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All the stuffing that comes out

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Keith wakes up when he hears something rustling behind him. He reluctantly opens one of his eyes, feeling the tiredness cling to him like a soft blanket.

Shiro is completely dressed and he looks ready to leave. Keith tries to remember if they had some kind of appointment he had forgot, but nothing comes to mind.  “Where are you going?” he asks, feeling the usual worry settle in his chest.

Shiro looks back immediately, surprised, before smiling. It’s a soft expression, especially in the dark of the badly lit room. He looks open, not like someone who’s hiding something dangerous from him, but Shiro has a very good poker face.

“I’m sorry,” Shiro says, “I didn’t mean to wake you. I just need to go and buy some supplies, we’re getting low.” He advances, putting one hand on the bed and raising the other to Keith’s hair.

Keith closes his eyes briefly, losing himself to the sensation. He mumbles, feeling sleepy again, “What time it is?”

Shiro laughs, probably at seeing him so pliant under his hand. “It’s early, don’t worry,” but Keith opens his eye again. There is… something in Shiro’s tone. He’s trying very hard to get Keith to sleep again.

He turns his head towards the window. It’s completely shut, so that almost no light will pass through, but it’s still possible to see, on the edges, some of the light trying to get in. It’s not as bright as Keith would have liked.

“Not that early,” he comments, trying to fight the exhaustion enough to actually pay attention to what’s happening. He tries to sit up, but Shiro stops him.

“Early enough,” Shiro says immediately, “you know the shop closes before dark, I have to go now.”

If they are really low enough on supplies that Shiro would risk this, then yes he needs to go now, but it doesn’t settle well with Keith. The thought of Shiro alone when dark comes makes him shiver.

“Shiro,” he tries, but the other huffs and walks away, picking up his coat.

“I need to, Keith,” he says, “and I’m not defenseless. It will be all right.”

Keith still isn’t convinced, but he can already feel lethargy coating his every move. It’s difficult being awake when the sun is up, harder any second. There is really nothing he can do for the other at this time of day, and he hates himself for it.

“Stop worrying,” Shiro repeats, with an easy smile, “you should go back to sleep. You look deathly pale.” It’s not a very good joke, but Shiro is smiling like a maniac.

Keith grins, just to make him happy, and lets the fang show a little. Deathly pale indeed.

“You dork,” he says and Shiro laughs out loud, happy. He must be tired as well, Keith knows, but he’s right, they need to be prepared for another emergency.

Keith still refuses to sleep and watches Shiro leave, tries to follow his footsteps for as long as he can. Soon, he feels himself losing the battle with sleep, and he closes his eyes. Defeated.

 


When Keith wakes up, it takes a second for him to register that he's alone in bed. He tries to gauge how much time has passed since he was last awake, but sleep makes his thoughts slow.

He glances at the window and even the feeble light that shone through before is now absent. It's not a good sign.

Keith gets up as fast as he can, running to the window and opening it up. Normally he would need to do this much more carefully, else he takes a face full of sunlight, but he's starting to panic.

The cold air of the night enters his lungs and he almost snarls out loud.

He knows Shiro can take care of himself, he had shown it time and time again, but the situation between vampires and humans has been terse lately, ever since vampire have become known to the human world.

Shiro, as one of the original vampire hunters, a job that had run in his family for centuries, is one of the most sought-after prey for them. Keith and Shiro had just killed a vampire the night before, the reason why they are so low on supplies, and Shiro is probably still tired.

Keith shakes his head and decides that he's not just going to wait for Shiro to come back, if his stupid boyfriend decides to get eaten while going grocery shopping, Keith will go, save him and then murder him.

He debates going out of the door, but he's scared and a little panicky, so he decides to jump from the window. There aren't many people on the streets, and the feeble lights of the few lamps that shine in the street aren't enough for most people to see him. He should be fine.

Their little house isn't close to Coran's shop, the place where most hunters  go to restock on supplies, but Keith covers the distance quickly, moving faster than a normal human would.

There are a couple of people walking, and he sees the way they glance his way. Ever since the existence of vampires has become public knowledge, humans have mostly kept to their houses at night, but the few braves that go out are still on edge. Keith has lived in this town all his life, ever since he had been transformed.  Before their presence had been discovered, he had lived like a normal human and Keith knows most of those who live here at least by name. It's strange seeing the nervous glint in their eyes, now, when they look at him.

Still, there's nothing he can do. Ever since it was decreed that humans and vampires would have to learn to live together, hunters had come forward as protectors, to hunt all the vampires that wouldn't respect the accords. And so, their life continued.

Finally, Keith reaches the front of Coran's store, and he growls at seeing it shut. He knows that Coran doesn't usually leave it open after dark, but he had hoped for something. There is no Shiro in sight, and Keith curses the fact that his nose, while more sensitive than a human, can't really pick up scents like a dog's would.

He's quick enough, he guesses, that he could cover the whole town in an hour, if he really sped up, but without knowing where to go it might have been a useless endeavor.

Out of options he walks forward and thumps his hand over Coran's shop, hoping that the other might hear him.

Coran lives just up from the shop, and while he closes the door by nightfall - probably to protect himself from rogue vampires - they have gone to him after hours in case of emergencies. Keith doesn't know if this is an emergency, but he doesn't want to wait to find out.

He tries again, his super strength putting a strain on the wood. He's ready to completely destroy the door if that's what it takes when Coran finally opens the window just upside the shop.

"Who's making this ruckus? Don't you know I need my slee-- Keith?" Coran asks, when he notices him. He and Shiro have gone to him a lot in these years, and while he thinks Coran will never fully trust a vampire, he hopes they have reached some kind of amicable truce.

"Do you know where Shiro is?" he asks, quickly, and Coran blinks, surprised, "I know he came here to buy some stuff. But he wasn't at home when I woke up."

Keith had known it wasn't a good idea, not so close to sundown. But does Shiro ever listen to him? That stupid idiot.

"I'm sorry, son" Coran say, a frown marking his face. "Shiro left way before the sun was completely down. He should have made it back in high speed." Keith curses under his breath but Coran must see him because he adds, immediately. "I don't think you should worry, our Shiro is good at what he does."

Keith knows that, better than any of them. After all, Shiro had defeated him a long time ago. But Shiro wasn't indestructible like they all seemed to think. He bled and grew tired. Lately every night had been a battle after another. Is it so strange to think that Shiro wasn't at his best?

Still, every lead Keith has seemed to be useless.

"Thank you," he says, starting to walk down the road.

"What are you going to do?" Coran asks, but Keith doesn't have time to answer him. He has a town to search and while he might not have the ability to track him with his nose, he does have a sensible hearing.

He should be able to hear Shiro's voice whenever he is if he runs close enough to him.  Someone more sensible would probably return home and wait, but no one had ever made the mistake of calling Keith sensible.

He's getting ready to run when he hears a laugh that he would recognize everywhere. He stops and looks around, wildly, when he notices where he is: at the end of the street where Coran's shop is located, lives Ms. Robin, with her herbal teas and bad back.

She always asks Shiro to help her with carrying stuff for her, and then asks him to stay for tea. Shiro never says no to her, even when he should.

Keith feels a guttural growl rise from his throat, and he walks towards the house. He can't enter and maul Shiro like he wants to do, but once the other man gets out of the house, no one can tell what's going to happen.

When he knocks on the door, it's Shiro who opens it, looking like he already knows what's going to happen.

Keith doesn't even have to say anything before Shiro apologizes. "I know, I'm sorry. I couldn't say no." He just keeps silent and Shiro sighs, contrite. "Just give me a second, I'll help her clean up and you can scream at me."

Shiro goes back in, and Keith would follow him but he hasn't been invited in. He hears them moving and Ms. Robin asking, "Was that your friend?" Shiro laughs in reply and says, "He's a worrier."

Keith shakes his head, a little angry and still disbelieving. It seems stupid now, how much he had been worried, but at the same time he think that, if he had been correct, he would have regretted not running. He waits, taking in the night air. It's a peaceful night, where not a lot of people are out and about, and Keith can appreciate the quiet. He had always been a fan of it.

For a second, while he's concentrating on the stillness around him, he thinks he hears a faint rustling in the distance. Keith looks in the direction of the sound, his eyes making it easy for him to see in the dark, but there's nothing there to see.

A part of him wants to go and check, his entire body ready for an attack, when Shiro finally comes out of the house. "Sorry, sorry, she talked about her husband. You know she never stops once she starts." Keith looks back at the other and makes sure that Shiro knows what he thinks about that. Shiro only sighs and gets a little closer. "I know, I'm really sorry okay?"

"Sorry it's not enough," Keith growls, getting closer to the other, "you were gone and I didn't know where."

Shiro nods, and extends one hand to Keith’s face cupping his cheek. Shiro's skin is always hot against Keith's cold one and he sinks into the warmth, unable to resist. Keith has been alive —or not alive—for a long time, and yet sometimes it feels like his entire life was spent searching for that.

"Why don't we go back home?" Shiro asks, with a smile, "we took care of a lot of rogues yesterday. I think we deserve a night off. It has been quiet, after all."

Keith looks back at the spot where had heard the rustling, but it could have been anything: a dog, a person scared of Keith, or even an owl. There is really no reason to believe it was a vampire.

Lotor and his gang usually have a good control over most of the vampire population around, and they had taken care of the last rogues in their territory the night before.

Keith relaxes and sags under Shiro's touch. "I would like that," he admits and Shiro smiles. He looks tired, with bags under his eyes and Keith wonders how much had he slept.

Keith had also read that pure nocturnal activity wasn't good for living humans, and he worries sometimes about Shiro and the lifestyle he has chosen. He can't complain vocally, because he knows the only reason Shiro appeared into his life is his job, but he can still worry.

They go back slowly, traversing the town and if Keith sticks a little closer to Shiro and makes sure to hold the other's weight a little, Shiro doesn't complain.

 

The next day Keith is awoken by incessant knocks at the door. He opens his eyes immediately, but the lethargy that attacks him means it's still morning.

He won't be able to get up for some hours, but he manages to bury his face in Shiro's chest and shake him at the same time.

"Wha--?" Shiro asks, but Keith doesn't say anything, waiting for the other to hear the loud bangs. It takes Shiro a second, but when he does he gets up immediately.

It's unusual that someone comes to wake them up if it's not something important, but Keith unfortunately doesn't have the strength to get up.

He still tries to listen, but his exhaustion makes it difficult.

There are concitate whispers, that he can make clear, but the single words are too muffled even for him. He waits then and, after a minute or two, he hears Shiro re-enter the room.

"What's going on?" he asks, and his voice is deeper than usual.

"I have to go," Shiro only answers, caressing his hair. "You should sleep."

Keith opens his eyes then, looking at his lover and wondering why does this have to happen two days in a row. "If I do, you're going to be out when I wake up?"

Shiro smiles, a little ruefully. "Probably. I'm sorry. It's... there is a body."

Keith scowls, trying to make sense of the other's words. It would be easier if his entire mind didn't feel like cotton. "I should have heard it," he says, and Shiro only nods.

If someone was killed in the city, or even in the immediate outskirts, Keith should have been able to tell. The smell of blood travels, and it usually makes it nearly impossible for Keith to ignore it.

"I know," Shiro says, standing up. "Sleep. I think this will be a difficult one to figure out."

Keith doesn't want to, he wants to stay up and help Shiro in his research, but he can't. The moment he steps out of the apartment he would be dust in a second, so he doesn't have any other choice but to watch as the other walks away.

Sometimes being a vampire really sucked.

 

 

When Keith wakes up, the first thing he feels is someone's warmth beside him so he turns and follows it unconsciously.

Shiro's smell is familiar to him—a mix of earth and blood—and he can't help but lick the skin on Shiro's collar bone. It hasn't been that much time since he has last fed, but they have fought more than usual, and his energy have been depleting for a while.

Still, Shiro is tired too. Drinking from him now wouldn't be a good idea. He knows that rationally, but his instincts roar at him to drink, to take what Shiro will most certainly give him willingly.

Shiro has never said no to him, even when he should have. It's one of his many faults.

"Drink," Shiro says, low and Keith feels his fang respond. He shouldn't, but he wants to.

"No," he mutters, even if his canines are making it difficult to talk. "You haven't been sleeping enough."

Shiro's laugh makes Keith relax in kind. There is something magical about it. "I've been sleeping the same as always, it's not like I've ever managed a full night of sleep with this job. And you'll need the strength."

Keith opens his eyes then, backing away a little to look at Shiro properly. The other man looks worried, his eyes a little downcast and Keith extends his hand to touch his cheek.

The other melts into the touch, even if Keith knows that his skin is freezing after waking up. "What happened?" he asks, now a little worried himself.

He remembers bits and pieces from this morning, his biology making it impossible for him to be active during the day, but another body is nothing new.

"It's nothing," Shiro replies with a soft smile, "the body was of Sam Holt, you remember him right?"

Keith nods, thinking of the Holt family. They weren't Vampire Hunters, but their family had been instrumental in the discovery of many of the Hunters deadliest weapons.

In truth he remembers Pidge, the daughter, more than Sam, but that's not the point.

"That is a big target," Keith reasons and he sees Shiro nod. Samuel Holt was well known in the village, making it a difficult target for a random rogue vampire; he was also usually well-armed.

"Yeah. And Sam's heart is missing," Shiro informs him, with a clinical voice. Gruesome facts, especially because it's a family that is close to Shiro.

The Holt had been kind to him, helping Shiro in his job and in his personal life after the death

of his grandfather. Keith can't even imagine what Shiro is thinking right now.

Still, they have a job to do. And it will only be harder if they let themselves be blinded by sentimentality. There is nothing to be gained now by mourning, that will come later, when they’ll have taken the killer.

The missing heart is a detail that shocks him. He had thought that the body had been drained of blood quickly and methodically. It would have explained why Keith hadn't sniffed any trace of blood the night before, but a missing heart?

"Why didn't I..." he starts, feeling a little guilty at the thought of what he could have prevented, but Shiro stops him with a shake of his head.

"It's useless feeling guilty," Shiro says, bringing one of his hand - incredibly warm - to Keith's face. "What we can do now is find whoever did this. And we need you at full strength."

They need Shiro too, who had been trained since he was little in hunting vampires. But this one time, it might be something worse than that.

So, Keith relents, and while he keeps his hand on Shiro's face, he licks at his collarbone. The other's breath quickens in anticipation and Keith smiles before biting into the other's skin.

Feeding, if done right, is not something that hurts the human. It is said that is one of the greatest pleasures they can ever feel, and Keith always makes sure he's doing it right with Shiro, who does not deserve any more pain.

He takes his time, licking the skin to anesthetize it and always listening to make sure that Shiro's moan never turn painful. And in return Shiro opens himself completely to him, letting Keith take as much as he needs.

Sometimes, it becomes difficult to stop. Shiro is warm under him, and Keith's nature is to take. To possess. Shiro is something he wants to much and so constantly, that sometimes he thinks of pushing a little, of turning Shiro.

Those are dark thoughts that he tries to expel as soon as they came, but sometimes he can't stop himself.

He doesn't feed as much as he'd like today, instead. His mind is worried with the news of the death, and he doesn't want Shiro to have to need the supplements that the Holts have made him.

It had been Matt's idea when Shiro had bought Keith to a family dinner. It had been awkward, and Keith had been acutely aware of the danger every one of the people in that home posed to him; but he had done it for Shiro.

And they had repaid them with a supplement to reinvigorate Shiro after a feeding.

Still, today he stops almost immediately, and licks the wound to help it heal faster. He can hear Shiro's laughter while he does so, so he pinches his side lightly.

"I'm sorry," Shiro replies, with a little giggle, "it's just that you really look like a cat when you do that."

"You wouldn't like if I didn't," Keith reminds him, growling a little, which only serves to make Shiro laugh again. Keith would be angry if he didn't like the other's laugh so much.

The moment of hilarity passes quickly after that and they concede themselves a moment to just be for a second.

Engulfed in darkness, Keith loses himself to the beat of Shiro's heart, constant and rhythmic. He could spend the rest of eternity listening to it. Soon they'll have to get up and face this crisis, but for a moment, they just are.


The air is particularly cold that night. Keith can't feel it, but he sees the little puff of air in front of Shiro's mouth. However, vampires have never particularly cared about the weather.

Sam Holt has been killed just outside of town, a little further form where Keith had gone to pick up Shiro the night before. It's strange to think how close they were.

There is no way to know exactly how much time has passed since he was killed, but while not crowded, someone would have noticed a dead body before sundown. The only explanation is that it happened during the night.

They examine the body before going to the site. The morgue has never been Keith's favorite place. A part of it is the dead blood permeating the air, pure poison to him; but another part of is the grim reminder of what expects them in the future. Well, not them. For Keith will never arrive here. Even if he gets killed someday, there won't be a body of him to recover.

They get shown the body quickly, and while Rolo had never been Keith's number one fan, there is something else in his eyes. A distrust that wasn't there before.

Keith wants to ask, but they have a job to do.

Shiro has already examined the remains during the day, but as talented Shiro is, there will always be things that vampire's enhanced senses can pick up better.

And yet, in this case, there's nothing. That is the biggest clue of them all.

Sam Holt's body should be covered in blood, drenched for the gruesome operation that was done to his ribcage. Where his heart once stood, now there's just a hole and claw marks. And yet, no blood.

"Vampire," Keith says, confident. Shiro nods from where he's watching, but it's obvious he doesn't think that the whole story. Keith looks a little more, but there is no other clue to be gathered from the body.

Still, he knows that he shouldn't discount Shiro's instincts. He turns towards the other and waits for him to say something.

"Why the heart?" Shiro continues, looking critically towards the body. "He was completely drained of blood. That would have sufficed, but why the heart?"

Keith finds the fixation a little strange. It wasn't unusual for vampires and other creatures to take prizes from their victims. A heart, something that most believed vampires lacked, fits the idea perfectly.

"You think... what?" he presses, scowling.

"A ritual of some sort?" Shiro proposes. When Keith turns toward him, shocked, Shiro shrugs. "Targeting Samuel Holt is a bold move," he continues, advancing towards the body, "removing his heart... this feels too big to be a coincidence."

Keith doesn't know what to say. Is there really something more? Or is Shiro just grieving in his own way?

At the same time there are too many things that don't add up in the story. No rogue vampire could have taken down Sam easily, and yet there doesn't seem to be any sign of struggle on the body, beside the claw marks on the man's chest.

"You're suggesting witches and vampires, together," Keith clarifies. Shiro doesn't confirm it, but there is no need. They both know it was what Shiro was insinuating, and they also both know who Shiro has in mind.

Vampires might have become known to the general population only recently, but witches where another story. Witches and Vampires, however, rarely got along. Keith knew of only one clan who had constant relationships with a coven.

Shiro is probably thinking about him too.

Still, they don't throw the name around so easily. Keith, because a part of him will forever be enthralled in his sire's crutches. Shiro because he knows better.

Rolo has been looking at them from a distance all this time; he seems interested, focused, like he's searching for something. He seems to be especially focusing on Keith, following his every movement.

Keith turns towards him out of the blue, catching him in the act. But the other just deepens his frown.

Shiro seems to notice the exchange and he puts himself in front of Keith, sending the body a final glance.

"I don't think there's anything more we can find," he says, shaking his head, "we're going. Thank you, Rolo."

They leave quickly, too quickly, and Keith knows now that something is wrong. And that Shiro knows exactly that it is.

"What's going on?" he growls, angry to be kept in the dark.

The other must sense the shift in Keith's mood because he just shakes his head. "Nothing important. Nothing true."

Keith stops walking in the middle of the street and it dawns on him. He should have been quicker in picking it up, and he blames the fact that he had been too shaken up in the case. "They think I did it," he summarizes, because that's the only thing that matters.

Shiro doesn't stop walking, shoulders drawn up high because of the cold, but also as a way to defend himself. "As I said, nothing true."

Keith knows that; he also knows that Shiro's conviction won't be enough to convince the town. As much as they love Shiro, Keith knows that their relationship has put a strain on his reputation as a hunter.  The other has never complained about it, but Keith notices now how much it must weight on Shiro's mind. For the entire town, Keith will forever be a murder, a beast with no control.

The worst thing, and both he and Shiro know it, is that it was true once.

"We have a murder to solve," Shiro says, looking back towards him, "and the true killer to catch."

Chapter Text

The clearings where Sam Holt's body was found doesn't look like the site of a gruesome murder. There is no blood—Keith would be able to smell it—nor any physical sign of a confrontation. It seems like Sam came voluntarily and was caught by surprise.

It seems extremely out of character for him.

Shiro, who has already studied the site, moves confidently to a tree, touching it. When he retracts his hand Keith can see some kind of  substance attached to it. It’s deep purple and it almost seems to be pulsing on Shiro’s hand. He tries to take a step closer to take a better look at it and maybe try and identify what kind of creature would leave a trail like that, but he finds himself unable to step closer.

The moment that the substance smells hits his nose he hisses, unable to help himself. There is something wrong with whatever is now stuck to Shiro’s hand, and every single one of his dead cell is screaming inside of him that whatever it is, smells like something even worse than death.

Shiro notices his reaction immediately and he turns towards him surprised. Keith has never been particularly prone to follow his more animalistic instincts, so when he does, the other takes notice; he looks back at his hand, pensive.

"You still think there is nothing ritualistic here?" Shiro asks, lightly. If it wasn’t this kind of situation, Keith thinks the other would be smiling, proud of having been right. Instead he just takes a cloth and a knife and carves out a little bit of the tree bark wrapping it with the cloth.

Keith wants to tell him to throw that thing away, that whatever it is, it will only bring them bad fortune, but he realizes it must be important information; Keith doesn't even know why he reacted the way he did, and they need to figure it out.

While Shiro cleans his hands, Keith goes back to looking around. Maybe there are more traces of that strange substance around, and it might serve as a trail to figure out who was there and why. Nothing else, however, seems to reek of that foul smell, almost as if that tree was the only witness to whatever happened.

Keith is ready to call out to Shiro to tell him that they are wasting time there when he hears a rustling a little bit in the distance. He's acutely aware of how exposed they are there, and that Shiro— as much as he wants to pretend otherwise— isn’t strong enough to fight. It takes a moment for Keith to enter battle mode

He feels his canines extend, his eyes take the purple glow typical of vampires. If another one of his kind or whatever creature has done this jumps out of the tree, he will kill them in a second.

The rustling comes again, and Keith hears a figure advance from behind the trees. He jumps forward, ready to surprise the attacker before he can surprise them, but Pidge's smell hits him just before he rounds the corner.

He stops dead on his track just before he lounges, and a second later Katie Holt rounds the corner, looking worse for wear. She looks like she has been wondering the forest for hours without rest and it seems completely irresponsible of her to do, in light of recent events.

Keith watches her, a little surprised, and wonders what exactly the only daughter of Sam Holt is doing out in the middle of the night. The probability of herdoing exactly what they are doing is high, and also incredibly stupid.

Pidge had always been tougher than her family. While Sam and Matt were both deadly in their own right, their strength had always been more in their brain than their actual fighting spirit. Sam and Matt were men of science, who had used their knowledge of vampires to create poisons and other gadgets.

Pidge was like silver. A scratch and it might prove to be lethal.

"Pidge?" Keith hears Shiro call and she turns towards them, as if realizing for the first time that she’s not alone.

She looks ragged, but angry. Mostly angry. "You shouldn't be here," Keith feels the need to say. They don't know who is responsible for this, and there are enough irregularities to make him worried.

Pidge turns towards him with a scathing glare and he resists the urge to take a step back. "I'm here to search for who killed my father," she says, angrily.

"We're working on it, Pidge, we..." Shiro starts, but the shakes her head, stopping him.

"I know, but I can't really do nothing. There is something wrong here, Shiro," she says, looking around, "I just can't place my finger on what."

Keith looks at Shiro over Pidge's head, and they share a concerned look. She's right, of course, Pidge is never wrong.  But they don't know what's going on yet.

Keith wants to ask her if this means that she doesn’t believe the rest of the town, doesn’t think he did it, but a part of him is scared of asking. There aren’t many people in this town he’s friendly with, and he wants to keep some friends when this is over.

She insist in helping them, and protests so much to actually going home, that in the end they let her help in the investigation. She has already traveled most of the fields alone, and promises there aren’t any more traces. It’s like whatever this monster is, it can fly.

Shiro get progressively more silent the more time passes, but Keith can tell it's not just because of exhaustion. There's something whirring inside Shiro's mind, and Keith is almost sure he won't like whatever it is.

In the end, Shiro decides that it’s time to stop looking and get back home around midnight. It’s so dark that only Keith is able to see much of anything at this point and as much as Pidge protests, they all know they won't get very far checking the site. She says she won't stop looking and she'll tell them if she finds something and Shiro nods, serious.

In the end it's just the two of them, standing in front of Pidge’s house after accompanying her, just shy of one AM. Shiro isn't moving, looking at the house with a pensive stare.

In truth, Keith already knows what's coming, even if he hates the mere thought of it. "No," he says, before Shiro can even say anything.

The other doesn't even turn towards him. "We don't have any other choice."

"We do," Keith hisses, "we can find another witch. I'm sure that..."

"The first one is two towns over, you know that. What if this person strikes again? I have a duty, Keith," Shiro reminds him. It's the way he says it, like it's a burden that he has to take on himself and that Keith can never help him bear, that makes Keith stop.

He has been at Shiro's side for years now, leaving his clan for him; yet sometimes it feels like Shiro still think he's alone.

"And what do you want to do? You really think Lotor will give you information with nothing in exchange?" Keith hisses, low and angry. His sire is a difficult topic between them, even if Lotor is the reason they have met.

Lotor can't be considered neither good or bad, he just is, without compromises. Playing by his own rules, he's as likely an ally as an enemy. But he's well connected and smart and those are both very important qualities. He also keeps the vampires he sires close, ruling over a strong albeit small clan. Keith used to be one of them, until the day Lotor ordered him to help Shiro in one of his investigation.

The reason why Lotor regularly helped a vampire hunter was a mystery for most of the vampire community, but Keith knew the truth. Knew the exchange that went under the table.

Keith doesn't know if this was something that started with Shiro's family, or if Shiro had been the first one, but Hunter's blood is a sought after delicacy in the vampire world, and Lotor always asked for a taste every time he made Shiro any favors. And Lotor didn't care about being gentle or making it good for his prey.

It was a powerplay, that much was obvious, but one Keith didn't care for.

"We need information," Shiro says, finally looking at Keith, "and we can't stop now."

"So what," Keith asks, incredulous, "you want to let Lotor drink from you? After you let me drink? You don't have an infinite amount of blood in your body, Shiro!" He knows he's screaming, but he can't stop. He feels himself turn, fangs growing on their own volition.

Shiro doesn't even flinch.

"I have to do this," Shiro tells him, calm and collected. And Keith hates him in that exact moment. Hates him for how he is; for how he pushes Keith away to protect him. For how much Keith loves him.

"I'm coming with you," he says in the end. Shiro looks taken aback and then ready to argue.

It's not Keith's best plan and he knows it.

Although he had left Lotor's clan, the bond that connects a vampire and his sire isn't easily broken. Also, Lotor likes showing Keith exactly how easily he can get access to Shiro's blood.

And yet, Keith won't let Shiro go alone tonight. "Please," he adds, and Shiro relents.

Keith knows he has cheated, but he doesn't feel any remorse.


Lotor's clan lives outside of town, in a place that's easy to reach via carriage and extremely easy to reach when a Vampires is carrying you. Keith stops in front of the house and delicately puts Shiro back down, looking around for signs of any of Lotor's vampires. Shiro doesn't even bother, going directly to the doorbell. He rings and they have to wait only for a moment for the door to open.

Acxa looks at them with a raised eyebrow, as if she hadn't known of their arrival since the moment Keith stepped in the forest outside the house. Still, she makes a show of looking them up and then she asks, almost politely: "What brings you here, we weren't expecting you."

There is something strange in the way she talks, enough that it makes Keith stand up straighter.

"I'd like to talk with Lotor," Shiro says, staring her down, "If you could tell him. I need his help."

Axca looks back at Shiro, her movement unnaturally slow. It takes practice for vampires to be able to turn this slowly, since their natural movements are usually faster than humans'.

"Can I ask what this is about?" she asks, and she has a good poker face, but there is something telling in the way she doesn't move. Usually Axca pretends to be human in front of Shiro. She makes a habit to breath and blink, but she's deadly still tonight.

"Sam Holt was killed yesterday, and I think Lotor might know who can help us," Shiro’s voice is calm, and he takes out from his pocket the cloth where the tree bark was stored. Keith sneered and took a step back at the mere memory of the smell and he sees Axca eyes the cloth suspiciously.

"Come in," she says in the end, "I'll call him."

They step inside, Keith sticking closely to Shiro's side. The cloth still bothers him, but Shiro's protection is more important than that.

It takes a minute for Lotor to appear. He looks well rested and carefree at a first glance, but Keith can tell that it's mostly for show. There is something worrying Lotor and that is not a good sign.

If whatever they are up against is enough to make Lotor scared, then they are in for a lot of problems.

"If it isn't my favorite Hunter and backstabber," Lotor says, with a smile. He advances towards them with his usual flourish, and Keith feels his old need to bow resurface. He stops himself in time, thankfully, but it's worrying that it's still there, like a wound that he hadn't even noticed hadn't closed up yet.

"Lotor," Shiro acknowledges, "we're here to ask a favor of you."

"Yes, yes," Lotor interrupts him immediately, "I've heard of the terrible news. I just don't know what I can do for you. I can assure you no one of mine did this."

The thing is, as much as one of Lotor's clan member could probably be strong enough to face Sam, they have never been real suspects. If one of Lotor's had done this, they would have never found the body or any type of clues.

Keith knows it very well.

So Keith nods, while Shiro smiles. "We're not here for that. We are in need of some... ritual counseling."

Lotor eyes sparkle for a second with interest before he smiles. "Well, I'm sure I could help you," Lotor says and then he glances at Keith with a smile, "for the usual price of course."

Keith snarls, fangs showing he's almost ready to jump at Lotor in anger. He sees the way Acxa, that has been observing them from the corner of the room, readies herself for a fight. Lotor just smiles more.

It's Shiro, in the end, that puts an end to the squabble, revealing what he has inside the cloth. All the vampires in the room immediately look in the direction of the tree bark and even Lotor, who usually prefers not to show his vampire forms, transforms and hisses in horror and dread at the thing .

There is something sinister in that tree bark, something that smells even worse than dead flesh.

"I was hoping this was enough incentive," Shiro explains, rising the cloth. "Keith had a reaction violent enough that I wondered if, maybe, this wasn't something you wanted off your territory."

Lotor recomposes himself quickly, looking at Shiro with interest. "So you suggest I give you information, and you hunt this... thing for me."

Shiro nods in reply, with a smile. "This is your territory, and while we don't always agree, I think this time we might have a common enemy."

Lotor thinks for a second, and Keith can see that Lotor is planning, making sure he isn’t overlooking anything, before he nods. "That is... acceptable. It was starting to become a worry, but I'm sure you two won't have any problems taking care of her."

"Her?" Keith ask, looking at him, "so you know who it is."

"Of course I do," Lotor huffs, almost bored, "she's my sire." It takes a second for Keith to register and it still shocks him. Lotor is old, but Keith has never caught a glimpse of exactly how much. His sire keeps his past close to his chest, and such a careless reveal seem out of character.

He feels curious about this creature now, wondering what kind of vampire could sire someone like Lotor. And why Lotor is so scared of her. Still, there is something missing from the story, he knows.

"That doesn't smell like a vampire," Keith says, looking at the tree bark. Lotor does the same and he makes a grimace.

"That's because she's not completely a vampire," Lotor explains. "My sire, Haggar, was once a powerful witch who was turned by the man she loved. Unfortunately, magic and death do not go along so well, and she has been slowly losing her mind. I'm afraid... that is what it looks like," he explains, pointing at the tree bark. They all turn again toward the cloth, and Keith can’t help but wonder what exactly it means.

There is a reason why witches don’t get along with vampires  or other undead creature. Magic found his strength in the living force of the witch, and vampire’s state disturbed their strength. He wonders how it must feel like to have that struggle inside of one person, roaring.

"Why haven't you taken care of her if she's such a danger?" Keith asks, studying Lotor. The other only shrugs.

"I could ask you the same thing. After all you hate me, why haven't you killed me?" Lotor poses the question with nonchalance, because they both know the answer. And Keith understands more than most why Lotor might not want to face his sire.

Lotor looks a Keith for a few seconds more before he turns towards Shiro, with an interested smile. Keith knows they were the one that proposed this deal, and yet it feels like they were played like a fiddle. "Do we have a deal, Hunter?"

Shiro looks at Lotor and nods, squaring his shoulder.



Now that they have a target, Shiro looks steadier on his feet. But Keith can't forget that the other is probably exhausted and a little anemic.

"We should come back tomorrow," Keith says for what feels like the hundred time. Shiro looks back at him with a sad and tired expression.

"I want to," he admits, finally, "but what if something else happens? I could never forgive myself."

Keith understands, he really does, but at the same time he feels shaky. This Haggar is not supposed to be an easy fight, and he's terrified of what it could mean for Shiro. They have no idea what her powers are, if her magic had made her something more than a simple vampire. The treebark Shiro has in his  certainly suggest so.

"You stay behind me," he tries, even if he knows that Shiro would never do it, even if he gave his word.

"I can't promise that," Shiro says, predictably, and Keith growls a little. Shiro smiles at his gesture, a mic of exhaustion and just pure hilarity. "You really do look like a cat."

"Shut up," Keith growls, advancing on Shiro and kissing him quickly and angrily. Shiro lets him do it, melting a little under his touch.

He's tired, Keith can tell, but he won't stop until he has done the right thing. So, Keith will do it for him, and then he'll chain Shiro to the bed.

"If you die I won't ever forgive you," he reminds Shiro, and the other laughs again.

Shiro doesn't know how serious Keith is, how much of Keith's humanity is tied with Shiro's existence. If the other died, he doesn't know what he would do.

Still, they have a job to do. And making sure Shiro doesn't die is his job.


Haggar is different from what Keith expected. He had thought they would find a deformed monster, but she looks like a normal vampire. Only, she smells like rotten flesh and something dark and fiery.

Keith realizes that the substance they found on the tree bark had been her skin, her touch. She seems to be poisonous, a bringer of death. Her skin is dark, almost black, and it looks like it’s decomposing in front of their eyes.

He growls at her, unable to stop, and Shiro readies himself with his weapons.

She looks at them, and there doesn't seem to be any sane reason left in her mind. Still, Shiro tries, because that's what he does.

"Haggar," Shiro says, taking a step forward, "we know what you've done. But why. Why kill Sam Holt. Why take his heart."

She looks at them, silent, and for a moment Keith thinks she won't answer them. He's ready to jump on her, when she starts talking.

"A human heart is the final ingredient," she explains, "with this my Zarkon will rise again. My blood was his downfall, but with a human heart I can bring him back. Wouldn't you agree that the sacrifice of a single human life is worth it?" This Zarkon must be the vampire that had turned her, Keith realizes, a little startled.

Shiro seems shaken by the news, looking at her like she's a monster. And yes, she's unhinged, crazy in ways that Keith can't describe, but what she says. It resonates within Keith. What would he do if Shiro died?

Where would he stop to avenge him or bring him back?

"Why Sam Holt?" Shiro presses, and Haggar huffs.

"He was so interested. So easy to lure out. An hybrid, so fascinating isn't it?" she asks, smiling. Her teeth are whiter than he would expect and while she doesn't have her fangs out, Keith feels the murderous attempt from here.

"I can't let you kill people," Shiro tells her, "it's my job to stop you."

She seems to think over his words for a second before, out of the blue, she dashes forward, trying to hit Shiro with her long nails. Keith sees her, and she moves faster than anything he has ever seen, but he's not fast enough to stop her.

Shiro's reflexes are usually better than this, but he's too tired, too weak, and he doesn't dodge in time. She slashes his clothes and his under-armor, the one that has protected him from so many bites, and he cries out in pain.

Keith is on Haggar in a flash, fighting her with all the strength he's capable of. She's strong, stronger than him, but he's fueled by rage.

Shiro's cry echoes in his head and he can't do anything else but rage.

Haggar withstands his attacks easily, and while he does hurt her a couple of times, it's obvious she has the upper hand.

She blocks one of his attacks and reached for his arm. She holds him there and then throws him against a tree. She smiles, her fangs still mostly invisible, and for a second Keith thinks this will finally be the moment he dies. For real this time.

Instead he hears a loud bang and Haggar crouches on herself, in pain. He looks being them at Shiro, with one of Holt's inventions—a gun whose bullets where full of a fast acting poison. Shiro nods at him and Keith moves, slashing at Haggar's neck and removing her head from her body. Haggar's remain vanish quickly then, turning into dust.

But Keith doesn't even look at it, running towards Shiro.

The Hunter struggles to get up, and Keith kneels beside him immediately, trying to take a look at the wound. Shiro has a hand to it, and while it seems to hurt, Shiro doesn’t look too hurt.

“It’s okay,” Shiro reassures him with a smile, “I mean it hurts. But nothing too bad.”

“You remember that tree?” Keith hisses, low and scared. If her touch had made the tree smell like death, what would it do to human flesh?

Shiro laughs, a little hysterically, a little tired. He seems to be crashing down fast now that there is no threat, like a puppet whose string have been cut out of the blue.

Keith hovers a little and wonders if, maybe, he should bring Shiro to Lotor. He doesn’t trust his sire, but one of the members of his clan is a witch, and she might know what to do about this.

Yet Shiro smiles, shaking his head. “Let’s go home, Keith. I’ll be fine.”

“You can’t know that,” Keith tries to object, but Shiro just shrugs.

“If I’m not,” he says with a smile, “You can go and drag Lance from the other town. You two will have fun.”

Lance, the witch that lives two cities over, hates Keith’s guts. He says that Keith messes up the magic around him, and that Lance can never focus in his presence. Fun is a strange way to put it.

“If you die on me, Takashi,” Keith growls, “I’ll turn you into a vampire. Be warned.”

Shiro smiles, having heard the exact same threat more times that he can count. Keith knows he repeats himself, but only because he’s completely serious.

“Bring me home, Keith,” Shiro looks tired, but alive and well. And Keith has never been good at denying him anything.

 

In the week that follows Shiro regains his strength completely. It’s a slow recovery, since he had completely depleted all his energy, but with some herbs that Pidge and Matt had created examining Haggar’s remains and a lot of bed rest, Shiro is up and about soon.

They don’t go and search for Lotor to tell him that the job has been taken care of, but once Keith sees Axca in the town and they nod to each other.

All in all, it takes them entirely too much time to notice the problem and it isn’t even them who do it.

Shiro calls Lance the moment he’s strong enough, and the witch arrives one day later. He’s grumpy and yells at Shiro to be a little more careful, while he tries to ignore Keith’s entire existence. Beside him, Hunk, who always acts as Lance’s bodyguard, is way more friendly.

From what Lance could gather there was nothing magical about the almost healed wound on Shiro’s stomach. It was healing, albeit slower than usual.

Still it’s when Lance asks “So, what have you done with the heart in the end” that they realize what had been missing all this time.

Keith had gone to check out Haggar’s little hide out in the woods the night after, while Shiro slept on, but he hadn’t found the heart. He hadn’t really thought about it until now, but he realizes now the mistake.

“Do you think…” Hunk says, slow and a little scared, and Keith and Shiro exchange worried looks.

It could be that Haggar’s plan had worked, and her husband lived once more, maybe in search of revenge for her; or, and that’s what Keith was leaning in on, someone else had taken the heart. And really, there was only one person who had known about their plan.

He’s ready to go to Lotor and fight them all, when Shiro takes his hand, stopping him.

“We don’t have proof,” he reminds him, having arrived at Keith’s exact conclusion, “and we don’t know why he needs it. We can only… wait.”

Keith isn’t a fan of that plan, but he relents after Shiro insists.

They’ll have to face this problem too, he knows, but Shiro is safe and sound, and Keith can take one day to just enjoy that.