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the ocean's lament

Chapter Text

Keith was nine, and honestly couldn’t come up with a place better than where he was now, but he was perfectly okay with that. Shiro said he deserved happiness, and something about that left a fuzzy haze over Keith’s heart and a too-sweet taste in his mouth. No one had ever told him that he deserved to be happy before. They only said that he was alone, but was what made him just like Shiro in so many ways. 

Keith didn’t understand that bit, yet.

He would though, in years to come, but all of that didn’t matter now. All that mattered was his life with Shiro; the only person Keith knew he could count own. He made this life normal for Keith, it had grown customary for Shiro to drag him around everywhere, especially aboard this infamous cruise ship. but Shiro was the closest thing that Keith had to a father, so he didn’t mind much.

Especially in moments like these.

Shiro was dancing across the room, fingers wrapped around a hairbrush as he whipped the sopping strands around, singing with all his lungs had to give. It was horribly embarrassing, but when Keith was laughing, face flushed with joy, Shiro decided that he would rob all of the stars from the sky for this child.

My heart is pierced by Cupid, I disdain all glittering gold,” he sang, face bearing the wistful smile that Keith would never tire of seeing. It was the kind that made Keith feel giddy; he liked the way it softened Shiro’s face, creasing his eyes at the corners and scrunching his nose. The tune that he sang was a familiar one, one that everybody knew whether they wanted to or not. It may have been old, and pardon his French, but it was really fucking catchy.

Keith regarded his brother with smiling eyes, grinning at the happiness exhibited by Shiro’s joyous belching. He longed to join in on his singing, but the weight on his chest prevented it, even when all he felt was a bubbling joy. Soon, they would reach the new land, where Shiro would search tirelessly for the woman Keith had never met; for the woman that abandoned him.

There is nothing can console me, but my jolly sailor bold.

Although he had been singing all this time, Shiro was just putting on a show and had only drug on the length of the actual words. Keith didn’t mind, he never did mind any of Shiro’s shenanigans, especially when they were amusing.

Keith knew the song’s origin, he knew that it was sung by Sirens and used to wreck ships, but Keith wasn’t scared of that.

Keith had never experienced a shipwreck, though, but the song channeled a primitive form of fear; one that resonated within his chest. It remained there, always, no matter how happily Shiro sang it. Keith couldn't shake it, he had seen the true wickedness of the ocean before; he had stared into the eyes of the beast as it reared upwards, wave after wave, devouring everything. He swallowed thickly, for that was one of his fuzzier memories

He frowned, suddenly favoring the stubs of his nails over the show being put on for him. It hurt to touch them, but Keith didn’t care like he used to.

“Whatcha thinking about, kiddo?” feet were suddenly before him, and after following them upwards, he met Shiro’s curious eyes, “And what did I tell you about doing that?”

Keith’s hands dropped from each other the moment he registered Shiro’s voice, tucking nervously beneath his thighs. He’d worry about them later, Keith decided, and that could wait.

Now, however, Shiro was looking down at him, lips turned up into an adoring smile. Keith really looked at him then, drinking in every detail from the fond expression on his face to wrinkles steadily forming along his brow. Shiro had been there for him from the beginning, or at least that’s what Keith thinks. He couldn’t recall a time B.S (before Shiro), and he had no problem with that whatsoever. Maybe there was a family out there that missed him, someone that didn't mean to give him up, someone that would make him feel like he belonged.

It wasn’t like he didn’t have the connection with Shiro, he just didn’t always feel it.

Shiro’s hands were behind his back, and Shiro was looking at him with the shiftiest expression Keith had ever seen. He could see the way his smile became a little tight at the corners, and the look in his eyes was just plain treacherous. He was planning something, Keith realized, and it couldn’t have been good.

There was silence, and then-

Keith dove for a pillow with a battle cry, yanking it from the mattress and holding it between them as if it was a weapon. The mischievous glint had returned to his eyes, and it was one that Shiro had come to enjoy seeing. The attention made Keith itch, fingers curling and uncurling in the dense fabric.

Shiro eyed it with narrowed hues, hands steady as they moved the pillow from behind his back and into Keith's line of sight. Keith rolled his eyes and Shiro grinned, carefully holding it out in a silent invitation between them.

They went at each other like animals, pillows colliding with enough force to stun each other, but light enough to avoid serious injury. Keith choked on his laughter as he took a particularly savage beating, feathers flying everywhere as Shiro rained down blow after blow.

Keith fell backward and onto one of the two beds, where he quickly rolled into the center in order to avoid an attack, but Shiro had other ideas. He followed, kneeling beside Keith while he continued the torture.

“You’re off your game today!” Shiro crooned, pressing a pillow threateningly closer into Keith’s face. White flashed over Keith’s head as Shiro raised it and hummed a low, swift tune as he brought it down. Keith’s startled squeal was muffled and he laughed, shoving the man away roughly with as much strength as he could.

But somewhere along the way, in the mass of all their laughter and fighting, Keith had fallen asleep, and he dreamt of a life that wasn’t his own. He dreamt of white- of rhythmic machinery and tanks filled with all sorts of monstrosities- things that had no business being out of the ocean.

Blue eyes turned to him, vibrant amongst the dreary white and-

Keith woke up with a sudden jolt.

Though his eyes were open, he couldn’t think of why; all he could do was feel the pounding of his heart and his inability to form thoughts. He woke up like this on most nights- without warning, eyes flinging open so wide Shiro says he looks like someone who just got punched in the gut. He moved the covers from over his face, blinking as his eyes tried to focus in the darkness.

It was strange, but Keith had grown used to it, and normally the sound of Shiro’s breathing that would lure him back into a false sense of security, but not tonight. Shiro always snored, but he wasn’t tonight. Keith listened and waited for it, trembling for a reason he could put no name to. After deciding that it wasn’t happening, he rolled his neck, moving slowly as he pushed himself out of bed.

Keith yawned, digging his finger into Shiro’s shoulder in hope that it would wake the man, but all he did was stir, swatting the child’s hands away.

“Leave me alone,” he mumbled, voice muffled by the drool-soaked pillow. Keith looked at him, disgusted, and decided that he was really, really thirsty.

Rubbing at the sleep in his eyes, Keith shuffled from their shared room, toward the hall, where the floor tipped dangerously beneath his feet. He blanched, gripping for purchase at the wall until the ship finally settled.

He thought that was the end of it. 

A deep rumble sounded through the air around him, and panic briefly struck him. His nerves really kicked in, the, causing him to hesitate as he drew closer to the door. But Keith fought the urge down, twisting it open with all the strength he could muster and wrenched it open.

The entire atmosphere changed, and total darkness prevailed.

The clouds were thicker than Keith had ever seen, and the sky was stricken, blotting out the sunlight that once led them through the waves. The wind arose from seemingly the depths of hell, pushing the waters into choppy waves, ones that soon morphed into mountains high enough to dwarf even the mighty ship. Keith watched this all happen, frozen with fear as it ran like ice through his veins.

Some people were already moving, that much he could see. They rushed by the open door, slipping around on the water sloshing at their feet in the sheer haste.

The real panic set in.

Wind slammed rain into Keith's face as if it was solid matter, beating down on him until his face was raw. The water had filled his eyes, blinding him in the face of death.

Voices broke out around him but Keith kept moving, forcing himself onto the deck and into the midst of the chaos. People shoved past him and he cursed, pulling away from urgent hands as they grabbed and tugged, eager to get him out of the way.

Keith stumbled across the deck through the hectic mess, up until the point he full on slammed into the legs of some grown man.

“For fuck's sake,” a voice shouted, and Keith recognized this as the captain, “Someone get him the fuck out of here!”

Unfamiliar hands were on him in an instant, and fear exploded all around him.

“What the hell!” he cried, furious, “Get off of me!”

The people didn’t listen, instead trapping him on all sides while they herded him towards a ladder, where he had no choice but to climb. Fear gripped his heart like a vice, pumping his heart full of adrenaline until every nerve ending in his body was on fire. Shiro, he needed Shiro.  

They pushed him to the top, where a vaguely familiar man shoved a flotation vest over his head and told him sternly to stay put.

Keith of course, did as he was told.

Kidding.

The ship still pressed on though, bravely climbing the waves, and then crashing back down in a cascade of metal and water. It made Keith's bones ache and his stomach flip, and he decided that he didn't like this ship anymore. He wanted it to be over. He wanted Shiro.

It was during one of these heart-stopping plummets that a surge of water broke onto the deck, and Keith’s heart fell through his chest. He screamed, but the sailors were already moving in a flurry, pushing Keith towards anything that he could hold onto, and anything that prevented him from feeling the blunt impact of another surge. Keith was a child, but that didn’t exactly make him a top priority in the face of danger.

A heart-wrenching sob ripped its way from his body as realization struck, and his entire body shook with the force of his emotions, beckoning him to fight for them. The sound of his owns screams ricocheted throughout his ears as he pounded fiercely on the man that held him back, broken sobs spilling from his throat. 

Shiro!” He cried, thrashing as much as possible in the arms that held him, “You have to help Shiro!

Time became class; where each second that ticked by stretched on for an eternity. Keith was aware of his own screaming as he begged for Shiro, sobbing helplessly as he was jerked around before the man was pulling him back down the ladder. He fought it this time, but it was no use. He was bigger than Keith, and that alone prevented him from escaping.

He grappled for anything he could use as leverage to get away from them, sobbing desperately as they simply moved him. The ship tipped dangerously as black waves thrust forward in an exhibit of power, allowing Keith to catch sight of the desolate black sea that had already consumed a portion of the ship. He could hear the sirens, and the desperate shrieks of people as everything they loved was ripped away from them.

As heaven’s choirs played their sounds of death, salt burned Keith’s lungs, suffocating him.

Keith was being hoisted into the air, and a sudden jolt knocked him free of his captors and sent him tumbling over the railing and directly onto one of the escape boats. His back met the wood and he cried out, pain exploding in a violent burst of colors behind his eyelids, and he cried out as the world went black.

Keith awoke with an aching pain in his muscles that appeared almost as soon as he was awake, and it burned through his will to move with ease. A groan came from him, dragging through his hoarse throat until it was pushed past his chapped lips. Keith became aware of the salt in his mouth and opened his eyes.

A canvas of pale colors stretched over his head, gloriously brilliant in the rising sun. It made him angry, horribly angry. The sky had no right to look this nice when it laid witness to a tragedy.

A collection of disfigured silhouettes were littered along the water, still as an oil painting. Water sloshed around in his body and he coughed up whatever was plaguing it. Keith was confused, and his vision was beyond distorted.

He moved- and was falling.

The water rushed into his body like it owned him already- an empty chasm of blue and darkness. It was icy against his skin, and violent beyond his comprehension; forcing itself down his throat and robbing the air from his fragile lungs. All he could do was taste the salt as it burned its way down his throat; gulp after gulp. His limbs moved against his will, mind rapidly losing focus as everything blurred. There was no fun, only fear, a fear that was strong enough to make him fight harder as he sunk.

Fight, his blood roared, fight!

He broke the surface, limbs jerking as they were forced from their weightless state and latching onto anything he could get his hands on. Without conscious thought, without choice, his body did what it had to in order to survive, and Keith couldn’t be more thankful for it. His hands locked onto a rope, and he hoisted himself up, up, up.

Keith hit the wood with a wet slap, regurgitating whatever he could get of his system before he collapsed. Adrenaline coursed through his system, filling his limbs with an unbearable tingle. He wanted to stand, desperately, but his legs had given way to the fear, leaving them weak and unreliable. But Keith forced himself to move, pushing upwards with a muffled cry. The first thing he did was retch, and then he realized just what his situation was.

The expanse of blue water stretched in every direction to the horizon, and Keith was adrift on an ocean with no wisp of land in sight. The boat he was on bobbed on the waves as helpless as a toy in a bathtub, rolling along with the current until it finally dawned on him.

Everyone else was gone, and he was going to die out here.

A sob broke out of him, tears casting a hazy sheen over his eyes. How had his life gone this wrong, in so little time?

 Sorrow consumed him, leaving him to do nothing but sit cross-legged aboard the wooden boat. In a matter of minutes, he had lost everything and everyone he had ever known. The ocean stirred beneath him, and somewhere down there was Shiro, and the rest of his family. At this point, it was safe to say that there was nothing left for him. Perhaps he should just melt away into the water; let it consume him from the inside out. Just as it had Shiro.

The thought made him cry even harder, salty tears mingling with the ocean; contributing to the cause. Keith was devastated, alone and afraid in the middle of nowhere. Without Shiro, his world was cold, even with the heat mercilessly beating down on him, Keith felt empty. He had never been alone before, no matter how far away Shiro was there, his presence shrouded Keith.

That was gone now, and Keith felt raw and exposed. All by himself in the middle of god knows where; with nothing but whatever lurked beneath the surface of the waves.

Click… click.

“What the fuck?”

 

Chapter Text

Keith found himself flinching at his own language nearly as soon as it left his mouth, sniffing hurriedly with an embarrassed snort. He wiped his eyes with damp hands, as if trying to assure himself that what he saw was real. What could only be described as sea monster was before him, head resting on its crossed arms as it studied Keith. Something splashed in the water behind it, and Keith understood.

Keith had seen pictures of mermaids before, and although it looked similar, this was not one of them.

Its tail was long and sinewy, nearly three meters of muscles that tapered off before flaring outwards, forming a fin that was nearly translucent in the sunlight. It was split into four parts on its own, and each ended with a dangerous point. The monster moved, and Keith caught sight of the burly spikes running a path down its spine, protruding slightly from the thing’s nape and rising nearly eight inches in some places. Fins , Keith realized. They were fins.

The tail itself was coated with royal blue scales, ones that didn’t just disappear as it met the lithe torso it was attached to. As it pushed itself further from the water, Kieth saw that they were on the thing’s stomach too- they trailed up its sides, running back and over its shoulders, where the oceanic plates danced across its throat and framed its face. It didn’t have ears- frills shot outwards from where they should have been. There were thicker scales coating its forearms, where flashes of bronze skin could be seen before it hardened again, forming a protective layer between its claws and webbed fingers.

Keith’s eyes burned a path up the creature’s body, where distributed bioluminescent patches were rendered dull in the sunlight, but were shining at full capacity beneath the surface. Its tail reflected the sun’s rays, painting it brilliant shades of blue in the depths. Another splash sounded behind it, and Keith noticed how the color dulled to a near black. It has the upper half a boy , Keith realized, one that couldn’t have been much older than him.

But that didn’t change the fact that it wasn’t human. The thing moved closer, and the water plastering its bitter chocolate hair to its forehead dripped eerily down its face. It stopped slithering, blinking eerily at him. Its eyes gleamed, the arctic blue hues of a hunter framed in the passionless face of an executioner. They lit up the space between them, and it clicked again.

It wasn’t a mermaid. Keith knew what this monster was.

Keith couldn’t breathe, and the siren opened his mouth.

It chittered again, impatient, then release a small sound that was unlike anything Keith had ever heard- and he found his attention withdrawn from the pain in his chest to the entity before him. It dragged itself closer to Keith until the boat threatened to tip, sliding along the wood until its body was nearly upon him, and brought its clawed hands to Keith’s face. Its ear-things flicked once, twice, and it opened its mouth again before closing it.

It didn’t exactly form words, instead releasing a single stream of raw noise. The sound was unearthly, a haunting melody that transcended reason itself and filled the open air around them. The call beckoned him, and it took Keith a minute to finally realize what the thing was doing; it was humming. But there was more to it than that, the siren was humming the same song the crew had been just moments before the crash.

But it stopped moments later, clicking urgently in a way Keith could only describe as concerned. At that point, Keith noticed that he was, in fact, crying again, and the thing was worried about him. Its slippery hands met his face in an attempt to wipe the tears, but when it only succeeded in making it worse, the clicking grew more frequent.

“You’re wet,” Keith grumbled, shoving the thing away. Something strange crossed its features and it moved closer, shoving its face near Keith’s mouth while it clicked softly. The siren curled its finger, digging its joint into Keith's stomach before releasing a sequence of demanding clicks.

Fear, briefly, was the last thing on Keith’s mind, urgently replaced with a curiosity he could put no name to. The siren was uncharted territory for him, but he couldn’t decide if it was something he wanted to explore, or avoid altogether. Maybe this thing could help him, as soon as he taught it how to communicate with him.

“What?” he asked,  “Do you want me to talk?” He asked, and the response was immediate. The siren darted his head back and grinned, showing off his very sharp teeth. Keith flinched at that, and the frown that overtook the thing’s face nearly made him regret it. The siren looked down at itself, studying its hands before glancing up at Keith.

It didn’t hesitate to flee, slipping off of the wooden remains and disappearing into the ocean.

Keith was honestly… stunned. Amazement didn’t quite cover how he felt in that instant. He was shocked to his core and wondered for a second if he was actually going crazy. That was it, probably, he was going to die out here alone with his crazy imagination.

The worst part of this whole situation was the fact Keith had no one to help him through it, and would no doubt die soon. The thought made him shiver. Just how would mother nature take him? Drowning? Starvation? Dehydration?

At sea, the possibilities were endless.

Keith never noticed how much time was similar to water. It could move slow, a drop a time, like a single minute being dragged out for hours. But it could also rush by in a blink, just as it had that night.  

Right now, it was moving slow.

He sat there, sitting in that damned boat, for what had to have been hours, but were most likely minutes. It was torturous, and Keith was getting desperate for something, anything , that could distract him from the agonizing silence.

Splash

Keith looked up to find it already situated, pulling itself up the wooden sides with something hanging from its jaws. They could unhinge, Keith realized, perfect for hunting.

The fish hit the wood with a wet smack, but the smell was what really pushed Keith away. He moved further back, but with the threat of tipping, he had to stop. The thing chittered unhappily, nudging the fish remnants closer to Keith until it decided that the boy wasn’t having it. It picked it up, removed a chunk with its teeth, and guzzled it down. The thing grinned at Keith and held it out towards him, nodding expectantly.

Keith mustered a smile of his own, and the thing nearly shrieked. It shuffled closer, hoisting more of its body from the water in order to move closer. The wood creaked, and nearly tipped, but held fast. The siren made the noise again, hooking its fingers into its own cheeks and pulling them to show off its teeth- the pointy teeth . It released them, pointing at Keith.

Keith obeyed, opening his mouth wide while the thing approached and peered inwards. It took him a split second to realize he made a horrible decision, and another to realize that raw fish wasn’t as disgusting as he expected. He’d still probably die of food poisoning though.

The siren backed away, satisfied, blinking at Keith once more before it disappeared back into the water, and Keith was alone again.

He settled against the wooden wall, sinking his fingers into the cold meat of the fish before detaching it from the scales. It would have been better cooked, and Keith had never tried sushi before, but there was a first time for everything.

Three bites in and he felt sick to his stomach, but he supposed that it would have to do, especially when there was nothing else around for him to eat. He couldn’t quite complain when the siren was practically keeping him alive. He would get thirst soon, and he wasn’t sure if the siren knew exactly what fresh water was.

But despite all of his complaints, Keith had learned to accept what was given to him by the siren, and not complain when things could be so much worse.

It went on like this for days; the siren would bring him little snacks that consists of oysters and raw fish, and while it was disgusting, the little things kept him alive. But it didn’t just stop at supplying food, exactly, Keith found himself being showered with treasures that had no real value in the middle of the ocean. The siren brought him pearls and shells, and basically whatever else it could get his hands on. Keith didn’t mind much, sometimes the thing brought him legitimately cool items, but it never let Keith keep those.  

He had more problems than that, however:  

With the sun beating down on him, Keith got thirsty very quick.

That’s where the shells came in, he could use them to catch rainwater and what not, because drinking either his own pee, or salt water, would never happen no matter how thirsty he got. He’d rather die than drink his own piss. The siren didn’t understand that part, it just chittered instantly whenever he refused to consume the sea water it offered, it only understood the more basic gestures.

Yet it seemed to understand Keith’s need for affection and distractions quite easily. That was the strange part about it. Keith could express the slightest bit of sadness, and the siren would hoist itself out of the water and drape itself across his body, giving Keith the time to pet its wet scales and run his fingers through its chocolaty hair. He wouldn’t admit it, but Keith had come to enjoy times like these.

There was something strange about caring for an entity that wasn’t entirely human, but it didn’t bother him as much as he thought it would. The siren was nice- it was basically just another person in his eyes, but he wasn’t used to addressing it as such.

Right now, the thing was draped heavily across his legs its tail bent over the edge in a rather awkward angle that couldn’t have been comfortable, but it didn’t seem to mind in the slightest. Keith on the other hand, was having a little trouble.

Wood dug into the back of his neck and no matter how much he wanted to, Keith couldn’t bring himself to move and ruin this fragile moment. He sat there for what might have been hours, drifting in and out of a quiet bliss before the siren awoke too.

Oceanic eyes opened blearily, and Keith bit back a rare smile.

It stared at him in confusion, blinking, his eyelashes brushing against the skin of Keith’s knees until it tickled, eventually pulling a giggle from his hoarse throat.

He pat the siren on its head and watched it watch him, studying the way its cheeked caved inward when it grinned before sitting up. It leaned in, nuzzling its coarse face into Keith’s shoulder before it settled yet again.

A thought struck him.

This close, Keith would have no chance of surviving if it chose to attack, but he somewhere deep down, he knew that it wouldn’t. It went both ways, he supposed. 

The siren was close enough for him to smell the sharp tang of the salt water it emitted, and Keith found himself inhaling it anyways. He had grown close to the siren, and words couldn’t describe how that made him feel.

Less alone, no doubt, but he had never felt further from humanity. It was a cruel reminder that this thing wasn't like him; it didn't live like he did. This thing was a predator, and he couldn't take it lightly no matter how much he wanted to. But perhaps he could learn. 

“What's your name?”

Chapter Text

He didn’t know why he chose that day of all days to finally ask the question, but he did it nonetheless. Plus, Keith wasn’t exactly expecting an answer, he knew that the siren couldn’t communicate properly with humans, but something told him that today was different.

Keith’s voice was hoarse with disuse, but it still intrigued the siren nonetheless. It clicked at him as it pulled back, cocking its head to the side. Something in their dynamic was changing, it was probably the fact that Keith had never bothered with idle chatter when it came to the siren, he merely spoke when he had to and yelled when it was required, but he never bothered to try and have a conversation.

He pointed to himself, making sure to draw out each different sound, “K-ei-th.”

But some part of him knew that this wouldn’t work, and because of that, he hadn’t been expecting much. Yet, there was still some hope left in him when the siren’s face screwed up and its mouth moved, and as usual, it made no sound. Keith waited for what felt like minutes, and his hope dissipated all at once. He returned to staring at the wood, but then the thing broke the surrounding silence, “K...ith”

Shock rendered him numb, and absolute joy was the next thing to fill his conscious. But there was also something else that came along with it- a certain sense of pride. Not for him, but for the siren. It was learning, and it occurred to him just how human this thing was.

Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough.

A marveled laugh escaped him, and the thing clicked in response.

“Yes!” he shouted with a smile, pointing to himself again, “I’m Keith. Who are you?”

It pointed to itself, head tilted with an expression that mocked his, “ Kee-ith .”

“No, you aren’t Keith,” he laughed, and it mimicked the noise with ease. Keith looked at it, bewildered, “Who are you? What are you?”

“Keith!” It chirped, and Keith found himself laughing again.

“No,” he told him, and it chirped, “I’m Keith, you’re just… blue.”

“Bl...ue,” it repeated, and Keith clapped.

He recognized the mistake.

There was a violent change in the air between them, and it was strange how fast he realized it. Something stony and cold settled over the siren’s features, and Keith watched it recoil so fast he barely had the time to jump himself. It hissed at him, which was a gesture Keith had never seen nor heard before, and bared its teeth.

It chittered up an angry storm in his direction, frills pressed flat against its head its eyes narrowed. It clicked, releasing a garbled mixture of snarls and growls before it was gone, disappearing into the murky depths with a soft splash.

It didn’t come up for the rest of the day.

For Keith, the situation was a cruel reminder that this thing was not human, and he probably shouldn’t have been treating it like it was throughout this whole experience, no matter how much it helped him get by day after day. It probably saw him as a baby- something that needed to be protected.

It was nearly infuriating, and Keith would have snapped by now if it wasn’t for the fact he was a baby in its eyes. The siren was built to kill , and Keith was not. He was in its domain now, and without a tail, Keith was basically defenseless against anything that could possibly inhabit the waters. Things like Blue.

But Keith was uncertain of even that. It was something that hadn’t exactly crossed his mind, no matter how much time he was given to sit around and think. Did Blue actually have any family out there? Did it have people to make sure it came home for dinner, or people that made sure it was safely asleep in bed? Did Blue have its own Shiro?

The answer to nearly all of those questions was unknown because as far as Keith knew, Blue’s time basically rotated around Keith. It was there 24/7, even like now, when Keith assumed that it was upset with him. He could still see its fin poke out from the water every now and again; a gentle reminder that Blue wasn’t going anywhere-

That Keith could depend on it, even when he did so much to scare it away.

Maybe they were the same- maybe Blue felt the same pull that he did. Maybe Blue was more human than he realized.

Keith shook the thoughts away, but he couldn’t shake the sudden feeling of loneliness that settled upon him. Shiro- he missed Shiro more than anything else in the world, and in that moment, he didn’t care what he had done to aggravate Blue-

He needed to fix things.

Keith peered over the edge of the boat, waiting for the telltale spots of bioluminescence that would tell him where Blue was, but he had no such luck.

A few minutes passed, and he decided to try something else.

He settled against the side of the boat and leaned carefully over the edge, extending his hand until he could dip his fingers into the water. It moved softly around his outstretched fingers, and he inhaled deeply.

A low whistle spilled past his lips and he moved his hand with more confidence through the water, wiggling it freely until ripples appeared adjacent to him.

He removed his hand with a satisfied smile and watched as Blue’s head peeked out from a few feet away, only appearing enough to reveal its eyes, but that was enough for Keith. He waved it over, and watched the hesitance fill its eyes before it came closer to him.

Keith moved backwards until Blue hoisted itself over the edge, resting its head on its crossed forearms and meeting his gaze head-on.

Keith inhaled deeply and prepared himself for what he was about to say.

“I’m sorry I scared you,” the words were nearly foreign on his lips, “So I’m going to promise something.”

Blue clicked and leaned just a bit closer, eyes narrowing with interest. He knew that Blue didn’t understand, but it was endearing to see it trying its best anyways.

“You’re helping me,” Keith smiled, fishing into his pocket until he retrieved an item that meant so , so much to him, “So I promise that one day, I’ll help you.”

Hanging from his hand was the last memory he had of the woman he had never met; of the woman that didn’t want him. It was nothing but a necklace; an insignificant scrap of leather that he held near him at all times. He would have thrown it away long ago; the only thing that made it worth keeping was the pendant it held.

It was a gem that Keith could put no name to, inscribed with a symbol even Keith couldn’t decipher. It was bound to silver plating, where sterling leaves curled over the smooth edges and kept it locked in place. The gem itself was purple, and although it wasn’t Keith’s favorite color, it was one he held close to his heart, but only in the literal sense.

Blue moved in for a closer look almost immediately.

“Prom...ise?” It hummed curiously, eyes never straying from the glistening charm, and pride filled Keith’s lungs.

“Yeah,” He murmured with the smallest of smiles, “I can’t ever break it.”

He reached over slowly, giving Blue enough time to pull away, before grabbing its hand in a gentle grip. It voiced its concern, but unfurled its fingers nonetheless.

The burning of tears in his eyes nearly overpowered him at that moment, but Keith found it in himself to keep moving, even as something in his mind told him not to do it .

The leather was cold against Blue’s palm and it clicked curiously, holding the necklace up to its nose and sniffing it cautiously. Its eyes roamed over the purple in the chain and the charm hanging delicately from the center. It was being extra careful, Keith realized, as he watched it turn the necklace over in its clawed hands. Something akin to familiarity flashed over its face, but there was nothing too alarming about it.

Keith…” It whispered slowly, peering unsurely at him. It pointed to itself, “ Y-yours…?”

It , in that moment, didn’t seem to describe the thing before him. Blue was his friend now, and was more human than he would ever know.

Blue clicked again, pulling Keith from his thoughts, pointing again. “ Yours?”

He’s trying to ask if it’s his now .

Keith grinned.

A hoarse laugh escaped him and he nodded. It was strange, how he understood exactly what Blue was trying to say, without him actually having to say it correctly. But a lot of things were strange for him now.

And he wouldn’t change it for the world.

Blue release a garbled form of a click, and Keith met his eyes.

so were so impossibly blue, glowing softly in the dipping sun as they watered over with unshed tears, and Keith was briefly taken aback. Within them, Keith saw every emotion that Blue couldn’t convey with words, and he was stunned. Keith could see the fear, the pride, the raw happiness that was trapped in them.

And then Blue was moving.

With a broken screech, Blue launched himself from the water and hurled into Keith, wrapping him immediately into the damp chill of his arms.

Keith hadn’t had a proper hug in what felt like years, but was really only around a week. There was something so warm about it, something that felt right; something that smelt right.

He let his body go limp, muscles relaxing against the sturdiness of the siren. Blue’s tears ran in streaks down his already dripping face, but Keith allowed him to wipe them away in his hair. And even though going lax in Blue’s arms was sudden and unexpected, he accommodated it anyways.

With half of his tail still hooked over the side of the boat, Blue maneuvered himself beneath Keith until the human was tucked into his side, and cradled his head with his hands. He cradled Keith in his arms, and in that moment, Keith couldn’t have asked for a better friend.

But still, a part of him was upset. Keith didn’t want to need this as desperately as he did.

“I want Shiro back,” he whispered, knees knocking sloppily into the siren’s tail, but Blue didn’t mind.

“She-roh?” Blue questioned, crooning softly in Keith's ears with every rumbling exhale. It occurred to Keith that Blue was purring, and the thought was so ridiculous it startled a laugh out of him.

Blue understood immediately what was funny, and flicked Keith in his head.

Keith looked up at him and pulled out of the hug, shuffling to the other side of the boat so he could meet Blue face to face. He chittered, but made no move to pull Keith back, instead slouching further into the wood.

He cocked his head in question, ears flicking as he said it again, “She-roh?”

“Oh, right,” He sighed, thinking his head back until his head slammed into it.

“Shiro’s like my brother. The one with the white in his hair, and the scar. He-he di- ” Keith’s voice broke before he could even finish the sentence, but he pressed on, “He got lost in the storm. When-when the boat went down he-”

His eyes blurred as tears forced their way out and ran down his face, leaving him a slobbery mess while Blue sat there, shocked, as if he wasn’t crying just minutes ago.

But it wasn’t shock, Keith noticed, as Blue’s next words registered in his head.

“Shiro….-” Blue’s passive face morphed into one of frustration. He didn’t know the word that he needed, and Keith knew that feeling all too well.

He leaned forwards until there was only mere inches between their faces. Blue blinked at him, as if Keith would give him the answer.

“-Shiro.. like Keith,” He finally said, sounding completely sure of himself as he leaned backwards and away. He peered over the edge of the boat and at the sea, “Shiro... lost.”

And when Blue turned back to face him, Keith knew what that expression was.

It was understanding .

Keith nearly laughed at the irony.

Chapter Text

 When the darkness swallowed the light, Keith was normally alone on his little boat.

This night was different, and he didn’t know why.

Maybe it was because he wasn’t alone.

Beneath the light of the moon, the glowing patches of scales that adorned Blue were at their full power, their soft light illuminating the area around them. There was something he found indescribably beautiful about it, and a rare sight that he would never get tired of seeing.

Right now, however, Keith didn’t have it in him to admire them.

He was stretched across the bottom of the boat, with water sloshing at his sides and obnoxiously filling his ears every time it rocked. He prayed for comfort, but that didn’t exist for him anymore, apparently. Strewn across the only seating available, was Blue. He was lazing about, drifting in and out of consciousness as Keith shot names at him back to back. So far, he had no such luck.

“I dunno… Dylan?”

WIth carefully retracted claws, Keith was flicked in the forehead.

He winced, biting back a smile as he glared over at Blue, “Do you have to every time?”

“K eeith stupid ,” Blue grinned after some difficulty, and Keith nearly choked on his laughter. He didn’t know why he ever taught Blue to say that, but it was hilarious. Blue, however, was less amused.

“You’re no help,” he pouted, then sat up abruptly.

“Okay, okay, okay! I’ve got one!”

Blue didn’t even bother looking up as Keith paused for dramatic effect, wiggling his eyebrows, “What about Taylor?”

He scowled over at his human, opening his mouth before he was cut off by what Keith could only assume was another of his kind.

Blue looked up and out at sea, frills flicking at a sound Keith wouldn’t have been able to pick up. Something he could recognize as annoyance flitted over his face before he looked over at Keith, pointing to the water.

“Go,” Blue told him after a moment's pause, and Keith nodded.

“See you later, Jack.”

Blue hissed violently, but there was no real hostility behind it, and that much Keith knew. He laughed, and Blue disappeared beneath the black water. He did it all the time, leaving Keith to wonder just what could be calling Blue back into the depths. He never went far, so did that mean there were more sirens, and not far off? Keith didn’t know whether to be happy for Blue, or scared for himself.

At sea, nights were the hardest for Keith, but the siren was always there, lurking just beneath the surface in case he was needed. Sometimes Keith could feel him beneath the wood, could hear the drag of claws on the underside, or feel Blue’s movements as he glided underneath.

The ocean was dark, so, so dark, and that was a deeply rooted issue Keith always had. There was no telling what could have been swimming around out there, and that was what made it dangerous for humans like him. Keith’s heart physically ached for Shiro with every waking moment- for someone he could speak to using intellectual sentences, and not just the childlike ones he used with Blue. As new as this feeling of not-belonging, Keith knew what it meant. The weight of being alone finally hit him- and he realized at that moment that he needed someone besides the siren to keep him sane. But its company was better than nothing.

For the most part, Blue never left Keith’s side, and it was something that had raised questions from the beginning. He just swam in constant circles around the boat, and if he wasn’t doing that, he was lounging around on board. But Blue was still protecting Keith, and that, he was aware of.

Nights like these, where he didn’t know where Blue ran off too, were the worst. There was no light without Blue, just the soft beams of moonlight reflecting from the surface. He always sat at the bottom of the boat on these nights, avoiding the bench altogether because that would give him the time to think about what could be swimming around him.

It was because of this, Keith wasn’t aware of the silhouette cutting through the water, and heading straight for him.

It never made it that far.

When a deafening shriek tore through the air, Keith was alerted almost immediately. He stood so fast he risked tipping, and just barely caught sight of Blue launching himself at the shark in a flurry of claws, teeth, and scales.

Keith had never truly understood what Blue was capable of until he witnessed it for himself. The moonlight danced across the tail Keith had associated with the word beautiful , and allowed him to memorize the interaction with gory detail. Keith watched Blue coil around the unsuspecting shark, and thrashed around with enough force to jostle the boat.

He could still hear the furious shrieking as Blue wrestled the thing beneath the surface as he forced himself to sleep, and when Keith awoke, shaking, the red in the water had faded.

Blue was watching him.

Keith looked at i -him and inched backward from where Blue was perched. Hurt consumed his eyes, and for a minute, he looked bewildered. He leaned over the edge of the boat, hooking his claws into the wood until he could hoist himself the rest of the way in, but he paused.

“Keeeith…?” He asked softly, reaching out towards him.

But Keith jerked back and away from the claws shouting out a hurried, “No, Blue!” before he returned to his cowering.

The siren recoiled immediately, yanking his hand back as if he was burned.

“K eeith …” He murmured, but his expression quickly morphed into a snarl as he hissed the next word to come to mind, “ Stupid.

And Blue too, was gone.

Repairing that damage wasn’t easy.

Keith had shown fear, real fear, towards Blue, and that had seemingly affected the siren more than Keith himself. The guilt was eating away at him, as was another form of fear. He was scared that he had chased away the only thing that cared about him, and that was something he wasn’t willing to risk again.

His hand dove beneath the surface and he whistled, which should have summoned Blue right away. This time, however, it didn’t.

And it didn’t for days.

When his time away from civilization hit three weeks, Keith broke down.

He was covered from head to toe in sunburns, and every new position he made only increased the pain. Dehydration was eating away at him; his lips were dry and cracked, and even the small amounts of rainwater he could secure couldn’t help him. He didn’t have to worry about food, though, he always awoke with guilt in his gut and pain in his heart, but there would always be a fish or two waiting for him.

He had definitely acquired salmonella on multiple occasions, but Keith learned to fight his way through that. That pain, he could manage, but only because it was physical. The heartache was not.

“I want to go home,” he’d croaked to no one in particular, but Blue had seemingly had enough with giving the silent treatment. He popped his head up from beneath the water, looking almost instantly panicked at the sudden outburst, but didn’t dare to move closer. Keith craved the shore, the people, the sand that somehow ended up everywhere, even in his shoes. He even missed bad things- the reek of hot garbage, or the burn of hot asphalt. Anything would have made him feel better.

“Ke...ith…” Blue spoke softly, drifting closer, “Ho-me?”

A brief flash of white-hot relief washed over him, and nearly distracted him from the miserable state of both him and his body.

“Yeah, I want to go home,” he frowned, not giving himself the time to be happy for their reunion. He pointed to his legs and wiggled his toes, “Home has people like me. People with legs and real food, not just fish.”

Ears flicked in confusion, but Blue did not dare to speak.

“Yeah,” Keith finished lamely, shoving down the feeling of guilt pooling like ice in his stomach, “A hotdog sounds really good right now.”

He looked up and found Blue directly next to the boat now, peering over the edge at him. Keith moved his eyes away, throwing an arm over his face in hope that it would block the sun's rays.

It didn’t, and Keith whimpered.

He stifled another as he moved and forced a neutral expression across his face as he changed the subject, “I think I found a name for you.”

Blue reverted to clicking, unable to come up with a response, and when Keith didn’t flinch, he took it as permission to board the small boat. And whether on purpose or not, He settled in a way that blocked the sun from hitting Keith’s face, and showered him with water.

It made Keith warm, but in a good way.

Honestly, he hadn’t come up with a name. In fact, the whole subject of finding Blue a new name was completely off of his mind all day. But he brought it up, and with Blue staring up at him so unexpectedly, he had to deal with the consequences.

As he mulled over the possible list of names, he was struck with thoughts of the Lionheart, of the brave captain that tried everything he could to save the boat and all of its people. He wasn’t successful, of course, but he had still tried his best, and managed to get Keith out of there alive. Even if he couldn’t save Shi-

He got out alive, and that meant more to him than any of it.

Keith gave Blue a crooked smile as he said his next words very carefully,

“It’s nice to meet you, Lance.”

And amazingly enough, Blue smiled back.

Chapter Text

LANCE:

There was something changing in their bond, and he didn’t like it one bit. His human was getting worse nearly every day, and there was nothing he could do to stop it from happening. He had tried everything: coddling the human didn’t work, and neither did all of his treasures.

What more did the needy little creature want?

He was aware that is human- Lance’s human, didn’t belong here with him. But Keith wanted to go home? Something strange rumbled inside him at the thought. Home was here , home was with Lance , and the wooden box, and the water .

Deep down, though, Lance knew that his human didn’t belong in this sacred place; he could not live off of the land like him and his pod. He needed to go where the other legs went: to land .

Lance had seen people like Keith- he’d dragged them beneath the waves in the name of safety, and he didn’t regret it once.

But Keith- his Keith, was different.

Lance didn’t know his real family. He was raised by mermaids that knew nothing about him or what he needed- and although he was grateful, he was in a constant state of being used. He had to protect them- deal with every threat because he was seemingly the only one capable of it.

It was infuriating.  

That aside, when he found Keith, he was basically a baby. Keith was a creature just as alone as him, and Lance didn’t have it in him to kill the child as he had so many others.  

Keith’s presence wasn’t welcomed in these waters. That part didn’t matter, though, because Lance’s wasn’t exactly adored either. But he didn’t care how the other sea-dwellers felt about him, but Keith was another story. Keith was his , and he would rip apart anyone that dared to touch him.

Lance was an unstoppable force in these waters. No one in his pod had the power to stop him when he got worked up. The mermaids aren’t like him, they don’t have claws, or tails as long as his, so there would be no real challenge. They are soft and docile, and he, on the other hand, is not. Lance is a predator, and no matter how he was raised, nothing could change that. He had the ability to end them with ease, it didn’t matter how much of a fight they would put up because Lance was quite literally born to kill.

There was something else that he didn’t understand, though. Keith had even given him something, something that was important to him, and some carnal part of Lance hums with energy whenever he sees it, safely tucked away amongst his cave of treasures.

He looks at it when he has an especially bad day, one that doesn’t involve Keith, because those are never the bad days.

A promise, Keith had called it, a promise to help .

He may not have known what help meant, but a raw sense of selfishness overcame him when it came to Keith, he didn’t want to give away his human. Yet, Lance knew, deep down, that it was time to let go. Keith was a child, much like him, and they both had a lot of growing to do.

The first sign that he had to let go was in the form of a scent;

His human started smelling different, his scent didn’t change like it used to.

He used to only smell of that endless sorrow during the bright hours of dawn and adorned the dull scent of discomfort during noon. At night, his human used to ooze the burning scent of fear; of terror , so Lance always did his best to assure his human.

Now, though, there was nothing but sorrow that surrounded him, and Lance would rather smell the fear than that.

The second sign was when he cried, and Keith cried a lot .

Especially when he thinks that Lance can’t hear him.

Lance hated when he cried.

There wasn’t a problem when Lance did it that one time, because he was happy, but he knew Keith couldn’t smell that. But Keith’s tears were different- the dragging scent of sorrow multiplied until it clogged Lance’s nose and he could smell nothing but. It was startling, really.

His human, the one he had tried so hard to keep happy, wanted to go where the others like him went; where they left and never came back.

Why did Keith want to leave him?

Was Lance not enough for him?

Didn’t he know how much it would hurt?

No matter;

Keith wanted to go home, so Lance would take him home, if it made him happy.

Perhaps he could sing for him one day, Keith seemed to like the song that he taught Lance.

Maybe Lance could go look for Keith’s Shiro, too.

 

KEITH:

Keith awoke to stillness, and his heart immediately lurched in his chest. Lance? Where are the waves?

As much as he tried, he was unable to focus in on anything around him. He always woke up sluggish, but right now, it felt worse than it ever had before.

Then-

A slew of disconnected voices punctured his air of groggy disbelieve, words tumbling over each other brashly as they fought to be heard over one another.

Keith tensed and released a shuddering sob, all of his emotions following it.

Relief washed over him, accompanied by an overwhelming amount of fear. The fog that settled over his mind was thicker than ever.

They were getting louder, but they closer the got, the less sense they made to him. It all faded into noise, echoing around the wooden walls of his boat. One particular voice was winning the battle, it seemed, inaudible words strangely forceful in a way that just felt odd to his ears .

His eyelids dragged upwards as some kind of reflex to the alarmed tones, but shut immediately in the presence of the blinding sun.

Where the hell was he? Did he finally die? Where-where was Lance?

“Help!”

The shout came from somewhere above him, and he was being lifted up, up, up

“Fuck- grab his legs!”

It was a struggle to open his eyes. They were heavy, full of sand, and the world around him became a blur as he raised was in the air, how long did he sleep?

Where’s Lance , he tried to ask, but found himself unable to do so around a mouthful of what felt like cotton.

“Give him to me!”

It was almost impossible to keep his eyes open for much longer, so he gave in to beckoning darkness.

Lance! His mind shouted, desperately, where’s Lance?

Pain and emotion overwhelmed him as he cried out, tears leaving burning streaks as they rolled steadily from beneath his eyelids. His skin burned where the touched him- grabbing at his shirt and pants. It hurt .

Choking on a nasty combination of tears and vomit, Keith found the strength to open his eyes, and as the hands carried him away from it, he reached out towards the sea, where there was a splash of blue, and then still waves.

Lance .”

___

When Keith woke up from his deathly sleep, he became aware of the sterile sting of the air, and the plush beneath him. His clothes were cold against his skin, and Keith briefly wondered if he was still dreaming as he sat up to take it all in.

Light streamed through the curtains, and he was suddenly more awake than he had ever been.

Curtains , there was fucking curtains.

 

He felt himself break, like glass hitting the hard grown.

Panic set in immediately, tightening his chest until he couldn't allow anything but shallow breathing against his ribs. A static settled over his mind, thoughts a jumbled mess that he just couldn’t keep up with. He was in a room , sitting on a bed , limbs unable to move and unwilling to work.

The hospital room was white and blue, but it was so beautiful , that Keith couldn’t stop himself from laughing through his hysterics.

People rushed in seconds later, pushing him onto his back and demanding that he breathe as if it was that easy. What felt like minutes ago, he was lost at sea, with a goddamn siren for a companion. The more he thought of it- the crazier it got. The thing was, Keith knew it was real, he knew all of it wasn’t made up, even as he told that to them, they refused to believe it.

Keith was severely dehydrated, and he also suffered from mania, as far as they were concerned. He was beyond pissed because even when he was better, they didn’t let him leave.

They told Keith that he was in a small town called Altea , and asked him if he had any family, and how he survived. He was asked questions and told things nearly every day, but no one seemed to believe him.

It was only a matter of time before he didn’t believe himself.

They put Keith in foster care, where he spent a year bouncing from house to house until he found a place where he was accepted.

Thace and Ulaz took him in.

And Keith liked his new parents; they were big and scary. And now he didn’t have just one dad, but two , who he liked to think believed all the stories he told.

They had a friend that Keith liked too. His name was Coran, and he reminded Keith of Lance. He was thin and ginger, but he wasn’t soulless like Shiro used to say. His voice came out like he had a grass reed for a tongue and his mustache was on a new level of crazy. But Coran was like a beam of light and happiness wherever he went, and Keith didn’t know how much he needed it until then.

Keith was undeniably happy , and when Thace and Ulaz officially adopted him, no words could describe how he felt.

So he grew up in Altea, and he eventually outgrew his past. He erased all memories he had of Lance- anything that made him stand out from everyone else. Anything that might earn him another beating from the local kids.

Keith replaced every memory with things he knew made more sense; things that he could explain with ease and logic, instead of fairy tales and mythical creatures.

But even then, there was one thing Keith couldn’t explain, no matter how much times people asked him.

How did you get here?

Because honestly, he had no idea.

Chapter Text

Keith didn’t know what to think of his dreams anymore.

He didn’t dislike them, they were just confusing for him; a collection of things that all came and went in a jumbled mess. But Keith had given up on trying to interpret them. He couldn’t determine which ones were real, and which ones were things he’d made up in an attempt to cope, so he just didn’t try anymore.

At least, until he was hit by the lucid dreams.

He saw eyes: eyes that were so much more than expressive. Emotions of call kinds swirled through them with abandon, changing in time as the seconds ticked by. They were captivating, as if at any moment he’d stray too close to the edge and fall in.

Understanding gleamed in them, and Keith watched as it morphed into a strange sort of bewilderment, and slowly by surly, unconditional admiration stared back at him.

Every tendril of color that composed the iris was incandescent, not only reflecting the light around them, but absorbing it.

It seemed as if the ocean was framed in between those elegant lashes, and Keith was drowning.

But for one minute, an uncontrollable wave of relief washed over him; one that cut through his earlier wave of panic and cleansed him entirely. They were familiar, but Keith would remember if he’d seen something like that, so he didn’t know why they eased the pressure off of his shoulders. Keith didn’t know who they belonged to, but if they made him feel like that, Keith would crawl to the ends of the Earth to find them.

He didn’t however, like this dream, and it was time for him to wake up.

Thought It was no longer as stressful as it once was, Keith exactly didn’t take pleasure in it. Of course, there was still that fleeting moment where a foreign fear settled over him, as if he didn't know where he was, but it dissipated nearly instantly.

He woke up to soft sheets now and even softer sunlight, as he had for the past twelve years of his life, but it didn’t even begin to compare to the beauty of the sea. Keith was grateful, though, that he had the chance to wake up with something solid and sturdy beneath him, in a place where he constantly being adored.

Keith was turning twenty one today, and completely at peace with his life.

He had a friend to spend the day with now- Pidge. They’d met at the job they now shared, and had been bonded ever since. Coran counted too, but he was more like a third father to Keith than a real friend.

Today was his birthday, so he could spend as much time as he wanted with Pidge; chatting, venting, laughing, whatever he wanted. The house would almost definitely be a mess, but they’d never been bothered by it, so there was nothing different about today. They’d sit right atop that mess and go about their day however Keith wished to spend it. Maybe they’d actually go to work today- or maybe the two of them could go to the marine rehabilitation center for just fun.

He had to muffle a laugh at the thought.

As he got dressed and left the house, Keith thought over what he was going to spend his time doing today.

There were tons of options that he had; movies, aimlessly playing video games for hours, or just lounging around doing absolutely nothing. But he was restless; something about that dream really set his nerves on fire. Sitting around would do nothing to ease the hyper energy pounding away inside of him.

Keith changed his train of thought to Pidge as he approached her house. She wasn’t the kind of friend that you found intentionally, nor the kind that you’d keep around because of her kindness. She was a brutally honest person, and that was the main thing that rendered her an outcast among the town. But Keith was different, Keith appreciated that aspect of her. He always knew how she felt- she told him why and when she was angry with him, and she never shied away from being blunt.

Keith had to go through months of rehabilitation when he came back from his “voyage”, and he still never got the hang of understanding people or how they felt. But Keith had been like that since he was a child, before the wreck, and no one believed him.

Except for Pidge.

Keith always stuck up for her in front of others, even when he knew she was on the wrong side. He felt a fierce sense of protectiveness when it came to Pidge, something that he’d supposedly adopted in his time overseas.

Their dynamic worked, strangely enough.

“Keith, I’m gonna need you to focus, pal.”

He blinked, eyes focusing on the tiny gremlin before him, then on the hand that was poised to knock a door that was already ajar. She snickered, pushing up her glasses before shoving past him and down the steps.

He let his hand drop, and followed after her, bickering quietly.

They went for a walk on the beach, as it was the one constant thing they did whatever they were together. It had always been Keith's go-to place for birthdays, no matter how much he was ridiculed for it because he “feared” the water too much to actually swim. He didn’t exactly fear it, but his unease was understandable after what he’d been through.

Keith couldn’t bring himself to hate the water for what it had done to him, he’d embraced his past and in doing so, he could see the true, chaotic beauty of it.  The damp air and salty tang reminded him of a home he’d long since forgotten.

He liked to look at the boats scattered across the docks, a random blur of colors and words he didn’t actually pay attention to as he strolled past.

Keith enjoyed watching them bob easily on the waves, and as many times as he was offered, he wasn’t ready to board one again.

He just liked to stand there, and let the world around him fill his senses. The warm air brought salt to his lips, and the cry of seagulls surrounded him, and nothing could compare to the feeling. A fuzzy sense of nostalgia settled over him, and he was struck with a sudden rush of loss.

But it was different than what he felt for Shiro, because Keith knows that he didn’t lose Shiro, the man would always be apart of him.

This, however, was something different; something he didn’t understand.

As he walked, feet making indents in the sand, his eyes moved from the gold surrounding him, to the rocks, then the waves as they rode up the shore. Pidge grumbled beside him, shoving her glasses further up her nose while she walked, avoiding the sun’s direct rays by ducking behind Keith.

“Look!” Pidge suddenly shrieked, laughter coming from her in an unexpected burst, “That’s fucking gnarly.”

He followed her finger to where a bird was perched on a rock, picking apart the bloody remains of another seagull. Keith laughed, more at Pidge’s awkward cackling than the sight itself, but he found the sight funny nonetheless, “That’s wrong on so many levels.”

“Tell me about it,” she snorted.

Out of sheer habit, the pair approached an area where large rocks protruded just above the surface of the water, and with a rush of laughter, ran out before the side ran in, throwing themselves onto it just as it washed beneath them. Side by side, they stared out at the water, chests heaving with the remains of their laughter.

With legs curled beneath him, Keith looked down at the water, and stuck his hand in.

Pidge watched him curiously as he wiggled them, whistling shortly before he pulled it back. She never questioned why he did it nearly every time they were here, but today it was different. He’d never whistled before, though.

Pidge finally spoke, humming curiously, “Why do you always do that?”

Honestly… he didn’t know how to answer that. Keith knew that he was repetitive when it came to doing certain things, but only because he depended on them. Everything was always changing for him, but they often helped him remain in touch with the world around him.

“I don’t actually know,” Keith looked up at her and a ghost of a smile crossed over his face. He shrugged, eyes flickering back to the water as he blinked thoughtfully, “It’s one of the only things I remember from… you know.”

Pidge did know, so there was no need to speak any further.

Silence drifted between them and gave Keith the time to think about things. He sifted through his memories, and when he did, the water seemed so foreign to him.

There was a time where it was considered home, but no that idea seemed so weird to him. He wasn’t a child anymore, but an adult three times the size of that. He could remember swimming peacefully in that ocean, floating senselessly. The ocean used to be something he loved, something that he had respected back then.

But all of that was different now.

He was taught to stay away from the water, because it was dangerous after what had happened to him, and Keith shamefully believed them. Brainwashed, Pidge would say, and Keith could only agree with it. He was repulsed by the water now, no matter how much he adored it, there was an underlying fear that accompanied it.

He couldn’t bare to touch it anymore. The only thing his mind would allow was a hand, at most.

“So,” Pidge said, breaking the silence as she adjusted herself on the rock. She was getting angst, and it would almost be time to go. The sun painted her skin red where her shorts came to an end, and she glared at him for noticing. It eased up  as she spoke though, “You gonna get blackout drunk and pass out later?”

Keith frowned, looking over at her in faux shock, “Why the hell would I do that, gremlin?”

“Because, moron,” she grinned, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, “You're twenty-one . It’s your time to shine.”

Keith, however, wasn’t having it in the slightest bit. He shoved into her until she tumbled off the rock and into the tide just as it rolled in. She landed clumsily on her feet, thankfully, but still got soaked through her flip-flops.

“Keith, you asshole!” She screeched, standing eerily still as she, “There’s gonna be sand stuck to my fucking feet all day .”

He only laughed, but his mistake was getting close enough for her to shove him back-

And directly into the water.

It washed over him, and Keith found himself being consumed by memories as they flooded over him; a collection of blue, blue, blue- and raw terror.

He inhaled sharply and the panic began like a cluster of fireworks in his abdomen. Pidge recognized it instantly and cursed, rushing over and pulling him out of the water with strength her body shouldn’t have been able to manage. She grabbed his face in her hands and forced him to meet her eyes, “Keith… Keith, breathe with me.”

And he does, following the pattern she’s set with a slight hesitancy, because as much as he wants this to be over, he wants to remember.

His hearing was the first to return to him, and his eyesight followed suit, focusing in on Pidge’s sloppily cut hair and foggy glasses. He pushes her back with shaking hands, taking a few minutes to breathe, and he settles.

“Sorry, I just-”

Pidge shook her head, cutting him off as she removed her glasses, wiping them on her shirt before putting them back onto her face, “It’s fine, Keith.”

And they were off again, walking along the waters and playfully chatting. She gave him a small, reassuring smile, before it vanished without a trace. Her eyes were focused on something over his shoulder, however, and nearly comically wide, What is he doing?”

Before he could even get a laugh out at the expression, Pidge’s hands were on his shoulders and whirling him around, where he finally caught sight of-

Wait, what the actual fuck?

Coran was sprawled out in the sand a few meters away from them, crouched near the water, poking at something not even a foot away from him. He looked up as he noticed them, waving enthusiastically as he gestured them over, pointing at something they couldn’t recognize.

Pidge looked up at him, questioningly, because if they were to get involved, they would be roped into working.

Keith shrugged though, and closed the distance between them easily, Pidge following close behind.

“Look at this, it’s absolutely marvelous!” He exclaimed, carefully slapping on some gloves. Coran grinned beneath his mustache, pulling whatever he was talking about from the surf with gentle fingers. In his hand was a fin- the kind Keith had never seen before, but it was beautiful.

“I believe it’s a dorsal fin of some kind,” he told them, “But I’ve never seen anything like it.”

He cradled it carefully between his hands and held it out to them, and interest immediately flickered across Pidge’s face. Coran studied it carefully, “I’m taking it back to the center if you kiddos want to come along.”

Pidge shot Keith a look, and he shrugged.

“Why not,” he told them, shoving his hands into the back of his pockets, “Not like there’s anything better to do.”

Pidge smiled, Coran chuckled, and together they left.

_

As they walked through the back room of the center, the otters followed them through the glass, tails moving wildly as they moved to drift by on their backs. Pidge cooed at them, wiggling her fingers and watching as they moved their tails in response.

The Altean Marine Center was the crown jewel of the town; located in an open, rural area with two colossal floors with a sizable lab for a basement.

The first floor was the best part, in Keith’s opinion.

It was where the dolphins were; held in large tanks that trailed from the outside, to the very window that composed the wall of the basement. The large glass panes of the otter enclosure were facing the outside as well, giving them the ability to swim by and entertain the people if they chose.

They didn’t, most of the time.

As they walked through the door, Keith automatically strayed to the left, heavily dodging the whale skeleton hanging overhead with Pidge not too far behind. He didn’t trust that thing one bit, and Pidge clearly felt the same. He didn’t know why Coran had insisted on putting it up in the first place; something about making the place more welcoming.

They moved around the interactive table, where horseshoe crabs and starfish were scattered through the shallow water. Keith moved his hand through the water, fingers brushing across the rough exterior of a starfish.

Coran began talking, something about dolphins, and Keith easily tuned him out. Pidge kept up with the conversation without hesitation, filling in the blanks where Keith was supposed to respond with casual answers of her own.

Keith’s eyes trailed across the floor, over the tank of tropical fish, and-

A shadow ducked behind the tank, and Keith froze.

“Guys,” He spoke, not even bothering to look up from the tank. “Go ahead, I’ll catch up.”

Pidge stopped walking as well, peering at him questioningly, “You sure?”

He nodded, holding up a hand and shooing them along.

And when their footsteps finally receded, Keith walked curiously across the room and approached the wall, peering through the glass and the more-than-blue water. The vibrant fish swam past his vision, but there was something a lot bigger moving on the other side.

Keith was honest to god shocked.

It was too early for the center to be open, but there were always people stupid enough to sneak in. He frowned, hands wrapping around the very edge of the tank before he swung violently around the corner, popping to the other side and preparing for the worst.

Only then did he realize that he was so, very stupid.

Within seconds, he was slammed against the wall with a power no human should have been able to possess. His eyes clenched shut as a hand curled around his throat, lifting him up, up, up, until he was nearly a foot off of the floor.

He choked on a cry, suddenly wishing that he had gone along with Coran instead of sticking his nose everywhere. Keith gasped out a withering breath, wrapping his hands around the offending wrists in an attempt to free himself, but his grip was weakened by the second.

Keith,” his attacker suddenly hissed, and Keith opened his eyes.

He was released as if his skin burned, and was briefly overcome with a panic so strong, it felt as if he was paralyzed. Keith searched for purchase as he slid down the wall, grappling his throat as if it would ease the phantom pressure.

He met the eyes of the attacker and Keith vaguely recalls the blue, blue, blue -

Focus.

He was also naked, Keith realized, bare as the day he was born in the dim lighting of the center.

The man dragged himself further away from Keith as he regained control over his body and pushed himself into a crouch Keith could only describe as feral.

“Keith,” He said again, cutting off his thoughts with an accent that was foreign and oddly familiar. His blue eyes narrowed, morphing from malicious into a mixture of sorrow and barely restrained joy. He looked as if he meant to move forward, but winced horribly and tensed. But Keith didn’t budge, curling his legs into his chest and burning his face into his knees.

Keith,” He pleaded again, and Keith couldn’t find the words he needed to respond,  “Promise… . Help.”

Only then did Keith open his eyes.

He looked at the man’s features; he took the time to study his face and access why the hell it was so familiar to him. But his eyes wandered; from the bitter chocolate hair, the elegant lashes, and the eyes-

He’d seen them before-

In his dreams.

And around his neck was the very pendant he’d thought was lost forever-

The one that they told him probably sunk with the ship-

The one that he’d given to the alleged siren .

Keith froze, a full body shudder rolling through him as a single memory washed over him- a name- one that he used to whisper like a mantra until it had lost all meaning to him-

One that used to mean the absolute world , but had lost all credibility as time went on-

Lance.”

Chapter Text

The name was a trigger between them, and the man’s reaction was unlike anything Keith had ever seen.

It burned like acid on his tongue, nearly scorching as it left his mouth, and exploding into the silence. It was painfully clear that this stranger felt the same thing, because he was suddenly moving.

The brunette lurched forwards with a desperation Keith could only describe as feral, and his whole body jerked in response. His whole body shuddered and he braced himself as If he was going to charge forward, but fell over face first on trembling legs.

“Keith,” The brunette panted helplessly as he curled in on himself, face screwed up in a real resemblance of pain, “Keith… help Lance?”

Another surge of white-hot panic overcame him and Keith knew that he couldn’t leave this man in pain, whether he was a real threat or not. Lance offered him a small smile, and Keith was unprepared from the inviting warmth that fluttered through his stomach. He lowered his legs, meeting the man’s eyes yet again, and Keith thought that his brain would short circuit.

He might not know this stranger, but his heart did.

The brunette grew angsty beneath his gaze, opening his mouth but closing it as if he decided against speaking. But Keith could see his throat contracting; adam’s apple bobbing as he released a sound Keith hadn’t heard in the longest time.

The world seemingly stopped on its axis as it filled the air around them- and nothing seemed real to him anymore. Keith’s mind was suddenly plunged into an unaltered state of peace; pure, calm, quiet.

The humming was soft and melodic as it left his throat, as if it was the only way he could get his point across. The painfully familiar song rolled over him in sorrowful waves, and despite the emotional agony it brought upon him, Keith was overpowered by a dopey rush of adrenaline.

It was utterly unlike him, and naturally, he was scared shitless.

He peeled his arms away from his eyes and looked up, “Stop it, please.”

Almost immediately, it was cut off with the muffled clacking of teeth.

“Keith,” the man ground out insistently, “You… Promise.”

The words must have meant something, because somewhere inside of Keith, his heart lurched painfully. It pounded away ruefully in his chest, begging him to just remember, remember, remember .

But he couldn’t . Dragging up memories from a life that wasn’t his own would be wrong on so many levels, and Keith didn’t think he’d be able to handle that.

Still, though, Keith didn’t know how to respond to the whole situation. He scraped through his mind to find anything that could possibly explain who the hell this dude was, and how the hell Keith knew his name. The answer was within him somewhere, but Keith wasn’t willing to dig too deep.

His body forced itself into action, chest heaving with his labored breathing.

Across from him, “Lance” went lax.

He looked hopelessly up at Keith then, trembling hand reaching up to wrap around something at his throat. Hesitation gleamed in his eyes, but with a terrible flinch, he ripped it from his neck.

Keith barely had enough time to jump before the man slid it to him, and it easily covered the foot of space between them. The man looked up at them and said again, “Promise, Keith. Promise.”

And Keith was stunned.

In his hands was the necklace his whole life had once been based around. The necklace he had sworn was given to a siren in exchange for forgiveness. The necklace everyone told him was lost in the crash, was there, in his hands,  and he couldn’t believe what the hell was going on with him.

He had to make a choice though, one that rested in his hands. On one, he could call the police and get the fucking nudist who attacked him arrested, but on the other, Keith could fulfill this “promise” that Lance would have to tell him about later.

He knew that he was supposed to call the cops in times like these,

But Keith was moving.

“Lance…?” He asked, carefully tucking away the necklace before he began mulling over his decisions.

As he cautiously removed the hoodie wrapped around his waist, Keith scooted in closer. His trembling hands were raised as if he was moving towards an especially startled animal, even though it was probably unnecessary. A deep part of him may have known Lance once upon a time but that was a long time ago, he didn’t know what had changed. Even if he had legs, he was probably still just as feral.

The man released another pained hiss as he tried to move, baring his teeth, and then frowned. It was clear that he was running his tongue over his teeth. Surprise flickered across his face, and Keith took that time to swallow his feelings and shuffle across the distance between them.

“Lance, I’m going to touch you now,” he said slowly, and Keith didn’t know how he was keeping such control over his emotions. Tension was laced throughout his entire body, and Keith didn’t have the time to decipher between the two as he balanced on his knees before Lance. Keith forced a smile, but it came out more strained than intended.

Lance sniffed at the air as Keith moved within reaching distance, and narrowed his eyes before a slow grin slid across his face.

Keith fought through the emotions trying to control him, because in a matter of seconds, everything he had ever come to know came crashing down on him, and he didn’t even have the time to grieve. Everything that he told the people was true, but the only thing that he couldn’t explain was how the fuck a siren had legs.

The last time Keith saw Lance, he was a blubbering mess that no control over his own emotions- and Lance had brought him here .

He had always hated Lance for that; leaving him here with people he didn't know, someplace he didn’t know. It was why he had given up on any idea of the siren in the first place- holding onto the memory of being abandoned by someone he had come to care about was simply too painful for him.

But it was his fault, and deep down, he knew that.

He had asked to go home, and Lance was only doing what he thought would make Keith happy.

Now, Keith was left questioning everything he thought he knew; his life was falling apart right before his eyes, and all it took was a being attacked by a naked man a place he grew up in.

Life worked in mysterious ways.

“I’m going to touch you now, okay?”

Lance glanced up at him and nodded, brows furrowed, “Ye..es.”

With that, Keith started the process.

He assessed Lance with quiet eyes; the man’s newfound legs didn’t seem to work for long periods of time, as demonstrated, but that could also be because he didn’t know how to use them. Either way, he would need assistance getting anywhere.

Keith maneuvered Lance to sit up against the tank, cupping the back of his head as he eased it against the glass. Carefully ignoring the dick not even inches away from him, he nudged the man’s arms into the air, only for them to fall limp at his sides. Keith grumbled unhappily to himself, slipping Lance’s arms into the sleeves by one. He tugged it over the brunette's shoulders and hoisted him to his feet.

Lance blinked at him unsurely and leaned into Keith’s hold, winding his arms around tee man’s neck as he cautiously tested out his feet. He winced, and his knees buckled, but he finally managed to stand on his own again. The hoodie was ginormous on Keith; the cuffs extended far beyond his hands, and the bottom itself pooled at his knees. On Lance though, it seemed to have shrunk three measurements. The oversized hoodie barely graced his thighs, but it would get the job done until he could find something better. Lance cocked his head, “Keith… help?”

And for a minute, Keith didn’t feel like he did with everyone else. There was no strain to this interaction, like there would be with most people. It felt like they had been friends for years. And Keith supposed that even though it was only a few weeks at sea, it might as well have been centuries.

Even though Lance had pulled them away, Keith grabbed one of his arms and threw it over his shoulder before wrapping his own around the brunette’s waist.

“Yes, Lance,” he smiled, biting back a smile he had barely any control over, “I don’t know why, but I’m helping you.”

It felt strange to ignore all senses of danger in order to do something morally right,  and Keith would be lying he said it didn’t make his chest swell with pride. That was something he was unaccustomed to, but welcomed nonetheless.

Something tugged at his shirt, fingers digging into his shoulder and pulling him the slightest bit backward, “Keith-”

Lance’s croaked version of his name snapped him back to the real world, where they were almost inches away from walking into a door. It happened a lot more often than Keith would think; he’d get so caught up with thinking about something that he’d physically zone out.

“Sorry,” Keith muttered, “Got lost in thought, happens a lot, surprisingly.”

“Keith… lost?” Lance asked, confusion lacing his tone. His arm tightened around Keith's neck as he spoke his next words, “Keith home .”

It was almost funny. Lance assumed that just because there was legs- it meant that Keith was home, even though he was much more at peace during his unwilling voyage. Over a course of three weeks, Lance had become everything to Keith, only to be ripped away in the blink of an eye.

“No Lance, I’m not.” He grumbled, narrowly avoiding another wall during a sharp turn, “Just because everyone has legs doesn’t mean I’m home.”

Lance only blinked, wobbling alongside Keith until they reached their destination.

Keith released his hold on Lance for a brief second, ignoring the soft rumble of displeasure that wracked the brunette’s frame so he could fish the keys from his pocket. He fumbled for a second, trying to find the right one no matter how much times he’d opened this specific door.

On the third try, he finally got it.

The door to the clinic swung open haphazardly, hitting the wall with a noise loud enough to startle them both. Lance bared his teeth at the noise, and Keith thought that if he had his frills, they’d be pressed flat against his head.

What the fuck , Keith?

He shook it off, leading them into the room before he kicked the door shut behind them. He selectively tuned out Lance’s pained grunts as he maneuvered them through the room, eventually approaching the examination table.

“Wait here,” he told Lance, hoisting him up until he was seated on the cool metal. He shifted uncomfortably, but probably because of the cold, not the fact he was near naked. Keith rolled his eyes, returning to the door.

He opened it a crack, poking his head through it before slipping it shut. He twisted the lock, turning around at Lance’s confused chirp. Even as a human, he still seemed capable of making the strange noises he had back then. His vocal cords were different than Keith’s, but it didn’t stop him from speaking.

Keith would have to look into that.

Avoiding Lance yet again, he glided by and dodged the man’s outstretched hands, making a direct beeline for the supply closet. He opened that door as well, trying his best to block out the heavy stare weighing down on his back.

After he grabbing what he was looking for, he whipped around and showed it to the man, laughing at the startled expression on his face.

Lance observed the wetsuit as if it was some sort of torture device, “Clothes?”

At this, Keith hesitated, finally paying attention, “How do you know what clothes are?”

This whole time, Keith had been under the impression that Lance only knew the words Keith had said during their time together, and was repeating the ones he understood. This was different though, Keith couldn’t recall teaching Lance what that was so-

“Sendak told,” Lance said with eyes that trailed across the room, as if what he said had no real significance.

But Keith briefly couldn’t function.

“How?” He breathed, hand holding the suit going limp, “How the hell do you know Sendak?”

Lance’s arm stretched to cover the distance, pulling it from his loosely curled fist before pushing himself off of the table. He stood on shaky legs, and pulled the hoodie from his body without a second thought.

“Sendak… Help Lance.” He frowned, clearly searching for a word as he made a lazy gesture with his hand, He slid his legs easily into the suit, and his arms soon followed. He blinked, “Help Lance to Keith.”

“He… Helped you?” Keith asked, unsure, because it really didn’t sound like anything Sendak would do. He was a lot darker than he let on, and he surely wouldn’t let a naked man ride around in his precious car without reason. Or without getting something in return.

“Yes, helped,” the man said insistently, face quickly turning to one of quiet distaste, “But.. Sendak hurt Lance...”

Keith’s breathing nearly halted then, and he barely managed to muffle the distressed sound that left him, “What did you do ?”

Lance cocked his head as he slid the zipper all the way up, lips curving upwards into a predatory grin. His eyes were alight as if he was recalling a particularly exciting memory, “Lance hurt Sendak.”

All at once, Keith that familiar weight settle upon him.

Fuck .”

Keith walked over to the table, heart beating away in his throat.

Anxiety crept over his shoulders, wrapping around his neck until he could feel its presence everywhere .

Keith glanced up at Lance as he picked up the man’s hand, studying it carefully and wishing for the best. The was no visible brusing on his wrists or knuckles, but there was certainly something dark and flaky beneath his nails.

Of course, it could have been anything; the man's hands were grimy enough, but Keith had the feeling he was in for a lot more than he planned.

He opened a drawer to the left of them, grabbing a toothpick and a spare petri dish before making his way back over.

Lance seated back on the table yet again, legs kicking away at the air. Keith took a short pause and with a warning glance, he gently probed at whatever was beneath Lance’s nails before scraping it out of each finger completely.

Lance didn’t move as he did this, instead looking over Keith with a burning curiosity. He clearly didn’t understand the direness of the situation, he didn’t understand much of anything in fact, which was why Keith was so utterly scared.

Keith moved across the room at a rapid pace, yanking open cabinet after cabinet so he could find the hydrogen peroxide he kept somewhere in the room. An eyedropper was the next on his list, and when he had that, he slowed to a stop.

After gathering a decent amount of it into the eyedropper, Keith performed the quickest test he could on whatever this substance was-

and sure enough,

It bubbled over.

Chapter Text

LANCE:

Lance slid easily though the water, slipping smoothly beneath the waves as he dove beneath the surface. He twisted and turned throughout the depths, darting after stray fish and watching as they avoided him with quick, fluid movements. He didn’t slow for a second as he whirled around, and Lance clicked noisily in his laughter.

He maneuvered himself onto his side, sticking his arms out in front of him so he could cut through the water at an even greater speed, heading straight towards the place he was most familiar with.

A part of him hesitated, but pressed on as he slowed.

It was a human vessel that Lance had come to know. It towered over the him and filled the open ocean, consuming the space. Most of the metal had rusted away over the years, but a majority of the frame itself remained.

Continuing on, the siren swifty pulled himself through a gaping hole in the bottom, moving through slowly so he didn’t scrape any of his tail.

The area was spacious for the most part; most of its hidden treasures had been cleaned out and were now safely tucked away in Lance’s secret cave.

He moved lazily through the endless maze of tunnels and door frames, alternating between swimming on his back and side as he navigated through the sharp turns. Lance’s life at the moment was the slowness of the world around him, and he was cherishing every tick. What felt like hours of mindless, albeit relaxing, swimming, he reached the other side of the metallic beast.

Lance darted through the hole, and on the other side, his world came into view.

Just bordering the edge of an abyss, was the reef.

The coral wall was built from massive groves of vibrant colors, carefully cultivated by the mermaids for all sorts of different things. Within the massive cluster of color was nothing but towering buildings of algae-covered marble.

A sunken city, one that was once home to archaic families of roman descent, was now inhabited by sea dwellers of all kinds, but Lance had never belonged to any of them.

Alight with an idea, his eyes gleamed. It was something they did when he got worked up, but very rarely could he activate it on his own. Sometimes it came in handy, they lit up the darkness when need be, He was thankful.

More ideas were brewing in his head by the minute, but his usual pop in seemed like the best idea.

Lance briefly paused to ask himself, was the scolding he would get actually worth it?

Hell yes it was.

A low sound rumbled in his chest and he jerked his tail before exploding into motion, zipping through the water until it bent to his will.

Mimicry, one of his more appreciated skills, gave him the edge he wanted.

Muffling the pain of it, Lance forced his body to obey his commands. His throat constricted, and the heat lacing through it was not the good kind, but he embraced it. And then opened his mouth, letting out the enraged cry of a panicked whale.

Lance burst through an opening in the coral, winding in between the towering buildings and hurling through whatever open spaces he could find, releasing the sound at full blast.  

But instead of the horrified gasps and panicked screeching, Lance heard nothing. Lance’s cries lowered, and he slowed to a stop before one of the more ancient buildings. He surveyed the city around him and his mouth clicked shut as the gloom around him settled in. He forgot, for a brief moment, that he was supposed to be paying attention.

“Lance!”

Almost immediately, reality crashed over Lance and caused him to hit the emergency breaks, which led to him slamming into the person before him. She barely flinched, though, and held him stead.

Lance felt the familiar frown tugging at his lips and he released a low, questioning trill. Her response was almost instantaneous.

Allura held fast to his arms in grip tight enough to hurt. A strange sound escaped her, and Lance felt her gills vibrate with the sheer force of it. Her head found his neck, nose nudging into the spot by his gills. He hesitated, but allowed himself to be vulnerable.

Lance,” she said again, weak and tired. “Lance.”

The touch against his neck was suddenly too much; his spines bristled.

Lance bared his teeth with a burning hiss and jerked backwards, flaring his fins and raising his spines until he looked bigger than he actually was. Lance didn’t know what was wrong but he certainly wanted to. he needed to understand what was happening, because Allura never showed her weakness.

In fact, she didn’t even respond to his sudden display of aggression, instead choosing to curl her arms around herself and look away.

Another heart-wrenching noise escaped her, and Lance’s resolve crumbled.

He slid forwards, moving his hand through her hair before sliding them to the sides of her face, cupping her jaw with gentle hands. He paused, and pulled her back in.

After a moment’s hesitation, Lance nudged her back so he could meet her eyes. They were red and puffy, which only made Lance’s mood worsen.

Allura?” He hummed, “Sister?”

She had never been one for crying.

Although she had not always liked being called by her human name, it was something that grew on her; on all of them. Lance had introduced the idea to the entirety of the population, and it was immediately adopted into their culture. Each of them had two names, now.

Though sometimes, Lance hated it.

No one knew about Keith, but everywhere Lance looked, he was there. He should have squashed that foreign feeling when he first met the child; he should have left him there to die at sea. He shouldn’t have gotten so attached.

Everyone called him Lance now, it was no longer a private thing to him, and he hated a part of himself for it.

Lance didn’t have the time to mull over past experiences.

Having Allura so close made him uncomfortable, but Lance had long since outgrown his feelings for her, as they were replaced with a familial bond in a matter of days. Her father had taken him in when no one else had, and Lance certainly didn’t need the bothersome drag of liking someone again; he was the siren after all.

Focus.

Lance curled his tail loosely against her own, moving his eyes away from hers to where the dark skin slowly melted into a warm, deep pink as it met her torso. But the scales still climbed and climbed until they they danced across her sides and over his shoulders much like his own did, covering her modesty yet barely at all. But even when crying, she looked so, so brave.

Her lobe-lacking gears pointed upwards towards her golden crown, where it sat intertwined with her soft, iridescent hair. Lance ran his finger through it absentmindedly, cooing softly as it would settle her unease.

Allura moved forwards the slightest bit and tilted her chin up, knocking lightly into his chin as he made more space between them. A watery expression twisted at her face as she spoke with him.

Lance ,” she murmured, and Lance urged her with soft cooes, “They took him.”

Allura clicked for his attention and he frowned, looking up before taking in her stern expression.

Who ?” Lance’s fins flared against his will, and it took all of his power to prevent the burly spines from marring her. His eyes were illuminating her face, “Who? Who did they take?”

“No,” She gasped over another sob, “I cannot do that to you, Lance.”

“Tell me, sister.” He persisted as she pulled away all together, “I cannot help until you to tell me.”

You are already upset, this is will ruin you.”

For a short dobash, Lance mulled over the depth of that. It brought so many things to mind, but none of them would give him the information he needed. He thought of his discontent with the pod, or the indescribable cloud of loneliness that surrounded him constantly. Lance didn’t belong with the pod of mermaids; he needed a shoal to call his own, one with sirens like him.

But he couldn’t have that, so he would settle.

Allura,” he crooned, bringing her into another embrace, “I will be alright, tell me.”

With carefully retracted claws, Lance carted through her white locks, drawing her closer until their foreheads touched.

I will be fine,"  He assured after a moment's pause, “Explain.”

Hunk’s gone,” She spoke, body shuddering as she released the words, “Galra took him.”  

And for the briefest of moments, he froze.

Then Lance hurling himself away from Allura, brutally ripping away his limbs as if her touch sudden;y burned. She didn’t look surprised though, just sad, as if this was the reaction she was expecting.

Lance didn’t know what upset him more.

He was moving , not even giving himself the time to be careful as he twisted around and tore off.

Hunk, his Hunk , was gone.

Against his will, that primal part of himself released an anguished cry, one that carried through the water with a volume he’d never possessed before. It violently ripped through currents, resonating off of anything within its range. The sound swept through the ocean like a whirlwind of pain; demanding that it felt his loss.

And then, Lance wasn’t moving anymore. Just sinking, sinking, sinking.

His throat constricted painfully in his chest and he released another broken cry as he literally hit rock bottom.

Nausea swirled unrestrained in his empty stomach and time itself slowed around him, and not in a good way. Lance couldn’t do anything but feel . Despair and suffrage crashed over him harder than any wave ever could.

Hunk wasn’t related to him by blood, hell, neither was Allura, yet Lance still felt the loss tenfold. Hunk meant more to him that anyone else ever would. Maybe just a close second to his Keith, but he still meant the world.

Lance hadn’t felt like this in years. His once peaceful world was being ripped away from him, time after time again. The world just wasn’t fair. It ripped his family, his real family away from him, and now it was taking what he had tried so har dto build.

He curled his shaking fingers into the sand and willed it to stop, biting down on his lips in an attempt to distract himself. But nothing was going to help; it wouldn't change anything. Lance couldn’t even think properly; couldn’t breathe without his brother to bring him back. He prayed, it was another one of his nightmares; that he would wake up and Hunk would be outside waiting for him. That he’d feel the pressure of Hunk’s hand in his own.

But this wasn’t a nightmare.

Within minutes, it got to the point where Lance couldn’t do anything but release whine after whine against his will. His gills were struggling to pull in enough, and his heart felt like it had been put through a grinder, then shoved back into his chest.

Hunk,” he murmured brokenly to no one but himself, “Please.

Time was like glass as it started moving around him again; broken into so many fragile pieces. Every edge pricked him and drew blood, painting the water red behind his eyelids. His life was nothing disgusting blur of self hatred stretched out before him, and he didn't know how he ended up in the shallows. Didn’t know how he’d reached there in the first place. But a part of him did, a part of him had been the one to lead him here.

When Lance took Keith home, the heartache was similar. It was something that burnt through all of the oxygen within him; and learning to breathe in a world without Keith wasn’t easy. It had left a void inside of him. A dark one. A never ending darkness that ate away at everything, and Lance had felt nothing. Empty.

He had changed that though, with the help of Hunk.

The thought made it even worse.

Now, it was like a vexing of the soul for what Lance felt was not human nor beast, it was twisted and distorted and it was strong . A raging inferno ran like fire as it raced through his veins and crept up his spine. He was angry.

Lance knew where this emotion came from; it was the carnal part of him. The siren.

He didn’t know if Hunk was alive, but he’d die trying to find him. Hunk had  to be out there somewhere, waiting for him, and Lance wouldn't give up until he was home again. Until he was safe among his people.

Nothing would stop him, but Lance would have to go where no one ever had before.

Keith.

He needed Keith.

_

Lance clawed his way from the water, fueled only but a white hot rage that destroyed any and everything inside of him. His breathing became nothing but ragged, shallow inhales as he struggled to compose himself in the face of danger.  

He was vulnerable.

Halfway out of the water, his ears swiveled as they picked up a strange sound. Vaguely, it sounded like a garbled form of his language, but there was an underlying squack to it.

Lance spotted the chirping birds and snorted.

Animals.

He snorted, and hefted himself fully onto the sand until only his tailfin was submerged.

The sun danced across his scales, but it wasn’t like the other times he was sunbathing; a single command resonated through his body and discomfort rippled through him.

He shuffled forward, attempting to pull himself further from the water. But then suddenly agony he felt was crippling, tearing through his lower half faster than he could keep up with.

An array of colors came to life behind his eyelids and Lance thrashed, fighting hard against it.

There was no reason for them to, but an impossible ache overtook his arms. The real agony hadn’t even started yet, but his body was exhausted.

Lance knew that the pain was coming, and his whole body tensed in preparation, but it didn’t soften the blow. It was savage, and he could feel the bones in his body split into an untold number of fragments as his mind became inoperable.

It forced him inside of himself; to the primitive place that knew how to cope with pain that ascended death.

The violent colors were back, moving throughout his eyes in an array of colors that briefly distracted him from it.

But the colors didn’t last forever, disappearing before the next wave hit with even more force, as if something sharp was being twisted along his spine. It shot up fast, clearing any forming thought from his head and locking up what muscles he could use.

But he didn’t scream, he wouldn’t bring any attention to himself.

Then the fins were sloughing from his body one by one, followed by layers upon layers of muscle and flesh as something new formed beneath them. The claws fell away too, but not before they tore into the hopeless remains of his tail, desperate to alleviate the pain in whatever way possible.

A sickening squelch filled the air around him and Lance let out an agonized screech as his teeth retreated, sinking back into his skull until new ones could protrude. He could feel everything; the bones shattering and bonding as they reformed themselves.

It was millions of years of evolution occurring all in under a dobash, and it was torture.

Chapter Text

3 hours earlier

A pain like that was enough to traumatize someone, and Lance had the feeling he would have to get used to it very quickly. His whole body wracked with trembles and muffled sobs, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. The most miniscule of movements caused pain to ripple down his spine, but from what he could tell it was dulling.

Vargas must have passed before Lance finally mustered the courage to move. He wrestled against his nerves for control of his limbs, and rolled his ‘ankle’ testingly. Knowing the different parts and how they worked was a requirement for him now, and it had been for many years. He was fighter class now- and knowing everything about his enemies was a need.

Lance didn’t want to think about that though; he had only become battle class so they taught him things like this. Keith wasn’t an enemy and he never would be. He was Lance’s human, and could do no wrong in his eyes.

Shaking his head, Lance forced himself onto his hands, trying and failing to ignore the shaking in his elebows.It was hard though, and he found himself falling more often than not.

After cleansing himself of his own blood and flesh, Lance spent a few minutes mastering the movements. His first few steps did not go well, and Lance decided that he didn’t like the dry sand.

But he eventually got the hang of it; mustering all of his strength until he could walk clumsily along the bank in search of civilization. There was nothing around him, though, the spot he’d chosen to beach himself was nothing like where he’d dropped Keith. There was people there back then, so that Lance could assure himself that Keith wouldn’t be alone for long. Here though, there was no sign of life besides the noisy birds.

But then there was , and he emerged from nowhere at all.

One minute Lance was alone, and the next, there was a burly man blocking his path. He found himself blinking up at the man, and clicked questioningly. There was something off about the man; as if he was like Lance, but not even close. The scent of disinfectant and  chemicals assaulted his nose, but there was something that weaved its way in between them; it reminded Lance of home. But he wasn’t like Lance, that much was clear, he would have noticed. He felt his nose twitch as he spoke again, this time in English, “Help?”

Something warm and smoky filled Lance nose and he frowned, recoiling slightly but not willing to risk losing this chance. Scents were much harsher on land than they were in his home, where the water muffled them greatly.

“Uh, sure?” The man finally shrugged, setting a bag of onto the sandy earth before he began sifting through it. He looked up, eyes running over Lance’s body, “Someone steal your clothes? It happens a lot more than you’d think.”

A questioning hum escaped Lance; he didn’t know what the hell the human was talking about but he hoped it had something to do with Keith.

“These are from earlier, and they’re still pretty damp, but something tells me you don’t care.”

With that, Sendak shoves things into his arms. It was two things, actually, and they were rough to the touch. He held them up for his eyes to see, and discovered it was probably their idea of “clothes”. Lance really didn’t see the appeal, and curled his nose in distaste.

Bringing them closer to his face, Lance sniffed them curiously. The burning scent immediately met his nose and it crinkled in response. There was something off about it; the scent was harsh and wicked in essence, but Lance could still feel the suffocating thickness of the smoke.

The man raised an eyebrow at his behavior, and Lance knew that meant he was asking a question, one he probably wouldn’t know how to answer.

There was another pregnant pause before the human broke the silence,“You okay?”

Lance had no idea what the fuck that meant.

As it turned out, interpreting what humans were saying was a lot harder than it was years ago. Sure, he could tell when it was a question based on the lilting of the voice, but he couldn’t get a grasp on the words he didn’t already know, which wasn’t a lot.

“Help,” he said again, firmly. It was a question, so that must have been the answer.

A chuckle left the human and he moved forward, Lance going still as to allow his assistance in however the hell he was supposed to put the “clothes” on. It turns out that whatever the man gave him was much more uncomfortable when pressed against his skin. It was nothing but fabric, and so different from scales.

“I’m Sendak,” he said and Lance glanced up. It was a very simple thing to understand, even for him. “What’s your name?”

Ah! Something he knew how to answer, “Lance.”

“Okay, Lance. How can I help you?”

About time.

This conversation was moving agonizingly slow, but Lance could work with that. Humans were one of the more primitive species, so he couldn’t judge them for it. They were trying, though.

Scanning his brain for a simple way to explain it, he settled for keeping things down to one word. It would be easier for Sendak, right? He knew that humans weren’t the most intelligent creatures on the planet, but they were very intuitive.

“Keith,” Lance told him, “Lance to Keith.”

“Keith?” Sendak’s parroted, and for a brief second Lance considered if it was even worth it. He nodded slowly, blinking and gesturing as if it would help the weak-minded creature understand.

“Yes,” he said again, “Keith.”

“Keith Kogane?”

Air rushed from Lance’s nose in the form of a sigh and his eyebrows bunched, “Yes.”

_

Lance had to sit there for vargas in the moving box, alone with the coarse fingers constantly grappling at his skin. He had thought it was just a normal human thing; that they were as touchy as the mers, but he had grown more irritable by the tick. Every time he tried to close his and rest, Sendak had flicked him and demanded that they stay open.

But Lance refused, so he closed them over and over, until the box stopped moving.

Then, Lance opened them.

He just wanted to sleep, and he didn’t understand why Sendak was being so aggressive. Were all humans like this?

Lance could smell the sharp tinge of his anger in the air, and wondered just who was in charge this human. Who had raised him so carelessly?

“We’re near his weird ass aquarium,” he said, and Lance nodded as if he understood. “It’s the only place I know where to find him, but you’ll have to walk the rest of the way.”

He might not have understood it properly, but Lance got the basic meaning behind it. Stopping meant they were at their destination. Where was Keith?  

Then he was above Lance, and instead of his instant touching, there was malicious edge behind his heavy hands. It felt wrong, because it wasn’t his human all over him and that meant Sendak had no right to touch him. Even then though, Lance didn’t feel any real fear or panic. Sendak was just a handsy human, and he would pose no challenge

Lance just wanted to know why he was so insistent on rubbing all over him. Keith never tried to scent mark him, so hadn’t that meant it wasn’t normal for humans? Lance wouldn’t let him anyways, only Keith had the right to do that. But for now, it was fine.

That was until there was a hand in his hair and a mouth at his neck.

Threat , his mind snarled immediately, danger.

His body relied on pure instinct, arm jerking forward until it slammed into Sendak’s unsuspecting body.

Well that didn’t go as planned.

Lance watched the human react to the sudden jolt of power he was exposed to, and nearly laughed. He didn’t handle it like Lance expected him to. Despite his monstrous size, his body rammed violently in to the dashboard, forehead colliding with the window until it shattered, and he was forced all the way through. His eyes rolled back, and blood seeped from his limp body. Lance’s nose wrinkled in distaste.

Exiting the car, Lance took a minute to pull Sendak’s body from the box, coating himself with blood in the process. He laid the down on the smooth rock and shrugged, turning away from him and carrying on down the road.

Sendak had it coming. His hands never should've went somewhere Lance was uncomfortable with; it was the first law. But then again, he was human.

Either way, he made his bed, and now he had to lay in it.

Lance blinked, and approached the stationery box, shedding the sticky “clothes” as he went.

Currently:

Lance watched as his human barreled through the room like there was a hurricane on his tail, moving his body but seeming as if his mind couldn't keep up. Keith’s eyes were wild as he stood above some container, watching the bubbles fizz, and Lance looked away.

It was so boring , and he soon found more interest in the dullness of his nails. They were so…. blunt, and his teeth? Flat. It was absolutely appalling, and Lance honestly didn’t know how humans- or mers for that matter- survived without their teeth.

“Shit, shit, shit! ” The human hissed, getting even more hysteric by the second, “That’s blood, Lance! Real, possibly human, blood!”

At that, Lance looked up. He didn’t understand most of what Keith said, but the words he could salvage from the wrecked sentence were Lance, blood , and human.

He frowned.

Had he done something wrong? Lance was subjected to a violent act by one of Keith's fellow humans, and he defended himself. Humans were weird, and Lance felt completely out of his element up here. Sendak, that shifty goblin, crossed a line that Lance didn’t like, so he was punished. There was nothing wrong with that.

Keith looked unnaturally pale as he hurled himself away from whatever was fizzing away on the table, and Lance clicked his concern. His breathing was harsh, violent even, and Lance had never seen Keith move so sloppy.

In his haste to get away, Keith swiped the contents of the counter clean off, sending it clattering to the ground with a deafening crash. Lance hissed and forced himself to stand, biting through the pain until he could determine what was causing his human such distress.

Lance reeled, launching the fizzing thing across the room and away from Keith.

He turned to him, and didn’t know what to do.

Keith’s eyes were wild, and he took a few steps back until he bumped into the counter, as if he wasn’t expecting it to be there. He sunk to floor after a minute until he was mindlessly staring at the ceiling, mouth moving without forming actual words.

Lance watched with haunted eyes as Keith began talking faster than Lance could comprehend; as if he didn’t have enough time to get all of his words out. The sentences were fragments and broken, and quiet frankley frightening.

“Keith?” He questioned softly, the human words sounding all wrong on his tongue, “Keith… Lance help Keith?”

His head lolled to face Lance, eyes glazed. Keith’s voice was thin and distant, “You could- It’s not- Lance why would you-”

None of the things leaving his mouth made sense to Lance, but he nodded along anyways, sniffing at the air as if his chemosignals would tell him how to fix this. They didn’t.

And then, amongst their panicked speaking, there was a sudden banging on the door, followed harsh and demanding shouts of Keith’s name, but they only seemed to worsen his mood. Shock forced Lance’s body to jerk towards Keith in an instinctual movement driven by the urge to protect him. A frenzied panic tore at Lance, how could he fix this?

The banging grew more insistent by the second but Lance had no intention of allowing anyone near Keith. He was vulnerable, and weak, so he needed Lance to protect him. Humans weren’t made for combat, and although the wouldn’t be at his full capacity in this form, Lance could still do damage.

“Keith, let me in!”

A rumbling growl escaped Lance, rippling through his chest until his throat vibrated with the force. He hovered before Keith, never once taking his eyes off of the door.

“No,” he found himself growling.

“Who the fuck-? Keith open this fucking door!”

Rage, white hot and potent, painted Lance’s vision red, and for a minute, the only thing he became aware of was the overwhelming urge to tear through whoever was on the the other side of that door. Humans were so noisy!

He felt hands gripping at the fabric coating his body, and his attention was immediately pulled in by Keith’s shaking fingers. Lance cooed gently, tuning out the violent sound of force on metal in favor of covering Keith’s ears.

Trembling fingers locked on to his wrists, and Lance felt nothing but pity for the delicate creature in his arms. He sat down next to the human, pulling his head into his chest until he could feel Keith melt against him. He opened his throat, fighting the unnatural and foreign feeling of it as he hummed lowly. It wasn’t loud enough to be heard, and with his hands over Keith’s ears, he wouldn’t have heard anyways.

It just was loud enough for the vibrations to be felt and gloss over whatever was bothering Keith. Lance didn’t know what else to do, but this always worked on Allura when she was panicking. He cooed softly, pressing Keith’s head further into his chest as he nuzzled against his head.

The shouts grew more insistent, just the repeated chorus of, “Keith! Open this goddamn door or I’m breaking it down!”

Lance hissed, sucking air through his teeth so fast as he realized he had a split second decision to make. There was what he recognized as a glass pane in the wall, one that led to the outside, but there was no way he would risk keith getting injured if he was to shatter it. The other option was to stay and fight, but he wasn’t sure how well he’d be able to under the circumstances.

He couldn’t protect both Keith and himself from whatever weapons they had as soft as he was now, so there was only one option left.

Lance grimaced and prepared himself for what he was about to do, easing Keith from his arms until his head rested gently against the counter. He kept up his muttering even as Lance reached over him and towards what he knew as the sink.

He twisted the knob to the point the metal snapped off into his hands but the water gushing from the spout was an all too familiar sight.

Lance frowned down at is,  nose scrunching as his whole body tensed in preparation for the pain. He hesitated, and then made up his mind.

He flinched, and shoved his hand straight into the running water.

Chapter Text

Pain burst to life within his body; the scales thrumming beneath his skin forcing themselves back up and through his flesh until their bloodied presence made themselves known. Lance grit his teeth and shook his head out, forcing his muddled thoughts to clear as his knees buckled.

He didn’t have much time before his full shift kicked in, then they would both be stuck.  

Lance glanced down at Keith, eyes harboring a purely predatory glint as they studied his quivering form. This , he thought, this is what I’m fighting for .

A new pain grew in his mouth and he winced, opening his mouth and prodding gently with his tongue until the human teeth fell free from his gums and his new ones began worm their way through the thick flesh.

He turned away from Keith with a muffled whimper and looked up to the door, where the clashing and banging had come to a halt. The pungent odor of fear emanated from the other side of the door, forcing its burning scent through his nose and he heaved out a relieved sigh. It was familiar to him, and in a world so foreign, he couldn’t be more thankful.

But he didn’t have time to dwell on it.

A final kick was planted on the door and it burst open with a crash much too deafening to his tender ears. He snarled, voice warbling as his vocal chords shifts and changed within his throat. His skin was drying, and he wouldn’t be able to hold the full shift at bay for long.

Lance began moving, forcing his eyes to blink and focus on whatever offender was standing at the door. He released another snarl, narrowing his eyes as the pull between his legs became a force so strong he didn’t know how much he’d have to move.

“Who the hell are you?!” A shrill voice shouted, and the growl slipping past his lips was nothing but feral.

It was… a child?

The confusion hit Lance faster than the pain of his reforming bones and he fell to the ground in a crumpled heap. He moved backwards and towards Keith, never taking his eyes off of the bewildered child until he felt his back hit flesh.

The child took a step back and he growled, baring his all-too familiar teeth with the promise of a threat. She froze, and Lance watched as her eyes widened, breaths become ragged and harsh. Her hands trembled at her sides and she jammed her fist into her mouth to stifle the scream he knew she wanted to get out. If she planned on screaming, Lance wouldn’t let her make it out alive.

 

 

Her legs were frozen into place but Lance was all to aware of Keith behind him, gasping and choking on the very air he was breathing.

Lance didn’t let his eyes off of the child as she moved, jaw dropping in a silent exclaim of shock and horror.  Lance blinked and made himself as threatening as he could in his half-transitioned state, flaring out what spines he could as they worked themselves from beneath his skin. The fire in his eyes ignited; that violently illuminated blue swallowing the passive color they had been previously. She didn’t move, and Lance took it as a good sign, holding himself up with shaking arms as they broke beneath the pressure.

He could feel the sweat and blood dripping along his body, the throbbing of his eyes, the ringing in his heart, and the sound of Keith’s heart beating away in his chest. It was a reminder of what he was doing, and he hissed, fingers curling until they etched scars into the ground. He could hear the child breathing rapidly, and his own soon sped up. He was lucky that he could breathe air in this form, too.

The pain tortured his mind, churning his stomach with a new intensity. It engulfed his conscience thought, knocking all other thoughts aside until the only thing he could coherently form was protect .

His whole body cried out in protest, but Lance kept strong and put on a brave face. His bones shattered time and time again within his body, and layers upon layers of his burly scales were fighting their way through the thin human skin he wore. Lance hunched forwards, moving himself out of Keith’s path just as the spikes tore through the ligaments of his spine and threatened to harm him.

He cursed to himself. Lance had assumed that he’d last long enough to be able to defend Keith, but the pain had rendered him immobile. Every movement he made caused more and more agony and he didn’t think he could take it for much longer. He looked back at Keith and forwned. His eyes had frozen over; hyper-focused but unseeing. He was in there, Lance knew, but in another world.

The child moved, stumbling forward as her whole body lurched. She moved her hands from her face and furrowed her brows, as if trying to brace herself.

So he did the last thing he could when faced with the possible threat-

He sang.

 

The familiar song rolled past his lips in its sorrowful waves, and the familiar swells of his ethereal power rose quickly behind it, amplifying the sound until the haunting melody was being recited perfectly. He poured his soul into the sound, everything he felt from the grief he’d felt so long ago, to the agony that threatened to consume him. Yet there were no words that came from him- his voice itself was the music; hypnotic to listen to, and utterly intoxicating.

He could see it in her face that she was captured. She dropped to harshly to her knees, jaw unlatching and eyes clouding over until the iris nearly melted into the whites of her eyes. Lance had never used it at its full power this close to a human before, and the trance it induced was clear in the air.

Her muscles relaxed before him, falling pliant to his command as the only thing she could do was sit and listen. practically foaming at the mouth.

He stopped when his throat began to strain and tire, the agony he was fighting through making it extra difficult to perfect the lilting notes. The child hadn’t moved yet, she sat there completely still and mumbling incoherent things to herself, things that he could have understood if he tried hard enough. Lance blinked, wondering if what he had done made things better or worse. For all he knew, she could be brain-dead.

But Keith was okay, and that was all that mattered.

Another problem, however, was quickly arising, and as Lance looked down at his fusing legs, he realized just how bad things were going to get. Because when his brain began to fuss over and his consciousness ebbed away, his mind was slowly leaking into a free fall of darkness. He fought himself, every carnal shred of his instincts fighting his distressed body. He had put to much pressure on it and he knew this.

And looking back at Keith, he only hoped that the boy would come to his senses in time to run.

_

Keith :

Keith ran his fingers over the buffed glass, but his eyes were fixed on the thing floating lifelessly inside of it. Part of his brain admired it, it knew this creature, and it hurt him to keep it locked up like this. But the other part was terrified . The simple existence of “Lance” meant that everything he’d thought up until this point was true , and  yet people had made him believe he was crazy.

Pidge was beside him, seated at a fold out table as she watched, dull eyes flicking back from him to the laptop before her. Keith didn’t know what Lance had done, but when he came to all he knew was that he had completely reverted to the form Keith recognized, and Pidge was horrified.

The last thing she could remember was him singing a song that she couldn’t put name to, but Keith knew what she was talking about before she had to say anything.

It had taken some coaxing, but she came around, and with the help of a dolly and the dolphin rehabilitation tank, they had secured him safely. Now, they monitored him and his movements from the observatory deck below, where the large window of glass allowed them a direct line of sight to him.

Lance seemed peaceful in sleep. He was still as a brick, the only movement being the slight rise and fall of his chest and the shuffling of his gills. It was hard to imagine that this thing was dangerous, that it was capable of mass genocide. After all, he had basically grown up with it.

“I still can’t believe this,” Pidge exhaled beside him as she stood on shaky legs, pulling a camera from the table and holding it up to where Lance lay. Something odd stirred inside of Keith at the sight, as if letting her take the picture would somehow be a betrayal. He didn’t speak on it though, just watching silently as she readied the shot.

But one click and Lance’s eyes were open. The reaction was automatic; it was a reflex; an efficient perk to his predatory programming. Keith assumed that drowsiness was one of the best ways to get killed and fast. He watched Lance gather his bearings, blinking blankly at the stone wall before him as if contemplating where he was.

Keith watched his limbs flex in shock, and the rush of water into his gills as he inhaled. Pidge shuffled uncomfortably beside him, moving a bit closer as if Keith would be able to protect her if he broke free.  Lance blinked at the wall again, eyes illuminating at their full capacity within the water. That was when he noticed the glass, Keith thought, because suddenly those headlight beams were focused on them.

He came too then, and rather violently.

His tail thrashed viciously with reckless abandon and he was moving, slamming into the hard plastic cover of the tank above him before recoiling in shock. Keith could pinpoint the exact moment the panic set in, and Lance’s eyes dilated. They were wild, and the look in them was feral.

He had a look that Keith had seen before, but not on him, or on any person for that matter. It was the look he’d seen in a seal’s eyes when they were brought in for rehabilitation. It was primal, the look of not even knowing what people were. It didn’t belong on his face, and honestly, it scared Keith. He was struck with a sudden wave of guilt; knowing that he was the one who put it there.

Lance threw himself at the walls of the tank, bubbles escaping his mouth as he cried out in his confusion. He approached the glass and knocked into it brutally, thrashing around in the small space until Keith was sure he was going to hurt himself.

The panic was overriding his thought process, and Lance quickly grew tired of his fighting, gill inhaling rapidly as they tried to keep up with the amount of exertion.

Then suddenly, blue eyes met his.

Lance’s gaze felt like an act of violence in itself, a glare meant to stop his heart. The siren went impossible still and in that instant, Keith realized that the creature he had come to care about as a child wasn’t in there right now, and it was his fault.

It was the only message he needed. Nothing else that Lance was doing registered in his mind. He knew. He knew , and that was all he needed to know. THe love of a decade had unravelled in a mere matter of seconds. Lance’s eyes, the eyes that had never once even looked at him with a shred of malice, were replaced with the eyes of a killer.

And his mouth opened.

But it wasn't a song like Keith had been expecting, and judging by the way Pidge suddenly had a death grip on his arm, it wasn’t what she was expecting either.

No, it wasn’t a song.

It was a scream.

Even through the thickness of the glass, Keith could see the scream force itself from Lance’s mouth, as if his panicked mind had released a demon. Lance’s panic was replaced with anger, a deep seated fury, one that burned in his eyes hotter than any fire could.

The glass was damn near bulletproof, but that scream tore through Keith like a shard of metal. His eyes widened and his pulse quickened, heart pounding in his chest in some sort of automatic response. The hair on the back of his neck rose, and when that scream came again, he froze. It was desperate, terrified… and so utterly human.

“Keith, we need to get out of here,” Pidge spoke in alarm, stepping backwards and away from the screaming beast. Her eyes were drawn to something, and when she saw it, she blanched.

At first, the crack in the glass was small; barely the length of a hair pin. It shined almost blue in the dim lighting, and it was Pidge that spotted it first.

The first tug at Keith’s jacket was subtle, and when that didn’t work the next one was harsh and unforgiving. He couldn’t look away, though, not even as Lance inhaled deeply and screamed again.

The only time he could react was when it accelerates, branching like a vengeful spider’s web until it’s fragments split.

Before his brain could register the sound of breaking glass, his eyes were shut and he was being tackled. What felt like a million knives flew past his exposed skin, brain short circuiting as his body collided with the wet tile and knocked the air out of him. The salty water didn’t stop there; gallons upon gallons were sent gushing down the platform and into the unit, and with it, was Lance.

_

The world rushed by in a blur and Lance knew the pain was coming. It went by fast, yet slow, as if he was suspending in air that brief moment before the glass shattered.

Then impact.

He hit the floor with a burst of water and wet smack, and he briefly thanked his burly scales for protecting him from the shards. What Lance felt wasn’t anger, it was like a vexing of the soul for what Lance felt was not human nor beast, it was twisted and distorted and it was something strong. It burned bad like fire lacing his veins and creeping up his tail and into his spine.

He wiped his head around, eyes quickly locating the pair of humans and in that split second, he made a decision.

 

Lance turned back from their hunched forms, blocking out the sounds of glass crunching and the painful scrape of his tail against the ground as he dragged himself in the opposite direction. Lance was no longer tucked away behind a layer of instinct as it had been in the beginning; in this moment, Lance was no more. This was a monster through and through.

 

He had never felt so alone so fast. So incapable of doing even the smallest of tasks. Why had Keith hated him? Why did he betray him? All he had done was try to help, and now look what had happened.

 

Lance frowned to himself as strange thoughts crept into his head. He doesn’t want you, a far off part of his brain whispered, You’re a monster .

 

And Lance flinched. He could hear the rustling from not far off as they began to move around, but his tail was becoming tremendously heavy without the water there to support it. The damned thing was weighing him down, which would leave him basically paralyzed.

 

But that familiar feeling of solitude worked its way into his heart. He had no place with the mermaids, and now that Keith had shown his true colors, it was clear that he had no place here, either. The betrayal burned like fire in his chest and he hated it. He hated the feeling.

 

He hated Keith.

 

There were things he had to do though, and so little time to do them.

 

The risk of trying to survive another shift within the span of what couldn’t have been less than a varga. Still though, if he was the only one he could depend on, he had to get somewhere save, and try.

Chapter Text

KEITH:

Keith came back to reality rather slowly, brain still fuzzy from its collision against the floor. His brain urged his body to move, to do anything, but his legs and entire body had given away to exhaustion and left him practically glued to the floor. He flexed his fingers one by one, and then tried his toes, only to find that the dull ache in them grew with each movement. 

An unfamiliar discomfort settled upon him and he winced. This was a horrible way to spend his birthday.

He took his time blinking away the blur in his vision, stretching out his body languidly until he could finally acknowledged the water sloshing around him. Panic surged briefly through his heart but Keith willed it away, digging his hands into the ground as he shoved himself upward and into a sitting position. 

The blood rushed immediately to his head and he groaned as it throbbed, removing one of his hands from the water in order to dig it painfully into his skull. He wanted to puke, and the sudden wave of nausea almost made him do so, but he managed to swallow it down. 

“Oh thank fuck,” He heard Pidge breathe somewhere the the left of him. His head swam trying to keep up with it and his vision fuzzed again. “Keith? Are you with me?”

Softly, Keith nodded, fingers still rubbing at his scalp as the pain ebbed into nothing. He nodded more firmly, then. 

“Okay so- I don’t know where he went but I’m pretty sure-“ 

“Pidge,” He grunted, shoving away the pain-induced anger that arose in favor of glancing up at her. She was just as soaked as him; water-plastered hair stuck to her face and sticking up at all angles. He would’ve found it funny if this were a different situation, but there wasn’t time for jokes now. Her eyes were wide behind her glasses, and she looked frantic, even for her. 

“How long was I out?” Keith forced his hands back to the ground and pushed himself upwards until his whole body was forced to stand. He looked back to her questioning as he stretched himself out, listening to the joints crack and pop as he went. 

Pidge pushed up her glasses and looked at the watch on her wrist, “Not long actually, maybe like ten minutes?” 

And when everything came rushing back, Keith did the only Keith thing to do; he flipped. 

“Ten is more than enough time for him to get away, Pidge!” He shouted, probably a bit more aggressive than necessary, as he surveyed the damage. 

The room was flooded with a few inches of salt water, but the door had never been opened, and was so flushed with the frame that none of it had managed to escape yet. Tables were pushed up against the wall and Keith was standing a few feet away from where a pile of glass shards sat motionless.

Coran was going to kill them. 

Pidge followed his line of sight and winced, scratching the back of her neck with an awkward huff of laughter, “This is at least three years pay.” 

Keith hadn’t brought himself to think of that now, though. What he was concerned about was just how Lance had gotten out without opening the door and flooding the whole damn building.

“Keith,” Pidge said suddenly, snapping to get his attention. He turned to look at her, gaze following her finger until it stopped where she was pointing. 

He had completely forgotten about the closeted stairwell tucked into the left side of the room. They never really used it, seeing as it was a service exit that lead directly to the back of the building. It was for emergencies only, and up until now there really hadn’t been any.

Oh god. 

That door lead to civilization.

Keith made an inhuman sound low in his throat and internally face palmed. 

“He’s gone,” the man whined helplessly, palms digging into his eyes, “He could be out eating babies or something right now.” 

Pidge clapped a hand onto his shoulder as she shuffled past him and towards the stack of damaged goods in the corner, hands rummaging through the water in search of her lost equipment, “All we can do now is check the cameras and see which direction he went in.” 

Keith silently agreed and began walking towards the door, grimacing with every step as he debated his next move. He could hear Pidge sloshing around behind him, and as he opened the door and water rushed out around their ankles-

He came face to chest with Coran, his very angry boss.

“And what,” He drawled in that thick accent of his, “Happened here?”

Saying he was angry would be an understatement. Keith could see the veins bulging in his temple and he gulped because Coran looked about ready to skin him alive and hang his intestines out to dry.

“Coran,” he began, brain working a mile a minute to come up with a reasonable excuse, “I can explain. I-”

“Mermaid!” Pidge blurted, and Keith should the most malevolent look he could her way. 

But she wouldn’t meet his eye, rather training hers steadily at the watery floor. It was then that Keith sort of remembered that Pidge was still just a kid working a summer job, and she’d never signed up for making a scientific breakthrough , nor losing it five minutes later. He’d known her for so long it was just kind of easy to forget the whole ‘four years younger’ thing. Pidge had always been the more sensible one anyways.

Yet she looked scared now, and oh so small. Keith took a second to think of how he felt. Lance had hurt, and possibly killed someone, and shit had gotten undeniably real. It was his birthday, for fucks sake, and he shouldn’t have to spend it hunting down some superhuman fish man.

“A...Mermaid?” Their boss hummed, eyebrows raising as his arms crossed over his chest, “You want me to believe that a mermaid did this?” 

“Not really a mermaid,” Keith sputtered, adrenaline spiking, “His name is Lance and I know we sound crazy but he’s more of a siren and we had him in the dolphin tank in the observation room but he did some sort of weird scream and got out and glass exploded everywhere and-”

But before he could continue his stress-induced ranting, Coran raised a hand to silence him, quirking an eyebrow as a smile plated at his lips, “Yes, and where is this supposed siren now?”

Pidge spoke next, eyes never daring to raise from the floor as her hands twisted nervously in front of her. “We...don’t know.”

Keith knew that they had to sound like absolute fucking lunatics, but for the briefest of seconds, Coran looked like he actually believed him. 

“We don’t know,” Keith restated more firmly, “He could be miles away by now and-”

Pidge  frowned, and her expression told him that he sounded even more like an idiot than he felt, “He had a tail, Keith.” 

He felt that competitive streak flare and he folded his arms over his chest, forgetting exactly what they were in the middle of in favor of further the argument, “He can get it rid of it, if you didn’t notice.” 

“Yeah but there has to be a limit to how much time he can do it,” She insisted, “He blacked out earlier, right? That means there’s a system-” 

“Now you just wait one minute,” Coran cut in, annoyance clear in his tone, “The two of you had a siren, one of the ocean’s most dangerous predators, in a tank.”

His eyebrows raised to his hairline and he leaned forward, “And you don’t know where it went?” 

“The glass broke and Keith got knocked out! Plus,” Pidge protested, showing a spark of her usual fire. Her eyes narrowed into daggers at him, “Does this mean you believe us?” 

“I do indeed,” He announced with a broad grin, bending at the waist in order to take a short bow, “You are talking to a mer-human hybrid. Surely you’ve noticed.” 

“A what?” Keith frowned, eyes scanning over Coran’s body. The man was actually really weird-looking now that he thought about it. His fiery orange hair didn’t make sense in Altea, but Keith had never really felt the need to question it before. And then there were his eyes-an odd shade of purple that seemed to have grown in depth within the past five minutes. And the accent; that’s what should've given it away. Lance talked in that very same way, just a bit more… rough.

“A hybrid, Keith.” He said again with more emphasis, “A cross between a mermaid and human. No tail, but virtually the same thing.” 

Keith could see it now, and it was one of those indescribable feelings he could put no name to. 

He could pinpoint the exact things that made him different from a human, and different than Lance. Keith could feel that strange aura moving through the air around them and he confirmed that his boss was definitely nothing like Lance. The energy that surrounded Lance was sharp and jagged; it ran cold like ice, with a barrier built from broken glass that cut if you got too close, no matter how friendly he seemed.

He wasn’t like that when they were younger, Keith remembered at least that much, and he wondered just how much his friend had changed. Well, he didn’t even know if there were still ‘friends’ at this point. Lance would probably rip his throat out if he could, and honestly, Keith didn’t blame him.

To say that Coran was the polar opposite would be an understatement. Everything about him was soft and smooth and inviting, and Keith felt like he could finally see for the first time. 

He let go of a breath he didn't know he was holding and all of the tension left his body at once. Keith would believe Coran, just this once, and trust him.

Pidge however, looked suspicious, “You work at a marine park, with animals and water. How do you never change back?”

Coran raised his nose at her, as if the question was above him, “Hybrids and mermaids aren’t the same, I’ll have you know.” But his expression grew wistful, “But Lance is different than us all.” 

Keith almost had the audacity to look shocked, “You know Lance?”

“I know of him,” He nodded thoughtfully, “I haven’t had a talk with the pod in years, but I’ve heard the legends.” 

“Legends,” Pidge scoffed disbelievingly, “He’s at least Keith’s age, what legends could there possibly be?”

“Tons, actually.” Coran hummed cheerfully, rocking back on his heels, “Some say he was delivered by the gods to protect the island, since the last known siren in the area disappeared decades ago. They tend to stick towards darker, colder waters, so no one knows where he came from, he was just there , wandering around the cove one day until the pod took him in.”

Keith opened his mouth to speak, only for Coran to continue, “He was just a child then, and since he’d never fully awakened, they deemed him safe and decided to keep him. Like a pet, if you would.” 

“Awakened?” He found himself asking, curiosity churning in his gut.

Coran nodded, stroking his mustache, “An awakening is the time when they reach their full capabilities.” 

“So what does that mean?” Pidge pressed, a frown tugging at her expression.

“He hasn’t eaten human flesh,” Their boss spoke, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, “Therefore he is not aware of what a siren is truly capable of. As of now, think of him as a shark pup living with a pod of friendly little dolphins. But once he takes that first bite-” 

He then proceeded to make an excessively loud noise, similar to that of an explosion as he gestured around wildly, “He’s a blood thirsty megalodon, and not a very friendly one.” 

Keith blanched at that, because he knew that Lance had already hurt someone. What would stop him from eating another? What would he do then? Let Lance make Altea his feeding grounds? 

“But as far as I’m aware of,” Coran started, “Lance has never shown any kind of hostility towards humans, or mermaids.” 

Until today.

But then again, Lance was alone, just like Keith had been, and he’d found Altea. It made sense that he’d bring Keith here too; the only place where the ‘people with legs’ could be found in his eyes. Other than than that though, Lance had a family? They were mermaids, and from the sound of it, they were a lot nicer than Lance, or what he would become. 

Keith understood now, a little bit.

Lance was an outcast among his own people, and now Keith, the one person he most likely felt like he belonged with, had made him feel like an outcast, too. 

Lance's reaction suddenly felt much too small.

He had always questioned if Lance was alone, seeing as he’d spent all his time with Keith. Yet he had a family, apparently, with the mermaids. He was a predator among prey; a wolf among sheep. Keith could accept that, he’d felt like an alien when he’d first arrived in Altea, but he’d found Pidge and the marine center and suddenly he wasn't so alone. 

He wondered if he was like that for Lance- if he’d at least made him feel a little less alone. It didn’t matter now though, because that was in the past, and Keith had completely fucked up the future.

“However,” Coran piped up again, cutting off Keith’s rapid fire thought process, “I believe there was an instance where he sunk a cruise ship.” 

He what.

Chapter Text

LANCE:

Lance woke up in an unfamiliar place.

The painful jolt, the one that he recognized as his wake-up call, rushed all too suddenly through his spine and flared through his new limbs as he was abruptly jerked into consciousness. Sometimes he wished he could turn it off , but being able to sleep in and wander the ocean, still pleasantly warm and fuzzy, was a luxury he just didn’t have.

He worked his aching jaw first, pressing his teeth together and frowning at the feel of flat teeth. Lance had legs too- and was laying in the mass of his flesh and carnage. His nose scrunched at the whiff he caught and he sniffed the air curiously, eyes moving rapidly as they observed his surroundings.

Lance was in a box of some kind, and it reeked of human waste on rotting fish. He was laying on something plastic and squishy, and the walls of this dirty box inclosed around him. Panic flared briefly, but as he looked up and saw the expanse of sky stretched out above him, his heart softened. He could feel the remnants of his anger at the tip of his tongue, and he bristled at the bitter memory.

Keith betrayed him; he’d locked him like in some horribly filtered salt water tank as if he was some kind of animal. Lance had let himself show weakness because it was his Keith and his Keith wouldn't do that. But the human took advantage of his vulnerable state regardless, and Lance didn’t know if he’d ever be able to trust him again after that. 

Maybe Allura was right. Maybe this was just a big waste of time. Maybe Keith just didn’t want him. 

Maybe Hunk was gone.

But maybe he isn’t, he scolded himself as he fought to still his shaking limbs, you don’t know that yet. It hurt, and his whole body thrummed as if he had a toothache all over. Lance was used to this kind of pain, though. It was the kind he had grown used to over the past few days, but that didn’t mean he’d ever accept it.

Lance swallowed it down nonetheless and braced his hands on the grimy floor before forcing himself onto his feet. He was barely taller than the bin he was in, and he silently applauded himself for his quick thinking. 

He wrapped his fingers on the edge and hoisted himself over, wincing as his feet made impact with the ground. Lance was in a ...parking lot? At least that’s what Sendak had called it.

Glancing around, Lance found himself once again inhaling the air around him, sifting through the different scents coating the air until he found one that stood out. It hit him hard; it was hot and heavy and welcoming as it wafted through the air and prey, his mind whispered. 

His mouth began to water at the mere thought and his stomach convulsed. Lance was hungry, but he’d been so wrapped up in what he’d come here to do he’d honestly forgotten about his physical state.

So he began walking in that particular direction, following the tantalizing scent as it twisted. Lance found himself walking down the path he’d left Sendak, and he frowned at the thought. Every step was growing increasingly painful, as if there was broken glass buried in the bridges of his feet. Whatever black substance that covered the ground was absorbing the sun and burned to the touch. It used to be so pleasant against his skin, but now he wanted nothing more than to escape it’s blinding rays.

The moving box, the car, was in the distance, right where he’d left it, with Sendak’s limp body not too far off. He hadn’t moved, but Lance didn’t smell the beginnings of rot, so he took that as a good sign. It was completly lifeless, and something about the sight made his blood run hot in his veins. Lance inhaled deeply, and an overwhelming urge to stop everything and eat surfaced.

He’d never had it, but human flesh might not have been as bad as the mermaids made it out to be. That’s what he was made to eat anyways, right? There shouldn’t be a problem, then.

He approached the corpse slowly, eyes becoming blurry and unfocused as if he was entranced. Lance wondered if his prey felt like this when he lured them in; if they too lost sight of what was real. 

Crouching down until he was balanced on the balls of his feet before Sendak’s body, Lance blinked at it owlishly as he tried to clear the blur in his mind. Lance reached towards it and hesitated before lifting a sagging arm, craning his neck towards it and taking a small whiff. 

It smelled weird, like salt water and a strangely familiar odor that burned Lance’s nose and made his stomach swirl uncomfortably. But at the thought of a meal, he had to fight for control over his brain.

He opened his mouth, jaw popping as it partially unhinged, yet he found himself stopping. It clicked shut with a small snap, because he had remembered that these teeth were flat, and biting that hard would for sure hurt. Lance was just so hungry.

It was a sacrifice he was going to have to make, and as he brought the arm to his mouth and his jaw adjusted, he realized that it was so worth it. 

A sickening squelch filled the air as his teeth tore through flesh and muscle and Lance’s brain melted. The taste of blood burst like fruit in his mouth and spilled onto his tongue, unnaturally rich and the flavor was odd but so indescribably sweet. It was euphoria. 

Lance swallowed, tipping his head back to guzzle down the strip before slurping at the blood swelling from the wound he had formed. His brain short circuited at the sight, and an overbearing fuzz settled over it until he wasn’t sure just what he was in that moment. Static rippled through his ears and a  rumbling hiss slipped past his lips and Lance was hungry, hungry, hungry.

He could feel something churning inside of him; and something inside of him stung, as if his very chemistry was changing. As if a flip had been switched and the lights were suddenly turned on. Lance shook his head, but when a wave of something powerful crashed over him, he went blank. 

Time seemed to slow around him and Lance found himself unaware of anything but his heart beating away in his chest. It thumped once, twice, and-

“Yesss,” a distant voice crooned in the back of his head, “Finally.”

The fog cleared briefly, but Lance barley had the time to comprehend what was happening before a sudden and carnivorous hunger reared its ugly head, tearing away at the walls of his stomach until it demanded all of his immediate focus. He hunched over and gripped at his abdomen as if it would help in the slightest, but as sweat trickled down his forehead Lance realized he was fighting a losing battle. 

It pointless, he soon realized, the once dull ache in his stomach was soon swallowed by a ravenous craving that clawed  its way slowly up his throat. His frenzied mind grew frantic and he groaned to himself, begging his body to obey his whims. 

But it didn’t, moving by no will of his own. Lance suddenly felt like a back-seat passenger, watching through someone else’s eyes as his nails clutched and tore violently at flesh as if it would run away if he removed them. He ripped away chunk after chunk, mouth chasing what his hands couldn’t catch until it was stuffed beyond capacity and forcing it down his clogged throat became hard. It wasn’t until something sharp poked at his gums did he become aware that his hunger had nearly dissipated, and he was stuffed. 

Wrenching himself away physically hurt. Lance groaned as his head spun, and he was vaguely aware of that violent haze ebbing away until nothing but the aftermath was left behind. 

Lance slowly willed his content purr to a stop and let his eyes slide open, taking a good look at what he’d done. 

Only that feeling of peace vanished at the sight, and he choked on his cry. 

Sendak’s arm was torn down to the bone in some places, and shredded to the white meat in others where the bite marks were printed clear on his skin. But it was weird, he thought to himself, because he was dead right? Yet the blood was still flowing and oh god just what had he done.

He’d eaten the limb of a living person; had eaten a human. In less that five minutes, he’d sucessfully gone against everything he’d ever belived to be true about himself, but fuck did he feel better than ever. The worst part was that he didn’t even care , sure it was a shame, but it wasn’t as if Sendak was a good person. 

Lance looked down at his arm and flexed his fingers in an attempt to gauge just what was happening. An icy feeling was snaking its way through his body in a way he’d never experienced; it crackled like lightning through his veins, setting his blood alight with every movement. 

His eyes became hyper-aware of everything around him; and he could practically feel them dilating as they grew hyper-focused on the world. What was happening to him?

Lance took a deep breath to calm himself, eyes widening as his scent range expanded far beyond what it had been before. His nose scrunched automatically as he tried to ignore the mouth-watering scent of blood before him. 

His body willed itself in the direction of Sendak and Lance took a forceful step backwards, clamping a hand over his nose as he mulled over just what to do. 

He could smell something else that was vaguely familiar; it was creeping out from beneath the domineering scent of blood and seeping slowly into the air, until it met his nose and all he could think was friend.

Lance knew that scent, he’d come to know it like the back of his hand, and his heart clenched painfully in his chest. It was enough to heave himself out of whatever pit he’d fallen in and glance down at Sendak's body; at the blood pooling beneath his form. Lance forced his heart to steel and he reached down with a new aggression.

He laced his fingers through the mans short hair, hoisting him up until the rest of his body was being held up by the head in his grasp. Lance maneuvered him as he wanted, carefully avoiding the wrecked arm as he pulled and tugged at his clothes until they gave way under his demanding hands. He slid them onto his body and adjusted them accordingly, moving them around until they mirrored how Sendak had worn them.

He let go of Sendak’s hair and watched his body drop limply back to the floor. Maybe he would die and spare Lance the trouble of worrying about it later. Humans probably had a way to deal with this, so he’d leave it to them.

Lance then continued his torturous trek down the winding road, trusting his nose to lead him in the right direction. It’d been a while since he’d smelled anything so througouhly, and it was a little unsettling how clear everything had suddenly become.

Something felt different to him; as if there was a creature alive and breathing within him, settling like weights on his bones and thumping under his skin. He exhaled slowly, willing his heart to calm its jackrabbit pace. His hands clenched at his side and he looked around curiously, eyes trailing over different foliage and trees. 

He’d seen the bodies of hulking trees before, he’d ran his hands along their damp bark as they were broken down and dissolved into nothing. But Lance had never seen them like this; in their full prime above the surface. They towered over him easily and he followed their branches as they expanded far above his head. 

The overworld had a different kind of beauty than his home did. He could see the sun fully here, but not really because he’d probably go blind if he looked too long. It was no longer dulled and scattered as it was beneath the surface. This also meant, however, that it was free to beat down onto him and roast him alive until he wished for the comfort of water. 

The ache in his bones had vanished nearly entirely after his meal, and Lance couldn’t help but feel like he was completely born anew.

The majority of his walk went by in a dull silence.

He continued walking for what felt like days, until the whispering humm of civilization reached his ears. Lance preened at the thought of giving his feet a break, but there was something he still had to do. The pain was one he could handle, and he couldn’t stop now when he was this close.

A softer sound made its way to his ear, throaty, and most definitely made by an animal other than human. He followed the sound, and the distinct odor that fur-wearers carried met his nose. It scrunched on instinct and he nearly stopped walking, but the sound of little feet hitting the ground made him press forward.

The thing was approaching, and as he braced himself for whatever strange creature he was about to see-

It was a… beast?

The animal was strange to look at; it was covered in a layer of black fur, with a small button nose and little oval feet. It’s tail was long and seemed out of place when attached to its frail body. What was the point of it? He’d seen tails on seals and otters and other sea life, but never one on land.  There was no purpose, no need for them, and yet, here one was. But Lance still watched, mesmerized, as it flicked and curled on its own, pulling in before whipping outwards.  

The creature gazed at him oddly, eyes a shade of blue that just barely mimicked his own. They were wise, and knowing, and for some reason, Lance couldn’t bring himself to look away. He wondered, briefly, who the real siren was.

Lance knew what this thing was, Allura had described it to him once. Her knowledge of the human world was far more extensive than his, but the merfolk weren’t like him, even on land they were different. They didn’t have the same kind of limitations he did, but even he couldn’t exactly place the full extent of them. Mermaids weren’t known to stray far from where they were born.

The tail… the watchful eyes.. 

It was a cat! That’s what she had called it.

Lance gave it a toothy smile and crouched down to its level, peering at it strangle as the thing recoiled and hissed violently, back arching as its tail went rigid in response.  

He didn't know if his mimicry would work or not in this form, but as he forced his throat to constrict and that familiar burn raced its way up, he grinned.

Lance narrowed his eyes, lips curling back into a snarl as he released a throaty hiss of his own. 

As it lurched back  in what must have been shock, Lance snickered to himself. That seemed to placate it for now, and he watched the cat’s pupils expand slowly as it settled. He shoved his hand outwards in a human greeting and tilted his head, fingers twitching cautiously as he urged them to stay still. This was how humans did it? Would a cat be different? He honestly didn’t even know, but it was worth a shot. 

It’s head darted forward, eyes never straying from his face as it sniffed him slowly. 

A smile spread across Lance’s face and his heart swelled with pride as the beast bumped its face into his palm and nuzzled it openly, moving its body fluidly until he scratched where it wanted. 

He cooed softly at the sight, using his hands to rub and pet its little body until it was satisfied. It purred happily in response and he preened, patting it on its small head as he pushed itself back to his feet. He looked down at the beast and it brushed past him, tail curling around his ankle before disappearing altogether.

Lance smiled as he watched it go and it didn’t so much as glance back at him as it went. Lance;s heart warmed at the sight, he wished that he was able to do things like that. 

The thought made him frown softly to himself, even as he turned around and pressed forward. 

_

What felt like a few more vargas brought Lance to another winding road, where cars were scattered in front of brick boxes and ultimately blocking his path. He took the time to look around, and hesitated before the manmade structures. He squinted at the figures, and silently realized that they were children, human children, in front of one of the… houses. They chased each other around patches of grass, darting behind the cars and running across the path. 

He’d never actually seen them before, and he had wondered what the spawn of humans looked like. He knew what merfolk guppies looked like when they hatched, but he didn’t know much about sirens. No one really did, he noticed as he strode past them, the myths and lore told by the mers had their own limit. The only thing he knew was that they weren’t native to these waters; that they prefered to lurk where it was dark and cold and empty.

But Lance wasn’t like that, he couldn’t stand the cold in the slightest, so he really wasn’t sure how correct all of that information was. The thought made him shudder, and a small smile graced his face as he thought of Hunk. 

The scent was still there, and he followed it like a loose thread, stretched oh so thin as if the slightest of yanks would snap it in two. In all realities, it as the only thing that Lance had left. He knew that the Glara had taken them. Their ship always lurked somewhere nearby, and Allura had assured Lance that even he’d be powerless against them. 

He scoffed.

The subtle hint of humanity dulled after a while, and they soon appeared in clustered masses all over the place. Some looked at him strangely and he met there stares, bumping into shoulders and colliding with their bodies until they started avoiding him altogether. 

Served them right.

Lance began zoning out of what was happening as he had for the excessively long walk. That was until that invisible thread he was following vanished from his grasp, and his body jerked to a stop.

He whirled around with a new urgency, retracing his steps backwards until he stopped before another one of the human’s structures. Its doors were large and glass, framed by wooden panels and decorated with flowers made from what must have been paint. There was a wooden sign hanging from it, engraved with that must have been human lettering. 

They had no handles, though, but as Lance pressed the flat of his palm into a metal plate and pushed, he found it didn’t need any.

Something soft and mythodical rang out above his head and his head moved so fast his vision swam. He hissed on instinct, backing himself into the structure until his senses dulled and he eased out of attack mode. 

Lance looked down at the floor beneath his bare feet, and studied the back and white pattern spread across the floor. There were wooden slabs suspended by more wood spread around, and he recognized them as tables with what must have been chairs attached. 

He moved forward and through the room, weaving around one of the three sets until he stopped before a larger table near the wall. There was three feet of space separating them, and a door not too far off from that. Lance frowned and took a deep inhale, eyes refusing to focus as he took in as much scents as his nose would allow him. 

Distantly, that bell chimed. 

Lance didn’t notice the other's presence until he heard something hit the floor, and when his whole body rocked as he turned around. 

The woman stood before him, and Lance could see the way her whole body shook with tremors. A new scent filled the air; an overwhelming surge of fear that spread across the room and flushed the building. Lance grit his teeth and squinted as if it obscured his vision, grumbling uncomfortably to himself. Something about her was eerily familiar, and as she stood there clutching a coat in her grip, irritation hit Lance.

“Why are you here?” She stammered, voice shaking as horror contorted her features. She took a wobbly step backwards and towards the doors. “Why are you here?” 

Lance cocked his head curiously, humming in question as he resumed letting his eyes explore.

Siren,” She ground out as if it hurt, “Who are you?”

That word, Lance recognized. That was the name for his species in human-tongue, Keith had called him that before and Lance had even come to recognize himself as such. His eyes darted to her quivering form and he mustered a small smile, breathing deeply as her fear dampened. 

“Lance,” He told her, humoring her with a response. That didn’t help though, the human was still looking at him as if he would spontaneously combust at any moment.

She wasn’t a threat, he silently deduced, but he couldn't quite determine if it was her, or this structure, that smelled like Hunk. He took a step closer, shoving one of the tables out of the way as it blocked his path. Her trembling only increased then, and she shuffled even further away. That was until she hit the glass, though, and Lance was almost close enough to smell her.

He opened his mouth and prepared to sooth her nerves, not much- just enough so he could remove the burning stench from the air and focus on the smaller things that he actually needed.

Yet suddenly, something soft collided with his face and he released a growl so vicious as he was blinded, he startled himself. He yanked the offended fabric away from his face and a new-found rage bubbled in his gut. He bared his teeth and held it away from himself, clenching it between two fingers as if afraid to touch it anymore than that. 

Lance dropped his gaze down to the frightened human and that primal part of him growled, body coiling as he prepared to strike and-

Hunk.

Lance snapped out of whatever haze was casted upon him and his brain span with how bewildered he had suddenly become. He held up the cloth, eyes never trailing from the girl as he brought the coat to his nose. The scent of flowers and earth hit him first, and as he delved deeper into the scent, things rushed past his eyes; a million different events and smells taking place all at once, and sure enough.

Beneath the stench of wet-fur and mammalian odor, was the soft scent of his best friend. His heart throbbed in his chest as if it could reach out and touch him, and he whined, murmuring a broken form of Hunk before he remembered his audience.

His face steeled and the girl beneath him tensed, entire body locking as she looked up at him with her doe eyes. 

“You know Hunk?” She breathed, more to herself than anything. He could see the gears in her brain turning bit by bit as she connected invisible dots. “You’re a siren…”

He nodded in response, shoving away the anger sizzling in his chest. 

“Lance,” She stated, the name a mere whisper on her tongue, as if she was afraid to speak it. He tore his gaze away from the coat and eased it back to her. The human’s throat bobbed as if she were choking on her own words, and she released a few throaty clicks that resembled his name. 

Not the name he was gifted by Keith all those years ago, but his rightful name. A rush of nothing but pure warmth flooded Lance’s chest and he mulled over it in his head, blinking as he realized the fear had vanished from the air completely. There was something so familiar about that wet-animal stench, something he knew but couldn quite put a name to. He looked back to the fur, studying the black and brown strands and for a second he-

“Shay!” Lance exclaimed, cutting off his own thoughts. His chest bubbled over with happiness and he trilled, cheeks aching with how hard he smiled. His expression was downright ecstatic , and she could see the pure delight gleaming in his eyes. “Shay seal. Shay friend!” 

And she nodded, standing up to her full height as he backed off and away from her. Instead of running, as he originally expected, Shay merely opened her arms and dove forwards, enveloping him completely in her loving embrace, and for once, Lance didn’t fight it. 

Her warmth swallowed him completely and he released a pleased purr in response, worming deeper into her hold as if he meant to crawl beneath her skin. Lance felt his lips turn into a smile and he buried it in her lovely brown hair. 

He’d known Shay when they were both much younger, when they were just fathering their bearings and branching out into new territory. They’d just met a group of neighboring seals, and he and Hunk had become fast friends with some of their pups. 

But one day, when Hunk and Lance had shown up to their usual meeting spot in the cove, the seals were gone, and so was Shay.

Yet here she was! Alive and well! Well, human at least. 

“I’m a selkie in human terms,” She informed him as she pulled away, human speech sounding all too effortless. Lance grumbled at the loss of warmth and he mouthed the word to himself, tongue unable to form it just yet. 

“Seh-kly,” He repeated, annoyance flaring at the obvious mispronunciation as he found himself unable to repeat it properly. Human words had always felt weird and wrong in his mouth; he couldn’t learn it as fluently as the mers could. Killing didn’t require talking, he realized. 

Mimicking sounds wasn’t that hard because fundamentally, it was all the same underneath. Besides mer-speak, animals didn’t use words, more like straightforward sounds that had clear meanings. But human-speak had many different dialects and meanings, and adapting to it had so far been harder than anything.

But Shay didn’t laugh, or even ridicule him. She just smiled at him fondly, and repeated the word slower for him. 

Ssselkie,” He tried, expression changing as if in shock.

“Selkie!” Lance beamed firmly, siling broader by the second. Lance crooned happily nd raised his arms, collapsing them over Shay’s shoulders. He purred ontenty, rubbing against her face as she laughed because he did it! He could remember forcing himself to practice for hours trying to put together words and sentences for Keith, and he’d just learned a new one in minutes!

“Lance,” He demanded, “Lance speak human.” 

Shay giggled and she placed a hand on his cheek, patting him softly as she moved around him, “I’ll help you, don’t worry.” 

He nodded happily, “Lance learn!” 

“Yes, I’ll teach you,” She smiled, and then she was reaching down to gather her things from the floor. Lance tried to help, but his body was exhausted and he really just didn’t want to. 

When Shay rightened herself, she smiled again, but there was something odd flickering in her eyes. It wa sa question, he knew that much, but how long would it take her to just ask him? 

She flipped the board on the door over and walked through the shop, slipping behind the display case and waving him over as she disappeared through that other door. Lance followed behind her, curiously peeking into the room before entering it fully. There was furniture everywhere, and it looked like there was a staircase leading up to a living space. Shay placed the basket on a small table and began walking up the stone steps, Lance following soon after. 

She paused, however, and Lance watched her shove a small piece of metal into the handle and twist it before pushing the door open altogether. Humans were so… odd. He was familiar with the concept of locks, but humans were so extra. Not only did they insist on having an excessive amount of doors, they also had to secure them too? 

“It’s a lock,” Shay said as if he didn’t already know. She took a step into the new room and she shut the door behind Lance as he stepped in, holding up the piece of metal after using it again. 

“Know that,” He informed her with the dip of his head. 

She laughed, though, and turned to face him with a soft smile. 

“And this,” Shay said, grabbing his hand to place it in his open palm, “Is a key.” 

Lance’s chest shook with the force of his growl. 

Keith,” He hissed, dropping the thing as if it burned. Shay shook her head and picked it up from the floor, grabbing his wrist with a gentle grip. 

“No, Lance.” She told him slowly, “Key.” 

He pouted like a child in response.

‘K-ee,” He muttered quietly hesitating as she said it again. He closed his palm around it and he sniffed, nose scrunching at the metallic tang. This was a key, then, and it helped humans open their completely unnecessary doors. 

Lance handed it back and he glanced around the new room, studying the furniture and odd decorations. Shay moved around him and towards a cushion-covered piece of wood. She patted the spot next to her and Lance fell down beside her, oddly soothed by the squishy thing. She got up though, telling him to stay put before disappearing into yet another room. The smell of something herbal filled the air and she emerged minutes later with two cups. He’d seen cups like that before, the kind with the handle. All of his were chipped or broken, hough, and he had never seen what it looked like complete up until now. 

“It’s tea,” She said, as if he knew what it was, “It’s a drink, humans like it, and it’s not so bad.” 

Lance didn’t know what to say, so he remained silent, studying the glass? cup as the dark liquid swirled around inside of it. SHe looked at him oddly and picked up her own cup, “Why are you here, Lance?”

“Live here, water.” He informed her, eyes following the pattern that ran along the walls around them. 

“I mean here,” She lead, “On land.” 

A dark look fluttered across his features and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, “Hunk gone.” 

A new expression formed and he moved his mouth, releasing a few distorted clicks in adjustment before speaking again, “Humans take.” 

Shay had to muffle the gasp with her hand. 

Lance was upset, and it didn’t take a genius to see it, so she forced herself to smile instead, “I’m sure he’s okay Lance, are you here looking for him?” 

Lance made an exasperated sound and he sighed, reverting back into his own native tongue to find the right words.

“I don’t know where he is .” He clicked sloppily as he rushed through his words, “Allura told me that a ship took him, so I came in search because I can’t lose another-”

“Calm down,” She interrupted in human-speak, easing into a very rough imitation of mer, “He’s gone?

Lance nodded, relieved to finally be able to speak normally with someone on his level, “Yes, I’m unsure of what happened.”

His gaze fell to his hands, which were seated loosely in his hands, “I should have been there for him.” 

Shay gave him a sorrowful look and took his hands in her own, holding them carefully, “It’s not your fault, Lance.” 

But the man didn’t listen, instead shaking his head and frowning, “And now, I won’t be able to help him because I cannot speak their insolent language.” 

“I’ll teach you,” She insisted in English, “It’s not so hard, I’ll teach you. But you need to rest first.”

And when Lance fixed her with that molton stare and nodded. She studied him as he flopped over casually onto his side, sinking into the couch. 

He gave her a soft smile as his eyes dropped, and Shay decided in that moment that she’d do anything for him.