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Forest and Stone

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The forest in this state was something Lance had all on his own. None of the other fae got to see the trees with the barest hint of leaves on their branches, got to feel the crunch of last year’s dead foliage between the first few leaves of grass rising from the rich, black forest soil. Only very few of the full-blooded fae stayed awake long enough in wintertime to see snow, but for the last few weeks of winter, when Lance’s human blood shook off hibernation early, Lance had the world all his own. The trees were his to take stock of, new flowers and waterways his to map out. He always got to be the first to greet the animals when the world thawed out. Lance takes a deep breath of the crisp, early air and knows it’s something special.

He’s been wandering all morning; it’s normal for him at this time of year to wake up from hibernation and head towards the edge of the forest. The other fae forbid it; it was ancient law that the fae keep to themselves in their hollows, safe in the dark depths of the forest, where no human had ever, or ever would, step foot. Something to do with the previous King Alfor of the fae and a long dead human, King Zarkon. The edge of the forest was for the humans. It was for their woodcutting, their fires, their feral dogs and metal weapons and lust for blood. But Lance thinks, as the trees begin to grow further apart and deer trails give way to horse tracks, this side of the forest is part of him as well. He was fae, he lived with them, loved them, but the human half of him felt had a special pull towards it’s own kind.

Lance crests the top of a hill and in the valley below he sees humans. Their horses are all bunched together between a couple of fires and a massive tent made of rich, purple fabric. There’s perhaps fifteen or twenty of the animals blowing huge, misting breaths in the chilly morning air. Probably thrice as many humans mingle around them like so many ants. Lance lingers as close as he dares as he watches them work, adjusting saddles, stoking fires, brushing horses. Cooking, talking, laughing, double checking the edges of the swords or the grain of their arrows. On the far side of the tent Lance hears the haunting bay of dogs and knows for sure that this is a hunting party.

He sighs and starts off perpendicular to the group, not wandering away, but rather moving off to the side and circling around instead. He’s not necessarily scared of a hunting party. He’s seen them often enough to know the likelihood of them coming anywhere near him was beyond rare. Even if any of the humans came into contact with him, they wouldn’t think he was anything other than a wayward peasant. Only the most extraordinarily receptive humans were able to see the pale blue markings that swirled and shimmered across his skin; his own outward proof of his fae blood. And even that was hearsay. Lance had never come into contact with any human, much less one that could see him for what he was. At worst he would get a talking to about being on hunting grounds and sent on his way with a fine he would never pay when he wanted back home to the grotto. No, the worst thing to look out for would be the dogs, but to them he smelled too much of human and too little of boar or elk to catch their attention.

As long as he stayed out of their immediate vicinity, he would be fine to admire the cluster of humans as much as he liked.


 

He’s so sure in his safety that he doesn’t keep track of all of the dogs. Usually they like to stay packed together when they scent the same prey. They’ve been trained to let the humans follow them. He can’t see the hunting party anymore; they’ve strayed off in the other direction. There’s only a few of them lingering in the valley camp below.

Lance is busying himself counting old bear tracks and wondering how many new cubs there were this year when a howl rips out of the brush not a hundred feet behind him. He tenses at first, looks in the direction of the noise. Did some of the dogs wander off and find something nearby? Lance reaches out, touches the tree nearest to him and does his best to send a warning, even though he knows it’s already likely too late to do much good.

The baying draws closer, a wild, ugly sound. And now more joins in. The brush nearby starts to shake as the dogs barrel through towards him. Lance’s hackles raise because watching the trail of them approaching unseen through the thick foliage is almost paranormal. They’re too close. He should get out of the way.

He’s only just gripped a low hanging branch, barely off the ground while pulling himself up when the dogs, three of them, burst from the undergrowth. Lance yelps in surprise and fear as they sprint through the final distance between them. He can’t even stop to watch them he’s trying to scramble out of their reach.

It shocks him when the dog in the lead sinks its teeth into the meat of his calf. He’s high enough up that the dog has to jump for him and the sudden flare of pain and weight of the animal nearly pulls him out of the tree. He cries out, kicks with his other leg and catches the dog in the throat hard enough to knock it off him and back to the forest floor. Lance slips up into the tree as fast and high as he dares, far out of the reach of the dogs.

“Shit…” Lance hisses through his teeth. He sits on a slender branch, one arm wrapped tight around the slim tree trunk and the other hand gripping the thigh of his injured leg tight enough to bruise. Ten feet below him, three dogs circle around the base of the tree, howling and snarling at him like he’s a cornered boar.

“You’ve got the wrong person you stupid mutts!” Lance snaps. His calf throbs angrily with his heartbeat. He tips his knee and looks at the crescent line of punctures in his calf. Blood wells lazily from a few and trails down his leg and off his heel. He sighs thickly and rocks a little in his place at the dull, throbbing pain and hisses, half at his discomfort and half at the still howling dogs. “What did I do to you!”

“What have you done?” A voice echoes him. Lance flinches in surprise and goes quiet as a massive black horse pushes through the brush. Its chest billows and its breath forms great puffs of mist in the cool air. The dogs turn their attention towards the horse, tails wagging even though they remain respectfully out of reach of the horse’s hooves.

Lance is high enough that the man on horseback doesn’t see him. He’s dressed smartly even though it’s obvious that he isn’t nobility. His clothes are soft and supple looking leather and cloth, but he’s wearing blacks and muted grays, and not the luxurious purples Lance knows belongs solely to the highest classes. A heavy jacket and breeches covered with a thick black cloak. He doesn’t hold himself with the same straight back haughtiness of nobles and it’s clear he’s seen far more battles in his young life than many of the upper classes would, if the shock of white hair was anything to go by. This man is probably a hunting master, or a knight.

The man tsks at the dogs and then, when they linger too close to the tree, spooks his horse towards them in a couple quick steps to send them skulking off back towards the rest of the pack. Lance stays quiet as he can in his vantage high up in the tree as the man circles his horse around the tree. He’s looking at the ground, sorting out the mess of dog tracks because he knows the beasts wouldn’t have put up such a fuss over nothing.

Lance doesn’t particularly want to be found out, even if he is injured. He’s sure he isn’t so hurt that he can’t limp his way back home and the waters of the Altea river will have him patched up in no time. It’s more trouble to let this man find him and answer too many questions like why he’s on hunting grounds and why he’s barefoot and why he’s wearing gossamer and thin spun cotton instead of anything a normal peasant would be clothed in.

“Human?” the man mutters to himself, he wonders off a little, following Lance’s faint tracks in the soil and walks them back to the tree he’s hiding in. Lance’s leg still burns where the dog bit him and he’s still bleeding, even if it is slowly. As much as he hopes that the man would give up and leave him to drag himself home he knows that any man with a respectable amount of hunting experience can recognize blood at the barest glance. Lance sees the moment the man narrows in on the tree trunk and notices the droplet trails of blood in the bark.

The man looks up at him and Lance totally forgets about the pain in his leg as his heart lurches and dances around in his chest. He’s handsome. Strong jaw, kind mouth, scar across a straight nose and soft, gray eyes. Lance clutches at the tree, half to steady himself and half in nervousness when the man doesn’t do anything but stare at him, wide eyed, for several long seconds.

The horse blows more mist and the man snaps out of his reverie. He relaxes in the saddle a bit, dances his horse so it’s side nearly touches the tree. Sitting atop such a large animal, the man only has to reach up and he can touch Lance if he wanted to. He doesn’t, but he shakes the reins out of his hands, confident that this horse will stay put for him.

“Hello,” he says softly and Lance breathes. His voice is kind and soothing and yeah, okay, maybe Lance could stand to stick around and hear him talk a little more. “Can… Can I help you?” Why does he seem almost hesitant?

“Your dog bit me ,” Lance growls petulantly. He turns his foot, shows the man the already glaringly  obvious. “What kind of show are you running here? I’m just enjoying my morning and one of your supposedly best friends sinks its stupid teeth into me!” The man swallows as he stares at Lance’s injury, almost like he’s nervous.

“I know,” he says “and I’m so, so sorry about that I-” he reaches up, but only a little, like he’s scared to actually touch Lance. “Can I help you down?” Lance pouts as Shiro unpins his cloak and drapes it across his horse’s neck.

“I certainly hope so. I don’t exactly want to hop out of a tree on this thing,” he says, swinging his leg a little. The man shuffles a little closer and finally reaches up for him. The tips of his fingers brush Lance’s ankle and the fae flinches at the feel of leather. It’s a strange texture, but the man doesn’t think anything of it. He shifts in the saddle, stands up higher with his boots in the stirrups, his hand brushing up further along the back of Lance’s calf.

“Oh my God, okay,” Lance breathes. He knows he’s getting warm because the man is so gentle about touching him, and he looks about half scared he’s going to hurt Lance more. Lance shifts closer, just on the edge of the branch he rests on and his legs drop low enough that the man can cradle the back of Lance’s knee with one hand and reach up for him with the other. “You’re gonna drop me.”

“Hold my hand and drop down. I’ll catch you,” the man says. When Lance edges til he’s barely resting on the branch, the man grips his hand to steady him. “I promise.” Lance takes a slow breath, then slips off the branch. The man’s hand on his knee slips up his thigh and wraps firm around his waist, easily taking his weight and easing Lance in front of him. Lance ends up half in the man’s lap and half over the slight hump of the saddle’s pommel, even after the man settles back into place behind him and pulls Lance firm against his chest.

The horse shifts, calm despite the added weight, but Lance’s head swims and he holds himself so stiffly the muscles in his belly ache trying to keep himself steady. He’s never been on a horse before. Never felt a saddle. Never talked to a human, much touched one, or let one hold him tight and secure with a large hand on his hip. The man uses his free hand to grip Lance’s knee and turns his leg, humming as he looks at the wound.

“He got you pretty good,” he comments, then he takes the cloak he’d taken off before and sweeps it around Lance’s shoulders and across his body. Lance shifts, makes a soft sound in his throat because is he getting kidnapped or something? But the cloak is warm and rich feeling. Soft and lined with silky fur. The pin the man uses to clip it shut at Lance’s throat glints in the morning sunlight and Lance gasps at how pretty it is. A heavy silver lion, brushed and polished to shining, it’s mane a large single piece of carved jet and it’s eye a glittering yellow gemstone.

“How’d you get this?” Lance says. He tries to fight against the cloak but the man holds it around him so instead Lance only bumps the clip with his finger through the fabric.

“Prince Lotor tends to spend a lot of money making sure his knights are properly decorated,” the man sighs. Then he pauses and looks down at Lance and oh, their faces are awfully close together. Lance leans back a little but that only serves to push him further into the man’s lap. “I never introduced myself.” He smiles and okay. This guy could just help himself and whisk him off to the dungeons for all Lance cared. He’d die soon anyways from how hard heart is fluttering. “I’m Takashi Shirogane. One of the personal knights of Lotor, Crown Prince of Galra. I just go by Shiro, if that makes things easier.”

“Lance,” the fae squeaks back. “And please don’t turn me in.” Shiro laughs as he takes the reins. Being on the back of a horse feels like trying to find his balance in the middle of a small earthquake; everything underneath him moves in a way he can’t quite anticipate.

Which only makes it worse when Shiro shifts and, keeping Lance steady with a hand on his back, slips out of the saddle and off the horse. Lance wobbles in the saddle until he manages to straddle the horse properly, shaking his arms until he can free them from the tangle of the cloak and grip the pommel in both hands. Shiro tsks the horse and when it turns and starts to follow him towards the direction of the hunting camp Lance yelps and nearly falls over trying to keep himself upright.

“Just let your hips move with him,” Shiro says. They start down a gentle slope, but Lance leans back so hard he feels like he’ll rip the saddle right out from under him. He can get a sense from the horse beneath him that it’s half amused with his controlled flailing but at the same time it exudes a feeling a calm patience. It must realize he’s never ridden a horse before. “Kuro’s a good horse. I promise he won’t toss you off. You just have to relax more than you think you need to.”

Even though he says that, Lance never really feels like he gets a hang of it and by the time Shiro’s leading them into the clearing and the hunting camp, his legs are burning and sore almost as bad as the bite on his leg. Almost as soon as they come into view someone breaks off from the near the tent, trotting over to them on the back of a sleek reddish brown horse. He’s dressed in the same outfit as Shiro, but with red instead of black, so he must be another knight of Prince Lotor. But where Shiro is broad and calm looking, this one is wild and slim, nearly fidgeting as bad as his horse when they pull up alongside them.

“Where did you go?” the newcomer asks. He stares at Lance, but not as long and not with nearly as much surprise as Shiro did at first. Maybe he just doesn’t care about strangers, or he’s too busy to be bothered. “And who’s this? Lotor’s been looking for you.”

“Keith, don’t greet me by telling me the prince is in a sour mood. I went after the dogs that strayed off. They were after Lance- him,” Shiro says, motioning to Lance where he’s pulling the cloak further around himself, intent on hiding his clothes before any of the humans think to stare or ask him about them. They’re moving into the camp and Lance is starting to get nervous with so many people and horses around him, the smell of woodsmoke and the tang of metal and blood itching his nose. “One of them got his leg so I’m going to take him back to the castle and have it looked at.”

“You’re going to do no such thing, Shiro!” someone calls. Lance squints around and finds him. Slim and standing tall in the opening of the huge tent at the center of camp. He’s dressed in flowing purples and even more glittering bits of stone and metal than either of his knights. This must be prince Lotor. Lance suddenly realizes, when Lotor narrows his eyes at him, that he’s not prepared for this kind of encounter in the least. He tries to straighten up and make himself look a bit more presentable, but it probably doesn’t do much for him with Shiro’s cloak still wrapped around him.

Lotor turns sharp, yellow eyes off of Lance and onto Shiro. “What are you doing with a peasant anyways? I need you here. You’re the only one I can count on to flush out foxes for the,” Lotor makes a rather flippant motion of his hand towards the forest. “Visitors. They’re having trouble finding anything decent today.” Lance frowns deeply and wants to tell him he shouldn’t take the lives of animals so lightly. They’re not finding anything because everyone is still holed up from the cold. And, because he might have given them a warning earlier before the dogs got him.

“Keith can take them,” Shiro says easily. Keith makes a soft sound of surprise in the back of his throat. “He’s just as good as flushing as I am and besides, Red can get between the thicker trees better than Kuro anyways.” Lotor looks unimpressed.

“Just send him on his way and come with us. Everyone’s been looking forward to the thaw and good hunting. I can’t have you running off on me,” Lotor says, pointing at Lance. When Lance glances at Shiro, thinking how he’s going to evade the hunting party and limp all the way home, Shiro’s frowning deeply, a little angry furrow in his brow.

“Lotor, if I just leave him to his own devices he’ll go home and tell his family and neighbors that he met the prince and was treated poorly,” Shiro warns. Lance does his best to convey his thought that that sounds exactly like something he would do because frankly, he’s sure Princess Allura would love to hear that the prince of the Galra was a total jerk. “It does you more good than him for me to take him back to the castle and address the wound our dogs gave him, even if he is out here where he doesn’t belong.”

“Is he a poacher?” Lotor asks, as if he hadn’t heard anything Shiro had just told him.

“No. He didn’t have any weapons or traps on him,” Shiro says. Lance knows for sure Shiro is so confident in that through one glance at his light, airy clothing so popular among the fae. Then, in a show of impertinence that catches Lance off guard, Shiro turns to Keith. “You’re in charge of the hunt today. If there’s an emergency, talk to Rolo at the stables and I’ll come as soon as I can. Otherwise,” Shiro turns back to Lotor and bows deeply. “I wish you a successful hunt, prince.”

Chapter Text

When a few of the dogs had broken off from the rest of the pack on their own, Shiro had followed suit simply because he didn’t want to lose track of them. They couldn’t have found something terribly interesting. Probably something small like a fox or a rabbit. Something they’d gotten distracted by simply because they had too much pent up energy after a hard winter kept too near the castle. At any rate, he could claim the small kill for himself and take it home for dinner, maybe have the fur tailored into something nice.

He was not expecting to find a fae huddled up in a young tree, back talking the howling dogs even though one had already wounded him. He hadn’t noticed him at first, just looked around for the prey the dogs had cornered before he noticed the droplets of blood on treebark. Honestly he had expected a pheasant or a wayward chicken. He had not been prepared in the least for a slim, young looking man with pointed ears and skin covered in delicate looking blue marks.

Honestly, Shiro’s first instinct had been panic. This… this was something he’d only heard of in storybooks. The only reason he’d been able to identify the fae as what he was was through the stories his mother had told him of them in his childhood.

She’d told him about the soft, shimmering markings, the ears, too bright eyes. They could commune with the forest and the animals just as easily as with each other. But they also despised humans. Anything that they felt disrespected nature. Such as metal weapons, careless fires, smoke and killing for sport. Fae had the ability to lay a curse on whoever crossed them. They could set loose diseases or kill crops or incite violence between humans.

Shiro was scared because, while he hadn’t purposefully harmed the fae, he still checked off all the boxes for things the fae apparently didn’t like. If he were a lesser man, he would have just turned his horse and run but…

Their eyes met and the fae looked just as unsure as he felt, but curious all the same.

What had been his intention was to help the fae out of the tree and escort him back to the thicker part of the forest, to the edge of the hunting grounds where no one else would find him and let him make his own way home (because for a human, the land of the fae was hardly different from the land of the dead) but the fae had been warm and willing. He’d fit perfectly against Shiro’s chest and when the fae had let Shiro wrap him in his cloak, looked over the gaudy gem of his brooch like a treasure and introduced himself as Lance, Shiro’s tune had changed a little.

Lance hadn’t immediately stricken him dead, so maybe he could fix this.

But it had to be a secret. Legend had it that Prince Lotor’s ancestor, Zarkon had some kind of history with the fae. If Lotor knew there were a fae in his own castle...Shiro didn’t know which way it would go. Lotor was equally likely to try diplomacy or try to keep Lance around as a pet. The best bet was to cover up as much of Lance’s markings as he could and hope Lotor wouldn’t notice.

And okay, maybe he had been curt towards the prince back at camp but, as he helps Lance off of Kuro’s back and lets Rolo take the reins, he thinks he’ll take his chances with Lotor’s attitude later.

His personal room, along with the rooms of all rest of Lotor’s knights, are up two flights of stairs. Even though Lance is slim and not a hard carry he’s walked his horse all the way in from the hunting grounds and going up stairs after that has him puffing a little. As soon as the door is closed behind him, Lance pats him on the shoulder and helps himself down and onto the bed, one hand gripping Shiro’s sleeve to steady himself.

“So uh,” Lance says. He looks around the room curiously as Shiro helps him unclasp the cloak. “I’m pretty sure you can see me, right? Like, the…” Lance trails off as Shiro’s cloak drops off his shoulders and so much shimmering skin comes back into view. Shiro’s eyes linger on the swirling marks on his arms.

“You’re...fae?” Shiro asks. “I’ve never seen a fae before but, I’ve heard stories and-”

Lance smiles, soft and kind and even though Shiro’s still a little wary of him, he eases. “I’m definitely not human?” Lance offers. He says it quiet like it’s a secret, even though he adds. “I think you might be the only one who can see it though. Not very many humans can.”

“Oh I...I had no idea. I mean, the not being able to see you thing. I wouldn’t have tried to hide you so much otherwise,” Shiro admits. He sighs, then motions towards Lance’s leg. The bleeding has already stopped on his own and the blood dried, but he still needs to clean him up. “Hold on. I need to go get a few things for your leg, but I’ll be right back,” Shiro sighs.

Lance shows he’s fine with that idea by flipping up the fur on Shiro’s bed and inspecting the wool padding beneath before he stretches out on his side with a purr. “Oh? I figured you were planning to keep me all for yourself~” he teases. Shiro pauses at the door, watches Lance fluttering his lashes at him, then decides he isn’t going to dignify him with an answer and closes the door behind him as he goes out into the hallway to find a maid to help him gather what he needs.  

“If you’re fae,” Shiro starts a short while later, while he dips Lance’s foot into a bucket of water. He tries to get off as much dried blood as he can just by splashing water over it, but soon he has to use a soft cloth to get the rest. “Why were you out so close to the camp anyways? Did you not see us?”

Lance hums, the sound catching a bit as Shiro gently grazes the cloth over a tooth mark. “No, I saw you- it’s just. I wasn’t expecting the dogs to care about me. They never have before.” That gives Shiro pause. Lance has been around the hunting parties before? How many times had they been in the same forest, but just never run into each other?

“You...watch the hunting parties,” Shiro says blandly. Lance shrugs. “Why? I thought fae hated humans.”

“I don’t watch. The way you humans hunt is gross. You just sometimes happen to be out there the same time as me, so I just try to steer clear,” Lance says. Shiro keeps slaking water over his wound, watching as Lance wiggles his toes in the water. “And they do.”

“Hate humans,” Shiro supplies, and Lance nods. He grits his teeth a little as Shiro finishes washing his leg and opens a small jar of honey, dipping his fingers in and smearing a thin layer over the bite.

“Yeah, they can’t stand you. If…” Lance sighs, looks at where his fingers grip the fur on Shiro’s bed tight. “They don’t know that I sneak so close to humans. They’re still hibernating right now, and they think that when I wake up before them I just stick close and get started on chores ahead of time. If they knew about this, they would have a fit.”

Shiro pauses, thinking, honey still sticking to his fingers. He dips them in the water and rinses them off, then takes up a few sprigs of thyme and crushes the tiny leaves between his fingers pressing it gently into the honey on Lance’s leg. “Why do you wake up so early? You’re just a morning bird?”

“The human half of me doesn’t like hibernating very much. I never sleep as well as everyone else, so I wake up a few weeks early and wander off more than they’ll let me when they’re awake,” Lance explains. He says it almost flippantly, clearly happy when Shiro cleans his hands again and takes up the cloth bandage to wrap his leg. But then Shiro nearly drops the entire roll in the bucket doing a double take.

“Human half?” he asks. Lance laughs, bright and pleasant. “Humans haven’t seen fae in... hundreds of years! How would you be half?” Again, Lance purrs and flutters his lashes.

“I don’t know. Maybe I’m older than I look?” Lance teases, but when Shiro starts looking half-nervous all over again he lightens up. “I’m not very old. Even by human standards. My father was a human who liked to wander farther than he probably should, and my mother never held the same grudge against humans that most other fae do.”

“Do you?” Shiro asks. His fingers betray his nerves, just slightly off of steady as they wrap Lance’s leg. “Hold a grudge, I mean.”

“Why do you ask that?” Lance answers. Shiro finishes up with the bandages and he tries flexing his foot. It aches deeply, and he lets out a shivering breath against the pain. Shiro steadies him with a hand on his knee.

“Don’t try to walk on it just yet. You should try to rest some more,” Shiro soothes. He sets the bucket aside against the wall. He’ll deal with it later. “And I ask because I’m, to be honest, I’m worried. One of our dogs bit you and ran you up a tree. I don’t want everyone in the castle to wake up with some kind of disease in the morning.” Lance hums and stretches out on the bed, carefully straightening his wounded leg out.

“Princess Allura might do something like that if she thinks you’re up to something with me, but I can’t do anything fancy on that scale,” Lance turns onto his side and watches Shiro put the extra honey and thyme away to be cleaned up later. “As far as fae go, I’m not super impressive.” A little pause, and Lance adds quieter. “And I like you anyways.”

Shiro feels some of the tension come out of his shoulders that he hadn’t realized he’d been carrying. “I like you too. And I think you’re pretty impressive. I’ve never seen a fae before and...I like you’re uh...your markings. It’s a really pretty blue.”

“Oh, now you’re just trying to get me to stay,” Lance hums.


 

“Hey, where are you going?” Lance asks that night. He’s still in Shiro’s bed, though now he’s once again wrapped up in Shiro’s cloak, insisting on having it instead of the spare blanket Shiro had tried to give him. Shiro lingers near the door and closes it all the way after having half opened it. He’s just stoked the fire, made sure Lance had fresh water, saw to it that the fae would be fine on his own for the night.

“I was going down to the barracks to sleep. I don’t mind you having this room to yourself while you’re here,” Shiro explains. Lance huffs, a soft, almost petulant sound and pulls the cloak up tighter under his chin.

“I think you should stay up here,” Lance says. A pause while Shiro waits for Lance to add a why onto that statement, but then he sees he’s not going to get it that easily and comes back to the bed. Lance scoots back closer to the wall as he approaches and Shiro settles into the space left in the concave of Lance’s body where he’s curled up on his side.

“You don’t want me to leave you alone?” Shiro asks. Lance hides his mouth under the hem of Shiro’s cloak and shakes his head. “How come?”

“I don’t know anyone here and,” Lance looks around, almost seems to shrink into himself as he looks at the dark shadows dancing around on the ceiling in the firelight. “Castles are weird, I was okay when it was sunny out, but now it’s dark and...ugh…” Shiro narrows his eyes at him.

“You’re scared of the dark?” He hardly gets the question out before Lance thumps him in the back with his uninjured leg.

“It’s not the dark,” Lance starts. He pulls the cloak down to his neck again and Shiro can see him pouting. “I’ll have you know the forest is much darker at night than this place, but it’s…I don’t know.”

Shiro looks around the room, thinking of what a fae, who had never been in a castle before, would find in here to be disturbed by. “It’s cramped?”

“And smoky,” Lance complains. “I don’t like that fire just, being so close, with all these walls. I keep thinking it’s going to spread.”

“I can’t put it out though,” Shiro says. “It’ll just make the smoke worse, and I would have to go get more water besides. But, I can leave it be and it’ll burn out in a few hours if that’ll help. I promise, we’re very good about keeping fires here. We haven’t had one get out of control in years.”

Lance makes a sound very much like ‘puh’ and turns over so his back is facing Shiro. Shiro sighs, finding the motion rather petulant, but he’s not going to give in on this. It’s still very early spring, and as much as the fae can apparently handle the cold, he doesn’t like it so much. But, he can meet him halfway and stay the night in his own room.

“I need to go downstairs and get something to sleep on, but I’ll be right back,” he stands and catches Lance looking at him over his shoulder by that strange, too bright gleam in the fae’s eyes.

“You can just share the bed,” Lance offers, squishing in a little more to make room. “I don’t mind.” Shiro looks at Lance, then to the stone floor. Even with a couple of furs, that floor was going to be pretty hard on his back…

“Please?” Lance asks, pleading. Then, like he catches himself being needy, he raises his brows suggestively. “I need a human shield if you won’t put out that fire. I don’t think I can sleep otherwise.”

“Wow,” Shiro sighs. He gives in perhaps a little easier than he really should. He climbs back on the bed, settles in on his side. Though he tries to keep some space between his chest and Lance’s back, Lance nestles back against him, warmer than Shiro would have thought considering his gauzy clothing. Lance flips around the cloak until he can get some of it over Shiro as well. Then slim fingers feel around for Shiro’s wrist, and Lance pulls it around his waist. “Is this normal?” Shiro asks as he shuffles until he can get his other arm under his head as a pillow.

“Yeah!” Lance answers, a bit to bright and a bit to quick. “You’re a knight? I heard that knights are supposed to always put the needs of others before their own. That’s what Allura and Coran always told me. And I’m cold so,” Lance lets his thought trail off and tucks his nose under the cloak closing his eyes. Shiro sighs. Well, he’s here, so there’s no point in fighting it.


 

“So why is that guy still here?” Keith asks him. They’re lingering near the edge of the training grounds watching as Lotor fences with a few of his other knights. He’s been going through them all morning and even now he’s winning more than not. Shiro pulls his eyes away from the sparring match and does a double take at Keith.

To Shiro’s surprise, Keith hasn’t brought up anything for most of a week. But he knows it’s coming when Lance is still in the castle, even though he doesn’t wander around that much. His leg still bothers him, and it seems that the only two people Lance is truly comfortable interacting with is Shiro and Nyma, one of the maids who’s taken it upon herself to check in on him while Shiro’s working. Even though Lance is beyond chatty, he’d explained that all the business in the castle was somewhat overwhelming for him.

“What?” he asks. Keith narrows his eyes, crosses his arms over his chest.

“That guy. The one you picked up at the hunt a few days ago? Why haven’t you taken him home yet?” Keith presses. Shiro opens his mouth, closes it again. He doesn’t know how to say ‘Well, turns out he was fae so I can’t really just take him out into the woods and drop him off,’ without sounding like a madman. He tosses around a few ideas for what feels like a too-long string of seconds before something comes to him.

“He’s uh...he’s a traveler!” Shiro says. “So I can’t take him home just yet. He’s a long way from home, and his leg’s still...bothering him…” he trails off when Keith’s frown deepens, unimpressed.

“So, a vagabond? Put him in an inn or something. Hire him a carriage to take him wherever he belongs and ask Lotor to pay you back. I don’t think he’s going to care much beyond chewing you out a little,” Keith’s gaze slides over to Lotor, where he’s nearly preening over his latest victory, “and that’s not anything new.”

Shiro frowns. “I don’t know, I feel like I owe him,” he presses. Only a little lie. He really does feel like he owes Lance, but there’s a couple of factors stronger than that. Like he can’t just put Lance on his horse and walk him back to wherever the fae lived. And that leaving a fae who had never before been exposed to human society on his own in some place as rowdy as an inn seemed like a supremely bad idea.

“I heard you talking to him this morning, so I think he’s still staying in your room.” Keith stares at him for a long second, readjusts his arms a little tighter around himself before he leans in, nearly shoulder to shoulder. “Are you sleeping with him?”

Keith whispers the question, but Shiro feels his face heat near instantly. He stutters, straightens up and looks around in case anyone’s heard Keith. He does not want a rumor getting around the castle that he’s bedding a peasant. “No! Keith- no! I’m not sleeping with him. I barely know him! He’s just… He’s not super comfortable around so many people, so he just asks me to stay with him at night.” Keith blinks slowly, and Shiro knows he’s searching for the truth in his expression. The corner of his mouth twitches, like he’s unsure if he wants to smile or frown.

“Keith!” Lotor calls from the center of the field. He points his sword at the smaller knight and twitches it in a little beckoning motion. “Your turn.” Keith sighs and pulls his sword out of its scabbard as he steps up and takes his place opposite Lotor. Shiro lets out a deep breath and relaxes a little. It’s not until he lets himself look around the yard, listening to Keith’s and Lotor’s swords ping off each other that he sees Nyma, lingering in the doorway leading back into the castle. Their eyes meet and Nyma motions to him.

“Hey, I didn’t want to interrupt you if you’re busy but,” Nyma starts. She’s frowning, and her brow is furrowed gently with worry. “I don’t think Lance is feeling too great, but I don’t know what’s wrong.” Nyma only gets halfway through her sentence before Shiro’s pushing through the door past her, letting her follow him down the hall and towards the stairs. “His wound still looks perfectly fine,” Nyma adds as they go up the stairs. “It’s not any better, but it’s not infected either.”

Shiro doesn’t say anything until they stop in front of the door to Shiro’s room, when Nyma frowns at him deeply. They’re both worried.  “You don’t think I got him sick, do you? Should I get Ulaz?” Nyma asks.

“No, no, I don’t think so. I’ve got it from here,” Shiro says. “Thank you, for coming to get me. Can you let one of the others in the yard know where I am?” Nyma nods and heads off back down the stairs while Shiro heads inside.

Lance is curled up on Shiro’s cloak, but now he’s on the floor under the window instead of the bed. He opens his eyes when Shiro closes the door behind him. He looks pitiful, lethargic, but at first glance, not like he’s really sick. A little pale maybe, but his markings still shimmer and his eyes still glow when Shiro kneels beside him.

“Nyma told me you seemed sick,” Shiro hums softly. He spreads his hand over Lance’s forehead and, when Lance tips his head into it, he scratches his nails gently through his hair. He’s a little warm, but not so much that he’s really worried about it. “How are you?”

“Mm…” Lance hums. “I don’t know… I’m just, tired. I don’t like being cooped up in here, so I was by the window.” Then he rolls onto his back, doesn’t fight when Shiro slips his arms under him and carries him to the bed. Shiro looks, then grabs one post of the bedframe and pulls it across the floor. It’s not a big bed and he moves it easily, jostling Lance a little as he tugs it under the window.

“You aren’t stuck in here, Lance. You can wander around as much as you like,” Shiro says. Lance sits up, and now that he’s on the bed he’s tall enough to peek out of the tall, thin window and into the courtyard below.

“Yeah but, Nyma’s busy. You’re busy. Everything is so busy and...the fires and all the little rooms and...it’s so loud…” Lance sighs. He shivers, crosses his arms on the bottom edge of the window and looks down into the courtyard, full of horses and carts and working people. Shiro sits on the bed next to him, settles his hand on Lance’s side to steady him, feels the soft bumps of his ribs through his thin shirt. His heart’s beating too fast.

When he feels the touch, Lance gives him a gentle smile over his shoulder. “It’s not like I don’t like it here. I’m just kind of...overwhelmed.” Shiro ponders over a solution to this. If Lance’s wound isn’t healing very quickly, even if it’s not infected, he’s not walking home anytime soon. So there must be something he can do to make him more comfortable while he’s here.

Lance turns, pokes his head out the window a little and tries to look down the length of the castle, as if he can see the garden around the corner.

The garden?

“Hey, Lance?” he starts. An idea’s come to him. Lance answers him with a soft hum. “I have to get back to Lotor and the others in a few minutes.”

“They take up so much of your time,” Lance sighs, deflating a little.

“Only because I let them,” Shiro answers. “But listen. I have an idea. I’ll ask for the morning tomorrow, and I’ll take you somewhere nice, okay?” Lance perks up, settles back into the bed with a huff.

“Like what?”

“I think you’ll like the gardens we have here.”


 

The gardens at the Galra castle are a sight to behold. The entire east courtyard is a huge mass of carefully cultivated flowers and trees. It’s too early in spring for the full range of blooms the garden usually produces in warmer weather, but there’s a few bunches of flowers coming through as Shiro carries Lance down the path.

Lance is settled in his arms, holding himself upright with his arms wrapped around Shiro’s neck. He’s even more tired today than he was yesterday, his skin a little paler, his markings a little fainter. He can see what Nyma had said yesterday, about him seeming sick. It’s not in the nauseous, plague kind of way. But just like he’s weak. Either way, Lance perks up instantly when he sees the blooms and the bushes. When Shiro nears a stand of bushes Lance motions to a bench in their spindly shade.

“Take me there,” he says. “I wanna do something.” Shiro settles on the bench, but when he tries to move Lance to the spot beside him Lance clings to his neck and resists him.

“What’s wrong?” Shiro asks when Lance huffs and tightens his grip on Shiro’s neck. “I thought you wanted to sit.”

“I am sitting,” Lance says. He reaches up and fingers one of the stems of the bush they’re under. It’s only got small leaves on it right now, but these plants have been around long enough that Shiro knows them as oleander.

“When it warms up, these have a ton of little white flowers on them,” Shiro says. Lance hums, as if he already knows that. He snaps off a twig, breaks in half again between his fingers again, then stuffs it in his mouth. He chews two or three times before Shiro overcomes his shock.

“Lance! Oh my god, don’t eat that! It’s oleander- uh! Poisonous!” Shiro jostles Lance in his panic that Lance makes a soft, grumpy sound when he has to hold onto Shiro and keep himself upright, but he keeps chewing, and swallows it before Shiro can gather himself enough to try and stop him.

“It’s poisonous to humans?” Lance asks. He’s amused at Shiro’s distress, pink tongue tracking across his lips. “I’m okay. The fae make tea from it. It’s really good when you’re feeling tired, but it’s really strong for me.” Shiro frowns, but he chooses to trust Lance on this, taking his apparent ease as proof that he’s going to be fine.

“You really are tired, huh?” Shiro asks as Lance rests his head on Shiro’s shoulder and snuggles in.

“All the time. My leg doesn’t hurt that bad, but I just don’t have any energy anymore,” Lance sighs.

“You can’t make it home on your own still,” Shiro fills in for him. “It’s getting worse?” Lance nods.

“I can’t stop thinking about how cramped it is here. And cold. I know that this is how humans live, but it’s really taking it out of me,” Lance says. Shiro hums, lets Lance rest against him. It’s not long before the fae starts drowsing and Shiro has time to think. It’s obvious enough now that staying here isn’t the best thing for Lance. For some reason, being in the castle is sapping Lance’s energy, and Shiro has the feeling that it’s only going to get worse. Before long, and Lance will really start to suffer, but being in the garden seems to get his mood up a little. He can’t stay with Lance in the gardens all the time, and as nice as they are, they’re a small comfort compared to the forest.

The forest...he should get Lance back to it. Maybe if he got out of this crowded place and closer to home, he would be able to heal enough to make his way back to the rest of the fae, where he belonged. Shiro looks down at Lance, listens to his soft breathing, and thinks that he’ll have to ask Lotor for a little more leave than he anticipated.  

Chapter Text

If he had thought the castle was too busy, Lance clearly had never been to a human town before. How could they live with so much noise ! So many smells and people and sounds and animals and jostling each other around. Shiro had to have grown up like this to not think anything of it. Either that or humans had something severely wrong with them in general.

Lance sighs as the tiny cart he’s in rattles to a stop in the middle of a stone lined street. He pulls back a side of the canvas tied over an arching frame and peeks out. Even though he’s half human, this is all too much for him. Maybe he’s not used to it, or he’s simply in a bad mood from how utterly exhausted he’s been lately. Otherwise, how could princess Allura ever stand to visit places like this in the past?

Shiro hops off the bench at the front of the cart and Kuro huffs, lipping Shiro’s jacket at his shoulder. Lance lays his cheek on the edge of the cart and watches as Shiro hands off the reigns to a young man while he goes to a row of tiny market stands. The whole street is lined with these little clusters of people. Each one holds a different array of goods. Brightly colored fruits and vegetables, shiny leathers, gleaming metal trinkets, flowers, breads. There’s even one person in the mix hauling around a hawk on his shoulder.

Lance quickly loses Shiro in the crowd, but he’s not terrifically worried. This cart is covered and, hearing the boy holding onto Kuro’s reigns trying to sweet talk the horse like he knows it, no one seems terribly interested in poking around and trying to bother him. Which is fine. He just wants to sleep, and that crowd seems a little too deep and far removed from what he knows to try and hop into it.

He retreats behind the canvas again and curls up on his side. Under this covering, it’s pleasantly shaded and cool, even if the wood is somewhat uncomfortable to lay on. He doesn’t know if he dozes or not, but he must, because it seems like only a few minutes before he hears Shiro’s voice just beside the cart.

“Thanks for watching the cart, Matt,” he says. He must be talking to the guy that’s been keeping hold of the horse. Lance turns half on his back, listening.

“No problem, I just wish I could catch a ride back with you. You’re headed back out pretty early. Are you okay?” the young man, Matt apparently, asks. The canvas rustles where someone touches it.

“I’m just taking a friend back home. They’re from pretty far out and they don’t like carriages that much so they asked me a favor,” Shiro says, then quickly; “Is this all you need me to take back?” Matt sighs.

“Yeah, the printer is keeping us busy lately, so I’ve only been able to get a few books in for Katie in my spare time. Tell her I’ll have some more when dad and I make it back in a few weeks?” Matt asks. Shiro hums and Kuro shifts enough to make the cart creak.

“Of course I will,” Shiro says. Lance hears them exchange goodbyes, then Shiro appears at the end of the cart. In one arm are a few loosely bound volumes. A large sack is over his shoulder, and in his hand is a much smaller one. Shiro sets his knee on the cart and pushes the things in, close to Lance.

“You still feeling okay?” Shiro asks. Lance hums that he is, and pulls one of the sacks towards him. It’s covered in something dusty.

“What’s this?” Lance asks. He rubs some of the dust between his fingers.

“Flour,” Shiro says, pointing to the big sack. “This one is sugar, and then the books are for my neighbors. We share a garden so in exchange I always bring them things from town whenever I go home.”

“Fae live in a little village,” Lance says. He curls back up on his side as Shiro pulls back a little. Kuro shifts again, and Lance can nearly feel his impatience radiating off of him. He knows they’re going somewhere, and doesn’t like to be kept waiting. “We don’t keep gardens either. The forest just gives us whatever it can spare, and it’s always enough.”

“It sounds really nice there,” Shiro says. “I wish I could see it sometime.” He leaves the cart and Lance listens to his footsteps, then the cart creaking as he climbs back into the bench. The whole thing lurches and Lance pulls back the side of the canvas again, watching as the town passes them. He wishes Shiro could visit too, but he’s pretty sure they both know that probably won’t ever happen, considering how little the fae are inclined to trust humans in general.


 

They pass under a thick wall at the edge of the city, then the houses very quickly thin out into fields. The cobblestone road turns to packed dirt, then to grassy trails, then little more than a thin line of cropped grass between fields of tilled earth and the bright green stalks of new spring crops.

“How far away from the castle do you live?” Lance asks when they don’t see another person for several minutes. Not even far out there working in the fields.

“Hm, farther than most of the knights. A lot of them just live in the castle year round.” Lance pushes the canvas back at the front of the cart and looks up at Shiro. Shiro glances back at him and smiles lightly. “Keith does. We already work for the prince and he pays us well. So those of us who don’t really have our own families, there’s not really a lot of incentive to try and hire someone to keep a garden if you don’t have to live off of it.”

“Why do you then?” Lance asks. On the horizon, beyond a field of grass, sits a tiny house. Lance squints. There might be another not far beyond it.

“I just couldn’t stand to sell my parents’ house,” Shiro says simply. Shiro glances at him, flicks the reins, and Kuro picks up his pace into something a little less meandering. “It’s just nice to have somewhere to get away from all the business sometimes too,” Shiro says. “You’ll see. We’re almost there.”

It turns out Shiro lives in the second house Lance had seen earlier. It’s a tiny cottage set at the edge of a grassy, gently sloping field so far out from anyone else that, aside from the neighbor’s house they had just passed, the only other civilization he can see is a mill and another cottage further down the slope, where a river cuts through right next to the road. Lance shuffles to the edge of the cart and pulls the cargo up with him. He takes the books in his arms and pulls himself up when Shiro offers him a hand. He sets his injured leg down, tests the weight on it. It’s not so much that he can’t walk on it, because he can, even though he’s got a limp, but it’s just that he’s so tired . He feels like he’s had all his energy sapped out of him after a particularly bad illness. Shiro takes both the bag of flour and sugar in one arm and offers the free one to Lance again.

“Can you make it?” he asks. Lance nods and takes his arm, following him slowly up towards the door. Behind the cottage the forest creeps thick and green not a few hundred feet away. His chest aches, but he’s not sure what he thinks it means.

The cottage is a little chilly inside, but at least someone, presumably the neighbors, have come in and pushed open the shutters to let the place air out. It was just a tiny, two room affair. The bedroom off to the right when he came in through the front door and then the room for everything else. It was sparsely decorated. A hearth, a couple wooden chairs, a small table and a bench against one wall for company. The cooking pot by the fire place was small, and decorations were kept to a minimum. Just a couple of furs on the floor, and a massive set of antlers hanging from the wall. Lance can’t say he’s particularly surprised that there’s not much going on here if Shiro lives alone, or not at all sometimes.

“Uh…” Shiro starts when he realizes Lance is staring at the rack. “I can take them down if they bother you.” He leads Lance to the chair and Lance settles in with a soft sigh.

“No, I’m fine,” Lance leans back in the chair. Shiro sets his things aside, takes the books from Lance, and settles into the chair opposite him. “You have a cute place. Is this more like what normal humans have?”

“Well, yeah, most people have something like this. Though, to be honest, this is a bit small for a knight,” Shiro says. Lance smiles slyly and Shiro’s frow furrows a little when he figures out what he’s thinking.

“You already showed me your fancy room in the castle,” Lance teases. “You really think you need to brag more to woo me?”


 

Shiro goes out to the neighbor’s house that night. He asks Lance if he wants to come along. “I think I’m okay.” Promises his neighbors would love to meet him even on the rare chance they could see him for what he was. “They sound like good people.”  Asks him if he’s really sure. “I’m sure, really.”  Asks him if he’ll be fine on his own for a few hours. “Of course I will! I’m not a kid, you know.” Tells him to be careful because it’ll be after dark before he’s back. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m fine.”

Lance had watched Shiro from the front door when he left in the late evening, when everything outside took on an orange tinge from the setting sun. He was only supposed to be gone for a few hours, but Lance gives him a good hour, after the sun as set, before he tries to move.

The forest is right there behind the house. When he steps out the front door and goes around the corner, he can see it, even in the early night darkness. He hasn’t seen it from this direction, hasn’t seen it in weeks, but it calls to him all the same. It’s distant, but it’s still the same place he came from. Somewhere, deep in the trees, is the fae village.

Lance takes a slow, deep breath. Weariness sinks deep into his bones, but it’s just a short walk. He’s had plenty of time to rest, so he can make this much on his own. By the time he reaches the back of the house, his heart is pounding. But now he can’t lean on the house anymore and there’s a short gap between the house and the edge of the forest where he’ll have to walk on his own.

He quickly realizes he’s been treating his injured leg too gingerly when he has to walk on his own and put more of his weight on it. It stings, deep into the muscle, throbs with every step. But he can do this. He doesn’t need Shiro for this. He only needs to do it once. If he could just get some distance into the trees…

Halfway across Lance wants to sit down. If he closes his eyes, he feels slightly off balance, like if he doesn’t constantly correct himself he’ll just fall over into the grass. Three-quarters, and Lance feels his pulse in his neck and his heart aches with how hard it’s working. He’s never been so tired in his life, but when he looks over his shoulder the house still seems so close. But he’s almost there.

He grabs the first tree that comes into arm’s reach and leans hard against it. The bark is rough, but it’s so nice and familiar. He spreads his fingers over the bark and closes his eyes, feels the soft pulse of it in his palm as he greets it. He’s made it, but he’s got to go a bit further. The trees make it easier. He can grip their branches and support himself, and it always seems that there’s another reaching for him, offering whatever help it can give.

He goes deep enough between the trees that he can’t see the house anymore. Here, the trunks are a bit thicker than at the very edge, and there’s a little more space between each. These trees are older, they’ve seen more. Lance nears one and it gets the sense from it that it already knows him. It leads his eyes to its base, where soft patches of grass and moss cluster around its roots. It seems to speak to him.

A perfect sitting spot, no?

“Thank you,” Lance breathes. He eases himself to the ground and rests his back against the tree’s trunk, stretches his tired legs out in front of him. It only takes as long as he needs to steady his breathing again before he feels energy seeping back into him. He sets his hands on the grass, rubs back and forth, sighs happily as he feels the grass and the soil and the nearby trees loaning them what they can. They’re far from the center of the forest, so there’s not nearly as much to go around as with those ancient trees the fae make their homes in. But this part of the forest, they tell him, very seldom has visitors and they’re more than eager to make him feel welcome.

Lance takes a slow breath several minutes later, when their offering starts to taper off and they’ve given him all they can spare. He’s still achey, but he’s much better off. More clear headed and energized than he’s been in days. They try to tell him to move on a bit deeper, they’ll tell their neighbors he needs their help as well, but Lance gently turns them down.

“This is more than I need for right now, thank you,” he sighs. He tucks his uninjured leg under the bandaged one and touches the tree behind him again. “I need another favor though.” They’re listening intently. “Can you tell me if any of the other fae are awake yet?”

There’s a long pause after that, as if the trees around him are thinking, feeling around, each asking their neighbor the same question in a huge daisy chain of communication. Lance waits patiently even as the minutes drag on. He really is far away from home. He’s starting to think that maybe they’re still hibernating, but when he closes his eyes, he can see the colors.

Bright pink, the same of those tall foxglove plants he sees in summer. Princess Allura.

Deep orange, the sun an hour before setting on a warm evening. Coran.

Rich yellow, the color of round honeybees and the pollen sticking to the to their bellies. Hunk.

There are others too. Blues and greens and reds and purples, all tiny, dancing pinpricks on a dark horizon. A rainbow of fireflies across a meadow at midnight.

Lance sniffles when he opens his eyes and looks down at his own legs and the blue markings shimmering dimly on his skin. He hadn’t expected to miss them so deeply. He had just asked to know if they were awake yet, curious if they had noticed him missing. When he was with them, he had thought them dull and secretive. Too happy to stay in their own little group and avoid the world outside the forest. Now they were something all too familiar. Something safe. Home. He wanted to go back.

But, Lance looks up through the trees, in the direction of Shiro’s house. Shiro was something altogether different. Shiro was kindness. Shiro was warmth and generosity. He was curiosity about things he had never encountered before. He was the person who not only asked questions, but answered anything Lance had in return. He was open and accepting and a gateway to all the things of the outside world, of the human world, that Lance had always ached to know. Shiro was his way of learning about the other half of himself he never had a chance to know before.

He wants to go back, but he can’t. Not yet.


 

Like at the castle, they wind up sharing the bed. Or more like, Lance had helped himself to the bed after making his way back home and Shiro had just climbed in with him at some point in the night. All he knows for sure is that he wakes up to yellow light filtering in through the animal horn window pane. He’s slightly too warm between Shiro’s cloak thrown over him and Shiro himself pressed to his back, his arm wrapped loosely around his waist. He lays there for a couple minutes, pokes his toes out from under the cloak and feeling the cool morning air sneak under and up the back of his calf. The room is quiet, and pretty dark despite it being after sunup. Somewhere outside, he hears birds chirping, but Shiro’s breathing slow and deep against the back of his neck.

He’s comfortable. He likes this. It’s...domestic, in a way he’s never felt before. It wasn’t like he’d never shared a bed with someone before; pretty much all the fae shared a dwelling with someone. He shared one with Hunk all the time. But Hunk never hugged him in his sleep like Shiro did. He never shoved his nose against the nape of his neck and pulled him a little closer like Shiro was right now-

“You went out last night,” Shiro mutters. Lance stiffens because he hadn’t realized Shiro had woken up yet. Lance tries to look over his shoulder at him, but he’s too close to see anything. “You smell like grass.”

“It’s very rude of you to tell me I stink first thing in the morning,” Lance huffs. He gives up trying to look at Shiro and stretches best as he can with the man holding onto him as he is. “I know for a fact that I’m always pristine.”

“Mhm,” Shiro hums. He doesn’t fight Lance on his boasting, only turns his head and nuzzles into Lance’s shoulder. “Do you feel better? You look like you feel better.”

“How can I look better than I did before?” Lance teases. He tries to roll over and for a second Shiro resists him, tightens his hold on Lance’s waist, but the fae protests and Shiro gives in. When Lance settles again they’re nearly nose to nose. Shiro smells like he’s been chewing on mint. His eyes are still sleepy looking, soft and gray. He’s got a bit of a shadow on his jaw and when Lance curiously touches his cheek he feels that he’s scruffy.

“I was getting really worried about you,” Shiro admits. He doesn’t fight Lance touching him, seemingly perfectly content to let the fae rub along his jaw, then down the side of his neck. “You were really pale and tired and just… I don’t know. You looked like you were really sick and I didn’t know what to do for you.”

“I’m fine,” Lance insists.

“You really weren’t fine, Lance. You slept most of yesterday,” Shiro insists. He wraps his arm back around Lance’s waist, his fingers tracing the line of his spine in a way that raises goosebumps on his skin.

“Yeah, but I’m fine now,” Lance says. He cuts it off there. He’s much better than he has been and now he’s in a place where he can catch up, but still stay with Shiro. Shiro doesn’t need to worry about him, but he looks like he is anyways if the furrow in his brow is anything to go by.

“I’m sorry I brought you back to the castle. I really should have just- Ow!” Lance stops Shiro short by pinching him just under his ear. “Shit, Lance!”

“You’re not allowed to say that anymore,” Lance says, narrowing his glare on him. “I wanted to come with you. I still want to stay. I like you, Shiro.”

Silence hangs thick between them.

“You like me?” Shiro asks. Lance’s face burns and he won’t look at him, even when Shiro pushes up onto his elbow and tries to make him. “Even though I made you sick?”

“Of course I do,” Lance huffs. He rolls onto his back and Shiro follows him somewhat, leaning over him. “You know, the fae really don’t like humans a lot. The subject doesn’t come up very often, but when it does, nobody has anything good to say. Allura’s still really sore over something that happened in the past and by now I’ve always been brought up with everyone but my mother saying that humans are selfish, and violent, and don’t consider their surroundings at all.”

“Well what do you think?” Shiro asks.

“That mom was right. I’m sure some of you are awful, but you especially aren’t like it at all. You’re really nice, and giving and you’re always thinking about other people more than yourself and,” Lance shrugs. “I like being around you. Even though that castle didn’t turn out very good for me, I’d still go back to visit you.”

Shiro’s eyes go soft then. Lance licks his lips, twists his fingers together from nerves. “I like being around you too,” Shiro hums. His eyes shift down a little, to Lance’s mouth. “Can I do something? Something I’ve been thinking about?” Lance nods and Shiro dips down. Their lips graze together and Lance stiffens in surprise, but Shiro presses even closer, deepens it to a full, slow kiss. He keeps his pace slow enough that Lance can catch up.

When Shiro pulls away Lance feels like he’s been holding his breath for minutes. He pants softly and he feels like he’s making the same kind of dreamy look Shiro is. “You’ve been thinking about that?” Lance asks.

“Of course I have,” Shiro says. He leans in again and presses another kiss to the corner of Lance’s mouth. “Probably longer than what’s really proper.”


 

Hunk’s outside. Lance doesn’t even have to get up from where he’s curled up in one of the chairs to know that he’s there. It’s like one minute he was just watching the fire with Shiro, unable to sleep despite the late hour, then in the next there’s this dull yellow presence nagging at him. He can’t say he’s terribly surprised that someone’s shown up. He had asked the forest to let him know if they were awake: they no doubt picked up on his query at the same time and come looking for him.

It had been a quiet string of days in Shiro’s cottage and Lance had nearly forgotten that there was anything beyond it. At least in the moments of eating breakfast together. Going out into the middle of the field to soak in the sun and lure the mill owner’s cows near with handfuls of sweet smelling grass. Sneaking deep into the forest in the middle of the night and Lance listening to the trees coo over Shiro’s amazement when Lance’s wounds started healing inhumanly fast.

So Lance isn’t terribly surprised that someone is here. Especially that it’s Hunk. His presence is dulled significantly by the walls of the house, but Lance knows Hunk well enough that he’s hanging around in the treeline. He’d never come right up to a human’s house, even if Lance were inside.

Well, he might. If he thought Lance were in trouble. Lance sighs and stands.

“I need to go outside. I’ll just be a few minutes,” he says. Shiro looks up from his book, at first surprised, but then a strange look of knowing crosses his features.

“Do you need me to come with you?” he asks. Lance shakes his head and goes to the door, pulling the lock back.

“No, I’ll be back,” he says, and goes out.

As he thought, he finds Hunk not far into the trees. The larger fae looks torn between several emotions. Worry, relief, suspicion. Nevertheless, he pulls Lance into a rib-cracking hug as soon as he sees him.

“Lance! Where have you been? Everyone back home has been looking for you for a week,” Hunk moans into Lance’s shoulder. Lance can’t stop himself from laughing with what little air he has left with Hunk crushing him. “Don’t laugh,” Hunk huffs, letting him go, but still holding him by the arms. “We’ve really been worried over you.”

“I’m fine,” Lance assures him, resting his hand on Hunk’s arm. “I’ve been on a uh...little adventure.” Hunk narrows his eyes and flicks them towards the cottage.

“You’ve been with the humans,” he says. Not quite accusing him of anything, but definitely disapproving. “They didn’t hurt you, did they?”

“Well…” Lance starts. Hunk’s grip tightens and worry washes through him.

“They did!”

“One of their dogs did! I kinda got too close to one of their hunting parties a couple weeks ago,” he shrugs. “I guess one of them just thought I looked tasty. Got my leg.” Hunk’s eyes go wide and Lance rushes to fill in more. “But there was a knight there! Shiro. He helped me and took me back to the castle and Hunk it’s so amazing there! There’s so many people and the buildings are so tall and there’s a whole town and shops and they have streets lined with stone and they have these huge horses that can carry just about anything.”

“Why didn’t you come back?” Hunk asks. Of course, he doesn’t have any particular interest in the human world. He’s fully fae, and too young to take part in any of the past encounters between human and fae. It’s nothing he needs. “Were you stuck there?”

“No! No, of course not. I...Hunk, I wanted to know what it was like. Shiro’s so nice too. He helped me and he let me stay in his room and..” he’s thankful that it’s dark and Hunk can’t see his blush. “He’s nice. They’re all nice.”

Hunk lets him go and straightens up again. Looks back at the house. Lance tips his head and looks too. “Do you want to meet him?” he asks Hunk.

“No,” Hunk doesn’t hesitate to give his answer and Lance’s heart sinks a little. A long pause, then Hunk gives him a look that Lance can’t quite interpret. Kind of worried. Kind of hurt. “Do you want to stay here? With, with this guy you’ve only known for a couple weeks?”

“It’s more than that, Hunk,” Lance huffs.

“He’s human. No one knows humans besides Princess Allura and Coran, and we all know something really bad happened to them. It...it would really tear them up to lose you to him,” Hunk says. Lance wants to be angry. He’s half human too and that’s never stopped the other fae from accepting him, but a full human is different? Whatever happened, it was so long ago it was more legend than anything real and Hunk didn’t know Shiro. None of them did. Not like he did.

But as much as he wants to stay, to just kind of elope and run off with Shiro and live happily ever after, he’s already learned the hard way that that can’t happen. The castle cuts him off from the forest, from the life force the fae side of him needs. Shiro’s whole life is in that same castle and sooner or later, he’ll have to go back and be a proper knight.

On some level, they’re incompatible, and Lance is pretty sure they both know it.

Lance lets out an irritated sigh. “No, I don’t want to stay. I can’t be with him all the time and, I miss you guys.” Hunk’s expression softens.

“We’ve missed you too, Lance. A lot,” Hunk says. They both stare at the back of the cottage. “Do you want to come back with me now or…?” Lance nods. Might as well do it quick, while he knows Shiro’s expecting it anyways.

“Yeah, just let me say goodbye, and I’ll come back with you,” he says, then heads back to the cottage.

Shiro’s lingering near the door when Lance opens it again, a mix of sadness and acceptance on his face. In his arms, he holds the cloak Lance has been so fond of the past couple of weeks. Lance closes the door behind him and leans against it.

“Someone came for you?” Shiro asks. Lance nods, and Shiro wonders closer, nearly crowding Lance against the door. “It’s time?”

“Yeah, my friend Hunk is outside,” he glances up at Shiro and it feels like his heart is going to snap like a twig over how much the thought of leaving this man hurts him. “I’m gonna go home with him.” Shiro gives him a small, sad smile.

“I’m happy for you then. I’ve been keeping you to myself for too long, and you seem happier there.” Lance bites his lip, pushes off the door and hugs Shiro tight around his chest. The cloak is trapped between them, thick and soft and warm.

“I’m happy with you, too,” Lance murmurs into Shiro’s shoulder. “I’m really happy with you. I kind of don’t want to go home. Not yet. But I can’t go back to the castle with you.”

“And I can’t just drop my duty to the prince to stay out here,” Shiro fills in for him. He sighs thickly, shakes one hand out of the cloak so he can dig his fingers into Lance’s hair and tip his head back.

“Can I come visit you sometimes?” Lance asks hopefully. They’re so close again, their noses almost brushing together and Shiro looks so soft and sweet it makes Lance’s chest ache.

“You can come visit me whenever you want,” Shiro’s eyes drop at little. Lance knows now that means he’s looking at his mouth. He’s thinking about kissing him. “But I come out here to visit every couple of months. If you can, you should come back around the end of June. I should be here.”

“I’ll come,” Lance breathes. He pushes up onto his toes, closes the last bit of distance between their lips. Shiro flinches a little in surprise, but then his fingers tighten in Lance’s hair and holds him still as they kiss, slow and deep, each trying to put as much of their feelings into it as they can. They don’t pull apart until they’re both panting, and Lance’s lungs burn with how badly he needs to breathe. They stare for a long moment, then Shiro pulls away again, holding out the cloak.

“Okay,” Shiro says, like letting Lance go is something he needs to steel his nerves for. “You should go, because I know that we’ll be here all night if either one of us allows it.” Lance can’t help but laugh, even as Shiro pushes the cloak into his hands. “Take this with you?”

Lance holds it close to his chest, admires the dark black wool and the soft fur it’s lined with. He opens the door, steps outside into the darkness and gives Shiro one last glance.

“June. I’ll bring it back to you.”