nodded. “Vampires, yeah, those’re classic! Fun to draw, too. Thanks, Pidge!”

It was a fun Skype call, but at the same time it was strange to pretend that everything was normal again. It was strange for Lance to make sure his shirt collar was high enough to hide the bandage on his neck, and that his sleeves were long enough to cover the even bigger bandage on his arm. It was strange that Lance couldn’t share with his family the most important thing that had happened to him this summer. It felt…wrong. It was almost a relief when the call ended.

Afterwards, Pidge said, “I’m sorry I said the vampires thing. That was dumb.”

“No,” Lance said. “You’re right, vampires are supposed to be the villains.”

“Speaking of vampires, what did Shiro say to you yesterday? He looked pretty…grim.” Hunk said.

“Told me to keep wearing the crystal,” Lance said. “He said it was a protection amulet against vampires.”

“Aren’t you dating a vampire, though?” Pidge pointed out. “How’s that supposed to work?”

“I trust Keith not to hurt me and I think Shiro does too,” Lance mused. “He doesn’t seem to trust himself, though.” Lance decided against explaining the whole Champion thing to them. Best to just keep some skeletons in the closet for a while.

“Shiro’s just being emo and dramatic, I bet,” Pidge said. “Maybe he’s the real Edward Cullen, here.”

“Stop making Twilight references,” Lance groaned. “Shiro is so much hotter than Edward anyway.”

Hunk raised an eyebrow. “Are you allowed to say stuff like that now that you’re with Keith?”

“I don’t – ugh!” Lance flopped down onto his bed and covered his face with a pillow. “I’m on the verge of death again, leave me alone.”

“That’s not funny,” Pidge muttered, but they relented.

*

Lance was feeling pretty lethargic, so Hunk and Pidge gave him some peace and quiet and went to play Mario Kart in the living room. It wasn’t the quietest activity, but it was quieter when Lance wasn’t involved in it, at least. He could get a little competitive and took every banana peel and ink blot as a serious betrayal of friendship.

Lance was chewing listlessly on a granola bar and watching some Netflix when there was a sudden loud tapping on the bedroom window. Startled, he looked up, only to see a large raven on the sill. It had a scrap of paper tied around its leg with a red ribbon. It cocked its head at him and cawed insistently before hitting the window with its beak again.

Grinning, Lance got out of bed and opened the window.

“Lance!” the raven squawked, and held up its leg.

“This is some Harry Potter shit right here,” Lance informed the raven, untying the message.

“Shit!” the raven shrieked gleefully, beady black eyes bright as Lance unrolled the paper.

If you’re feeling up to it, meet me at the edge of the woods at half past one.

XO Keith

P.S. The bird’s name is Red. She likes granola bars.

Lance grabbed the granola bar from his bed and unwrapped it, holding out the rest for the loitering raven. “Here you go, Red.”

Red cackled delightedly and snatched the whole thing from Lance’s hand, gobbling it up in one go. She ruffled her feathers and cooed at him before spreading her wings and swooping up into the air, back to the forest. Lance looked down at the note again and smiled, tracing his fingertips over Keith’s signature.

*

Hunk and Pidge gave him a hard time about going on a forest date with Keith, and Lance was pretty sure Luxia stalked him all the way to the tree line, but Lance was determined to meet his vampire boyfriend. He stopped by the town café on the way and got two cups of iced coffee – it was a hot day, even hotter than L.A., well into the upper 90s.

Lance couldn’t imagine that was very pleasant for a vampire, and sure enough, Keith looked like he was wilting in the heat when Lance spotted him leaning in a patch of shade. He’d shed his hoodie, which was tied around his waist, and rolled up the sleeves of his T-shirt. Keith had also tied his hair up in a fluffy little ponytail which should have looked ridiculous, but was actually too cute for words.

“Hey!” Lance called, holding up the iced coffees. Keith’s eyes went huge and he lunged for a cup as soon as Lance came within range. “Whoa, okay, guess you’re an iced coffee fan?”

Keith pressed the cold cup against his sweaty face and let out a relieved sigh, slumping against the tree and looking at Lance gratefully. “I’m usually asleep with the fan on when it gets this hot,” he said. “But I forced myself to sleep a little last night so I could spend the afternoon with you.”

Lance beamed and clinked their plastic cups together. “Aw, you stopped being nocturnal for me? You’re sweet, Keith.”

“Temporarily,” Keith said, rolling his eyes with a smile. “I woke up feeling like I had a hangover. And all the other vampires were teasing me about it.”

Lance raised an eyebrow. “What were they saying?”

Keith shrugged and took a nervous sip of coffee. “Just how it’s silly for a vampire and a human to date. Conflict of interest, and all that.”

“Conflict of interest? We like each other, that’s all that matters,” Lance said, leaning against the tree with him and sucking on his straw a little too aggressively.

Keith sighed. “If you say so. Anyway, they didn’t say anything really mean, or Shiro would’ve yelled at them. Or worse.”

“Let me guess, he’s still in a big cat mood?”

Keith snorted. “You could say that. It’s stressful for him to have two other sires in such close proximity. Not that Kolivan or Luxia are particularly antagonistic, as sires go, but…when you put three vampires who are all used to being in charge and getting their way in a room together, problems tend to arise.”

“Hmm.” Lance drank his coffee thoughtfully. “What about Rolo and Nyma, who sired them?”

“They’re orphans,” Keith said. “Their sire was killed by the Galra. That’s why they’re so eager to attack them.”

“Got it.” Lance sidled a little closer to Keith. “Sooo, why’d you invite me out here? Surely not just to talk about Keeping Up With the Vampires.”

Keith didn’t get the reference, but he shook his head and stepped away from the tree. He took a long, appreciative sip of coffee and then declared, “I wanted to show you something.”

Lance smirked. “Ooh?”

“Not my dick,” Keith retorted. Lance choked on his coffee. “A place, one of my favorite places to go in these woods. I think you might appreciate it too.”

“Right,” Lance wheezed, still recovering. “Sounds good. Lead the way, bat boy.”

As they walked through the forest, Lance noticed that Keith didn’t stay in the shadows, letting the sunlight wash over his pale skin without flinching. Noticing him stare, Keith said, “Oh, I’m using that sunscreen stuff you told us about. It really does seem to work. Short-term, anyway.”

“Hell yeah.” Lance poked his bare arm. “Are you wearing sunscreen under that, too?”

Keith gave him the side-eye. “Why do you want to get me naked in the woods so badly?” he asked. “Which I’m not doing, by the way, I do not want a sunburn on my ass.”

Lance pouted. “Your loss, bat boy.”

“I really doubt that anything you could do to me would be worth an ass sunburn.”

“Keith! You wound me! I could have some tricks up my sleeve, you never know!”

“Okay, Don Juan,” Keith said around his straw.

They walked together for a while, several ravens following them through the treetops the whole way. It was a little unnerving, especially when they started crying, “Keith, Keith!” in their croaky voices.

“Sorry about that,” Keith said, giving the ravens a pointed glare. “They’re clingy.”

“Fed them one too many granola bars, huh?”

“Pieces of elk, actually,” Keith said mildly. “But we’re here now, so they can’t follow us anymore.”

“Here? What d’you mean, that’s just a hill…oh.”

It was a cave. The entrance was low-hanging and mossy, and though Keith carefully made his way down the boulders and into the gloomy space beyond, Lance hesitated. Keith peered up at him from the darkness and offered him a hand. “Come on. It’s cozier inside than it looks, I promise.”

“I dunno,” Lance said, chewing his lip. “I’m kinda claustrophobic, bat boy.”

“It’s not a small space,” Keith said. “You did say you trusted me, right?”

“Oh, fine,” Lance said, and took his hand, scrambling inelegantly down the rocks and jumping off onto spongy ground, his eyes widening as he took in the space around them. “Dude. This is…are you sure you don’t live in a cave?!”

Keith laughed. “I did kind of move in, didn’t I?” The cave was clean and not gross and damp like Lance had expected – the ground was mossy around the edges but mostly covered in dry, smooth pebbles like a riverbed. There were plants growing inside, verdant ferns and grasses and even a small bush with dark berries on it. The walls, which arched up at least eight feet, were made of a dark, porous stone covered with green and yellow lichens. Volcanic rock, probably.

But the really intriguing parts were the unnatural ones – there was an overstuffed maroon sofa in the far corner and small bookshelf beside it, filled with books and jars that looked like they had little trinkets and plants in them. There was an artist’s easel propped up on the other side of the cave with an unfinished landscape on it, a wooden stool, and several brushes and paints on the table that stood beside it. The table had a boombox on top of it and a basket filled with CDs.

But the best part was when Keith flipped a switch and the cave flooded with soft white light from the strings of fairy lights hung up around the cave’s entire perimeter.

Lance gasped. Keith smiled hopefully at him. “Do you like it?”

“Like it? Bat boy, I love it, this is so awesome. How has nobody else found this place?”

Keith shrugged. “I make it hard to find,” he said vaguely.

Lance squinted at him. “You mean you scare them off.”

“Well, it’s my cave,” Keith said. “I don’t let just anyone come in here.”

“Only special people?” Lance asked coyly.

“Only one person,” Keith corrected, and kissed him, mouth chill and richly bitter from the coffee.

Lance set his coffee down and wrapped his arms around Keith’s waist, kissing back, chasing the icy relief of his lips even when he pulled back. “You can’t get an ass sunburn in here,” Lance whispered.

“Hmph,” Keith muttered, but it was fond, and the next second Keith’s hands were on the backs of his thighs and he was lifting Lance up easily, making Lance yelp and clutch at his shoulders, legs curling tight around Keith’s hips instinctively to stop himself from falling…though Keith didn’t show any signs of dropping him. Keith looked up at him through his lashes, smirking. “You good?”

“Is this even strenuous for you?” Lance snapped, though there was no venom in it. “You’re picking me up like I’m a damn feather!”

Keith blinked innocently. “Do you want me to stop, or do you want me to carry you over to the couch?”

“Couch,” Lance sighed, and kissed him again, eyes falling shut, grunting in surprise when Keith dropped him onto the couch and climbed on top, barely breaking the kiss. Lance’s hands found his hair and untied it, letting it fall freely over his neck and through Lance’s fingers. Keith made a soft sound and pressed closer, coaxing Lance’s mouth open until their tongues met and then they were both making sounds.

Keith was a messy kisser, but infuriatingly he was still very good at it. His sloppiness should have been gross and clumsy, but instead it was just mind-numbingly hot, as was the way his hands fisted into Lance’s shirt, like he wanted it off but also wanted to hold Lance down and didn’t know which to choose.

Lance just kept touching his hair and trailing his fingers down the back of Keith’s neck because he seemed to like that the most, letting out breathy noises and tiny growls whenever Lance’s hands tightened. He didn’t really know what to do, or what Keith had in mind, but the vampire seemed content to just make out on the couch for what felt like ages. Not that Lance was complaining, he would’ve gladly spent eternity kissing Keith.

Admittedly, Lance kind of wanted more than kissing, though. Namely, he wanted Keith’s mouth on his neck instead. He wanted Keith’s fangs on his neck. He was surprised Keith hadn’t gone straight to the biting, actually, which made him more hesitant to bring it up.

So they kissed in the cave under the fairy lights, until their mouths were swollen and even Keith was panting. Keith shifted above him and Lance shifted up, inviting. Keith sat back on his heels and regarded him with dark eyes. “How does your neck feel?” he asked after a beat, quiet and tender and absolutely out of the blue.

It took Lance a moment. “Uhh,” he said slowly, “good? I mean, it’s healing fine and doesn’t hurt, if that’s what you mean.”

Keith exhaled as if relieved. “I’m glad,” he whispered, touching Lance’s collarbone, thumb pressing softly into the hollow of his throat before quickly retreating. “I don’t ever want to hurt you,” he said, still with that strange seriousness. “I know you don’t want me to keep apologizing, but.” He swallowed. “I need you to know that you don’t have to fear that I’ll ever do that again.”

“Fear…?” Lance trailed off. “You think I’m afraid that you’ll bite me again?”

“It would be a logical fear,” Keith murmured. “And I wouldn’t blame you for having it. You’ve seen what I’m like when I need blood. And that is the root of it – I need blood to survive, Lance. That’s why the other vampires think this…us…is ridiculous.”

“Do you think it’s ridiculous?” Lance asked, slightly accusatory, the pleasant buzz from lazily kissing quickly fading away.

Keith shook his head. “I think that I care very much about you, and I would rather cause harm to myself than to you.”

“Even though I’m just a lowly human?”

“You are not,” Keith firmly assured him. “There is nothing lowly about you.”

Lance flushed. “Kiss me again,” he said.

“I just want to be certain that you aren’t –”

“I’m not afraid of you and I want you to kiss me,” Lance told him firmly. “Happy, bat boy?”

Keith faltered, but then a smile spread slowly across his face and he gave him a small nod. “Yes, I am,” he whispered, and kissed him, and did a little more than just kissing, too.

*

Lance met Keith every day that week with an iced coffee for each of them, and spent the sunny afternoons with him in the cool, secluded cave. There was talking, and kissing, and cuddling, and even some dancing after Lance started rifling through Keith’s CD collection and discovered he didn’t have bad taste at all.

Unfortunately neither of them were great dancers – well, Keith was if you considered knowing the waltz, the quadrille, the gavotte, and every other fancy old-fashioned dance there was to know to make you a good dancer; but he couldn’t twerk for shit. Lance was glad they were in the same boat there.

“Stop trying to do the stripper dance, it isn’t working, Lance,” Keith kept saying.

“At least I have an excuse for being bad at it, I have skinny legs and a flat ass; you’ve got legs for days and your ass is –”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence!”

“Keith is THICC!” Lance crowed. It echoed around the cave. Outside, a raven cawed as if laughing.

Keith tackled him onto the couch. “Stop calling me fat,” he said, scowling.

Lance giggled and flicked his chin. “That’s not what thicc means, silly.”

Keith narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Then what –”

Lance grabbed his ass and squeezed. “It means your thighs are fantastic and you’re curvy in all the right places, bat boy.”

Keith considered that, muscle flexing under Lance’s palm. “Oh,” he said. “Is…is there a modern word for what you are?”

Lance laughed, surprised. “Uh, a beanpole? Scrawny?”

Keith frowned. “No,” he said. “Tall, slender, attractive.” He pushed Lance back against the couch cushions and settled in his lap, eyes fixed on him with strange intensity as he leaned in and nuzzled at Lance’s jaw, dragging his tongue over the line of it and up to his ear. “Svelte, maybe. Lithe. Willowy…hmm.” His hands were under Lance’s shirt, smoothing up his sides and then over his chest, thumbs rubbing teasingly over Lance’s nipples. Lance jolted, because okay, that was not a place he’d ever really touched himself, but maybe he should, because fuck.

Keith smiled against his cheek. “Handsome, radiant, stunning, an Adonis, a work of art.” He moved purposefully back against Lance’s hand and further into Lance’s lap, letting his weight settle completely atop him, grinding slow and sinuous, and okay maybe Lance had been wrong Keith totally had twerking potential, oh God. Lance dug his fingers into Keith’s ass and Keith moved a little harder, rolling Lance’s nipples between thumb and forefinger until he whined and bucked up, head spinning from sensation. Keith pressed his hips against Lance’s and tugged on Lance’s earlobe with his human teeth. “Pretty,” he crooned, and Lance was gone.

They didn’t talk about it, afterwards, but right after Keith kissed him goodbye at sunset, he said, “You know, I wasn’t kidding about any of the things I said, Lance. I meant every last one. You’re…you’re very beautiful.”

Lance’s face grew hot, his heart fluttering in his chest like the birds who chased them through the treetops. “You are too,” he said. “You’re way outta my league, bat boy.”

“Don’t say that,” Keith said, sounding sad.

“It’s true,” Lance argued. “Bye, bat boy.”

Keith had gone out of his way to compliment him after that, Lance was sure of it. Subtle things, sometimes, but still. It was sweet, even if it didn’t change Lance’s mind – Keith was perfect and Lance was anything but. He was lucky that Keith didn’t seem to see that. Yet, anyway.

*

Their peaceful days in the forest were interrupted near the end of the week. They’d gotten sidetracked before reaching the cave because Keith wanted to see if they could find some fawns he’d spotted on a nearby deer path, and were walking through the tall grass together when suddenly Lance felt distinctly as though they were being watched.

He stopped walking, and looked up into the treetops – unsurprisingly, there were a dozen or so ravens perched on the branches, but something was off about them, Lance just knew it. Keith noticed his unease and turned with a frown. “Lance?”

“Push me down into the grass,” Lance muttered, still discreetly scanning the treetops. Confused, Keith obliged, toppling them both onto the ground and peering at Lance worriedly. Lance looked up, past him, eyes narrowing. “One of those ravens isn’t yours,” he said out of the corner of his mouth. “It’s off to the side, away from the others…Keith, it’s not a raven.”

Keith’s frown deepened. “What do you mean?”

“It’s a Galra,” Lance said. “I don’t – I don’t know how I know, but I do. It’s spying on us.”

“You’re sure,” Keith said.

“I’m sure,” Lance replied.

Without warning, Keith jumped to his feet and shifted in a whirling blur of black hair and wings, prompting the ravens to take flight with a cacophony of squawks as he leapt into the air. Lance stayed on his back in the grass, watching with wide eyes as the fleeing raven spy was intercepted by Keith’s half-bat form and surrounded by Keith’s ravens, who shrieked and tore at their quarry mercilessly. The shape of the flock suddenly changed and then Keith and the silhouette of a Galra were falling back down to earth, grappling at each other. From the look of it, Keith had a hand sunk into its chest. Lance stood up hastily, heart in his throat as they plummeted…and then Keith released it and the ravens swooped in before the Galra could shift back and escape.

The Galra screamed as the birds continued their assault. Lance shuddered – ravens’ beaks and claws were not for show. By the time it hit the ground, Lance doubted it was even recognizable. The ravens still picked angrily at its body, only dispersing when Keith landed, shifting back fluidly and stalking over to the body with hands curled into fists. One of them was black with blood. Lance could hear his growl from where he stood.

“Try again, Lotor,” Keith hissed, and kicked the motionless body savagely. The ravens hopped around his feet, flapping their wings and cawing triumphantly.

Lance jogged over after a moment’s hesitation. Luckily for him the body was mostly covered by ravens again, but from what he could see…ugh. “Are you okay?” Lance asked, grabbing Keith’s shoulder.

Keith nodded tightly. “I don’t want to think about how long that thing was watching us for,” he muttered.

“Let’s hope it couldn’t see into the cave,” Lance said weakly.

Keith growled again, though his fists uncurled. “I’ll have to tell Shiro about this. Part of me wants to drop this scrap of meat into Lotor’s territory, show him what we’d do to him if he ever crossed our paths again. But Shiro…probably won’t go for that.”

“I think the ravens are enjoying the meal, anyway,” Lance pointed out, feeling a bit sick. Ravens were much cuter when they were eating granola bars, that was for sure.

“Yes,” Keith agreed. He looked at Lance. “I don’t know how you spotted the spy, but thank you.”

Lance shrugged, unconsciously touching the crystal. “It was just a gut feeling,” he said. “Plus, I thought I saw some yellow eyes up there, and I guess I was right.” That part was a lie, but Keith seemed to buy it.

Keith sent him back home early so he could go talk to Shiro. Lance hadn’t been back to the Victorian house – the vampires were planning a second attack on the garrison, apparently, though Keith wouldn’t give him any details – Lance had a feeling he wasn’t privy to the entire plan either.

But he tried not to think about that, about Lotor and spies and attacks and counterattacks – it was far too easy to just lose himself in Keith instead. Pidge and Hunk called it the honeymoon period, but somehow Lance had a feeling it would always be this way.

Being with Keith was…it felt awfully familiar, somehow, even if they’d only known each other for a summer. It felt like much longer.

But apparently Pidge and Hunk were right that it couldn’t last, because at the end of the week of quiet bliss and kisses, Lance, as he was prone to do, screwed everything up.

They were kissing, as usual, smushed together on the couch, hands wandering aimlessly and pants growing tighter by the second. Once Keith had figured out Lance liked to have his nipples touched, he did it almost relentlessly, until Lance was flushed with heat and twisting in small, frantic motions under him. So Lance was already ready to beg by the time Keith broke the kiss and dragged smaller, softer kisses down Lance’s jaw, licking a line down his neck. The bandage was gone, and Shiro’s salve had done wonders – there was only a pair of faint pink dots where the punctures had been, and even those would eventually fade.

Lance tipped his head back and to the side, breath shallowing as Keith kissed the remaining mark carefully and licked his way down further, tongue trailing over Lance’s throat. It was nothing but his tongue and lips, not even a hint of teeth, but Lance wanted more than a hint. Hand in Keith’s hair and legs loosely bracketing his hips, Lance shuddered and said, unthinking, “Bite me.”

Keith froze. Drew back hastily, staring at him. “What?” he said, voice higher than usual.

“I said you should bite me,” Lance whispered, tipping his head back farther, trying to make himself hopefully irresistible. But instead Keith startled away, almost falling off the couch, his eyes wide and horrified.

“What’s wrong with you?!” he choked out, and Lance went cold.

“Oh, that’s rich, the guy who survives off of blood is asking me what my problem is?” Lance snapped defensively.

“Am I somehow using my thrall on you?” Keith exclaimed. “Why the fuck would you ever want that, Lance? Did you forget I almost killed you the last time?!”

Lance curled away from him with a scowl. “Obviously I didn’t forget! But you’re not starving now, and I just thought that maybe it would be nice for you to not have to control yourself so much around me –”

Keith got even paler, if that was possible. “Control myself around you?! What, do you think self-control is the only thing stopping me from biting you?”

“I think you’re a vampire and I smell like the best meal you’ve ever had!” Lance retorted.

Keith gaped at him, stunned into silence. Then he straightened up, brow lowering and eyes narrowing. “So you’re just like the others. You think it’s ridiculous for a vampire to be with a human for anything other than a reliable food source. You don’t think we can just be a normal couple, without the biting, or the constant reminder that I could kill you at any second. You think I can’t possibly be with you without biting you again at some point, because it must be so hard for me to will myself not to tear your throat out, mustn’t it? Because clearly the only reason I was ever drawn to you was your blood, right? Why else would a vampire ever want a human?”

Lance got up from the couch and glowered at the far wall, not looking at Keith. “You can shut up now, I got it. You don’t want to bite me, understood.”

“Do you?” Keith hissed. “Do you really understand, Lance? Because if you did then you wouldn’t feel the need to ask me to bite you in the first place!”

Lance did look at him then, glaring furiously. “‘Feel the need?’ Oh, so you think I asked to do you some kind of favor? Because how could I possibly benefit?! You don’t think that maybe, just maybe, it might actually feel good for me too?”

“I could kill you!” Keith shrieked, the sound echoing through the cave. “Why can’t you get that through your head, Lance?! I don’t care if it somehow feels good to you – that’s not going to matter when you’re bleeding out, again! You’re not like vampires, Lance, you’re weaker than us, you’re mortal, I have to be careful with you, and if you can’t understand that then I don’t think this is going to work out!”

Lance folded his arms, looked away, and didn’t answer, feeling a lump forming in his throat. “I’m sorry I asked,” he said after a beat. “I think I’m going to go back to Pidge’s house now.” He started towards the cave entrance.

Keith took a step towards him.

“I don’t need a chaperone,” Lance said, stopping him in his tracks. He paused before he left the cave, looking back at Keith and shaking his head. “This isn’t normal, Keith. Nothing about this mess is normal. You’re a century old vampire, not a human teenager. I understand that perfectly well and I don’t need your condescending ‘humans are weak’ lecture now or ever. If you really see me as if I’m made of glass, then I don’t think this is going to work out, either.”

“Lance, wait –”

Lance didn’t stop walking. “Don’t act like you couldn’t catch me even if I sprinted out of here as fast as I could. ‘Cause I’m so weak and mortal, and all that other bullshit.”

But Lance didn’t run, and Keith didn’t catch him, even though Lance almost hoped he would.

*

It was just the cherry on top of the goddamn sundae when Lance opened the guest bedroom door and saw the book sitting neatly on his pillow, How to Kill a Vampyre shining in gold lettering on the cover.

“Oh, great, you decided to show up now,” Lance said. “You think this is funny, I bet.”

He sat down on the bed, eyeing the book with disdain. But he didn’t throw it across the room. The crystal thrummed hopefully against his chest. And then, like a mirage, as he glared at the book the cover began to change, symbols shifting and bleeding into each other, until the title read The Vampyre Codex.

Lance blinked. “So…does that mean I’m not gonna find a page with a severed head illustration now?”

In answer, the book flipped open, startling Lance so badly he fell off the bed. But when he cautiously peeked over the edge of the bed and at the pages the book had opened to…his curiosity piqued. There were no severed heads, but there was an illustration – a diagram of a vampire’s teeth, apparently, with little words and figures explaining this and that. As Lance looked closer, he saw that there seemed to be bullet point facts in the actual text, written in those strange glyphs that he could read if he really focused on the page.

Helpfully, one of them shimmered, as if briefly doused in glitter. Lance’s gaze went to it.

Despite being unable to reproduce sexually, vampires are very sexual beings. They appear to use sex as a means to assert dominance and establish pack hierarchy, as well as to promote stronger bonds within packs, especially between sires and their progeny. Vampiric sexual stamina is similar to that of a human teenager, but can last even longer if they have recently fed. Vampires have been known to have sex with humans, but usually as a means to subdue their prey.

Lance flushed and scowled at the book. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re playing at, asshole. Your title may have changed, but you’re still trying to tell me vampires are evil and savage and the next logical step is murder.”

The book seemed to sigh, irritated, and the pages flipped again, another section shimmering.

Vampires are very territorial, not only with the land they mark as their territory, but with other vampires and humans they mark as theirs, as well. Turning scars are seen as marks of ownership by sires, and it is considered a social faux pas for another vampire to touch the turning marks of a vampire they have not sired. Vampires may visibly mark those they consider their own by scratches, bruises, and of course bites; however they also mark mates and other close family bonds with their unique scent, which is undetectable to humans.

Scent marking especially evident among sires, who tend to have the most powerful scents and be the most possessive. Vampire sires are fiercely protective of their progeny and most will go to great lengths to keep them from harm. Most, because sires with many progeny become desensitized to this instinct, while sires with only one or two progeny will readily risk their own lives for them.

Lance frowned. “I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me, here. I already know Shiro is protective of Keith.”

The book flipped to another section.

Like humans, when vampires feed they experience a release of dopamine in the brain. However, a much larger amount of dopamine is released in vampires, though the amount depends on their level of hunger and how appetizing the blood is. It seems that, like humans, vampires have a sense of taste and prefer different kinds of blood, and thus different kinds of prey. Some vampires exclusively hunt males, some exclusively hunt females; others prefer certain races, while others are drawn to people of a particular occupation, especially artists, actors, and athletes.

It is not known how the taste of blood differs from person to person, but vampires can evidently detect it. When feeding from ideal prey after a period of hunger, vampires have been observed to fall into a state of near-ecstasy, displayed via dilated pupils, shallow breathing and heightened pulse, a sharp increase in body temperature, and sometimes even obvious arousal.

“I still don’t understand,” Lance said, a bit choked. “Do you want him to bite me, or not?!”

The pages flipped again. The section that shimmered simply said:

Before engaging with a vampire, it is important to be informed about their abilities, as well as to know their strengths and weaknesses.

“So you’re my vampire sex ed, basically.”

The book was silent.

“Okay, I get it, you don’t exactly approve,” Lance said. “And you somehow know Keith and I are kinda goin’ through a rough spot right now. Got any advice for a human whose vampire boyfriend thinks he’s a fragile flower?”

The book didn’t answer, but the crystal did, flaring so brightly that it filled the whole room with vibrant blue light for an instant before fading, warmer than usual on his skin. “Right,” Lance sighed. “I’m not human. Apparently. Still waiting for some explanation on that. You got anything, book?”

Nope. Nothing.

“Awesome,” Lance grumbled.

He considered throwing the book out the window and never looking at it again, but after a moment’s hesitation he tucked it under his bed instead. The crystal hummed with approval.

*

Pidge and Hunk found him a couple minutes later, laying on his back and staring at the ceiling with his earbuds in, listening to Brand New at full volume. Hunk took one earbud out and got on the bed with him with a worried expression.

“Something happen, Lance?”

Lance mumbled unintelligibly and kept staring at the ceiling.

“Did you and Keith have a fight or something?” Pidge asked bluntly, peering down at him. When Lance’s frown deepened, they paused. “Oh. Shit. How bad?”

“I don’t think he wants to talk about it,” Hunk said.

“Does he want to play Mario Kart with us instead?” Pidge suggested.

Lance paused Brand New and took his other earbud out, sitting up so fast he almost bonked his head against Hunk’s. “Not Mario Kart,” he said. “Call of Duty. I need to shoot things ASAP.”

“So, pretty bad,” Pidge muttered. “That game is trash, Lance.”

Lance started to put the earbuds back in.

“Hey, hey, wait,” Pidge sighed, grabbing his wrist. “What about Overwatch? You can still shoot stuff.”

“Or blow it up, even better,” Hunk pointed out.

Lance gave them both a little smile. “Junkrat is pretty fun,” he said. “Or Widowmaker…or both…”

“We got all day,” Hunk said with a grin.

Lance was pretty sure he had the best best friends in the whole world.

*

Ulaz and Thace came by the house that night to check that the humans were all still in one piece, or whatever. Lance had a feeling that Keith had asked Thace to try to talk to him about the events of that afternoon, but one glare from Lance told Thace all he needed to know.

When they were gone, Hunk squeezed Lance’s arm and asked, “Are you guys gonna be okay?”

Lance shrugged. “I guess. I just need some space, because if we try to talk it out now…I think we’ll just make it worse. Maybe better to give it a couple days. That’s what people do, right?”

“Sometimes,” Hunk said. “If you think it’ll help.”

“I do,” Lance said firmly. But at the same time, he didn’t want to stay away from Keith. He really didn’t. But Keith’s voice kept ringing in his ears, frantic and resolute – he actually believed that because Lance was human, he was inferior. Okay, so maybe that wasn’t actually what he believed, but it’d sure sounded that way.

Lance stayed up late that night, and when Hunk was asleep he crept over to the window and looked out into the darkness, half-hoping to see a yellow gleam in the shadows, watching, waiting. But there was nothing except moonlight and the jagged teeth of the treetops, outlined against the starry skies, and it was with a heavy heart that Lance slipped under the sheets and drifted off.

*

Lance was trapped. Distinctly, innately, he knew this, and his heart thudded with the terrifying truth of it; a funeral march pounding deep within the cage of his ribs. His back hit a wall, towering up behind him, endless, inescapable, and before him, the shadows surged closer. They were writhing and impenetrable in their inexorable advance, and they were hungry, a million tongues of darkness, licking at the air and howling with desperation.

The closer the shadows got, the more solid they became, until many shadows had become just one, a hulking silhouette with sulfurous slits for eyes and a black tear of a mouth, lined with needle-sharp teeth that shone a bright, terrible white. It was Shiro, Lance realized, but it wasn’t Shiro, couldn’t be; because this thing wearing Shiro’s form had not a single trace of empathy or mercy on its cold, sneering visage; it had nothing but the desire to feed, and to kill.

Yet when Lance braced himself for the lunge and the bite, he got neither. Instead he got a hand curling tight around his neck, claws digging bloodlessly into tendons and veins, the creature hissing in frustration and pain as brought its face close to Lance’s. Its flesh was singed, smoking, and Lance realized he was wearing the crystal, the silver necklace cutting lines into Shiro’s palm.

“Why won’t you let me have you, Lance,” the shadow with Shiro’s face whispered, lips brushing against his cheek, cold as the sea breeze, making him shiver. “Why can’t you see that I want you, too?”

“Stop,” Lance gasped, turning his face away. “You’re not him, you’re not, this isn’t real –”

The shadows swirled around him furiously, and the new voice against his ear wasn’t Shiro’s, but it was just as familiar. “Lance, Lance,” Keith crooned, his face as devoid of humanity as Shiro’s had been, the shadows reforming as the hard press of his body into Lance, the heat of his eyes scorching Lance to his core. “I wanted to be careful, but you wanted me to break you, don’t you, Lance?”

“Keith –”

“Monsters don’t have names, sweetheart,” Keith whispered, Shiro’s voice overlaid with his, the words and tones blurring together in a rising cacophony of noise until Lance jolted awake, panting and panicky and half-hard in his sweatpants.

He tripped out of bed in his haste to get up, feeling smothered by the blankets tangled around his sweaty body, and stumbled past Hunk’s bed, out into the dark hallway, chest still heaving. “It’s not real,” he chanted in a whisper, a constant mantra that did little to soothe the terror still pounding in his chest. “It’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not.”

Lance closed the bathroom door behind him too loudly, surely someone must have heard, must have woken up, but there was silence. Just the sound of his own labored breaths as he braced himself on the sink and stared into the mirror, flipping on the light switch hurriedly. The light was a relief, though in it Lance could see just how scared he looked, eyes bright and wild and, when he looked closer, faintly glowing. The blue of his irises shone with uneven incandescence, sputtering in and out like a candle in a drafty room.

“What am I?” Lance whispered to his reflection, dragging his fingertips down his face until they slid off his chin and fell upon the crystal. “Am I just crazy? Because that…that would explain a lot.”

But the silence persisted, and so did the night.

*

Lance slept in late the next morning, and incredibly neither Hunk nor Pidge jumped on him to wake him up at any point. They were both in the garage, peering under Azula’s hood and waving wrenches around. They gave him little waves.

“How’s she doing?” Lance asked, impressed by how much progress they’d made so far.

“Way better,” Hunk said.

“Getting there,” Pidge added, frowning and digging their wrench into something that squealed loudly with the sound of metal against metal. Lance winced, gave Azula an affectionate pat, and headed back inside. He wasn’t a mechanic, after all – he’d just get in the way.

Lance made himself breakfast though he had little appetite. He kept glancing at the window, as if hoping to see a raven there, but that was ridiculous. Keith wouldn’t want to bring him to the cave today and Lance didn’t care, because he didn’t want to go either, obviously, why would he want to do something dumb like that? Why would he ever, in a million years, still want to have Keith in his lap and feel Keith’s lips on his and hear Keith’s voice in his ear and –

Lance ate his cereal angrily and ended up spilling milk all down the front of his shirt.

He thought about reading more of the book but rejected that idea in favor of Netflix, which was probably less likely to induce vivid nightmares, depending on the show. He wasn’t sure watching Peaky Blinders or Jessica Jones would be a good idea, so he settled on rewatching Legend of Korra. It made him feel a little better. Just a little. He kept glancing at the clock, watching the minutes tick away into hours, watching as one thirty came and went. There was no raven and no note. He didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed.

Lance made some coffee. Drank a couple cups too many. Paced around the room, debating whether he should just stick it out like a man or go running to the house in the woods like he so desperately wanted to.

He ended up lying on his bed and watching Netflix again.

Lance was so absorbed in the final battle of season one that he didn’t hear the knock on the door at first. Then the knock came again, louder, and Lance paused the episode and furrowed his brow. He got out of bed and went down the hall to the front door – Hunk and Pidge were still banging on metal stuff, so they must not have heard. Lance peered through the peep hole…and froze.

It was Keith. Keith, looking awkward and nervous, glancing around furtively and shuffling his feet. He paused as Lance reached for the doorknob, his eyes widening and head tilting.

“Lance?” he called, voice small but hopeful. “Can we talk? Please?”

Lance frowned at the doorknob. “What’s there to talk about?” he snapped childishly.

“I’m sorry,” Keith said. “I…I wanted to explain my reaction yesterday, when you asked me to…there’s a reason for it, and I thought you had a right to know.”

“You already told me the reason,” Lance said. “It’s because I’m a weak human, you made that clear.”

“No!” Keith exclaimed, with surprising insistence. “That’s not why, Lance, and you’re not weak. Please, just let me explain. And afterwards, you can be the judge of how foolish my reaction was.”

Lance sighed. “Fine,” he said. “You get one chance.” He opened the door and Keith stepped inside gratefully. “Well?” Lance said. “Spit it out, Keith.”

Keith looked down at his feet. “Not…not here,” he said. “I’d rather not tell this story where everyone can hear.” He glanced pointedly towards the garage.

“What kinda story is this?” Lance muttered, but he led Keith down the hall and into the guest bedroom, sitting on the edge of his bed and looking at Keith expectantly.

Keith wavered uncertainly between standing or sitting on Hunk’s bed or leaning on the wall. Rolling his eyes but taking pity, Lance scooted over, and Keith sat on his bed with him, though with a careful couple of feet separating them. It felt like kind of a dick move when Keith looked at him with big, sad eyes, but then again Keith had been kind of a dick yesterday.

“Keith,” Lance said, because Keith still wasn’t talking.

“Right,” Keith said, clearing his throat and frowning at the floor. “So...I’m not proud of this, Lance. I want you to know that. And I want you to know that you’re the only person besides Shiro who will know this story, and I’d like to keep it that way, so please don’t –”

“I’m not gonna tell anyone else,” Lance promised. “Just say it.”

Keith was quiet again for a long moment, as if he was gathering his thoughts, or his courage, or both. Then he exhaled and said, “When I was human, there was a boy. We worked together in the factory. His name was Henry, Henry McClain. He was always…he was very kind to me, unlike many of the others. I did not know how to receive his affections for a while, but eventually we became friends. Close friends.” Keith closed his eyes, mouth tightening. “Even now, looking back, I believe he wanted to be more than that. But I denied him. Not because I didn’t want him, but because I had consumption. I didn’t want Henry to meet the same fate as me; I didn’t want him to get sick too.”

Lance was quiet. He wanted to scoot closer, wanted to put his arm around Keith because Keith was already trembling, pain evident on his features. But he waited as Keith steadied himself and continued.

“Most would have left after so many rejections. But not Henry. Even though I tried to hide my illness from him, he had an inkling that something was wrong. He tried to help, tried to comfort me, but I would not let him. He would have tried to follow me the night I ran out into the alley, coughing and collapsing, dying; but by some stroke of fate, he had the day shift instead.”

Lance gave into the impulse to move closer. “And then Shiro turned you?”

“Yes,” Keith said. “Shiro brought me back to his home and turned me. I was in agony, delirious, but more than anything else, starving. Shiro did what he thought was best as my sire. He…fed me.” Keith shuddered. “Human blood, of course, he only fed on that back then. I don’t know who they were, but I drank all of it. I was still delirious, healing from the consumption as well as the turning, and it was only several days later when I became lucid enough to realize what I’d done. Shiro tried to explain it to me, tried to stop me, but.” Keith swallowed. “New vampires are difficult to control, and I was desperate to escape. So I ran away. Into…into the city. Back to the factory.”

Lance looked at him fully, remorse pooling coldly in his belly. Oh, Keith.

Keith shifted away from him slightly, head bowed, ashamed. “I was still very hungry, even if I didn’t understand what I was feeling. I was operating on instinct and adrenaline. I followed a scent, the scent I knew best…and I found Henry. He recognized me, somehow, and he was concerned. I remember that most clearly – the concern in his blue eyes before I ripped his throat open.” Keith’s voice grew choked. “Even…even then, he was trying to help me. And…and I suppose, in the end, he did.”

Lance finally reached out, fingertips resting carefully on Keith’s shivering shoulder. “Keith, I’m sorry,” he whispered. “Fuck. I…I never should’ve asked, huh? I won’t ask again.”

Keith sighed, relaxing slightly and looking back at Lance. “Shiro found me, after. I’d come to my senses by then. What a sight I must have been, sobbing pathetically and clutching his...his mangled body. I wanted to turn him, but there was nothing left to turn. His head was nearly…” Keith stopped abruptly. “Shiro brought me home. Cleaned me up. Decided that we would try feeding off of animals from then on, and steer clear of humans. And here we are.”

“Didn’t exactly steer clear of humans though, did you,” Lance pointed out weakly.

Keith shook his head. “Not now, no,” he admitted. “Although yesterday, all I wanted to do was run away from you.”

Lance winced. “You had every right to,” he said. “I realize that, now. I didn’t even think of why you wouldn’t want to, and I was just being selfish, and I’m really sorry about that.”

“No,” Keith murmured. “No, it’s…to be honest, I never expected you to ask me to bite you. It never crossed my mind that you would actually want that, especially after what happened in the Galra prison. You caught me off-guard, which is also why I panicked and said things that I truly do not mean.”

“It’s not like you were totally wrong,” Lance said. “I am weaker than you, and I’m mortal. There’s no denying that, as much as I want to try to.”

“Yes, but…I don’t want to emphasize that, when we’re together,” Keith said earnestly. “I don’t want you to feel unequal, Lance.”

“I don’t,” Lance told him, and brushed his fingers across Keith’s cheek. “You don’t make me feel like that.”

Keith smiled, small, but it was there. “What do I make you feel like?”

“You know,” Lance said, and leaned against him. Keith tensed, and then slumped into him too. He hid a kiss in Lance’s hair and Lance hummed, draping an arm around Keith’s waist and squeezing.

“I missed you,” Keith whispered.

“It was only a day,” Lance said, but added, “I missed you too,” because it was true.

“Shiro was the one who made me come talk to you,” Keith said. “He practically evicted me from the house, you know.”

Lance smiled, though his chest hurt at the thought of Shiro. “I guess we owe him a big thank you, then,” he said.

“Yes,” Keith agreed. “He wants us to be happy, very much.” He pulled away from Lance slightly and tilted his head, a strange look in his eyes. “Are you happy, Lance? With me? With…just me?”

Lance blinked, confused. “Yes?” he lied. “Uh…why wouldn’t I be? I mean, we’re cool now, if that’s what you’re worried about. I won’t ask about the biting anymore.”

Keith chewed his lip. “Well,” he said. “I mean…if you actually want me to, Lance, I won’t rule it out entirely.”

Lance paused, eyes widening. “You, um. You won’t?”

Keith shifted. “No,” he said. “I may need a little time to get myself used to the idea of doing it, but. After some thought, I’m not opposed to doing that…for you.” His brow furrowed. “I still don’t quite understand how you’d get anything out of it.”

“People are into weirder things,” Lance retorted. “And, I dunno, maybe I’m just curious.”

“Curiosity killed the cat,” Keith reminded him mildly.

“But Shiro’s the cat, not me.”

Keith snorted. “True,” he said. “Very true.”

They smiled in a moment of quiet glee. Then Keith shifted around again and made as if to get up. “I can leave, if you –”

Lance drew him back down. “No,” he implored. “Stay.”

Keith did.

*

Hunk and Pidge found them snuggled together under Lance’s comforter watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. Keith was entranced, making small sounds of surprise and delight every so often, asking questions here and there which Lance easily answered.

The two of them just peeked into the room before leaving, neither Keith nor Lance having noticed them.

“I think I’m gonna barf,” Pidge told Hunk.

“You’re just jealous,” Hunk said to them, rolling his eyes. “Lance is happy, Keith is happy –”

“I’m not the jealous one,” Pidge interrupted. “Shiro is.” Hunk opened his mouth. “Nuh-uh, don’t deny it – there’s no way something’s not going on between Shiro and Keith. I don’t know if they’re married, or mates, or whatever vampires call it, but it’s been obvious to me that they were an item since we first met them.”

Hunk blanched. “An item? No! Shiro’s just Keith’s sire and they’re close, they have a, uh, close bond, and…” He trailed off and shook his head. “Nope, you know what, I noticed the same thing. Hard not to notice it, but…I don’t think Lance has.”

“Do they know that he doesn’t know?” Pidge muttered. “Does he really have no clue?”

“Are they still together even though Keith is with Lance?” Hunk asked.

“If they think that Lance knows they’re together, then they probably also think that he doesn’t mind,” Pidge reasoned. “They probably just think that Lance only likes Keith, and not Shiro.”

“D’you think Shiro likes Lance?” Hunk asked, brow furrowing. “Because I don’t know how I feel about that. Shiro’s kinda…I mean, you saw how he was after the crash, he’s a…”

“He’s a vampire,” Pidge finished, rubbing their temple tiredly. “They both are. Old, dangerous vampires. And they’re probably together. And Lance likes them both.”

The two of them looked at each other with matching expressions of frustration. “Should we tell him?” Hunk asked.

“Do we even know for sure?” Pidge countered. “And we don’t know if Shiro likes Lance either. Although, I’m pretty sure he does.”

“Pretty sure isn’t good enough,” Hunk sighed. “And I don’t want to screw this up.”

“So…we just wait?” Pidge made a face. “Until Lance finds out, one way or another? I doubt that’s gonna be pretty.”

“It might work out, actually,” Hunk said. “One Lance puts two and two together –”

“Or three, rather,” Pidge said under their breath.

“I just hope this gets resolved soon.” Hunk sighed. “This is like a bad soap opera.”

“And I have a feeling it’s gonna get worse.”

*

The second week was blessedly drama-free.

Keith and Lance spent more time at Pidge’s house than in the cave, and continued to watch Avatar. Keith was way more emotionally invested in the show than Lance would’ve expected, though his favorite character was Toph, not Zuko, who he adamantly denied bore any resemblance to him.

“You’re one to talk, Sokka!” Keith retorted fiercely when Lance tried to convince him.

He was more onboard with the comparison after Zuko (finally) got a haircut, though.

“D’you see what I mean now, bat boy?” Lance asked smugly.

“Hmm,” Keith said. “…Maybe.”

When they weren’t watching Avatar, they took walks around town. Keith was reluctant at first, but once they’d made sure the sunscreen actually worked, they made frequent excursions to Gemma’s Café and the Rosewood Animal Shelter. Dogs weren’t Keith’s biggest fans, but cats loved him, which Lance found endlessly hilarious. They wound around his ankles and meowed loudly whenever Keith stepped foot into the cattery, every single one vying for his attention. Lance doubted cat Shiro would be as amused about this.

Colleen Holt had some friends who worked there, which complicated things slightly. The first time Lance brought Keith in, the three middle-aged ladies all made a big show of introducing themselves and asking where Lance had found him.

“Keith is a, uh, hiking buddy!” Lance blurted, because it was the first not completely untrue thing that came to mind.

“Oh, you’re a hiker?” one of the ladies, Linda, asked. Keith stared at her apprehensively. “What’s your favorite trail? I love Six Forks, personally, but –”

“Linda, don’t scare the poor boy!” Margaret chastised. “Sorry, Keith. It’s just that we don’t get many newcomers here in Rosewood, and we want to give you a warm welcome.”

Newcomer, heh. Lance nudged Keith’s side. Keith had been here longer than anyone else in this town.

Keith ignored him and nodded to the women politely. “Thank you very much,” he said. “Rosewood is a lovely town.”

Colleen’s friends, needless to say, adored Keith as much as the cats. Keith did not know what to make of any of it, and certainly didn’t notice Colleen’s youngest friend making eyes at him eighty percent of the time. But Lance did. Yep, Lance definitely noticed, and so when they returned to Pidge’s house after the animal shelter visits, Lance tended to feel the need to remind himself that Keith was his.

They never went beyond kissing and some casual grinding because, hello, Lance didn’t want to accidentally scar his best friends (too badly). But after Hunk walked in on Keith with his hand down Lance’s pants and Lance’s hand down the back of Keith’s jeans, Hunk and Pidge announced that they were going to have a Night Out.

As in, Hunk and Pidge were going to go get dinner, see a movie, and thus leave Keith and Lance to their own devices for the night.

“Do not make a mess or I will murder you,” Pidge hissed in Lance’s ear before they left.

Hunk just gave him a Look. Like most of Hunk’s Looks, it was multifaceted. On the one hand, it said, Have fun, and on the other hand it said, If you get hurt, Keith better start running.

Lance gave him a Look that said, Chill.

When they were gone, Lance turned to Keith. Keith blinked at him. “Well?” Lance raised an eyebrow. “Time’s a wastin’, bat boy.”

Keith, who had apparently been oblivious as to what having an empty house for the whole night meant, stared at him blankly. “Why are we in a hurry…?”

Lance laughed. Keith continued to look bewildered. Lance stopped laughing. “Oh my god, you’re serious,” Lance said. “Keith. We’re finally alone, in a house, with a bed.”

Keith’s eyes widened. “Oh,” he said. “Oh. Um.” He shuffled his feet. “Is…there anything in particular you want to…do…?”

“Why don’t we just get to the bed and…see what happens?” Lance suggested, some of his previous bravado failing. “I mean, if you want. We don’t have to. We could always just have our own little night out, or –”

Keith took his hand. “The bed sounds good to me.”

“Cool,” Lance said lamely, heart pounding.

Keith put his other hand over Lance’s chest as if to quiet it. “Bed,” he repeated, and brushed a kiss over Lance’s lips before leading him to the guest bedroom, their fingers firmly tangled.

*

They’d made out on the bed before, that wasn’t new (though that didn’t detract from its greatness). What was new, however, was the lack of shirts and pants. That was an interesting development. Keith made Lance feel like the clumsiest person in the world sometimes, he was just…so in control of his body. The way he moved was actually perfect, like he was so in-tune with every muscle that it didn’t look or feel real. But oh man, it was very real.

Keith moved away from his mouth to trail kisses over Lance’s jaw and shoulders, fingers creeping down to his boxers. “Do you want me to suck you off again?” Keith asked.

Lance really, really did, but he wanted something else even more. Face heating up, he said, “Uh, actually, I was wondering if you maybe…could you fuck me?”

Keith went still, and that was eerie too, because he really didn’t move a muscle. Then he said, in a bored tone, “I suppose I could…”

Lance squinted at him. “I can’t tell if you’re kidding or not.”

Keith giggled and tucked his face into Lance’s jaw. “Don’t be silly, of course I’m kidding. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wanted to do that very thing ever since I laid eyes on you.”

“When you licked me?” Lance asked, grinning.

“Mmm,” Keith said, and lifted Lance’s palm to his mouth, tongue lapping over it in an imitation of that first night. Lance’s breath shallowed. “Ever since then.” Keith paused. “But, you know, if you’re nervous it doesn’t have to be you receiving, Lance. I’m very versatile.”

Lance flushed. How someone could be so earnest and cute while saying something like that, he didn’t know, but Keith was. “Rain check on that,” he whispered. “Tonight, I want…I want to try this. First.”

“Alright,” Keith said easily. “Vampiric sterility has its perks - we don't need to use a condom, unless you want to." Lance shook his head no after a moment of thought and Keith looked pleased before adding, "Do you have lube? Because that's not optional."

“Uhh,” Lance said. “Actually – yeah. Second drawer,” he mumbled, gesturing vaguely to the nightstand.

Keith chuckled, opening the drawer and rifling through it. In the brief interlude, Lance took off the crystal. He didn’t know why, exactly…just had a slight inkling that maybe the crystal, however sentient it was, might have an objection to what they were about to do. Lance tucked it under the mattress and said a silent apology.

Keith found the bottle and set it down next to them on the bed. “Do I want to ask why you brought lube to Pidge’s house?”

“Can I just use the teenage boy excuse to escape judgment?”

Keith shrugged. “Do you see me judging you right now?”

“…no?”

Keith patted his arm fondly. “Correct.”

“Should we maybe take our boxers off?”

Keith’s eyes glinted, and Lance got the feeling the vampire was silently laughing at him. “Maybe,” he said, mouth quirking up. “That would certainly make it easier.”

Lance rolled his eyes and tugged his underwear off, staying kind of curled up until Keith got his off, too. It felt more equal when they were both naked. Lance didn’t think about how Keith had never actually seen him fully undressed before, until the vampire let out a low groan and pressed him down into the sheets. “You’re so beautiful,” Keith murmured, words drifting warmly through the cool night air.

“You say that a lot,” Lance managed as Keith started to rock against him, their cocks grinding in uneven nudges of friction that still felt incredible. He was already starting to sweat.

“Because it’s so very true,” Keith retorted, kissing him before drawing back, until Lance had to spread his legs to accommodate him and. And. Keith was looking at him with dark, wanting eyes, just as hot as Lance remembered, and Lance unthinkingly let the splay of his legs widen, and Keith made a rough sound in his throat and, after pouring lube over it, pushed a fingertip up under Lance’s balls and started to rub, carefully making his way down and circling Lance’s hole with even greater care.

Lance swallowed. “You don’t need to go that slow,” he said. “Not made of glass, remember?”

“I know,” Keith said, and after a moment took one of the extra pillows and wedged it under Lance, propping him up in a way that felt kinda obscene. Lance raised an eyebrow.

“Is that really necessary?”

Keith huffed. “Why don’t you wait and see, hm?” Then he pushed a finger in. Lance exhaled hard. “How’s that?”

“Good, good, keep going,” Lance said, flapping a hand at him. Keith’s finger curled, and he shuddered. “Keith. I said keep going.”

“Have you done this before?” Keith asked when he had two fingers inside of Lance, head tilted curiously.

“I mean, I already told you I’m a virgin, but I guess we were both a little out of it.” Lance’s head thudded down against the pillow, red-faced. “Is it that obvious?”

Keith blinked. “No,” he said, twisting his fingers slowly and watching Lance squirm. “You’re just very tense, and I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Of course I’m tense, we’re not exactly doing yoga, here,” Lance gritted out. “Hurry up, already.”

Keith frowned and started to pull his fingers out. “If you don’t want to do this –”

“I want to do this!” Lance snapped, gesturing to his dick. “Does it look like I don’t want to do this?”

Keith pushed his fingers back in. “If you say so,” he murmured, and used his other hand to stroke Lance’s cock lightly, and yeah, okay, that was better. “So you’ve never done this before?”

“Nope,” Lance mumbled, throwing an arm over his face. “I mean, I’ve fingered myself before, but –”

What?” Keith breathed, shocked, his fingers crooking hard and making Lance gasp, his hips giving a little involuntary kick upwards.

“Yeah,” Lance said, strained, peeking at him from under his elbow. “Dunno why you’re so surprised, it just felt good, don’t you do that sometimes?”

“Yes, but –” Keith shuddered. “Fuck, Lance.”

“That’s kinda the idea, yep,” Lance wheezed. “Any day, now.”

Keith made a sound somewhere between a moan and a laugh. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re ridiculous?”

“Yeah, but I prefer handsome and wonderful,” Lance said.

“That too,” Keith agreed, adding a third finger. Lance exhaled unsteadily and spread his legs farther on the bed, knees half-bent. “Still think the pillow was a dumb idea?” Keith asked, chuckling as Lance used it to try to get better leverage and bear down on Keith’s fingers.

“Nope, nope, clearly you know what you’re doing, even if you’re taking for-fucking-ever,” Lance hissed. Keith pushed his fingers deeper and Lance saw God.

“You wanna say that again?” Keith asked smugly. “Or just make more incoherent noises?”

“I want you to fuck me, Jesus Christ, I’m dying, Keith.”

“So dramatic,” Keith said, fond, but he was taking his fingers out and shuffling forward and oh, yeah, that was the blunt head of his cock pressing insistently at Lance’s hole and it definitely felt bigger than three fingers. Lance squeezed his eyes shut. Keith poked his inner thigh. “You look like I’m about to stab you or something, calm down.”

“I mean, technically –”

“Lance.” Keith shook his head, the poke turning into small, soothing circles of his palm as he lifted Lance’s legs up, until they could wrap loosely around his waist. “It’s going to be okay.”

“Easy for you to s-say,” Lance stuttered, because Keith was pushing forward, pushing in…or trying to, anyway. Lance was so tense he was shaking, with a confusing mixture of anticipation and trepidation. Keith stopped, head tilting thoughtfully. “I’m s-sorry, I’m trying to –” Lance froze, jaw dropping, as Keith leaned forward and kissed Lance’s shoulder, letting his mouth open until the tips of his fangs touched Lance’s skin.

There was a long, drawn-out beat of silence.

“Here?” Keith asked, increasing the pressure of his teeth, giving Lance no room for doubt about what he meant. His heart stuttered. He was actually – they were actually going to do this.

Lance shuddered, nodded, and tipped his head to the side, exposing the line of his neck. “Please,” he breathed.

Keith hummed and kissed his skin again, wet and sloppy, and then he bit in a sharp, swift slice.

It didn’t hurt as much as the first time. Lance’s spine arched as he went rigid, and then, involuntarily, he fell limp in surrender, lashes fluttering, and Keith seized the opportunity and entered him fully. Lance moaned at the unfamiliar, aching, yet unmistakably good sensation, hands fisting in the sheets and in Keith’s hair, and Keith smiled against his shoulder as he pulled away, only a few seconds after he had bitten.

“Nooo,” Lance panted, “why’d you stop?”

Keith licked daintily over the tender bite marks, eyes hooded and face flushed. “I need to be able to control myself with you, you know that,” he murmured. “Besides, if I have too much, I’ll probably come.”

“Oh my god,” Lance said. “S-so, what, drinking my blood is your kink?”

“Yours too, apparently,” Keith pointed out, slipping a hand between them, palming over Lance’s cock. “And you were the one who asked me to do it.”

“I did,” Lance gasped. “Keith, Keith –”

Keith licked his bloodied lips with satisfaction and grinned down at him. “Feel good?”

“Nnghh,” Lance choked out. “Aren’t you ‘sposed to be doing somethin’ other than gloating right now?”

“Maybe,” Keith said, hips rolling slowly, teasingly. “Care to remind me?”

“You’re the worst,” Lance told him, glaring half-heartedly. “The worst – ahhh…”

“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.”

Frustrated, Lance grabbed a handful of Keith’s ass and forced him deeper. They both moaned, Keith surprised and Lance satisfied. Then Keith narrowed his eyes, grabbed Lance’s wrists, and pinned them to the headboard. Lance went still and stared up at him, flushing in a flash of heat that was more than skin-deep.

Lance already knew just how inhumanly strong Keith was; knew that if Keith wanted him to stay put, Lance would have no chance at escaping. Keith certainly knew this too, and there was a glint in his eyes, something like uncertainty or concern, but there was a warning there, too. A warning in the faint golden sheen of his irises when the light shifted, a warning that this being who was currently inside of him was not human. More than that, he was a being meant to hunt humans, to kill humans, and yet by some ironic twist of fate this vampire had decided to have sex with him, with what should have been prey, instead.

And that thought was equal parts awesome and absolutely terrifying. Lance’s heart was speeding up and Keith’s head tilted, hearing it, and wondering at the cause.

“Fuck me,” Lance whispered, wrists twitching in Keith’s grip. “Please.”

Keith’s eyes darkened and his grip on Lance’s wrists loosened. “Since you asked so nicely,” he murmured, and Lance didn’t expect the kiss but he welcomed it, even if it tasted faintly of iron and he knew Keith’s tongue was slick with more than just spit.

Lance opened his mouth easily and made a pleased sound when Keith let go of one of his wrists so he could run a hand through Keith’s hair and over the graceful, flexing curve of his back. Keith kept Lance’s other hand under his own, tangling their fingers on the pillow right next to Lance’s head, squeezing his hand reassuringly whenever Lance shuddered or moaned in response to Keith’s increasingly firm thrusts.

Lance’s cock was leaking between them, nudging against Keith’s hip on every downwards thrust. He tried to sneak a hand between them to touch himself but Keith growled and beat him to it and Lance squeezed his eyes shut and whimpered, rocking back up into Keith’s hand and cock, trying to spread his legs wider, to get Keith deeper. Keith groaned against his throat and licked a broad stripe across his skin, rocking with him, harder, rubbing the tip of Lance’s cock between his thumb and forefinger and bringing the residual fluid up to his lips. Lance whined.

“More,” he pleaded, heels digging into Keith’s back, fingers tangled in his hopelessly messy hair. “I want – fuck!”

Keith hummed and pressed in again, balls heavy against Lance’s ass, his expression positively evil. “More? Like this?” Lance arched, nails digging into Keith’s knuckles and shoulder, panting and squirming desperately, his body awash with arousal. Keith leaned down to lave his tongue over Lance’s peaked nipples and Lance hissed, gasping when Keith’s fangs just barely touched the dark nubs, like the hint of a blade. Keith shushed him with a kiss, softer than the first, a sharp contrast with the hard grind of his hips and the insistent throb of his cock inside Lance.

With little difficulty, Lance freed his hand from Keith’s and draped both arms around his neck, tugging him down; close, closer, closest. It was less of a long single kiss and more of a series of smaller ones, some lazy and sweet, some hot and filthy; all achingly tender. Keith nuzzled at his nose and cheek in the pauses between them, murmuring words in languages Lance had never heard before, filling the air with ancient sounds.

They were both nearing their climax but neither wanted it to end, and in an apparent effort to prolong it, Keith rolled on the bed and flipped them, leaving Lance stunned and straddling his hips, gasping against his lips at the abrupt change in angle. “Keep moving,” Keith gritted out, hands settling on Lance’s waist. “C’mon, c’mon –”

“Yeah, yeah, got it,” Lance said, breathless, tilting his hips and bracing his knees on the bed, lifting himself up on Keith’s cock. Keith’s head thudded back on the pillow, exposing the pale, immaculate column of his neck and the lean planes of his chest, unmarked save for the century-old bitemarks just above his heart, faint and silvery with age. Without thinking, Lance pressed his thumbs against them, and was unprepared for the way it made Keith moan and buck powerfully under him, pleasure sparking sharply up Lance’s spine.

“You like that,” Lance managed to say, rocking unevenly on top of Keith, breath coming fast and shallow, trying to focus on the desperate splay of Keith’s body and the way his eyes rolled back in his head when Lance’s nails dug into the scars just so. And for a moment, all Lance could think was, Shiro was here, too, a feverish epiphany that made his head spin.

“I –” Keith’s eyes fluttered shut and his mouth fell open and Lance thought he was going to come but instead he grinded up into Lance's prostate hard and precise enough to make Lance shout, thighs squeezing tight as he came all over their stomachs, shocked and shaking.

Keith’s hands grabbed at his legs, his ass, his neck, rutting arrhythmically up into him as he chased his finish, fucking Lance through the pulses and making him sob and curl forwards, oversensitized but insatiable, pressing his mouth to the scar on Keith’s chest and feeling Keith’s body seize under him in reply. He said Lance’s name when he came, a spreading warmth inside him, holding Lance to his chest until it was over, tucking his face against Lance’s throat and mouthing over his pulse point.

Lance let his eyes fall shut in the aftermath, slumped over Keith, feeling wetness drip down between his thighs and the softening length of Keith’s cock still inside of him. He ran his fingers through Keith’s hair, scratching over his scalp and the nape of his neck, and Keith purred, shifting under him until he slipped out. Lance groaned at the loss, wiggling in disappointment against him. Keith snorted. “Although vampire stamina is better than human stamina, I don’t think you’re quite ready for that yet.”

“I was born ready,” Lance replied, slurred and sleepy, mindlessly tracing esoteric circles over Keith’s chest. “Bring it on, bat boy.”

“Mmm, later,” Keith murmured, nudging him off and eying the mess they’d made with something like grudging admiration. “Now, sleep.”

“You too,” Lance protested as Keith sat up. “I demand cuddles.”

“You demand a lot of things, don’t you,” Keith chuckled, but he didn’t sound upset about it.

“Shower, first,” Lance added, sitting up next to him and stretching luxuriously, getting to his feet with only minor difficulty, though he had a hunch that he’d be feeling it tomorrow. “This is gross.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Keith murmured, fingers creeping down Lance’s back and playing around where his cock had just been, gentle and teasing. Lance jolted anyway, gawking when Keith lifted his now-slick fingers away and sucked them casually into his mouth, eyes half-lidded and heavy.

“Dude,” Lance said, strangled. “Did you really just…”

“I drink blood to survive,” Keith said with a shrug. “I don’t think conventional standards of ‘gross’ really apply.”

“You’re filthy,” Lance told him, shaking his head in disbelief.

“So I’ve been told,” Keith retorted, smirking. “Anyway…shower?”

Lance rolled his eyes and grabbed Keith’s hand (his clean one, thank you very much), dragging him off to the bathroom. “I’m gonna wash your mouth out with soap, you animal.”

“You can try,” Keith giggled, hip-checking him and almost knocking him over.

*

But in the end, all they did in the shower was stand together under the spray, leaning their foreheads against each other, running the washcloths carefully over all the bruised and sore places. Keith paid special attention to the bite on Lance’s shoulder, cleaning it meticulously in the shower and bandaging it up afterwards. Before he did that, though, he ran back to the bedroom to retrieve something from his jeans’ pocket – a little bottle of Shiro’s salve, which he smeared over the bitemarks before covering them.

Lance watched him and said, “You were thinking about biting me again before tonight.”

Keith finished smoothing the bandage down and looked up at him, strangely shy. “How could I not?” he asked, quiet. “When you first asked me to…I don’t want to take advantage of you, Lance. I don’t want to use you.”

“I know that,” Lance said. “You’re not. Like you said, I asked.”

“You did,” Keith agreed. “But even then…it seemed wrong. And I didn’t know if…if I could trust myself to only take a little.”

“I taste that good, huh?” Lance asked.

Keith blushed. “Well, yes.”

A curl of hair fell over Keith’s eyes; Lance reached out and tucked it behind his ear. Keith blinked, tense, looking uncertainly at him. They were leaning against the bathroom counter, sharing one of the huge fluffy towels from the Holts’ cabinets. “Can I ask what my blood tastes like?” Lance asked, genuinely intrigued. “To you, I mean.”

Keith flushed darker. “It isn’t a taste like fruit or candy or anything like that. I…I don’t know that there are words to explain it, exactly.”

“Try,” Lance urged.

Keith’s gaze grew distant, and his lips settled into a faint, thoughtful frown. “You taste like…like sunshine on the sea, like waves rolling over warm sand; but there’s a storm in your blood too, a rush of wind and water and lightning.”

“And the sweetness?”

“The sweetness is the power,” Keith explained. “It’s dizzying, like a sugar rush.” He tentatively touched Lance’s face, let his thumb slide over Lance’s parted lips, reverent. “There’s a hurricane in your veins, Lance Espinosa.”

Lance smiled, and kissed his fingertip. “It’s yours, whenever you want it.”

Lance didn’t expect Keith to suddenly embrace him, arms tight around his middle and eyelashes brushing his cheek. “Treasures should not be given away so freely,” Keith whispered against his ear. Lance opened his mouth to object but Keith added wryly, “But I know it gives you pleasure, so I will do as you wish, and take the gifts offered to me. Though, you should know, I will also guard your hurricane – and you – fiercely.”

Lance stroked his hair. “You better. You’ve got a lotta competition.”

It was a joke, but Keith growled, and Lance shivered as fangs scraped ever-so-lightly over his jaw. “The Galra will not touch you,” he promised. “I won’t let them.”

Lance tipped his head up, encouraging the prickling path of Keith’s teeth. “That’s right,” he murmured, “I’m yours.”

Keith let out a huff against his neck. “Mine.”

“Mine,” Lance repeated softly, fingers curling around the back of Keith’s neck.

They stayed there like that, intertwined up against the bathroom sink, breathing in the warm clouds of steam from the shower and the salt-sharp scent of their skin mixed with soap, until Keith hummed and broke away, offering Lance his hand in a ridiculously formal gesture and saying, “I believe you requested cuddles?”

Trying to keep a straight face, Lance inclined his head, taking Keith’s hand. “Why yes, I believe I did. I propose we return to the bed.”

“I concur,” Keith said, mouth twitching. “I will join you in sweet repose and extensive canoodling at your word.”

“Let us depart,” Lance declared, twirling his way towards the door. He saw the clock on the hall wall and started. “Quick, before my colleagues return and are utterly scandalized!”

“That is not what a British accent sounds like,” Keith snorted, tugging him off to the bedroom. “At all. Also, Hunk and Pidge are your colleagues? What’s your profession? Being nosy?”

Grinning, Lance rubbed his nose against Keith’s face. Keith squawked with laughter. “The nosiest.” Keith tried to squirm away and Lance clung to him and they toppled off-balance, flopping down on the bed, giggling and breathless, tangled with the sheets.

“Should we get dressed, in case Pidge and Hunk do come home soon?” Keith asked after they’d stopped laughing.

Lance considered it, very, very briefly. Then he rolled half on-top of Keith, wiggling his hips and his eyebrows. “And waste this? Nahhh.”

“Lance! Sleeping!” Keith yelped.

“Rain check, then. Again.” Lance blew a raspberry into his shoulder and shifted until they were snuggled together in a less suggestive way. Keith sighed, throwing an arm around him and a blanket over them. “Are you really gonna sleep, even though it’s nighttime?” Lance asked, peering at him. Keith’s eyes were shut.

Keith cracked an eye open. “If you can manage to be quiet for five minutes, yes.”

Lance carded a hand through Keith’s hair. “You love how noisy I am.”

“Mm. True.” Keith yawned. “I am going to sleep, though. I’m tired. And you are very warm. It’ll probably just be a nap, but…I will stay even if I wake up, if that is what you’re worried about.”

“Good,” Lance murmured, draping an arm over Keith’s hip and closing his own eyes. “I’d be sad if I woke up without you.”

“I’m not leaving,” Keith assured him. “I’ll stay as long as you want me to.”

Stay forever, Lance thought hazily as he drifted off. Forever, forever.

Chapter Text

Apparently Shiro’s stress had reached a breaking point, because two days after Keith rocked Lance’s world, Keith cheerfully informed him that Shiro had evicted the Blade, the witches, and Nyma and Rolo from his home. The other vampires were now all holed up…somewhere. They were pretty hush-hush about it, but Lance liked to think of them all crammed into some random Airbnb, trying to drink blood and sneak out at night on the down low.

Lance had a feeling that Shiro hadn’t been the only one getting stressed out – Keith was a little too excited about the others leaving the house in the woods. So excited, in fact, that he invited Lance to stay the night. Pidge and Hunk, surprisingly, weren’t as opposed to it as Lance had expected. Then again, they probably preferred to have Keith and Lance doing the nasty somewhere far away from the Holt family guest bedroom.

Lance totally got that. But…he was a little apprehensive about doing anything with Keith under the roof Keith and Shiro had shared for so long. Even if Shiro had pretty much given Lance his blessing, he still didn’t exactly seem, uh, pleased with the situation. And Shiro was not someone Lance wanted to displease. Lance got even more nervous when Keith led him into the house only to find Shiro in the kitchen, chopping up tomatoes with almost vicious precision and a very large knife. He gulped.

Keith, apparently unfazed by this, sauntered casually over to Shiro and leaned against his side for a moment. “Thank you for helping. How’s the pasta coming along?”

“Almost done,” Shiro murmured, pausing in his tomato chopping for a brief moment to glance back at Lance. His gaze flickered to Lance’s shoulder for a moment, as if he could somehow see the new bandage under his shirt, before returning to the cutting board. “I hope you like Italian, Lance. Keith got carried away with the pasta at the grocery store, so now our cabinets are full of packaged pasta we are incapable of consuming.”

Keith shrugged, unapologetic. “There were so many fun shapes. Don’t lie, Shiro, you picked out that dinosaur macaroni.” Shiro grunted noncommittally and poured the chopped tomatoes into a bowl filled with spices and what looked like garlic, oh, the irony.

“You guys are making me dinner?” Lance managed, clutching subtly at the doorframe. “Even though you can’t eat it?”

“Cooking is entertaining for me nonetheless,” Shiro said mildly. “And yes, Keith wanted to make you a proper dinner.”

“But you’re helping,” Lance pointed out. Shiro’s ears looked a little pink, although maybe it was his imagination. “Thank you. I mean…wow. Wasn’t expecting this.”

“Good,” Keith said, beaming. “I like surprising you, Lance.”

Shiro mixed up the chopped tomatoes and nodded to Keith, who took out a sliced loaf of French bread from the oven. Lance had to sit down and just gape at them as they arranged the slices on a plate and neatly covered them with the tomatoes. “You can take the leftovers home with you,” Shiro said, placing the plate of bruschetta before him. “Or you could just leave them in the fridge. I’m sure you’ll be spending a fair amount of time here.”

“That’s just the appetizer while we wait for the pasta,” Keith told him brightly, rifling through the cabinet until he emerged victorious with a plate. It was fancy china, with faint golden designs embossed around the edges, and Lance idly wondered how much it would go for at an antique auction as he started eating the bruschetta. It was…it was really good, actually. He wondered if the vampires had been practicing their cooking skills.

They were both looking at him with cocked heads, expectant. “Well?” Shiro asked. “How is it?”

“Really good,” Lance said through a mouthful of tomato and olive oil. “Awesome. Fantastic.”

Shiro raised an eyebrow. “So good you forgot how to chew?”

Lance rolled his eyes. “What is it with you vampires and the table manners thing? You guys really shouldn’t be talking when it comes to that.”

“Fair point,” Keith said.

“Etiquette is still important,” Shiro grumbled.

Lance made a big show of chewing and swallowing. “There,” he said with a flourish. “The bruschetta was simply marvelous, Shiro, you have my utmost gratitude.”

Shiro smiled slightly, before it fell away completely. He sighed and turned back towards the counter. Keith touched his arm and leaned in, saying something to him that Lance couldn’t hear. Whatever it was, Shiro nodded, squeezed the back of Keith’s neck, inclined his head to Lance with a soft, “Enjoy your meal,” and slipped out the front door.

Lance watched him go with dismay. “What’d I do?” he asked.

Keith shook his head. “Nothing,” he said. “Shiro just wanted to give us space. Give you space, especially. He could tell how nervous you were with him around – we both could.”

Lance blinked. “Nervous? I…”

“It’s alright,” Keith said. “I know I’m not particularly intimidating at vampires go, whereas Shiro is…very much so. Or he comes off that way to those who don’t know him well. He’s really quite gentle, despite appearances. But you haven’t been around him long enough to get used to him, so –”

“What’re you talking about?” Lance exclaimed. “Shiro thinks I’m scared of him?”

“You are,” Keith countered, peering at him with confusion. “Your heart rate goes up and you shy away whenever he comes near. If not fear, then what?”

Attraction, Lance didn’t say. “Oh,” he said instead, staring down at his plate, the bruschetta tasting suddenly like sawdust in his mouth. “I guess you found me out. But I’m not scared, exactly. I just feel like…he doesn’t like me being with you.”

Keith frowned, brows drawing together. “Please don’t worry about that. Shiro and I trust each other deeply, and we have a mutual agreement about all…this.” He sighed. “I won’t lie and say that it’s an ideal arrangement, but it works, I suppose. Anyway, Shiro has no hard feelings towards you, Lance, none at all. In fact, he…” Keith stopped, and turned back to the noodles hastily. “Ah, would you look at that, the pasta’s done.”

“Hit me up,” Lance said, but for the rest of dinner he wondered what Keith had been going to say. Wondered, and hoped, though he knew it was a longshot.

*

After dinner, the two of them went upstairs and, unsurprisingly, into Keith’s bedroom.

“Right to it, then?” Lance laughed as the door shut behind them.

Keith dragged his thumb over Lance’s lips, making him shiver. “I made you dinner,” he retorted. “Romance isn’t dead yet.” He smirked. “Besides…I don’t think you’ll be complaining.”

“No?” Lance asked, letting Keith hook a finger into the collar of his T-shirt and back them up towards the bed. “Do tell, bat boy.”

Keith let the bed hit the backs of his thighs and fell down onto it, Lance landing heavily on top of him. “Remember that rain check you promised?” he asked, lips still curling.

It took a second, but when Lance’s brain processed what Keith was talking about, it short-circuited all over again. “You’re…I’m fucking you?”

“Mhm,” Keith murmured, dragging himself up the bed ‘til he was sitting up against the pillows with Lance sprawled awkwardly between his spread legs. “If you’d like.”

“If I’d like – Jesus, Keith, are you even real?” Lance stammered.

“I don’t know, am I?” Keith chuckled, rolling smoothly onto his stomach, legs still spread and ass lifted slightly, looking back at Lance over his shoulder. “You tell me, Lance.”

After hastily tucking the crystal into his pocket, Lance reached out, and ran his hand down the curve of Keith’s spine, wondering, hardly believing that Keith was allowing him this. He was doing more than just allowing it, though – his spine curved further under Lance’s palms, inviting, and he made a low, pleased sound when Lance palmed over his ass, squeezing and coaxing his legs farther apart.

“Feels pretty real to me,” Lance mumbled, and Keith laughed, indulgent, stretching his arms out until his hands were gripping the headboard. With some confusion, Lance noted that the headboard had many thin, barely-noticeable scratches scoured deep in the wood. What had Keith been doing in here?

Keith distracted him from that train of thought by pulling his shirt off and over his head, discarding it on the ground and starting on his jeans. Lance hurried to keep up, and by the time he was down to his boxers, Keith had already stripped, and was looking back at him impatiently with a bottle of lube in his hand. Lance huffed and kicked his boxers off. “Sorry we don’t all have vampiric speed.”

“Hmph.” Keith tilted his head at him. “Do you want me to prepare myself or do you want to?”

Lance made a strangled sound. “Uh,” he managed. “I – can you start, and then I’ll…”

Keith nodded, and uncapped the bottle, pouring lube over his fingers and reaching under himself. He didn’t start right away – he was stroking his cock first, making quietly pleased humming sounds and letting his head bow against the pillows as he knelt on the bed, twisting his wrist and Lance could just barely see the movements of his fist and the swell of his balls from where he was sitting behind Keith, and it was maddening.

Lance gripped his own cock tightly and said through gritted teeth, “Keith, c’mon.”

Keith pouted at him over his shoulder. “You said I could start,” he pointed out, voice dripping with false sweetness.

“Yeah, start fingering yourself, not teasing me,” Lance retorted, though it came out less authoritative and more desperate than he would’ve liked.

“Oh, fine,” Keith said, and pressed two fingers into himself with shocking ease. Lance’s breath caught. Keith arched, languid as ever, widening the stance of his legs until Lance could see him opening himself up, could see the lube dripping down from where his fingers slid in and out of his hole. “Ahh,” Keith murmured, face pressing into the pillow again, ass in the air, fingers curling and stretching himself with loud squelching noises that made Lance’s face hot. “Well? Are you just going to stare, Lance?” he asked, voice slightly muffled.

Lance swallowed and shuffled closer, grabbing the lube and lightly pressing his forefinger against Keith’s slick rim. Sensing his hesitance, Keith withdrew his own fingers first and waited, sighing when Lance finally pushed two fingers in. Oh, man, Lance was so not ready for this, but at the same time he felt like he was gonna die if he had to wait any longer. Keith was so, so tight around his fingers, warm and giving with little resistance when he pressed deeper. “Keith – you need to tell me if I do anything – I don’t want to accidentally –”

Keith made a soft sound and glanced back at him. “You’re not going to hurt me, Lance, don’t worry.”

Lance wet his lips. “But you’ll tell me,” he said.

“I’ll tell you,” Keith promised, mouth lifting fondly. “Lance. Don’t worry.”

“Okay,” Lance said. He added a third finger and Keith moved back into it, which was so many different levels of hot, Lance couldn’t even find enough words to describe it. Still stretching him open slowly, Lance draped himself over Keith’s back to kiss the knobs of his spine and the smooth muscles of his shoulders. Keith liked this, if his slight squirming and low purring was anything to go by. “Tell me when,” Lance mumbled, brushing Keith’s hair away from the nape of his neck and kissing the white, unmarked skin there.

Keith jerked a little when his lips touched it, seemingly startled, before relaxing into the sheets again. “Now,” he said, turning his head so Lance could see the outline of his profile through wavy black locks, the gold gleam of his eyes under dark lashes.

“You sure?” Keith still felt really tight. Lance was getting anxious again.

In reply, Keith growled at him. “Yes.

“Okay, okay!” Lance exclaimed, taking his fingers out and his cock in hand, carefully lining up and biting his lip as he spread Keith open with his thumbs and pressed in. Keith moved back helpfully, and Lance almost inhaled his tongue at the sight of his cock sinking into Keith’s body, so dark against the paleness of Keith’s ass. “Oh, fuck. Keith – you’re –”

Keith moaned into the pillow, hands on the headboard slipping a little with an unpleasant scratching sound like nails on a chalkboard. Lance didn’t understand until he saw Keith’s claws were out, and that probably shouldn’t have been hot, but, well, Lance’s dick apparently didn’t get that message. Lance’s dick wasn’t getting a lot of important messages, lately.

“Are the claws a good thing or a bad thing?” Lance gasped, hands cupping Keith’s hips and eyes glued to his flexing hands, watching the claws sink into the wood, mesmerized.

Keith laughed breathlessly. “Right now? Good thing. Very good thing.”

“Huh,” Lance mused, grinning. “How good?”

“Better if you were actually fucking me,” Keith retorted, rolling his hips encouragingly. “Don’t have to wait.”

“What if I want to wait,” Lance said, fingers sliding up and over Keith’s waist and ribs, buried fully inside him and not moving an inch. It was a struggle to stay still, Keith felt so good, but it was worth it for the way Keith growled and scratched at the wood again, bucking back to try to spur Lance into action, unsuccessfully.

“Lance,” he grumbled, eyes narrowing.

“Whaaat?” Lance asked innocently, kissing the nape of his neck again and, in a moment of daring, pushed his palm against Keith’s lower back, forcing him to stay down. Keith wriggled under him, and Lance saw his ears were shifting too, lengthening to points and pinning back against his head. “You’re not very patient, are you,” Lance noted.

Keith growled louder and twisted harder. “I’m giving you ten seconds,” he warned.

“Before what?” Lance asked, amused.

“Ten, nine, eight –”

“Ooh, I’m so scared –”

“Seven, six, fivefourthreetwoone,” Keith said in a single breath, and surged up against him, sending Lance toppling back with a yelp as the vampire straddled his lap, still facing the headboard and bracing himself on it, and fucked down hard onto Lance’s dick. All the air left Lance’s lungs in a helpless groan. Keith hissed in satisfaction and shoved back again and again, using the headboard as leverage to fuck himself on Lance’s cock, carajo, he really wasn’t messing around.

Barely sitting up, Lance stared up at him, face burning. “Did you really just –”

“Did you honestly think I was just going to lay there and wait at your leisure,” Keith retorted, voice uneven, thighs flexing as he sank down again and moaned appreciatively when Lance thrust up, trying to find a rhythm with him. It was difficult when Keith kept distracting him with his inhuman hotness.

Literally, inhuman, he was still ruining the headboard and occasionally making growly sounds, especially when Lance found a grip on his waist and dug his fingers in hard enough to leave bruises, mouthing at Keith’s shoulder, a mirror of where Keith had bitten him. Keith must have been thinking the same thing, because when Lance’s teeth scraped over his skin, Keith arched into him, head falling back onto Lance’s unbitten shoulder and chest. As soon as Lance saw the sinful curve of his body and the bob of Keith’s cock against his belly, he knew this wasn’t gonna last.

“Keith,” he groaned, nuzzling into Keith’s hair and giving it a tug, just because he knew it would make Keith whine and arch into him even more. “I’m sorry, but I can’t – I’m gonna come in, like, thirty seconds.”

“Twenty,” Keith said, lashes fluttering.

“W-what?”

“You’re gonna come in twenty seconds or less if I have anything to say about it,” Keith retorted, and rocked insistently against him, friction building, the feeling of Keith tightening around him almost sending him over the edge. But what actually did it was the way Keith’s head tipped drunkenly towards his, face a blur of ecstasy; their lips meeting sloppily, Lance’s hand pulling tight in Keith’s hair and Keith’s whimper just barely slipping out, filthy and needy like the way he was moving on Lance’s cock.

Lance clutched Keith’s waist and came with a curse, feeling wrung-out and hazy with bliss, but also feeling kinda guilty because Keith hadn’t come yet. He held Keith still through it, and Keith let him, shuddering and jerking himself off with frantic half-strokes. Keith also let Lance roll them over as he pulled out, petting Lance’s face with his free hand, slumping back and writhing on the sheets when Lance covered Keith’s hand with his own.

“What d’you want me to do for you?” Lance whispered, stroking Keith’s hair out of his face.

Keith shook his head. “You don’t need to –”

“How do you feel about biting me again?” Lance asked, raising an eyebrow. “You did say you thought you’d come if you had more of my blood.”

“Lance,” Keith breathed, overwhelmed, pupils dilating hugely and claws sharpening against Lance’s back.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes, please,’” Lance said smugly, and covered Keith’s body with his own, offering him the side of his neck. Keith made a broken sound, cock trapped between their stomachs, and licked at the place Lance had presented to him, trembling, but seeming determined to cover his neck in kisses before sinking his fangs into it. Lance groaned when he did, but it was in pleasure, not pain – though there was a bit of that, too. But Lance wasn’t complaining. Keith was being careful, and Lance barely bled, so he must have avoided any major veins.

Keith moaned and lapped messily at the marks, claws scratching lightly through Lance’s hair and hips grinding shallowly against him. Already relaxed from his orgasm, Lance just mumbled in acquiescence and snuggled closer to Keith as he fed, sighing in equal parts relief and disappointment when Keith suddenly jerked hard and came in a splash of heat against him. Keith pulled away immediately, panting, blood dripping from the corners of his mouth and smeared on his chin. Lance shot him a dopey smile which Keith echoed.

“I have great ideas, huh?” Lance mumbled, wiping his thumb over Keith’s messy face. “Y’got some…kinda all over, nice going, bat boy.” He yawned. “Shiro would be lecturing you about etiquette right now, I bet.”

Keith snorted, stretching sinuously on the bed. “Somehow I doubt that.” He looked up at Lance and sighed happily. “You tasted a bit like tomatoes, this time. I suppose from the marinara sauce and bruschetta,” he added. “Almost like tomato soup.”

It took Lance a second to understand why that was so exciting for Keith, but then he remembered. “Really? I thought you said blood doesn’t taste like tomato soup!”

“It doesn’t,” Keith chuckled. “But there was a definite hint of tomato. Under all that hurricane, anyway.”

“Yum,” Lance said. “Hurricane tomatoes.”

Keith sat up, shaking his head in amusement. “Let’s get that bandaged up, mm?”

Lance nodded and winced slightly. “Ugh, yeah. Y’know, the biting is cool when it’s happening, but afterwards…less great.”

Keith gave him a sympathetic kiss on the cheek before realizing that there was still blood on his lips. “Oh, shit, sorry,” he said, trying to keep a straight face and failing.

When they made their way to the bathroom, Lance peered at it in the mirror. “Looks like a lipstick mark, actually. Cute. Maybe I’ll keep it,” he joked.

“And you call me gross,” Keith said, handing him a clean washcloth. “Besides, best not to keep blood like yours out on display.”

“Getting a bit selfish, are we?” Lance asked, though he wiped the blood off his cheek and dabbed the cloth lightly over the bite marks.

“No,” Keith said, defensive. “But, I mean, you don’t want anyone else biting you…right? Or do you?”

Lance squinted at him in the mirror. “What’re you on about, Keith?”

Keith shrugged, continuing to clean himself up and not making eye contact. “Nevermind. I was just wondering, is all.”

“About what?”

“I said nevermind,” Keith repeated, shoulders slightly slumped. “I had a thought and I was wrong, that’s all.” He cleared his throat and tossed the washcloth in the laundry bin. “Anyway, stop rubbing at that wound and let me help you clean it properly, alright?”

“I wasn’t rubbing it,” Lance protested, but he let his hands fall to his sides as Keith got a bandage from the medicine cabinet along with, surprise, surprise, a bottle of Shiro’s salve. Lance tilted his head as Keith cleaned and bandaged it, only for the vampire to pause, brow furrowing as he stared at Lance’s neck. “What’s wrong?” Lance asked worriedly.

“No, it’s nothing, just…” Keith peered closer and pressed his fingertips to where he’d first bitten Lance. “The wound is completely healed. It’s…it’s gone. How…?”

“Well, yeah, Shiro’s salve does that –”

“No, it doesn’t,” Keith countered, looking bewildered. “It just prevents scarring and helps the wound heal better, but not this fast.” His frown deepened. “Wait, let me see the one on your shoulder.”

“Keith, that was two days ago, obviously it’s just going to be scabbed over –”

But Keith peeled the bandage off and, impossibly, the only thing that remained of the bite was a pair of faint pink dots. They stared at each other in the mirror with matching expressions of disbelief.

“No way,” Lance breathed. “No fuckin’ way, dude, how the actual…does your spit have healing powers or something?!”

“No!” Keith exclaimed, clearly as freaked out about this as he was. “This is not a vampire thing, Lance! I…I think this is a you thing!”

“How could it be a me thing?!” Lance retorted. “I broke my leg in third grade and it sure as hell took its sweet time healing!”

“Bites and broken bones are very different wounds,” Keith pointed out. “What about paper cuts; do your paper cuts heal abnormally fast?”

“Keith, I think if I had a regenerative healing factor, my doctor would’ve said something by now!”

“You did recover faster than expected when I bit you the first time,” Keith mused, gaze distant. “Maybe for some reason, the healing factor is only triggered from vampire bites?”

The crystal hummed. Even though it was in Lance’s jeans pocket in the bedroom, he could feel it, and he knew Keith was right. Lance swallowed. “Yeah,” he said. “Maybe. In which case, that’s super convenient for us, right?”

“I suppose,” Keith said, eyes troubled. “Hmm. Maybe Shiro knows something about this.”

“How? Has he ever mentioned humans like me before?”

Keith chewed his lip, thoughtful. “Maybe you should talk to him about it.”

“You think so?”

“Yes,” Keith said. “Yes, he’d appreciate you coming to him directly rather than me playing liaison. If you’re okay with that, that is –”

“Of course I’m okay with talking to Shiro,” Lance said. “Jeez, he’s not that scary. Hard to be that afraid of anyone after snuggling with their giant panther form.”

“Wait, what?” Keith said, eyes widening. “You did what?”

“It was an accident,” Lance said, embarrassed. “I was still tired and I kinda fell asleep on him while he was napping. Total accident. Please don’t bring it up to him, if he hasn’t told you he’s probably embarrassed about it too.”

“Right…” Keith said, his tone strange. “My lips are sealed.”

Lance smoothed the fresh bandage down. “So…what did you have planned for the rest of the night, bat boy? Anything special?”

“Um,” Keith said, flushing lightly. “I think it’s easier if I just…show you. Hopefully you won’t think it’s too…creepy.”

Lance blinked. “Wow, Keith, what a great lead-in.”

“Sorry. It’s not that bad. Probably. You know what? Just, follow me, alright?”

“Are we going into the basement or something?” Lance asked as Keith opened the bathroom door and grabbed some clothes from the bedroom, tugging on sweatpants and tossing a pair at Lance, who gratefully took them instead of his jeans.

“No. It’s definitely not that creepy,” Keith said. “The only thing in the basement is a fridge full of blood and some medical supplies, for future reference.”

“You sure you guys don’t have an ancient crypt under there?”

“Pretty sure,” Keith snorted. “But it’s an old house. Shiro’s estate used to stand in this house’s place, and it was much more…”

“Creepy?” Lance suggested.

“I was going to say stately,” Keith said as he walked down the hall. “But it was a little creepy, too.”

“So…what happened to it? The estate?”

“We tore some of it down, kept the parts we liked, ended up with this house,” Keith explained. “We had to keep a lower profile during the Great War – I only lived in that estate for a decade or so.” He opened a door, the door to his studio, and Lance’s interest piqued. “Here we are.”

“Wait a second,” Lance said, turning to him with wide eyes, “did you…did you draw me?!”

“Kind of,” Keith mumbled. “Yes?” He shuffled in place and hunched his shoulders. “They’re not very good, because they’re just from memory, but –" He hesitantly crossed the room and handed Lance an expensive-looking black leather sketchbook. “I thought it’d be better for you to see them instead of me just hoarding them to myself like a complete creep.”

“Keith,” Lance said as he opened the book and blinked at the first page. “This is a sketch of Shiro, not me.” Not just any Shiro, either – a view of Shiro from behind, shirtless and stretching, the muscles of his back and the scars there thrown into sharp relief, face turned just enough to see the shadow of a smile. Lance kept blinking at it. He held it up to Keith, eyebrow raised.

But Keith’s expression didn’t change. “Yes, sorry,” he said casually. “There are a lot of other sketches in there, the ones of you are towards the end.”

Okay, so Keith wasn’t going to address the pin-up Shiro on the first page of his sketchbook. Fine. Lance flipped to the second page, and that was Shiro too, though it was just his face, peaceful and eyes closed. Keith smiled. “He’s very serene when he’s asleep. Usually.”

“You draw Shiro a lot, don’t you,” Lance said.

“Of course,” Keith said. “He’s an artist’s dream – I wish I could sculpt, that would do him more justice than charcoal and pencils. But I get too impatient to make that work. Ah, well.”

“Has he…seen all of this?” Lance asked, flipping to the next page and almost dropping the book – it was just Shiro’s face again, but he was smirking, white hair falling into his face in a fluffy mess, brows arched playfully. And Lance was pretty damn sure that was a bite mark on his neck.

“Yes, of course,” Keith said. “I don’t hide anything from him. Not after this long.”

Lance hastily flipped through the pages and caught several flashes of more half-naked Shiro – and possibly one fully-naked Shiro, which he resolutely did not look at – before he found a sketch of his own face. The lines were loose and light, as if Keith had been unsure how exactly to draw him, but it looked startlingly like himself. He was smiling – no, laughing, and Keith had gotten those lines exactly right.

“I drew that quite soon after meeting you,” Keith admitted. “Within the first week, anyway.”

“I thought you were mad at me, then.”

“I was,” Keith said. “But I still couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

The next page was Lance running, legs forever caught in a long, sprinting stride, grinning at something over his shoulder. Then Lance walking Gunther, looking up at the treetops. Then Lance on a clifftop by the sea, hands in his pockets, and dozens of other doodles…as Lance flipped through the pages, a lump grew in his throat. “Keith…this is…” Then he stopped. The last page was him sprawled out on a bed, all messy long limbs and smudged-dark skin, the sheets thrown over him enough to, uh, cover things. Not very well, though. Lance flushed. “I do not look like that,” he said, choked.

“Like what?” Keith asked, tucking his chin over Lance’s shoulder. “Provocative? Alluring? Yes, you do.”

“Pfff,” Lance said, shrugging him off. “This,” he tapped the page, “is your dream Lance. Real Lance isn’t even close.”

“No,” Keith agreed, brushing a kiss to the side of his neck. “Real Lance is much better.”

“You charmer, you,” Lance murmured, turning to kiss him properly. Keith hummed happily.

When they broke apart he said, “I’d like to draw you now, properly, if you’re alright with that.”

Lance barked out a startled laugh. “What, you wanna draw me like one of your French girls?”

Keith’s face broke into a grin. “I understand that reference!” he exclaimed. “Shiro and I saw Titanic in the theatre together, when it was released. We had to, there was such a buzz about it.”

“Really?” Lance said. “Isn’t it, like, three hours long?”

“Yeah,” Keith chuckled. “But it was easy to sit through after the Paris Opera. I can’t tell you how many times I fell asleep on Shiro’s shoulder. Awful manners, that. Then again, he was always better with that sort of thing than me.”

“When did you go to the Paris Opera?” Lance asked.

“Oh, we went on a little tour of Europe in my second decade with Shiro,” Keith said. “After the Great War. All the young American men were flocking to Europe back then; it was easy to blend into the crowd. The Lost Generation, people called them – overly fond of drinking and dancing to pass the time, utterly numb inside. Haunted, I suppose.”

“By the War?”

“By the War,” Keith said. “Sometimes, I think about how if I hadn’t died, if Shiro hadn’t turned me, I would’ve volunteered to fight with them. That’s exactly the sort of thing I would’ve done, when I was young and impulsive and desperate to make my mark in the world.” He snorted. “I would’ve made my mark, alright. As a corpse in a Verdun trench.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” Lance whispered. “That would’ve been a waste. And I never would have met you.”

“Perhaps we would have, somehow,” Keith said. “I find that time is a tricky thing, and the people you meet throughout it, even more so. Sometimes, I think the eras blur a little. Old faces become new ones.” He cupped Lance’s cheek. “And yours seems like one I’ve known well for much longer than a single summer.”

Lance looked at him, searching. “Do I remind you of him?” he asked. “Of Henry? You said he had blue eyes.”

“Yes,” Keith said quietly, after a beat. “Yes, he did. Blue as the ocean, like yours. He smiled a lot, too. Made me feel so gloomy in comparison.”

Lance smiled as he said it. “You’re not gloomy,” he said. “See, you make me smile, bat boy.”

“And you make me ramble about darker days,” Keith said, shaking his head. “Back to the matter at hand – I’d like to draw just your face today, but if you’re willing to pose like a French girl another time, I certainly won’t stop you.”

Lance raised an eyebrow. “Rain check?”

Keith smirked. “Count on it.”

*

Keith certainly took his sweet time sketching Lance, so long that by the end of it Lance was dozing off as Keith shaded him in with pastels, a soft scritch-scratch rasp against the paper that lulled Lance further into sleep. He did keep his eyes open long enough to see the finished drawing and give Keith a kiss on the cheek. It was a beautiful drawing, much more beautiful than the subject it was based upon, but Lance knew Keith would be sad if he said something like that.

So instead he said, “I like the eyes. They almost look like they’re glowing.”

Keith nodded, pleased. “Sometimes yours do, too. Trick of the light, but it’s lovely.”

“Lovely,” Lance repeated. “You and your old-fashioned flattery.”

“You are lovely,” Keith murmured, as he tucked the drawing away and helped Lance walk back to the bed. Lance yawned and slumped into him. “I think your sleepiness is infectious. It’s hardly an hour past midnight and even my eyelids are a little heavy.”

“I tired you out, huh,” Lance chuckled, nuzzling into his hair as they stumbled into the bedroom. “Sleep with me, yeah?”

“As long as there are snuggles,” Keith promised.

There were many snuggles.

*

Lance woke up before dawn to the sound of piano music.

It was soft, sad; drifting up through the house like a mourner’s lament, haunting and heart wrenching in its beauty. For a moment Lance just lay there, listening to the clear notes filling the night with a sense of wonder, until he realized who must be playing them.

“Shiro,” he whispered, and he swore the notes paused for half a second before continuing as smoothly as before.

Lance rolled onto his side. Keith was still asleep, one hand resting on Lance’s chest, face hidden by his mop of black hair. Lance sat up carefully, and slipped out of bed, the wood floor cold on his bare feet. Something glinted a few feet away, and when Lance knelt he saw it was the crystal, glowing faintly from his jeans pocket. After a moment’s hesitation he picked it up and looped the cord around his neck before walking out of the room and down the hall, following the music.

The crystal continued to glow, guiding his way through the darkness and down the stairs. He willed its light to flicker out as he rounded the corner into the parlor and found Shiro sitting at the piano, playing his tragic, beautiful music. For a while Lance just stood there, watching the carefully measured way his fingers danced over the keys, ivory on ivory, his head bowed and eyes half-lidded gold.

Then he took a step forward and Shiro faltered, stiffening, fingers hovering just over the keys as he turned to look at Lance. His brows drew together and his nostrils flared slightly. With some mortification, Lance wondered what exactly Shiro could smell on his skin.

“I’m sorry,” Shiro murmured. “Did I wake you?”

“No, no, don’t apologize,” Lance said hastily. “Or stop playing. It’s beautiful.”

Slowly, Shiro’s fingers lowered to the keys again, and he continued playing, though he looked at Lance’s face and not the piano. “Thank you,” he said. “It’s Chopin’s Nocturne, Opus 9. It’s one of my favorites.”

“Nocturne,” Lance repeated. “Fitting.”

“Yes,” Shiro said, lips quirking. “Nocturnes are meant to be played at night.” He stopped playing and tilted his head. “Do you play, Lance?”

“Uh, I can play the first ten seconds of Fur Elise?” Lance said.

“Ah, a classic.” Shiro smiled. “Would you like me to fill in the blanks for you?” He shifted to the side of the piano bench. Lance blinked, and then walked to it, sitting down on the small bench and realizing they were so close that their sides touched, and their hands brushed together when Lance lifted his uncertainly to the keys.

“I’m not very good,” Lance warned.

“I had a century to learn,” Shiro countered, tone light. “Don’t worry.”

Lance played what he remembered, halting and clumsy, until Shiro made a quiet, encouraging sound and Lance found the notes suddenly flowed a little easier than before. Lance didn’t play it artfully, not like Shiro, but it was perhaps the best first ten seconds of Fur Elise he’d played in memory nonetheless.

In the silence that followed, Lance mumbled, “I did warn you.”

Shiro smiled and shook his head. “You’re better than Keith,” he told Lance. “Keith refuses to go within ten feet of a piano – prefers his paints and canvases. At least you’re willing to learn.”

“Are you willing to teach?” Lance blurted.

Shiro blinked, his eyes flickering as if there was candlelight trapped behind his gray irises, bright and burning. Then he took Lance’s wrist, moving his hand to the center of the keyboard and spreading his fingers apart, placing them on the correct keys. Lance kept very still, hyperaware of Shiro’s touch and of how careful it was – he kept his grip loose, nonthreatening, easy to break, and he moved Lance’s fingers with more suggestion of direction than actual force. More notes filled the air as Shiro guided his hand, slow, but more confident than his previous playing.

“Like that, good,” Shiro said. “You have a good grasp on the first part, but that’s the easy part. The piece becomes more complex when the tempo increases, and the arpeggios appear.”

“What’s an arpeggio?”

“Basically, a scale,” Shiro said. “Like this.” Still holding Lance’s wrist with his left hand, his right hand danced over the keys, nimble and practiced, and okay fine, it was a scale, from low to high, but it was impossibly fancy and fast and there was no way Lance could do that.

Shiro was saying something else, but Lance was distracted by his hands – Shiro’s hands could almost be called delicate, if not for their size. Pale, neat nails and elegant fingers, smooth palms and slender wrists, tendons trailing from knuckles to forearm just below the surface of his skin, flexing with the rhythm of the music.

“Lance.”

Lance looked up at him guiltily. “Yes. Sorry, what?”

“You must be tired,” Shiro sighed. “I realize four in the morning is not an ideal time for a piano lesson. You should go back to sleep –”

“No, I wanted to talk to you, actually,” Lance interrupted. Shiro’s eyes widened. “Or, well, Keith said I should talk to you.”

“About?”

“So, apparently I have…” Lance scratched his head sheepishly. “I dunno how to say this. Keith kind of…has been biting me? Again. Just a little bit. With full permission.”

Shiro’s face said that he already knew this, and wasn’t particularly pleased about it, and was also waiting for Lance to get to the damn point. Lance gulped.

“And, I – well, we were putting a bandage on the new one, and Keith noticed that the marks from when he bit me the first time – they’re gone. Totally gone.” Lance watched Shiro’s eyes narrow and hurried on nervously. “But, what’s even weirder, and what’s kind of freaking both of us out majorly, is that the second bitemark, from a few days ago? It’s gone, too.”

“Gone?” Shiro repeated, exasperation replaced by bafflement. “Surely not entirely –”

“Not totally, but look,” Lance said, pulling his T-shirt collar over his shoulder and pointing to the faint pink marks there. Shiro blanched and tugged Lance’s shirt back up, the silver cord catching on his thumb in the sudden movement and making him draw away with a sharp, pained inhale, the flesh blistering briefly before slowly beginning to fade away.

“I’m sorry!” Lance yelped. “I didn’t mean –”

“It’s fine,” Shiro gritted out. “It’s just. Not wise to show off such marks.”

“To…to you?”

Shiro regarded him seriously. “I am not the one who wants to cover you in my marks and make you my thrall, Lance,” he replied. “Just know that Lotor would not take kindly to the discovery that what he covets has already been claimed by another.”

Claimed? Whoa, whoa, it’s just a couple of bites –”

“There is no ‘just’ about them,” Shiro said firmly. “You forget that I know Keith’s history full well. I know he told you a part of it, too, and I know he would not simply bite you on a whim. It was more than ‘just’ a bite, Lance.” He tilted his head, and the darkness seemed suddenly intimate, the shadows bringing them closer on the small piano bench. “You are not a foolish boy. Don’t act like one.”

“I think I must be foolish,” Lance whispered, looking up at him, “to have fallen for a vampire.”

“No,” Shiro said. “If you were foolish, you would have taken off that crystal. If you were foolish, you would be dead by now, or worse.”

“I don’t think so,” Lance said. “I don’t think you would let that happen to me.”

“As we both know all too well, there are limits to my protection,” Shiro said.

“Is that a no?” Lance leaned subtly closer, and the light flared in Shiro’s eyes.

“It should be a no,” Shiro replied. “But I find it awfully hard to say no to anything involving you, Lance. Even if it is to my own detriment.”

Lance paused. Frowned, disbelieving, but hoping even still. Shifted closer. “Shiro –”

“Even now,” Shiro murmured. “Lance, Lance…what have you done to me? I wonder…”

Lance’s eyes fluttered closed. He felt Shiro’s breath on his lips. Felt the pound of his heart in his chest. Let his lips part –

Shiro’s hand fell upon his, still resting on the keys, and Lance jolted in surprise, sending a loud peal of clanging, discordant sound through the air and then Lance remembered Keith, asleep and blissfully unaware in his bed upstairs, and panic and guilt jolted through him and he fell off the piano bench, scrambling away.

“I – I can’t, what, I don’t –” Lance stuttered, getting to his feet unsteadily, unsure what had just happened. No, no, he was entirely sure of what had just happened – Shiro had just tried to kiss him. Shiro. Even while knowing what a betrayal to Keith that would be – he, of all people, should have known that.

Shiro sat stiffly on the bench, his face unreadable, cool and closed-off once more. “I apologize,” he said, toneless. “I mistook your fear for interest. It will not happen again.”

“Sh-shiro, why did you –”

“Go back to bed,” Shiro said, standing up, and this was an order, not a suggestion. “Let us both forget this by the morning. I think that would be best.”

“But – you –”

“As for your healing ability,” Shiro said curtly, “I have never seen such a phenomenon before, but whatever it is, I advise you not to test its limits.” His brow lowered. “Because I guarantee there are limits, and if you exceed them, there will be dire consequences. That is all.”

Lance stared at him, and because he was a coward, and did not know what else to do, he turned on his heel and ran back up the stairs and into Keith’s bed, where he curled up to his sleeping form and chanted silent, frantic apologies as he thought of how much he had wanted Shiro to kiss him.

How much he still wanted it.

*

In the morning, Keith was still asleep, and showed no signs of waking. There was no piano music either, just sunlight peeking in through the curtains. Lance had slept badly, but at least he’d managed to sleep in – the clock on the wall told him it was just past noon, which meant all the vampires in the vicinity should still be asleep. It was time to leave.

Lance took off the sweatpants and T-shirt Keith had lent him, and changed back into his clothes from last night. He wanted to take a shower, but not in this house, not here. He needed to get back to Pidge’s house. He needed…time away. Time to clear his head. Time to figure out the healing and the biting and the stubborn ache in his chest when he thought of Shiro. It was wrong. Shiro had been wrong for trying to kiss him, but he had said…Shiro must have heard Lance’s pulse speed up, and he’d assumed, correctly, that Lance wanted the kiss, too. But then when Lance had startled away, Shiro had interpreted it as fear instead –

Lance zipped up his jeans angrily and, casting one last look back at Keith huddled under the sheets, left the room. Why would Shiro think it was okay to do something like that? He and Keith trusted each other intimately; they had done nothing up to this point that would convince Lance otherwise…so why now? Why like this? And had Shiro confessed that he had feelings for Lance, too? Had that really happened; was that really what he’d meant by being unable to say no?

Lance worried at his bottom lip with his teeth as he started down the hall. Maybe…maybe things like this were different with vampires. Maybe Keith wouldn’t see Shiro kissing Lance as a betrayal of trust. But then what the hell would he see it as, if not that? A sign that Keith wasn’t enough for Lance? Which was terrible, obviously, and not true – Lance didn’t want to lose Keith, didn’t know what he’d do if he did. But. At the same time, apparently being with Keith wasn’t enough, because Lance still liked Shiro. And he didn’t know what to do.

For the first time, as he slowly walked down the hall towards the stairs, Lance looked at the photographs on the walls – really looked. Some were of just Shiro, others just Keith, but most of them were the two of them, together. The uncertainty and confusion swirling in Lance’s head only intensified as he scanned the pictures. There was one, very old and faded, with the two of them sitting stiffly on a sofa together, wearing formal attire – gentlemen’s hats and waistcoats, black trousers, shiny boots. Shiro’s hair was entirely black, and swept away from his brow, while Keith’s remained rebelliously longer, though not as long as it was now.

But what struck Lance was their subtle closeness – Shiro’s hand was on Keith’s knee and Keith’s arm was draped casually over Shiro’s shoulders, mostly hidden by the bulk of his frame. Subtle. But still there.

There were other pictures, less subtle ones, that did nothing to dispel Lance’s mounting unease. Arms draped over shoulders, heads angled close together, cheeks touching, resting on each other’s shoulders, hands entangled, eyes fixed on each other. Lance was coming to a realization. But it didn’t make sense. They’d never said anything about…this.

But maybe they hadn’t thought they had to? Maybe they thought it was obvious?

Lance wracked his memory for the signs he must have missed. Every little touch, every fleeting glance, every soft word between the two of them – could it really be more than just family?

Shiro was nowhere to be found when he went downstairs. Lance left a note on the table saying that he was spending the day with Hunk and Pidge. He hoped his writing didn’t look too shaky.

*

He didn’t tell Hunk and Pidge about his possible epiphany, because he really didn’t want to think about it right then. So instead the three of them drove into Redding to hang out at the mall, since Azula was finally back in commission.

They saw a movie and got free chocolate samples and not-so-free froyo and tried on ridiculous outfits and went up on the down escalators and had dinner in the food court and for an afternoon, everything was normal again. There were no vampires. There was no glowing from the crystal or Lance’s eyes. There were no talking ravens or alternate dimensions or thralls or old photographs or sad piano music or magical books. There was just Lance, Hunk, and Pidge.

You should’ve gone your whole life without knowing we even existed.

But somehow, Lance knew there had never been a “normal.” There could never be a normal, not when vampires seemed to flock to him like flies to honey, and when the occasional glow of his eyes wasn’t a trick of the light at all. It seemed inevitable, looking back.

But had Shiro and Keith been inevitable then, too?

Lance didn’t know, anymore.

*

That night, they were playing more Overwatch when Lance’s crystal began to thrum insistently under his shirt. As soon as the match was done Lance excused himself as casually as possible, claiming he needed to get some air and hurrying out the front door to sit on the porch and figure out what the hell was up, this time.

He yanked the crystal out into the air and it began to glow immediately, still vibrating slightly in his palm. Somehow, Lance knew what it was trying to tell him – he wasn’t alone out here. There was someone – something – watching.

Lance stood up hastily, squinting into the darkness, staying close to the door in case he needed to make a quick escape. “Hello?” he called. “I know you’re out there.”

Even if he did know, it was still a shock when a pair of yellow eyes flared in the darkness, and an even bigger shock when a large gray dog – nope, wolf, that was definitely a wolf – padded out of the shadows and up to the Holt’s front yard. Lance swore and clutched the crystal tightly, as if that would do any good. The wolf cocked its head, tail thumping against the sidewalk, and then with a shimmer of the air the wolf was shifting, and Thace was standing in its place.

“Lance,” he greeted. “Is something the matter?”

“You’re still watching the house?” Lance snapped. “Are Luxia and Ulaz out there, too?”

“It is just me, tonight,” Thace said calmly. “You sound upset, and Keith said you left in a hurry this morning. He and Shiro are worried about you.”

“So they sent you to babysit?”

Thace frowned. “No. Neither of them wish to infantilize you, Lance. But if something is wrong, you should talk to them instead of avoiding them.”

“Is that what they told you?” Lance folded his arms. “They won’t even talk to me about – about whatever it is that’s between them!”

Thace paused. He looked genuinely confused. “Er…are you referring to them being mates?”

Lance stared at him. “…Mates?”

“Yes,” Thace said cautiously. “I suppose humans would call it a marriage, but there was never an official ceremony or anything –”

“Shiro and Keith are married?!” Lance screeched. Seriously, it was probably the shrillest sound he’d ever made in his life.

Thace winced. “Lance, none of us thought this was new information to you – Shiro and Keith’s scents are so mingled they’re hardly interchangeable –”

“Yeah, well, how the fuck am I supposed to know that?” Lance retorted. “They never even kissed in front of me, and now you’re saying I was supposed to just know they were married?!”

“I understand why you’re upset –”

“Keith didn’t even think it might be a good idea to at least, I dunno, throw it out there before we started dating?” Lance hissed.

“I apologize,” Thace sighed. “Clearly we were all wrong in making assumptions that you knew. Vampires are not as prone to public displays of affection as humans, I suppose, and I can see how it would be easy for a human not to notice the marks they frequently leave on each other as a sign of their bond – and such marks do tend to heal quickly.”

“I can’t believe this,” Lance said. “And…and this, after what Shiro tried to do last night –”

Thace’s eyebrow went up.

“Damn it,” Lance growled, shaking his head and marching off the porch and down the street, towards the forest, phone flashlight on, muttering to himself. “There’s gotta be an explanation to this. Maybe they’re not really together, y’know, maybe it’s just like a close platonic relationship, yeah, that’s gotta be it.”

Thace hurried after him. “Lance, where are you going? You can’t be alone in the forest right now, it’s too dangerous – Lotor sent more scouts out, and –”

“If you wanna try to drag me back to the house kicking and screaming, be my guest,” Lance said over his shoulder. “I’m getting answers from Shiro and Keith right now.”

Thace shook his head. “Lance, I really think that is unwise –”

“Why, are they hunting?” Lance scoffed. “I don’t care. I still deserve an explanation.”

“I gave you an explanation!”

“And I don’t believe you!” Lance exclaimed, glaring at the vampire and pausing in his determined march. They were at the edge of the woods. Lance’s hands were curled into fists, and they were shaking. Thace was eying him as if he was a bomb liable to explode at any second.

“Lance…I realize this is a lot to take in, but neither of them intended to cause you pain.”

Lance looked away, mouth twisted. “You can let me go alone, or you can follow me to their house, I don’t care, but I’m going and you can’t stop me.”

Thace opened his mouth to protest, then huffed and shifted, until he was a wolf again, trotting a few paces behind Lance as he started off into the forest. It was annoying at first, but when an owl hooted in the distance and the trees grew thicker and closer together, underbrush tugging and scratching at his legs, Lance was grateful for the company. Grateful, except his blood was still boiling, and his head hurt as he wracked it for answers, as he tried to convince himself that Thace was wrong, had to be wrong.

But it made sense. The more he thought about it, it made sense, and that was the worst part.

The house loomed up in front of him after what felt like a long, long time. It was familiar, but in that moment it seemed foreboding, windows like glaring eyes and door shut tight, closing him out, keeping its secrets hidden within as it had done for centuries.

There was one light on upstairs, in Keith’s bedroom. Or was it actually Shiro and Keith’s bedroom? Come to think of it, Lance had never seen Shiro sleep. And the guest bedroom he’d stayed in while he was recovering had been clean, barren – not lived in. His gut twisted. Had it really been that obvious? Had he been so blind – so stupid – as not to see what was right in front of him?

Thace made a low, disconcerted whining noise. Lance turned to him briefly. “What?” he muttered. “You can’t convince me not to go in there, I already told you.”

Thace whined again, sniffing the air and recoiling slightly, ears pinning back, body lowering to the ground. It was a little alarming. He looked at Lance, yellow eyes bright with sympathy or irritation or both, and ran off into the forest with his tail between his legs. Well, then. Lance looked back at the house and started towards it.

The crystal flared to life around his neck, bright and warning. Danger! it trilled in his head, like a silent siren. Lance scowled down at it. “No,” he said. “It’s just Shiro and Keith. They may be assholes who can’t communicate, but they’re not dangerous to me.”

The crystal faded but continued to hum, as if sulking. Lance took it off and shoved it into his pocket in retaliation.

Anyway, Lance could discern a difference between the danger it was warning him about and actual danger, like a Galra chasing him through the woods. This danger was the danger of trespassing, of intruding, and it crackled in the air as he opened the door and stepped inside the house. There was powerful magic here, and though a part of Lance had always acknowledged its presence on some subconscious level, it was palpable now. Something had drawn it to the surface, made it impossible to ignore, so that it prickled at Lance’s skin and whispered into his ears, Get out, get out, get out.

But he didn’t. He refused to, and started up the stairs, even as the magic increased, energy swirling frantically around him, gathering in a kind of miasma at the end of the hall, at the bedroom. Lance got the impression that it could do more than just make his hair stand on end, but as he continued on down the hall, the magic parted to let him pass, instead of pushing him away. He didn’t know if it could even do that, but either way, he made it to the bedroom door unharmed.

There was a sound, faint and frantic, from within. The magic swelled in apparent response, swirling out from the crack under the door, and it felt different than the rest. The crystal felt as if it was burning a hole in its pocket, and then it stopped entirely, falling silent, abandoning him to his own poor life choices.

Lance pushed the door open…and froze. His jaw dropped and his hand slipped from the doorknob to hang limply at his side.

There was rarely a moment where Lance Espinosa was at a loss for words. But in that particular point in time, all Lance could do was make a strangled, squeaky sound that vaguely resembled “What?” and “Fuck!” jumbled together in a single indiscernible and utterly shocked syllable.

Because Keith was sitting on the bed, naked, back arching against the wall, with an equally naked Shiro kneeling between his spread legs, sucking his cock with great enthusiasm.

Chapter Text

Lance blinked a couple times to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. Pinched himself as hard as he could. But it was only when Keith’s yellow eyes flickered open and locked onto Lance’s before he threw back his head, moaned like a back-alley whore, and came down Shiro’s throat, that Lance knew there was no way he was making this up right now.

The sound of Shiro swallowing filled the room, wet and so loud it was obscene enough to make Lance flush, as if the scene before him hadn’t already turned him red as a tomato. Keith stroked Shiro’s hair, fingers tangling in his forelock and mixing up the strands of hair; white on black, black on white. Shiro nuzzled against Keith’s inner thigh in soft acquiescence.

Keith watched Lance lazily, lips curling and parting enough for his fangs to peek out. Lance was still frozen; and there was a strange sinking sensation in his gut that was both horrified confusion and undeniable arousal. The magic in the air wasn’t helping – it was overwhelming, flooding his senses and tingling across his skin like static electricity, and Lance knew this room, and the vampires within it, were its source.

His heart was pounding. He should leave. He should just turn around and get the hell away.

But he didn’t. He still couldn’t move, and though Keith had promised to never use his thrall on Lance, Lance swore there was an echo of it in his gaze then.

“Hello,” Keith said, perfectly casual and a little smug.

Shiro tensed and growled, turning halfway around to look at the intruder. Lance’s heart rate ratcheted up a few notches, and so did the magic in the room. He’d never seen Shiro look so much like…well, a vampire, but more than that, inhuman – his eyes were entirely yellow, pointed ears pinned back, clawed hands gripping Keith’s hips tightly, fangs bared and bloodied…and Lance didn’t understand until he saw the bite marks high on Keith’s hip, which were slowly oozing blood that looked almost black.

“Oh my god,” Lance whispered. “You – what –”

Shiro growled louder and made as if to lunge, but Keith wrapped a leg around Shiro’s neck and held him in place with it like a collar. Lance almost inhaled his tongue. At first glance, he’d assumed he knew who held more of the power in their relationship – Shiro was nearly twice as large as Keith and twice as old – but Lance was beginning to learn that, once given power, Keith did not easily relinquish it.

“Stay,” Keith said mildly, hand still in Shiro’s hair. Then, to Lance, “Apologies. He always gets riled up after feeding.”

“Always,” Lance repeated with disbelief. How often did they do this?!

“Mhm. He’s especially irritated because you interrupted us just before he was about to fuck me.”

Lance made another strangled sound.

“Are you alright?” Keith asked, brow furrowing, finally managing to look worried.

“Alright?!” Lance almost shrieked. Even Shiro looked startled. “No, I’m not alright! Jesus Christ, you guys! I went looking for my boyfriend – my boyfriend,” he added, pointedly, to Shiro, who frowned in bemusement, “only to find out from Thace that he’s basically married, not only to another guy, but another vampire, who is also one of my friends, and then walked in on him getting blown by said vampire; do you guys not see how fucked up this is –”

Keith faltered. Shiro tilted his head, yellow fading from his eyes. “I thought you knew,” Keith said, dismayed.

Lance threw up his hands. “What?! How was I supposed to know you guys do…do each other?”

“I didn’t think we were exactly subtle,” Keith said, but he sounded a little doubtful. Still frowning, Shiro got to his feet and so did Keith, both of them at least having enough thought to grab a blanket to cover themselves. But when Keith started towards Lance, Lance flinched back. Keith had the audacity to look hurt.

“You said you guys were like brothers,” Lance snapped.

“I said it was a complicated bond!” Keith retorted, looking a little panicky now, like the gravity of this situation was only just crashing down on him. “Lance, he’s – you have to understand, many sires and their progeny share similar bonds, and we have been together for over a century, caring for and protecting each other, it’s a symbiotic –”

“No, I understand just fine,” Lance interrupted, furious yet trying not to cry, taking another step back. “Thace explained it perfectly, apparently, even though I didn’t wanna believe him. You guys are mates, married, whatever. So, so what was I, then? Just a temporary distraction? A little fun on the side? A snack? Because we both know I’m not staying young and beautiful forever, not like you and Shiro –”

It was like a bomb dropped. Keith and Shiro’s expressions were instantly horrified. “Oh, no,” Shiro whispered. “No, no, Lance, it’s not like that at all.”

Lance folded his arms, lower lip trembling. “No? You don’t just pick whichever human is dumb enough to fall for you every few decades before discarding them, or, or killing them because what else are we good for –”

“Lance!” Keith exclaimed, and this time when he stepped forward Lance wasn’t fast enough to avoid him. Keith grabbed his wrist and he stared at him, shaking, feeling terribly off-balance. Keith reached out and touched his face, and Lance felt that he was shaking a little, too. “Lance, I’m so sorry. Please listen to me. You’re not a distraction. And there were no others.”

“Ha,” Lance said, choked. “You expect me to believe that? One hundred and eight years and you never seduced another idiot like me?”

“Never,” Keith said, quiet and serious. “And you’re not an idiot, Lance, stop it. You’re beautiful and clever and I love you.”

Lance ran out of words again. This was a new record.

“I’m sorry you found out like this,” Shiro added. He’d tugged on a proper pair of pants and stood awkwardly off to the side, just behind Keith. “But he’s telling the truth. I’ve only ever had feelings for Keith in the past, and though we never said we were exclusive, Keith tends to be…reserved with his affections. Until he met you, anyway.” Shiro smiled, soft and without a single hint of fangs.

Lance looked from Keith to Shiro and back again. “You’re…not exclusive. And…and you’re in love with me.”

“Yes,” Keith said. “And I would never – we would never – throw you away or treat you as somehow less because you’re human and we aren’t.” He stroked Lance’s cheek gently. “And I don’t see you as…as prey, or anything of the sort. You are my lover, as Shiro is my lover.” He tilted his head. “We were human once, too, Lance.”

Lance exhaled and leaned into his palm. “I love you too,” he whispered.

Shiro was still standing awkwardly, clearly trying to avoid looking at them and failing. Lance swallowed. Because yeah, he had fallen for Keith first, but…when he actually thought about it, his feelings for the two of them seemed to blur, equally deep in his affection for them both. He hadn’t stopped wanting Shiro when he got Keith, much as he’d tried to deny it, and forced himself to be satisfied. He hadn’t stopped imagining how it could be, how he wished it was, how he thought of kissing Shiro and snuggling with Shiro and letting Shiro do any number of things to him even as he knew, with all his heart, that he loved Keith too.

But Shiro had been there whenever Keith hadn’t. He had decided to trust a motley group of humans instead of murdering them where they stood; he had protected Lance, had rescued Lance, had helped nurse Lance back to health. He had been tender, and understanding, and patient, and apparently he had even trusted and cared for Lance enough to let him have Keith, who was the most important person in Shiro’s long, long life. Thinking about that did strange things to Lance’s heart, especially when he looked at the expression on Shiro’s face.

And, well, he was probably the hottest person – vampire – being – that Lance had ever seen, so there was that.

Keith followed his gaze, solemn expression turning slowly, smugly, delighted. “Lance?” he questioned, but he already knew.

“Um,” Lance said, face heating up again. “I...I don’t think it’s very fair to me and Shiro that you’re the only one who gets to have us both.”

The air was suddenly very heavy, and not just from magic. Shiro turned to look at him fully, eyes widening, lips parting. Keith’s stupid, satisfied smirk grew. “All you had to do was give him an invitation,” Keith said.

Lance snorted. “That was awful,” he cackled, shaking his head, laughing uncontrollably because come to think of it, this situation was just. Ridiculous. This was so ridiculous. But oh, okay, that was Shiro’s hand on the other side of his face, and his laughter dissolved into silence when Shiro tipped his head up and kissed him, tentative and chaste, as if uncertain whether Lance had been serious or not. He didn’t kiss like Keith – he kept his fangs hidden and his lips soft, though Lance could feel the firmness of his grip on Lance’s jaw, tightening when Lance kissed him back. Quiet dominance, Lance thought, nonsensically. Fire and ice.

Lance swayed a little when Shiro’s tongue joined in on the action, and reached out to steady himself on the closest thing, which happened to be Shiro’s bare chest. Shiro’s broad, scarred, heavily muscled, overall fantastic chest. In reply, Shiro’s other hand curled around his waist and he deepened the kiss until Lance was pressed up flush against him, making small sounds in his throat. Shiro tasted of salt and iron and Lance knew it was from Keith, which made his already interested cock twitch in his jeans.

Shiro broke the kiss with a hard exhale, his eyes glowing faintly again as he looked down at Lance.

“You have no idea,” he breathed, “how long I’ve wanted to do that.”

“Ages,” Lance agreed. “Fuck. Shiro. I’ve always – I wanted you, too. Okay? It was never…it was never just Keith.” It seemed incredibly important in that moment that Shiro knew this, knew that Lance had wanted him just as much as Keith, and that this was a long time coming.

Shiro’s eyes darkened. “I didn’t think it was possible,” he said. “I thought – you had made your choice, and that was that. Last night, at the piano – I thought I’d ruined everything.”

“No,” Lance whispered. “I chose both of you. I wanted – I want both of you. I just never thought I could have that. This.”

Shiro held him tighter and Lance felt dizzy. He was so in over his head, here. But he also, bizarrely enough, felt safe. Only he would be weird enough to feel safe in a magical vampire lair with two vampires staring at him with what could only be described as hunger. Speaking of which, Shiro was turning his face into Lance’s neck and groaning. “Lance,” he murmured, “you smell so, so good.”

“So I’ve been told,” Lance managed, unconsciously tipping his head to the side. He wasn’t expecting the sudden presence at his back; Keith growling into his ear and shoving lightly at Shiro, who lifted his head reluctantly.

“What?” Shiro asked, though he sounded kinda guilty, like he knew exactly what.

“You can’t be as rough with him as you are with me,” Keith retorted. “You need to be careful. We can’t take too much. He can’t go through that again.”

Lance’s mind had snagged on we. “Wait,” he said. “Oh my god. We, as in, both of you are gonna bite me? Like, together?”

Shiro and Keith both drew back slightly. Keith squeezed his arm. “Well…yes, that was the thought. I thought you were...pretty into that. But, Lance, we don’t have to bite you at all if you don’t want us to –”

“I want you to,” Lance gasped, slumping back against Keith. Keith didn’t even stumble, just held him up, effortless, smirking into Lance’s neck. “Holy shit, you better, or I’ll walk outta here.”

“You will not,” Shiro growled, and then his mouth was on the other side of Lance’s neck and he didn’t bite like Keith did either – there was no warning, no soft sucking kiss or nuzzle before his fangs sliced through Lance’s skin and into a vein. Lance jerked hard against him, eyes flying wide, a startled yelp falling from his lips. Shiro drew back a few seconds later, lapping gently at where he had bitten, but Lance was still stunned. “You taste like sunshine,” he murmured wistfully.

“What,” Lance stammered, “what does sunshine even taste like?”

“Here, try,” Shiro said, and then he was kissing Lance again and Lance was grossed out for roughly a millisecond before Shiro’s tongue persuaded him that this was just really, really hot. It got even hotter when Keith’s mouth slid over the other side of his neck, dragging wet kisses and nipping sharply, keeping Lance guessing as to where he would actually bite. Lance was trying to divide his focus between Keith and the kiss, and then Keith reached around his waist and slid a hand into Lance’s jeans and Lance gave up. Focusing was for losers. A haze of blurred pleasure was way better.

No sooner had he decided that, Keith decided to bite him. Lance wasn’t as shocked by it as with Shiro, but it still hurt, a sudden spark of pain that made him bite Shiro’s lip as Keith fed with loud, sucking sounds that were just as obscene as Shiro had been earlier, while stroking Lance through his boxers. Keith was messy, and Lance resigned himself to the fact that this shirt was gonna be ruined, and probably he should just start wearing old clothes around these two from now on if he didn’t want to look like an extra from a slasher movie…or just not wear clothes at all.

Now there was a solid plan.

Lance jolted away as soon as Keith’s fangs were safely out of his neck. “Not that this isn’t great,” he said breathlessly, because both vampires were looking at him worriedly again, “but I’m starting to feel really overdressed.”

Lance did not expect for Shiro to immediately rip his shirt off. Well, if it hadn’t been ruined before, now it definitely was. Keith was laughing. Shiro was picking Lance up and carrying him over to the bed, where he set him down very carefully. Lance spluttered at him. “Wow, thanks, are you guys gonna remind me how ridiculously strong you are every five seconds?”

Keith sauntered over, the blanket forgotten on the ground, and rolled his eyes. “He’ll try. He’s a show-off, always has been.”

Shiro grinned. “Oh, I’ll show you show-off,” he retorted, and tackled Keith to the bed next to Lance. Keith giggled and squirmed under him in a very un-Keithlike way, and Lance realized Shiro was tickling him, and that was just…man, that was so cute it should be illegal. Keith was trying to get a grip on Shiro’s waist and then he caught Shiro’s pants and yanked them down, and the scene went from cute to hot really, really fast. Shiro rutted down hard against Keith, pants tangled around his ankles, and Keith arched up into it invitingly, Lance’s blood running down his chin as he laughed, a ragged sound.

“Tempting, but you already made me come,” Keith murmured. “For the sake of fairness, let’s focus on you and Lance for now, hm?”

Shiro huffed and sat up and Lance may or may not have squeaked because carajo, Shiro was hung, and he was really, really into this. Keith snickered at his expression, and crawled across the bed to fit himself against Lance’s right side, while Shiro closed in on the left. “This is really happening,” Lance said faintly as Keith’s fingers tip-toed towards the waistband of his jeans. “Oh my god, am I dying?”

“No, you’re quite alive,” Shiro said, hand creeping down to join Keith’s. “We would never hurt you. Not in any way you don’t want, anyway.” His eyes were as soft as Lance had ever seen them, warm and utterly besotted, that was the only word for it.

“What do you want?” Keith asked, lips tracing the shell of his ear, fingertips dancing over his hip.

“You can…I wanna be naked too, go for it,” Lance whispered. The two of them worked his jeans off and stared at him, expectant, somehow equal parts predatory and adoring. “I…” He swallowed. “I think I want you to fuck me.”

Shiro and Keith tilted their heads in eerie yet endearing unison.

“Both of you,” Lance clarified. “At…at the same time.” Their eyes widened hugely and he flushed. “Is that…is that, um, a thing we could do, or –”

In a blur, Keith was on him, mouth hot from his blood and fierce against his own, cock half-hard against Lance’s hip. “Yes,” he hissed when he broke the kiss with a light nip to Lance’s lower lip. “Yes, yes, yes.”

Lance beamed up at him. “Cool,” he breathed. “Uh – how should we…nngh!”

Keith shifted off to the side, so Lance could see Shiro between his legs, mouthing over the obvious bulge in his boxers. “We can do that,” Shiro hummed against the fabric. “But we can’t rush it, Lance. Patience is a virtue.”

“I don’t think you’re in any place to be talkin’ about virtues right now,” Lance wheezed.

Keith laughed from where he was pressing kisses to Lance’s neck, carefully avoiding the bitemarks even though Lance wanted to feel his fangs again. “He’s old-fashioned. Don’t hold it against him.”

“Not that old-fashioned,” Shiro reproached, taking Lance’s boxers off, claws leaving thin red lines over his thighs. Shiro ran his tongue over them as soon as Lance was bare, making soft, appreciative sounds in his throat and curling his hands under Lance’s thighs, lifting and spreading them as if examining an expensive piece of artwork. Lance watched him, red-faced. “You’re so delicate,” Shiro marveled. “I’d forgotten how soft humans are.”

“Not soft where it counts, though,” Lance snorted, though there was a tinge of desperation in his voice that Shiro didn’t miss. “And I’m not delicate, thanks very much.”

“Hmm.” Shiro eyed him speculatively, then sat back on his heels. “Come here, Lance.”

Keith’s claws tapped lightly over Lance’s throat. “You’d better listen to him.” He kissed Lance one last time, over the bitemark, before withdrawing, sitting on the end of the bed and watching as Lance sat up and went, slowly, to Shiro. Lance could feel Keith’s eyes on him as Shiro guided him gently into his lap and into a kiss, deep and soft, incongruous with the firm, possessive grip of Shiro’s hand on his ass. Lance moaned into the kiss and draped his arms around Shiro’s neck.

He felt Shiro’s claws dig in, briefly, sharply, before the claws retracted into dull, human nails. Shiro broke the kiss, nudging their noses lightly together, his white hair soft against Lance’s brow. “You really aren’t afraid of us,” Shiro murmured, and it was not a question but a fact, though he sounded a little amazed saying it.

“No,” Lance assured him. “No, I’m not afraid.”

Shiro regarded him for a long moment, and suddenly Lance saw in his eyes just how old he was, how many days and nights he’d survived, how many things he’d seen, how much he’d endured. He may have died a young man, may have been turned as a young man; but inside he was over two centuries old, and at once Lance felt small and naïve in comparison. “Sometimes it is safer to have a little fear,” Shiro said quietly. He cupped Lance’s face in his palm. “But…perhaps not here. Not here, now, with us.”

“Do you really want me?” Lance blurted. He glanced back at Keith, who frowned. “I mean…I’m not like you. I haven’t seen the world, haven’t seen it change, haven’t survived all the things that you have. I’m not an…an immortal being with super strength and speed, I can’t change shape – I’m just…me.” Shiro opened his mouth but Lance continued, “And, and I’m not even really special as far as humans go, except for my blood; I’m not like Pidge with their genius mind and tech stuff, I’m not like Hunk with his inventions and engineering. I’m average, y’know, and I just…you guys gotta know that you could do way better. Right?”

Keith’s hand landed warmly on his shoulder. “Lance, of course we want you,” he said. “And you’re wrong – you are special.”

Lance looked away. “Yeah, ‘cause I smell great and my blood is apparently sweet and makes you stronger, I got that much –”

Shiro tipped Lance’s face back towards his own. “Lance, listen to me when I say that it is so much more than that. We’re not…using you for your blood, alright? We respect and care about you, deeply. You’re one of the most extraordinary humans I’ve ever met…and I have met many.”

“I thought I was the strangest human you’ve ever met,” Lance said, a little choked up.

“That too,” Keith chuckled, running a hand through his hair. “But also brave, and smart, and kind, and loyal, and very handsome –”

“Okay, okay, cut it out,” Lance said, embarrassed but unable to hide his grin. “It’s weird when you’re so nice to me, Keith.”

Keith smirked and retreated again. “Don’t worry, I’ll be mean later,” he promised. Lance shivered, not unpleasantly.

“Lance,” Shiro said, looking into his eyes. “It is true that we are older and in many ways more powerful than you. But that does not make you lesser to us. Do you understand? If we ever…if you ever feel demeaned or threatened, tell us to stop and we will.” His brow lowered. “Even if you say nothing, we will be able to smell your fear, and know.”

“That’s…weirdly comforting, actually,” Lance said. “But I trust you guys. And, um…” He cleared his throat. “To be honest, I wouldn’t be totally against some ‘demeaning and threatening’ as long as it wasn’t…y’know, real.”

There was a weighted pause. “Oh?” Shiro said.

Keith chuckled knowingly. “Now you’re in for it.”

Shiro was smiling, a slight, playful tilt of his lips that made Lance’s heart beat faster. “Is that a thing for you? Are you – would you want to – oh!” Shiro had, without warning, shoved Lance down so that he was eyelevel with Shiro’s cock. Lance gulped and went slightly cross-eyed. “Okay, not very subtle, but I can work with tha –”

“Lance,” Shiro said, firmly but fondly, shaking his head, “shut up.” He leaned back against the headboard and, fingers anchored in Lance’s hair, guided him forward. “Have you done this with Keith before?”

Lance resisted the urge to look back at Keith; even if he had tried he had a feeling Shiro wouldn’t have let him. “N-no,” he mumbled.

Shiro hummed. “Then I’ll let you take it slow. At first, anyway.” His grip in Lance’s hair loosened, giving him more freedom to move. “Go on. You want to, don’t you?”

Lance’s mouth was dry as he shuffled closer and leaned in, nodding. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I really do.”

Shiro inclined his head. Lance used his hand, first, touched Shiro’s cock with hesitant fingertips, running from the black curls at the base to the dark, wet tip. Shiro was larger than Keith (obviously), and though Lance supposed Shiro’s cock was in proportion to the rest of his body, it seemed impossibly large in Lance’s hand.

But it was very sensitive, twitching when Lance flicked out his tongue to taste, Shiro’s hands tightening in the sheets and on the back of Lance’s neck. Shiro made a low sound when Lance grew bolder, rubbing his cheek against the length of it, feeling fluid smear over his lips as Shiro’s cock leaked needily. The reaction was even better when Lance mouthed at his balls – Shiro jolted, cock reacting noticeably. Lance filed that information away for later.

It was sorta empowering to see Shiro squirm. Man, Lance really wanted to break Shiro’s control – he was always so calm and composed, even when he was basically ordering Lance to blow him. With that thought in mind, Lance lowered his head and licked a long stripe of spit down Shiro’s cock. The skin was hotter there than the rest of Shiro, and so was the fluid when Lance let his thumb slide purposefully over the tip. Lance was teasing, and Shiro knew it, but he was allowing it for now, lower lip caught between his teeth and head tilted back against the headboard. Patience was a virtue, after all.

When Lance closed his lips over the head of Shiro’s cock, it was just as teasing – Lance suckled and licked without any kind of urgency, stroking the base in a lazy rhythm and wondering how much he’d be able to fit in his mouth without a. choking or b. biting Shiro.

Although that wouldn’t be nearly as bad as if Keith bit Shiro, Lance reasoned, which made him feel a little better and bolder.

He sank down steadily further, and felt his jaw stretch to accommodate more of Shiro’s cock, heavy velvet against his tongue. Lance’s free hand rested against Shiro’s hip, and he felt it trembling, felt Shiro struggling to hold himself back.

Break, Lance chanted inside his head like a mantra, flattening his tongue over the head and trying to remember how Keith had done it, letting his hand and mouth work in tandem. Break, break, break. And maybe Lance had some magic after all, or maybe Shiro just wasn’t as patient as he’d thought, because then his hand was in Lance’s hair, nails scratching at his scalp in the best way, forcing Lance’s head down, until his mouth met his hand, and fuck, fuck, further.

Lance tried to breathe through his nose and didn’t fight it – not that he could have, Shiro was fucking strong, his grip unyielding even as the head of his cock hit the back of Lance’s throat and Lance’s eyes started to water. Lance blinked the tears back hastily, letting his eyes fall shut and relaxing his throat, opening his mouth wider and petting Shiro’s hips, encouraging. Shiro stuttered out a breath and his hips flexed under Lance’s palms as he pumped his dick into Lance’s mouth with short, sharp thrusts.

Lance was dizzy and his jaw was aching but so was his cock, and it was feeling seriously neglected. He reached down to touch himself and Shiro growled, smacking his hand away, which didn’t make his cock ache any less, holy shit. Lance made an incoherent sound around Shiro’s length and Shiro’s taut stomach shuddered under his hands. More fluid dripped down Lance’s throat, slick and salty, and Lance knew he was close, knew that he was probably going to choke but determined to see this through to the end –

“Enough,” Shiro grunted, pulling Lance off by his hair. Lance made a really unsexy, strangled sound of surprise, panting and staring at the mess he’d made of Shiro’s cock – it looked painfully hard and was covered in his spit, a broken strand of saliva dripping from the tip, the other end of it hanging from Lance’s lips. Lance wiped his mouth hastily, and was about to ask Shiro why he’d stopped when the world spun upside down and Lance hit the bed hard on his back, Shiro looming over him.

Lance croaked, “So, how was that?”

“I’m going to eat you out now,” Shiro informed him matter-of-factly, and kissed his way down Lance’s body.

Lance made an even more strangled sound and decided he should just get used to running out of words around Keith and Shiro.

His state of speechlessness was furthered when Shiro moved down enough for Lance to see Keith at the end of the bed, stroking his own cock to hardness again and watching them with hooded golden eyes and parted lips. Lance gaped at him, and then gasped when Shiro’s mouth moved wetly over his inner thigh, gaze darting down apprehensively. “Uhhh,” Lance stuttered, “I know I said I trust you, and I do, totally, but just promise me you’re gonna be super careful with the teeth down there, ‘kay?”

Amused, Shiro raised an eyebrow. “Don’t worry, Lance. I do this to Keith quite often, and I’ve never received any complaints.”

Lance looked incredulously at Keith, who had flushed. “He does,” Keith admitted. “He’s really good at it. Oh, fuck, I can’t wait to fuck you, Lance.”

Lance exhaled shakily. “A vampire is about to eat my ass.”

“Yup,” Shiro agreed, and okay yes that was his tongue inside of Lance.

Lance whined and his hips lifted helplessly from the bed; Shiro pushed them back down and wrapped a hand around Lance’s cock as a reward when Lance didn’t resist. He was spreading Lance open with his thumbs, licking in and around with slow, sloppy laps, making low sounds that translated to vibrations against Lance’s hole. Lance was breathing fast and shallow, face burning, because something so gross shouldn’t feel so incredibly good.

Shiro was nothing if not thorough, burying his face between Lance’s thighs and spreading the spit around, until Lance felt wet and open and exposed, squirming and gasping as Shiro forced his entire tongue inside, slippery, painless penetration. Lance’s cock was still enclosed in Shiro’s hand, the pink head pushing through Shiro’s fingers as he pumped it leisurely, holding it not nearly tight enough. “Please,” Lance begged, head rolling back into the pillows, “please, I need more.”

Shiro drew back, but not without kissing Lance’s hole tenderly, soft and sucking and enough to make Lance whine again. “More what?” he asked innocently, though there was nothing innocent about his red, swollen mouth.

He heard the schhnick sound of a cap being opened. Lance looked over Shiro’s shoulder, and saw Keith moving towards them with an open bottle of lube. “Move over,” Keith demanded, and Shiro rolled his eyes but shifted, until both of them were crouched between Lance’s spread legs. “Mm. He looks like such a little slut already, doesn’t he?”

“Rude,” Lance said weakly.

“Yeah, but you love it,” Keith countered, and Lance really, really did. Keith’s hand moved to cover Shiro’s on Lance’s cock, and Lance shuddered, especially when Keith’s hands shifted, clawtip pressing ever so slightly into his slit, catching a bead of precum. Keith lifted it to his lips and licked it off daintily, claws shifting back to nails as he poured the lube over his fingers, then handed it to Shiro, who did the same.

“Please,” Lance repeated, faint and desperate, as Keith’s fingertips prodded at his entrance, and then, with ease, slipped in. Two fingers made him arch up with a moan, and Keith replied in kind, watching his face intently as he curled them around and twisted, searching, until they crooked successfully against Lance’s prostate and he cursed, growing louder when Keith added a third finger, the stretch still pleasant and full, but not full enough.

Keith moved closer and his cock dragged over Lance’s thigh, making his fingers stutter and his hips snap forward, chasing the friction. Noticing, Shiro reached out and touched Keith with his slick fingers, stroking him in the same rhythm he’d found with Lance’s cock. Keith hissed, fingers pressing in harder, deeper, and Lance writhed on the bed.

“More?” Keith asked, voice rough, and Lance nodded frantically, mouth falling open as Shiro’s forefinger joined Keith’s three, thicker and longer, the stretch developing into a slight, protesting burn.

“A-ah,” Lance hiccupped, vision blurring as his eyes started to water again. “Fuck, how long are you guys gonna t-torture me, here?”

Shiro added a second finger. Lance gaped soundlessly, hips still bearing down on their five fingers, legs spread as wide as they would go, the burn intensifying, but not unbearably. “We need to be sure you can handle it, Lance,” Shiro informed him, voice infuriatingly steady. “It’s going to be…a lot. More than this.”

“I know,” Lance managed. “I wanna feel you, c’mon. ‘M ready.”

Keith pulled out his fingers with a lewd squelching sound, smearing all the excess over his cock messily, then Shiro’s. Shiro stretched Lance open methodically with three more fingers until Keith nipped his neck impatiently and Lance almost kicked him in the head.

“Fine, fine,” Shiro grumbled, backing off, eyes darkening as Lance whined at the emptiness. He rolled over onto his back and settled against the pillows, cock standing up proudly over his stomach and making Lance’s mouth go dry. Shiro raised an eyebrow. “Well? Go ahead; sit on my cock if you’re so eager for it.”

“Fuck, yeah,” Lance breathed, and sat up, crawling over Shiro’s body and swinging a leg over his hips, shuddering when Shiro’s cock rubbed just behind his balls and then, when he shifted forward, right over his stretched hole. The tip dragged a trail of slickness over his inner thigh as he lifted up, and Shiro helped him spread himself open, his other hand firm and reassuring over Lance’s hipbone, tightening infinitesimally when Lance finally sank down on him, inch by inch.

Lance’s head bowed with his spine, eyes wide and watering, grateful for Shiro’s hands holding him up, letting him set his own pace. He was suddenly very grateful for all the preparation they’d insisted on giving him, because whoa. Shiro’s cock split him wider and deeper, and as Lance shifted and widened the stance of his legs he realized Shiro’s cock was more curved than Keith’s, too, with a flared head that he could feel in strange detail inside of him, dragging up over his insides. Lance shuddered – it was at just the right angle that it would push against his prostate, once he figured out where –

Ah!” Lance gasped, grabbing at Shiro’s shoulders to anchor himself, mouth falling open again as Shiro took the hint and rolled his hips slightly upwards, making Lance arch atop him again, thighs flexing and bringing him down the rest of the way, hard. Shiro inhaled sharply, lips parting to reveal his fangs as his balls pressed flush against Lance’s ass, cock fully seated within him. Lance focused on breathing, knowing that the pound of his heart must be like thunder in the vampires’ ears.

“Alright?” Shiro asked, petting his hip soothingly.

Lance nodded jerkily, hair hanging down into his face. “Just…gimme a sec.”

Shiro hummed, apparently content to wait despite the fact that Lance could feel how unbelievably hard he was. “Don’t rush it,” he murmured.

Lance counted to thirty in his head (okay, maybe more like fifteen, he was counting fast), and then said, “Okay, let’s do this,” and, still using Shiro’s shoulders for leverage, lifted himself up, then back down in a devastating slide that made Shiro’s chest rumble with a barely-audible groan, his gentle hand on Lance’s waist curving around to grab more roughly at his ass. Lance moved back into it, rocking steady and slow, the dull pleasure of being fucked spreading outwards into his gut and through his chest, nerve-endings alight with sensation.

Keith was strong, but Shiro was stronger, and Lance could feel the dormant power in his body as he ran his hands down Shiro’s broadly muscled chest and stomach, abs flexing under his palms. Any discomfort he’d felt at first was gone now, replaced by desire that made his dick throb almost painfully, desperate for Shiro to do something with his cock which was filling Lance so wonderfully.

He didn’t have long to wait. Impatient, Lance moved harder and faster on his cock, nails scratching at Shiro’s stomach, and Shiro’s eyes flashed briefly gold at the sting, his own nails digging into Lance’s ass and thighs as he tugged Lance down forcefully, making Lance bounce and yelp as he bottomed out. Shiro snapped his hips up to meet Lance’s slide down, and Lance moaned encouragingly, especially when he felt Shiro’s thighs flex under him as he shoved up into Lance again, replacing Lance’s easy, shallow rhythm with a punishing, deep one.

Lance couldn’t close his mouth, he was panting helplessly, embarrassing sounds spilling from his lips with every strong stroke of Shiro’s cock in him, loudest when the head glanced off his prostate, only for Shiro to angle them differently so that it didn’t happen again. His cock was flushed and heavy between them, but he wasn’t going to try to touch himself, or this would be over before they even –

Keith was suddenly at his back, mouth hot as a brand on the nape of his neck and fingers tracing over where Lance and Shiro were joined. Lance jolted as if electrocuted, and his heart skipped a beat, mind flooded with unexpected panic. “W-wait – don’t –” he stammered, incredibly aware of how full he was already, and, mortifyingly, not knowing if this was going to work after all.

Hearing his apprehension, Shiro slowed, squeezing Lance’s ass lightly. “Shh. It’s okay, Lance. Whatever you want, nothing more.”

Lance twisted his neck to look at Keith, whose head rested on his shoulder. “Do you think you can handle this?” Keith asked, frowning, brows drawing together with genuine worry. “Or is it too much –”

I want too much, Lance didn’t say. Instead he said shakily, “No…I mean, I think…I want…we should try.”

Keith’s finger, still slick, moved back against him with more intent, and, slowly, carefully, Keith slid it into Lance alongside Shiro’s cock. Shiro went abruptly still. Lance’s chest rose and fell unevenly. “Oh my god,” he whispered. “Oh, that feels weird. That feels so. What. I don’t.”

“Good? Or does it hurt?” Keith asked curiously, like he wanted to try it too, and yeah, that was a mental image, goddamn.

“Kinda – both?” Lance gritted out. “I – k-keep going.”

Keith, still peering over Lance’s shoulder, added another finger, and wiggled them. Lance shouted.

“Should I –”

No, don’t stop, aughh, motherfucker,” Lance chanted frantically, squirming, which made it worse or better, he didn’t know.

“Lance –” Shiro started, sounding awed yet concerned.

“Noooo,” Lance babbled, “we’re doin’ this, okay; fuck, fuck, fuck.”

“Are we?” Shiro asked doubtfully. “Because if you’re any louder, you might bring the house down.”

Keith grinned ferally. “Trust me, he’ll get a lot louder,” he said. “Unless…he’s not up to the challenge anymore?”

“You wish!” Lance snapped. “I’m so up for the challenge. It’s not even a challenge, pshhh, you’ve gotta try harder than that!”

Shiro removed one of his hands from Lance’s ass so he could rub his eyes in exasperation. “This isn’t a competition, you guys,” he said.

“You’re one to talk, you’re already fucking him,” Keith grumbled.

“Yeah, what’re you talkin’ about, Shiro, it’s 100% a competition,” Lance said, voice breaking when Keith twisted his fingers again. “And I’m gonna win, damn it.” He pushed his ass back, riding Keith’s fingers and Shiro’s cock, and Shiro shuddered under him, Keith’s smile cool and sharp between his shoulder blades.

“Prove it,” Keith retorted, and added a third finger, lube dripping down Lance’s thighs, and Lance’s cock jerked; eyes rolling back, body protesting, burning, but bracing itself for more. He could take it, he knew that now, but it was gonna be uncomfortable, and it was gonna be a process, unless…

“You should both bite me again,” Lance demanded, his voice so wrecked already. “Keith, like you did the first time – to make me relax – it’ll make it easier –”

Shiro growled, low and wanting. “You bit him when you first fucked him?” he asked.

“Yes, he was tense,” Keith explained, pressing his fingertips into Lance’s insides and against Shiro’s cock mercilessly. “And he’d been begging for it for ages before that.”

“I was not begging –” Lance protested.

“You know you were,” Keith said, sing-song. “Such a greedy little slut.”

Lance flushed and fell silent, breath shallowing, lacking the current brainpower to even begin to try to respond to that.

Shiro growled louder, and yanked Lance down against his chest to kiss him. Lance moaned at the new angle, which allowed Keith to crook his fingers against Lance’s prostate as Shiro bounced him on his cock, the stretch becoming easier to bear. Lance’s mouth fell open to Shiro’s tongue when Keith’s fingers were replaced by the head of his cock, pressing against the base of Shiro’s, careful but insistent. There was resistance as Keith lined himself up, even though Lance was dying for it, hunched over Shiro’s body with his ass in the air and his cock leaking between them.

Then Keith’s teeth were high on his shoulder, and Shiro broke the kiss harshly to seize Lance’s left arm, toppling him off-balance so that he fell fully onto Shiro, watching with wide eyes as Shiro lifted Lance’s wrist to his mouth, lips peeling back from his teeth, exhaling over the thin, brown skin marbled by blue-violet veins. Lance’s breath caught. “Is it, um, safe to bite me there?” Lance asked haltingly.

Shiro smirked. “Don’t you remember when I told you that I know all the places to bite without killing, Lance?” He pushed down on the tendons standing out under Lance’s skin, forcing his fingers to curl reflexively, one by one, like puppets on strings. “And I do plan to bite you in every single one of those places,” he added. “Later.”

Lance shivered. “I’ll…I’ll hold you to that,” he whispered.

Shiro nuzzled against Lance’s palm. “We’d never put you in danger, Lance,” he murmured, and then he bit into Lance’s wrist at the exact moment that Keith’s fangs sank into Lance’s shoulder, and his cock into Lance’s body.

Lance screamed. Screamed, and sobbed, vision blurring and then darkening altogether when he pressed his face into Shiro’s neck, overwhelmed, breathing him in with ragged gulps of air. They were inside him; they were both inside of him, and Lance needed a moment.

Shiro’s fangs withdrew from his veins, quick and painless, lapping away the excess blood that beaded up, trailing kisses over his knuckles and holding Lance’s limp wrist like it was something precious. Keith fed a little longer, making pleased half-moans in his throat and licking the thin rivulets of red down Lance’s back as he pulled away. “So good, you’re so good, Lance,” Keith was murmuring reverently into his ear. Lance just whimpered, eyes squeezing shut, reduced to nothing but nerve endings; raw sensation wherever they touched him, which seemed to be everywhere. Four hands could do a lot more than two.

Shiro left a line of rust-colored kisses up his arm, fingers tipping up Lance’s chin, making him raise his head. Lance looked at him hazily, and was almost startled to see the bright flush of arousal on Shiro’s face and chest, his pupils huge and dark, full of something like wonder. “Do you want us to move?” Shiro asked quietly.

Lance trembled. Right. Right, fucking, that’s what they were supposed to be doing, yet he couldn’t imagine this feeling becoming more, couldn’t imagine how the sensation of utter fullness could possibly become any more overwhelming. But he found himself nodding, shaky and wrung-out, slumping into Shiro as Keith stretched out along his back and rocked deeper in short, sharp, uncontrolled movements, making Lance gasp wordlessly and curl further forward, then back, shocked because he wanted more, wanted to feel them both as deep as they would go, wanted to feel them even after they were gone –

“Keith, stop,” Shiro ordered, and Lance let out a despairing whine when Keith immediately obeyed. Shiro pet his hair reassuringly. Keith let out a whine of his own, frantic, head tipping against Lance’s back, hands trembling where they rested upon Lance’s shamelessly curved waist. “I know, I know,” Shiro said, and he sounded on-edge too, and with some satisfaction Lance realized they were all feeling more than a little overwhelmed, here.

“I can feel you inside him,” Keith gritted out. “I can feel us inside him.

I know,” Shiro repeated, more strained. “Just – like this.” And he lifted Lance up, until only the head of his cock was inside, and Keith groaned with understanding and thrust into the empty space Shiro left behind, and Lance sank down again, and Keith withdrew, and Shiro fucked up into him and yup, that was it, Lance had officially ascended.

Once Keith got the hang of it, the two vampires were unstoppable. They worked in tandem to make Lance not-so-quietly lose his mind, quickly falling into rhythm with each other – they were used to working together, after all, hunting their prey and taking it down as one. Lance knew he wasn’t their prey, and knew neither of them would treat him as such (unless, of course, he wanted them to); but he couldn’t help but feel like it then, caught between them, at their mercy.

Keith was fucking him harder than Shiro, but Shiro filled him deeper, and the result was what Lance could only describe as the best of both worlds. They seemed to know exactly what Lance needed, to the point that he began to wonder blurrily if vampires were mind-readers, too. When Lance got impatient and squirmy with Shiro’s slower, steady thrusts, Shiro shifted his hips and forced Lance back on Keith’s cock, and Keith quickly picked up the reins, fucking Lance with unchecked wildness, almost viciously, if not for the tender kisses he left all over Lance’s shoulders and neck. When Keith showed signs of faltering or Lance started getting too frantic and close to coming, Shiro took over, holding him securely and murmuring words of praise and reassurance into his ear that made Lance mewl and melt into him.

Lance really didn’t know how long it lasted, but it felt like a small eternity. It was sweet, sweet torture, though, and, far from complaining, he was a writhing, moaning mess. Lance was learning some things about himself throughout this whole experience, it was all very educational. And currently, he was finding out that he really, really liked having two dicks up his ass, especially if said dicks belonged to the Vampire Dream Team.

Lance may have said that bit out loud, because towards the end of it, both Shiro and Keith started laughing at him, and it didn’t sound hot at all, because Shiro was sort of wheezing breathlessly and Keith was honking like a damn goose but it made their bodies shake and shift and suddenly two cockheads were pressed against Lance’s prostate and he came untouched with a wordless shout, spine bowing like a sapling in a storm, drowning in waves of warm, tingling pleasure, almost like the magic in the air. It was, quite honestly, one of the best things he’d ever felt. Their laughter came to an abrupt, choked halt as Lance’s body clamped tight, vicelike, and then Shiro came with a soft grunt and the echo of a sigh, eyes fluttering shut and lips parting, fangs and tongue stained vibrantly red.

Lance whimpered at the flood of wet heat, arching and rolling unconsciously back onto Shiro’s thick, pulsing cock, and Shiro groaned, forcing his hips still, shuddering. Keith was still hard, aching, tongue and blunt teeth dragging over the knobs of Lance’s spine messily as he continued to thrust shallow and fast. Lance yelped and clutched at Shiro, flinching away, the line between pain and pleasure suddenly becoming very clear.

“I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” Shiro murmured. “Keith, he’s had more than enough.” He lifted Lance off and away carefully, making Lance and Keith groan for very different reasons. Lance was suddenly, shockingly empty, but Shiro shushed him and curled three fingers into his gaping hole, which was much better, his body’s shock easing and reforming around the now-familiar digits. Lance could feel the come still inside him squish between Shiro’s fingers, and whimpered again, taking a second to close his eyes and breathe, slumping back in Shiro’s lap as the older vampire sat up fully.

Keith’s desperate, drawn-out whine jerked Lance out of his stupor. His eyes flickered open blearily, only to fly wide at the sight of Keith kneeling on the bed, glaring at the two of them with golden slits, teeth bared, hand wrapped tightly around his swollen cock, streaked with come that was not his own. “Lance,” he hissed. “Shiro.”

“Mmm, something you wanted?” Shiro asked, teasing, settling back against the headboard and cradling Lance innocently against his chest.

The fire in Keith’s eyes flickered and his head bowed, hair hanging in sweaty, messy strands, chest heaving. “Please,” he said, voice breaking, and in an instant Shiro responded to his plea, setting Lance down carefully and settling between Keith’s half-spread legs, cupping his face and kissing him deeply. Shiro reached down between them to stroke Keith’s cock and Keith made a noise Lance had never heard him make before, a high, lovely keening sound as he broke away from the kiss and bucked up into Shiro’s hand.

Lance blinked, and, feeling a little left-out, crawled over to Keith’s side (there was no room between his thighs, Shiro was hoarding that space all to himself) and ran his hand over Keith’s ribs. Keith jolted, startled, and looked at Lance with wide eyes, pupils blown. Lance leaned in and kissed him too, because Keith’s mouth looked really, really good when he was on the verge of orgasm.

It felt good, too, soft and pliant under Lance’s lips, lacking the sharp, messy edges of fangs and tongue in most of Keith’s kisses. When Shiro twisted his wrist artfully, Keith’s head lolled and Lance was there to hold it up, hand curling around the back of his neck and into the fine hair curling under his ears.

Lance was so lost in the sweet, easy pleasure of kissing Keith that he wasn’t paying attention to what Shiro was doing, so when Keith bit down on Lance’s lip (not with his fangs, thankfully) and moaned into his mouth, Lance didn’t know why.

Then he broke away for long enough to get a glance of Shiro pushing two fingers, wet with his own come, into Keith while sinking his fangs into Keith’s other, unmarked hip. Lance had a moment to commit to memory the utterly sinful image of Keith fucking himself on Shiro’s fingers and fangs before Keith threw his head back with another high-pitched keen and spilled all over his stomach and Shiro’s chin as he drew away from the fresh bite, licking his lips.

Lance and Shiro lay down on either side of Keith as he flopped down onto the bed heavily, looking dazed. Lance could relate.

“So,” Shiro said, clearing his throat, and Lance had to laugh because he’d forgotten how actually awkward Shiro could be, when he wasn’t ordering Lance to suck his cock or making stubborn Keith beg. Shiro gave him a rueful look, brows drawing together, but his mouth twitched up.

Keith grinned too, lazy and feline, as if he was thinking the same thing. “So,” he agreed, amused. He turned to Lance, and snuggled up along his side, expression turning more serious, and so stupidly earnest that Lance’s heart did a little somersault. “I hope you aren’t in pain.”

“Nah,” Lance said, pecking his cheek. “Don’t worry. I’m tough. And it’d be worth it, anyway.” He peered over Keith at Shiro. “Although, if you have some magic potion for my ass, I wouldn’t be opposed,” he joked.

Shiro chuckled nervously. Keith turned red. “Oh my god,” Lance said. “Wait, seriously?”

“You saw his dick,” Keith mumbled.

“He did more than see it,” Shiro added, with a touch of smugness.

“You guys are ridiculous,” Lance snickered, shaking his head.

“Ridiculous? Don’t you mean ‘the Vampire Dream Team’?” Keith asked.

“Nope!” Lance squawked, grabbed the nearest pillow, and smacked Keith in the face. “We’re not speaking of that ever again!”

Keith grabbed another pillow in retaliation, cackling as he used it as a preemptive shield. “No? What about ‘greedy little slut,’ huh?”

Lance bypassed the shield and hit Keith upside the head. “Don’t act like you don’t like that either, bat boy!”

Keith stuck his tongue out at him from over the edge of his pillow. “Maybe I’ll let you try to find out someday.”

“Let me?! Pfffft, all I gotta do is ask Shiro!”

“He wouldn’t betray my secrets,” Keith retorted.

“He does like it,” Shiro told Lance mildly.

Keith spluttered at him. Lance did a victory fist pump. Shiro laughed and spooned up behind Keith, wrapping his incredible arms around both of them. “You two are adorable,” he told them, quiet and warm.

“You’re pretty cute too,” Lance shot back, beaming at him. “And I mean, I guess now’s as good a time as any to tell you I kinda really love you too, Shiro.”

Shiro blinked owlishly, stunned, and damn, he really was cute. “Oh,” he said, then smiled, small and pleased. “And I love you, Lance.” His gaze grew wistful and his smile looked sadder, suddenly. “I’ve been quite foolish, I think. All this time…you never knew about Keith and I?”

“No,” Lance said, frowning. “I wish you would’ve told me outright, but…looking back, I see how you could’ve assumed I just knew. There were…a lot of signs. But I didn’t think…and then Keith started dating me, so I figured there was no way you guys were together.” Lance touched Shiro’s hand, which was curled loosely over his side. “But…you were, and you just…let Keith be with me? Even though you had feelings for me, too?”

“I…” Shiro frowned, and looked away. “I did not think you wanted me. And I didn’t want to try to broach the subject, for fear that I might…well, scare you off. I thought you were scared of me, not attracted to me, especially after you found out about my…my past. I didn’t want to intimidate or pressure you in any way, so I thought it best to just…keep my distance.”

“Yeah, that worked out really well,” Lance said, squeezing his hand lightly. Shiro looked back up. “But, dude, c’mon. Have you looked in a mirror? Who wouldn’t want you? And you’re one of the sweetest guys on the face of the earth. I just…I can’t believe you thought I didn’t…”

Keith stayed snuggled against Lance but tucked his head under Shiro’s chin. “He’s terribly selfless,” Keith murmured. “Always has been.”

“Well, not always,” Shiro protested.

“With me, always,” Keith said firmly.

Shiro ducked his head, flushing. “I…perhaps. In any case…I am…I am very glad this worked out the way it did.”

“As am I,” Keith agreed, smiling sleepily at Lance.

Lance nodded. “I mean, totally, me too, but I’d be happier if someone got some of that magic ass potion for me ASAP, so I don’t need crutches in the morning.”

Lance had never seen two people get out of bed so fast.

Chapter Text

Snuggling with two other people sounded like it could turn into an uncomfortable and sweaty situation really fast, but apparently not when the two people were vampires.

Shiro and Keith were warm where they curled around Lance, but not smothering – their warmth was subtler, retained; like the warmth of a pillow after waking up, or the heat of a stone that had been sitting in the sun. Their fingertips were less so, points of coolness on Lance’s skin, stroking soothingly over it as they stirred slowly into consciousness with him.

It was morning. They’d slept the night with him. Lance’s heart couldn’t handle this, honestly.

“Hello,” Shiro murmured, nuzzling into Lance’s shoulder and yawning. He looked disoriented, there were dark circles under his eyes, and his hair was sticking up every which way, but just looking at him made Lance smile helplessly anyway. “I hope you slept better than I did.”

“I slept great,” Lance told him, giving him a fond peck on the lips before directing his attention to Keith, who was in snuggly-octopus mode again, face smushed into Lance’s chest and pointed ears flicking when Lance pet his hair. “Did you sleep even worse, Keith?”

Keith mumbled something unintelligible. Shiro snorted. “He said he wishes you were nocturnal, so you could feel our pain.” Shiro poked Keith’s forehead. “It’s not that bad, hush.”

Keith lifted his head enough to glower at them both, but he started purring when Lance continued to pet him, so he figured he wasn’t really upset at all. “Speaking of pain,” Shiro said, and looked at Lance seriously.

“Oh,” Lance said. He stretched experimentally, and with relief found that he was sore, but not ridiculously so, and there was only a dull ache when he parted his legs slightly. “Wow, that magic ass potion really is magical, huh?”

“That is the purpose, yes,” Shiro chuckled, but he looked relieved. “I’m sure the warm bath afterwards helped, too.”

“Yeah, it did,” Lance said, smiling, remembering. “I know you said you guys have never, like, done this kinda thing before, but. So far, you’re pretty good at it.”

Keith kissed his nipple. Lance squawked and pushed his head away, ticklish. Shiro shook his head fondly, sitting up and stretching with another yawn before getting out of bed. Keith and Lance stopped messing with each other to admire the view. Oblivious, Shiro rifled through the dresser and pulled on a pair of pajama pants and a gray T-shirt, though not before gratuitously stretching a few more times. So maybe he wasn’t that oblivious after all.

“I can make you some breakfast, Lance,” Shiro said over his shoulder, heading for the door. “I think we have some eggs and bread…how do you feel about French toast?”

“Hell yeah,” Lance said. “Thanks, Shiro.”

Shiro shot him a smile and left the room, the stairs creaking distantly as he descended.

Keith was falling asleep again. Lance elbowed him. “Let me up, bat boy.”

“Y’need a nickname for Shiro now,” Keith mumbled.

“Kitty?” Lance suggested.

“He’d murder you,” Keith cackled.

“Here, kitty, kitty, kitty,” Lance crooned, making Keith cackle harder as Lance’s voice dissolved into giggles. But their laughter was cut short by a sudden startled shout from downstairs.

They exchanged panicked looks and hastily grabbed pants before hurrying down the hall and half-tripping downstairs. Lance didn’t know what he expected, but it wasn’t Shiro gripping the sink so hard that hairline fissures were crackling through the ceramic, staring white-faced out the window at a dark, motionless shape about twenty feet from the front porch.

“Shiro?” Keith whispered, approaching him cautiously. “What is it, what’s out there?”

“Prey,” Shiro said, a snarl in his voice. “Recently killed. By the Galra, I’d bet anything.”

Lance’s heart stopped. “The Galra were here?” he exclaimed. “Like, last night?! While we were –”

Shiro’s agitated growl cut him off abruptly. “Yes,” he said. “They must have sensed some sort of resulting magic or energy from our consummation, which means they must have been not just Galra, but Druids.”

Lance wasn’t sure he’d heard him correctly. “Wait,” he said, “you mean…you guys couldn’t feel all the magic in the house last night? At all?”

Shiro and Keith, especially Shiro, stared at him. “You…are you saying you could, Lance?” Shiro asked slowly.

“Yeah,” Lance said defensively. “Yeah, I mean, how could I not, it was kinda hard to ignore. Stop messin’ with me, you guys!”

“Nobody’s messing with you, Lance,” Shiro said. He bit his lip, uncertain. “Neither of us could sense the magic. I’ve only ever seen such an ability in Druids.”

“Well, obviously I’m not a Druid!” Lance retorted.

“Of course not…but I’ve never heard of humans with sensitivity to vampiric magic,” Shiro countered. “That doesn’t mean it’s impossible…”

“Do you think it could have something to do with your crystal, Lance?” Keith asked, nodding to the crystal around Lance’s neck, which he’d instinctively put on before running downstairs. “Maybe it channels the magic somehow, and that’s what allows you to sense it.”

Lance latched onto the explanation, because it was better than not human. “Probably, yeah,” he said. “That could work, right, Shiro?”

Shiro still looked troubled, but he shrugged and said, “Let’s go with that, sure.” He looked back out the window. “Anyway, we need to get rid of that…mess.”

Keith was already slipping out the front door. Shiro huffed and followed him, and Lance followed at his heels. Shiro stopped him at the door. “Lance, I’m not sure you should see what the Galra left.”

“Oh, c’mon, don’t give me that crap,” Lance said, shoving at his chest even though he might as well have been trying to knock over a slab of granite. “I’m not some innocent kid, and it’s not like I didn’t see plenty of stuff at the garrison.”

Shiro’s gaze darkened at that, first in anger, then in something like sadness. “That doesn’t mean you should see more,” he said, but let Lance pass. They jogged over to the crumpled shape in the grass, and Lance stopped a few feet short from the smell. He clamped a hand over his nose and mouth in disgust, swatting at the flies that had begun to gather. It was no wonder that they had – the carcass was covered in blood, throat torn raggedly open and pelt marred by long claw marks.

It was a fawn, white spots stained red. One of the fawns Keith had wanted to show him, apparently, because Keith practically fell to his knees beside it, face twisting with fury. “How dare they,” he hissed. “They trespassed onto our territory, killed one of our deer, didn’t even feed – just wasted it. Left it to die.”

“It was meant as a warning, not a meal,” Shiro said grimly. “A very clear warning.” He glanced at Lance.

Lance’s gut churned. “Oh, great,” he said. “This is supposed to symbolize me?”

“It was a threat towards you, yes, but not one they’ll likely follow through with,” Shiro said. “You’re valuable to Lotor. Much more valuable than this unfortunate creature was.”

“Sorry if I don’t find that super comforting,” Lance said, looking at the gory wound on its throat and wincing emphatically, lifting a hand to his own neck. The crystal thrummed nervously as he did so.

“We won’t let them touch you,” Keith promised firmly.

Shiro nodded. “If they were Druids, and they sensed the magic, then they know what transpired between us last night – they know that if you weren’t officially under our protection before, you most definitely are now. They know that any attempt to harm or capture you will be met with instant retaliation. I have hope that this will make them more cautious about any counterattacks.” He frowned down at the fawn. “Though I have a feeling these childish shows of rage won’t stop.”

“They’re frustrated,” Lance noted. “They know where we are – where I am – but they can’t get past the barrier, and they must know these woods are swarming with vampires loyal to you.”

As if on cue, there was a movement from the treetops, and a large barn owl swooped into the clearing, landing and shifting into Ulaz, who inclined his head deeply to Shiro and looked at Lance with open interest. “My friend,” Shiro greeted. “I suppose you know something more about all this?”

“Indeed,” Ulaz said. He looked very, very worried. “It was not just any Druid who did this, Shiro. It was Lotor himself.”

Shiro, Keith, and Lance blanched, but it was Lance who blurted out, “Lotor sensed us fucking?!”

Ulaz coughed, equally embarrassed and amused. “I’m afraid so,” he said. “He was…quite displeased.”

“Good,” Keith said, winding an arm protectively around Lance’s waist. “He got the message loud and clear, then.”

“That’s not necessarily a good thing, Keith,” Shiro reproached, his ears pink. “Not if he continues to lash out like this.”

“I don’t think he’ll be back anytime soon,” Ulaz said. “The prince was beside himself. I’m surprised you didn’t hear his shrieking.”

“We weren’t exactly quiet, ourselves,” Shiro said bluntly.

“Did he do anything besides throw a tantrum and rip up one of our fawns?” Keith asked.

Ulaz sighed. “He tried to interfere with the barrier using his powers. He failed, of course – he may have Druid blood, but he isn’t half as powerful as Haggar or her lackeys. Luxia and Florona promised they would check the barrier and sigils nonetheless, to make sure everything is still intact.”

“That would give me peace of mind, yes,” Shiro muttered, scanning the treetops warily before looking back at the fawn. “In the meantime…let’s dispose of this.”

“I can do it,” Keith said. “I can carry it in my bat form, drop it into –”

“Not into their territory,” Shiro said sharply.

“I was only going to say into the ravine, as usual,” Keith finished, though he looked a bit disappointed.

“I’ll hold you to that,” Shiro said after a pause. He squeezed Keith’s shoulder. “Be safe. It may be daytime, but Haggar’s still likely to have spies about.”

“I’ll be fine,” Keith murmured. “You know what I did to the last one.”

Shiro smiled. “I know.” He stepped into Keith’s space, and Lance thought they might kiss, but instead they just touched their foreheads together, eyes falling shut for an instant, before stepping away again. Probably some kind of vampire thing. Huh. Keith shifted into his half-bat form, grasping the corpse with his long talons before taking off, carrying it away into the trees.

Ulaz watched him go, then looked back at Shiro and Lance. “I should go as well,” he said. “Thace and your friends will be glad to hear that you are well, Lance…Thace was quite concerned about you last night. The way he told it, one would have thought you were about ready to burn down Shiro and Keith’s home.”

Shiro glanced at Lance with mild alarm. “I was pretty upset,” Lance conceded. “But you can tell him and my friends that the house is safely unburnt, and I just got another boyfriend, so things are looking up.” Pidge and Hunk had probably known about the Shiro/Keith thing for a while, smug bastards. But Lance wasn’t really mad – he never could be, with them. A revenge prank was in their future, though.

Ulaz’s mouth twitched. “I’ll be sure to tell them so.” With that, he shifted into the owl and flew off, white wings perfectly silent.

“Now that all that’s taken care of,” Shiro sighed, turning back to the house, “would you still like breakfast?” Lance’s stomach rumbled in reply. Shiro’s tense expression relaxed, and he smiled, reaching out and touching Lance’s shoulder, gently guiding him back inside.

Lance took a seat at the table, feeling awkward watching Shiro move about the kitchen. He wasn’t used to people cooking for him, and if he hadn’t made than abundantly clear two nights ago, he did when he said, “Y’know, I can totally help, if you want – I mean I don’t wanna make you have to put all this effort into making food that you’re not eating…”

Shiro turned, carton of eggs in one hand and quart of milk in the other. “Hmm? Oh, Lance, it’s no trouble. You’re a guest, after all.”

“I guess,” Lance said, but was still hesitant. “I feel bad, though. I’ve…I don’t think I remember the last time I didn’t help make a meal, even if I was a guest. Even at the Holts’ I help out.”

“You can, of course, help if you really wish to,” Shiro said mildly, taking out a skillet and cutting several precise slices of the remaining loaf of French bread. “But I think it’s good to have someone else make you a meal once in a while. And even though I can’t eat this, I do gain something from making it – your satisfaction. So it isn’t a total loss.” Shiro smiled at him over his shoulder.

Lance had a serious case of the warm fuzzies. “Yeah,” he mumbled, “yeah, I guess so.”

“Unless you’re offering to help because you think I’m a bad cook,” Shiro added, smile dropping.

Lance’s eyes widened. “What? No! No, no, that’s not what I – oh, wow, you’re a jerk.”

Shiro was laughing at him with his eyes, a smirk tugging on the edges of his mouth. “I’m only teasing,” he chuckled. “I know I’m a pretty good cook. My sense of taste for this food may be gone, but my sense of smell isn’t.”

“Where did you learn?” Lance asked. “How to cook, I mean?”

“From the old cook who lived on my estate, actually,” Shiro said, turning the stove on and watching the bread contemplatively as it crackled and sizzled. “I had quite a large household staff, once upon a time. A motley crew, to be sure, but they were all loyal and devoted servants.”

“Did…did they know about you?” Lance asked. “About vampires?”

“They had an idea,” Shiro said vaguely, waving a hand. “It would be more apt to say that they learned not to ask questions. Not due to any sort of bullying on my part,” he added hastily at Lance’s apprehensive expression, “but because many of them owed a great deal to me. They came from humble roots, and I paid and treated them better than most would have. Although I must admit I was…different, back then.”

“Before Keith?” Lance guessed.

Shiro glanced at him, surprised, and nodded as he flipped the bread. “Yes, before Keith. I had resigned myself to spending eternity alone, you see. Such a mindset tends to make one…well, bitter would be putting it lightly. Even though I never abused my servants, many were afraid of me. I did not make myself likable. I had no desire to. I knew what I had become and I found little reason to try to run from it any longer.”

“Like Beauty and the Beast,” Lance said under his breath.

Shiro snorted. “That…is not a bad comparison, actually. Though it was a much bloodier version, without any of the fairytale elements. And Keith was certainly no princess.”

“What was Keith like, then?” Lance asked. “He’s told me a little, but, I’d like to hear it from you, too.”

Shiro plated the French toast and brought it back to the table, and before Lance could protest he poured him a cup of coffee, too. As Lance gratefully sipped his coffee and dug into the (delicious) French toast, Shiro looked thoughtfully at the him for a few moments before replying.

“Keith hated me at first,” he murmured. “Continuing in the Beauty and the Beast vein, I suppose. But yes, he hated me, mostly because he was terrified and disgusted by me and what I had turned him into…technically against his will, even though it saved his life. He was barely coherent enough to vocalize his feelings properly after I turned him, but I got the gist of it. That was why he ran away, and accidentally killed Henry. It was only after that accident that he began to realize, as I had, that there was no running from this life, and as his sire I was meant to be his ally, not his enemy.” Shiro sighed. “How’s your French toast?”

“Awesome,” Lance said, mouth full. Shiro gave him an exasperated look. Lance swallowed and said with a grin, “You weren’t complaining last night.”

“Lance!” Shiro exclaimed, shocked and blushing. “You are shameless.

“Yep,” Lance said smugly. “Anyway, sorry, that sounds pretty rough. I mean, after you saved his life and he still thought you were a monster. How…how long did that last?”

“Not long, thankfully,” Shiro said, after composing himself with effort. “He began to warm up to me two weeks after his turning, and after three months, we realized our attraction for each other.”

“Whoa,” Lance said. “So you guys really have been together for over a century.”

“Yes.” Shiro smiled. “Sometimes I cannot believe it’s been that long.”

“I bet.” Lance finished his French toast and hopped up to wash his plate off before Shiro could beat him to it. Shiro huffed at him but admitted defeat.

“You should probably go to Hunk and Pidge,” Shiro said when Lance was done. “They will want to hear about this newest development from you directly, and it’s better for you to be out of the woods while we reinforce the barrier and patrol our territory.”

“Okay,” Lance said. “Are you guys busy tonight?”

“We’re hunting,” Shiro said apologetically.

“Aw,” Lance said, leaning against the counter and tilting his head, purposefully exposing the spot where Shiro had bitten him before. “Sure I couldn’t persuade you to go for something other than elk?”

Shiro shook his head ruefully. “You know we need more than you could safely give.”

“Hmph,” Lance grumbled, folding his arms. “So I really am just a snack, then.”

Shiro got up from the table and sidled over to him, Lance’s mouth going dry as Shiro cornered him against the counter and tipped his chin up for a kiss, deep and tender. Shiro broke away too soon, licking his shiny lips, and murmured, “No. More like dessert.”

“You cheese,” Lance laughed breathlessly, but he went in for another kiss.

Shiro didn’t want to seem to stop kissing him.

*

When Keith returned, he walked Lance back to the Holts’ house, the two of them walking hand in hand at Lance’s insistence. When they reached the front porch, Keith pressed a soft kiss to his lips before drawing back, looking as if he’d rather do anything other than leave.

“Shiro said you’re hunting tonight,” Lance said. “So…what about tomorrow night?”

Keith frowned. “The Blade wanted to survey the territory for any new signs of Galra trespassing that night.”

“Night after that?”

“Sorry, Lance,” Keith said. “We’re meeting with Luxia and Florona to see if we can find some way to know when the Galra are lurking around.”

“Great,” Lance sighed. “And after that?”

“Hunting again,” Keith said. “But…maybe not the entire night.” He bit his lip. “I don’t know how safe it would be for you to visit us afterwards, though. Like I said…feeding tends to get us riled up.”

“Well,” Lance drawled, “if ‘riled up’ is anything like last night, then I’m not complaining.”

“It’s a bit more than last night,” Keith admitted, turning pink. “But, anyway, if we don’t take the whole night and Shiro feels that it’s safe, we’ll get you from Pidge’s house. How does that sound?”

“I gotta wait four days, is all I’m hearing,” Lance whined.

“It’s not like you’ll never see us,” Keith said fondly. “We’ll drop by in the late afternoon, don’t worry.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” Lance warned.

*

Hunk and Pidge had, in fact, known about Keith and Shiro for a while.

“I love you, Lance,” Hunk said seriously after Lance walked through the front door, “but you are unbelievably dense sometimes.”

“Hey!” Lance exclaimed. “Excuse me for not assuming my boyfriend was married.”

“Why you didn’t just talk to them right away is a mystery to me,” Pidge added. “Would a little communication kill you?”

“Why didn’t you guys tell me?” Lance retorted, folding his arms.

The two of them did look guilty at that. “We thought it’d be better if you figured it out on your own,” Hunk admitted.

“Yeah, well, I did,” Lance said. “By walking in on them. So. Thanks for that.”

“I mean, all’s well that ends well?” Pidge tried.

Lance narrowed his eyes at them. “What if I’d ruined everything by running away? What if Lotor had gotten to me? Because he was out there last night.”

Their eyes widened. So he had to relate that story to them, too.

“Oh my god,” Hunk said. “How much creepier can this guy get?”

“Let’s hope that question never gets answered,” Pidge muttered.

“If it does, I’m blaming you guys,” Lance told them. “Just so you know.”

“I said sorry!” Hunk exclaimed. “Besides, we didn’t even know if Shiro liked you, so we didn’t wanna accidentally mess it up by telling you. But he, uh, he does like you?”

“Yeah,” Lance said, and smiled thinking about it. “Yeah, we’re all kind of in love.”

“Love,” Pidge repeated, and then shook their head, walking off with a sigh. “Get ready for even more Twilight jokes, Lance,” they called over their shoulder. “You deserve every single one of them.”

Hunk folded his arms. “Wait a sec,” he said, “is it just me, or are the bandages on your neck multiplying?”

“I dunno what you’re talking about,” Lance said shiftily.

“You let both of them bite you?!” Hunk squawked. Lance looked at the floor. “Did it never cross your mind that maybe, just maybe, that was a bad idea?”

Lance looked back up at him sharply. “You may not trust them, but I do.”

“I know,” Hunk sighed. “That’s what worries me.”

“You don’t think I should?” Lance snapped. “What, besides their bad communication, has given you the impression that Shiro and Keith aren’t to be trusted?”

“The fact that they’re vampires,” Hunk suggested. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re the ‘good’ ones, but…they’re still vampires, Lance. Have you ever heard a vampire story that didn’t end in a victim getting their life force drained?”

Twilight?”

“Nuh-uh,” Pidge said, poking their head around the doorframe. “Bella’s creepy vampire baby was killing her from the inside out and had a cement placenta, so that’s a bad example.”

Lance made a face. “Yeah, well, whatever, pregnancy doesn’t really apply here, Pidge. And real vampires are infertile anyway, take that, Stephanie Meyer.”

“My point still stands,” Hunk said. “Just…keep it in mind, Lance. I’m happy for you, and I’m glad that you trust them. I think they genuinely care about you, too. But that doesn’t change what they are.”

Lance scowled. “All I’m getting from this is that you think they’re gonna snap and drain me dry one of these days.”

“All I’m saying is that it’s a possibility,” Hunk cautioned. “They could kill you, Lance.”

“A lot of things could kill me,” Lance retorted. “You could totally kill me if you tried hard enough. Pidge could, too.”

Hunk looked upset at that. “I guess, but neither of us wants to kill you, Lance.”

“I mean, sometimes,” Pidge said. Hunk glared at them.

“Listen, I appreciate the concern,” Lance said, sighing and squeezing Hunk’s shoulder. “But Shiro and Keith aren’t the main threat, here. Lotor is. And they’re protecting me from him. Do you really have an objection to that?”

“Guess not,” Hunk sighed. “I just hope this has a happy ending, is all.”

“Me too, bud,” Lance said. “Me too.”

*

The next four days felt like the longest of Lance’s life.

It was nice to hang out with Hunk and Pidge, sure, but he’d been chilling with them for years, and they didn’t exactly hold the same appeal as Shiro and Keith did. Keith sent him short letters by raven, usually Red, who got used to Hunk feeding her snacks and developed a vendetta against Pidge after the curious raven started pecking at Pidge’s laptop and Pidge chucked a pen at her.

The letters were sweet, sure, and Keith had beautiful handwriting – loopy, old-fashioned script like something out of an Austen novel – but their content seemed shallow and never told Lance everything he wanted to hear.

For example, Keith never divulged anything about the plans they were making with the Blade. Lance supposed that might be a security issue if Haggar’s raven spies intercepted it – he hoped they never would, he’d gotten attached to Red, even if she had a foul mouth. But he still felt out of the loop. And Keith said little about whether or not the Galra had intruded further into their territory – Lance suspected this was to stop him from worrying, but it just made him worry more.

Keith said he and Shiro missed Lance, but that was all – maybe it would be over the top if he’d waxed poetic about how sad they were that Lance was gone, but it felt too brief, almost cursory, when he simply ended the letters with, Soon, or We look forward to seeing you again.

It was frustrating how formal and restrained the letters were after Keith and Shiro had been so entirely informal and unrestrained the last night he’d seen them. Maybe that was just how Keith had been taught to write, but Lance couldn’t stand it. How Keith could write things like, I trust you’re doing well and The weather is pleasant today after Lance had literally just had both their dicks up his ass, Lance didn’t know.

But like, patience is a virtue, and all that BS. So Lance persevered through it, and ignored Pidge’s comments about pining, and gratefully accepted Hunk’s invitation to bake cherry pie and buy a whole tub of ice cream, not because he needed comfort food, but because ice cream was good, okay Pidge, shut the hell up and eat your damn vanilla.

(Lance did need comfort food, and ended up finishing the whole tub in the dark at two in the morning, sitting on the floor in front of the fridge and trying to convince himself that this too would pass.)

*

On the fourth night, Lance waited with baited breath.

And waited, and waited, until the setting sun had stained the sky red and gold and left the blue gloom of twilight behind as it finally sank down below the distant mountains. Lance waited beside the window, tapping his fingers impatiently on the pane, ignoring Hunk's increasingly worried glances in his direction and deflecting any of Pidge's questions with, "They'll be here, you'll see."

But they were not, and soon it was truly night, the faintly lingering light fading until complete, still darkness fell over the town, with not even a sliver of moon to pierce through it.

"They'll be hunting now," Hunk said, wary. "Best to just call it quits, bud."

"No, they said they'd - aha, what'd I tell you!" Lance exclaimed as a shadow landed on the window sill, fluttering its feathers and tapping at the glass. He let Red in with a grin, eagerly untying the message from her leg. Red wasted no time in hopping onto Hunk's bed and trying to pillage his bag of chips.

Lance unrolled the message, and slowly his smile fell.

Dear Lance,

We're very sorry, but Shiro thinks it's best that you stay home tonight. He does not wish to put you in any unnecessary danger, especially not from us, and he has been in a Mood lately due to Lotor's constant infringement on our territory. Hunting will only exacerbate his state of mind. Sleep well. Tomorrow night, alright?

Soon,

K&S

Lance exhaled. Carefully, he rolled the note up again and put it in his pocket. Hunk and Pidge were watching him curiously.

"So...what did they say?" Hunk asked.

Lance forced a smile. "They're gonna meet me at the edge of the woods at midnight, once they're done hunting."

Pidge blinked. "Really? They decided it was safe for you?"

Lance nodded. "Yeah, 'course. Why wouldn't it be? Anyway, didn't you wanna watch a movie in the meantime, Hunk? I can make some popcorn."

"Yeah, okay," Hunk said, relaxing, though Pidge was still squinting at Lance suspiciously. Red, who had forced Hunk to surrender his bag of chips, cawed in satisfaction and, brushing past Lance, spread her wings and leapt out the window, into the night.

"We haven't even had dinner yet," Pidge said. "How does grilled cheese and tomato soup sound?"

"You should be asking me that, because you can't cook," Hunk informed them. Pidge stuck out their tongue. "But sounds good, I'll make grilled cheese and you can heat up some Campbell's."

"I'm still making popcorn," Lance said stubbornly.

*

By the time the movie was over, the grilled cheese and tomato soup gone, and the popcorn down to just a few kernels, the clock read 11:49. Lance stared at it apprehensively - even he knew that this wasn't a great decision on his part. But...but he wanted to see them so badly. And even if they hadn't promised he would see them tonight...they had said they might, and Lance had hoped he would. And maybe a part of him was a little mad at them, too. A little mad that they had let him in in such spectacular fashion, only to seemingly shut him out again. He knew that they probably didn't see it like that, or mean it like that, but that was sorta how it felt.

So as Hunk was starting to doze off, Lance grabbed a jacket and started for the door. Pidge stopped him as his hand touched the knob.

"Lance, are you sure about this?"

He stared back at them defiantly even though he really felt like shit for lying to his friends. "Sure about visiting my boyfriends? Yeah, of course. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Lance," Pidge said, brows drawing together. "Don't do something stupid. You already got captured once."

"I know," Lance said. "Don't sweat it. I got my protection amulet and my vampire boyfriends, Lotor doesn't stand a chance."

Pidge glared at him for five more seconds before shaking their head and sighing. "Okay. Bye, I guess. I better not have to say 'I told you so' anytime soon."

"You won't," Lance said, praying he was right. "Bye. Give Hunk a goodnight kiss for me."

Pidge rolled their eyes. Lance left.

*

Lance had some regrets.

He'd forgotten how total the darkness was out here in the woods. Neither Thace nor Ulaz had been guarding the house, or if they had they hadn't rushed to accompany Lance or make him turn back. So he was alone, utterly alone, as he traipsed through the underbrush and kept one hand clutching at the crystal, the other on his phone, its flashlight cutting weakly through the shadows.

The crystal also had some regrets, judging by its panicky sputtering half-glow and its uneven hum against his palm. "I'm sorry," Lance whispered to it, flinching at the sound of a rustle in the brush followed by a burst of motion across his path - just a rabbit, white tail flicking as it bounded off into the bushes. "See? Nothing scary here. Nothing at all - oh sweet Jesus."

His flashlight beam had fallen across a broad sycamore tree, which was covered in ragged claw marks gouged so deep that sap had beaded up in the wounds, like sticky amber blood. Lance swallowed. Shiro was definitely in a Mood...but he was pretty sure some of the scratches were Keith's handiwork, too; smaller and closer together, but just as vicious.

The crystal thrummed nervously. "It's just them," Lance mumbled. "That's for the Galra, not me."

This hardly seemed to comfort the crystal, or Lance, for that matter - he hurried on through the woods, and at one point he was sure he was lost, and fumbled desperately with his GPS, only to find that of course he had no signal, of fucking course, but then the crystal began to glow encouragingly and he calmed down enough to listen to it, and let it guide him through the trees.

At around one in the morning, Lance finally reached the house. He was sweating, both from exertion and uneasiness, and even though he was literally out of the woods, the crystal was still unhappy with the situation, and him.

The magic wreathed the house as before, but where it had been warm and tingling, almost sensual, it was prickling and unpleasant now. There was a definite edge of danger to it, and Lance hesitated before knocking on the door instead of just barging in. The magic swirled angrily around his ankles and crept over the back of his neck like fingers of ice, only to dissipate abruptly as the door swung open, Shiro's figure looming on the threshold.

He was bare-chested, with a towel wrapped around his waist and a few glittering droplets of water clinging to his darkened hair. Lance wondered at the reason for this until he saw a fleck of dried red just under his jaw, and realized they must have just finished cleaning up from their hunt.

"Lance, what are you doing here." Shiro's voice was clipped and cold, his eyes like burning coals under dark brows, narrowed and scorching Lance to the core.

"I...I wanted to see you guys," Lance eked out, shuffling in place. The crystal glimmered anxiously. "It's okay, I didn't take the crystal off and I had Google Maps..."

Shiro's gaze fell to the crystal, his lip curling. "You thought that," he said, almost mocking, "would protect you out there?"

There was a movement behind Shiro, and Keith walked out from the parlor, wearing black boxers and a towel draped over his bare shoulders. He stared at Lance with confusion, then panic. "What are you doing here?!" he exclaimed, and turned to Shiro, "What's he doing here?!"

"Lance evidently decided his own safety was secondary to seeing us," Shiro said, lip still curled, gaze still fixed on Lance. "Did you not receive the message Keith sent?"

"I did, but -"

"But you disregarded it," Shiro snapped, and Lance shrank back. "You purposefully ignored it and wandered into the forest despite knowing you could have been captured again. Is that what you want? Do you want to be Lotor's thrall?"

Lance folded his arms. "Obviously I don't want that," he retorted. "Look, I know it was stupid, but I just missed you! Is that so wrong?"

Keith shook his head. "Lance, I told you we could see you tomorrow night."

"Well, I didn't wanna wait!" Lance said. "I get that you guys are mad, but -"

"Do you?" Shiro interrupted, and before Lance knew what hit him, the older vampire yanked him inside and backed him up against the wall, his glare inches from Lance's face. Lance gulped. "Do you really understand how upset the thought of the Galra taking you again makes us, Lance?"

"Shiro, you're scaring him -"

"Good," Shiro growled, stepping closer, mouth searing against Lance's neck, hotter than usual from the blood he'd just consumed. "You need to know that you can't do this, Lance. You can't put yourself in harm's way for our sake. Never again, you hear me?"

"I hear you," Lance whispered, Shiro's heart thudding furiously under his palms.

"I don't think you do," Shiro said, pulling away, much to Lance's dismay.

"We can't send him back out there," Keith said, wavering uncertainly, frowning at the two of them.

"We're not going to," Shiro said firmly. He took ahold of Lance's wrist. "You wanted to see us so badly? Fine. You'll see us."

"What - ah!" Shiro slung Lance over his shoulder and started up the stairs. Lance didn't know what was happening, only that he was in trouble. Keith followed them up, giving Lance a look that was half apologetic, half warning. Lance tried to squirm out of Shiro's grasp but claws pricked at his waist through his T-shirt, sharp enough to slice through, and Shiro held him fast anyway.

Lance was scared. Shiro was angry. Keith was less so, but Shiro was his sire and he wouldn't disobey him. Maybe this had been a mistake. Maybe Hunk and Pidge were right. Maybe, when it came down to it, they were vampires, and Lance was prey.

He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to control his breathing. A soft hand brushed over his face and his eyes fluttered cautiously open. Keith. "Lance, it's okay," he whispered. "We're not going to hurt you." His brow was creased, eyes wide and worried, and Lance got the sense that he didn’t know exactly what was going through Shiro’s head, either.

Shiro paused. He exhaled, and Lance felt the claws recede as he opened the door to their bedroom. Lance expected Shiro to roughly toss him onto the bed or something, but he set him down with all of his usual gentleness, though there was a steely look in his eyes that hadn't been there before.

"I'm sorry," Lance said, eying them both nervously. "Okay? I'm sorry, I screwed up, and -"

Shiro held up a hand. Lance shut up.

"Do you remember what I said about telling us to stop if we do anything you don't like, Lance?" Shiro asked, his voice more level than before.

Lance blinked, and flushed. "Um," he said. "Yes..."

"Keep that in mind," Shiro said, and Lance noticed Keith was going through one of the nightstand drawers. Lance watched, curious, until Shiro said, "Undress yourself."

Lance blinked harder. "Uh -"

"Don't make me repeat myself."

Hastily, Lance complied, tugging his shirt up and over his head and crystal along with it, and taking off his sweatpants, which were covered in little rips and burrs from the forest. Shiro watched, expression unchanging, as Lance kicked off his boxers and sat uncertainly on the edge of the bed.

"Can...can I ask what you're going to do?" Lance said nervously.

Shiro shook his head and unwound the towel from around his waist. "You'll see soon enough," he replied, and then he was bending down and kissing Lance. Lance made a startled sound against his lips, which just made Shiro press harder against him, a warning to stay down. Lance had no idea where this was going, but right now he wasn't complaining.

Then there was a hand on his wrists, and Lance gasped into Shiro's mouth as Keith wrapped what felt like a length of rope around them, tying them together. Shiro drew back, as if expecting Lance to protest. But Lance just gaped at him, and then at Keith as he wrenched Lance's arms up and tied them to the headboard with a practiced hand.

"Oh my god," Lance said. "You guys keep rope in your bedroom?!"

"We keep a lot of other things in here," Keith murmured. "We've had a lot of time for...experimentation."

"You mean, being kinky. Jesus Christ, you guys."

"I think you forgot something," Shiro said, tossing a black strappy thing at Keith, who caught it one-handed. Up close, Lance realized it was a ball gag.
"Is this really necessary - mmph!"

Keith didn't look apologetic in the slightest about shoving the gag into his mouth and fastening the buckle at the nape of his neck. Lance still didn't totally know where they were going with this. He tried to give Keith puppy eyes, but Keith just snorted and turned away from him, back to Shiro.

Lance turned his puppy eyes on Shiro, who only stared back coolly. "Comfortable?" Shiro asked. Lance hunched his shoulders and grumbled against the gag. Shiro's eyes narrowed. "Shake your head. Yes or no."

Reluctantly, Lance nodded.

"Is the rope too tight?"

He shook his head no.

"Good." Keith, who had taken something else from the drawer, pressed something small and cold into one of Lance's bound hands, which closed in a fist around it. Shiro pointed to it. “That's a bell. Drop it if you need to be untied - and I mean need, not want, because you're going to want to, but you can't, because this is about teaching you a lesson. Understood?"

Confused and apprehensive all over again, Lance nodded.

"Alright. There's one more rule - don't come. Or you won't see us tomorrow night, either."

Lance flushed with indignation. That wasn't fair. But he couldn't very well talk back like this, which was probably why Shiro wanted him gagged in the first place. So he just glowered instead.

His irritation quickly faded, though, when Keith unexpectedly went up on his tiptoes and kissed Shiro, and Lance realized he'd only seen them kiss once before, and that was really unfortunate because they looked incredible together. Keith had never looked softer than when he was kissing Shiro, and Shiro held him close with a gentle hand in his hair and the other curving around his waist, until it was sliding down the back of his boxers and resting on Keith's ass, firm and proprietary, the shape of his hand visible through the fabric.

Lance squirmed when Shiro groaned into the kiss, Keith’s hands getting busy between them. He wanted to see, more than that he wanted to touch, wanted to be with them, but he realized with a sinking sensation that this was his punishment. You can look, but you can’t touch. Lance whined around the gag unhappily, and the vampires paused for a moment to give him matching looks of cool disinterest before Shiro tugged down Keith’s boxers and pushed him down onto the bed next to Lance. Lance whined louder, still they ignored him.

Shiro covered Keith’s body with his own, his back a canvas of scars and flexing muscle, and Lance wanted to touch that too, but he couldn’t, and they were going to drive him insane. Shiro kissed Keith harder, and Keith whimpered, hands scratching through the short hair at the nape of Shiro’s neck as Shiro began to grind down against him, slow and steady. One of Keith’s legs wrapped around Shiro’s waist, rocking them more firmly together, Keith’s head falling back against the pillow and lashes fluttering.

He was so close. Lance just had to lean a few inches to the left and Keith’s hair would brush against his side –

“Don’t move,” Shiro growled, raising his head enough to glare at Lance.

Lance made a grumbly noise that translated to, Or what, you’ll torture me even more?

Keith licked his lips and looked at Lance, lips curling into a lazy smirk. “Are you getting it yet, Lance? He’s going to fuck me, right next to you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Lance stared at him frantically. “Mmph!” He was half hard, cock filling out against his stomach as he watched Shiro’s slick fingers slip under Keith, and then into him.

“I think he gets it,” Shiro chuckled. Keith spread his legs wider, greedy, taking three fingers right away. Lance could see them moving in and out of his stretched hole, and dug his nails into his own palms with silent desperation. Keith’s pale skin flushed so easily, so prettily, and his cock was the darkest part of him. It spilled beads of precum over his chest as Shiro forced his body upwards, nearly vertical, Keith’s legs splayed in the air and ankles hooked over Shiro’s shoulders as Shiro’s fingers twisted deep inside of him. It was obscene.

Shiro’s mouth traced over Keith’s thighs as he fingered him open, and Keith took his own cock in hand, stroking and twisting and making no attempt to muffle his moans. Lance stared and squirmed, but to no avail – Keith knew his knots, apparently, because the rope didn’t give at all.

Not even when Shiro withdrew his fingers and lowered Keith back down to his lap, rubbing his cock against Keith’s entrance teasingly, making his rim slicker as the younger vampire shifted under him, dissatisfied. Keith had started to make strange, animalistic sounds in his throat, high-pitched and needy, a kind of wordless begging. Shiro responded with lower, guttural growls and a scrape of fangs over Keith’s collarbones, dark blood beading up. Keith whimpered and bared his throat; Shiro grunted and bit.

Lance had a feeling that no human had ever seen vampires do this, or if they had, they hadn’t lived to tell the tale. Not that he would be telling anyone about this – this was a private show. Or private torture, more like.

Whatever the case, Shiro and Keith were communicating perfectly with just their sounds and body language, to the point that Lance suspected there was more than just a physical bond between them. The magic was certainly still present, less threatening than before but still edged, with a hint of danger, like a sheathed blade. He wondered if that was what connected them, if the magic was what allowed them to understand each other without speaking at all, or if their understanding was of a more primal nature.

“Lance,” Keith breathed, and Lance jolted out of his reverie, blinking in surprise. “Lance, look at how well we fit together.” And as if on command, Shiro pressed into him, and Keith crooned happily, spine arching up off the bed and thighs squeezing tight around Shiro’s hips. Lance made a strangled noise around the gag.

Shiro glanced at him sharply, as if to say, You haven’t seen anything yet, and thrust deep into Keith with no warning but his claws raking over Keith’s sides. The angry red marks faded almost as soon as he made them, and Lance could see the bite on Keith’s neck already showing signs of healing, though the blood smeared over his neck and chest remained.

Shiro, Lance realized, had been holding himself back a lot when he’d fucked Lance. He was not holding himself back at all, now. Keith was demanding, Lance already knew that, but with Shiro he seemed finally sated, even overwhelmed. He clawed at Shiro’s hair and back and drew blood over his sire’s shoulders and Shiro never faltered, driving deep and rough and fast into Keith, the bed creaking alarmingly under them, mingling with their sounds of uninhibited pleasure.

Lance was flushed hot, cock fully hard, and he could do nothing about it. He could do nothing but watch, and watch, and feel his heart slowly sink as he realized the two of them did just fine without him.

Of course they did. They’d been together, just them, for over a hundred years. They didn’t need him. No matter what they said, he was obviously just a curiosity to them. A toy, even, easily used and discarded, though they’d never admit that. They had said he was extraordinary, said he was worth more to them than his blood, said they loved him, but in that moment it didn’t seem possible. It didn’t seem possible that two beings, so utterly entangled and in love with each other, could ever let another person in, much less a person like Lance.

Lance didn’t drop the bell. He didn’t want to be here anymore – not just untied, he wanted to be gone from this room, from this house; he wanted to be back in the guest room at the Holts’, or better yet, in his own bed in his own home where there were no vampires and no splitting pains in his chest. But he didn’t drop the bell. Even if he wasn’t good enough for them, even if he could never be good enough for them, he refused to give into this weakness.

This was supposed to be a game; this wasn’t even that intense, as games went – Lance wasn’t in danger, wasn’t being physically hurt at all. He was just upset, and so it would be pathetic to stop everything because of that, wouldn’t it? Shiro and Keith would just think he was weaker than they thought already. His lower lip was already trembling, and if they stayed distracted for long enough, he could probably will himself not to cry. He didn’t want to cry in front of them, especially not with this gag on. He would be a mess, nothing hot about it.

So Lance didn’t drop the bell.

But as it turned out, he didn’t have to drop the bell for them to stop.

Keith dug his claws into Shiro’s waist as Shiro stilled abruptly, nostrils flaring and head swinging to the side to look at Lance, his expression changing in an instant from heated and possessive to shocked and worried. Keith looked, too, and Lance curled away from them, shaking his head, ashamed.

“Lance –?” Shiro sat up, and Keith did too, their own arousal forgotten as they turned their attention to Lance. “Lance, what’s wrong?” Shiro’s eyes were wide and there was not a trace of his earlier anger, just concern as he carefully unbuckled the gag and let it fall onto the bed, hand lifting to massage Lance’s jaw gently. Lance ducked away, though the rope prevented him from avoiding their touch entirely. Shiro flinched, hurt and confused.

“Lance,” Keith whispered, and untied the rope hastily, frowning when Lance let his hands fall limply to his sides, the bell slipping from his fingers listlessly and rolling across the floorboards with a dull chime. “Lance, what did we – are you in pain? Please talk to us.”

Lance couldn’t stop it. He tried, he really did, but once the first of the tears came, they wouldn’t stop. He felt like a dumb little kid, crying helplessly and hiding his face in his numb hands, and he hadn’t cried in so long that it actually hurt when he did, sobs wrenching through him harshly. Shiro and Keith exclaimed in dismay and Lance hiccupped out a protest when they reached out to him uncertainly, exchanging looks of bewilderment and alarm.

“Lance –” Keith started again.

Lance lifted his head, wiping furiously at his eyes, and snapped, “I know I’m an add-on, but you didn’t have to rub it in like th-that!”

They blinked. “What – Lance, what do you mean?” Shiro asked.

Lance hid his face again. “Don’t m-make me say it,” he sobbed. “Y-you don’t need me. Nobody ever really needs me. And, and you guys have been together for a hundred years, how – how the hell am I supposed to compete with that, I can’t, and we can pretend like – like we’re all in love, but you guys don’t love me, how could you when you love each other so much already –”

“Lance, no, that’s not true,” Keith whispered. “We didn’t mean to – I’m sorry. We love you, very much, and our love for each other doesn’t prevent us from loving you, too. You don’t have to compete with anything or anyone –”

“Yes, I do!” Lance snapped, finally giving up on wiping the tears away, because they just kept coming. “My entire life is a damn competition, and I lose every single time! I’m the oldest kid in my family but I’m the most useless – Stella has her acting and Ricky has his art but I don’t have a thing like they do, I just have jokes, and those only make people like you for so long, and I know my parents are disappointed in me even if they won’t admit it, because how could they not be when Pidge got into Wellesley and is gonna be an engineer and Hunk got into UCLA to study marine biology and they’re so smart and I’m not, I don’t even know why they keep me around, I barely got into the top ten percent, and Pidge was salutatorian and Hunk was number seven in our class and their SAT scores were off the charts and mine was just average and it was like it wasn’t even difficult for them and it’s not fair!”

Lance drew in a ragged breath, crying harder, squeezing his eyes shut. “But it’s my fault, because I don’t even know what I’m doing with my life, and my mom wants me to be an astronaut and I wanted that too, once, but it’s impossible and I know I’d never make it and I keep making excuses whenever anyone asks me about my future, like ‘I’m just taking a gap year,’ or ‘I’m going to work before college,’ or something, anything, to make them stop asking me because I don’t know! And, and then I met you guys, and you made me feel like maybe I was wrong, that maybe I was worth something, and then I realized that I was just another third wheel, and I know I’m annoying and clingy and dumb and it was only four days but I missed you guys and I don’t know what’s going to happen when summer’s over and every day I’m away from you all I can think about is how you probably don’t even notice I’m gone.”

Lance was done. He’d run out of breath and his throat was too choked up to keep talking anyway around the lump that had formed in it. The two vampires were silent, and Lance hid his face, waiting for them to tell him he should probably just leave.

But instead two hands touched him softly, one on each shoulder, and Lance looked up blearily, knees drawn up to his chest, shivering. Keith and Shiro were looking at him with furrowed brows and shiny eyes, their mouths twisted in small, sad lines. “I’m sorry,” Lance whispered, “I’m sorry, I…”

“You have nothing to apologize for, Lance,” Shiro said. “If anyone should be apologizing, it seems that it should be us, because we didn’t know you had such a low – and for the record, entirely inaccurate – opinion of yourself.”

“It’s not inaccurate,” Lance retorted weakly. “You can’t say it’s inaccurate when I really have no idea what I’m doing with my life.”

“I don’t know what a gap year is,” Keith said. “Or an SAT. Or a UCLA or a Wellesley or a salutatorian.” He tilted his head and squeezed Lance’s shoulder lightly. “So maybe, those things don’t matter as much as you think they do. And I certainly don’t think they determine what you’re worth, Lance; and if so they’ve done a very poor job.”

Lance sniffed. “They matter to those of us who actually need to grow up and work to earn a living or be a failure otherwise.”

Shiro made a sympathetic sound. “If it’s money that you’re worried about, we have no shortage of it,” he said. “It tends to accumulate over the years, and we would gladly put it to use if you have need of it.”

Lance blinked, and then made a choked sound halfway between a sob and a laugh, tears still trickling. “Are – are you offering to be my sugar daddy, Shiro?”

Keith giggled. Shiro flushed and shrugged sheepishly, looking as if he wanted to deny it, then relented. “…I suppose.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway…” He shifted closer to Lance on the bed, and Lance curled gratefully into him. “We’re here for you. Not just for this summer, either. You live in a time where you can become so many things, Lance – just think about that. Don’t think about failing. Think about trying your best, which is what you always do.”

“But my best is never good enough,” Lance mumbled.

“It is,” Keith said firmly, snuggling up to Lance’s back and kissing the nape of his neck. Lance shivered, sniffing again and wishing for tissues. As if reading his mind, Keith handed him a couple. “You are more than good enough. And as for Hunk and Pidge, they are smart, but so are you. That’s why the three of you are friends. You’re all smart in your own ways. You complement each other.”

“But I can’t fix a totaled car or hack a computer,” Lance said into his tissues.

“But you could learn,” Keith countered. “That’s your strength, Lance – you’re adaptable. You’re brave enough to put yourself out there, do things others wouldn’t. You stand up for yourself, and for what you believe in, and you do it unapologetically.”

“Stop it,” Lance whispered. “You dunno what you’re talking about.”

“Yes, I do,” Keith said. “And we missed you too, Lance. Every day.”

“Really?” Lance said, looking back at Keith at that. Keith nodded, and brushed a kiss across his lips, sweet and chaste.

“How could we not miss you, Lance?” Shiro added, nuzzling into Lance’s hair. “You’re so full of life – you make our lives feel so much brighter. That’s a strength of yours, too.”

Lance had a lump in his throat again, but this time for a different reason. He swallowed, tears pricking at his eyes again. “You guys,” he said, voice thick. “I’m gonna cry again.”

“It’s alright,” Shiro assured him. “It’s good to cry once in a while. Nobody is judging you, Lance.”

“We’ll see each other every day from now on, if you want,” Keith said. “If not during the night…maybe you could visit during the day. We’d be mostly asleep, but. You could still stay with us.” He looked to Shiro for support.

“Yes,” Shiro agreed. “You’re welcome here, Lance. I’m sorry if we made you feel otherwise.”

“I’d like that,” Lance managed. “I’d like that a lot.” He broke off with a sob, softer than the ones previous, and pressed his face against Shiro’s chest, dampening his scarred skin with tears.

“Hey, hey, shhh,” Shiro murmured, stroking his hair. “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

“We love you,” Keith said, head bowing into Lance’s shoulder.

“I love you too,” Lance sniffled.

He was crying again, but the vampires didn’t leave him. Shiro continued to say soft, sweet things and shifted so that Lance’s head was tucked into his neck. Lance didn’t fully understand it, but a heavy, calmative scent filled his nose and somehow he knew the scent was Shiro’s, and meant to soothe him.

Keith’s scent was fainter, but he made up for it by making a low sound like purring in Lance’s ear, his body rumbling just like a cat’s, Lance’s eyelids drooping sleepily from the comforting vibrations. They were all naked, but there was nothing sexual about their snuggling, somehow. It was just…comfort. Lance hadn’t really expected this from Keith and Shiro, but…he was pretty sure he could get used to it. Who knew vampires could be so sweet?

After a while, Lance’s eyes flickered open, the tears dried up, and aiming to lighten the mood, he said, “I’m sorry I cock-blocked you guys.”

Keith huffed. “That’s not something you need to apologize for.”

“But –”

“We literally have all the time in the world,” Shiro told him. “Don’t worry about it. Besides, that was the last thing on my mind when I smelled your fear, Lance.”

“Hmm,” Lance mumbled, yawning sleepily. “What does fear smell like, huh?”

“Bitter,” Shiro and Keith said in unison.

“Like a sour taste in the back of your mouth,” Keith added.

“It’s unmistakable,” Shiro murmured.

“Guess we don’t really need a safeword, then,” Lance said with another yawn. “Probably for the best, since I talk so much anyway. I dunno if there’s any words I wouldn’t blurt out during sex.”

“You can still come up with one if you want,” Keith assured.

“Lemme think about it,” Lance said, closing his eyes fully. “Right now…I think I’m just gonna…sleep, if that’s cool.”

Shiro hummed affirmatively. Keith uncurled from his back with a sigh. “I’m going to shower, but I’ll come back after. Goodnight, Lance.”

“Mmm, so I get Shiro’s pillowy bosom all to myself?” Lance smiled. “Awesome.”

“My what, now?” Shiro said, mock-affronted, but Lance was already asleep.

*

This time, when Lance awoke to quiet piano music, it was morning, Keith was half-tangled with him under the sheets, and Lance didn’t feel guilty at all about kissing Keith’s forehead and slipping out of bed to walk down the hall and stairs to Shiro’s piano. Shiro was playing with less solemnity than before, the tempo lighter and more upbeat, fingers dancing delicately over the keys and smile tugging at his lips as Lance sauntered over to him.

“Too lazy to put on clothes?” Shiro asked without looking away from the piano, barely reacting when Lance sat down on the piano seat and leaned against his side. “What if the Blade had been downstairs?”

“I don’t think you’d let them in,” Lance murmured, kissing the underside of his jaw. “And if they had been, well…it’s not like we’re trying to hide this, are we?”

Shiro snorted. “Your naked body? Yes. Our relationship? No. Of course not.”

“So…all of them know?”

Shiro inclined his head. “While Keith and I may seem subtle to humans, among vampires we are anything but. They know.”

“And? Do they think you guys are making a mistake?”

Shiro stopped playing abruptly, turning to take Lance’s face in his hands, kissing him deeply without warning. Lance gasped and clutched at his shirt, arching closer.

When Shiro pulled back, his eyes were dark. “I don’t care what they think,” he said. “I am the ruling sire of this territory and they are in no position to question mine or Keith’s choices here. You must know that if they ever said a word against you I would come to your defense most ardently.”

“Yeah,” Lance whispered. “Yeah, I know. Thank you.”

“Not that I need to fight your battles,” Shiro added. “I daresay your tongue can be plenty sharp when it needs to be.”

Lance grinned. “Damn right it can.”

Shiro smiled back with a hint of fangs.

*

The next several days fell into a comfortable rhythm.

Lance visited the house in the woods every day. He headed over around noon and always found Keith and Shiro fast asleep in their bed, usually with Shiro spooning up behind Keith, which was cute every single time Lance saw it. Lance would climb into bed with them, either to make up for sleep he’d lost playing video games that night, or just scroll through his phone until one of them stirred and noticed he was there.

It sounded kind of boring, but it felt like nothing short of domestic bliss to Lance. Especially when Shiro and Keith started including him in their meetings with the Blade – not all of them, just the ones they held at their house, but it was a start. Lance knew not all of the vampires approved of him – Kolivan seemed skeptical, Antok was as silent as ever, and he was pretty sure Nyma and Rolo thought he was an idiot. But Ulaz and Thace were supportive, at least, and Luxia and Florona were…well, maybe not supportive, but they seemed disturbingly intrigued about the whole situation. Lance didn’t like the look of their smiles at him, but Shiro assured him they weren’t malicious, just weird.

Hunk was still kinda uneasy about Shiro and Keith biting Lance, but they really didn’t do it all that often…and when they did, they were always careful. They never bit Lance unless he expressly asked them to, either, which made Lance even more convinced that Hunk’s suspicions, while understandable, were totally unfounded. Shiro and Keith were attentive and tender in their affection, and Lance did his best to treat them the same way. It was hard, though, because sometimes they really did feel like the perfect boyfriends.

They’d taken to meeting Lance at dusk at the edge of the woods most nights, and it was on one of these nights that Lance found himself humming one of Shiro’s beloved nocturnes, walking down the familiar path with a spring in his step.

He wore the crystal around his neck, as usual, but it was more of an afterthought these days – it had been inactive lately, and the book hadn’t given him any other tips, and Lance was starting to think that maybe Shay had been wrong after all. The only oddity that had continued was the advanced healing of Lance’s bites…but Lance didn’t see any reason to worry about it. It was helpful, not harmful.

There was a flicker of movement among the trees and Lance smiled inwardly, pretending not to notice as he continued on to the treeline. “I’ve heard these woods are haunted,” he declared to the shadows. “Some say that two dashing vampires lurk about here, when the sun goes down. I dunno where they got that idea from, though, it’s – ah!”

Shiro and Keith had rushed from the darkness like they were a part of it, backing Lance up against a tree and laughing, low in their throats. “You were saying?” Keith chuckled, kissing Lance’s neck as Shiro nuzzled the other side of it, mouthing aimlessly over his jaw and snaking a hand around his waist. Lance tipped his head back against the tree in invitation…and froze.

They were not alone.

“Stop!” The commanding female voice rang out, followed by the loud click of a compound bow and the quieter, deadlier click of a handgun. Shiro and Keith stilled, Shiro’s hand tightening on Lance’s hip. Lance stared, uncomprehending, at the two strangers who had seemingly appeared in front of him. There was a man and a woman, the woman dark skinned with thick, silver hair tied up in a bun, the man pale with red hair and a mustache. Both of them had piercing blue eyes and grim expressions, and both had a weapon trained on Lance’s boyfriends.

“Who are you,” Shiro gritted out, not moving an inch.

“Shut up, monster,” the woman snapped, stepping closer. “We’d heard reports of increased vampire activity in these parts, but we didn’t imagine something this bad.”

Shiro lifted his head slowly to look at her, and her eyes flashed dangerously. “You fancy yourselves hunters?” he growled.

“Yes,” she said, lifting her chin and her gun. “Not just any hunters. The best hunters. The first hunters.” Her eyes narrowed. “We are Alteans – but of course, you know that, because somehow, you leeches have one of our kind as your thrall.”

There was a long, shocked beat of silence. Keith and Shiro stopped breathing.

“Wait,” Lance said. "What?"

Chapter Text

“No,” Shiro growled. “That’s impossible. Alteans are nothing but an old wives’ tale. They’re extinct.”

“We most certainly are not,” the woman retorted, puffing out her chest. That was when Lance noticed that she had a crystal on a silver chain around her neck, just like his, and so did the man. “Our bloodlines are carefully preserved, so we can continue to dispose of your kind despite your best attempts to destroy us.”

“Okay,” Lance said, heart pounding, “can somebody tell me what’s happening?”

The woman frowned at Lance, sympathy joining the anger on her face. “Hush, brother, we will free you from these cruel creatures.”

Lance blinked. “Free me? They’re my boyfriends! Why are you trying to kill them?! And what the hell is an Altean?”

The man cleared his throat and lowered his bow a little with evident bewilderment. “Er…Allura, I don’t think this one is thralled, actually.”

“Yes, thank you!” Lance exclaimed. “I’m not a thrall, and I’d appreciate it if you put your damn weapons away ASAP!”

The woman, Allura, gawked at him. “I do not understand,” she said stiffly. “How can this be? Your eyes are unclouded and…and you are wearing your amulet. Yet you have two vampires assaulting you.”

Keith’s ears flicked back in irritation. “Does this look like assault to you?” he hissed.

“Amulet?” Lance touched the crystal, and realized it had begun to glow, vibrant, brighter than he could ever remember it. “Oh my god. Wait. Wait. You said I was Altean. Does that mean…does that mean not human?”

“You don’t know,” Allura said, realization dawning. “Oh. Oh, dear. This is…most unfortunate.”

“Can you answer my question?” Lance asked shakily.

“No,” Allura told him gently. “No, you aren’t human. Not quite.”

“Shiro? What’s she talking about?” Lance asked, panicky, looking at the older vampire.

“The Alteans are an ancient race,” Shiro said, eyes never leaving Allura’s gun. “According to vampiric legends, they built their kingdom as an impenetrable citadel and evolved to hunt and kill vampires until there were none left.” His eyes narrowed. “But their citadel was destroyed by their own infighting, and so were they.”

“We were not!” Allura exclaimed fiercely. “And there was no infighting, we were attacked by traitors to our race, Alteans who shunned our most vital values and joined the enemy. Your kind call them Druids.”

Shiro blanched visibly. Lance whispered, “You’re saying Druids…are Alteans…who were turned?”

“Yes!” Allura declared. “And it was them who tried to destroy us, their own kind. And failed, fortunately. Now…we have chatted for long enough. I came here to put a silver bullet in your shriveled hearts and that’s exactly what I’m going to, regardless of whether you are thralled –”

“No!” Lance cried, stepping away from the tree and in front of Shiro and Keith. “I won’t let you!”

The hunters blinked at him, dumbfounded. “And why not?” Allura asked. “You may not be thralled, but I can see that they’ve bitten you, they’ve taken your blood, they’ve hurt you!”

“I wanted them to,” Lance retorted, flushing. “I wanted them to bite me, and I let them take my blood because I trust them not to hurt me, and I love them!”

“Love?” Allura echoed, eyes widening, mouth twisting in obvious disgust. “Oh, no, this is not love. This is a twisted, parasitic relationship, and sooner or later the parasites’ victim always dies, brother.”

“I’m not your brother,” Lance hissed. “And my boyfriends aren’t parasites! They’ve been nothing but kind to me and they’ve saved my life on multiple occasions. They don’t even feed off of human blood, except for me, and they barely even do that!”

The Alteans hesitated slightly at that. The man with the mustache tilted his head thoughtfully. “They feed off of animals?”

“Coran, don’t be ridiculous, obviously they’ve lied to the boy –”

“We have not!” Keith exclaimed. “We don’t take human lives! We hunt the elk and deer within our territory and have done so for over a century. You should be hunting the Galra at the heart of this forest, not us.”

Allura and Coran paused. “So there is a garrison here,” Allura said slowly, venom seeping into her tone. “Is it his? Is it Lotor’s?”

“Yes,” Shiro replied, watching her closely. “How are you acquainted with Lotor?”

“I am not,” she gritted out, “acquainted, per se. He murdered my father.”

“Ah,” Shiro said. “So we have a common enemy.”

“I have nothing in common with you,” she said, but she lowered her gun fully, albeit cautiously, and took a step back. Coran did the same with his bow. “But I suppose…well. This,” she gestured to the three of them, “is not what we expected. And, if what you say is true…then we have bigger problems than you.”

“So put away your weapons, and give me an explanation,” Lance demanded. “You can’t just drop the ‘you’re not human’ bomb on me and walk away, as much as I’d like to tell you guys to get the hell out of here after threatening my boyfriends.”

Allura frowned, but inclined her head. “Very well. But we should not stay out in the open – night is falling.”

“There’s no way we’re allowing either of you to step foot in our home,” Keith said.

“There’s no way we would voluntarily step foot in it anyway,” Allura retorted.

“God, can you guys drop the rivalry bullshit for five seconds, because I’m kinda freaking out over here!” Lance interrupted. “We can just go to Pidge’s house.”

“What is a Pidge?” Coran asked curiously.

“My friend,” Lance snapped, “who’s human, thanks very much, so stop reaching for your knife.”

“There are more humans who accept these…vampires?” Allura eyed Shiro and Keith doubtfully.

“Yeah, there are.” Lance folded his arms. “It’s almost like they’re not terrible monsters.”

“Lance, I’m sorry, but I cannot leave our territory undefended,” Shiro said. “The Galra will seize any chance to retaliate. You and Keith will have to fill me in later.”

“Got it,” Lance said. “Be safe, ‘kay? Stay away from scary ladies with firearms.”

“There are no other Alteans in the area,” Allura muttered, and immediately winced, like she regretted giving that away.

“I hope you are correct, because I’m not in the mood to deal with hunters,” Shiro retorted, and, pressing a quick kiss to Lance and Keith’s cheeks, slipped back into the lengthening shadows without a sound.

Keith looked nervous in Shiro’s absence, and Lance didn’t blame him. He grabbed Keith’s hand and squeezed reassuringly, ignoring Allura’s scandalized look. “Well? You guys coming, or not?”

“Lead the way,” Coran said before Allura could argue.

*

Once they reached Pidge’s house, the two Alteans sat awkwardly on the sofa while Lance draped a protective arm around Keith on the opposite couch and stared them down. Keith shifted anxiously. Hunk and Pidge leaned against the wall, arms folded and expressions expectant.

“We’re all waiting,” Lance prompted. “How can I be Altean and not know it?”

Allura sighed. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “You must not be fully Altean, but even still…your magic is powerful enough that you’re at least half Altean, and part of a prestigious bloodline, at that.”

“Prestigious bloodline?” Keith echoed. “As in…royalty?”

“Possibly,” Allura said. “Altea was a large kingdom of feudal nobility, with several powerful families presiding over their respective lands, and my father, King Alfor, ruling over the families and the kingdom as a whole.”

“Hold up,” Hunk squeaked, “you’re a princess?!”

“Technically,” Allura said, mouth twisting. Coran laid a reassuring hand on her knee.

Lance squinted at her suspiciously. “Wait, so if you’re the King’s daughter…how are you still alive? Didn’t Shiro say Altea was destroyed ages ago?”

“It was,” Allura said. “But Altea had technology far superior to even human technology of today, and my father…during the Druids’ attack on Altea, he ordered me to be sealed into what you would call a cryogenic pod, along with Coran, his chief advisor.” She swallowed and looked at the floor determinedly. “But in his haste to keep us safe, he made an error in programming the pods, and…and we were sealed within them for close to ten thousand years.”

Pidge whistled lowly. “Damn, you guys really must’ve had advanced tech for the pods to continue working for that long.”

Allura did not answer, her lower lip caught between her teeth, so Coran jumped in. “Yes, it was unparalleled,” he said proudly. “Of course it was a shock when we awoke five years ago and found the world so changed. Altea was reclaimed by the earth – its ruins are buried within the jungles of South America, and it was quite challenging to make the trek out.” His shoulders slumped. “Even more challenging when we discovered what remained of our once proud race.”

“So…what does remain?” Pidge asked.

“Tatters,” Allura said quietly. “Alteans are rare today, though once we numbered in the millions. But we have assimilated well into human society, so it is…difficult to tell.” She looked at Lance. “Especially when Alteans intermarry with humans, as I suspect your mother or father must have.”

“I’m still not buying that,” Lance retorted. “My parents are normal, okay, I think I would’ve noticed if one of them had glowing eyes and – okay, what, why’re you looking at me like that?”

Everybody was staring at him with matching expressions of disbelief.

“Lance!” Hunk exclaimed. “Why didn’t you think this was important info to share with your best friends?!”

“How was I supposed to even tell you?” Lance said defensively. “I couldn’t explain it, myself.”

Allura eyed him thoughtfully. “That is…that is certainly no common magic, for it to manifest so visibly. You are without a doubt a descendant of a noble family, Lance Espinosa.”

Keith was kind of gawking at him. Lance huffed and leaned back against the cushions. “Fine, then, let’s say you’re right. Why wouldn’t my mom or dad tell me? And what does me being partly Altean even mean, besides the fact that my eyes occasionally glow?”

“Well, I assume that one of your parents gave you that amulet you’re wearing,” Allura said.

Lance shook his head. “No. I got that at the beginning of this summer, from…” He glanced at Hunk. “From a psychic lady named Shay who has an interdimensional curio shop. And, for the record, she told me I had to keep all this crap a secret.”

Hunk blanched. “Wait, you’re telling me not even Shay is human?” he said despairingly. He turned to Pidge. “Next you’re gonna tell me that you’re actually a gremlin or something.”

Pidge flicked his arm. “Nope, just as human as you are, ya jerk.”

Allura leaned forward, intrigued. “Shay, you say? I believe I’ve met her before. It was several years ago, but…she was a great help in finding other Alteans. Though I don’t know if she knows precisely what we are.”

“She did ask if I was a vampire hunter,” Lance remembered. “And told me I had ancient, rare magic. But obviously I thought she had the wrong guy.”

“You should be a vampire hunter,” Allura said. “That is the life purpose of all Alteans.”

Keith was still staring at Lance unblinkingly. Lance scowled at Allura. “Yeah, well, not this one. Anyway, you didn’t answer the rest of my question. What kinda magic do I have?”

Allura shrugged one shoulder. “It is difficult to say. Altean magic is not uniform – it comes in many variations depending on the individual. I, for example, have the ability to connect with nature. I can heal burnt lands, regrow felled forests, and sense the hurt within the earth, sometimes even soothe it. Whereas Coran has a connection to machines, technology, manmade devices.”

“But there are some basics,” Coran added. “All Alteans have superhuman strength, speed, healing, and a lower rate of aging than humans. We can also sense magic, albeit to different degrees, and…er, I expect you know this one by now, but Altean blood is more enticing to vampires than any human’s. It’s meant as a means to draw vampires to us in order to trap them. An evolutionary gambit, if you will.”

“Like flies to honey,” Keith said under his breath.

“Precisely,” Coran said.

“Enough with the vampire hunting crap, if you guys are trying to recruit me, it’s not gonna work,” Lance snapped. He tapped the crystal around his neck. “You mentioned that this was an amulet. Shay called it a Balmeran crystal.”

“Yes, it is an Altean stone,” Allura said. “It is as rare as we are, these days, but at Altea’s peak such crystals were plentiful enough for every young Altean to be given one as part of their initiation into adulthood. They are protective amulets which hone our abilities to sense magic, especially magic that is vampiric in nature. They can also aid in honing the magic that is unique to you, as they act as conduits for it. Have you tried to conduct your magic through it?”

Lance frowned. “I mean…not really. The first time I touched it, the room kind of…exploded with blue light. And I guess there’s some kind of communication between my magic and the crystal, because it kinda feels…sentient? Like it can guide me to certain places and tell me if I’m in danger. Oh yeah, and it brought me to a, um…book.”

Allura’s eyes widened. “A book? What sort of book?”

Lance winced. “Um. A book. About. Vampires?”

Keith glanced at him sharply.

“May I see this book?” Allura asked.

“Uhhh,” Lance said. “Yeah, I, um…one sec, I’ll go get it. Keith, c’mon.”

Allura opened her mouth as if to object as Keith slunk out of the living room and down the hall with him, but wisely said nothing. When they reached the guest bedroom, Lance closed the door and Keith hissed, “Your magical glowing crystal led you to a magical book about vampires and you didn’t think to say something?!”

“I’m sorry!” Lance exclaimed, kneeling and hastily grabbing the book from under the bed. “It’s kind of complicated, okay?”

Keith was staring at the book. “Lance,” he said slowly, “that’s a cookbook.”

“It’s glamoured to look like a cookbook,” Lance retorted. “Try, uh, focusing really hard on it.” Keith squinted and shook his head, eyebrow raised. “Y’know what, c’mere, grab my arm.”

Keith did, questioningly, but then his mouth fell open, fingers twitching against Lance’s wrist. “Oh,” he whispered. “How…?”

“Dunno, I honestly didn’t think that would work, but I guess I’m somehow channeling my ability to see it to you,” Lance said. “But, yeah, it’s definitely not a cookbook.”

The Vampyre Codex,” Keith read, brows drawing together. “Who wrote this? And what’s in it? And what have you read from it?”

Lance flushed. “Um,” he said. “I haven’t read…much. But I think it was written by Alteans. About vampires.”

“And how to kill us, I suppose,” Keith muttered.

“Not, uh, not exactly,” Lance replied. “I mean, yeah, there’s some stuff in there about that, but I didn’t read those bits. Trust me, I meant what I said about not being a hunter. I don’t want to hurt you or Shiro, I don’t care if it goes against my purpose, or whatever. No, there’s some other stuff about vampires, like…about how you behave and social hierarchy and…stuff.”

Keith’s expression was flat. “Like animals, huh?”

Lance sighed. “Kind of. Yeah. Look, I know it’s messed up, Keith. And I’m not exactly besties with this thing. But it’s kinda sentient, like my crystal, and after we had that fight – after I asked you to bite me – the book was trying to help. I think…looking back, I think it was trying to tell me about you and Shiro.”

Keith’s eyes narrowed. “How?”

“There was some stuff about turning scars and sires and scent marking and…yeah, y’know, I don’t really remember,” Lance mumbled, face hot.

“…I see,” Keith said after a long pause.

“Lance, you okay in there?” Hunk called, rapping on the door and making them both jump. “Allura’s getting impatient and thinks Keith ate you or something.”

“I’m fine, tell Allura to chill,” Lance said, opening the door with the book in hand and Keith hovering close behind, looking at the book with open interest as they walked back to the living room couch. Lance held up the book. “Mean anything to you, Princess?”

She nodded quickly, standing up to get a closer look. “This is extraordinary,” she murmured. “This book – the Codex – was like an Altean Bible of sorts. It’s a repository of all our knowledge on vampires, and is constantly being amended, which is why you may have noticed its unique semi-sentient qualities. The fact that your amulet managed to lead you to one of these books is…amazing, to say the least. There are so few left.”

“So why’d it give Lance a book?” Pidge demanded. “I mean, he must be really special or something, right?”

Lance flushed. “I’m pretty sure it was just a coincidence,” he said. “I was in the right place at the right time, that’s all.”

“Oh, c’mon, don’t sell yourself short, this is so cool –”

Keith suddenly stumbled backwards, knocking into one of the Holt’s picture frames and sending it crashing to the floor. “Hey!” Pidge exclaimed, but stopped short at the shock and fear on Keith’s face. He was clutching his chest, lips parted and eyes wide. “…Keith?”

“Shiro,” he gasped. Allura and Coran exchanged looks. Lance took a step towards Keith. “Oh, god, something – something’s happened to him.” Keith was shifting and didn’t even seem to notice, his ears pointing and flicking back in distress, lips drawing back from his elongating fangs. Allura reached for her gun but Lance reached for Keith, and the vampire shuddered when Lance touched his face carefully. Allura faltered.

“Keith, what happened, is he hurt?” Lance whispered urgently.

Keith leaned into Lance’s palm. “Yes,” he breathed. “He’s in pain – afraid, but mostly angry. It must be the Galra – they must’ve taken their trespassing a step further.” He swallowed. “I need to help him. I need to go. I’m sorry. Stay here, Lance, don’t go after me. I’ll come back, I swear it.”

“You better,” Lance said, stroking the hair out of his face. “Go, keep him safe. Keep each other safe.”

Keith looked into his eyes, nodded, and hurried out, the door slamming shut behind him. Lance collapsed back onto the couch, rubbing his eyes. “Damn it. We couldn’t just have a nice night, nope, instead we had to get ambushed by ancient vampire hunters and attacked by the Galra.”

“Shiro is his sire?” Allura guessed. “They must have a deep bond for Keith to feel his pain so acutely.”

“Yeah,” Lance said shortly. “They do.” He dug his nails into the leather of the couch, trying not to think about Shiro fighting off swarms of Galra, covered in his own blood, claws raking over his already scarred skin.

“Shiro’s pretty tough,” Hunk said, sitting down next to Lance. “Don’t freak out too much, buddy.”

“I just hope they’re normal Galra attacking him, and not Druids,” Lance muttered.

“How much do you know about Druids, Lance?” Coran asked curiously.

“More than I ever wanted to,” Lance admitted. “Keith and I were actually captured by the Galra earlier this summer. I caught the attention of the leader of Lotor’s Druids, Haggar.”

Allura covered her mouth with a hand. “You were captured by Lotor and survived?”

“Yeah, Shiro rescued us in the nick of time,” Lance said. “Lotor wanted to make me his thrall.”

The Alteans shuddered. “That could be catastrophic!” Coran exclaimed. “When a vampire takes an Altean’s blood against their will, it can result in dark, dark magic.”

“Yeah, that’s what Shay said,” Lance sighed. “Anyway, even if I hadn’t known that, I still never would’ve agreed. Lotor is a massive creep.”

“Amen to that,” Allura said with feeling.

Lance paused and peered at her. “Wait. Did you…did you know him?”

Allura made a face. “Yes. I knew him before he…before he betrayed us. He was the eldest son of Lord Zarkon, who ruled over the Galra province. Yes, that’s where the name came from…and yes, both Zarkon and Lotor have Altean blood. The Galra province was once one of the most prosperous and gifted in Altea. Zarkon was…good friends with my father. As a result, I spent much of my childhood with Lotor. He was…well, I think spoiled would be putting it lightly.”

“I got the vibe that he’s used to getting what he wants,” Lance said.

“Yes. I was betrothed to him since birth, but…when tensions began to rise between us and the Galrans around my seventeenth birthday, his behavior towards me changed from annoyingly coquettish to outright obsessive. He was unpredictable, terrifyingly so, and I believe that if my guard had not been so vigilant, he would have tried to keep me as his thrall after his father turned him, to keep me with him for eternity.”

Pidge made a disgusted sound.

“Like I said,” Lance muttered, “he’s a massive creep.”

Hunk was frowning. “Hey, so, wait a second. If Zarkon turned Lotor into a vampire…then who turned Zarkon?”

Allura looked deeply troubled by this question. “Even my father did not know, and he knew most everything,” she admitted. “I could not tell you anything certain – only rumors. Whispers throughout the court, fearful tidings of an ancient power Zarkon awakened in the Galran lands and people.” She bit her lip. “It was thought that he performed sacrifices, spilled his own people’s blood, in order to use and twist the magic within it to connect to some primordial force which turned him, making him the first vampire without a sire, and therefore incredibly powerful.”

“Shiro doesn’t have a sire either,” Lance blurted.

Allura turned sharply. “How?!”

“The Druids, they…Haggar said they force-fed him pseudo-vampire blood after draining him. It wasn’t by his choice. They perform experiments which sound more like torture.”

“So he is like Zarkon,” Allura said, jaw tightening. “Even more dangerous than most. And Keith? Does he exhibit abilities superior to other vampires?”

“I don’t think Shiro’s anywhere close to Zarkon’s level,” Lance said hastily. “There wasn’t any primordial forces shit, so. They’re both pretty average vampires, as far as I know. Don’t even think about trying to go after them, we already told you they’re not the enemy.”

“All vampires are the enemy, Lance,” Allura murmured. “I know you don’t believe it, or want to hear it, but it is the truth. Unlike humans and Alteans, who can be good or bad or somewhere in between, the magic behind vampires is wholly evil. Vampirism is a corruption of life and innocence to the highest degree. They may look and speak and act like us, but at their core they are monsters, no matter what façades they may put up.”

Lance huffed and folded his arms. “Look, Princess, I get that you’ve had a rough life and you have vampires to blame for that. But you’re wrong. The Galra don’t represent all vampires. Plenty of them have chosen to turn away from being ‘monsters,’ Shiro and Keith included.”

“They cannot choose to turn away from the corruption,” Allura said. “They may want to, but it remains, until their unnatural lives are ended.”

“You wanna talk about unnatural lives?” Lance snapped. “Who was frozen in a cryopod for thousands of years?!”

“I know it’s difficult to hear that –”

“La, la, la,” Lance interrupted. Coran purpled slightly and Allura gaped at him, indignant. “Sorry, too busy being in love with my boyfriends to listen to you.”

Pidge snorted. “I think what Lance means is that he appreciates the warning, but uh, you’re kinda late, and it’s not gonna do any good now.”

“You are going to get hurt!” Allura exclaimed.

“I’d rather risk getting hurt by Shiro and Keith than by Lotor,” Lance retorted. “Or do you think I should try my luck with him instead?”

Her lips thinned. “I see this is a lost cause. For now, at least.”

“Save it,” Lance said tiredly. “I’ve already been locked in a cell with Keith when he was on the verge of starvation, so I know the drill. He didn’t kill me. He didn’t do anything I didn’t tell him to.”

“And Shiro?”

“What?”

“Have you been locked in a cell,” Allura said slowly, “with Shiro, when he on the verge of starvation?”

“No, and it’s not exactly an experience I’d like to repeat, but it wouldn’t be any different,” Lance said defensively, though he wasn’t as sure as he sounded.

He was monstrous, when he turned. Ravenous, tearing at everything he could reach.

Something of his doubt must have shown in his eyes, because Allura said, “No, I don’t think it would.”

Lance was saved by a loud knocking on the door, and knocked off a pillow in his haste to hop off the couch and answer it. Thace was standing on the doorstep, his gray shirt splattered with black blood, and Lance’s gut twisted in apprehension. The first words out of his mouth were, “Is Shiro –”

“Alive,” Thace finished. “He’s alive, but he’s in no shape to move and is resting with Keith. They wanted me to assure you that he is healing and not…too badly hurt.”

Lance’s eyes widened. Pidge darted out from behind him. “What happened? What could possibly incapacitate Shiro?”

Thace hesitated, and rubbed his eyes with a sigh. “Prince Lotor,” he said.

Lance made a sound of wordless outrage. “Are you fucking kidding me?!” he hissed, and strode forward, startling Thace backwards. “Okay, you gotta take me to Shiro, right now.”

“I don’t think –”

Please,” Lance breathed, desperation tinging his voice. “It’s my fault that Lotor attacked him in the first place. I want to help.”

Thace understood at once. “Shiro wouldn’t want you to feel obliged to do that, Lance,” he said gently.

“I don’t,” Lance said. “It’s a desire to help, not an obligation to.”

“Very well,” Thace said after a long moment. “I will carry you there.” In the blink of an eye, he transformed into the wolf, but this time it was…a very large wolf. It nodded to Lance and lowered its body enough for Lance to climb on.

“Wow, this really is like Twilight, huh?” Pidge remarked.

Thace rumbled disapprovingly and Lance grinned as he heaved himself up. Apparently not all the vampires were oblivious to Twilight’s existence. Just before Thace took off into the night at a full sprint, Lance saw a blur of movement in the hall – Hunk’s face worried, Allura’s angry, Coran’s resigned.

Lance didn’t care what they thought. It was his blood, his body, his heart – he should be able to do what he wanted with them all. And right now, this was what he wanted to do.

*

It was worse than Lance had imagined.

Thace had deposited Lance on the doorstep and waited for him to safely go inside, but, as before, seemed reluctant to follow him in and ran off into the forest as soon as the door clicked shut behind him. Lance could feel the magic, the protective energy of the house and the vampires within it, but it felt weaker than before, and that scared him.

The vampires had heard him as soon as he opened the door, so it was no surprise when Keith appeared at the top of the stairs, expression strained and upset. “Lance,” he said. “Thace brought you?”

“Yeah,” Lance said. “After he told me Lotor did this, I told him I had to come and…y’know, help.” He tilted his neck unsubtly.

Keith stared at him. “Lance…you would really do that?”

“If it’ll help, yeah, of course,” Lance replied easily. “How is he?”

“He’s…” Keith swallowed, shoulders hunched unhappily. “He’s been better. Listen, Lance, you can come up, but…I don’t know how Shiro will react. He’s not himself.”

Lance started up the stairs cautiously. “What…what do you mean?”

“He’s remembering things,” Keith whispered as Lance met him on the landing. “Bad, bad things. He’s scared.”

“Of Lotor?”

“Of himself, I think,” Keith said somberly. “Come on, you’ll see.”

He led Lance to their bedroom and opened the door slowly. The room was dim, lit only by a small lamp on the nightstand which filled the space with dull warm light. Shiro was curled on the bed, seemingly asleep, his chest rising and falling shallowly, unevenly. There were towels haphazardly placed over the bed under him, probably to prevent the sheets from being ruined by the unbelievable amount of blood staining the fabric where Shiro lay. Lance actually stopped short at the sight, his heart leaping into his throat.

Shiro was stripped down to his boxers, so that Lance could see every harsh, dark laceration across his pale skin, the worst of which was on his right arm. Seriously, Lance didn’t even know how the arm was still attached – the vicious gash went straight down to the bone and muscle, making for a grisly sight, and Shiro’s right hand lay limp atop the blood-soaked towels, fingers twitching sporadically in his uneasy sleep.

“Jesus,” Lance whispered. He could feel the vampires’ misery, emanating off of them in heavy waves, and he thought explicitly about ripping Lotor’s arm off and seeing how he liked it.

“He’ll heal,” Keith said, though he was still frowning. “Eventually. He managed to feed for long enough to begin healing, but...it’s slow.”

“Well, let’s see if we can’t speed up the process,” Lance declared, and made his way over to the bed. Shiro didn’t react when Lance sat on the edge and hesitantly touched his tense, scarred shoulder, wincing when his fingers came away sticky and red. “Hey, Shiro,” he said, shaking him gently. “What d’you say we test my blood’s possible healing properties, huh?”

Shiro shifted, curling in on himself and shuddering, a low, pained groan escaping his lips. Then, in a flash of movement, he whirled on the bed and Lance had a hand around his neck, squeezing tight, too tight, and Shiro’s eyes had snapped open and they were glaring gold and Keith cried out in alarm and dashed to the bed.

Lance gurgled urgently and grabbed uselessly at Shiro’s unyielding fingers, trying to pry them off and failing, and Keith was telling Shiro to stop with increasing desperation but Shiro wasn’t listening, and Lance was dizzy, gasping soundlessly, and just when his vision had begun to spot and the sensation started to leave his limbs, Shiro let go.

Lance crumpled down onto the bed, wheezing and clutching at his bruised throat. Shiro, panting, still loomed over him, the yellow fading from his eyes, face ashen and stunned, then horrified when he looked down at Lance.

Keith shushed him before he could even start frantically apologizing, crawling onto the other side of the bed and snuggling up against Shiro’s back, murmuring soft, soothing words and kissing the nape of his neck. “You didn’t mean to,” he whispered, stroking Shiro’s side. “We know that. Lance knows that.”

“I thought,” Shiro stammered, “for a second he was – there was a Druid, and I –” He stared at Lance, shaking uncontrollably, and flinched back when Lance sat up.

“Hey, no, none of that,” Lance said. Croaked. Whatever. Shiro flinched again at the sound of his ragged voice, but he didn’t stop Lance from touching his face carefully. “Keith did warn me. And I took you by surprise. That’s not your fault.”

“Lance…” Shiro regarded him unhappily. “I could have killed you.”

“But you didn’t, as usual, so hush,” Lance said, and shuffled closer to him, leaning his head back on the pillows and tipping his head to the side. “I’m here to help you. You’re kind of a mess, Shiro.”

Shiro swallowed. “Kind of,” he said, but didn’t go in for the bite.

“Shiro, now is not the fucking time to be stubborn,” Lance said sharply. “Bite. Me.”

Shiro’s eyes widened. “Lance, I just accidentally strangled you, how can you –”

“Your arm is hanging by a damn thread, in case you hadn’t noticed,” Lance interrupted. “I’m not…I’m not gonna let you suffer like this, especially not because of that asshat prince and his jealousy issues. Okay? I want to do this, I want to help you, so just let me so you can get better.” His voice cracked and he saw Shiro’s fearful expression soften slightly.

“Alright,” he whispered after a beat, and tentatively cupped Lance’s jaw, guiding him closer. “Thank you. Thank you, Lance.”

“Love you,” Lance whispered back, and Shiro kissed his neck before he bit, careful enough to almost be called gentle. Lance still tensed at the initial sting, then went limp against him, petting at Shiro’s chest while he drank in long, slow pulls. Keith stayed on Shiro’s other side, and having them both there seemed to comfort the older vampire. His breathing had evened out by the time he drew away from Lance’s neck, lapping over the marks gratefully and nuzzling into Lance’s collarbones.

“Better?” Lance murmured.

“Much,” Shiro admitted, his eyes sleepy and half-lidded and peaceful in a way they hadn’t been before. “So much better.”

“Good,” Lance said, smiling at him, then at Keith, who had relaxed along with his sire. “You gotta sleep, now. Heal up.”

“I already am,” Shiro said, and sure enough, Lance could actually see the smaller cuts on his skin already closing up entirely without even traces of scars. “Because of you.” He blinked at Lance sluggishly. “Altean blood. I never thought…but here you are.”

“Here I am,” Lance agreed. “I’m not like Allura or Coran, y’know. I’m never gonna try to hunt you guys, even if that might be what Alteans are meant to do.”

“Hmm,” Shiro said. “I suppose that does…even the playing field, a little. Still…an Altean in bed with two vampires…sounds like the start to a bad joke.”

“Stop talking and go to sleep,” Lance said. “I’m still me. I’m not even fully Altean. It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change anything.”

“It changes everything,” Shiro said quietly, but he was asleep before Lance could ask what he meant.

Keith, however, was awake. “He’s afraid of Druids,” Keith explained in an undertone. “He might be afraid of Alteans, too.”

“Not me, though,” Lance said. “Right? Why would he…Shiro can’t be afraid of me, that’s ridiculous.”

“I don’t know,” Keith said. “It’s not that ridiculous. You are powerful, Lance. Princess Allura herself said that you are likely from a line of nobles with great magic.”

“Yeah, but I’m not a noble, and I’ve never had any magic, so. Besides, why would Shiro be afraid of me if I’m not going to hunt him and I’m not going to become a Druid…” Lance trailed off. Keith was avoiding his gaze, looking intently at Shiro’s shoulder blades. “Wait. Are you – did Shiro want to turn me?”

“We’re not having this conversation,” Keith said shortly, startling Lance into silence. “Not…not now.” His tone turned pleading and Lance nodded, and dropped it.

But the idea had been planted in his head, and that…that was not so easily forgotten.

Chapter Text

Shiro continued to sleep fitfully, plagued by unpleasant dreams that were half imagination, half memory, according to Keith. Lance called Hunk and Pidge to tell them he was staying with Shiro and Keith for as long as it took to get Shiro back on his feet. He was pretty sure he could hear Allura and Coran arguing in the background, but that was so not his problem. Not when he had Shiro shivering and bleeding next to him, brow shiny with sweat and fangs cutting into his own lips.

Keith was clearly unused to taking the role of caretaker, but to his credit he was trying his best. After Shiro bit Lance and dozed off, Keith went downstairs and came back up with juice and cookies for Lance and a damp washcloth for Shiro. Lance munched on a cookie while Keith wiped the blood away from Shiro’s wounds. Shiro mumbled and shifted in his sleep, but he didn’t wake fully, and he didn’t lunge at either of them again.

Lance drifted off sometime past midnight, after helping Keith clean and bandage up the worst of Shiro’s injuries – except for his arm, which they didn’t really know what to do with, except wait and hope for the best. Thankfully, Lance didn’t have any nightmares, nor did he remember any of his dreams at all when he awoke, warm and content, to a bulky, familiar arm wrapping around his waist and pulling him flush against an equally bulky and familiar chest so its owner could mouth wetly at the side of his neck, tongue rasping over the bruises there.

“Mm,” Lance slurred, not opening his eyes, knowing it was still dark outside. “Again?”

Shiro hummed, fingers ruffling Lance’s short hair affectionately; even the dull scrape of his fangs was fond in its own way. He didn’t seem to be alert or strong enough to speak, but even still he waited patiently, gave Lance a chance to change his mind. Lance did no such thing, and pressed closer, breathing out a small ‘yes’ before Shiro bit him once more, in almost the exact same place. Being bitten twice over ached, and Lance groaned at the discomfort as Shiro coaxed more blood from his veins. But his eyes stayed shut, and it was easy to fall back asleep when Shiro’s fangs retracted and he licked and kissed the blood and sting away with small, appreciative sounds.

When Lance awoke again, it was morning, and the fresh bites on his neck had been cleaned and bandaged up – presumably by Keith, who was passed out on the other side of the bed, one hand cupping Shiro’s hip and the other holding a bottle of Ibuprofen tightly. At first glance, they both looked like they were sleeping, but then Shiro’s eyes flickered open and he rolled carefully onto his left side to face Lance.

Lance gave him a small smile. “How are you feeling?”

Shiro blinked, then sighed and nodded. “I’m recovering faster than I expected, thanks to you and Keith.” He gingerly lifted his right arm, and Lance watched nervously, both of them wincing at the nasty cut that remained, where it had almost been severed. But incredibly, the tendons and muscles were reforming, bone and sinew knotting back together little by little, and when Shiro wiggled his fingers experimentally, he smiled in relief. “I thought I was going to lose this, to be honest. Probably would have, if not for you. Lotor certainly tried his damnedest to cripple me.”

“I’m sorry,” Lance whispered, smile falling. “Fuck. I know he’s only coming after you guys because of me. Because of…us.” His throat tightened. “And…listen, Shiro, I totally understand if you don’t think it’s worth it after what Lotor did to you.”

“Don’t think what’s worth it?” Shiro asked, mystified. “You mean…you? Being with you? Lance, I told you I don’t care what Lotor or any of the others think about our relationship with you.”

“Yeah, but that was before Lotor mauled you,” Lance said. “And it was because of me. Wasn’t it?”

Shiro sighed. “Yes, Lotor is…quite envious. It seems he didn’t just want you as his thrall, but rather wanted total control over you – mind and body.”

Lance sucked in a breath. “What did he say to you?”

Shiro’s jaw tightened. “Trust me, it isn’t worth repeating.”

Lance could fill in the blanks, and Shiro’s expression said enough, his mouth twisting in disgust and face flushing with shame on Lance’s behalf. Lance frowned and tucked his head against Shiro’s shoulder. “Ese hijo de puta,” he muttered. Shiro murmured in wordless agreement and Lance looked up at him. “Did you at least do a number on him, too?”

Shiro smirked grimly at that. “Of course I did. After what he said about you…I couldn’t let him walk away from that in one piece.”

“You realize he was definitely goading you into it.”

“I know, but he didn’t have to. I would have attacked him regardless, though perhaps with less ferocity. But I think he may actually regret some of the things he said, because if I know anything about Lotor it’s that he’s unbelievably vain, and I made sure to leave a scar across his face,” Shiro said. He ran a finger across the scar over the bridge of his nose, lips quirking. “Felt like returning the favor, I suppose. And he may be blinded in one eye, albeit temporarily.”

“Sir Shiro, mighty and chivalrous defender of my honor.” Lance beamed at him. “My brave knight,” he added, fluttering his lashes and sending them both into a fit of giggles.

“Stop,” Shiro snorted, swatting lightly at him and then wincing, sobering again as they remembered Shiro was still very much injured and bedridden. He sighed and kissed Lance’s brow. “I wish I could have cut his tongue out, you know, to stop him from saying…”

“They’re just words,” Lance said, kissing his neck softly and making Shiro shiver. “Lotor can spout all the sick shit he wants, but he’ll never have what we have.” Lance spoke against Shiro’s throat, knowing his breath must be hot on the vampire’s cooler skin. “He’ll never get to touch me, kiss me, hold me.” Lance smoothed a hand over Shiro’s cheek and jaw, up into the messy forelock of white hair. “He’ll never get to bite me, mark me, fuck me. He’ll never get anything but the constant knowledge that you guys get to have me all to yourselves, and he doesn’t stand a chance; he never did.”

“Lance,” Shiro sighed happily, nosing into his hair, grip firm on Lance’s shoulder. “Nobody ever stands a chance against you.”

Lance flushed. “What’s that supposed to mean,” he mumbled.

But Shiro was sleepy again, and only managed to yawn, “Love you,” before drifting off again, faint breaths tickling Lance’s face.

*

Keith woke up around midday and helped Lance make lunch downstairs, despite his obvious reluctance to leave Shiro’s side. Shiro was sound asleep, though, which was probably what convinced Keith to let him rest alone. Lance did his best to kiss away the unhappy line of Keith’s lips as they made an omelet together, but when he almost cut his finger off while chopping onions Keith put a firm pause on smooching while in the kitchen.

While Lance finished up the omelet, Keith started tossing the leftover fruit and juice in the fridge into a blender that was probably from the ‘50s, and Lance watched incredulously as he attempted to blend a trickle of apple juice, a banana, ten frozen strawberries, a handful of blueberries, and fucking grapes together into one ridiculous concoction.

“Dude,” Lance said as Keith furiously punched the “BLEND” button repeatedly. The blender just kept making pathetic crunching sounds. “Stop. What are you doing.”

“I’m trying to make you a smoothie,” Keith hissed, pushing it harder. The blender blades whirred in anguish. Lance took pity and unplugged it from the wall. “Hey!”

“There isn’t enough juice, genius,” Lance sighed, grabbing the half-empty bottle of orange juice from the fridge and pouring it into the purplish mixture. “And you’re supposed to cut up the banana, not just toss the whole thing in.”

Keith grumbled something about never making a smoothie before and folded his arms as Lance fixed the smoothie and saved the blender from a slow death by banana chunks. He was still brooding when Lance sat down at the kitchen table with his smoothie and omelet, though at least he sat down when Lance pulled a chair out for him. Lance dug into the omelet and Keith leaned his elbows on the table, holding his face in his hands and sighing.

“Worried about Shiro?” Lance asked mid-chew.

Keith frowned at the tabletop. “Do you think it’s silly for me to worry about him?”

“Silly?” Lance swallowed his bite of omelet and shook his head. “Nah, ‘course not.”

“I was so scared when I found him,” Keith admitted, looking up at Lance, his face open and vulnerable in a way it so rarely was. “Lotor heard me coming and ran off before I got there, so he was alone, bleeding, still, on the ground. He made this…this awful sound when I went to his side. I’ve never seen him like that before.”

“You were afraid he was going to die?” Lance asked.

“No,” Keith said. “It would take more than that to kill Shiro. But there are worse things than death.” Lance looked at him questioningly. “I think something broke inside of Shiro when he was the Galra Champion,” Keith murmured. “I think Lotor did something to him last night – perhaps with his Druid magic – to make him remember that breaking. When I found him…Lance, I thought he’d lost his mind. He was babbling, saying things that made no sense, eyes yellow and blank and…it was only when I got him in bed and cleaned him up that he started to calm down.”

Lance didn’t even want to think about how jarring it would be to see Shiro like that. Shiro, who was always so steady and strong no matter what they faced, like an anchor in a storm…it felt like if they lost Shiro, they’d be just another ship stranded at sea, torn from its moorings, tossed on the waves at the mercy of the monsters below.

“But he’s okay now,” Lance said, though it sounded more like he was trying to convince himself. “He’s fine, I talked to him last night and he was just a little tired but he’s still…still sane, I mean, I thought he was anyway.”

Keith nodded. “I think so, too,” he agreed. “I hope so. But…he has episodes, sometimes. Like when he almost choked you. Nightmares, mostly. They used to happen more often, but lately I thought they were getting better – that he was getting better. I’m just afraid that maybe Lotor reversed that. That maybe they’re going to be as bad as they once were.”

“Sounds like PTSD,” Lance said thoughtfully.

Keith tilted his head.

“Posttraumatic stress disorder,” Lance explained. “You’ve never heard of it?”

“No,” Keith said, frowning. “Can it be treated? Is there medication?”

Lance shrugged. “I’m no doctor, but yeah, pretty sure it’s treatable. Maybe antidepressant medication would help? And I doubt Shiro would wanna go to a therapist and talk about his time with the Galra, but…he could always talk to you about it.”

“And you,” Keith said.

Lance scoffed, shoving some more omelet into his mouth to disguise any tremor in his voice. “Eh, I’m flattered, but Shiro would be way more willing to talk to you than me about that stuff.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Uh, because he’s known me for all of one summer and you for a century?”

“Lance, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t talk to you about his past,” Keith said. “He hardly talks to me about it, to be honest. But if you tell him it will help his…PTSD, if that’s what it is, then he might open up.”

“Emphasis on ‘might,’” Lance muttered.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Keith said. “Finish eating, you need the energy.”

*

Shiro was fully bedridden for three more days, during which either Lance or Keith or both stayed by his side. It was easier for Shiro to snap out of his nightmares if one of them was there with him when he awoke, and it wasn’t exactly a hardship to snuggle with Shiro. Shiro bit him a few more times, but he never took enough blood to make Lance feel even the slightest bit dizzy, which was somehow both a relief and a disappointment. The bites seemed to heal even faster than usual, and Lance also didn’t know how to feel about that.

He wore the crystal around them or kept it in his pocket, and Lance wasn’t sure if it was his imagination, but…it did feel like something was different about it, about him. Like something was stirring, prickling over his skin whenever Keith or Shiro touched him, an innate uneasiness deep within his bones.

That unease peaked whenever he thought about Shiro turning him. And he thought about that a lot. The more he thought about it, the more he thought he wanted it, yet every instinct screamed in protest at the very idea. Lance supposed that was his Altean side. He wondered if there was any truth to it; any truth to what Allura had told him about the nature of vampires.

But it seemed impossible that Keith and Shiro could be beings of pure evil when they were cuddling and kissing lazily on the bed, all softness and sweetness. Lance watched them sleepily and surrendered easily when Shiro tugged him in for a kiss too, his nearly-healed right arm holding Lance close.

Pidge and Hunk came over a few times, since Lance’s stay had extended to a week because although Shiro could leave bed, he was still weak and Lance could tell Keith didn’t want Lance to leave them yet. They drove to Redding to get groceries and made actual good smoothies back at the house, which they sipped together on the porch steps in the sun. Pidge and Hunk, thankfully, had taken Lance’s side in the whole Dating Vampires Thing, while Allura and Coran were apparently still upset. They were staying at a nearby motel, Pidge said, and though they hadn’t tried to look for Shiro and Keith’s house yet, it was only a matter of time.

Keith got very growly at the thought of hunters poking around their territory. Everyone was on edge after Lotor had decided to pay them a visit, and the Blade of Marmora was on full alert at night. Either Thace or Ulaz usually patrolled outside the house, while Florona and Luxia designed wards on the boundaries of their territory that would trigger some kind of alarm when the Galra crossed them. It was all very confusing magical mumbo jumbo and Lance didn’t really get it, so he stuck to what he knew how to do best, which was help nurse Shiro back to health.

Keith might have been unused to being a caretaker but Lance was not. His little brother Ricky had a tendency to get sick a lot and his little sister Stella had a tendency to break bones and otherwise get hurt in really stupid ways, so Lance had his fair share of experience in this area. Maybe not in this area exactly – Shiro’s injuries were way worse than Stella’s had ever been – but Lance was good at it.

He could tell that it was difficult for Shiro to come to terms with being an invalid, at least for now. He clearly wasn’t used to relinquishing control or having others take care of him – from what Lance had gathered from the Codex, vampire sires were supposed to provide for the rest of their pack. They were supposed to be the protectors, not the ones who needed protecting.

Then again, Keith was definitely protective, had always been protective, even though he wasn’t Shiro’s sire. He nailed that part of being a caretaker. The actual caring part, though…Lance was definitely better at that. Keith had good intentions but he was kind of heavy-handed, and after he accidentally reopened the wound on Shiro’s arm while trying to clean it, the three of them made a mutual decision that cleaning wounds was not Keith’s strong suit and left that to Lance.

So that was how Lance ended up bathing Shiro every night; meticulously cleaning and redressing every wound, swatting away Shiro’s hands whenever he offered to help until he sighed, leaned back, and learned to accept his fate.

It had been kind of gross and overwhelming at first – the water got red way too fast and Shiro couldn’t fully disguise how painful it was and Lance’s heart broke a little every time he clenched his jaw and turned his head away so Lance couldn’t see his face. But it was easier after that first time.

Lance had gone to Pidge’s house to get his own soap and a couple bath bombs, which made the whole process more fun, and fascinated Keith and Shiro to no end. Lance was pretty sure there were few sights more adorable than the two of them ooh-ing and ah-ing in delight as they watched the water fizz and turn a vivid, glittery turquoise. It lifted everyone’s spirits, too, and Shiro liked one of the pink, jasmine-scented ones so much that he gave Lance (far too much) money to buy more of them at the mall in Redding.

The baths became one of Lance’s favorite parts of the day. Partly because, uh, naked Shiro was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and partly because it just felt so…domestic. Comfortable, familiar, simple in the best way. Lance would help Shiro into the tub and carefully take off all the bandages before getting a washcloth and soap and scrubbing him down. Because Shiro had a problem with not voicing his discomfort, they’d developed a system where Shiro would tap his fingers against the edge of the tub if anything hurt too much.

It was a good system, though made less efficient by the fact that Keith had decided bath time was also music time and liked to use Spotify on Lance’s phone – and the music Keith liked wasn’t exactly quiet. It wasn’t bad though, so Lance and Shiro endured it and Shiro took to tapping Lance’s free hand instead. Lance had no problem with extra touches from Shiro, so it was a total win/win.

Keith didn’t just force them all to listen to his edgy alternative tunes – he would often sit on the tiles beside the tub watching them with a sketchbook in hand; his gaze pensive, distant, and uncharacteristically peaceful.

Lance never saw the drawings in their entirety – only bits and pieces, glimpses of his own smiling face and Shiro’s arm draped over the edge of the tub, every finger rendered lovingly in strokes of charcoal. But someday, he thought he might flip through them, because they were a way to remember these times they spent together. Maybe that was why Keith was so fond of drawing – his sketchbooks were like photo albums of years long, long past. Lance wondered how old his oldest drawings were. He wondered how much of that time Keith and Shiro could actually remember. Was vampire memory like human memory – fleeting, blurry, and unreliable, yet sometimes triggered by the strangest little things?

Years from now, would he be walking down a street far, far away, or sitting at home in a house with his family, only to catch a hint of jasmine and suddenly recall these moments vividly?

Maybe. Or maybe Lance wouldn’t have to try to wrack his mind to remember this summer. Maybe this summer would last forever, like he so often found himself wishing it would.

But he knew then more than ever, when Shiro’s blood washed down the drain, leaving faint flushed stains on the pale porcelain surface; that this, like everything else, was finite.

*

Just like Lance knew he would, Shiro healed.

He took his time about it – Lance stayed with the two of them for just over a week before Shiro, then Keith, declared he was good as new, give or take a few added scars. His arm was in perfect working condition, though the scar there was one of the largest and gnarliest ones he had. Lance and Keith made sure he knew they had no problems with it by covering it in kisses, which made Shiro snort and wriggle away in protest, but his face was bright with gratitude.

Both vampires apparently fully expected Lance to sprint out the front door as soon as Shiro was better, but to their surprise he wanted to stay.

“Honestly, I thought you’d be fed up with us by now,” Shiro said after Lance admitted he didn’t want to go.

“Fed up? Pff, why would you say that?” Lance asked.

“Well, we’ve completely ruined your sleep cycle, for starters,” Keith pointed out.

“I’m a teenager, my sleep schedule is already whack.”

Shiro rolled his eyes. “Yes, but you’re not supposed to be wholly nocturnal. And we’re just…we can be quite high maintenance, and I can’t imagine it’s pleasant for you to watch us eat bagged blood…”

“You get used to it,” Lance said with a shrug. “Listen, I…I mean, if you want me to go, I’ll go, I don’t want to intrude or whatever –”

“No, no, that’s not…” Keith bit his lip. “You truly wish to stay with us rather than your friends?”

“You guys are my friends,” Lance said. “Plus…well, I’ve been hanging out with Pidge and Hunk for a long-ass time, I think they can deal with some separation.”

“You do have a lot of your things here,” Shiro mused. “You’ve practically moved in already.”

Lance blushed. “So…is that a yes?”

Keith and Shiro beamed at him, and Keith darted forward to give him a one-armed hug. “Was that ever in question?” he whispered. “Of course you can stay, Lance.”

Keith looked as if he were about to say something else, like ‘As long as you want to,’ but stopped, looking down, smile frozen on his face.

“Thanks, guys,” Lance said.

“It’s not a problem,” Shiro said. Lance opened his mouth and Shiro held up a finger. “And if you’re about to say you’re annoying to live with, don’t, because it’s not true, and we enjoy having you around. Alright?”

“Yeah,” Lance said, a little choked. “Yeah, alright.”

*

It had taken the same amount of time for Shiro to heal as it had taken for the bruises on Lance’s neck to fade fully. He’d been wearing hoodies and flannels to hide the worst of them, which encircled his throat like mottled purple necklaces. It wasn’t just to hide them from Pidge and Hunk – Lance knew it was painful for Shiro to see the marks he’d unintentionally left on Lance, too. They were marks of brute force, not pleasure…but they bothered Shiro more than Lance.

Because the way Lance saw it, if Shiro really wanted to kill him, he could’ve just done it. Twist, snap, done. But Shiro, even in his panicky flashback state, had gone for choking Lance instead of breaking his neck. That had to count for something. Breaking necks was cold, impersonal – choking was a crime of passion.

So, yeah, it was a little fucked up that Lance thought of stuff like that. Allura certainly wouldn’t have seen the difference, and would’ve blamed Shiro’s behavior on his monstrous vampire nature rather than an actual mental disorder out of his control. But Lance didn’t. How could he, when Shiro had littered his neck with kisses instead of bruises, stroked his fingertips over Lance’s pulse point, and whispered apologies and endearments like prayers against his skin?

He couldn’t. Even if he knew, with equal parts dread and sorrow, that Shiro would probably snap again.

*

A few nights after Lance moved in, he awoke to the sound of heavy breaths and the sensation of the mattress rocking slightly. It didn’t take a genius to put two and two together, but it was still startling when Lance opened his eyes and found himself face to face with a panting Shiro, hand wrapped around his cock and head tipped back slightly into Keith, who was…fucking him. Keith was fucking him from behind, dragging Shiro’s hips back with clawed hands to meet his slow, teasing thrusts, and Lance was hard so fast he was dizzy.

“Jesus, you guys,” Lance groaned, half sitting up and staring at the two of them, mostly Shiro, because he kept biting his lip and arching back into Keith in a really, really incredible way. Shiro’s eyes flickered open, dark and dilated, and Lance groaned louder, shamelessly palming over the growing bulge in his boxers.

“Mm,” Shiro murmured lazily by way of greeting, head lolling against the pillow.

“Good morning,” Keith said, head resting in the curve between Shiro’s neck and shoulder. He licked one of the fresh scars there casually. “Did we wake you? Oops.”

“You don’t sound very sorry,” Shiro admonished, voice breathy.

“I’m not,” Keith said, rolling his hips. Shiro shuddered, cock filling out in his hand. “How did you – ah – sleep, Lance?”

“Oh my god, seriously?” Lance shook his head. “I need a moment.”

Keith’s lips curved up in smug amusement. “What, did you really think that in a hundred and twenty-seven years he never let me fuck him? He’s not that big and bad, Lance.”

“Hey,” Shiro said, mock-offended, reaching around to grab at Keith’s ass and tug him closer, forcing him deeper. “I’m bigger and badder than you, sweetheart.”

Keith giggled into his neck. “Bigger, sure. Badder, ehh.”

Shiro opened his mouth to retort and Keith bit him, making both vampires moan and sending a hot rush of arousal through Lance’s veins. His eyes were glued to Shiro’s cock, fully hard and leaking in pearly globules over his ivory knuckles, and he watched it twitch visibly when Keith fucked harder into Shiro, his mouth going dry at the sight.

“He likes it,” Lance said, barely recognizing his own voice, low and dark. “Don’t you, Shiro? You like it when he fucks you.”

Shiro’s eyes fluttered open, surprised, a red flush spreading around the scar across his nose, all the way down to his chest. Keith hummed in approval, licking his lips as he pulled away from Shiro’s bloodied neck. “Say it,” Keith murmured, nipping at the shell of Shiro’s ear and moving his hand down to play with and pinch Shiro’s nipples, drawing a growl from the older vampire. “Say it, Takashi.”

“You know I like it when you fuck me,” Shiro said easily, eyes half-lidded. “I wouldn’t let you, otherwise.”

Keith nuzzled at his jaw, hips working in slower, circular motions. “Would you let Lance fuck you?” he asked.

Lance froze, gaze lifting guiltily from Shiro’s cock to his face. Shiro blinked slowly at him, huffing out an exhale that fluttered the white fringe of his hair. “If he did it at a reasonable pace instead of dragging it out like you are, then yes,” Shiro said with the slightest hint of frustration in his tone. “At this rate, dawn will come before I do.”

“So let me get this straight,” Lance chuckled, “the whole ‘patience is a virtue’ thing applies to everyone but you?”

“Now, that doesn’t seem very fair,” Keith scolded. “And we value fairness here, don’t we, Shiro?”

Shiro narrowed his eyes. “You two,” he grumbled. “I don’t know why I put up with this insubordination.”

“Because you love us,” Lance crooned, sidling closer and letting his hand cover Shiro’s on his cock, drawing a startled grunt which turned into a shaky moan as Lance’s thumb pressed hard into the crown. “Also, orgasms.”

“You make a convincing argument,” Shiro said, choked.

Keith was still moving slow, but he’d deepened his thrusts, if Shiro’s shallower breath and curving spine were any indication. “Be creative, Lance,” Keith mumbled, littering kisses over Shiro’s shoulders and back, and probably some bites too, knowing Keith. “You don’t just have to use your hand on him.”

Lance paused. Shiro was looking very pink. “Did you have something else in mind, Keith?” he asked.

“Hmmm,” Keith mused, in a way that suggested he very much did have something else in mind. “Let him fuck your thighs,” he said.

Shiro groaned, deep and guttural.

“Actually, don’t let him move,” Keith added. “And don’t let him come. He gets too sensitive after, and I’m not nearly done with him yet.”

Keith,” Shiro gritted out.

“Hush,” Keith said, patting his side fondly and fucking into him hard enough to make Shiro gasp, mouth hanging open as Lance rolled over on the bed and pressed his back along Shiro’s front, idly wiggling around until he felt the head of Shiro’s cock nudge slickly against his ass.

“You can hold onto my waist,” Lance told him. Shiro’s pupils were blown wide. “But you heard Keith, don’t move. Well, no movements allowed that aren’t from him fucking you, anyway.”

Shiro nodded, hand settling warmly over the sharp jut of Lance’s hip, and Lance felt the rush of Shiro’s breath against the nape of his neck as he squirmed, lifting his thighs so that Shiro’s cock was trapped between them, and when Lance rocked back onto it the head pressed insistently against his balls, sweet friction, and he hummed, pleased that this felt better than he’d expected.

It wasn’t actual fucking, but it was close, and Lance could feel the girth and weight of Shiro’s cock between his legs, feel the wetness it smeared all over his skin, feel the way it twitched and swelled, feel Shiro’s balls heavy against the backs of his thighs. It felt pretty good for Shiro, too, judging by the claws digging into Lance’s hip and the groans falling from Shiro’s lips. Shiro started making even more sounds when Lance started talking.

“Y’know, I love your cock, Shiro,” he said conversationally, stroking his own cock slowly, looking at him through hooded eyes over his shoulder, smirking when Shiro shuddered and flushed darker. “Always fills me up so perfectly, always gets so wet and messy so fast – I can feel it now, making a mess where nobody but you can see –”

“God, Lance –” Shiro stuttered, and then made a really, really hot whimpering sound and twisted desperately and Lance would bet anything that Keith was hitting his prostate.

“Stop, Lance,” Keith said, breathless, pushing at Lance’s leg. “He’s going to come.”

Lance moved away even though it made Shiro whine unhappily. Lance scooted back and sat up again, still jerking himself off and watching the two of them. Shiro’s cock was in fact dripping, the head bobbing huge and dark against his belly with every push of Keith into him, and his lower lip was caught between his teeth and Keith’s claws were leaving red scratches all over Shiro’s ribs and the v of his hips and then Keith threw his head back and shoved deep and came. Shiro hissed through his teeth and squirmed, unsatisfied.

Keith took a moment to breathe. Shiro tried to touch himself and Lance slapped his hand away. Shiro’s eyes flashed dangerously, his chest heaving. “Shiro,” Keith said. “Will you let Lance fuck you now?”

Lance sucked in a sharp breath as Shiro nodded jerkily. Okay. Okay, so this wasn’t how Lance had imagined this morning would go, but there he was, apparently about to fuck Shiro, and he had no complaints. Zero.

Keith purred in delight, hazy-eyed with afterglow, rubbing his face on Shiro’s tense shoulder. “Good,” he said. “He’ll fuck you so good. Fuck my cum deeper into you, mmm? Fuck you until he comes inside you, too.”

“Keith, if you don’t pull the fuck out and let Lance put his cock inside me right now and fuck me until we both come, I will banish you from this bed,” Shiro warned.

Giggling, Keith backed off, and Lance was there to take his place, but not fast enough to stop a few trickles of come from leaking out over Shiro’s inner thighs. Lance had to stare for a few moments. Shiro had a really nice ass. Shiro had a really nice everything.

“Lance,” Shiro gritted out, low and gravelly and mildly exasperated. “Any day, now.”

“Got it,” Lance squeaked, lining up and pushing in and oh, wow, that was wet. Still tight, though, enough to make him groan and thrust forward too hard, too fast; but Shiro pushed back into it, encouraging, tightening purposefully around him. Lance buried his face against the back of Shiro’s neck as he fucked into him, harder and faster as promised. Lance wasn’t gonna lie, fucking a two hundred year old vampire twice his size was one hell of a power trip, especially when Shiro melted like putty under his hands, spine bowing beautifully as he moaned.

Shiro’s sounds became muffled when Keith swooped in and kissed him fiercely, tangling his fingers in Shiro’s hair and tugging his head back sharply, exposing the vulnerable line of his neck. Shiro’s body was thrumming with tension, with magic, with power, but he kept it contained, let Keith ravage his throat with bruises and let Lance pretend that he was the one in control, here. Somehow, knowing that it was an illusion; knowing that Shiro could flip them and shove them both down against the mattress at any given moment, just made it better.

Lance’s face was tucked into the curve of Shiro’s shoulder, and he felt the muscles shift under his cheek as Shiro moved with him, taking every thrust and demanding more. He inhaled Shiro’s scent, and though he didn’t have vampire senses he could recognize its familiarity, clean cotton and metal and something sharp and almost smoky, like ozone in the air after a lightning strike.

Hmm. Maybe his senses weren’t quite inferior after all. Or maybe he’d just spent a lot of time smelling Shiro.

Lance knew this wasn’t going to last long – his body was flooded with heat and urgency, too much too fast, and Shiro was close, too, his breaths ragged and his movements back onto Lance’s cock getting more and more insistent. Keith was murmuring into Shiro’s neck, words Lance couldn’t quite make out but which he guessed were either utterly filthy, disgustingly sweet, or a mix of the two.

Lance licked over Shiro’s skin and the older vampire hummed, faltering when Lance pressed his teeth to Shiro’s shoulder. They were blunt and not meant for this the way vampire fangs were, but…something made Lance dig his teeth in, bite down harder as he chased his finish, the obscene sound of his hips slapping against Shiro’s ass and the feeling of Keith’s cum slicking around his cock spurring him on.

“Lance, what’re you –” Keith started, and then Lance’s teeth broke skin and Shiro shouted, in both pain and arousal, and came all over Keith’s hand.

Lance’s mouth filled with blood which splattered like ink across Shiro’s pale, scarred skin when he pulled away, dripping thickly from his lips as he shoved deep into Shiro’s taut body and followed him over the edge, panting. Shiro slumped slightly against him and Lance sighed, the two of them still shuddering with aftershocks. Then Shiro started to laugh, low and breathless.

Lance nuzzled into his back and left a bloody kiss over one of Shiro’s scars. “What,” he mumbled, refusing to pull out just yet even though Shiro was more than full and it was kinda gross if he thought about it for too long.

“You bit me,” Shiro chuckled, glancing back at him. “I suppose it’s the quid pro quo, but still. Ow.”

“Sorry,” Lance mumbled. “I didn’t mean to…bite so hard.”

“Then what did you mean to do?” Shiro asked mildly.

Lance lifted his head. “Mark you,” he said bluntly. Shiro’s lips quirked up.

Keith’s eyes darkened. “Fuck.”

“Well, I’m marked,” Shiro countered, undeniably fond, bumping his nose lightly against Lance’s. “And a complete mess. We’re going to have to wash the sheets this time.”

“I vote Keith has to do that,” Lance said. “’Cause, correct me if I’m wrong, but this was all his idea, right?”

“Completely,” Shiro agreed, yawning.

Keith spluttered at them. “That’s a lie and you know it,” he told Shiro. “It’s your fault for rubbing your perfect ass all over –”

“Enjoy your laundry duty,” Shiro interrupted, closing his eyes and nestling back down into the bed. “That’s the price you pay for teasing me, Keith. And Lance?”

“Huh?”

“If you don’t pull out in five seconds or less I’m going to banish you from the bed, too.”

“Oh, shit, sorry,” Lance said, scrambling backwards too fast and making Shiro growl in discomfort, though when all was said and done, he looked pretty blissed out, stretching and shifting until Lance had a first class view of his used hole and the cum streaking his thighs and ass. His cock was already stirring again, just from that, but it was a lot, okay. Lance cleared his throat. “Do you, uh, want a washcloth or something?”

Shiro’s body rumbled with amusement. “No thank you, Lance,” he murmured. “Although in a few minutes I might be amenable to a shower, if you’d care to join me.”

Keith sulked on his side of the bed.

“Both of you,” Shiro added, reaching out and touching Keith’s knee reassuringly.

“All three of us are not gonna fit in your shower,” Lance pointed out.

“We’ll be creative,” Shiro said. “I can think of more than a few ways that you and Keith could conserve space.”

Keith perked up, eying Lance and grinning. “So can I.”

“You two are sex fiends,” Lance told them, shaking his head. “Absolute sex fiends.”

“Says the hormonal teenage boy,” Shiro said into the pillows.

Lance stuck his tongue out at him, knowing Shiro couldn’t see. “You love my recovery time and you know it, babe.”

“Babe,” Shiro snorted. “That’s a new one.” But he didn’t correct him.

*

Keith ended up slipping on the shower tiles and made a noise like a dying chicken. Shiro and Lance were laughing too hard to do anything except help him up and finish rinsing themselves off. Shower sex was just not in the cards, apparently, but Lance wasn’t too broken up about it. It was just as good, if not better, to snuggle up in bed with the two of them and fall back asleep amidst a tangle of warm limbs and soft bodies.

Lance woke up when the vampires were entering their deepest sleep, his eyes blinking open slowly as sunlight filtered in through the thin crack between the curtains, casting a single golden stripe over their sleeping faces on either side of him. Lance sat up, smiling at Shiro, then Keith, absurdly happy.

Sometimes this all felt like a dream, entirely too good to be true. Lance wondered if someday he would wake up, and immediately his smile fell and he flopped back down onto the bed, frowning at the ceiling. No. No, he wasn’t going to think about endings. He wasn’t going to think about what the future had in store for them. That wouldn’t do anything except make him feel worse.

But still, the thought niggled at the back of Lance’s mind. Summer was almost over. They had less than a month. Less than a month, and then Lance would have to leave Rosewood and Pidge and the little Victorian house in the woods and the two vampires he had fallen head over heels for. Shiro and Keith had assured him that they wouldn’t forget him, that he was important to them…but what was one short summer in the span of centuries? A blink of an eye, a sliver of a whole, a page in a book that was all too easily ripped or lost or simply torn out.

Lance didn’t want to leave. He didn’t want to drive back to Los Angeles because he knew his heart would hurt the whole way home. Home. Once that word had meant so much, because he loved his family, he loved his friends, he loved his city, but…this felt like home too; here, now.

Keith and Shiro felt like home.

Lance squeezed his eyes shut and exhaled, long and as steady as possible. He might have been a romantic, but even he knew how this ended.

*

It took her a while, but eventually Allura did show up on their doorstep.

Lance had to hand it to her – she had guts. And a lot of weapons. She was a badass, even if she was a judgmental and prejudiced badass.

Shiro, wisely, did not let Keith open the door, and physically held him back while Lance answered it and squinted suspiciously at Allura, who squinted suspiciously back at him while craning her neck to catch a glimpse of the two silently fuming vampires behind him.

“Princess,” Lance said. “Finally come to apologize?”

Allura straightened up. “Actually, yes,” she said. “I believe I have.”

Lance blinked. “Wait, what? Really?”

“Yes, really,” she snapped. “Ah, and to give you this. You forgot to take it with you.” She reached into her purse and fished out the Codex, holding it out to him.

Lance snatched it back. “I guess you probably enjoyed researching better ways to kill vampires, huh?”

Allura sighed. “No. As a matter of fact, your book would not open for me or Coran.”

Keith snorted quietly. Shiro elbowed him.

“Is that so,” Lance said, pleased. He gave the book a little pat. “Good book.”

Allura folded her arms. “I must admit that I still think what you are doing is dangerous, Lance.”

“Fair enough.”

“But your friends persuaded me that Shiro and Keith are not exactly the vampires I am used to dealing with,” she added. “And since the Codex cooperates with you rather than me, it stands to reason that by some miracle your Altean side is not against this…unconventional union between the three of you.”

“So you’re not going to hunt them or tell me I should leave them to join you and live my life like a proper Altean?”

“You are not a proper Altean,” Allura said bluntly. “You are only half. And if you lived in Altea and had engaged in such a relationship as this back then, you would be considered most improper. Tainted. A traitor to your blood.”

“Then it’s a good thing it’s 2017 and we’re in California instead,” Lance retorted.

“Lance is not tainted,” Keith hissed under his breath.

Allura sighed, wringing her hands. “That is not what I – look. I’m here to help, not hurt you. I’m sorry for insulting you or your...ah, lovers, in any way, and I wish to make amends. I wish to help you discover your true potential, Lance.”

“You mean my magic?” Lance asked, curious despite himself.

“Yes,” she said. “Your magic, your instincts, your Altean side, all of it. Shiro and Keith may not be an immediate threat to you, but you have entered the world of vampires, and there are dangers at every turn. Dangers you must be able to avoid and combat.”

“I cannot argue with that,” Shiro said, stepping forward and widening the gap of the open door. Allura tensed, looking up at him warily, but at least she didn’t reach for her weapon. “Lance should be able to defend himself. I was actually considering teaching him the basics of aikido now that I’m fully recovered.”

Allura nodded. “Martial arts, yes, that would be most beneficial.” She paused and tilted her head. “Do…do most vampires learn such things?”

“Have you encountered many vampires well-versed in martial arts, Princess Allura?”

“I suppose not,” Allura said. “I never saw vampire attacks as anything but artless and savage.”

“Savage, yes,” Shiro said, “but there is an art to it.”

“To killing?”

“Yes.” He looked at her steadily. “You should know. You’ve done your fair share.”

She frowned. “You cannot kill what is already dead.”

“Dead things don’t have beating hearts.”

“It takes more than a working heart to make one alive,” Allura said.

“Ah,” Shiro said, with the ghost of a smile. “You are speaking of souls.”

“I am.”

“And you believe we lack them?”

“I do.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Lance exclaimed. “Of course they have souls. Why wouldn’t they?”

“They’ve died once already,” Allura said. “Don’t you think something was lost in that first passing? They must surrender it to gain eternity. That was what my father always said. I believe that’s what your Codex says, too.”

“They have souls,” Lance told her, sharp and sure.

“Even the Galra?” Allura asked coolly.

“The Galra allowed corruption into their souls,” Shiro said. “We did not. That is the difference between us.”

“Between good vampires and bad ones?” Allura said, her lips quirking sardonically. “My, what a strange concept. Though not one I am unwilling to try to wrap my head around.”

“I thought you said you came here to apologize,” Lance muttered.

“I did not mean to offend,” Allura said.

“You just called my boyfriends soulless –” Lance started indignantly.

“No offense was taken,” Shiro said, holding up a hand. “In truth, no one knows if we have souls. I have often wondered it myself. But we do not lack humanity, so if that is what you meant, there is your answer.”

“I know you don’t lack that,” Allura replied. “It seems you treat Lance very well, and for that I thank you.” She cleared her throat. “Now…would you accept my help, Lance? I’m not certain that it will work, but I can teach you how I was taught to discover my magic, and it may at least set you on the right course.”

“Fine,” Lance said. “As long as your teaching methods don’t involve hunting vampires.”

“They do not,” she promised. “When would you like to begin? Is noon tomorrow to your liking?”

Of course she’d want to do this when the sun was at its peak. “Okay. Where at?”

“Well…it would have to be somewhere secluded, away from prying eyes…”

“You may practice in our woods,” Shiro said with a wave of his hand. “They are safe during the day, more or less.”

“Thank you, very much.” Allura looked surprised by this offer of hospitality. “This is a wonderful forest, you know. The trees here are ancient and proud, and nature flourishes. You two are very lucky to call it your home.”

“Allura has nature magic,” Lance explained. “She can talk to plants and shit.”

“Oh.” Shiro blinked. “That is certainly…interesting.”

“Yes, well, I’m glad this is settled,” Allura said primly. “I shall meet you in front of this house at noon tomorrow, Lance. Bring your amulet and a positive attitude.”

“Okay, Mom,” Lance said with a grin.

Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “Excuse me?! I am not your – Lance!”

Amidst a fit of giggles, Lance ducked back inside and shut the door before Allura could retaliate.

*

It had been easy to joke around then, but admittedly Lance was nervous when he walked through the woods with Allura the next day. They found a small, secluded glen not far from the house, and Lance watched as Allura held her own amulet in her hands and motioned for him to do the same.

“Close your eyes and focus,” she told him, and after a moment’s hesitation he did. “Breathe deeply; be conscious of the air leaving your lungs, then filling it. Follow the breath past your lungs, to where it flows through your heart, and from there, through your blood.”

Focusing was not one of Lance’s strong suits. But he tried, tried to listen to the soothing yet commanding timbre of Allura’s voice, and do as she said. Lance didn’t really know how he was supposed to feel his own blood, but maybe that was more of a metaphorical thing.

“Your blood is more than blood,” she murmured. “There is something within it, like flecks of gold hidden in the sand of a riverbed. You must find that gold, find that glint of something brighter and better within yourself –”

“Oh, cool, like prospectors,” Lance said.

Allura opened her eyes, and so did he. “What?”

“You were talking about looking for gold,” Lance mumbled. “Like prospectors. In the Wild West. You know what, sorry, nevermind, I was supposed to be focusing.”

“Lance.” Allura pinched the bridge of her nose. “Focusing might be easier for you if you stop talking.”

“Right,” Lance said. “Noted. Okay. Can you restart the meditation spiel?”

“No, start from where we left off,” Allura sighed, closing her eyes. “Feel your blood pumping, bringing life to –”

“Okay, but, see, I think we gotta restart because I can’t just jump straight into the whole ‘feel your blood’ thing,” Lance said.

“Oh, for the love of…fine.” Allura took a deep breath. ““Close your eyes and focus…”

*

After seven tries, all Lance had managed to do was make the crystal glow, which he’d already been able to do, and on the fifth and sixth try, he made his eyes glow. But that was it. He and Allura slumped against the base of a sturdy oak, Allura with a frustrated huff and Lance with silent disappointment.

“Maybe all I can do is glow,” Lance sighed.

“I refuse to believe that,” Allura retorted. “You have powerful magic, I know it.”

“Yeah? Well, where’s it hiding, then?”

“I don’t know.” Allura tipped her head back against the trunk. “I’m not very good at this sort of thing, I’m sorry. My father was much better at helping people find their gifts.”

“Did he help you find yours?”

“Yes.”

Lance turned to look at her. “Can you use your magic right now?”

Allura paused, then nodded. “I suppose a little show wouldn’t hurt.” She closed her eyes, both hands pressed flat to the earth, blades of grass poking up between her fingers. For a few moments, nothing happened. Then her lips parted, and the air prickled with energy, very different from any Lance had felt before. It was like a strong gust of wind, a fireplace roaring to life in a cold room, an earthquake rumbling through his bones.

Powerful, the crystal murmured. Regal.

As Lance watched, the grass between her fingers lengthened and curled, sprouting seeds and small yellow flowers, turning lush and green where it had only been the dull dying yellow of summer before. The tree they leaned against seemed to hum with a sudden vibration, and its branches creaked and swayed as they grew outwards and upwards, ripe acorns falling at their feet like an offering.

“Whoa,” Lance whispered.

The entire forest seemed to sing under Allura’s hands, every tree turning just slightly towards her, every flower bowing its head. It was subtle, but when you knew what to look for, it was unmistakable. The patchy, parched earth grew dark and damp and fertile, little green shoots sprouting up from it, unfurling like tiny butterflies from cocoons, spreading their leaves to the sun.

Allura’s hands emitted a faint golden light, and if Lance looked closely he could see the veins of light run their way through the earth, like a huge, tangled root system, as if Allura was the center of this forest, as if all the life in it stemmed from her and her alone.

Lance wondered if she could take away life, too.

Allura lifted her hands from the earth and the magic dissipated instantly, though the green remained. “That is but a small example of what I can do,” she said.

“Does it work the other way around?” Lance blurted. She raised an eyebrow. “I mean, can you kill plants instead of making them grow?”

Allura blanched. “I…well, yes, I could. But I rarely do that, unless I absolutely must. When Coran and I were trapped in the Amazon, I had to get rid of several plants so we could continue on our path. But I prefer not to.”

“Why not?”

“It is…it is an unpleasant feeling,” Allura said, eying him with a frown. “Altean magic is not meant to destroy, Lance.”

“But Druid magic is.”

Allura stood abruptly and folded her arms. “As you have seen firsthand, yes. Lance, do not think of Druid magic now. It is but a twisted shadow of what you and I have, and brings nothing but ruin and misery. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Lance lied. “Sorry for bringing it up. But I guess I just…I’m trying to figure out what sort of magic I have, and it doesn’t feel like the creation make-things-grow kind.”

Allura pursed her lips. “So what does it feel like, then?”

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Lance sighed. “It’s like…” He bit his lip. “I don’t know if this is unique with Alteans or what, but I’m really sensitive to other magical energy. Like when I was in Lotor’s garrison…I could feel the Druid magic everywhere, like physically feel it on my skin. I could feel Lotor’s thrall in the same way. And when I’m at Keith and Shiro’s…they have a certain magic, too, and it changes with their moods, like a living thing. Like my crystal and my book, there’s a certain kind of sentience. And…and it almost feels like I could connect to that magic, if it would let me.”

“That is interesting,” Allura murmured. “Alteans can sense other magic, but…not quite in the way you’re describing. I wonder if you might be able to channel the other magic you feel so keenly in order to activate your own…?”

“Channel it? How?”

She shrugged. “This is a matter of trial and error, Lance. I’ve heard of very few Alteans capable of influencing or using other magic in such a way, and never actually saw it with my own two eyes; but we might as well give it a shot since this method isn’t working.”

“Can I try channeling your magic?” Lance asked. “Just as, like, a trial run.”

“You may try, but…” She shook her head, and with a sharp movement of her hand, her palm began to glow again, and the treetops rustled overhead in reply. Lance’s crystal flared with blue light in response, and he focused on the thrum of Allura’s magic as it pulsed outwards from her, focused on finding its epicenter, but not quite knowing what he would do when he did.

Suddenly, the air between them rippled violently, like a desert mirage, blurring their edges, and Allura stumbled backwards with a gasp. Lance stayed standing, firm and intent, one hand outstretched instinctively towards her, tendrils of her golden magic swirling upwards into his palm. His crystal hummed louder and louder, and he knew his eyes were aglow, and the moment Allura’s magic touched his skin something sparked like a static shock, jolting up the entire length of his arm.

More, the crystal whispered to him. Almost…almost…

“Enough,” Allura said breathlessly, snapping her fingers, gold sputtering out.

Lance swayed, startled, skin still tingling. “I don’t know what that was,” he said, bewildered.

“You connected to my magic,” Allura said. “But…not in the way I expected. You didn’t simply connect to it, you…you tried to absorb it.” She put her hands on her hips. “Did you consciously do that?”

“Not…not really,” Lance said. “I just…did it.”

“You can manipulate other magic,” Allura told him, her eyes wide.

“You mean, like…take other people’s powers?”

“I mean, you need to be very careful, Lance,” she retorted. “I think, if you had continued just now, you might have caused me to lose consciousness, or...or worse. It felt like…like you were taking not just my magic, but my energy.”

“Holy shit,” Lance said. “Like…like a vampire.”

“Of a kind,” Allura said.

Chapter Text

He probably should have, but Lance didn’t tell Keith and Shiro about the whole energy vampire thing.

Partly because he didn’t wanna have that conversation yet – he still didn’t fully understand it, or what he could do with it, and he didn’t want them to freak out unnecessarily.

Partly because Allura had half-pleaded, half-ordered him not to. Something about Altean secrets and keeping it away from Galran ears.

“What d’you think the Galra would do if they did find out?” Lance had asked her.

“They would try to devise a way to control you and your magic, of course,” she had replied. “Lance, it is better that you remain a wild card to them. You said Haggar does not even know you are Altean or have magic at all. This is good. Keep it that way…for as long as possible, anyway.”

So Lance did.

When Keith and Shiro asked him how the training was going, he would tell them the bare minimum – about Allura’s meditation and the cool stuff she could do with her magic, about his glowing eyes and the crystal speaking to him.

Both vampires were intrigued by it, but Shiro was definitely not as comfortable with talk of magic as Keith was. He would get quieter, hunch his shoulders, gaze growing distant, and he would never tell Lance to change the subject but Lance knew he wanted to.

Shiro’s body might have healed, but the dreams kept coming. It was scary for all three of them – when they were really bad, Shiro would bolt upright with a sound like an animal, a snarl torn from his throat, eyes blazing yellow and teeth bared.

That would only last a few seconds – the light left his eyes and the fight left his body the moment Keith and Lance touched him. Sometimes he would flinch back and curl away from them, and sometimes he would let out a ragged sob and let them hug him tightly and cover him in kisses and soft words.

Lance didn’t bring up the magic thing, but he did bring up the PTSD thing. It was after one of the worst nightmares, when Shiro didn’t want either of them to touch him, and stumbled out of bed to pace with evident agitation across the length of the bedroom until Keith coaxed him back to the bed and he sat down heavily on the end of it, holding his head in his hands.

Lance hesitantly crawled over the bed and put a hand on Shiro’s bare shoulder, careful and light. Shiro twitched anyway, lifting his head and looking at Lance with dark, sad eyes.

“Shiro,” he murmured, and then, softer, “Takashi.”

Shiro sighed. “I know,” he mumbled. “I know, I keep waking you up, and scaring you, and I –”

“No, shh,” Keith said, sitting next to him and shaking his head. “Don’t apologize. Not your fault.”

“I was talking with Keith,” Lance told Shiro slowly, “and I think you have something called PTSD. Posttraumatic stress disorder. It’s not uncommon – a lot of people who have been through bad stuff get it. Like war veterans, and people in car accidents, and victims of abuse.”

Shiro swallowed. “So you think I’m…sick.”

“Not sick,” Lance said. “It’s not a disease. It’s just your brain trying to cope with what happened to you, but not knowing how to.”

“What happened to me?” Shiro scoffed, turning his head away. “It was no passive thing, Lance. I did it. I killed them all. I let the Galra make me into the beast they wanted.”

“You didn’t,” Keith said fiercely, touching Shiro’s arm. “You are not a beast, you are not a murderer, you are a survivor of the horrors they subjected you to.”

“You think too highly of me,” Shiro murmured, closing his eyes, mouth twisting. “Both of you.”

“You’ve given us no reason to think anything but highly of you,” Lance said.

Shiro’s eyes cracked open. “You don’t know what I’ve done,” he breathed.

“I know some,” Lance said. “I know what Haggar told me.” Shiro flinched. “But maybe…Shiro, sometimes it helps people with PTSD to talk about what happened. To talk to people they trust. People they love. People who will never judge them.”

Shiro squeezed his eyes shut again, tighter than before. “There is a reason I do not talk about that time.”

“Yeah…but maybe it’s just making it worse, keeping it all tangled up in your head like that, trying to keep it a secret from everyone,” Lance said. “Maybe it would be better to let some of it out. It can’t get much worse at this point, can it? So you might as well try, and see if it helps.”

“It could get worse,” Shiro said. “You could hate me.”

“We would never,” Keith swore.

“Never,” Lance echoed.

There was a long beat of silence. Shiro’s hands curled into fists, then uncurled, slow and shaking.

“You could tell us about your dreams,” Keith suggested.

“Right…right now?”

“Well, we’re all already awake,” Lance pointed out with a smile. Shiro smiled faintly back, and relaxed in increments, though his head stayed bowed and he did not meet their gazes as he began to talk.

“Some of the dreams are in the arena, some of them are in the Druid Halls. The arena dreams are worse, but the ones in the Halls hurt. It’s not real pain – just an echo. But it reminds me of the real pain, and…” Shiro trailed off, recollected himself. “It was an arena dream tonight. At first they would just send in regular thralls, weak and unarmed, but they learned that wasn’t much of a fight. They needed a show. So they started bringing in captured humans, from the neighboring villages. Natives, some of them. Humans that actually had a will to live, a will to fight. The Galra gave them weapons, sometimes even armor. And so they fought. And so I killed them.”

Lance reached out and grasped Shiro’s trembling hand, squeezing reassuringly. Shiro glanced at him, and continued. “In the dream, I was in the ring with a captured woman, of the Shasta tribe. They’d given her armor, a sword, and a shield. More than most of the others got. That night, I was…I remember I wasn’t particularly hungry. They’d fed me recently, and…and I was in the mood to play with my prey. So I played. I made her think she had a chance. I feinted weakness and injury. I even let her stab me a few times, because I was bored, because…because it was amusing for me to give them hope.”

He made a miserable sound, low in his throat. “She was exhausted by the end of it. Drenched in sweat, frightened, angry, slashing blindly with the sword, bleeding from a few minor cuts. I let one of her sword swings catch me across the chest, and I went down. It left a scar. But she thought she’d killed me. I remember…I remember seeing the relief in her eyes, the fleeting flash of joy when she stood above me and believed she had won.” He shuddered. “And then I ripped her throat out.”

There was a silence in the room. Shiro was tense; and in his energy, his magic, Lance could sense his fear, his regret, but most of all his self-loathing. Shiro jumped slightly when Lance leaned against him, let his head fall against Shiro’s shoulder, let his lips press against Shiro’s skin, let Shiro understand that he was loved, not loathed; here, now.

“I still remember what her blood tasted like,” Shiro said, his voice breaking. “Fear makes blood bitter, but she did not taste like fear. In that single moment before I killed her, she was so full of hope. And hope makes blood sing like nothing else.” He drew in a deep breath. “But in the dream, when I pulled away from her neck, it wasn’t the Shasta woman. It was you, Lance.”

Lance had kind of expected it would be something like that. So he just exhaled and kissed Shiro’s cheek and asked, “Is it usually me?”

“Only sometimes,” Shiro admitted. “Other times it’s you, Keith. Or it’s Pidge. Or Hunk. Or Thace, or Ulaz, or any of the people who have ever meant anything to me – dead, slain by my hand, bleeding out on the sand.”

“And then you wake up?”

“And then I wake up,” Shiro whispered. “But the images, the taste of blood in my mouth – that doesn’t go away.”

“It’s still not your fault,” Keith said, his voice firm like his hand on Shiro’s jaw, turning his face, forcing the older vampire to stop staring guiltily at the floor. “No, listen to me. They turned you against your will. They kept you imprisoned, caged, and the only blood they gave you was in the arena. You told me once that you tried to starve yourself, and they wouldn’t let you. You were not complicit, Shiro. You are not guilty of anything – that blood is on the Galras’ hands, not yours.”

“The Galra didn’t kill those people, Keith.”

“You were their Champion,” Keith retorted. “Their weapon. Their tool. They used you. Do you think anyone else would have done differently in your situation?”

“I could have…I could have saved them,” Shiro said. “I could have stopped myself. I thought about it. But I could never quite…”

“Are you seriously blaming yourself for not committing suicide?!” Lance exclaimed. “Shiro! C’mon, buddy. You’re the only one who thinks that would’ve been, in any way, a solution.”

Shiro sniffed, rubbing at his eyes. “It is rather hard for a vampire to kill themselves. Otherwise…I doubt I would be here.”

“Oh, Takashi,” Keith whispered, pained, wrapping an arm around him. “If you weren’t here, I wouldn’t be, either.”

Shiro bit his lip. “I…I suppose not. But –”

“I might not be here either,” Lance pointed out. “Without you and Keith, Lotor would have captured me easily. No one would have rescued me or kept me safe.”

“I do not wish to die nowadays,” Shiro murmured. “I don’t want you to fear that I would do something like…that I would leave either of you like that. It’s just that…all too often I remember the time when all I wanted was to just make it end. Even after the Galra let me go, I was so…so alone. Wandering. Lost. All too aware of the monster I’d become. That; that was when I wanted the end the most. I rather lost sight of the point of it all, you see. I didn’t want to face an eternity devoid of meaning, devoid of everything but blood and shadows and solitude.”

“You’re not alone, Takashi,” Lance promised. “Not anymore.”

“And for that I am unbelievably grateful,” Shiro choked out, “because life is so much better now than I could ever have imagined back then.”

It was a strange thing to see Shiro cry. Lance and Keith held him through it, through the silent sobs and terrible tremors, until he slumped and said hoarsely, “I think I can go back to sleep, now.” They guided him back under the sheets, and for once, he didn’t try to do it himself. Instead he went willingly, easily, and lay down with relief in every line of his frame.

“Did that help at all?” Lance asked as they settled together, Keith and Lance curled up protectively on either side of Shiro.

“Yes,” Shiro whispered, and kissed him, then Keith, soft and long. “Thank you.”

“Of course,” Keith said, smoothing a hand over Shiro’s chest, soothing. “Sleep, now. We’ll be here.”

“Thank you,” he murmured again, and closed his eyes.

*

He didn’t wake up again that night, or the next, and when he did on the third, Lance and Keith were there for him.

*

“We’ve never been on a proper date,” Shiro said one afternoon while Lance was making lunch for himself and Keith was trying to nap at the kitchen table.

Lance paused halfway through assembling his pork Cubano and set down his butter knife to fold his arms and declare, “Well, then we better fix that, huh?”

Keith lifted his head with a great deal of effort and mumbled, “Wha?”

Shiro patted Keith’s head as Keith yawned and drooled on the table. “Let’s go on a date, then. You’ve been to Redding recently, Lance, so where should we go?”

Lance shrugged. “How about a movie?” He grinned. “Wonder Woman just came out, you guys wanna see that?”

Shiro looked at him blankly. Keith opened his eyes. “Like in the comic books?”

Lance beamed. “Yes! Yeah, Wonder Woman from the DC comics. You read those?”

“Some, yeah,” Keith said, tilting his head. “They’re…movies, now?”

“Uh-huh. Wait, did you read Batman comics? Oh my god, you totally did, didn’t you.”

“Some,” Keith grumbled, putting his head down again. “Shut up.”

“You two will have to fill me in about this Wonder Woman,” Shiro said.

“She’s great,” Lance gushed. “Gal Gadot is gorgeous. She could punch me in the face and I wouldn’t even be mad.”

Shiro looked mildly concerned. Keith drawled, “You certainly have a type, don’t you.”

Lance flicked a piece of pulled pork at him, resulting in a shrill shriek of dismay and disgust and Lance laughing for a solid five minutes as Keith fell out of his chair and flung the pork into a different dimension.

*

Lance drove the three of them out to Redding on the coolest night of that week, hoping and praying that ‘coolest’ didn’t mean rain was coming. Keith and Shiro peered out the windows with wide eyes as they headed down the freeway, hundreds of other cars whirring past with headlights ablaze.

“Where are they all going?” Keith asked, pressing his palm to the glass and smiling at the foggy imprint it left behind.

“Home, probably,” Lance said. “It’s rush hour, everyone’s coming back from work.”

“They certainly are rushing,” Shiro murmured. “How…how fast are we going, exactly?”

“Speed limit’s 65 miles per hour, which means I’m going 70.”

Shiro blanched. “65 miles?!”

“Yup,” Lance said, changing lanes and making both of them tense. “Little bit faster than a horse and carriage, huh?”

“Little bit,” Keith snorted. A motorcycle whizzed past them and his face lit up. “Ooh, what was that?!”

“Motorcycle,” Lance said, squinting at it. “Nice one, I think it’s a Ducati.” He glanced back at Keith and grinned. “You’d look hot on a motorcycle, bat boy.”

“It looks fun,” Keith said wistfully. “Fast. Shiny, too.”

Shiro rubbed his eyes. “It looks like a death machine, Keith.”

“A pretty death machine, though.”

Shiro gave up.

It took a little under an hour to get to the theater, and as Lance got the tickets and popcorn, both vampires huddled close to him and eyed the crowded space nervously. They were so comfortable around Lance now that he’d almost forgotten how jumpy and shy they were around other people.

The girl who took their tickets winked at Shiro and he shot Lance a look of fearful bewilderment. Lance smiled politely at the girl, grabbed his hand, and led both of them to their seats before anyone else could flirt with Shiro, because c’mon, it was bound to happen at least one more time in the next five minutes.

Lance had picked the fancy new Cinemark with ridiculous reclining seats and big-ass screens just to give Keith and Shiro the full experience, and the vampires seemed more than a little overwhelmed with it all. Lance ate his popcorn with amusement as Keith messed with his seat controls and Shiro stared with disbelief at the commercials playing on the screen. Then the theater started to fill with people and both of them got twitchy and uncertain again.

“Guys, relax,” Lance said under his breath, taking their hands reassuringly. “As long as you keep the eye glow to a minimum, you’ll be fine.”

No sooner had he said that, a little girl with curly pigtails sat in the seat next to Keith’s and stared at him with wide, curious, brown eyes while her mom and dad argued about what to get for dinner. Keith stared back timidly.

After working with kids at his job back in LA for so long, Lance had become firmly convinced that sometimes kids saw things that adults didn’t, or couldn’t. The little girl definitely saw something when she tilted her head at Keith, and Lance was preparing to deal with a hysterical child until she bit her lip and reached out with one small, chubby hand to touch Keith’s face.

He froze and drew in a sharp breath. The little girl blinked at him. “Cold,” she said, a line appearing between her brows as she scrunched up her face in confused concentration. “Mister, d’you need a blanket?” Keith opened his mouth but she’d already turned to her mom and was tugging on her sleeve. “Mommy, he’s cold, he needs a blanket!”

Her mom sighed and looked at them apologetically. “Honey, don’t bother them, please, the movie is starting soon. Remember when we talked about being quiet during movies?”

“…yes, Mommy,” the little girl said reluctantly, and settled back down in her seat but she glanced at Keith again and grinned as the previews started. “It’s okay,” she whispered conspiratorially, “you can snuggle if you’re cold, that’s what I always do.”

“Good idea,” Lance told her, and put an arm around Keith. The little girl beamed at him, apparently satisfied that Keith was warm, and went back to watching the previews.

Keith tensed and gave him the side-eye. “Relax,” Lance murmured. “It’s all good.”

Keith was tense for the next ten minutes, until he was apparently convinced that nobody was going to yell at them or something, and leaned into Lance’s side with a small, relieved sigh. Lance saw Shiro smiling out of the corner of his eye, his smile widening when Lance draped an arm around his shoulders, too.

Both of them were entirely engrossed with the movie from start to finish; it was honestly adorable how into it they were. Shiro was quiet, except for a few impressed murmurs and soft gasps of surprise and delight, but Keith kept leaning over and whispering stuff like, “How does she jump so high?” or “Who is that actor? I like him. I really like him.”

With anyone else, it would’ve been irritating. But Lance knew this was entirely new to Keith and Shiro, so he couldn’t fault them for being so curious and impressed about it all. In fact, he was happy they were enjoying it so much, and was smiling so hard his face hurt when they stood up and applauded at the end of it. The little girl’s parents gave them weird looks, but the little girl giggled and stood up to clap too, so it was okay.

The movie was good but really long, so it was late by the time they left the theater.

“Princess Diana is a truly incredible woman,” Shiro sighed as they got into the car.

“Chris Pine is hot,” Keith said. “His eyes are almost as pretty as yours, Lance.”

Lance chuckled. “Wow, high praise. And see, Shiro, I told you Gal Gadot was great.”

“I understand now why you said you would let her punch you,” Shiro said earnestly.

“I thought she was better at kicking,” Keith pointed out. “And launching herself into the air off of shields. Those are good talents to have. I wish I could do that.”

“You can literally fly, Keith, shush,” Lance laughed. “Anyway, you guys wanna explore the city a little more or head back?”

“Explore!” Keith exclaimed. Lance and Shiro looked at him in surprise and he ducked his head. “I mean…it’s just, I haven’t been here in so long, and, well, it is where I grew up.”

“Of course we can explore,” Shiro said. “Do you want to get dinner somewhere, Lance? You must be hungry.”

“Actually, I’m pretty stuffed from that popcorn,” Lance admitted. “But you guys are always up for coffee shops, right?”

“Sounds good to me,” Keith agreed.

“Maybe we could find a park, afterwards,” Shiro added. “One with nice fountains, perhaps.”

“What about Turtle Bay?” Lance peered at Azula’s (dimly lit, barely working) GPS. “See, it’s that big green area right there, next to the river. I went there with Hunk and Pidge a couple years ago; it’s kinda like a zoo-nature-reserve-thing. The exhibits and stuff are probably closed right now, but we can get into the regular park areas.”

Keith tapped the GPS screen. “Isn’t that a coffee shop right across the street?”

“Hell yeah it is, bat boy.”

*

So that was how they ended up in a coffee shop across the street from Turtle Bay Park, chatting with the aimless ease Lance had only found before among old friends and family members. Shiro had black coffee, Keith had raspberry green tea, and Lance had a latte with a croissant. They were the only customers in the shop, and they were closing up in half an hour, but once Shiro had downed his coffee he stood and told them he was going to walk around for a bit and ‘do some shopping.’

Lance raised an eyebrow. “I dunno what other places are open this late, it’s almost ten, but, uh…knock yourself out.”

“We’ll meet you at the park, then,” Keith said.

“Yes, see you soon,” Shiro said, and turned to go.

“Wait, how’re you gonna find us, you don’t have a phone – oh.”

Shiro tapped his nose, amused. “Lance, Lance. I don’t need a phone to find you two.”

“Don’t get too cocky, we might try to hide,” Keith said archly.

“From me? You could try.”

“Another time,” Keith murmured, lips curling with wicked promise.

After Shiro left, Lance mused, “How would we even be able to hide from his killer sense of smell and all the other superhuman senses?”

Keith smirked. “Play games with him,” he said. “Make false trails, tease, disguise, et cetera.” His expression turned wistful. “He and I used to play hide and seek often, in the years when the Galra left us alone and it was safe to be separated. When he found me, he’d get a kiss. Well. At least a kiss.”

“Ah,” Lance said. “So it’s that kind of game.”

Keith shrugged. “Not always. Usually innocent, actually.” He flushed. “You don’t really think we’re sex fiends, do you? We really aren’t. It’s just. You.”

“Me?”

“Hmph. Yes, you. It’s your fault,” Keith said around his straw. “How else are we supposed to react?”

“To me?” Lance repeated, starting to smile. “You’re blaming me for your – your lecherous behavior?”

“Yes,” Keith declared. “You’re such a damn instigator, what with your annoyingly kissable lips and perfect soft skin and sparkly eyes and – oh, stop looking at me like that!”

Lance took a prim bite of his croissant and fluttered his eyelashes. “That was really gay, Keith,” he said.

I am really gay, Lance,” Keith hissed. “Are you done? The barista is glaring at us.”

Lance glanced over his shoulder. The barista was definitely not glaring. She looked tired, but she was kind of smiling at them, one eyebrow raised as she wiped down the counters. Lance bagged the rest of his croissant and grabbed his latte, standing up and giving her a little wave. “Sorry, we’ll get outta here so you can close up. Thanks!”

“No problem!” she called back. “Enjoy the rest of your date.”

Keith went red. Lance grinned easily back at her. “Thanks! Hey, d’you know if Turtle Bay is open?”

She nodded. “Sundial Bridge is, and that’s the really pretty area.” She made a face. “Man, I wish my girlfriend took me there at night, that’s a cute idea. Bet the stars look awesome out there on the water.”

Keith’s eyes were kind of bugging out of his skull. “Girlfriend?” he mumbled to himself.

“Hey, you could always take her there!” Lance said over his shoulder as he led Keith out. “Have a good night!”

“You too!”

The door shut behind them with a little jingle of the bell.

“Girlfriend,” Keith repeated, dumbfounded. “She has a girlfriend?”

“2017, my dude,” Lance said as they crossed the dark, empty street. “You’re gonna lose your mind when you meet Hunk’s moms, aren’t you?”

Keith was quiet. Then he asked, quietly, “Are they married?”

“Yeah, ‘course,” Lance said. “For almost ten years, now, and they’ve been a couple way longer than that.”

Keith was quiet for longer, and when Lance looked over at him, his lower lip was trembling. Lance stopped walking and reached out, tipping up his chin gently. “Keith? You okay?”

“I never thought I’d see the day,” he whispered, voice quavering. "And...and in Redding, of all places." He looked up at Lance with shiny eyes. “Yes,” he breathed. “Yes, I’m okay. So, so okay.”

“Aw, bat boy,” Lance said fondly, grabbing his hand. “You didn’t really think the world would hate boys who love boys and girls who love girls forever, did you?”

“I did,” Keith retorted. “God, Lance. You don’t know what it was like. How…how dirty it was considered. Sinful. Wrong. How hard I tried not to believe them, how often I failed. I was afraid, all the time, always trying to hide – always wondering how it would be to live a life where I didn’t have to hide who I was, and always knowing that was impossible.”

“But…what about Shiro, weren’t you…”

“Yes,” Keith said. “But that doesn’t mean there were no consequences, that there was no danger. We had to be careful, Lance, so careful. People talked, and…you could be thrown in prison, Lance. You could be put to death, in some of the places we traveled to. And…and to go from that, to this…it doesn’t feel real.”

“It’s real,” Lance promised. “I know it’s a lot, but it’s real.” The two of them turned the corner and headed towards the lush green hills and elegant trees of the park, which was lit only by silver-white streetlamps and empty of people. “I know it’s just a formality and you basically are already, but you and Shiro could totally get married now, officially.”

Keith blinked at him. “…just me and Shiro?”

Lance laughed, but it was forced. “Yeah, well, still not legal for three people to get married. I could be the best man or the flower boy or something. It’d be a fun time.”

“Lance,” Keith started, frowning, but then weather itself saved them from further discussion by opening up the entire sky to start pouring freezing cold torrential rain.

Both of them shrieked and ran for cover, which turned out to be the tall trees of the park, and which turned out to be mostly ineffective. “Damn it, and this could’ve been so romantic,” Lance panted as they collapsed in the wet grass and huddled under Lance’s jacket. Keith’s teeth were chattering. Lance looked at him askance. “Wait, you can actually get cold?”

Keith huffed and pressed closer to him. “I didn’t lose my nerve-endings, genius.”

“Thank God for that,” Lance said with feeling.

“Not feeling very gr-grateful right n-now,” Keith stuttered, wrapping his arms around himself. “Maybe we should head b-back to the c-car...”

“Gotta wait for Shiro,” Lance said. “Plus, the car’s kind of a far walk. Let’s just cuddle, like penguins.”

“In the m-mud?” Keith tugged Lance to his feet and nodded to a ramada barely visible through the trees and darkness. “We can w-wait over there.”

“We’re gonna have to make a run for it,” Lance said as lightning split through the night, followed by a terrific crack of thunder. “Shit, that was close.”

“I like lightning,” Keith said, staring up at the sky. The next bolt illuminated his face in stark contrast for a single moment before plunging them into darkness once more. Lance grabbed his hand and they sprinted towards the ramada, shoes slipping and sliding in the mud and wet grass, laughing breathlessly as the rain came down harder, finally skidding to a halt under the ramada.

Lance flopped down on one of the benches. “Now I’m cold,” he grumbled.

Keith was stripping off his shirt. “What?” he said when he saw Lance gawking. “Wet clothes make you colder.”

“Do not get naked in the park, Keith.”

“Was that a challenge?” Keith countered, but his pants stayed on. “C’mon, get yours off too. I’m not cuddling with you when you’re soaking wet.”

“Fine, fine,” Lance sighed, peeling his shirt off and tossing the soggy ball of fabric into a pile with Keith’s. “C’mere.”

Keith shifted closer on the bench and wrapped his arms around Lance’s middle, both of them sighing at the contact. Keith’s wet hair was dripping cold water onto both of them, so he dug around in his pocket and fished out a hair tie, brushing it away from his face with his fingers and putting it up into a sloppy ponytail.

“I need a haircut,” Keith mumbled into Lance’s shoulder.

“I can’t really imagine you with short hair,” Lance said.

“It was shorter when I was human,” Keith said thoughtfully, running a fingertip across the dip of Lance’s collarbones and over his chest, his skin pebbling with goosebumps from more than just the chill in the air. “Long hair wasn’t in fashion then. Not that I ever cared much for society’s ideals, but the nuns gave me little choice.”

“What about Shiro, was his hair ever long?”

“Hm…” Keith’s eyes glinted. “I would say it’s always been just a touch longer than what was considered proper. He’s always liked to live a little on the edge.”

“You rebels,” Lance chuckled.

Keith kissed his cheek, and Lance felt his smile.

There was a sudden movement in the darkness of the park, back the way they’d come, and Lance squinted into the shadows apprehensively. “What is that…?”

“Is it – Shiro!” Keith leapt to his feet. “Oh, dear. You poor thing.”

Lance didn’t quite understand until the blurry dark shape trotted into the light and he realized it was a cat, black with a white patch on its head, absolutely drenched from the rain, carrying a small white plastic bag in its mouth which it deposited at their feet.

“That’s Shiro?” Lance peered at the cat, which looked distinctly irritated. Then again, most cats looked irritated most of the time. It flicked an ear at him and he saw its muzzle was scarred, just like the panther’s, just like Shiro’s. “Oh, wow, dude. Are you okay? You look kinda…bedraggled.”

Cat Shiro let out the most pathetic meow Lance had ever heard. “Alright, alright, you big baby,” Keith said, and scooped him up in his arms, grabbing Lance’s jacket and wrapping him up in it in an attempt to dry him off. The jacket bundle squirmed around in Keith’s arms until Shiro could poke his head out. He meowed again.

“Lance, don’t forget the bag,” Keith said.

Lance picked it up and raised an eyebrow at Shiro. “Got it. Ready to run back to Azula?”

Shiro gave him a flat look and sneezed. “Yeah, let’s go,” Keith said, tucking him closer to his chest.

*

They made it to Azula, but not without getting utterly soaked, and in Keith’s case, slightly scratched by a very damp and annoyed Shiro. In retaliation, Keith tossed him unceremoniously into the backseat, ignoring his yowl and loud hiss. Lance grabbed his jacket and scowled at Keith. “Great, now it’s covered in cat hair.”

“So is your backseat,” Keith retorted. Lance turned around to see Cat Shiro jumping up onto the seat and fluffing up his wet fur like an angry black pom pom.

“Watch the claws, Shiro, don’t you dare rip up the leather,” Lance warned as he pulled out of their parking space and headed towards the freeway. Cat Shiro ignored him and set about grooming himself determinedly.

Keith was looking in the bag. “So, what was so important that you had to run through the rain as a cat to get?” He fished out a small purple box and weighed it in the palm of his hand.

“That’s for Lance,” Shiro said, making Lance swear and swerve as the reflection of a cat in his rearview mirror changed abruptly to a naked man.

Carajo, don’t do that!” Lance exclaimed. “Why are you naked?!”

“My clothes were wet,” Shiro said petulantly. “I thought you liked having me naked.”

“Not when I’m driving in a rainstorm!”

“I’ll just lay down and cover myself with your jacket, then,” Shiro said, and did so before Lance could stop him. “It is already covered in cat hair.”

“Can I open the box for Lance because he’s driving?” Keith asked.

“Can you wait?” Shiro retorted.

“You can open it, Keith,” Lance said. “It’s gonna take a while to get back to Rosewood in this weather.”

Shiro huffed. “But I wanted you to open it –”

“Naked dudes rubbing their balls all over my backseat don’t get a say,” Lance said.

“I am not –”

“Aww, Lance, it’s a cat charm! For your necklace-pendant thing.” Lance glanced over and Keith held up a small, shiny black cat with gleaming yellow eyes. A lump formed in Lance’s throat, and he didn’t even know why, because it was a sweet gift, sure, but not something to cry over, what the heck.

“Do you like it?” Shiro asked hesitantly. “I just thought, since Keith gave you a couple charms, I might as well give you one, too. The jewelry store was closed, so I had to sneak in as a cat. I did leave monetary compensation, though.”

“Obviously I like it, pff,” Lance said, focusing on the road and blinking hastily to stop his traitorous eyes from tearing up. “You’re mostly forgiven for the ball-rubbing.”

Shiro gave him a rare, brilliant smile in the mirror, and Lance smiled back, though his chest hurt.

Less than a month.

*

It was still raining when they got back to Pidge’s house – unfortunately there was no road to Keith and Shiro’s, so they were gonna have to hike up. It was past midnight, and Lance didn’t bother waking up Hunk and Pidge to say hi, even though Pidge was more than likely still awake and up to no good.

Because Shiro couldn’t very well streak through the woods (Well, technically I could, but I’m choosing not to, he corrected), so he shifted into the panther instead. Lance felt kind of weird about accepting his offer to climb on his back knowing that Shiro was actually naked, but he wasn’t in the mood to run through the rain again.

Keith shifted into actual bat boy and followed them from above, the strange silhouette of his wings occasionally visible through the treetops as Shiro bound through the undergrowth.

Wet cats, thankfully, didn’t smell bad like wet dogs. The fur against Lance’s face smelled like damp leather and fresh earth, and he could feel the warmth of Shiro’s body despite the cold rain. It was all too easy to cling tightly to him and close his eyes, the steady movement lulling Lance half to sleep. He was tired after driving an hour in the storm, on the freeway, with two talkative vampires in the car, and caught himself slipping off of Shiro’s back a little more than once.

Keith reached the house before they did, and he was there to give Lance a hand as he hopped off of Shiro. Shiro wasted no time in shifting back, and Lance almost hoped Lotor was lurking around in the trees so he could see Shiro in all his nude, whole, uninjured glory.

They showered together in semi-silence – Lance wasn’t talkative when he was sleepy, and Keith and Shiro were good at attuning themselves to his moods, so they didn’t fill the small space with chatter. The most they did was kiss under the warm spray, mouths tasting like soap suds and humidity, until they’d washed all the rain and mud and sweat off and bundled each other up in towels under the cool fluorescents.

Lance had the shortest hair and was used to showering quick at home, so he finished drying himself off first and headed to the bedroom to change into PJs. Most nights he would stay up later, whether to fool around or just hang out, but he was yawning on every other breath and the horrible, hollow feeling in his chest wouldn’t go away, and got worse every time he looked at Keith and Shiro.

He did stay awake long enough to attach the black cat charm to the necklace. Maybe he should invest in a charm bracelet instead – the three charms jangled uncomfortably against the crystal, and he wore it almost constantly now, so he had a feeling it would start to get annoying. But he kept it on as he slipped under the covers and closed his eyes, listening to the barely-there sounds of Shiro and Keith moving around the room.

A large hand warm and pruney from the shower brushed across Lance’s brow. “You going to sleep already?” Shiro murmured.

“Mhm,” Lance said without opening his mouth, feeling too tired to even do that much.

The bed dipped with a slight weight, Keith’s lips touched his head as he hid a kiss in Lance’s hair. “Everything okay?” he whispered.

Lance nodded. Yes. Yes, everything was okay now, everything was perfect, but for how much longer? How much sand was left in their hourglass, and how fast would it trickle away into emptiness?

The crystal hummed sympathetically under the sheets.

“Alright,” Keith said after a pause, and moved away. “Goodnight, Lance.”

“’Night,” Lance breathed, keeping his eyes shut, knowing that if he opened them even for a second, the tears would spill free.

*

When Lance dreamed that night, he was standing in water, waist-deep, cool and clear blue, white sand visible under his bare feet. It was nighttime, and the sky was filled with stars, stars that looked somehow unfamiliar – too bright or too close or entirely different, Lance didn’t know.

The water stretched as far as the eye could see, and Lance turned in a circle, searching, because he didn’t want to be alone here. “Hello?” he called, and heard how desperate his own voice sounded, echoing endlessly through the darkness. The water rippled outwards from where he stood, and the back of his neck prickled – someone, or something, had responded to his plea.

Two pairs of yellow eyes stared at him from the distance.

The crystal around his neck flared blue. There were no charms on the chain, just the crystal, the amulet, burning brightly, whispering, Danger, danger, danger.

The yellow eyes were coming closer. Lance could see now they belonged to Shiro and Keith, but knew with awful certainty that these shadowy figures were Not Quite Shiro and Keith. Their faces were too white, too cold, and their hands when they wrapped around his arms were too rough, unmindful of Lance’s comfort. They yanked him forward, pressed their mouths to his neck, made him feel the jagged points of their teeth. Lance struggled – even their teeth were wrong, too many, too sharp, already cutting into his skin.

“Don’t move,” Not Shiro hissed, breath cold as an autumn breeze, “it’ll hurt more.”

“But he wants it to hurt,” Not Keith added, words ice on Lance’s throat, “so he’ll have something to remember us by when we leave him.”

“Or when he leaves us. Humans. So easy to end.”

“No,” Lance gasped, heart pounding, “no, don’t leave! I want to stay! I want –”

“You want what you cannot have, boy,” Not Shiro snarled, tearing away from his throat, blood spurting with the movement. It didn’t hurt, but Lance fell to his knees, dizzy, helpless. Not Shiro sneered down at him. “You think we would turn you? You, who we have known for less than a season; you, who serve only to bring us pleasure and amusement?”

“That’s not true,” Lance tried to say, but his voice was gone, he could only gurgle uselessly as his own blood spilled from his lips and down his chin.

Not Keith fit himself up against Not Shiro’s side, arm snaking around his waist. “Even if you meant more than that, you are our enemy,” he crooned, eyes flashing viciously. “The Princess knows this. We know this. Only you are deluded enough to believe you have a chance.”

Lance’s vision spotted, he crumpled, and still they loomed over him; smug, cruel, nightmarish –

“Lance, wake up!”

Lance gasped like a landed fish, eyes wide as he catapulted into consciousness, Keith and Shiro on either side of him with worried expressions. The light from his crystal filled the room, and they kept glancing at it as if it were liable to spontaneously combust, which, hey, maybe it could do that, Lance didn’t fuckin’ know.

Shiro opened his mouth, but Lance shook his head and whispered, “I just – need a second. To breathe.”

“Okay,” Shiro murmured, sitting back and giving him some space, Keith doing the same with more reluctance. Lance sat up, curling his knees towards his chest and taking a couple deep breaths, exhaling in an unsteady rush. He did his best to clear his head, to slow the terrified drumbeat of his heart, to banish the chills creeping over his skin.

The more he focused, the more he began to feel the house’s magic, the vampires’ magic. He realized that the house itself did not have magic, but rather its energy was residual, leftover from centuries of the same residents. Keith and Shiro lived here and so did their magic; it had made its home in all the nooks and crannies, settled deep within the very brick and mortar, wove its way down every hall, wafted through every room like invisible mist. Lance focused on it, and then, on them.

Vampire magic was not like the magic of Alteans or, by extension, Druids. It was weaker, or at least it felt like it was, and the way it spoke to him was in a faint whisper, easily mistaken for a passing breeze. Yet Keith and Shiro had familiar magic, familiar enough that his crystal did not cry danger in its presence, but merely accepted it. The magic responded to Lance as one that it knew, too, because it had known him intimately. Lance wasn’t an expert on this, but he had a theory that bodies weren’t the only thing that joined during sex – so had their magic.

That was the other thing – vampire magic was more primal, less refined than Allura’s or even Haggar’s. Theirs was a finely honed blade; Keith and Shiro’s felt more like a fire or a flood, natural, untamable. But it seemed tame enough as it wrapped around Lance, a warmth he felt inside rather than against his skin, like drinking hot soup on a snowy day, yet also like sucking on ice cubes in the hot sun – it was relief, either way, soothing his hurt, replenishing his energy, letting him breathe normally again.

Lance accepted it gratefully, even greedily, and he didn’t realize that he was actually taking the magic until Keith grabbed his shoulder and said in a strangled voice, “What are you doing?!”

Lance’s eyes were glowing, the crystal was glowing, and the magic was manifesting visibly in the air around them in long, smoke-colored tendrils that curled from Keith and Shiro and stretched towards Lance like he really was a hurricane, pulling them into his storm. As soon as he saw them, he released them with a snap that was not heard but felt – Keith and Shiro shuddered and stumbled away from him, and Lance swayed from the sudden loss of such power, fingers flexing in the sheets, eyes losing their glow and crystal slowly following suit.

“Lance,” Shiro said, voice uneven with panic and shock. “Is this – is that what Allura has been teaching you?!”

“Sort of,” Lance whispered. “That was an accident. But – yeah, I can kinda…well, Allura and I call it an energy vampire. I take other magic. That’s…that’s my Altean power, or whatever.”

“So you – that was you taking our magic?” Keith stammered, still pale as a ghost.

“I – I guess? Listen, okay, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you but Allura didn’t want me to, we didn’t want there to be any chance of the Galra finding out, so you guys gotta keep this a secret, or Lotor might…well, I don’t know what he’d do, but he’d do something, and it would be bad.”

“Can…can you do it on command?” Keith asked, eyes still huge. “Or do you have no control over it, are you going to do that to us again, because that felt so, so weird –”

“No! I mean, no, I have some control over it, I’ll try not to do it again, but I didn’t even realize I was doing it until just now, when I saw your guys’ magic!”

“You saw our magic?” Shiro demanded.

“Yes, it was…it looks like smoke, I guess?” Lance threw up his hands. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t…I was freaking out from the nightmare and your magic tried to comfort me and I kinda just latched onto it.”

Shiro paused. “Really?”

Lance looked up. “What?”

“Our magic…comforted you?” Shiro bit his lip. “How?”

“I think you guys just wanted to,” Lance mumbled, “so, y’know, it did. It’s like an extension of you guys, like your subconscious, sorta. That’s the impression I get, anyway.”

“You’re definitely not going to vacuum up our magic again if I hug you right now?” Keith blurted.

Lance blinked at him. “Um…no? Why – ah!”

Keith hugged him. “I’m comforting you,” Keith said. “Is it working better than my magic?”

“Yeah,” Lance mumbled. “You aren’t…really freaked out, right now?”

“I’m fairly freaked out,” Shiro admitted, but his arms were wrapping around Lance, too. “But I’ve experienced freakier things. And we know you weren’t trying to hurt us, Lance. No hard feelings. How bad was the nightmare?”

Lance swallowed. “It was…pretty bad,” he managed.

“You want to talk about it?”

“No,” Lance sighed. “Sorry, I know that’s super hypocritical, I just…”

“Don’t apologize,” Shiro murmured. “But…Lance, just know that if the nightmare somehow involved us…like when I dream about you in the arena, it’s not real. It would never happen. It isn’t really us.”

Lance just nodded, because that was all he could do, because he didn’t want to tell Shiro what had been said in the dream, what had been done. They sat together in silence, breathing together, nothing more.

“I want to go back to sleep,” Lance said after a while, staring at the clock. It was four in the morning.

“Do you want us to stay with you?” Keith asked.

“Please,” Lance breathed.

*

He awoke again, after a sleep uninterrupted by bad dreams, at a reasonable time, for once. Because it was a reasonable time, Keith and Shiro was dead asleep. Lance sighed, sitting up and stretching…and paused.

The Codex was sitting neatly on the nightstand, where it had most definitely not been before.

“Hello,” Lance said to it, raising an eyebrow. “Not very subtle, are you.”

The crystal thrummed to life. Lance got the message and got out of bed, careful not to disturb the serenely sleeping vampires. Tentatively, he reached out with his mind and felt the edges of their magic, and saw it again, for a moment – dark tendrils wreathing their bodies, Shiro’s magic slightly darker than Keith’s, Keith’s slightly red-tinted. It was hard to distinguish the magic when they were curled so close together, though, because their magic curled together, too, swirling together in little eddies of energy where their bodies touched.

Lance withdrew, and blinked, and the magic vanished, but he could still sense it.

After a moment of hesitation he tucked the book under his arm before heading downstairs to make breakfast. He made eggs and toast impatiently, heated up some of the leftover pulled pork from yesterday, and sat down at the table.

“So, book,” he muttered, “what’s it this time, huh?”

The book did nothing.

Lance narrowed his eyes. “I’m not gonna wait all day.”

Nothing.

“Ugh,” Lance groused, standing up to go pour himself a glass of orange juice. As soon as his back turned, there was a loud, distinct thump. He whirled on his heel.

The book was open.

“Oh, you think you’re so sneaky,” he said, shaking his fist at it. “This had better be good…”

Lance sat down with his juice in hand and peered at the pages it had opened to.

Vampiric Magick: Section II

Besides vampires’ unique ability to shift their form, as examined in Section I, their most powerful magical asset is their ability to subdue, enchant, and utterly control their prey, known as a thrall. “Thrall” is also the term given to victims of a vampire’s thrall – alternately they are referred to as pets, feeders, or, in the case of those thralled by very powerful vampires, changelings. Powerful vampires may choose to keep their thralls in a state of near-immortality through repeated exposure to their magic, which might otherwise drive mere mortals to insanity or a vegetative state. Changelings may live for centuries, but are forever bound to the will and whims of their vampire master.

Lance swallowed back bile. So that was what Lotor had intended to do to him. Changeling. The crystal pulsed indignantly at even the thought of the word. He pushed the thought away and kept reading.

A vampire typically uses its thrall by prolonged eye contact with the victim. Some have been known to resist a vampire’s thrall for a short period of time, but it is exceedingly rare that they manage to escape it entirely. Once enthralled, the victim is entirely at the mercy of the vampire’s will, which is usually to feed or to capture.

It is commonly theorized that vampires evolved to use their magic in such a way not only to make hunting easier, but to make blood taste better. When their victims are afraid, the body is flooded with adrenaline, which causes blood to circulate faster, leads to buildup of lactic acid, and apparently changes the taste and the appeal for vampires when feeding. Conversely, a vampire’s thrall is meant to subdue the victim, but more importantly, to make them feel not only that they want the vampire’s bite, but that they need it. The result is the release of endorphins in the brain and blood, which improve the taste, and make the victim feel euphoria even while they are dying of blood loss.

“Harsh,” Lance muttered to the book. “I’m sensing some judgment on your part. I’m not thralled, y’know, I just genuinely kinda like it when they bite me.”

The crystal vibrated disapprovingly.

The book, however, flipped the page, the new text shimmering slightly to draw his attention and show him what it was really trying to tell him, here.

The vampire’s thrall is, many believe, the key to understanding and possibly combating their unique and dangerous magic. Due to the base, primal nature of vampire magic, it is difficult to connect to it in the way we can connect to other magic – so perhaps the key is not to try to overpower or fight against it, but to surrender fully to it, and to let it in.

Of course, this is an untestable theory as no known situation exists in which a vampire could consensually enthrall an Altean. The very idea is laughable. But, if such a situation did exist, and if the Altean submitted to the vampire’s thrall with mind, body, and their very soul…it is highly possible that the Altean would forge an unprecedented connection with the vampire’s magic and reveal our most ancient and powerful abilities, those which run through our veins, in our blood full of untapped potential.

If only such a thing were possible.

Lance leaned back in his chair. “Damn,” he said, “okay, then.”

The stairs creaked and Lance’s head shot up. His eggs and toast were cold and his head hurt – the book must’ve taken longer to read than he’d thought, what with trying to read it in what he now knew was ancient Altean script. He munched nervously on his cold toast as Shiro and Keith ambled into the kitchen, yawning and making a beeline for the coffee machine.

“You guys are up early,” Lance said through his mouthful of toast, torn between slamming the book shut and telling them everything he’d just learned.

“Mmhmm,” Shiro mumbled, grabbing a mug and handing Keith one. “Goin’ back to sleep in a couple hours, but figured you might want company after the nightmare and everythin’ last night.”

“That’s so sweet, thanks!” Lance said, voice pitching too high. Both vampires turned to look slowly at him, brows rising inquisitively.

“Lance, whassup?” Keith slurred, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and peering at him, finally noticing the book. “Wait…”

“You guys need to use your thralls on me during sex,” Lance blurted.

Shiro dropped his mug with a crash as it shattered spectacularly on the floor.

“Excuse me,” Shiro choked out,

What?” Keith finished.

Chapter Text

Lance stared at them. They stared back.

“Um,” he said. “Sorry, that was kinda…didn’t mean to just. Say that. Like that.” He scratched his head. They continued to stare at him with horror and absolute confusion. “But, uh, yeah, that’s what the book just told me needs to happen.”

“No!” Keith exclaimed. “What – why would you even – we could never do that to you, Lance!”

“Well, I mean, technically speaking, you could…”

“Lance, you don’t know what you’re asking,” Shiro said firmly, though his wide eyes betrayed how freaked out he was. “That would be – you would be giving up your will, Lance, that’s dangerous enough as it is, but during – during sex?”

“I mean, I trust you guys,” Lance started, but Keith wasn’t done.

“It doesn’t matter if you trust us, Lance, you wouldn’t be able to say no to anything! Even if you didn’t actually want it, thralls make you think you do, they take away ability to consent, don’t you get that?! You felt Lotor’s thrall, you felt my thrall, you know that’s the truth! Thralls are meant to control and kill prey, not lovers, not you.” Keith folded his arms.

“Yeah, I got that,” Lance sighed. “But, listen, the book said that if we did that, I might finally be able to awaken my magic, or whatever. At least, I think that was the gist of it.”

“Lance…” Shiro shook his head. “It would be like slipping you a roofie.”

“But what if I want you guys to roofie me?”

Keith slapped a hand over his face in dismay. “That’s not how it works!”

“I thought you guys were on-board with the whole ‘help Lance discover his Altean powers’ thing!”

“Don’t you try to guilt-trip us into this!” Keith snapped.

Lance threw up his hands. “I’m not guilt-tripping, I’m just telling you want the book told me, and I think you guys are making this a way bigger deal than it needs to be!”

“This is a big deal!” Shiro retorted, and Lance fell silent, folding his arms. “Of course we want to help you, Lance. But this wouldn’t help you. Neither of us want to put you in a situation where you can’t properly communicate your feelings or tell us to stop.” Lance opened his mouth but Shiro added, “And don’t say that you’ll be okay with whatever we do, because you weren’t okay once already, and it was only because we could sense you were upset that we were able to right the situation. If you were thralled, we wouldn’t be able to sense anything except your overwhelming desire for us to bite you, regardless of your true desires.”

“I’m telling you now, that is my true desire!” Lance said.

“The answer is no, Lance,” Shiro said.

Lance looked to Keith, who was looking firmly away and frowning.

He huffed and grabbed his book, piece of toast, and jacket, heading for the door and tugging on his shoes as both vampires watched with dismay.

“Lance, where are you going?” Shiro sighed.

“Back to Pidge’s house, so I can find Allura and talk about this with someone who will help me,” he said. “You guys can go back to sleep now, yay.”

“Lance…”

“No, I got it. No using thralls. I’m just kinda at a loss of what to do here now, because I’m basically at a dead end with the whole magic thing, and the Codex just threw me a bone, but apparently that’s useless because the only vampires I trust to thrall me won’t, so. Bye. Sweet dreams. Sorry about your mug, Shiro.” Lance left before he could change his mind or either of them could convince him to stay.

He probably should’ve stayed and talked it out, he thought as he ate the rest of his toast and trudged through the sunny forest back to Rosewood. He knew Keith and Shiro weren’t necessarily wrong for not wanting to thrall him. But why wouldn’t they even try it? Worst case scenario, they accidentally did something he didn’t want and he’d forgive them after; even that seemed pretty doubtful.

Lance sighed when he finished his toast, wiping his hands off on his jacket (which was desperately in need of a wash after last night anyway). He just didn’t know what to do. This thrall thing felt really important, like if he didn’t do it, it would be a huge missed opportunity. The kind of opportunity they couldn’t afford to miss now, when the Galra were still circling like vultures. Literal vultures, in Haggar’s case – the Blade had given them reports of Haggar spying in her vulture form along with the other Druids, who were mostly birds, with a few snakes, a hare, and a particularly wily badger.

Lance almost hoped he’d run into the badger vampire, because that would be hilarious.

The Galra situation was serious, though – Kolivan seemed to think that Lotor was planning some kind of counterattack, and Lance knew vaguely of the Blade’s plans to attack the garrison first, sometime soon. Shiro and Keith hadn’t been to all of their meetings lately, so Lance hoped that meant they wouldn’t be directly involved in the attack. They better not be, anyway. They’d been through enough already.

But, unsurprisingly, he made it back to town without seeing any Galra, badger or otherwise. The crystal remained quiet, and though the book was warm in his hands, he figured it was just from the hot day. Not everything was magic. Most things, in fact, weren’t magic – all eighteen years of Lance’s life before this summer could attest to that.

He wondered if everything would return to that old, mundane world once summer ended. He wondered if he could even bear to return to that world after everything he’d seen in this one. It didn’t seem possible, to just…leave. But maybe leaving was for the best. If he left, Lotor might stop terrorizing Keith and Shiro. Allura and Coran could continue their search for other Alteans. And Lance could…well. Lance didn’t know what he would do.

Pidge opened the door and looked surprised but happy to see him. “How’d the date go?” they asked as he went inside.

“Fun,” Lance said. “Shiro got me a cat charm because he’s a dork.”

“They buy him presents,” Coran remarked in a loud whisper from the living room couch.

“Hmm.” Allura frowned thoughtfully while typing on her laptop.

“Are you taking notes on my relationship?” Lance called. “Jot this down – we just got into a really stupid fight!”

Allura gasped. “Did they strike you?!”

Lance made a face. “What? C’mon, Allura; one, you know they’d never do that; two, if either of them hit me I think it would be obvious. Anyway, it wasn’t that kind of fight. Just some yelling. Shiro dropped a mug. I may go buy him a new one at Target, because it was my fault.”

Hunk emerged from the hallway with a quizzical expression. “What was your fault?”

“Well…” Lance sat down heavily on the nearest couch. “The Codex told me about something. Something that could make me connect to my magic.”

Allura sat up, eyes wide. “Yes? What was it?”

“It said that a vampire would have to use their thrall on me,” Lance said. “And it was kind of…heavily implied that they would have to do that during sex.”

“La, la, la, can’t hear you,” Hunk said, clamping his hands over his ears.

Allura stared at him. “Lance, you cannot be serious.”

He sighed and looked down at the book. “If you can find it in here, you’ll see what I mean. It’s Section II on Vampire Magic, I think.” He tossed her the Codex. “But, yeah, we got into the fight because I asked them to do that and they were pretty adamant about never doing that.”

“Well, good!” Hunk and Coran said at the same time.

“It’s not good,” Lance muttered. “It was a lead, okay, one of the only ones I have right now.”

Allura had found the section and was reading, her eyes getting progressively wider. “Unfortunately I believe you’re correct in your interpretation of the passage,” she said. “Though it does state that this is an untested theory, not a proven fact. It might not even work.”

“But if we never try it, I’ll never know, now will I?”

“Didn’t you say being thralled by Lotor was one of the worst experiences ever?” Hunk pointed out.

“Yeah, but that was Lotor,” Lance said. “Everything he does is just terrible by proxy.”

“When you first met Keith, you said he thralled you, and that it was also bad,” Pidge said.

“Yes, but that was…different,” Lance muttered. “That was – I didn’t want to be thralled, then.”

“And now you do?” Allura exclaimed.

“If I have to be, yeah, I do,” Lance said. “I want to figure out this magic thing. Preferably before Lotor figures it out.”

Allura sighed, and turned the page in the book. It was blank. So was the next page, and the next, and the next. She glared at it, closed it, and handed it back to Lance. “I can’t very well stop you, though it sounds like your vampires are reluctant to follow the Codex’s advice.”

“They’re reluctant to risk hurting me,” Lance said.

“It sounds like you kinda sprung this on them out of nowhere,” Hunk said. “Did you just storm off?”

Lance hunched his shoulders. “I guess so.”

“Is this how you wanna end the summer?” Pidge joked. “With a break-up?” Lance flinched. Pidge’s smile fell. “You’re…are you actually going to break up with them?”

Lance’s gaze flicked to Allura and Coran. “No offense,” he muttered, “but I’d rather talk about this with my best friends.”

“Ah,” Coran said. “Understood. We can leave.”

“Nah, Lance, you said you were gonna go to Target, right? I need to get some groceries, so let’s just do a run,” Pidge suggested. “You two can stay here as long as you don’t trash the place or eat my ice cream, got it?” Allura and Coran nodded. “You better not. If you do, I’ll know.

“They installed cameras,” Hunk said seriously. “We see everything.”

Lance gawked at Pidge. “How, uh, how long have you had these cameras in the house, exactly?”

Pidge rolled their eyes. “We disabled them on that particular night, ya nasty.”

“What particular night?” Allura asked suspiciously.

“Bye, Princess,” Lance said.

*

Shopping at Target always reminded Lance of being a little kid. He had fond memories of rampaging through the aisles as an adventurous five year old, grabbing random shit off of the shelves and making his mom’s life hell as he attempted to break pretty much everything he touched. It wasn’t his fault that everything had a “try me” button.

This Target trip was a little more serious than usual, though. It had been a while since he’d had a Deep Talk with Hunk and Pidge, and he could tell they were both gearing up for one now. Lance braced himself. They finally dropped the bomb in the dairy aisle as Pidge was getting milk and Hunk was getting his very specific brand of organic free-range eggs.

“So, do you want to break up with them, or not?” Pidge asked right off the bat. “Because last time I checked, you’d practically moved in and they seemed like the best thing that’s ever happened to you. So what changed?”

Lance chewed his lip. “Summer’s almost over,” he said.

Hunk carefully set his eggs down in the cart and turned to Lance. “And? Why does that matter, you’re an adult and you can make your own decisions, bud.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t know how to make this decision,” Lance said.

“You still haven’t answered the question.”

“No, I don’t want to break up with them!” Lance exclaimed, and then lowered his voice because an old lady passing by had given them a strange look. “Of course I don’t want to. I love them. A lot. I love them so much I dunno what to do with myself, honestly.”

“Well, then, there it is,” Hunk said. “Decision made. Done. Ta-da.”

“It’s not that simple,” Lance muttered.

“Why not?” Pidge put their hands on their hips. “Because they’re vampires and you’re from a race of ancient vampire hunters and it would never work out?”

“Well…yes?” Lance shrugged. “Does that not sound like a valid reason for it being complicated?”

“It doesn’t sound like a valid reason for you leaving town and never seeing them again,” Pidge retorted. “Running from problems doesn’t solve them, Lance. Have you even talked to them about what happens when summer is over?”

Lance was silent.

“Oh, for the love of…” Hunk facepalmed. “Just talk to them!”

“But I’m afraid to,” Lance mumbled.

“Afraid? Why?”

“What if they just…expect me to leave? What if they don’t want me to stay longer than the summer?”

“Uh, I’m pretty sure they do,” Hunk said. “They’re so in love with you it’s almost gross. You’d break their immortal vampire hearts if you left.”

“You don’t know that,” Lance said. “Besides, I’ve just caused problems in their lives, what with the whole Lotor thing and the Blade coming to town and magical wards set up everywhere…they’d be better off without me.”

“Lance, just talk to them,” Hunk sighed. “Please.”

Lance hesitated. “They…before we found out I was Altean, they were talking about turning me.”

“Holy shit,” Pidge said. “Seriously?!”

“We might have a vampire best friend?” Hunk whispered. “Dude. That is so cool.”

“Is it?!” Lance squawked. “Is it really? Do you get how crazy that would be? I’d have fangs. And have to drink blood. And be nocturnal. And never age. And eventually be able to turn into a literal animal. It’s a lot to consider!”

“I guess the alternative is just stay with them until you die,” Pidge mused. “Which, I mean, they’d probably still love you when you’re old and wrinkly, but…the vampire route is a lot cooler.”

“A lot cooler,” Hunk emphasized.

“Plus, Lotor would stop bothering you, right?” Pidge pointed out. “Nothin’ he can do if you’re one of them.”

Lance stared at them. “You, uh…you guys are really okay with this?”

“Well, obviously you should probably wait awhile,” Pidge said. “I dunno if you wanna be stuck at age eighteen forever. And eternity is a long time – you’d better be sure that you really, really want to spend all those years with Shiro and Keith before just jumping into it.”

“And you’d still have to hang out with us,” Hunk added. “None of that dumb ‘I’m mysterious and dangerous and a loner now’ crap. You still gotta visit us at college and Skype us and meet up for coffee and play video games, got it?”

“Yeah, got it,” Lance said, swallowing back the lump in his throat. “But you guys realize that I said they were talking about it. Emphasis on the past tense. Then they found out Alteans become Druids if you turn them, and Shiro wasn’t so keen on it anymore.” Lance grimaced. “Not that I blame him. The Galra Druids were asshats. Especially to Shiro.”

“Well, what did they say, then?” Pidge pressed. “Did Shiro explicitly say they wouldn’t turn you because of the Druid thing?”

“No, but…well, I kind of tried to bring it up and Keith said we weren’t having that conversation. To be fair, though, it was right after Shiro got attacked by Lotor, and everyone was pretty stressed out.”

“Have you tried to bring it up since?”

“No,” Lance said. “And I doubt anytime soon would be a good idea after I just upset them with the whole thrall fiasco.”

“I guess not,” Hunk agreed reluctantly. “But can you at least promise you’ll talk to them about the end of summer?”

“I don’t know what to say,” Lance admitted. “I mean, I want to go back home. I miss my family, and I owe it to them to come back. I can’t just ditch them for my vampire lovers.”

“Not without an explanation, anyway.”

Lance raised an eyebrow. “Pidge, are you seriously suggesting that I tell my parents I’m eloping with Shiro and Keith? Especially when at least one of my parents is apparently Altean?”

“Maybe, if that’s what you’re gonna do! I get that you think you have to choose between Shiro and Keith or your family, but c’mon, Lance, you really don’t. Being a vampire and or having vampire boyfriends doesn’t mean you can never see your family or LA again.”

“It’ll make it more difficult to,” Lance said.

“Yeah, so will going to college,” Pidge countered. “Wellesley is far away from Rosewood, Lance. Farther than Rosewood is from LA, that’s for sure.”

Lance frowned, because they were right. But, “That’s the other thing. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life after this summer.”

“Exactly. Become a vampire, problem solved,” Pidge said. “I can’t even believe we’re debating this, this is the end of Twilight book one all over again.”

“I still can’t believe you read those books,” Lance snorted. “But thanks for takin’ one for the team so I can learn from Bella Swan’s numerous mistakes.”

“She was the worst protagonist,” Pidge said with feeling, and elbowed him. “It’s up to you to be a better one.”

“Ugh, how could I possibly be worse than Bella?”

“If you don’t talk to them already,” Pidge hissed.

“Okay, okay!” Lance sighed. “I’ll talk to them. And apologize. And…stuff.”

“Good,” Pidge said. “Neither of us wants to sit through the eight hour drive to LA while you mope unnecessarily.”

“Fair enough,” Lance said.

“We just want you to be happy, you know that, right?” Hunk said. “I mean, do you know how rare it is for people to find their true love? And you found not one, but two of ‘em.”

Pidge rolled their eyes. “It was all thanks to me, I’d like to add. And to think you didn’t want to go searching for vampires. Oh, how the tables have turned.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Lance muttered. “Pidge Holt, my hero.”

“Damn right.”

“Hey, look!” Hunk, who had been pushing the cart along, pointed at a nearby shelf. “They have mugs, Lance! And they’re on sale! It’s like, fate or something.”

Lance looked up at the ceiling. “Bless you, Retail Gods,” he said fervently, and went to pick out his $5 mug for Shiro.

*

Lance didn’t want to interrupt Shiro and Keith’s sleep, so he figured he’d just wait until tomorrow. But in the middle of dinner, there was a knock on the door, and Lance was out of his seat so fast he almost knocked his lasagna onto the ground.

“I’ll just…put that in the fridge for later, then?” Hunk called as Lance practically sprinted to the front door.

He looked hastily through the peephole though he didn’t have to – he expected to see Keith and Shiro standing on the porch…but he didn’t expect them to look so sad, huddled together, holding hands, Shiro murmuring something to Keith that made his frown deepen.

Lance opened the door and they both startled, eying him uncertainly. Shiro opened his mouth, probably to apologize, but Lance beat him to it. “I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m really sorry, it was my fault, and it wasn’t fair of me to just say what I did and then leave like I did. I would’ve gone to you guys earlier but I wanted you to get some sleep, and I didn’t know if you’d want to see me, because you’re probably upset.”

They blinked at him, sadness replaced by confusion.

“We’re not upset,” Shiro said carefully. “We were shocked and slightly alarmed, yes, but not upset with you, Lance. We know…we know figuring out your magic means a lot to you, and that you got, ah, a little ahead of yourself when the Codex told you a means to accomplish that goal.”

“I did,” Lance agreed. “Get a little ahead of myself. Sorry. Oh, speaking of – one sec.”

He darted down the hall to grab the mug and when he came back with it, they looked even more puzzled. Shiro cocked his head at the mug like a puppy at a new toy. “Is that…for me?”

It was a large black mug with “Pinkies Up” written on it in looping white cursive. “Yep,” Lance said, handing it to him. “I owe you a mug, and this one reminded me of you, I guess. Because of all your…fancy proper lordliness. Keith said you were an aristocrat, way back when.”

“Of a sort,” Shiro said, taking the mug delicately and smiling. “Thank you, Lance. Although you didn’t have to. We have lots of other mugs.”

“I wanted to,” Lance said. “And I felt bad. I still feel bad. You guys didn’t have to walk all the way over here, you’re not the ones to blame.”

“Neither are you,” Keith said, stepping forward and clasping his hand softly. “We were all just surprised, that’s all. But, Shiro and I have…discussed what the Codex showed you, and though you must know that we’re both rather wary about trying it, we are willing. To try it, I mean. If you are. If you truly believe you would be alright with it, and that it would help you.”

“What?” Lance breathed, and it was his turn to be shocked. “R-really? You guys would do that, for me, even though you hate using your thralls?”

“Yes,” Shiro murmured. “We would have to be careful…set boundaries somehow. It would require a great deal of precautions. But yes. We would.”

“You guys don’t have to,” Lance said after a beat, biting his lip. “No, really, I’ll…I’ll look in the Codex, see if there’s another way. I don’t want you guys to go out of your comfort zone, okay?”

“You can think about it, alright?” Shiro said. “And it is always good to look for alternatives.”

“So…are we cool?” Lance said.

“Very cool,” Keith replied. His eyes zeroed in on a fleck on sauce on Lance’s mouth. “Did we interrupt your dinner? We can leave –”

“No, no, I was basically done,” Lance said. “It’s hard to be hungry when you’re worried that your boyfriends are pissed at you because you were an idiot.”

“You were not an idiot, and we are not pissed,” Shiro assured him. “Now…if you don’t wish to return to dinner, what would you like to do.”

“Hmm, I wonder,” Lance said, grinning at them and batting his eyelashes.

Keith snorted. “I suppose we shouldn’t ever expect subtlety from you after this morning.”

“Pfft, what? Obviously subtlety is my middle name.”

“Your middle name is Alejandro,” Keith said.

Lance turned pink because he remembered, holy moly.

“Really?” Shiro said, intrigued.

“Yes, Lance is an acronym,” Keith said, and proceeded to list off every single name and Lance absolutely needed to be kissing him right now.

And then kissing Shiro when he said seriously, “Leandro is a very handsome name, Lance. A very strong and regal name too, because it is a blend of the Latin word for lion, Leo, and the word for man, Andro. It’s quite fitting for you.”

Lance gave into the urge and kissed them both.

“Are you guys still flirting out there?” Pidge yelled from the kitchen. “No bodily fluids on the porch!”

“Sorry, Pidge, we’re leaving now!” Keith replied, his gaze never leaving Lance’s lips.

“Enjoy your dinner!” Shiro called over his shoulder as Keith and Lance tugged him down the porch steps and towards the woods.

*

The forest was beautiful at sunset, the shadows long and the spaces between them colored vibrantly umber and amber, the treetops aglow with dying sunlight. Keith’s ravens flitted from branch to branch with squawks of greeting, but they kept a safe distance – maybe they could sense the tension strung tight between the three of them, see the way Lance kept purposefully brushing up against Keith and Shiro, their grips on his hands tightening infinitesimally.

But the ravens’ friendly chattering changed as they reached the older parts of the forest – their calls were no longer welcoming, but warning. Keith paused, cocking his head and listening. He tensed.

“We’re not alone,” he whispered, and both Shiro and Keith drew Lance close to themselves, shielding him from the trees which now looked more foreboding than beautiful.

“What is it?” Lance asked.

“Lance, don’t move,” Shiro said out of the corner of his mouth, grabbing Lance’s left wrist as Keith grabbed his right. Lance went dutifully still, heart pounding as he saw what they had sensed – a dark shadow slipping out from behind the trees, tall and willowy, long silver-white hair and glowing golden eyes visible as he approached them slowly. Lotor was flanked by two large Galra guards, but paid them no mind – all his attention was on Lance.

“Not a step closer,” Keith growled, nails digging into Lance’s wrist.

Lotor raised one perfectly arched eyebrow with cool disdain – well, perfect save for the slice of a new scar through the end of it, continuing down over his eyelid and across the top of his cheek. “Or you’re going to stop me? Heh, have you undertaken the role of sire since I nearly ripped yours to shreds?”

“You didn’t even come close,” Shiro retorted.

“No?” Lotor smirked. “So you believe you could fight me again, now, and last as long as you did the first time?”

Shiro was silent, his jaw working.

“Ah, so you admit it. You are still recovering. No matter – I did not come here to fight, Champion. I came here to take what is mine once and for all. Lance, come to me.”

“No,” Lance whispered, knowing what was coming even before the first wave of Lotor’s thrall hit him. “N-no –”

His thrall was gentler this time; coaxing, coercing, rather than the blunt force he’d used in the throne room. But the persistent, possessive, poisonous undercurrent was unmistakable, and made Lance’s crystal spark with panicky bursts of blue light.

Lotor’s eyes widened as he saw it. “Is that what I think it is?” he murmured, head tilting. “Could it be…?”

“Get away from me,” Lance gritted out, even as his felt his own wrists twitch in Shiro and Keith’s bruising grip, his body responding helplessly to the siren’s call of Lotor’s thrall. They held him fast, but for how long?

“You are her blood, aren’t you?” Lotor said urgently, stepping forward, the intensity of his thrall increasing the closer he got and making Lance’s head bow from the strain of resisting. “You look so very much like her, it is no wonder. I knew Haggar must have been mistaken – you are Altean after all.” His nostrils flared and he faltered. “You even smell like her. Lance, Lance…have you been consorting with my dear Allura? How rude of you to try to keep such a secret from me. Where is she?”

“She’d fill you with silver bullets before you could so much as lay a hand on her,” Lance snarled, his breathing labored and chest heaving as Lotor’s eyes flared.

“She would, wouldn’t she,” Lotor mused, lips curling. “She would try, anyway. There is a certain appeal to hunting such difficult prey, but…well, why would I even bother to go after her when I have you instead?”

The Galra guards were advancing on Shiro and Keith, claws unsheathed and fangs bared, ready to rip them away from Lance. Or try to, anyway – they were clinging to him stubbornly, glaring at Lotor and the guards.

“If you don’t want a fight, then leave,” Shiro said, low and dangerous.

“I don’t think Lance is going to fight me,” Lotor crooned, “are you, Lance?”

Lance tried to open his mouth to protest but could say nothing except, “No…no, my Prince.”

“Lance!” Keith shook him. “Stop!”

Lotor’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t look at them, Lance. You know all they do is use you for your blood and your body. You’re worth so much more than that, darling. With me, you would be prized. Cherished. The jewel of my collection. You would have everything your heart desired…you would never feel as if you weren’t good enough. You would never have to compete for my affection and attention – you would have all of it, Lance.”

Lance struggled against Keith and Shiro in earnest. “Lance, no, you’re going to hurt yourself,” Shiro pleaded, covering Lance’s eyes with his free hand. But Lotor must have learned a few new tricks, because the strength of his thrall on Lance didn’t waver, and Lance made a high, frantic sound, shaking Shiro’s hand away from his face, because he had to go to Lotor, he had to be with Lotor, he needed to –

NO!

The word seared across Lance’s brain like a lightning strike and he jolted as if he actually had been electrocuted by it, blinking the fog away, the crystal hot against his skin. Danger, danger, danger, it chanted, and his hands curled into fists.

His vision shifted as he focused, and he could see Lotor’s magic, curling tendrils of it grasping at him as Shiro and Keith’s had, but Lotor’s magic was pale; white and cold and unnatural, and Lance jerked away from the invisible strands that strained to stroke against his cheek.

Lotor’s magic rose up behind him like a multitude of snakes, cobras poised to strike, tongues of silver flame flickering out furiously from his skin. “What has she taught you?” he hissed. “How can you dare to defy me?”

“Fuck you,” Lance retorted, and with much more intent than with Shiro and Keith, he reached out to Lotor’s magic, his energy, and pulled.

Lotor staggered, eyes widening, and though Lance only did it for a moment, it was enough to make the color drain out of his face and his magic retreat frantically, Lance’s eyes glowing brightly and his lips parted at the hint of power that sang through him, at the realization that Lotor could not control him; that Lotor was, in that moment, afraid of him.

“What are you?” Lotor growled, but he was backing away, shaking his head.

“That’s right, run back to your filthy caves!” Keith cried. “And know that Lance will never number among your larder of thralls.”

“We’ll see about that,” Lotor spat, casting one last venomous look back at them before turning on his heel and stalking away with his guards, returning to the shadows from whence he came.

*

The three of them hurried back to the house as soon as he was gone, and once they were inside, door locked behind them, Shiro and Keith turned to Lance, clutching his hands and face with worry as if Lotor had physically attacked him.

“I’m okay,” Lance said, laughing weakly when Keith kissed his jaw, hair tickling across his neck. “Guys, seriously, it’s okay.”

Shiro drew back, though Keith kept his arms wrapped around Lance’s waist and face pressed against his shoulder, drawing in shallow breaths and obviously trying to calm himself down. Shiro stroked Keith’s hair soothingly and murmured, “Lance, did you use your magic on Lotor? Did you try to drain his energy the same way you accidentally did with us last night?”

“Yeah,” Lance said. “Yeah, and it worked. I didn’t take that much, just enough to freak him out.”

“And enough to alert him as to what you can do,” Shiro added, folding his arms.

Lance wilted slightly. “I didn’t have any other choice. The guards were going to attack you, and Lotor would have…well, you saw what his thrall did to me.”

“Yes, and we also saw how you managed to break his thrall on you,” Keith said, lifting his head and staring at Lance with wide, wondering eyes. “How did you do that? I thought Allura said not even Alteans could do that.”

“I don’t know, I think it was the crystal, but…” Lance hesitated. “Maybe it was my magic. Maybe the thrall triggered it. It definitely felt stronger than anything I’ve felt with the crystal.”

“So…so you think the thrall thing actually works,” Keith said.

“Yes.”

“Then we should try it,” Shiro declared, and Lance looked at him in surprise. “Not tonight, but…as soon as possible. Tomorrow, perhaps. I feel much better trying it out knowing that you can stop us, if need be. And if Lotor knows about your ability to drain energy, then he might start making plans with Haggar about how to defend against it, or worse, how to use it against you.”

Lance gulped. “So I need to figure out this magic thing ASAP.”

We need to figure it out,” Shiro corrected. “You’re not alone in this, Lance.”

He gave Lance a one-armed hug and carefully set the mug down on the counter. “Wait,” Lance said, “did you have that thing the whole time?”

“Yes,” Shiro said, mouth twitching. “It’s a good thing Lotor ran off, because I didn’t want it to get broken.”

“One broken mug a day is more than enough,” Lance agreed.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Keith said slyly, “if the mugs get broken because Lance says filthy things aloud, then I’m not opposed to more shattered ceramics.”

“Filthy?” Lance’s eyebrows went up. “If you thought that was filthy, bat boy, then you should listen to some of the stuff that comes out of your mouth. And Shiro’s.”

Shiro smirked. “I thought you said I was proper.”

“Not in bed,” Lance retorted.

“We’re not in bed now,” Shiro murmured, leaning towards him.

“No, we’re in the kitchen, and I know you guys don’t eat in here but I do, so we’re not doing it in the kitchen,” Lance said firmly.

“Shame,” Keith said. “Fucking on the kitchen table is exciting, even if it does sometimes result in splinters.”

Lance laughed in disbelief. “Uh, is there anywhere in the house you guys haven’t had sex?”

The two of them thought about it. “The downstairs bathroom?” Keith said.

“No, the shower is in there,” Shiro said.

“Right.”

“The basement…ah, no, that was a while ago, but it still counts,” Shiro said.

“What about the piano bench?” Lance asked suddenly.

Shiro blinked at him in surprise, a slow pink flush spreading across his face.

“Yes, I’ve blown Shiro on it before,” Keith said matter-of-factly. “He was ignoring me in favor of practicing some damned symphony or another, so I distracted him. Quite well.”

“Hot,” Lance said. “He probably played through it well enough at first, though.”

“He did, stubborn bastard that he is,” Keith agreed. “It was only when I started deep-throating him that he gave up.”

“You know,” Lance said, “I haven’t blown you yet, Keith. How’s that possible?”

Keith leaned back against the counter invitingly. “I don’t know,” he drawled, “but we should fix that, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” Shiro growled, and both of them glanced at him, startled. “We should fix that. Right now.”

“Where?” Lance countered. “You choose, Shiro.”

“Your studio, Keith,” Shiro said, eyes dark and wanting, Keith’s gaze a mirror of his lust.

“Where in the studio?” Keith retorted. “There’s hardly any furniture –”

“Against the wall,” Shiro said. Keith’s breath shallowed noticeably. “I’ll hold you up.”

“We’ll take care of you,” Lance murmured.

Keith shuddered, and let them.

*

So that was how they ended up with Shiro standing up against the wall, shirtless, holding a fully naked Keith upright against him while Lance, fully clothed, kneeled between his legs and teased Keith relentlessly with his mouth.

“Stop stalling,” Keith hissed after around ten minutes of that, head lolling back onto Shiro’s shoulder as Lance licked and nipped across the pale expanse of his inner thighs, kissing the dark marbling of veins there and smoothing his hands up Keith’s defined calves, marveling at the fine, dark hair under his palms.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lance replied, looking up at him innocently and licking a shiny stripe over his hip, Keith’s whole body twitching forward, cock included.

“You didn’t do this with Shiro,” Keith grumbled.

Shiro rumbled with laughter that both of them felt. “I let him tease a little,” Shiro corrected. “Just because you’re straightforward with sucking cock doesn’t mean everyone is, Keith. Although I do appreciate your…directness, Lance is more exploratory. Curious. He’s trying to figure out what you like.”

“I like my cock in his mouth,” Keith said flatly.

“How would you know?” Lance retorted. “You’ve never felt it.”

Keith’s eyes narrowed. “You are insufferable.”

“Really? ‘Cause you seem like you’re enjoying my company right now,” Lance said, finally touching his cock and making Keith slump fully against Shiro, his cock hardening fully in Lance’s hand. A low whine escaped his lips when Lance rubbed his thumb over the head, increasing in volume as Lance kept doing it, until Keith was squirming from sensitivity and liquid beaded up against Lance’s fingertip. Lance shuffled closer, glad for the towel Shiro had tossed him beforehand to protect his knees from the floor. Keith had no towel, just Shiro’s hands secure on his hips and his feet sliding unsteadily across the wood, toes curling when Lance leaned forward enough to exhale over his cock.

“Lance,” Keith managed. “I want…”

“What?” Lance asked, nuzzling at his thigh. “Use your words.”

Keith huffed out a shaky, wrung-out echo of a laugh. “I want your mouth on me, c’mon.”

Lance’s gaze flicked up to Shiro, who was peering over Keith’s shoulder, his posture relaxed and expression faintly amused; in stark contrast to Keith’s tense, arching body and strained expression. He raised an eyebrow down at Lance. “Do you think he deserves that yet?” Shiro asked, his tone and phrasing saying, It’s up to you.

“Hmm,” Lance mused, pretending to think about it and honestly feeling a little bad about the desperation in Keith’s eyes. The teasing was fun for a little while, and then Lance just felt like kind of a dick. Though he had no doubt Shiro would be able to tease for hours without batting an eyelash, Lance was impatient and he knew Keith was, too.

He didn’t give Keith any warning before sucking the head of his cock into his mouth. Keith gasped, Shiro’s hands the only thing stopping his hips from bucking, chasing the heat of Lance’s tongue as it flicked over the tip and just under the foreskin, slow and deliberate but not teasing anymore. Lance’s free hand slid up, up, until it met Shiro’s, their fingers tangling as Lance took Keith deeper, closing his eyes and swallowing back the saliva pooling in his mouth. Keith’s low moan broke off into a curse when Lance let his hand wander down to cup Keith’s balls, tentative. Lance looked to Shiro again, because Keith’s eyes were squeezed shut and he didn’t exactly look totally coherent.

“Careful,” Shiro replied mildly. “His are very sensitive; you’ll make him come too fast.”

Keith had turned his head so that it was tucked into Shiro’s neck. “Fuck, I want to come.”

“Really?” Shiro brushed Keith’s hair away from his face and Lance paused with Keith’s cock halfway in his mouth, watching the two of them. “Because I was hoping you might want me to fuck you.”

Keith whimpered, and Lance’s cock strained against the zipper of his jeans so insistently that he had to fumble to free it, groaning around Keith’s cock when his got his hand on his own erection. Keith shuddered at the vibrations, but when Lance looked up he realized that wasn’t the only reason – Shiro’s right hand was on his chest, stroking over his nipples, and his left was curled tight around Keith’s neck.

Lance almost choked from the sight of Shiro choking Keith, because Keith liked it. His mouth was opening and closing soundlessly, a line of drool dripping from the corner of his mouth as Shiro’s thumb pressed hard and purposeful just below his Adam’s apple. Keith made a strangled sound, hands clutching blindly at whatever they could find, which happened to be Lance’s hair and Shiro’s belt. Lance sucked harder, laving his tongue over the length of Keith’s cock, over every vein and curve and ridge, bobbing his head and hardly even noticing the mess he was making – there was spit everywhere and his jaw ached and he could taste nothing but salt and smell nothing but musk but none of that mattered because Shiro was going to fuck Keith. Right here. Maybe right up against the wall.

Keith cried out hoarsely and Lance’s eyes flickered open just in time to see Shiro biting his bruised neck, holding him in place with one hand splayed over his chest and the other tugging Keith back against him, where he must have been hard and wanting, rutting arrhythmically against his ass, and Keith just took it, going lax, eyes rolling back in easy, mindless pleasure.

It was kind of fascinating – Shiro had a way of softening Keith’s sharp edges, just as Keith had a way of letting Shiro’s guard down. They made each other vulnerable, Lance realized. They might have been terrifying supernatural night creatures, but they were each other’s biggest weakness.

And, he supposed, in a way he was their biggest weakness, too. They had sacrificed a lot for him – their freedom, their safety, their home – and Lance knew, even if he didn’t know quite how to feel about it, that they had been serious about fighting Lotor off, no matter the cost. Hell, Keith had nearly died protecting him within mere weeks of knowing him.

In hindsight, Lance felt kind of stupid about ever thinking they didn’t care about him with all they had. Hunk had been right, Lance was pretty sure – they didn’t expect him to leave when summer was over. They didn’t want him to leave. It didn’t make sense – why would they give up so much only to let him go?

Yet he knew, also, that if he told them he wanted to leave – if he lied and said this was never meant to be more than a summer fling and he would never see them again – they would let him go. They would hate every second of it, they might even hate him a little, but Lance knew they wouldn’t try to stop him.

But if he left…if he said his goodbyes and drove back home and never looked back, what would be the point? What would be the point of having special blood, of taking Keith and Shiro to the beach, of finding his crystal, of finding the Codex, of letting Keith bite him, of all the blood loss, of pining hopelessly after Shiro, of losing his virginity to vampires, of all the Twilight references, of making his mom worry, of pissing off Lotor, of allying with the Blade, of finding his magic, of falling in love for the first time, of going on silly dates and doing cheesy things and making the best (and worst) decisions of his life? What was the point of finding such an incredible world of magic and danger and adventure if he just turned his back on it?

Carajo, Lance was supposed to be giving an awesome blowjob, not having an existential crisis.

Luckily Keith and Shiro were very distracted and Keith was still very hard, so Lance figured he must not be doing too badly. In fact, when he renewed his efforts and took Keith’s cock into his mouth as far as he could, the head pushing at the back of his throat and making his eyes water and his own cock throb, Keith moaned his name and came, abrupt enough that Lance gagged, and also realized this was the first time either of them had come in his mouth and. Okay. That was a lot, and it was hot as blood across his tongue, but thicker, and that was probably a gross thought but it made his cock twitch. Vampire sex had probably ruined him for any normal sex, at this point.

Keith’s knees buckled as Lance pulled off, wiping his mouth and swallowing with only a slight grimace. He sat back on his heels and wrapped a hand around his cock, admiring the sight of Shiro kissing Keith through his orgasm, keeping him upright and grinding against him at the same time. Shiro’s eyes flickered open when he broke away from the kiss, and he looked at Lance.

“How should I fuck him, Lance?” Shiro asked, petting Keith’s heaving chest gently. “You did a wonderful job making him come the first time, so I think it’s only fair that you decide what you want to see the second time.”

Lance got to his feet slowly, tugging off his shirt and jeans and tossing them to the corner with Keith’s, sidling up to him until he could press himself up against Keith’s front, cock nudging against his stomach. Keith blinked at him hazily as he leaned over Keith’s shoulder to kiss Shiro, who responded warmly, fingers light on Lance’s jaw, lips smooth and sure. Lance reached down to touch Keith’s softening cock and Keith hissed when he did, twisting away from his touch and pushing his ass back against Shiro, who broke the kiss with a light nip and drew back.

“Well?” Shiro prompted, stilling Keith’s hips with one hand.

“Hands and knees on the ground,” Lance suggested, nodding to the towel, because they might as well continue to make use of it.

“Very well,” Shiro said, guiding Keith away from the wall. “How does that sound?” he murmured to Keith.

Keith stumbled forward and nodded, though his brows were furrowed in something like discontent.

“What is it, sweetheart?” Shiro asked him, and Lance really didn’t know how someone could sound so genuinely tender while forcing someone else onto their hands and knees and unbuckling their pants. Shiro managed it, though.

Lance also didn’t know how someone could look at innocent as Keith did when he said, “I want to suck Lance’s cock while you’re fucking me. Please.”

Lance’s jaw dropped. Since when did Keith say please?

Shiro tossed aside his pants and belt and shot Lance an amused look. “I think Lance is more than alright with that,” he said. “Come here, Lance.”

Lance went.

Shiro was already taking the bottle of lube out of his pocket, pouring some on his fingers and pressing two into Keith, whose back arched obscenely like a cat in heat, his yellow eyes only adding to that as they fixed on Lance. “Sit on the stool,” Keith said, remarkably steady considering Shiro now had three fingers inside of him. “I want you to fuck my mouth. Like the first time, remember? But harder.”

Lance did remember, in sudden, explicitly vivid detail, the first time Keith had kissed him, the confusion in the darkness as Keith pressed against him, the heat of Keith’s mouth around his cock, the expression on Keith’s face when he came all over Lance.

“Yeah,” Lance said. “I remember.”

“Mm – nngh, good,” Keith bit out as Lance brought the stool over and sat down uncertainly in front of him, feeling a little silly, but also unable to look away from Shiro slicking up his cock and lining up. The angle wasn’t great from where Lance was sitting, but then Shiro lifted Keith’s ass and sank in, glancing up at Lance with a flash of fangs, and Keith’s face crumpled in pleasure, hands grasping at Lance’s thighs, nails raking down them.

Lance couldn’t even be mad, because the next moment Keith was lapping at his cock, suckling and stroking in between moans as Shiro started to fuck him, and Lance couldn’t breathe, how was this his life?

Keith was making the same sounds he’d made the last time Shiro had fucked him, the weird needy animal sounds that made Shiro pick up the pace and suck trails of bruises over the knobs of his spine as Keith keened for him. Lance started petting Keith’s hair to calm him and then Keith looked up at Lance and made the same sound, high and sweet and absolutely not human, and Shiro faltered slightly.

“Keith,” he panted, the sound of his hips slapping against Keith’s ass filling the room. “Is Lance yours, too? Do you want Lance to be yours, mine, ours?”

Keith nodded, keened again, and opened his mouth wide over Lance’s cock, slowly undoing him with his tongue and lips, moaning all the while. Lance’s hand froze in his hair. What did Shiro mean, ours? Was it too much to hope that Shiro was talking about turning him? Did…did Lance even hope for that?

Keith pulled off to rasp, “Lance. Fuck my mouth.”

“Bossy,” Lance said, and Keith grinned, not denying it, and took the thrusts of Lance’s cock into his mouth without missing a beat, even if half the time he was just gasping incoherently and licking sloppily. It still felt amazing, so amazing that Lance came first, hand buried in Keith’s thick hair as he swallowed about half of it and just let the rest dribble out of his mouth and over his chin because Keith was kinda gross like that.

Somehow, Keith and Shiro managed to come at almost the same time, Shiro first, groaning wordlessly and holding Keith down, and then Keith as Shiro manhandled him back into his lap, the change in angle and the skilled hand on his cock making Keith sob and come a second time. Lance slipped off the stool and crawled over to kiss him, fangs nicking his lip, the kiss turning hungry at the taste of blood, growing lazy again when Shiro started kissing Keith’s neck.

The three of them sat together on the floor, drained, leveling out their breathing and nosing into each other’s hair. “You okay?” Lance mumbled to Keith, touching the bruises fading on his neck and the dark bite marks, already closing up.

“Mmhm,” Keith sighed, stretching and rolling off of Shiro, who flopped onto his back, looking tired but blissed out.

Keith stood on wobbly legs and padded out of the studio with the towel to go wash up. Shiro looked at Lance from half-lidded eyes, pushing himself up to lean back on his elbows. “Are you okay?” he murmured.

“Yeah, ‘course,” Lance said. “That was great.”

“You seemed a little out of it for a while, there,” Shiro said. “Thinking too much?”

“Something like that,” Lance admitted. He hesitated. Shiro waited. “When…when you asked Keith if he wanted me to be yours just now, what were you talking about?”

Shiro exhaled, breath ruffling his white forelock. “I think you know, Lance.”

“Then…you were talking about turning me.”

Shiro sat up fully, his expression impassive. “Not necessarily. I was talking about how Keith called to you in the same instinctive way he calls to me, his sire. I have never heard of a vampire directing their call towards anyone except their sire, and it speaks volumes that Keith did.”

“Are you…jealous?” Lance asked, uncertain as to where he was going with this.

“No, no. That’s not…” Shiro trailed off, his voice softening. “You are special, Lance, very special to us. And yes, Keith and I have discussed…options for the future. I don’t want to presume…I realize we don’t even know for certain if you want there to be a future with us –”

“I do,” Lance blurted. “I, I do want that. Somehow.”

Shiro smiled. “I’m glad. We do, too. Very much.”

Keith marched back into the studio and tossed a damp washcloth at Shiro. “You get to clean,” he declared.

“Ugh,” Shiro groaned. “It’s your studio!”

“It was your idea to fuck in here,” Keith retorted.

Shiro put the washcloth over his face and groaned dramatically again.

Lance snatched the washcloth from him, rolling his eyes. “The things I do for love,” he sighed.

Chapter Text

The following day felt very, very long.

Before Lance had gone to sleep that night, Shiro and Keith had confirmed that they would use their thralls on him the next night. Lance had difficulty falling asleep, his stomach tied up in knots of nervousness and anticipation, and when he finally did manage to drift off his sleep was restless, though thankfully nightmare free.

Keith and Shiro were asleep when he awoke the next morning, so Lance left them a note before texting Hunk and heading over to Pidge’s house. He answered his mom’s texts on the walk through the forest – she’d sent some pictures of the twins, both in swimsuits with wide grins at some waterpark. Then some pictures of the twins’ puppies – they had two, both mottled brown, black, and white mutts with ears that didn’t know whether to flop over or stand up.

His mom had captioned them, Cocoa and Marshmallow are getting so big!! with about two dozen various emojis. Lance smiled when he imagined her enthusiastically searching for the right ones – she was very expressive, and she talked about emojis like they were one of humankind’s best inventions.

The twins look like they’re having fun! They’re growin up almost as fast as the dogs :) Miss you, Lance replied. He hesitated, and then added, See you in a couple weeks <3

Pidge was still asleep when he got to their house, but Hunk was awake – he was the only one with a healthy sleeping schedule – and they made pancakes in fun shapes together because Hunk was determined to try pancake art. Surprisingly, it sort of worked, even if they got food dye all over their fingers. Hunk made a teddy bear and some flowers. Lance made a lopsided cat and a weird looking bat and Hunk forced him to make the next one unrelated to Shiro or Keith so he made a heart.

“That’s not what I meant by unrelated!” Hunk exclaimed.

“But it’s for you,” Lance said, batting his eyelashes and forking the pink pancake onto Hunk’s plate. “Because I love you, bro.”

Hunk stopped protesting and gave him a cute daisy pancake.

Pidge emerged from their bedroom with glasses askew and rat’s nest hair half past noon. “Where the fuck are my pancakes,” they grumbled.

“The griddle is right there,” Hunk said.

Pidge flipped him off and turned on the coffee machine instead.

“So, I’m guessing the apology thing went well last night?” Hunk asked, his expression clearly saying, I don’t want details.

“Yeah, it did,” Lance said. “Oh…well, there was one thing.” He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “We ran into Lotor last night.”

Pidge whirled, eyes wide. Hunk dropped his fork. “Sorry, what?!”

“He’s still pretty set on the whole thrall thing, and worse, he knows I’m part Altean and he knows Allura’s nearby now,” Lance explained. “Said he could smell her on me. But that didn’t seem to dissuade him from using his thrall on me and trying to take me back to his garrison.”

“So what happened?” Hunk asked, horrified. “Did Shiro and Keith attack him or something?”

“Uh…no,” Lance said. “I kinda…used my magic and broke free of Lotor’s thrall. It freaked him out and he left, but it sounded like he wasn’t giving up yet. Unfortunately.”

“You fought Lotor and won?” Hunk whistled. “Dude, that is so cool. I mean, not cool that he tried to thrall you! But, y’know.”

Pidge raised an eyebrow. “So if you can resist thralls, d’you think Shiro and Keith might actually…do that thing?”

“They are,” Lance said, hunching his shoulders. “Tonight, actually.”

“Oh, goody,” Hunk muttered.

“What d’you think’s gonna happen?” Pidge pressed. “D’you think anything is gonna happen?”

“I don’t know,” Lance said. “But I hope something does, because Lotor knows what I can do, and it’s only a matter of time.”

“Before he kidnaps you? Or tries to?” Hunk scowled. “You know we’d get you out of there if he ever took you again, Lance.”

“I don’t think you’d be able to,” Lance admitted. “Lotor’s not stupid, though I wish he was. He’d make it impossible for the Blade to rescue me, so let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“But what about the Blade and some of the world’s best vampire hunters?” Pidge said. “Yeah, you heard me. Allura and Coran finally met Thace and Ulaz last night. They persuaded them to come to a meeting, somehow – I think Allura brought every weapon in her arsenal. But unsurprisingly they’re fine, Allura texted me at some ungodly hour, something about Kolivan being ‘not as terrible as expected.’”

“I guess that’s a start,” Lance said. “Are they really working together, though?”

“Allura hates the Galra more than anything,” Pidge pointed out. “She’s willing to put aside general dislike of vampires if it means she has a shot at taking down Lotor and his little kingdom.”

“And does she?”

“She has badass magic and fighting skills,” Pidge said. “And Coran, who would probably do anything to keep her safe, which means going into battle with her.”

“Battle? Jesus, what is the Blade planning, exactly?” Lance asked.

Pidge shrugged. “It’s all very hush-hush.”

“I think it’s suspicious,” Hunk declared.

“You think everything is suspicious, bud,” Lance said. “No offense. Means you’re perceptive. But I think we can trust the Blade. They’re definitely not on Lotor’s side.”

“What about Rolo and Nyma?” Hunk asked.

“What about them?”

“Something’s off about those two,” Hunk said. “I dunno what it is, but they’re just…shifty. From what I’ve seen, they don’t seem to accept Kolivan as a leader and they have some authority issues.”

“Oh, that,” Lance said. “Yeah, Keith told me their sire was killed by the Galra. They’re probably still just dealing with that.”

“I guess,” Hunk relented. “Guess it wouldn’t make sense for them to betray the Blade if the Galra did that to them.”

“Unless they hated their sire,” Pidge said.

“I don’t even know if that’s possible,” Lance said. “I mean, what with the whole sire bond and everything, seems unlikely.”

“Sire bond?” Pidge asked.

“Yeah, like with Keith and Shiro, Keith is devoted to Shiro and Shiro protects him no matter what, it’s symbiotic. Kinda like a pack mentality.”

“Are you sure that’s a vampire thing, or just a Keith and Shiro thing?” Hunk said skeptically.

“It’s probably both,” Lance admitted.

“Speaking of them, did you do what we said? Did you talk to them?” Pidge demanded.

“Uh,” Lance said. “Briefly. Sort of. With Shiro. Then Keith barged in and threw a washcloth at him.”

“How brief?” Pidge said flatly.

“Like…a couple minutes,” Lance mumbled. “I’ll do it eventually, okay? Soon. I swear. Get off my case!”

“Did Shiro say anything of import or was it totally useless?” Pidge sighed.

“No, no, I mean, he said that he and Keith had talked about turning me,” Lance said. “And that they wanted some kind of future with me, and I agreed that I do, too.”

“‘Some kind of future?’” Hunk echoed. “Dude! That is the most vague…ugh.”

“Stephanie Meyer is comin’ for you, Lance,” Pidge warned.

“I’ll talk to them!” Lance yelped. “Keep her away from me!”

“She’s drawn to stupid miscommunications and needless angst,” Pidge intoned ominously, wiggling their fingers. “Watch out, or the tropes will get you!”

“No! I just need one more day!”

“You can’t stop her now, it’s too late,” Hunk said, and tickled Lance’s sides until he was cackling and squirming and half falling off the chair.

“Hate you,” he wheezed.

“Communication,” Pidge and Hunk said.

“Got it,” Lance said.

“Pinky swear,” Hunk told him, “that you will talk to them about these important things if you survive the thrall sex.”

Lance curled his pinkies around Hunk’s and Pidge’s, but snorted. “Survive? They’re not gonna do anything crazy, chill, I’ll be fine.”

“You never know,” Hunk said. “Vampires, man.”

Lance had to agree with that.

*

It didn’t really help that Keith and Shiro met him at the door that night with matching, grim expressions like they were about to attend a funeral. Possibly Lance’s funeral. No, nope, don’t think about that, Hunk was just being dramatic as per usual.

“Hey,” Lance said, stepping inside and taking off his shoes and socks. “So…how d’you guys wanna do this thing? Straight to business?”

“If you’d like,” Shiro said.

“Sure,” Lance said, and started upstairs. The vampires blinked at him. “Aren’t you guys following me? Pretty sure you need to be in the same room as me to make this work.”

They followed, but still seemed cautious. “You are…excited about this?” Keith said, confused.

“Uh, kinda,” Lance said, bouncing on the heels of his feet on the landing. “Nervous, too, but…not that nervous. Should I be nervous?”

“I hope not,” Shiro murmured.

“Are you guys nervous? You look nervous.”

“No,” Keith said.

“Yes,” Shiro said. “Keith is lying. We’re both very nervous.”

Keith scowled but didn’t deny it. “Why’re you nervous?” Lance asked as they headed into the bedroom. “Don’t be nervous. Just think of this as, like…y’know, a game.”

“A game?” Keith tilted his head. “Like when we tied you up?”

“Yeah, sure,” Lance said. “Like that.”

“But it’s not like that,” Shiro said, biting his lip. “We’re not just taking away your ability to move or speak, Lance, we’re taking away everything…”

“And I said it was okay to do that,” Lance told him gently, sitting on the bed and looking up at them. “It’s okay. Really.”

“What do you want us to do?” Shiro asked after a beat.

“Surprise me,” Lance said, smirking.

Lance,” Shiro sighed. “You know that’s not what I meant. We need – we need ground rules to follow, here.”

Lance shrugged. “You can fuck me,” he said. “Or I could fuck one of you, but I don’t really know how that would work with the thrall…? I mean, do you really want me to list every sex position I’m good with, because it’s basically all of them. Guys, stop stressing. Just do it already.”

“Okay,” Keith said, seeming to find some resolve within himself. Shiro glanced at him in surprise. “What? He’s right. The longer we draw this out, the more nervous we’re going to get. Might as well just try it, get it over with.”

“Aw, don’t say it like that,” Lance said. “I don’t want some quickie, here. Make it last.”

Shiro paused, eyes glinting. “Make it last? Are you sure about that?”

Lance swallowed, because oh, yeah, okay, he knew where Shiro was going with that. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, do it. Now.”

Shiro drew in a deep breath, closed his eyes. The very air in the room seemed to hold its breath, too, and something prickled over Lance’s skin like a warning. Then Shiro’s eyes flickered open, burning gold, and Lance’s crystal flared blue in silent but brilliant reply.

Lance’s spine went ramrod-straight, and there was a moment when he instinctively tried to resist the sheer force that was Shiro’s thrall. Shiro must not have used it in a while, because it took him a second to tone it the fuck down, and even when he did it was a lot.

Danger? whispered the crystal, for once uncertain.

No, Lance told it, with effort, because his brain was getting fuzzy and he was unable to look away from Shiro’s eyes, and he didn’t want to look away, and the absolute, abrupt submission felt like falling. Lance realized he was actually falling, back onto the mattress, and Shiro had said nothing but he had willed it to happen, and so it had.

“Lance, Lance,” Shiro murmured, fingertips stroking across Lance’s cheek as he settled over him on the bed, a shadow blocking out the light overhead. Everywhere Shiro touched him was like an electric shock in the best way, and Lance went utterly lax, letting his head slump to the side, exposing his neck, to Shiro, for Shiro. Everything he had, everything he was, was for Shiro.

“How do you feel?” Shiro asked him, low and soft, brushing his palm over Lance’s brow.

“Good,” Lance breathed, staring up at him, in awe. “So good, I want to be good for you, please.”

“Fuck,” another voice said, and Lance wavered, confused, because that wasn’t Shiro, but that didn’t make sense, because his whole world was Shiro, so then, who…?

The bed dipped with more weight and Shiro was nudged aside, and Lance made a small, unhappy noise, but then there was another. Lance’s crystal sputtered frantically with uneven light as Keith’s thrall tugged at him, pushed against Shiro’s.

Lance whined in disorientation and discontent and Shiro growled, not at Lance but at Keith, and Keith growled back, unrelenting; and there was a moment in which their thralls seemed to be at a stalemate, neither gaining ground, before suddenly something clicked into place and Lance gasped because there was not one but two; they both had him, even when his eyes fluttered shut they held him tight, leaving Lance hopelessly tangled in the invisible net they had cast over him.

“Do you feel us both, Lance?” Keith asked, his hand snaking under Lance’s shirt, pushing it up, fabric chafing against skin, teasing.

“Y-yes,” Lance whispered, staring up at them. Their magic was everywhere, shrouding his skin, worming its way into his head, his thoughts, his heart, and deeper. Lance couldn’t think, couldn’t move, couldn’t even –

“Breathe, shhh,” Shiro reminded him, hand joining Keith’s on Lance’s torso, sliding up along his side, tracing the slight protrusions of his ribs, circling around his nipples. Lance breathed, though not steadily.

“You love us so much,” Keith sighed, kissing his cheek, eyes dark and wondering even as they gleamed faintly amber. “We can feel it, Lance, we can feel your mind, your emotions – they’re so bright. So honest. So sweet.”

“Do you want to feel how much we love you?” Shiro asked, and Lance nodded, helpless, and then his mouth fell open as a wave of complete and utter adoration crashed over him, filling all the spaces that their magic did, embracing him warmly, whispering fondly into his ears, both Shiro and Keith’s voices even though neither of their lips moved. He was hearing their thoughts, their desires, and yes, their love, and Lance’s eyes were filling with tears and he didn’t even notice until Keith wiped them away with his thumbs.

“So much,” Keith told him, and sucked Lance’s nipple into his mouth. Lance gaped soundlessly, eyes wide – they had not given him permission to make sound.

Let us hear you, Shiro said, directly inside his head, and Lance moaned loudly, shocked and hopelessly turned on. Yes, like that, don’t hold it back, Shiro encouraged, and it was really a mindfuck to hear Shiro’s voice inside his head while seeing Shiro’s face inches from his own, mouth staying closed in a small, pleased smile.

Keith bit down on Lance’s nipple and Lance cried out, eyes squeezing shut, and it hurt but it was a good kind of hurt and Lance knew Keith could have bitten with his fangs but he hadn’t because Shiro and Keith were good, they were safe, they would never actually hurt him.

Shiro and Keith purred in agreement and approval at that, pressing their bodies against his, divesting him of his clothes. Lance went obediently limp as they slid his shirt up and over his head and unzipped his jeans, until he was lying with legs and arms splayed wide, in his tenting boxers, two hungry vampires peering down at him. They left the crystal around his neck.

“You look like a starfish,” Keith informed him, grinning.

Lance wilted, confused – starfish were definitely not attractive, was he not attractive, did they not want him –

“A very cute starfish,” Shiro assured him, shooting a glare at Keith. “You’re beautiful, Lance.”

Lance tilted his head to the side again, shivered when Shiro’s mouth settled on his neck, waiting for the bite, wanting it, desperately. But instead Shiro just nibbled and dragged his tongue over Lance’s skin, leaving marks, but not bites. Lance wanted to be useful, he wanted to give them what they wanted, what they needed. He whined, soft and plaintive.

Hush, Shiro said. Not yet, sweetheart.

Keith hovered at his hips, and Lance spread his legs wide with only a single touch from Keith, throwing his head back and keening when Keith rubbed at the bulge of his cock through his boxers, thumb pushing at the wet tip and staining the fabric darkly. Do you remember teasing me last night? Keith murmured, his eyes narrowing. You’re so in for it, Lance.

Lance shuddered, and nodded hastily; whatever Keith wanted, whatever they wanted, yes, yes, yes.

“So easy, aren’t you,” Keith crooned, nails turning to claws, dragging over Lance’s stomach and digging in just so. “Just for us, only for us, our perfect boy.”

Lance moaned louder, nodding again, his cock aching, trapped in his underwear, his heartbeat roaring in his ears. Keith’s claws were joined by Shiro’s as they drew thin, thin lines of red over his sides and the two of them licked the tiny droplets away, and Lance felt every moment of their ecstasy as they tasted his blood.

So soft. So trusting. You’d let us do anything to you, wouldn’t you?

Lance didn’t even know whose voice that was, at this point. Did it matter? They blurred together, two sides of the same coin, and being thralled by both of them was like getting fucked by both of them but more, and both Shiro and Keith moaned at that thought.

“Slut,” Shiro breathed against his ear, nipping the lobe lightly, squeezing Lance’s still-trapped cock. Somewhere along the way, Shiro and Keith had undressed. Lance wondered idly if they both wanted to fuck him again now. He wanted that – to be full of both of them, to be as close to both of them as possible, for the three of them to be one –

“Lance,” Keith groaned, nosing at his throat, inhaling. “Do you always think such…such explicit things?”

“Yes,” Lance gasped, hands fisting into the sheets, nails digging into his own palms through them. “I can’t – can’t help it…”

“I think he wants to touch us,” Shiro mused, sitting back on his heels, towering over Keith and Lance. “Don’t let him.”

Lance’s lashes fluttered, a protesting whine on the tip of his tongue. No, Shiro reprimanded, and it died in his throat at once. Lance was dizzy, unable to process it when Keith’s knee pressed slowly and deliberately into his crotch, the friction bringing him too close to the edge, and he didn’t want to come already, they hadn’t even really done anything!

Keith shuffled back between his legs, replacing his knee with his hand and Lance gasped wordlessly, frantic, his stomach tightening. Keith smirked down at him, still shaping him through the damp fabric. “You’re close,” Keith said, and it wasn’t a question. Lance stared up at him, eyes wide, nodding.

“Then come,” Shiro murmured, and Lance helplessly obeyed, choking on a groan as he jolted and came, hot and messy in his underwear, soaking them through. Lance couldn’t remember the last time that had happened, and flushed in embarrassment as Keith hooked a claw under the waistband of his ruined boxers and tugged them off. Shiro ran a finger through the stickiness on his softening cock and Lance hissed, oversensitive, but Shiro and Keith weren’t nearly done with him yet.

Get hard again, Shiro ordered, and Lance didn’t think it was possible, not when he was still coming down from his first orgasm, cock covered in cooling cum. But as the three of them watched, his cock twitched and bobbed back up against his stomach, filling out again. Lance’s hands clenched in the sheets, his breath shallowing when Keith leaned down to lick him clean, his eyes never leaving Lance’s. It was so much sensation that it almost hurt – almost, but not quite.

“I want to ride him,” Keith told Shiro, licking his lips and wrapping a hand around the base of Lance’s cock.

Lance whimpered, brain briefly whiting out at just the idea.

“Mmm,” Shiro agreed, and leaned over Lance to grab the lube from the nightstand…but Keith wasn’t in the mood for waiting, apparently, because he shoved two of his fingers into Lance’s mouth and Lance sucked dutifully, spit dripping all over his lips and chin when Keith pulled them out. Shiro wiped the spit away with a tissue carefully, and Lance was grateful, so grateful to them for being so attentive, for treating him with such respect even when he was just there to give them pleasure –

“Oh, no,” Keith said, clicking his tongue. “This isn’t about us, Lance – it’s about you.” Then his face twisted and so did his spit-slick fingers inside of him, and Lance felt a ripple of concern – Shiro’s concern, as he reached out to steady Keith, uncapping the lube and pouring enough over Lance’s cock to make him squirm.

“’M fine,” Keith said, lashes fluttering and cock dark against his pale thighs as he swung a leg over Lance’s hips and rubbed down against Lance, knuckles bumping purposefully into his balls as he shifted around. “Still loose from last night – ah…”

Lance’s cock ached again, but this time for much more than Keith’s hand, and he wasn’t disappointed – Shiro released Keith’s hip and Keith finished fingering himself, digits still shiny from Lance’s spit, and with a startling lack of teasing sank down on Lance’s cock.

Lance let out a strangled sound. It felt good, so, so good, but everything was tangled because he could feel Keith’s pleasure, too, feel the way his own cock stretched Keith wide, and he could feel Shiro’s building arousal as he watched them, feel how Shiro’s fingers traced around where Lance’s cock split Keith open, and then down, to Lance’s hole. Lance still couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything but stare in open-mouthed wonder as Keith rode him, anchoring his hands on Lance’s chest, spine curving and hair falling into his face as he moaned and took himself in hand.

“Do you want to help, Lance?” Keith chuckled, nails digging into Lance’s chest, leaving ivory half-moon indents behind, bright on his brown skin.

“Yes,” Lance whispered, mouth falling open as Keith rolled his hips and rolled Lance’s nipples between thumb and forefinger at the same time.

“Then help,” Keith replied, lips quirked, smug expression falling off his face when Lance bucked up into him immediately, bouncing Keith on his cock. “Oh, fuck,” Keith gasped, moving with him, thighs flexing as he lifted up and down, cock twitching against Lance’s belly. “Fuck, fuck, yes, just like that, Lance.”

Lance was warm all over, panting, but flushed with pride – he was making Keith feel good, giving him what he wanted, what he needed; and that was all Lance ever wanted, he wanted them to feel the same way they made him feel. The friction against his cock was verging on too much, but Keith and Shiro’s thrall wasn’t letting him come – it was like a plug, a block in his mind and body, keeping him on the edge of orgasm but no further. It was torture, but Lance loved every second of it.

Keith, on the other hand, had no such restraint, and was a mess above him, panting, pale body flushed pink from exertion and arousal. Lance watched the twist of his hand over his cock, enraptured, mouth watering as he remembered the taste of it; heavy against his tongue, sliding past his lips, and he didn’t know whose memory that was because all three of them moaned.

Then there was a presence behind Keith, pressing in close between Lance’s legs, Shiro’s scarred arm wrapping firmly around Keith’s middle, his other hand covering Keith’s on his cock. Keith leaned into him as he lifted himself up one last time before coming down hard, Lance’s balls flush with his ass when Keith came all over his sire’s hand, groaning Lance’s name. Lance was still painfully hard, trapped in Keith’s tight heat, and he thrust up again into him, desperately seeking relief.

Keith flinched at the movement, breathing hard, and when he lifted his head to look at Lance his ears were curved and pointed, just like his teeth, fangs bared sharp and white, pink tongue swiping across his shiny lips as he stared at Lance from slitted yellow eyes. Lance shrank back, heart pounding, letting out a tiny whimper of apology and baring his neck to Keith’s mercy, he had been selfish, he had already made Keith come; they were kind but they would not tolerate him hurting them –

But there was no bite, no punishment, only Keith’s lips against his own and Keith’s pliant, sated body still sheathing his cock, riding him lazily, tongue turning Lance’s brain to mush. Don’t be sorry, Keith told him, claws scratching fondly through his hair. You’ve done nothing wrong, nothing, nothing.

Lance moaned his gratitude into Keith’s mouth and Keith smiled into the kiss and then whispered, “Come inside me,” and Lance was more than happy to obey.

Keith shuddered in an echo of pleasure at the rush of warmth inside him and Lance ran out of words, did not know any language that properly conveyed what he felt when Keith moved off of his cock, thighs splattered white, and revealed Shiro with two slick fingers ready to take his place. Lance trembled in anticipation, stilling when Shiro’s hand fell upon his upper thigh, both comforting and proprietary.

Mine, Shiro said as Keith nuzzled into Lance’s shoulder and murmured, “Ours.”

Lance blinked up at Shiro softly, trusting, even though he was wrung out and overwhelmed and knew what Shiro was going to do. Shiro leaned down and kissed him first, slow and soothing, lifting up Lance’s legs to curl around his hips and kneading his ass in a way that was somehow tender. Lance was already relaxed from the urging of their thralls, and his thighs didn’t ache as much as they should have, and kissing Shiro while under his thrall really did kind of feel like being roofied, if being roofied could happen pleasantly. It was hard to focus on anything but Shiro’s face as he broke away from the kiss, and on his voice as he asked, “Do you think you can come a third time?” Lance swallowed, his throat dry. Shiro’s brow furrowed and he bumped his forehead lightly against Lance’s, their eyelashes brushing together. “Answer me. Honestly.”

Lance exhaled unevenly. “Y-yes,” he whispered. “Yes.”

“Good. I’m going to fuck you,” Shiro told him, and Lance already knew but hearing it made his toes curl and his breath hitch.

Keith, snuggled securely against his side, kissed his collarbones and threw an arm over his chest. “You’re okay,” he promised. “You’re okay. We’ve got you.”

They really, really did, because when Shiro started opening him up, Keith started kissing him again, and Lance really had no idea that such an incredible combination of sensations existed, but there it was – Shiro’s fingers crooking with certainty against his prostate while Keith kissed him with single-minded determination, filthy and fierce coupled by the gentle stroke of his hands over Lance’s skin.

Keith kissed him so well and filled his head with so much hazy, staticky bliss that Lance almost didn’t notice the blunt push of Shiro’s cock breaching him.

Almost. He would probably have to be literally comatose to not feel that. Keith caught Lance’s ragged gasp on his tongue as Shiro lifted his hips and angled himself deeper, and there was a spark in Lance’s mind, tingling through him and jolting in his stirring cock. The feeling of Shiro inside of him went abruptly from a dull, familiar pleasure to a sharp, shocking frisson of ecstasy through his entire body.

Yes, Shiro growled, holding Lance up with one hand on the small of his back and pumping his hardening cock with the other. He was fucking Lance hard enough to make the bed creak, and Lance couldn’t kiss Keith back anymore because he couldn’t close his mouth, sounds spilling frantically from it, unbidden, unstoppable.

Don’t hold back, Lance thought, head falling back against the pillows, neck arching. Fuck me like you fuck Keith.

I am, Shiro replied, fangs flashing, and Lance’s brain short-circuited, especially when Shiro whispered, “You can touch me, sweetheart.”

Lance clung to him at once, looping his arms around Shiro’s neck with a choked sob, heels digging into Shiro’s back as Shiro fucked into him again and again, an endless feedback loop of pleasure. Somehow his cock was fully hard for a third time, leaking all over Shiro’s knuckles. Shiro didn’t relent even when Lance started crying out, begging to come, legs constricting around Shiro’s midsection, forcing him deeper as if that would somehow help. It didn’t.

Neither did Shiro’s voice. “Look at you,” he purred. “Nobody else gets to see you like this. We’re the only ones who can have you; your body and your blood and your magic and your heart,” he licked over where it pounded in Lance’s chest, “and there’s such power within you, vibrant and virulent, but with us you’re so tame, so eager to please. Truly, we don’t deserve it. We don’t deserve you.”

Lance frowned at that, because they were wonderful, they were more than deserving; if anything he was the one who did not deserve them, mortal and weak as he was, and –

Shiro and Keith shoved those thoughts from his mind with hisses of displeasure, both of their eyes glowing brightly from within. “There will be none of that,” Shiro scolded, gripping Lance’s thighs a little harder, enough so that they would probably bruise later, God, Lance hoped they did, he wanted their marks all over him.

“We love you no matter what,” Keith added, and Lance turned his head on the pillow to look at him blearily. “We’re all equals here, yes?”

“Yes,” Lance breathed, and then stopped breathing because Keith pushed Shiro and Lance apart and sat down on Lance’s cock again with zero warning and Lance possibly screamed as Shiro smirked and hit his prostate with ridiculous accuracy and the block in his mind lifted again and Lance came a third time, briefly ascended to an astral plane of existence, and came back to his body in stages, feeling like he was melting into the bed.

The crystal around his neck was humming, but Lance was kind of beyond noticing anything except his two vampire boyfriends on top of him, and vaguely realizing that Shiro must have come because he’d bitten Keith’s shoulder and things had gotten even messier, somehow, and normally Lance was kind of a clean freak but he was just a freak, now.

And that was fine, everything was fine except – except why hadn’t they bitten him? His lower lip started to tremble as he looked at the bite mark on Keith’s shoulder and whined dejectedly – was his blood not good enough for them? They had taken such good care of him, he wanted to repay the favor, but how could he if they didn’t want to bite him –

“Of course we want to, hush,” Shiro said, and Keith climbed off of him with a wince and a satisfied sigh. Shiro pulled out carefully and Lance made a distressed sound because he thought they might be leaving, thought maybe he actually wasn’t good enough after all…and then they bit him.

Being bitten while thralled was euphoria in its purest form, Lance was convinced. If he could have come again, he would have, but as it was he made incoherent sounds and saw angels. They were kinda unconventional angels because they had bloody lips and glowing yellow eyes and hella sharp teeth but they were his angels and Lance was happy.

Keith snorted as he pulled away. “Yeah, okay, I think that’s enough thrall exposure for you.”

It was like a switch flipped.

Lance blinked dazedly up at the ceiling. “Holy shit,” he breathed.

Shiro and Keith had retreated to the end of the bed and were looking like worried funeral-goers again.

“Holy shit,” Lance repeated. “I’m just going to lay here for a week…yup…”

“We got…a little carried away,” Shiro murmured.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Lance said. “Don’t you dare apologize for that; that was incredible.”

They faltered. “Really?” Shiro asked, eyes wide. “It wasn’t too much?”

“It was definitely too much,” Lance said, giggling and throwing a hand over his face.

“I think we broke Lance,” Keith whispered.

“Correction – pretty sure you fixed Lance,” Lance said. “That was so good. What the hell, you guys, how did it take you this long to use your thralls on me?”

“We…certainly didn’t expect this reaction?” Shiro eked out. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

“There’s cum everywhere,” Lance cackled. “Oohh, coño, vamos a hacerlo otra vez, cariños.”

Keith shot Shiro a startled look. “And now he’s forgotten English.”

Lance squinted at him. “That’s not how bilingualism – is that a word? Sure it is. That’s not how that works, bat boy.” He yawned. “Can’t a guy call his boyfriends cariños once in a while, huh?”

“All the time, if you want,” Shiro replied, cautiously returning to sit beside him on the bed. “So…how are you feeling, besides…?”

“Fucked out?” Lance supplied. “Heh. I mean, I dunno…I think the crystal was glowing a lot. Kinda vibrating, at one point, that was weird.”

“Yes, we noticed,” Keith said, flopping down on the other side of him. “Your eyes glowed blue each time you came. It was slightly alarming.”

“Seriously?” Lance grinned. “That’s awesome.”

“I suppose,” Keith conceded. “But…you’re not feeling any magical awakening?”

“Nah,” Lance admitted, and both vampires deflated, frowning in obvious disappointment. It was honestly adorable how committed they were to this. “But, hey, I didn’t expect anything really crazy to happen. Maybe it’s more subtle than that.”

“Hmph,” Keith grumbled, tucking his head under Lance’s arm. He poked the crystal, which flared indignantly at his touch. “Your subtlety is unhelpful,” he told it.

Danger, the crystal said petulantly.

“Well…you’ll let us know, won’t you, if anything does happen?” Shiro asked. “If you feel anything different or gain any new powers?”

“Of course,” Lance mumbled. “You guys were in my head, y’know I can’t hide anything from you even if I wanted to, which I don’t.”

Both of them were silent. Lance paused. “Um,” he said, nervous, “what’s up?”

“We should have talked sooner,” Shiro said after a long, awkward pause. “About the end of summer. About what you and I started to discuss last night. About the future. I know you must be tired now...”

Lance grimaced and closed his eyes briefly before opening them again reluctantly. “What’d you guys see, then? Might as well just say it, if you wanna talk now, I’ll stay awake.”

“You’re thinking about leaving,” Keith whispered, brows drawn together. “Forever.”

“And we don’t blame you for that,” Shiro added hastily, and Keith nodded, though he looked miserable doing so. “We understand that…that having one vampire as a lover is difficult enough, let alone two, and on top of that you have Altean blood. We know you love us, but that you also don’t want to continue calling Lotor’s attention to us by staying with us, and you feel guilty about any harm you feel you caused us, though in actuality none of it is your fault.”

“And you are painfully aware of your mortality,” Keith said, eyes downcast. “And you don’t want to leave us or our world behind but you miss your family dearly, and we could not possibly take that away from you, Lance.”

“And you don’t know if you want us to turn you or not,” Shiro said. “You’re afraid I’ll fear you as a Druid. You don’t want to betray your family if they are truly Altean by joining the enemy. You don’t know if you want immortality. You…wish you had more time to make this choice.”

Lance didn’t look at either of them. “Yeah,” he said, choked. “Guess that about sums it up.”

“We aren’t mad at you,” Keith assured him, taking Lance’s hand carefully. “We had no expectation that you would…would want us to turn you. Though I…” He swallowed and when Lance glanced at him he saw Keith’s eyes were shiny. “Though I had hoped you might.”

Lance’s heart twinged. “Keith…”

“No, no,” Keith whispered, hiding his face against Lance’s chest. “No, it’s. It’s better this way. You have a chance at a full, human life, Lance. I didn’t, I died two months before my twentieth birthday of Adelita’s consumption. Shiro didn’t, he had that ripped away from him by the Galra. But you. You could live, truly live.”

“You and Shiro are alive,” Lance argued, a lump in his throat.

“It is a life lived in the shadows,” Shiro murmured. “On the fringes of society, hidden. You deserve sunshine and smile lines and a family and children and –”

“Stop,” Lance breathed, shaking his head. “Takashi, stop it. Both of you. I don’t want to leave. Please don’t make me leave.”

Shiro wrapped an arm around him, his eyes as shiny as Keith’s. “We could never make you leave,” he said. “It will be hard enough to let you go.”

“Then don’t,” Lance pleaded. “Don’t let me go.”

Shiro laughed humorlessly. “What would you have us do, turn you here and now, bind you to us before you change your mind?”

“Maybe,” Lance whispered, and both of them shivered. “I would let you; it would be so easy, even without your thralls.”

“No,” Keith said firmly. “No, Lance, we’re not doing that.”

“Why not?” Lance snapped, sounding childish even to his own ears.

“If we ever turned you, it would not be a sudden decision,” Shiro said. “You would need to think about it. We would need to think about it. Not that we’re unwilling to turn you,” Shiro added when Lance frowned, “but it is a dangerous process. It involves killing you, Lance. We would all need to prepare ourselves for that.”

He had a point. Lance thought about dying. More specifically, dying by Shiro and Keith’s hand. Blood loss didn’t seem like the worst way to go, but…still. Dead. He would be dead, if only for a short amount of time. And that was if it worked – if not…well, then he would die the way most people did. Permanently. And Keith and Shiro would never forgive themselves. Maybe, if vampires were real, ghosts were, too. Maybe if he didn’t come back as a vampire, he could still chill with them as a ghost. Sex might be a little more challenging, but hey, Lance was a creative dude.

Keith tapped his shoulder gently. “What are you thinking about?”

“Ghosts,” Lance admitted. “If I died, I’d haunt you guys. Benevolently, obviously. We might not be able to kiss or hold hands or have sex anymore, but I’d try my best.”

“Lance,” Shiro snorted, sounding like he was trying to remain serious and failing miserably. “I wouldn’t count on ghosts being real.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” Lance said. “I still think you’re gonna run into a werewolf one day and be like, ‘Oh shit, Lance was right.’”

Keith made a small, thoughtful noise. “Isn’t Thace technically a werewolf?”

“Dude,” Lance said, staring at him. “Can you warn me before you blow my mind like that?”

Keith laughed and shook his head, settling back down against Lance’s side. They were quiet together for a while, and then Lance whispered, “What’s it like?”

Shiro hummed. “What?”

“Being a vampire,” Lance said. “And not the bloodsucking and stuff, I know about that, but I mean…y’know, having a sire. Having each other. What’s that like?”

“A bit like being thralled,” Keith murmured.

Lance furrowed his brow. “Shiro controls you?”

“No,” they said at the same time. Shiro nodded to Keith, who continued, “It’s like being thralled in that we have a connection to each other’s minds. Not as clear as when we thralled you, but more like…gut feelings. Our emotions, our states of mind, those often reflect and influence each other. And it’s difficult to explain, but…Shiro is a fixed presence in my mind. That’s why I am so attuned to his safety and wellbeing, and he to mine.”

“And that’s how you felt it when Lotor attacked him?” Lance asked.

Keith nodded. “And that’s how I felt it when that Galra attacked Keith months ago,” Shiro added.

“You felt it when Keith’s throat got…”

“Yes,” Shiro said. “I was confused, though, because I could sense he was in pain but also that he felt safe.” Shiro smiled faintly. “Because he was with you, Lance.”

Lance scoffed. “I’m not safe for you guys,” he said. “You know that. The Galra –”

“Would have harassed us sooner or later anyway,” Shiro finished firmly. “At least this way, we have more than just our home and territory to fight for. Besides…Lotor’s garrison may not be a problem for us much longer, if all goes well.”

Lance bit his lip. “Hunk and Pidge told me, yeah. Do you really think…?”

“I don’t know,” Shiro admitted. “But I do know that we can never let our guard down as long as Lotor remains in this forest.”

“New rule,” Lance said, “no more talking about Lotor in bed, especially not while we’re all naked and I’m still covered in cum.”

Shiro chuckled and sat up, stretching. “Good rule. Do you want a bath?”

“I’m not moving,” Lance retorted.

Keith smirked and stayed snuggled up to Lance. “Neither am I. You don’t get to skip clean-up duty two nights in a row, Shiro.”

He rose from the bed, rolling his eyes in mock irritation. “You two are lucky I love you.”

“Yeah,” Lance mumbled, eyelids heavy, “we really are.”

Chapter Text

Lance left them in the morning, and this time the crystal seemed reluctant to go, humming in discontent as Lance got dressed and pulled his shoes on before heading downstairs.

“Heh,” he said, looking down at it and raising an eyebrow. “Gettin’ attached? No more ‘danger’?”

The crystal flared blue, and was silent. But it was a peaceful kind of silence, and when Lance opened the front door he felt Keith and Shiro’s magic like a second skin, and it was startling as he understood, in an abstract sort of way, that their thralls had brought their magic closer to him. He could take their energy at any time, could feel that their magic would let him do so, that it wanted to protect him, to give him power. But at the same time…at the same time, there was something else, too. Something new.

Carefully, as he hesitated on the threshold, Lance reached out to their magic in his mind. This time, it was not with the intent of taking it. Lance exhaled, closing his eyes and focusing on the sensations of last night – of warmth, and pleasure, and safety, and intimacy, and he poured those feelings into their magic. He felt, somehow, that Keith and Shiro felt it where they slept soundly upstairs, like a loving caress in their dreams, an extra blanket thrown atop them, a kiss brushed across their cheek.

The crystal chimed softly at this, pleased. “Yeah,” Lance agreed. “Yeah, that’s pretty cool.”

*

Hunk had triple-texted him, and opened the door for Lance when he got back to the Holts’ house, eyes wide. “So?” he asked. “How’s the magic? Are you okay?”

“I’m good,” Lance assured him, going inside and sitting at the kitchen table next to Pidge, who was awake (barely) and grumpily munching a Pop-Tart. “And the magic is, uh…well, I can kinda transfer emotions to Shiro and Keith now? Like, before I left, I literally sent them happy thoughts, I guess that’s the best way to describe it.”

“Huh,” Hunk said. “Is that just something you can do with Shiro and Keith?”

“Do you want me to try it on you guys?” Lance asked uncertainly.

Pidge eyed him suspiciously. “Lance, no offense, but I’m not sure I trust you to censor your thoughts.”

“Aw, c’mon,” Lance said. “It’s not like I’m gonna be mentally broadcasting the awesome sex I had last night –”

Hunk threw a kitchen sponge at him.

Lance flailed and somehow managed to catch it. “Okay, okay, I won’t try it on you guys, point taken! But, you know what else we did last night?”

Hunk held another sponge at the ready. “…What?”

“We finally talked about stuff!” Lance exclaimed. “And, uh, guess what, you guys were right, they don’t want me gone.”

“Shocker. So they’re going to turn you?” Pidge asked.

Lance bit his lip. “That’s complicated.” Hunk folded his arms. “Okay, well, we talked about it, and they said they weren’t against turning me, but…it’s a lot to consider, y’know? I mean, you guys realize that they would have to straight-up murder me, right?”

“Consensual murder,” Pidge corrected.

“I’m rethinking my stance on this,” Hunk said worriedly. “What’s the success rate of vampire turning?”

“I don’t think they have statistics on that, bud,” Lance sighed.

“We could ask Allura, she’d take that really well,” Pidge muttered.

“No! No, don’t even mention this to Allura or she’ll…” Lance shook his head. “I dunno what she’ll do.”

“You can’t keep it a secret forever,” Pidge said. “Besides, Allura might have some good tips for how to control your magic if you do turn. How to, you know, not end up like Haggar.”

“I’m not an evil witch, so jot that down,” Lance retorted.

“Not yet you aren’t.” Lance glared and Pidge shrugged. “I just think you should ask, do your research, y’know. Maybe the Codex has some tips.”

“There’s an actual helpful idea, thanks,” Lance said. “Although I’m not sure where the Codex stands on the whole turning thing.”

“Well, it’s fine with you banging them, so,” Hunk pointed out. “From what you’ve said, the crystal is the only one with a dissenting opinion, here.”

“About that,” Lance said, “I kinda…left the crystal on last night and now it seems to have changed its tune?”

“Dude,” Hunk said. “Why’d you have to scar the crystal like that? Why’d you have to scar me like that?”

“It’s not scarred,” Lance said, patting the crystal defensively. “It’s educated. Enlightened, if you will.”

“I won’t.”

“But you will make me waffles?” Lance said hopefully.

Hunk heaved a sigh. “But I will make you waffles,” he relented.

*

After waffles (which Lance helped Hunk make because he was a good best friend occasionally), Lance went to the bedroom he so rarely slept in these days and grabbed the Codex from where he’d last stashed it under the bed. Hunk and Pidge sat on Hunk’s bed, expectant, as Lance opened it.

The page was blank.

“Damn,” Lance said. “I think it’s shy or something.” He showed them the book.

“I wonder how it does that,” Pidge mused. “Allura said it was sentient, but maybe it’s some kind of technology…hey, maybe we can hack into it!”

The Codex was alarmed by that idea, the pages flipping by themselves as if blasted by wind, though the air was still. All three of them jumped. “Nobody’s hacking you!” Hunk exclaimed. “Pidge is sorry! Say you’re sorry!”

“I’m sorry,” Pidge said in the least contrite tone Lance had ever heard. The book calmed down, though, and when the pages settled, words began to appear on the smooth parchment, in English rather than Altean. Lance read them aloud as they appeared, his eyes widening as he progressed.

“It takes roughly 6.4 minutes for one vampire to drain 0.75 liters of blood with 0.5 millimeter fangs via the carotid artery, 16.6 min to kill them, and 42.24 minutes for 1 vampire to drain an adult person with about 5 liters of blood in their body.”

“Wow, okay, zero to a hundred real quick,” Hunk mumbled.

“There’s more,” Lance said, gulping. “Therefore it would take two vampires roughly 20 min to drain the same person. They would kill the person by reaching a fatal 40% blood loss, or about 2 liters, in around 8 minutes, causing organs to fail and the victim to slip into a comatose state preceding death called hypovolemic shock – okay, Jesus, I hear you, book. Damn.”

“The book can do math,” Pidge noted. “Very precise and relevant math.”

“Shiro and Keith could kill you in eight minutes?!” Hunk exclaimed.

“Hey, book, do you have stats on vampire turning success rates?” Pidge asked.

“I don’t wanna know –” Lance started, but more words were already appearing on the page. Lance opened his mouth to protest, then stopped.

The success rate is increased by both the power of the sire and the strength of the relationship between the vampire and the victim.

And then, as Lance watched, the word ‘sire’ erased itself, replaced by sire(s).

Hunk and Pidge must have seen the shock on his face, because they scrambled off of Hunk’s bed and onto Lance’s, peering at the book over his shoulders. “Wait a second,” Hunk said, “sires, as in, plural, as in, both Shiro and Keith could turn you?”

A single word appeared at the bottom of the page.

Perhaps.

“Ohhh, no you don’t, don’t be vague with me now,” Lance warned, stabbing a finger at the page. “What happens if it doesn’t work, huh?”

There was a pause. Then, You die. Or the stronger sire’s blood succeeds in turning you.

“So you’re saying they’ve gotta be equally strong,” Lance muttered. “Well…that’s not gonna work, Keith’s tough, but Shiro is built like a –”

Not all strength is physical. You of all people should know this, Lance Espinosa.

“I think you just got lowkey burned by a book,” Pidge told him.

“You’re in no position to be throwin’ stones; you’re like four feet tall!”

“I think what it’s trying to say is that the strength is in their blood and the bond between them, not necessarily their bodies,” Hunk corrected. “Makes sense. Thanks, book. Speaking of which, do you have a name?”

There was an ominous pause. Then, even more ominously, the book wrote,

I have many names. I am many souls in one vessel. Such is my design.

“Souls?” Hunk repeated, and edged away. “Lance, I think your book is full of dead people.”

“Dead Alteans,” Lance said with realization. “Right? After Altea was destroyed, someone – or something – bound you to this book?”

Yes.

“Why?”

To aid future generations.

“Of Alteans?”

Of our family.

“Oh my god,” Hunk whispered. “Lance, Lance, it’s like Mulan.”

“Ancestors,” Pidge agreed. “You don’t get a dragon, though, so that’s lame.”

Lance was still staring at the book, open-mouthed.

“My family?” he squeaked. “But I know my family. We’re – we’re from Cuba, not Altea.”

There was no Cuba ten thousand years ago.

“I – I guess not, but what’re you saying?” Lance stammered. “How could my entire family have Altean blood without me knowing until now?”

Not the entire family. Half.

“Which half,” Lance whispered.

The book was silent. Then, slowly, Your mother’s side.

“Okay,” Lance said, struggling to keep his voice even. “Does…does she know? Does my mom know that she’s – that her and all her kids are descendants of ancient vampire hunters?”

We are not omniscient. You must ask her yourself.

“Great,” Lance managed. “That’ll go over great with her. Anything else you wanna tell me, since you’re so talkative all of a sudden?”

Our silence was not our choice. Our magic is linked inextricably to yours, as it is to all of our living family members. We were unable to communicate so directly with you until you followed our advice.

“The thrall sex advice,” Lance said, strangled. “Which was apparently given to me by my ancestors. Sorry, no offense, but why the hell would ancient vampire hunters actively encourage me to do something like that with vampires?”

Our family has a history of being closer to vampires than most Alteans.

“So you’re historically vampire-fuckers,” Pidge said.

“Pidge! A little respect for the ancestors!” Hunk exclaimed.

We were Altea’s scouts into the world of vampires, the book said. We were hardly friendly with them. You might call us spies, now. In Altea, we were called Paladins. We used our unique set of powers to protect ourselves against and to see vampiric magic in a way other Alteans could not. You see, Lance, our family’s magic is in many ways similar to vampiric magic – it can be used to destroy for selfish gain. Yet we used it to gain intelligence about vampires that was later used to kill them. We found their weaknesses.

“But Allura said she didn’t know of any Alteans with powers like mine.”

She said very few. Because there were very few of us, and we kept our powers for the most part secret to avoid the inevitable fear from other Alteans. We gave them the information they needed and they did not ask questions. They did not want to know.

“Paladins,” Lance murmured. “Alright, guess that makes sense. So, how did you get trapped in this book?”

Not trapped. We wished to be preserved within these pages. In the attacks…very few survived. Nearly all the Paladins were wiped out. A mere handful survived, one of whom was our leader and possessed great power. With her magic, she called out to the spirits of our dead – our spirits – and urged us to take corporeal form within one of the few remaining copies of the Codex. She then hid us between this world and the next, where we could survive and wait until one of our surviving family members needed our help. So we have helped, throughout the centuries, as best we could.

Lance nodded, struggling to process all this. “And the survivors? What happened to them? Where did they go?”

After Altea was destroyed, the survivors fled. Our family fled across the ocean, to a land of sunlight where we hoped the vampires could not follow. But we found vampires of a different kind there – vampires who took land, gold, and people instead of blood. They needed no thralls to control us when they had chains and ships.

“And they took my mom’s family to Cuba,” Lance finished, biting his lip. “As slaves.”

Yes. We escaped one form of slavery under the Galra, only to be subjected to another form under the Spanish. But our family has survived this long, and we will continue to survive. We have done our best to protect our descendants…as we are doing our best now, with you. You are closer to the enemy than our family has been in many, many years. You have made our task significantly more difficult than usual.

“Is that why when you first appeared to me, this book had a different title?” Lance asked.

We thought you would be safer if we educated you on how to defeat vampires. Evidently we were wrong, and after you rejected us we…reframed our tactics.

“So you don’t actually approve of my relationship with Keith and Shiro? You just pretended to be okay with it so I wouldn’t throw you away again?” Lance said suspiciously.

Initially, yes. But your affection for them is true, we know this; as is their affection for you. They rescued you from Lotor himself, which is no small feat. And now they have awoken your magic through a ritual none of us thought possible. It seems your safety is linked to them, and so it is not our intention to force you apart.

“Then what is your intention?”

If you are referring to whether or not we believe they should turn you, that is a choice you must make for yourself. The book hesitated, and then scrawled out, But we urge you to speak with Princess Allura and her advisor before making any rash decisions. She is wise and, unlike us, her power to communicate with you is not limited. It takes a great deal of energy for us to speak to you in this way, and we will not be able to for much longer.

“Told you so,” Pidge said under their breath.

“So is this goodbye?” Lance asked. “Will I ever be able to talk to you guys again?”

When you are in need of us, we will assist you as best we can, the book promised. Perhaps not always in the ways you expect, but we are here for you, Lance.

“Wait…before you go, can I ask one last thing? What about Ricky and Stella, my siblings…and my cousins, do you speak to them, too?”

In different ways, yes. We guide them through their lives, watch over them from afar…but it is only the troublemakers like you who receive such direct intervention.

“Troublemaker is putting it lightly,” Hunk grumbled.

Be safe, Lance Espinosa. Do not let fear rule you as it did for the Alteans of our time. Trust in your magic, and in your friends…there is a storm on the horizon.

And with that the book’s pages fluttered again, and when they settled they were blank again and the book’s cover was cold when Lance touched it. He closed the Codex and put it carefully back under the bed.

“Well, that was something,” Pidge said.

“You need to talk to your mom,” Hunk added. “Worst case scenario, she thinks you’re losing it, best case scenario, you have a good talk about ancient Altean traditions or something.”

“Wrong,” Lance said. “Worst case scenario, she knows exactly what I’m talking about and drives all the way up here to personally murder Shiro and Keith herself before dragging me home and lecturing me about betraying my family the whole way.”

“Whoa, whoa, who said you had to mention Shiro and Keith?” Hunk said.

“You want me to lie to her?” Lance exclaimed. “I’ve done enough of that on this trip.”

“Not lie,” Pidge said. “Omit certain details.”

“Shiro and Keith are slightly more than a detail,” Lance said. “I think they were the main event of this summer.”

“No, Lance, the main event of this summer was your bad choices,” Pidge informed him.

Lance pushed them off the bed.

Pidge squawked as they hit the floor. “You come into MY house and you DARE –!”

“You’re not allowed to criticize my bad choices when you made the original Bad Choice to go vampire hunting, Pidge,” Lance retorted. “And remember that silver net thing? I can’t believe you talked us into that.”

Pidge huffed, making no effort to get up from the ground. “How was I supposed to know that this cryptid hunt would lead to you getting magical powers and vampire boyfriends?”

“And kidnapped, and bitten, and mind-controlled, and found out half my family isn’t human –!”

“None of that is Pidge’s fault,” Hunk said, frowning and reaching out to Lance. “I get that you’re overwhelmed with everything and kind of upset, but –”

“Kind of upset!” Lance exclaimed. “Wow, Hunk, you really hit the nail on the head there!”

Pidge sat up, peering at him worriedly. “Hey, I’m sorry. It was a joke.”

“I know,” Lance said, deflating and putting his head in his hands, trying to calm his breathing. “I’m sorry, I…” He exhaled unevenly, and leaned into Hunk’s side when he cautiously wrapped an arm around him. Pidge put their hand on his knee, a rare but comforting gesture from them. “I just really don’t know what to do,” he whispered. “It’s so cheesy, but my heart really does feel like it’s torn in two.”

“Between staying human – or, I guess, mostly human – and becoming a vampire?” Hunk murmured.

Lance nodded. “It’s just…there’s no going back from it, if they turn me,” he said. “And what if it’s not how I imagined? What if it’s…what if I really do change, and become evil like Haggar? I barely know how this magic stuff works, maybe it’s possible. And that would ruin everything – Shiro would be terrified of me, Keith would be loyal to Shiro because they’re mates and…”

“They love you,” Hunk said. “Right?”

“For now,” Lance said, swallowing back the lump in his throat.

“None of that bullshit,” Pidge retorted, smacking his knee lightly. “You think they’d even be thinking about turning you, let alone suggesting it, if their love was some temporary thing? They’re immortal, Lance, I’m pretty sure love doesn’t come easily to them at this point. Why would they get attached to people when they know it can’t last?”

“But they got attached to you,” Hunk said firmly. “And the book’s right, it’s totally your choice, Lance. It’s your life. But as your best friends, we’re telling you that you got a good thing here, and we think maybe you should make it last as long as possible.”

“I want to,” Lance whispered, wiping his hand over his eyes and sniffing. “But I also don’t want to screw up. And…and even if it is perfect, even if it’s everything I imagined it would be…I’d have to watch you guys get older while I stayed the same. Everybody I loved would die.”

“That’s not a vampire exclusive thing,” Pidge pointed out. “Everybody I love is gonna die. Everybody Hunk loves is gonna die. Even you’re gonna die someday, even if it takes a while – Shiro said vampires do age, remember? Ergo, there’s an end, eventually.”

“The bundle of joy is right,” Hunk said. “Although I’m pretty sure you could say that in a less depressing way, Pidge.”

Pidge shrugged. “Just telling it like it is. Anyway – yeah, sure, it might be sad to stay young while everybody around you gets older, but it’s not all negatives. You get to see your loved ones’ kids grow up, you get to stay involved in all of their lives if you want, you can take care of them, you’re not limited by age in the way they are. And you’ll have at least two loved ones who will be there by your side no matter what.”

“It sounds a lot nicer when you put it like that,” Lance admitted.

“It’s the truth,” Pidge said, and got to their feet after giving his knee a last pat. “Now, what d’you guys wanna do today? ‘Cause I heard that they finally fixed the rope swing over Silver Lake…”

“Oh, hell yeah!” Lance exclaimed, jumping up from the bed. “Finally! We gotta go.”

“We should have a picnic there!” Hunk added, eyes brightening.

“Swimming and a picnic sounds like solid plan to me,” Lance agreed. “Summer’s not over yet, bitches!”

*

Hunk and Lance ended up doing most of the swimming and rope-swinging, while Pidge sunbathed and ate huge handfuls of the sour cream and onion chips they were obsessed with. By the time they all piled back into Azula and drove the half an hour or so back to Rosewood, Pidge’s shoulders already looked burned. Lance poked the closest one and Pidge hissed at him with their sour cream and onion breath, which was a great deterrent.

“Did you even put sunscreen on?” Lance asked.

“Yes,” Pidge said, sulking. “Like, five layers of it.”

Lance raised an eyebrow. “Not enough, apparently.”

“Y’know, Espinosa, I really look forward to the day when you’re the one who burns easily.”

Lance snorted as he pulled into the Holts’ driveway. “I bet you do, pigeon.”

Pidge didn’t retort and Lance glanced at them with slight concern. “What?”

Pidge was biting their lip and hastily tucking their phone away. “Just…don’t be mad, okay? I was trying to help.”

“Mad about what?” Lance asked warily.

“That,” Pidge sighed, sinking down in their seat as Allura and Coran walked down from the front porch, Coran with an uncharacteristically serious expression and Allura positively furious.

“You did not,” Lance said, fighting the very tempting urge to change gears, hit the gas, and drive away as fast as possible.

“I’m sorry,” Pidge muttered. “She just…she called me while you guys were on the swing and she was asking me about how the thrall thing went, and it just kinda…slipped out. But I asked her to talk to you, not yell at you, and she knows that me and Hunk are supportive –”

“This isn’t gonna be pretty,” Lance warned as he parked Azula and took the key out of the ignition. “You might need to do damage control afterwards.”

“Yeah, got it,” Pidge agreed. “Just…I dunno, just see what she has to say.”

“She’s not gonna change my mind,” Lance said.

“I didn’t think you’d even made up your mind yet,” Pidge replied mildly. “Anyway, you might change hers instead.”

“Does she look like she has an open mind right now?” Lance asked incredulously. Allura was nearing the car and Lance was half-afraid she might try to break the glass.

“She looks like she’s going to murder you,” Hunk whispered. “Nonconsensually.”

“Thanks for that, Hunk,” Lance said, and got out of the car to meet his fate.

Allura pointed at him. “I cannot believe you,” she snapped.

“I can be pretty unbelievable, I know.”

“Do you?! Do you realize how – how foolish this is, how irresponsible, how –”

“Traitorous? Selfish? Wrong? Disgusting? Misguided? I can keep listing adjectives.”

Coran stepped forward to stand beside Allura, his arms folded. “Lance, please. The Princess and I are deeply concerned for your future. You have your whole life ahead of you, why would you waste it by letting them take it away from you?”

“All due respect, but I don’t think it would be wasted,” Lance said.

“No?” Allura exclaimed. “So you wish to be confined to the darkness, to transform into a monster, to be controlled by the whims of your sire, to feed on blood and only blood for all eternity?”

“And tea, coffee, and certain alcoholic beverages,” Lance added.

“What?” Coran and Allura said.

“Vampires feed on blood, yeah, but they can also drink tea, coffee, and certain alcoholic –”

“I don’t think you understand the severity of the situation,” Allura gritted out. “Lance. Do you remember what I told you about Altean magic? About how it is changed, corrupted into something terrible when Alteans become Druids?”

“That happened with the Galra Druids, you don’t know that it would happen to me –”

“I do,” Allura said firmly. “Pidge told me some of what the Codex shared with you. That you are one of the last modern Paladins.” She shook her head, her eyes pleading even as her jaw was set. “Lance, your magic is so rare, so important – one of the last great remnants of Altea’s golden days. Do not taint it with the evil of vampiric magic as your ancestors did. What your Codex did not tell you was that some of the first known Druids, the ones who opened the city gates to the vampires, were Paladins first, Lance. Your magic is a pure and powerful gift – but it is also easily corrupted. I cannot let you do such a thing, Lance. I…I do not want to see that happen to you.”

“That’s not your choice to make, Princess,” Lance told her. “I’m sorry, but it’s not. And I don’t believe Keith and Shiro would corrupt me at all.”

“Can’t you see that they already have?” Allura cried. “The very fact that you’re considering this is proof that they have you under their thumbs! You are not meant for that life, Lance, if you could even call it a life at all! If they truly loved you they would not tempt you with such things, they would do what they know is best for you and let you go, let you live the life you should –”

Lance’s hands curled into fists. “They’re not tempting me with this! They’ve never once tried to manipulate me into staying, they’re not trying to keep me, they’re not like Lotor! Who, by the way, smelled your scent on me when we ran into him the other night.” Allura blanched. “Yeah, and y’know what? Apparently he’s so obsessed with me because I remind him of you. So thanks a lot for that, Princess, you’re really doing a top-notch job at keeping me safe.”

“I was unaware –”

“Yeah, you’re unaware of a lot of things, aren’t you?” Lance snapped. “Like how not every vampire is like the Galra and how my relationship with Shiro and Keith and the choices I make in it are none of your goddamn business!”

“They are my business when they endanger a fellow Altean,” Allura said grimly, straightening up and lifting her chin. “They are my business when I am forced to entertain the possibility of having to kill your vampire lovers, and you, if they succeed in turning you into a Druid.”

“I look forward to seeing you try,” Lance snarled, and turned on his heel, stalking off down the street with no real destination in mind, seething silently. There was some commotion behind him, and a car door slammed, and Pidge was yelling, and then Hunk jogged over to him and fell in step beside him as Lance continued angrily down the street.

“Where are we goin’?” Hunk asked after a couple blocks, not demanding or interrogative, just curious.

“I don’t know,” Lance sighed. “I just…needed to clear my head, y’know? Before I say anything else stupid.”

“Sounded like you were making some valid points,” Hunk countered. “She had a few too, but…I mean, you’re right. She doesn’t know the first thing about your relationship with them.”

“But she knows about Druids,” Lance said dully. “And Paladins. And she knows that Paladins become evil Druids.”

“I’d hardly call that evidence,” Hunk said. “Just because some Paladins became some of the first evil Druids doesn’t mean there’s a correlation. I doubt they were turned by vampires like Shiro and Keith.”

“But Allura doesn’t think there’s a difference,” Lance said. “She thinks that all vampires are, at their core, evil.”

“And do you think that?”

“I don’t…” Lance shook his head. “I don’t know what to think, Hunk. I know Shiro did horrible things while under the Galra’s control. Keith accidentally killed his best friend right after he was turned. I don’t think that makes them evil, and obviously they’ve changed since then, but…most people would consider those things evil. Wouldn’t they?”

“We’re not talking about most people, Lance,” Hunk said gently. “We’re talking about you.”

“No,” Lance said. “No, I don’t think they’re evil. I know evil, I’ve seen evil…and it’s nothing like them.”

“Well, there you have it.”

“I don’t think it’s that simple, Hunk.”

“Why not?” Hunk smiled weakly. “I’m really tired of complicated, aren’t you?”

“Can’t argue with that,” Lance said. And stopped. “Where are we?”

They were standing at the end of the pavement, across the street from a small square of scraggly grass crowned by a tall, beautiful tree Lance swore he had never seen before. He must’ve, though, because it was huge and hard to miss, with wide, spreading branches heavy with green leaves that rustled quietly in the faint breeze. There was a large patch of shade under the tree, and at the base of its trunk sat a single, familiar figure.

Hunk squinted. “Is…is that Shay? The beautiful bookshop girl who is also a psychic?”

Shay opened her eyes and beamed at them, giving them a little wave. “Lance! And your handsome friend Hunk, that’s a pleasant surprise.”

Hunk turned pink. “Hi?” he said, waving back. He leaned over to Lance and whispered, “Did she just call me handsome, or am I hallucinating?”

“Pretty sure that was real, dude, but it’s hard to tell with Shay,” Lance chuckled. They walked over to the tree and Shay stood, leaning against the trunk. “Did we wander into another portal, or is this still Rosewood?” Lance asked her.

“Still Rosewood,” she said brightly. “More or less.”

“I’m guessing this tree is the ‘less’ part?”

“Ah, yes.” Shay patted the tree’s bark fondly. “This is a very old tree. Ancient, even.”

“What kind of tree is it?” Hunk asked, peering up into the high branches.

“Why, it is an ash tree, of course,” Shay replied. “A tree steeped in magical traditions, associated with healing, destiny, enchantment, and linking humans to higher powers. Higher beings, too.” She raised an eyebrow at Lance. “It is also the ancient tree of Druids.”

Lance started. “What?!”

“Celtic Druids,” Shay said. “A different kind. Yet similar, in many ways. Do you have Druids on the mind, Lance?”

“I guess so,” Lance muttered. “But not the Celtic kind.”

“I figured as much.” Shay tilted her head and pointed to his crystal. “You’ve made it your own, since we last met. Am I right in assuming the book returned to you as well, as I said it would?”

“Yeah, it did,” Lance said. “You were right. But what do you mean, I ‘made it my own’?”

“It was my crystal, in my shop,” Shay said. “Just another rock, sparkly and empty. But you have filled it with yourself, with your magic – it is far more than just a rock, now. And it can never belong to anyone but you.”

Lance nodded, digesting that. Then he asked, tentative, “Do you know what I am, now?”

“Altean,” Shay replied. “Yes. I sensed that Allura and Coran were in Rosewood, and put two and two together.” She frowned. “But you are angry with her at the moment. Why is that?”

“You know about Shiro and Keith?”

“Yes. Your vampire lovers who do not prey on humans,” Shay said. “They have been here longer than I have, and are deeply rooted in the tangled tales of this town’s history – I know of them.”

“Well…I’m considering letting them turn me. I would become a Druid. Allura’s pretty against the idea…and I know you don’t like vampires either, but you gotta understand that I really, really love them.”

“I fear vampires,” Shay said. “I do not, necessarily, dislike them. They are what they are, and it is right to be afraid to some extent. I fear them as I fear fae, and certain witches, and the unseen creatures which lurk in forests and lakes and are given names but not quite believed in.”

“You mean cryptids?” Hunk asked. “Like Bigfoot or Mothman?”

“Oh, Bigfoot and the Mothman are harmless,” Shay said. “The Jersey Devil and the Wendigo are far more dangerous.”

“Pidge is gonna lose it,” Hunk whispered gleefully. Lance sighed. “Oh, sorry, sorry, we were talking about serious life choices.”

“You said vampires are what they are,” Lance said. “Does that mean you agree with Allura, and you think they’re all bad? That they’re inherently evil?”

“Evil is a strong word,” Shay mused. “Besides, I think it would be the wrong one to use. We do not call birds evil for eating worms, or cats evil for eating mice – it is their nature, and they must do so to survive. Therefore a vampire’s need to drink blood is not evil. It just…is.”

“But what about Druids?” Lance pressed. “Allura is convinced that if they turned me, it would corrupt me. She thinks Druids are all tainted, that they all have dark magic; that somehow I would cease to be me if I became a vampire.”

“You would change,” Shay murmured. “You would be different, that much is certain.”

Lance’s shoulders slumped. “So Allura was right,” he said. “I’d be throwing my life away and become as cruel and twisted as Haggar?”

“I did not say that,” Shay said. “I simply believe your magic would inevitably change in some way. We must not assume it will change for the worse.” She looked at him intently. “Do you believe Keith and Shiro are inherently evil, Lance?”

“No,” Lance said. “But –”

“Then if they are not inherently evil, vampires must not be inherently evil,” Shay finished. “Which means Druids are not inherently evil, either.”

“You don’t know that for sure, though –”

“No,” Shay said. “But I feel it. In here.” She put a hand over her chest, over her heart. “As do you, Lance. You already know what the right choice is.”

“No, I really don’t! That’s why I’m asking you!”

Shay shook her head. “Your fate is already in the stars for you to see; you need only to look for it.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Lance said. “You appeared here to help me, didn’t you? So help me. Please.”

“We happened to meet here as little more than a happy coincidence,” Shay replied with a soft smile. “And to give your handsome friend my number.”

“What?” Hunk said.

She held out her hand. “Your phone, please. This is how flirting works nowadays, isn’t it?”

“Um,” Hunk stammered, pulling his phone out of his pocket so fast the case almost came off, “yep. Yeah. Here.” He handed over his phone and stared at her wonderingly as she made a new contact. “You’re awesome,” he blurted when she handed it back.

Shay blushed. “Thank you. You are very kind. Please contact me soon, Hunk Garrett. Good luck, Lance.”

Lance spluttered at her. “You just asked my best friend out and now you’re gonna leave?”

“No,” Shay laughed. “You are. Farewell.”

Lance didn’t know how it happened, but suddenly they were on the sidewalk again, and there was no ash tree or pretty psychic in sight.

“Wow,” Hunk said. “Wow.”

Lance snorted, but grinned at him. “She’s got good taste, huh?”

“She’s a magical inter-dimensional being and she likes me,” Hunk whispered. “What next, is Pidge gonna hook up with the Loch Ness monster?”

“If Pidge is even still alive,” Lance said grimly. “Hurry, we need to get back to their house before Allura chews their head off.”

*

Pidge’s head was thankfully intact and Allura and Coran were gone when Lance and Hunk returned.

“Finally,” Pidge yelled as they came inside. Pidge was sprawled out on the couch playing a vicious solo queue game as Roadhog with the volume turned up to an earsplitting level. “Enjoyed your stroll while I put out the fire?”

Hunk forcibly turned down the volume. “We ran into Shay. She gave Lance cryptic advice and she gave me her number. Also, apparently all your cryptids are real.”

Pidge shot up. “What now?”

“Next time Shay appears out of the ether, you should chat with her about it,” Lance suggested, sitting down on the couch next to them. “Go hunting for Bigfoot together or something. But right now…what happened with Allura?”

“I knew they were real,” Pidge hissed triumphantly. “Hell fucking yes.”

“Pidge.”

“Give me a second to revel in this, then we can talk about Allura,” Pidge grumbled, closing their eyes and adopting a zen pose. About thirty impatient seconds later, they opened their eyes and declared, “Okay, done reveling, let’s talk. Well, here’s how it went in one word: shitty.”

“Guess I can’t say I’m surprised,” Lance sighed. “Any specific shitty details you wanna share?”

“Mainly, she’s really concerned about you,” Pidge said. “Like, Mom Levels of concerned. She genuinely thinks that Shiro and Keith are gonna, like…reveal some secret dark side and either turn you into a merciless monster or just leave you to die.”

Lance’s stomach flipped. “They wouldn’t do that! Ever!”

“She clearly doesn’t get how you can place so much trust in vampires,” Pidge said. “Just the thought of it freaks her out. Which is understandable, I guess, she knows better than any of us what betrayal feels like.”

“Doesn’t mean she should assume Shiro and Keith are the same way,” Lance retorted.

“But she does,” Pidge said. “Listen, I tried. I told her that me and Hunk would never let you be with them if we thought it was unhealthy or even suspected they were hurting or manipulating you. That was the closest she came to seeing reason. She knows we’d try to hunt down Shiro and Keith ourselves if we thought you were in danger. But instead we’re actively encouraging you to stay with them, and I don’t think Allura knows what to do with that. She had some big life plan in mind for you – to join her and Coran, to master your magic, to reconnect to ancient Altean culture or whatever – and you becoming a vampire doesn’t feature anywhere in that plan.”

“She’s not in any position to be making plans for me!” Lance exclaimed. “I met her, what, a month or so ago? Just because she was my ancestors’ Princess doesn’t mean she’s mine. She doesn’t get to boss me around.”

“Right, only Shiro and Keith get to do that,” Hunk said under his breath.

“What was that?” Lance asked suspiciously.

“Nothin. Maybe Allura just needs some time to process it,” Hunk said. “Maybe we should just give her some space and the benefit of the doubt for now.”

“We don’t really have time,” Lance pointed out. “We have one week.”

“I’m already packing suitcases,” Pidge agreed. “Lots and lots of suitcases.”

And I’m already depressed just thinking about it, Lance didn’t say. He took a deep breath instead and said, “Allura isn’t making this choice for me. If she disagrees, that’s that. If she eventually realizes she’s wrong and agrees, great. But this is my choice.”

“So what are you choosing?” Hunk asked.

“Right now, I’m choosing Widowmaker,” Lance shot back, grabbing a controller. “No more solo queue for you, Pidge.”

*

Unfortunately, Lance knew Widowmaker was not the choice they’d been talking about.

Fortunately, they played Overwatch for so long that they could barely keep their eyes open, and Lance had no time to lie awake stressing about the future because he passed out as soon as his head hit the pillow.

He couldn’t remember ever having a dream as vivid as the one he had that night.

He was walking through a forest, unfamiliar and dark, with towering trees wrapped in vines and roots that stood several feet high, sticking up from the earth like grasping hands. He was also deeply aware that he was not himself – his skin was darker and his footsteps were lighter, and as soon as he came to that realization the perspective changed.

He saw the person picking their way carefully through the undergrowth and though he no longer saw through her eyes he felt a strange kinship with her. She was dressed in weird yet well-made clothing made of leather and various green fabrics, a kind of long tunic with leggings and high boots. Her curly, coiled hair was swept away from her face in a messy bun secured with a black ribbon.

She didn’t look very much like Lance, but there was something in the impish tilt of her nose and the determined set of her jaw…and of course there were her eyes, a bright and gleaming blue, so bright Lance swore they were glowing in the darkness. The small crystal around her neck definitely was.

There was a sudden sound that split the night air – a high, frightened cry. It sounded close by. The girl’s eyes widened and she broke into a run, still managing to keep mostly silent as she sprinted towards the sound. The closer she got, the more another sound increased in volume – crying. Soft, scared sobs and occasional whimpering like an animal in pain.

The girl burst into a clearing and the source of the sounds was revealed – another woman, with pale skin and hair to match, wearing a plain gray dress, collapsed on the ground, her ankle caught by a heavy metal trap. There was black blood staining her white skin and both Lance and the girl recoiled – not a woman, but a monster.

A vampire.

The girl unsheathed a sharp silver knife from her belt, hidden under the tunic. The vampire froze on the ground, its scared sounds breaking off abruptly, and it contorted its body with difficulty to look at her. Long strands of silvery-blonde hair hung in her face but Lance caught a flash of huge yellow eyes and parted lips, sharp fangs bared.

The girl raised the knife and started forward, glaring at the vampire. “It’s about time one of you walked into our traps,” she muttered, and she didn’t say it in English, or Spanish, or any language Lance had ever heard…but he understood. It was Altean, she was Altean, they were in Altea…and this girl was going to kill this vampire, as she was meant to do.

The vampire flinched back, cowering and struggling weakly. It let out a pained yelp when the metal cut deeper into its leg, and the girl faltered – briefly, minutely, but Lance still saw it.

“Please,” the vampire whispered, and the girl stopped altogether. “Please, please, don’t hurt me – we don’t hunt your kind, we just feed from the animals and I had to come closer to your village because the deer are slower here and –”

“Shut up,” the girl snapped, raising the knife again. “You’re a lying demon. I’ve seen what your kind does to ours when we fail to kill you. Don’t even try to reason with me.”

“Please!” the vampire cried, voice breaking. “I’m telling the truth, I swear it! My pack is small, unobtrusive – we’ve never harmed Alteans, never!”

“I’ll cut out your tongue, not another word –”

“I know you’re not mindlessly cruel, please listen to me! I’ll never return, you’ll never see me again, you don’t have to kill me!”

“I warned you,” the girl growled, and knelt down beside the vampire, moving the blade towards its face. Her face. It was hard not to think of it as a her up close – the yellow had faded from her eyes and the irises were brown, pupils wide and dark with terror, her lashes as white as the rest of her. The vampire tried to scramble away but the girl grabbed a handful of its long hair and it was…it was soft. Somehow she had expected it to be lank, greasy, unpleasant. But it was even softer than her own.

“D-don’t,” the vampire begged, squeezing her eyes shut, turning her face away. “I was just trying to h-help –”

“Help?” the girl snapped. “How?”

“Help my family,” the vampire said, barely breathing, throat bobbing as she gulped. “Just as you are trying to help yours now.”

The girl released her hair hastily and took a step back. This…this was wrong. This was dangerous. But the vampire wasn’t using her – its – thrall, its eyes were closed and…it wasn’t fighting back. It was just lying there, trembling pitifully, arms tucked close to its body and legs curled, the one in the trap bent at a strange angle.

“You’re a pathetic excuse for a vampire,” the girl informed it.

The vampire cracked an eye open. “Yes,” it whispered. “Maybe so. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” the girl repeated, dumbfounded.

“For what others of my kind have done to you and your people,” the vampire answered quietly. “I know some of us deserve it. Maybe…maybe I deserve your anger, too, just for being one of them, but I hope not. If you kill me, maybe it will be justified in your mind. Maybe that is enough.”

The girl took another step back. “What are you,” she said, voice shaky.

The vampire looked confused. “I don’t –”

“Get out,” the girl said, backing away. “Get out of these woods and don’t let me catch you again. You…you’re not worth my blade.”

The vampire went slack from relief. “Thank you,” it said, shocked and grateful and it made something inside the girl twist in a mixture of revulsion and bewilderment. “I will not forget this, Paladin.”

“I will,” the girl retorted, and ran away as fast as she had come.

Time passed, Lance was vaguely aware of it, but then he and the girl were in the same forest again. She was with another girl, taller with longer hair – her sister? They were talking in low, hushed tones.

“Fala, are you certain we are in the right sector?” the sister asked.

The girl, Fala, rolled her eyes. “Yes, Amue, I’m certain. The bodies were found not far from here, we’re almost there –”

A twig snapped. Both girls paused. Amue turned to Fala, tense, and signaled for her to follow. Fala did, reluctantly, unsheathing her dagger and glancing around, peering into the gloom.

Neither of them could have moved fast enough to avoid the two vampires that burst from the shadows in a blur of fangs and ashen skin, and La