Allura awoke at dawn to stand at the bow of her ship facing north. Pidge was always diligent with her letters to Allura, and promised to send word the moment Pidge’s captain chose to move post again. It was easy to track Captain Lance’s position just based on his targets—rich port towns where merchants traveled frequently—but every moment Allura drew within a close distance, Lance pulled his ship out of reach and disappeared again. Pidge tried her best as a navigator to slow the man down, but her position was fragile. If she ever hoped to help Allura catch Captain Lance, she would have to play her part carefully. Manipulating Lance’s direction would jeopardize his trust in Pidge, and then Allura would have no one onboard with her target.
She straightened at the sight of something flickering in the distance, blending between the night and the dawn as the sky shifted its cycles. One of the moons was still visible, reflecting the sun as it peered over the horizon, and caught its light on the wings of Pidge’s messenger bird. Allura watched it fly in from the east for as long as it took for the bird to reach its target.
Allura reached out a hand as the small paper bird landed in her hand and ceased motion. It turned into just an ordinary paper bird. She tugged the folds free just as one of her soldiers approached from below decks.
“Word from Pidge?” he asked.
“Seems so,” she hummed. Her tall black boots clicked across the wooden floorboards on her way to the stairs that brought her up to where her soldier was waiting for instruction near the wheel.
“What news, General?” the soldier asked.
Allura passed the half-unfolded crane to him to read it off. She reached a hand into her pocket where her fingers found the flat case holding her unwritten messages for Pidge. She only had so many, and used them minimally.
“Dawn outward bound targeting westward departing luxury liner,” he relayed, and looked up from the note. “It must be the transportation liner traveling from Daibazaal to the Altean capitol. That’s the only one due for departure for the rest of the month, ma’am.”
“I can’t imagine a luxury liner hosting anything other than the sort of people Lance loathes,” she commented sharply, looking down at her feet and then over to the note. She grabbed it back and crinkled it in her hand. “Lance does have a strong animosity towards high society. I doubt Pidge is lying, and there’s no harm in being certain.”
“Bring the rest of the crew up to set a course for the liner.”
As the soldier hurried off, Allura turned from the ship’s wheel as air churned the layers of her uniform coat. It flared out from where the coat was cinched around her waist by a thick leather belt. She walked towards the wheel with purpose, and grabbed hold of the dowels as her crew members turned their faces towards the sunlight that illuminated the navy seal crest on their uniforms. They pushed onward, gliding with the waves as they tracked the projection of the luxury cruiser from where it would have departed from the Daibazaal docks at dawn. The sunlight rose with the hours it took to come in view of the luxury liner.
It was on this liner that Shiro and Keith were faced with the next two checkboxes on their bloodthirsty to-do list. It was more of a hit list than anything, considering each checkbox was followed by a name. Each name was destined to atone for their wrongdoings towards the two brothers, and any other child who saw the gruesome underside to the manufacturing of firearms in Daibazaal. Zarkon Incorporated was stationed there, but they were expanding, Keith vowed to stop other children from being forced from their homes in Altea. He wouldn’t let Zarkon’s son expand his company there. He couldn’t.
Keith hated where their tasks took them, namely high society, pretending to be footmen and valets with knives hidden beneath his sleeves to take opportunities where they showed themselves. Behind closed doors, away from the public’s eye. There was no way he’d be able to rest without opportunities like these, because they had to work fast if they ever hoped to finish their hit list without a fuss.
He loathed how Shiro pushed him to do the undercover work, but it was difficult to argue with his reasons. Keith found himself cleaning up for the job, and was already regretting agreeing to it by the first minute into his shower when he had to scrub until his skin turned raw red from trying to clean off the coal from his arms and face. Despite how the engine room boiled his insides, he’d much prefer that over flaunting around with snobby rich passengers on the upper decks.
“Keith! Hurry up!” Shiro shouted from the doorway.
Keith shuddered under the frigid water current, voice shaking, “Almost done!” The water was so cold it burned like lava across his back before he cranked the faucet off. He grabbed the towel Shiro tossed to him over the wall divider and scrubbed it through his hair. “Did you get the uniform?”
“Yeah, and it was a bitch to find so don’t fuck this up,” Shiro said, voice echoing through the empty shower room. The tiles were all lined with mold on the walls and Keith tried his best not to think about his bare feet on them as he hurriedly dried them off and wrapped the towel around his waist. On the walk back to their room, they passed a group of servants chattering around the corner, and as they passed, one of the girls shrieked when she caught a glimpse of a half-naked Keith trailing close behind Shiro. “Ignore them,” Shiro told him.
“You’re one to talk,” Keith huffed, crossing his arms as they approached the shared room they had with another one of the engine workers. They were gone on their shift, though, so it was just Shiro and Keith in the room. Shiro pulled a cloth cover out from under his bunk and held it up to Keith by the hanger. “That’s it?”
“This is it,” Shiro said, and hoisted the cover up for Keith to see the uniform underneath. Gods, he hated it already.
“Fine, just hand the damn thing over,” Keith groaned, holding his hand out for the hanger.
He turned away to tug the undershirt over his bare torso and then grab the underwear sitting in his open bag. He pulled it on under his towel as Shiro sat on the ground and reached under his bed to grab a bottle of liquor he brought on board with them. Keith shimmied into the high-waisted black pants and buttoned them up over his belly button.
“I don’t see why I have to be the one—” Keith started, and muttered to himself when his brother scowled at him. “Just saying that you’re a better actor.”
“That may be the case, but they wouldn’t hire staff with visible scars,” Shiro said, pointing to the slash across his nose and where it peppered over his cheek. Keith scowled at him from over his shoulder as he shoved his arms through black sleeves. “You’ll do fine. Just don’t talk back—just don’t talk at all, and you won’t have a problem.”
“I’ll have plenty of problems just keeping my mouth shut,” Keith said, fiddling with the cufflinks until Shiro stepped up to fix them.
“Don’t lose your head,” he warned, and it reminded Keith of who, exactly, he’d be seeing on the higher decks. The whole reason he was disguised at all. “We just need to get one of the spare keys on the captain’s decks. Do you have the picks?”
Keith slid them out from his sleeve for Shiro to see. The room where the keys were stored would likely be locked. It wasn’t likely that Keith would be able to find the key to the room, and they couldn’t waste time on that. They only had a week to get this done with, otherwise they would have to sit on suspicion from the rest of the crew wondering who in the hell killed the wealthy partners of Lotor’s manufacturing company.
As Keith tied back his hair with chord around his wrist, he thought about Lotor’s name at the top of his list. He and Shiro spent their entire childhood working for Lotor’s father’s company, in the Daibazaal factories filled with scattered firearm parts that he and Shiro were forced to assemble. Keith’s hands were scattered in white scars from the work, but he couldn’t complain, especially when Shiro was sporting his scars on his face. When Lotor’s father, Zarkon, passed away, they were free for as long as it took to realize that the man’s son was still preying on the children of families indebted to Zarkon. They still filled the factories of naïve kids who’s parents abandoned them in favor of their financial freedom.
Shiro hated to think of their parents like that, but Keith thought it, and so he just never said anything. So perhaps he would be better at this “keeping his mouth shut” business that Shiro pushed at him the day he sent Keith off towards the upper decks in a butler’s uniform.
“Are you sure you’ll be fine?” Keith asked turning to him at the stairs.
Shiro’s clothes were stained with black smudges, and it peppered his hands and cheeks. It took nearly half an hour for Keith to rub the coal from his skin after making his appearance in the engine room—where he was supposed to be working. Shiro would be back down there, feeding coal into the ship’s furnaces that powered the engines, all while Keith pretended to care about the patrons onboard the ship.
“I’ll be fine,” he promised, and offered a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about me. Worry about you.”
“Wow, thanks,” Keith laughed, and added with a flat tone, “Your support means so much to me.”
Shiro laughed and reached a hand out to him. Keith clasped on, and wished they could have hugged, but Shiro was off, back down the hall and past the service doors leading to the engine room. This far down in the ship, Keith was astonished by the sheer heat radiating through those doors. He never could stand hot temperatures, but Shiro tended to revel in them. They did come from the north, anyways—Keith lived for the cold, and Shiro was just grateful to be out of it.
Keith hurried up the steps to the next floor where he lifted a fake document out of his pocket to show to the guard at the gated door. The guard glanced at it and undid the lock on the gate. He pushed it aside for Keith, who slid past and hurried on his way to the upper floors. The decorations became more elaborate and refined, the walls cleaner and the floors polished, and every light fixture was adorned with golden embellishments that had Keith rolling his eyes as he wandered around the corner of the ship corridor.
He passed a couple heading in his direction and stepped aside, ducking his head politely before moving along. He told himself that he’d only have to do that for the next hour. He’d get this done in an hour. All he needed was to find where the keys were housed and move along.
Keith crossed paths with another butler on the way, and promptly studied his posture and mimicked it. When they passed, the man barely spared him a glance, so Keith considered himself a success. It doesn’t take long for him to find the light from outside, peering in through wide open windows on the ship. Keith stops at the corridor opening, staring out at the sea before he was bumped from behind by a worker trying to squeeze past. Keith stepped to the side and tried to shake the feeling of calling Daibazaal home. Daibazaal wasn’t anything close to home, but he spent his entire childhood there, and now he was on a oneway trip to Altea.
He glanced through the archways of a dining hall, fit with lace white tablecloths and extraordinary flower bouquets at each table arrangement. It was morning, and the soft yellow sunlight was proof of it. One of the moons was still in the sky, in a ghostly white crescent reflecting the sun opposite it. The air around Keith was suddenly filled with the aroma of sugary syrup and bacon. He tried not to breathe it in, or risk having his mouth water with hunger. He couldn’t remember a time in which he or Shiro ever ate breakfast.
Keith came to stand just to the right of the doorway, hands clasped behind his back like all the other waiters in the room. He stared out among the faces of the passengers, and searched for the telltale signs of pink hair and blue eyes. There weren’t many people with that sort of style, and so she was easy to find amongst everyone else, sitting at a table alone with her wife—Ezor and Acxa.
They were partners of Zarkon Incorporated, ever since the industry was passed down to the owner’s son Lotor. For Keith’s sake, he saw the child labor situation worse than what it had been when he and Shiro were stuck in the system. Continuously trying to get out by working off their parents debts. It took a decade, and afterwards, they took to the streets and learned their fair share about what it took to kill a person.
Keith stole a pitcher of water from a passing cart and walked up to their table. He was silent as he filled their glasses to the rim, and listened to Acxa’s newspaper fold.
“That savage pirate captain was supposedly lingering in the town north of us,” she said. “They’ve even got a picture of the guy.”
Ezor leaned over to see as Keith moved on to the table beside them. She hummed appreciatively. “For a killer, he looks rather handsome.”
“Oh shut it. You’re only saying that because of that charm of his.”
“Are you bloody kidding me? Sirens can’t translate through a photo, can it?” Ezor whined, and Acxa laughed, leaning over the table to share a smile with her. “Well, whatever. I’ve got you anyways—I’d rather have you than that filthy Captain Lance.”
They kissed, and Keith held back a gag. Captain Lance this, Captain Lance that, it was all he was hearing back on land. The fact that they were out on the ocean just meant that talk of pirates was easy to come by. He thought it was horse shit—the ocean was massive, and the chances of coming across a pirate ship was slim to none.
He pulled dirtied plates away from a table as he overheard Acxa say something to Ezor that was drowned out by a waiter coming up to him. Shit.
“You’re in my section—take the dishes to the kitchen and I’ll clear away the rest,” the guy said, and Keith walked off, relieved that that was all he was being accused of.
Keith spun away and wove between the tables carrying an armful of dirty dishes. He followed after another waiter leaving the dining hall, and thanked whatever god was out there that the man led him straight to the kitchen. There, he searched for one of the higher ups, and found the woman barking orders at the kitchen staff before moving on through the back room. Keith followed, and stayed a decent distance away to avoid being questioned.
In the narrow servant corridors, Keith tried the doors along the way and checked that they were unlocked. He stopped at the first locked door—an office—and waited until the coast was clear to pinch the lock pick between his fingers, and slide it into the keyhole. He looked both ways down the hall and felt the lock pick ease through, and gave it a firm twist to unlock it. He snuck inside and shut the door behind him as he reached into the pocket of his butler suit jacket and produced a box of matches. The moment he struck it against the side of the box, the flame hissed to life, and illuminated a nearby candle waiting to be used.
He moved through the office with the candle in hand, and passed through a dark, narrow corridor to the neighboring room. There was a bulletin on the wall that caught Keith’s eye, and he scoffed when he realized that it was just another Wanted poster. He saw plenty of those in the cities, among many other criminals. It was an illustration of the infamous Captain Lance, wanted alive to pay for his crimes. Keith wandered past it with a roll of his eye and pushed the door open, searching the walls for a cabinet or a closet that might house the service keys to all of the rooms. The candle flame flickered as he scanned the room with it in one fast sweep. Nothing was noticeable at first, but a moment later he stopped at a wooden wardrobe pushed against the wall.
He pried the doors of it open, and smiled at the satisfactory clanking of metal. The keys.
As Keith searched for Ezor and Acxa’s room number amongst a horde of several hundred keys, Shiro pushed the sleeves of his shirt up to his shoulders, and rolled them up tight so they’d stay in place. A sheen of sweat coated his flushed skin as he gripped the handle of a shovel and shoved it into a mound of coal. He spent his childhood doing work like this, so he was used to the sweltering temperatures of furnaces running nearby, and smelting pots furiously bubbling piping hot metal. When they first applied to the ship for work and were introduced to the job under decks, Keith had been irritated. Shiro could understand his brother’s anger, and every now and then he couldn’t help but give into it too. Despite no longer working for people like Zarkon, they willingly went back to it for the sake of getting close to people like Zarkon.
Nothing was good enough for Keith, but Shiro couldn’t deny how Keith sought out the work, gritted his teeth, and powered through it, fueled by his need for vengeance. That was what they shared in common, and was why Shiro willingly went along on these endeavors.
For Keith’s sake.
They were small when their parents first sent them away to work for Zarkon. Keith couldn’t remember it, but Shiro could, and he clearly recalled the time their mother held him by both ears and shook him, saying in sharp Kurish, “Stay with your brother. Never let him go far without you.” Shiro could barely remember his native tongue, but those words were always clear. He never forgot them.
He tossed the coal into the furnace and stepped back as the flames licked up each and every stone. It was at this same moment that something clanged overhead, and a bell resonated throughout the engine room.
“Full speed eastward!” the overseer shouted, and Shiro turned to stare at the nearest worker in confusion. The woman shrugged at him, and flinched with the overseer clanged the bell and shouted it again, and again, and again until all of the workers were on track and picking up speed.
“But that’s back towards land,” Shiro said after the man shut up, going back and forth with the woman—shoveling coal and she dispensed, dispensing as she shoveled coal.
“Skies are—clear though—last I heard?” he commented, sweat dripping from his face in earnest. In fear of losing their breaths in the heat, they shut up and set to work, doubling the speed from before as their boss shouted from the balcony to pick up the pace.
It wasn’t the first time Shiro would be worked to exhaustion, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last, but his spurt in the engine rooms was cut short by a quake through the ship.
The tremor was only amplified by the water beneath their feet, and the sound became explosive when it resonated through the engine room. The floor was kicked out from underneath them, and as Shiro fell to the ground, scrambling to grab onto the edge of the coal barrel, the woman was pitched to the side, against the furnace. Screams rose up across the room as water sloshed across the sides of the boat, and sounded like thunder that vibrated against Shiro’s body. He pushed himself up and watched, eyes wide with horror as the woman collapsed on the ground screaming, the entire side of her face bubbling with rapid third-degree burns.
Shiro scrambled up, and ran from the furnace, skidding around fallen workers on his way to the door. He followed the crowd of people flocking to the doors that slammed shut behind them, locking them in by barred metal gates people threw their fists at. Shiro was shoved up against all the sweaty, panicked bodies as the guard slammed his dowel against the metal gate. The workers stepped back to avoid getting hit, or feeling the vibration pulse like venom through their bodies if they came in contact with the beaten metal.
“Hey! Hey! Everyone calm down!” one of the superiors shouted from behind the guard. The man opened his mouth to say more, but the words were swallowed up by another explosion going off and sending everyone to their knees.
The dowel clanged against the gates again. “Everyone up! Up! We’ve got a run-in with pirates! Everyone who defends the passengers gets a two hundred plus bonus!” the man shouted, and that certainly shut up every damn mouth in the engine room—aside from the unlucky victims who fell against, or even in, the furnaces. Shiro’s jaw dropped slightly at the cost their boss was paying for all of their lives. “If you die—the money goes to your families. Let’s hope that doesn’t need to happen,” he said. After a moment, he shouted, face red and the muscles in his neck taunt—“Is that clear!”
The gates came undone, and Shiro was certain everyone was relieved to no longer be caged. As they were leaving, their boss yelled, “If I find any of you in the servant quarters, you better fucking believe you won’t be paid for your work down here!”
When Shiro sprinted through the hallway, pushing past person after person to get up the stairs first, the only thing on his mind was finding Keith and ensuring his safety above any fucking passenger on that godforsaken ship.
Keith dropped to the ground the second an explosion sent the dining room windows shattering across the tables. He rolled underneath the white, lace-decorated tablecloth and leapt in fear when he heard bodies fall, and screams rise up across the room. Something hit the table over his head, and collapsed on the floor, close enough for the victim’s hand to roll into view as blood seeped across the carpet.
He clasped a hand over his mouth, shaking in horror. It was one thing to organize one-shot kills, but this? His stomach couldn’t handle a slaughter.
In the moment, Keith’s brain shut down into a panicked, frenzied state that sent him scrambling away from the body, and out from under the cover of the tablecloth. He scrambled to his feet, slipping and grabbing at the nearest table to push himself up, run for the exit where everyone was flocking, and—
“Nuh-uh-uh…” a voice chimed from behind.
Keith turned around, and barely caught a glimpse of the man’s face before he aimed his gun and fired at the person beside him. Keith could hear the bullet cut through the man’s suit and pierce through his chest, leaving a sharp red bullseye on the breast pocket.
He was too frozen to move, even when the man dropped to the ground. He only managed to turn his eyes on the shooter, who readied his gun with another bullet.
He looked past the barrel of the gun to the recognizable face from all the Wanted posters around Daibazaal, and over in the office where he found the key to Ezor and Acxa’s room. Captain Lance, with his entire horde of renegade murderers.
Keith’s breath caught in his throat as he realized that Lance was everything the people ever said he was.
“Aw, you all look so precious, quivering in your petticoats and blah-blah-blah…” Lance mocked, flinging his gun side to side before aiming randomly and pulling the trigger. He rolled his eyes away from where Keith flinched, mesmerized by Lance’s hypnotic voice. Anything he said, insults, puns, dramatic bullshit for the show—they were all soaking it in with numb expressions on their faces. It wasn’t that Keith couldn’t tell what was happening—he certainly could—but his body wouldn’t listen to him when his mind screamed, “Run for your life!”
Noise clamored up from down the hall, and Lance turned away with a glint in his smile, the light catching on his twin lip piercings and the shine of sirens’ tattoos dotting across his cheeks. The light faded just long enough for Keith to catch his breath and run the moment he had control over himself again.
“Ah! Just who I was looking for!” he all but sang, and if Keith was any closer at the time, he would have frozen in his tracks just like Shiro did when he emerged from the stairwell and was caught by the siren’s voice luring him in. “My treasured guests! Pleasure to make your acquaintance!” Lance bowed theatrically, twirling the gun and passing it off to the nearest attentive follower. It wound up in the hands of a ginger-headed girl no taller than the height of Lance’s shoulders when he straightened and clasped an arm around her.
His face lit up in the glow of his yellow tattoos as he pinched her cheek. “I know you hate it when I do this, but we don’t have much time now. And—Oh, would you look at that! Not exactly a treasured guest by any means, but damn do I hate seeing her again!” He hollered with laughter twirling himself and the girl towards the open archways overlooking the bow of the luxury liner.
In from the south came that dreadful navy captain—General Allura. Gods, was she a pain in Lance’s ass these days. He could barely stand the look of her boat, even as far away as it was.
“Come to ruin my fun,” he sighed, tsking under his breath as he snapped his fingers at his crew. “Take our guests to the ship. Leave the rest—the ship’ll be down before ya know it.”
He followed for as long as it took for him to follow them to the deck alongside his ship. Once they were all onboard, he released the pressure in his temple and let the lights fade beneath his skin. The ginger-headed girl shoved away from him, and he turned to the side laughing.
“Stop with that! You know I hate it when you do that,” she seethed at him, combing her hands through the short waves of her hair. Her heavy, tattered green jacket dwarfed her, and from afar, she looked like a child again.
“Oh, come on Pidge, isn’t this fun!” he laughed, hearing the uproar on his ship get louder. The boards were dropped, and all of his captives were stranded, pressing up against the railing trying to get back onto the sinking ship—anywhere but his ship.
“You mistake fun with torture,” she told him.
“Oh, boo,” Lance pouted, the morning sunlight glinting in his eyes like the golden glow of his siren blood when he worked his magic. He whistled to one of their crew members onboard, and a rope was tossed to them. He caught it and held it taunt for Pidge. He bowed dramatically. “After you, m’lady.”
“You’re fucking ridiculous,” Pidge huffed, snatching the rope and climbing up onto the railing. She jumped and swung over the railing of her ship, soaring over the heads of the captives as she chucked the rope back up to the man who threw it at them. The rope came soaring back to Lance just as a gun fired behind him. He ducked to avoid being hit, and everyone on his ship had the same idea.
He looked back at the balcony where all the glass was shattered, and a black haired man stood there clocking a gun. He aimed, directly at Lance.
“Shit,” Lance shrieked, lunging up and letting the rope take him home. He shouted at Pidge to get them back on track, and dropped onto the deck, rolling across the floorboards as a shot sent the wood splintering beside him.
“Canons!” Lance screamed, but there were already crew members below decks, stuffing gunpowder into the canons, and firing them away at the luxury liner. It mingled with the shots being fired from the navy ship, blasting waves into the ocean not far from their ship. The ripples washed up onto the tilted side of the luxury liner, and didn’t quite reach Captain Lance’s ship as it sailed away, taken by the wind current caught in his sails.
Keith watched Lance’s ship sail away, and stared after his brother’s pained expression, watching the space between them expand. Keith sprinted down the stairs in a frenzy, screaming Shiro’s name as he raced to the stern, gun in hand. Distantly, he heard another cry rising up behind him, and he was soon met with a woman slamming up against the railing screaming, “EZOR!” into the wind.
Keith blinked, and turned his shocked eyes onto none other than his original target. Acxa’s hair was mused around her muddled hairpins, and her makeup made her eyes seem bigger than ever, more terrified than ever, as she stared out after the pirate ship where Keith caught a glimpse of a black dress among all the dirtied, coal-smudged workers onboard Lance’s ship. Ezor.
This bitch— Keith’s mind nearly took him to the knife hidden under his sleeve, but he stopped at the deafening, blaring horn from the navy ship sliding up beside the luxury liner.
He looked, and cursed when he realized there was no way he could kill Acxa now, not with Altean’s prized navy general staring them down from the stern of her armored ship.
“Everyone on board!” she shouted above the uproar. “We’ll be taking you to shore! Don’t bother with your belongings—your lives matter most!”
Keith slumped against the railing, pushing his back against it as he glanced at Acxa. The woman slumped over the railing, looking defeated for a moment before something came over her. He watched a transformation which turned her eyes to stone, her expression to cold, cold ice. She turned, and walked purposefully towards the bridges that were being made between the navy ship and the sinking liner.