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“Oh c’mon Keith just one.” Lance sighed heavily trying to hide the smile on his face as Keith sat in the mouth of the wooden Yelmore figure at the front of the ship. Lance still wondered what the hell a Yelmore actually was. Keith didn’t know either.

Keith held out the fish in a teasing manner, “And what have you done to deserve such a thing little mermaid?”

“Who are you calling ‘little’, human?” The mer scoffed, “I’m bigger than you either as a mer or human.”

“Oh insulting the guy with the food now are we. Hmm?” The boy pulled the fish to his chest copying the type of dramatics he’d learnt from non-other than the mer below him.

Lance smirked, he was still a guppy really so his tail couldn’t sum up a force like his older siblings but he was still able to create a small wave against the ship causing many droplets of water to hit the smug child above him.

“Hey!” In a brief fit of panic from the water Keith accidentally dropped the fish as now had to watch a very smug mer eat the thing whole.

“Serves you right mullet.” He grinned flashing his sharp white teeth at the now drenched boy and softly wagging his blue scaly tail like an amused cat rather than a fish.

The boy went to argue back about his hair comment as per usual, but was cut off by a tuft of white hair breaking the ocean surface next to Lance. The mer to let out a squeal in shock sending Keith into a fit of giggles which ultimately send him falling into the ocean with a big splash.

“Smooth move there samurai.” Now it was Lances turn to laugh.

Keith flicked some water while making a slow attempt to doggy paddle towards the beach.

The white haired mer also let out a small giggle but it was seemingly directed at both of them.

“Are you okay Keith.” She eventually spoke

“I’m good. You here for Shiro?” He deadpanned leaving causing the mer to blush and try and stammer out a reason for her appearance.

“I-I-I um, uh. No. No! I just, um.” Lance wasn’t helping as he proceeded to laugh again.

“Don’t worry ‘llura I think the great captain Shirogane wants to see you too.”

Keith smirked, “I don’t think ‘great’ is the right word Lance.”

The boy made it back to the beach with the two mer’s steadily behind him gracefully changing into a more human appearance. Allura having had more practice was able to look completely human unlike the younger who still retained his teal tattoo-like marks underneath his eyes and his arm markings that looked like blue vines. Keith (being the imaginative child that he is) always found the markings quite beautiful and was rather glad Lance hadn’t found a way to hide them just yet, they complemented his ocean eyes. His twelve-year-old-self would never tell him that of course. The mer’s ego was big enough.

As he began walking to the dock to get back on the ship Shiro approached him and looked down at the drenched boy before him.

He sighed, “Keith how many times do-”

“Shiro!” Allura cut the lecture short saving Keith for another day.

“A-Allura what are you doing here?” Keith smirked at the love-struck sight of his brother.

“You’re so lame.” He mumbled to himself resulting in a small whack on his head from his brother as he walked over to Allura giving a slight nod to the younger mer.

“Can they just like get together? It’s painful watching them.” Lance waved his arms around emphasising his dramatic performance.

“Tell me about it.” Keith grunted. “Shiro keeps telling me he could never be with her and ‘she’s a princess of Altea, as a pirate that would be an insult’” He repeated in his best Shiro impression. “Then he gets flustered when I point out how he never denied liking her.” Keith wasn’t a performer like Lance but he’d spent enough time with the mer for certain things to rub off on him, so the small imitation always made the other boy laugh.

“Hey man I think you’re getting better at that impression.” He gently nudged him as they walked off towards the kitchen leaving the two slightly older teens to talk ‘politics’ as they normally called it.

In the ships excuse for a kitchen the two were met with another boy although despite being about their age he was much larger and would often get pass for an adult, his innocent nature would let him down however.

“Hunk!” Lance jumped down the steps and bolted toward the larger boy.

He was currently chopping some vegetables and appeared completely focused until he caught the sight of blue and snapped his head up, “Lance! Oh man I didn’t know you were here I would have-” He proceeded to ramble about various meals that the mer had expressed before and how he’d been practicing before Lance eventually cut him off with a hug.

“No worries dude I already got a snack of mullet here.” He gestured his thumb at the scowling boy next to him. “Besides me and Allura are just paying a quick visit. Where’s the gremlin at?” He glanced around expecting to see some green accompanied with ‘the worst bed head’ as he normally placed it.

“Pidge? Oh yeah. We’re setting off tomorrow and obviously she can’t come as Matt keeps reminding her so she’s settled on spending some time with him.” Hunk would have loved for the girl to come as they both shared a love of upgrading the ship with the latest tech. It was thanks to them the ship could fly. Most could, but for a pirate such an upgrade would be expensive and usually inefficient. Pidge proved everyone wrong however, despite nearly blowing the beloved vessel to pieces.

Lance frowned momentarily, it’d been a while since he’d seen her and he knows how much she wanted to go with the crew since their mission was to find her and Matt’s father, a scientist who had been missing for months now. The mer didn’t understand most of what’d she say but she often told him in times when Matt and the crew were away how much of a brother he’d become to her. A weird fish brother she’d often mock.

“I guess I’ll say hi to her later.” He quirked up.

Keith pretended he didn’t notice the mer falter with his emotion, he seemed to do it a lot and yet would somehow still wear a smile on his face and try to keep everyone happy (and especially make sure he filled his ‘annoy Keith’ quota). Keith, being to awkward with words and emotions at the best of times as often wanted to call him out on it but could never bring himself to. They might be leaving tomorrow, but Lance was a mermaid who often went wherever the hell he wanted, much to his cousin’s protest, there was a good chance they meet again out in the ocean.

“So I’m guessing this quick visit it to see us off?” Keith asked.

“Well, you know I’m probably gonna see you guys out there.” He smiled knowingly, “This is more for Allura.”

Hunk raised his brown in confusion before finally catching up with the other two, “Oh. Oh!” He laughed, “Do you think she’ll give him a goodbye kiss?”

...

“So how long will you be gone this time?” Allura asked almost as if she wanted to say something else however her cousin and Shiro’s brother had re-joined her along with Hunk.

He awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck, “Honestly I’m not sure. After finding Sam’s base empty there wasn’t much to go off. Matt visited the Mayor who was in charge of the operation Sam was involved in yesterday and with some uh, persuasion, he mentioned some bandits had raided the place.”

Allura frowned, she really wanted to help the group seeing how frustrating it was to be constantly met with empty findings, but the tension with the mer’s and some of the human countries was rising (this being one of the few that welcomed mer’s openly thanks to Queen Luxia who was half mer herself as well as how close Altea resided to this land) and she had royal duties to prioritise.

“Do we even know what Sam was working with?” Hunk eventually asked, he wanted to rescue the scientist knowing how much it meant to Pidge, but he also couldn’t help how dangerous this rescue mission was going to be, especially with how famous Sam is in the tech world.

“Sadly I could never find what our dad was working on.” Matt and Pidge had joined the rest on the main deck, “But we’re still going to find him no matter what.” Matt said proudly while the smaller girl next to him remained quiet.

Lance walked over and nudged her sensing her distress, “Don’t worry Katie I’m pretty good company ya know.” He grinned, she could help but smile in return.

“I told you not to call me that dumbass.”

“Katie language.” Shiro exasperated much to the amusement of everyone around him. “Where does a nine year old hear this stuff?” He glared at her brother who simply shrugged in response.  

“Hey man its everywhere, I heard someone say cu-”

“Matt!”

The boy laughed at the clear distress her caused knowing full well what he was doing to Shiro.

“Why are you like this?” He sighed.

Keith sneered, “Well if it’s not him it’s Lance.” He pointed to the taller boy who high-fived Matt.

“Damn right.”

“Oh god there’s two of them.” Pidge groaned hoping no one noticed the slight smile she let out.

Allura eventually clapped her hands together grabbing everyone’s attention.

“It’s been nice to see you all. I’m sorry the visits so short but me and my wonderful cousin here” She gestured to Lance, “Have things to attend to so we won’t be able to see you off tomorrow morning. All of you stay safe-” She proceeded to hug everyone and as expected received a stiff hug from the raven haired boy, at least her tried this time. “-and Pidge we’ll stop by when we can, give your mother my love.”

Pidge frowned, she was young but attentive and something about the words ‘things’ and the unusual lack of Lance’s protest to such gave her an unsettling feeling in her stomach. Despite only being a cousin and only a few years older than her it seemed Lance was already involved with the mer’s heavily politics. The mer in the last few months had oddly stopped voicing his opinion on the ‘boring royal meetings’ and in fact never brought them up. Pidge and Keith had both pondered whether he was even going to them, but Allura on many occasion had insinuated he had. If it was ever questioned he just shrugged it off with a joke, a mask that only some saw through.

Her second reason for frowning at the departure was guilt however. Twice now she’d been told they’d pay her a visit as a way to keep her company and Pidge knew that in the past Lance would keep tabs on the crew for her sake, despite him saying he just happened to bump into them. Lance and Allura had become just as much family as the rest of The Black Lion crew so she felt guilty at how they might pop up one day to find she wasn't there. As much as it would hurt her mother, there was no way she was missing out on this mission.

Shortly after the two mers departure Matt and Pidge suggested to the other three to come join them for dinner with their mother and so that’s what they did. Before everyone knew it, it was time to leave. A part of Keith was hoping that Lance was about to make a break and say goodbye like he normally would, despite probably ‘bumping’ into them a few days later. He was left a little disappointed to find that it didn’t happen.

...

A day into their sail they found Pidge in the cargo hold and much to Matt’s annoyance, they were too far to turn back.

A few days later two mers has ran into their ship. Keith hoped it was Lance.

It wasn’t. It was Allura and her advisor Coran.

Allura was screaming in hysterics when the boarded.

Altea had gone. The Glara Empire had submarines and had blown the mermaids city to rubble. Mermaids were captured, skinned of their scales and left for dead.

Lance was one of them.

Chapter Text

Six Years Later

Keith found himself sitting in the mouth of the steel plated Yelmore, it’s not as comfortable as it used to be but a completely wooden ship wasn’t much use in a war torn ocean. The steel was cold thanks to the northern winter they were now in, but it was his only escape as he pulled out his sketchbook and began drawing the Ladenea docks.

“Keith you out there?” a voice shouted through the Yelmores mouth.

He hummed in response as a small green figured perched next to him, the peace was broken but he never minded Pidge joining. She normally just pulls out her tech device and begins working on something he probably never understand anyway.

“Ugh why couldn’t we have gone somewhere sunny?” She grunted.

Keith stopped drawing and raised a brow at her, “I though you hated the sun?”

“Oh I do, but I hate the cold more. Besides, London is great for its tech, but it all just looks so depressing and I feel like the air will kill me.”

Keith let out an amused huff, “Well it must be bad if you’re complaining.”

The girl ignored his sarcasm, “How long we gonna be here anyway?” She sniffed already being affected by the cold.

“Dunno. Allura said something about going to the brothel for info.”

Pidge turned to him with an evil grin on her face, “A brothel huh.”

“Pidge.” He sighed.

“Hey, maybe it’ll be a good thing, you’ve all been pretty stressed lately, and c’mon don’t act like you didn’t enjoy it last time.” She laughed remembering how for the boys sixteenth Shiro and Matt took him to a whore house for fun, (although Allura who joined them for 'business purposes' managed to get some information on Sam. It wasn’t his location but they found out a member of the group that took him and his work. It ended up as a dead-end, but it was something, and they would take everything they could find as a positive at this point) Keith had to awkwardly tell the girl they gave him that he didn’t want to sleep with her. He was used to places frowning on the idea of same sexes getting together, but brothels don’t play by the same rules as the rest of society. He got to have fun in the end, even if sleeping with a stranger for his first time was a little awkward. Pidge laughed at him when she pretended to not know what a brothel was and he was too flustered to explain only to find out Matt had already told her.

The older members of the group have been to various brothels since then (aside for Hunk and Coran who would rather be working on the ship or finding out information from locals). While the ‘fun’ part is always a benefit, it is normally how they find out the ins and outs of the area they’re in and on occasion anything about the Galra or Sam. Men become lose lipped when drunk on alcohol or high on drugs and sex, and the whores know all, knowledge is power after all. Pay them enough and they’ll tell. Of course, Allura being the mermaid she is usually can persuade them to talk. She and Shiro may have not worked out as a couple, but he’s glad they worked things out and got her to stay. Not just for her uses as a mermaid but also she and Coran have become family aboard the ship. 

“Well it’s been some time since we’ve been here and last month a Galra royal was here. We need all the info we can get.” He was going to add about finding her dad, but it’s a sensitive topic and Keith knows he doesn’t need to voice that for the girl to understand. Morally, sleeping with a whore isn’t great, but they’re pirates and if the world is going to treat them like they have no morals, they might as well delve into the immoral every now and then to get what they need. “Not to mention that it was because of a whore we found out the Galra had something to do with Sam and that it may have also had a link to-”

“Altea.” Pidge finished with a solemn tone in her voice. They all know Allura and Coran have had many sleepless nights over what happened to their home, not to mention that a certain someones name has never once been mention by anyone since it happened.

It’s been years, but the wounds for everyone aboard still felt very fresh, especially when hearing about other mermaid colonies receiving the same demise. As a result mermaid scales weren’t uncommon to find on the black market and mermaids themselves we’re becoming extremely rare, either due to the population decrease or that any remaining had gone into hiding in some way. Allura and Coran we’re never in their mer forms these days (except in the bath) which would make one question how many mers were actually hidden in plain sight.

Yet, sadly another reason for the decrease in mermaids was a deadly reason. Sirens. There are many stories about how Sirens are born into existence, but aside from a literal birth of a siren, they are originally mermaids and that for one reason or another (usually trauma) they become a siren. They’re deadly beings that with a song have led many to their deaths in the depths of the ocean. They're corrupted mermaids.

When Coran told the crew about the existence of Sirens, it came after they we’re nearly killed by one, fortunately the Sirens song doesn’t affect the mers (unless its powerful enough) and they Allura was able to kill it. She didn’t sleep well that night however, knowing she’d killed a former mer and wondered if it could have once been one of her people.

Coran was adamant that no one of Altea survived, but Keith and the others had wondered if that was his way of comforting himself. From what was described, there was so much chaos that it was highly possible some mers got away and some that were descaled had survived, especially knowing that scales grow back. Every time scales grow back however, they become paler (not that it’d matter to a Siren since their scales are a dull imitation of its former self).

Pidge and Matt has wondered if a Siren could revert back to a mer, that maybe if they met a siren they could save it. Yet, Allura and Coran stated that the transformation is due to a mers quintessence becoming tainted with darkness. While officially its unknown, both mers are convinces that removing such darkness would be near impossible.

But not completely impossible.

...

After a few hours of talking and mindlessly enjoying the scenery night began to fall rather quickly and the two pirates joined Hunk in the kitchen who was just getting ready to serve everyone dinner. Coran was already at the table reading the days newspaper simply to pass the time.

“Ah number five!” He looked up practically slamming the paper on the table, causing the larger teen to let out a little yelp from the kitchen.

“What’s up Coran?” She hopped up onto the table ignoring the larger boy’s plea to get off, he resorted to just handing her a plate of fish and chips (they were in London and needed to restock so the chef couldn’t really get creative).

“I’ve already asked number two, but while the rest are off doing business this evening, would you mind helping me out with some ship repairs. I was out today getting some new equipment as I came across some scultrite glass that I think would be great to have for the windows. Amongst other things that I’d be happy for you to look at.”

The girl seemed to perk up at the name, it was just glass to the raven haired boy. But to a scientist and engineer the stuff was better and stronger than diamonds and had an endless amount of usage, not that Keith knew or cared.  

“Hey Keith eat up we’re gonna leave in a few hours.” Matt peered around the corner from the Captains quarters, clearly having just discussed a plan for the group. Shiro was not far behind him.

The boy grunted, “Remind me, why do I have to go again?” Normally Keith wouldn’t mind, but tonight he just wasn’t in the mood for getting it on with a whore in exchange for information. It involved being somewhat social and getting naked and neither felt very appealing to him right now no matter how important to information could be, but was it really necessary for four of them to go?

“Because Keithy boy-” said boy went to interrupt Matt but the older continued, “-we can only have so many whores and the more we can interact with the more information we can get, especially since Prince Lotion was here last month. This is one of the more esteemed whore houses, there’s no way to don’t not know anything.” He paraded around mocking the Prince in question. The nickname ‘Lotion’ kinda just stuck after an off-handed joke about the prince’s flawless white hair. No one could remember the actual joke, but it was a good code-name to use in public if necessary. Although Matt just liked to take the piss whenever he could about the arrogant Prince.

Keith simple grunted and slammed his head onto the table nearly landing in the plate that was about to be placed in front of him.

“Hey man it can’t be that bad.” Hunk smiled gently placing Keith plate next to his head.

“It’s not. I’m just not up for that tonight.” The pirate slowly sat back up and ignoring the cutlery given to him, picked up some chips and started eating. “But it’s not like I get a choice in this.”

Shiro laughed at how dramatic his brother was being, “Keith it won’t kill you. Besides we’ve been out on the ocean for two months and since I know you’ll barley leave the ship while we’re here it’s be good for you.”

“That’s what everyone says.” He mumbled quietly enough no one heard him.

“Ah I remember when I was a young guppy-”

“CORAN!” Everyone shouted at the older man knowing full well where his story was likely to go given the current topic. That was something they’d rather have the pleasure of not knowing.

Keith was about to grab more chips until a tanned hand was on his plate.

“Hey!” He looked up to see the thief was none other than a white-haired mer, “Allura get your own!”

She smiled while shoving them into her mouth, “Nah I’m good thanks.” Keith glared at her as she practically rubbed it in his face at how lovely they tasted.

“So there’s a lot of brothels here of course, why are we all going to this one rather than splitting up like we normally do in the cities?” Keith asked, now ignoring the stolen food.

The woman gave him a cocky smirk clearly having put a lot of thought into this, “Well if you must know, this is a high end whore house, so much so that it is normally referred to as a motel. Last month as well all know Prince Lotor was here and it’s rumoured that some of his top guard had gone there. They weren’t the highest ranks per say, but high enough that’d they’d likely have a lot of info about the Galra Empire.”

“But what makes you think they said anything. If they’re high up they might be more ‘professional’ even if they went for some time away.” Shiro interjected.

“Men are always lose lipped in front of whores because they think they’re stupid and wouldn’t understand or repeat what is said to them. No whore is stupid as you already know.” She giggled mischievously, “And anyway that’s not all. Apparently one of the guards left in the night and he was found at the bank of the Thames a week later, dead of course.” She sighed, “I don’t know why but I’ve got a hunch that someone in that house knows what happened. No Glaran guard of that position would leave a place like that alone let alone get drunk enough to drown himself in a river.”

“The whore he slept with maybe?” Pidge questioned.

“Maybe, but no amount of persuasion would grant me access to that information considering they tend to use fake names, both whores and clients I mean.”

“So we’ll just have to play it by ear.” Keith groaned knowing this mean he was going to have to be heavily sociable tonight. “Great.”

Allura frowned, “I must ask though, if it was one of the whores, given the nature of the death, I’m suspecting it could have been a Siren. So please be careful.”

Hunk sighed mumbling to himself about how risky this Intel gathering had become. No one heard him of course.

 ...

Night was officially upon them, the brothel wasn’t too far from the docks. Keith was grateful that he didn’t have to be out in the cold for long. Upon entering he was quite thrown back to see that it wasn’t quite as shabby as the warm and welcoming air hit him. It was one of the most elegant, beautifully designed buildings he’d ever been in. It looked like a fancy hotel making the thought that the Prince or at least his top guards had been here.

“Why hello there, are you all here for a fun night?” A pale woman, with long white blond hair, spoke from behind the receptionist desk, in what Keith assumed was the Queens English (it was pretty bad however). The fact the desk was even there was even more evidence that this place was more than your average brothel.

“Yes!” Allura clasped her hands together in excitement, clearly she needed this night for more than just business. “We want separate rooms of course.” She waltzed over to the girl and began talking about preferences and such and it wasn’t long before each were given a key to a room.

“You may stay the night of course and breakfast will be provided for you as per your request.” She smiled, “I’m Romelle by the way, if there’s any problems let me know your escort will arrive in your rooms shortly. Nyma here will show you to your rooms now.” Next to her a tall woman with dirty blond hair and heavy makeup smiled at that in a way that it appeared fake, either she was new to the business or just had a bad day, Keith couldn’t blame her for either. You were often treated as an object in a business like this it’d be hard not to hate every person you came in contact with.

“Thankyou Romelle.” Allura smiled as she handed over some money all while getting ready to sweet-talk her way to something. As he began following the girl called Nyma Keith rolled his eyes upon hearing that the something was for the receptionist to join Allura later.

Keith had never had to wait in a room before, normally the person (or two) he was paying for would walk him to the room, so he felt a little awkward and tense while fiddling with some shampoo bottles that sat on a counter. He looked at himself in the fancy well-lit mirror that looked like something straight out of a Hollywood movie. Saying he looked awful would be an understatement. Keith was never one to keep up appearances, much to La- His black hair was tied back aside from a few strands that fell on his face, not that he minded too much. Having been in cold, miserable waters for so long, that was the northern Mamoran Empire, his skin was as pale as it could possibly get, which really emphasized the reddish burn scar on his cheek he got from trying to help Hunk with a part of the ship one time (he decided to leave it to the engineers from then on). There was also no hiding the purplish bags underneath his eyes, maybe Pidge was right. He did need this tonight.

Sleep never came easy to him since that day, it didn’t come easy to anyone anymore, especially after the amount of ships they’ve sunk and battles they’ve fought. While still pirates, they did loosely work for some empires just to keep themselves alive as well as exchange for resources and information.

“Hey sorry I took so long.” His train of thoughts stopped as the door began to open and a tanned boy with dull blue eyes entered. In a heartbeat Keith felt time stop as he stared at the whore in front of him.

Moments passed in silence as the whores eyes widened at his client, words dying in his throat as Keith eventually spoke.

“Lance?” He hated how weak he sounded and his tone was barely a whisper.

The whore took a step closer. Now centimeters away, Keith could see that while this was definitely the mer he was once best friends with, but there was something disturbingly different about him. He wanted to hug him but the other boys smile unsettled him, something was wrong. Very, very wrong.

“Lance you’re-you’re here? Why are you here?!”

He let out a hollow chuckle, it sounded so wrong on him Keith didn’t know how to react to his next words.

“Well I’m here to please you of course.” He spoke rather bluntly and despite the smile, there was a strong sense of hatred in that statement.

Keith’s eyes widened as various thoughts passed him, does he not remember me? What happened to you? Why are your eyes so dull looking?

“D-Do you not-” he coughed nervously as the boy approached him like he was prey, “Do you not remember me?” He received another unsettling laugh in response.

“How could I forget your dreadful mullet Keithy.” He grinned flashing his seemingly human teeth. It was now he properly looked him over and saw that none of his marking we present either. He got the hang of shape-shifting after all, Keith should have been happy about that, but this whole scenario was wrong, wrong, wrong. A part of Keith wanted to bolt out the room, but he also wanted to pull him into a tight hug and never let go.

Lance was acting like he hadn’t been missing and believed dead for the last six years which was beginning to frustrate the pirate, “What the hell happened to you?!” He raised his voice slightly, tone now lined with anger.

“Oh you know." He laughed emptily again, "Home got destroyed, I got bounced from place to place, escaped and then I came here!” He said nonchalantly. His voice was so hollow and emotionless, a complete 180 from what Keith remembered  and it was beginning to turn his anger into fear.

With the destruction of various mermaid civilisations the population of Sirens is increasing alarmingly.

Lance laughed again, no happiness in sight however.

Sirens are corrupted mermaids. Mermaids who have lost their way.

Keith steadily backed away from the taller boy who was eyeing him up like food.

“Lance-” His hands began to shake, “What are you?”

The boy broke his intimidating look and titled his head in confusion, “I’m a whore obviously." He spoke matter-of-factually, "Why else would I be here?” It was so wrong.

“That’s not what I meant.” With that his smile turned devilish suddenly knowing what Keith was implying.

“What do you think I am Keithy?” Despite the nickname there was no fondness in it like it used to be or even a mocking tone like Matt. He hated it.

Lance closed to gap having cornered Keith to the edge of the bed, he was so close their noses were nearly touching.

“I um.” He felt frozen in place, there were thousands of ways to get away from Lance but a part of him didn’t want to and a part of him was too afraid too. This was his friend, one that needed help even if he didn’t think so. “You’re not a mermaid anymore are you?” He tried to choose his words carefully. Sirens we’re far too dangerous to get cocky with no matter how strong he thought he was against Lance, too much had changed and the Lance in front of him wasn’t the one he once joked around with.

“Hmmm.” He chirped, “I feel so free now.” Dull blue eyes looked down at the fearful violet ones, “Now you surely didn’t come here to chat.”

If he wasn’t in the mood before, he definitely wasn’t now. There was no way in hell he’d sleep with his childhood friend whore or not (well at least not in this scenario and not while Lance was like this. But the Siren was attractive he couldn’t deny that). 

“A-actually I did. But I think you’ve already answered one of my questions.” He swallowed nervously desperately trying to keep his voice even.

He quirked his brow in amusement, “Oh? And what would that be?”

“You killed one of Lotor’s guards didn’t you?” Without realising the Siren had pushed him onto the bed and was now straddling him. It felt wrong, so, so wrong, but if Lance would give him answers then maybe playing along would be a good idea. He’d only stop if it went too far. After all he did pay for this, so Lance should do what he ask. Should being the important word there. Something told Keith that Lance, Siren or Mermaid was still a rule-breaker and would do whatever the hell he wanted.

“And what if I did?” He leant towards the pale neck of the boy under him and whispered the question in his ear sending shivers down his spine.

“Wh- why?” He coughed awkwardly trying to ignore the sensual actions that were being thrown onto him, Lance or not, Keith hadn’t even met a whore that acted like this.

“Because I didn’t like him.” Keith’s blood ran cold. Where is Lance? Where is the mer that used to playfully bicker with him? The one that was act so dramatically when Keith wouldn’t give him a fish? The one who, who- His mind went blank. For a brief moment of first seeing the boy on top of him he was relieved, ecstatic, he was going to run to him and hug him with no intentions of letting him go. But now, now he wanted to run so very far away from him and continue believing he was dead.

“Don’t worry mullet. I like you.” He purred sensing the fear and yet that fear was slightly broken upon the nickname, there was a sense of playfulness about it. A sense of Lance. Maybe he wasn’t all gone after all. Shaking his head away from the fear he decided to play along as see how much of his Lance he could bring out. Maybe it was time to test the Holts theory on saving a Siren because he wasn’t leaving this place without his friend.

“I think my hairs too long to be a mullet now.” He tried to even out his voice, sounded more like himself again. It seemed to work as the Siren pulled away and looked at him amusingly.

“So you admit you have a mullet?”

“Had- wait no!” The tanned boy laughed and for the first time it sounded more genuine, but there was still a twinge of darkness there. As he leaned back in and began kissing his neck and started teasingly grind against his crotch Keith felt confused about this sudden situation, “A-ah Lance don’t- don’t do that!” The rising heat below his stomach was not a reaction he wanted right now.

“But that's why you're here isn't it?" He gave a devilish grin, once again like the Lance he knew, but his next statement pulled Keith back into the reality of his situation and how this was far from an innocent, childish tease. Quite the opposite, "Ohhh you’re so easily turned on Keithy. I can tell this isn’t your first time, although you still act pretty innocent.” He purred again into his ear. “But I can tell you want to do this with me. I won’t deny that you are a pleasure to look at. You've really grown up haven't you mullet.” He grinded into him a little heavier.

“L-Lance please I don’t-”

The boy ignored him as it was clear he was getting into the ecstasy and wanted to relish into it, “Hmm I think you’d be better to look at without those.” He eyed the clothing before leaning back into Keith neck, “Why don’t you take them off?” something out the tone made it sound more like an order rather than a question.

Despite the heat in his groin wanting more Keith didn’t budge, but before he could say anything the door swung open and Lance was being pulled off of him and thrown to the other-side of the room, by non-other than a white haired, very angry mer.

“A-Allura?” he stammered trying to process what just happened.

“What the hell!” The Siren stood up rubbing his arm before looking at the new person in front of him, “Oh.” He frowned with a sense of frustration, “Hello cousin.” He mocked, which seemed to break Allura’s anger, she didn’t even glance at Keith behind her still sitting on the bed in confusion. He forgot how strong the mer was sometimes.

“Lance I thought you were dead!” Her voice quivered like she was trying to hold back a sob, “What happened to you?!” It was then Keith broke from his dumbfounded state and stood up next to her, he noticed she was shaking (whether in sadness or anger he wasn’t sure. Something told him it was both).

“Allura he’s-”

“No Keith I want to hear it from him!” Her voice raised slightly all while still trying to remain calm, it was clear to him then she’d already found out what he was. "What happened to you!?"

Lance simply sighed clearly tired of this conversation and despite how he looked in that moment he once again briefly looked like the Lance they knew. The one that hated going to royal meetings. But then he shook his head and look at her with hollow dull blue eyes. He didn’t resume his earlier persona, but he didn’t look like their Lance either. He looked exhausted, like someone who had given up but instead of dying he became a Siren. Keith couldn’t decide which was worse.

Despite the clear tension Allura eventually gave in before Lance could answer and bolted towards him with no fight in her. Keith could see shock in his face as she threw her arms around him and began sobbing barley getting her words out as she tried to say she missed him and thought he was dead. Lance looked at Keith like was slowly coming out of a trance and was really acknowledging who the two people were in front of him.

“Huh?” His voice was barely audible as Keith could see confusion sweep across his face before the girl before him pulled back, mascara running down her face and her hand on both his cheeks. “A-llura?” His voice broke as tears started to stream down his freckled face that was rapidly turning pale.

“Lance?” Keith walked over to the two noticing how pale the other boy was getting before slumping down the wall. “Lance!” Both he and Allura kneeled down to him as he started to show signs of a panic attack.

Lance didn’t look at either of them, staring at the other side of the room in panic, “W-wh-what’s going- going o-on?” He started to shake and breathe heavily.

The white haired mer looked to Keith and nodded signalling that he needed to get Shiro and Matt. He was a little reluctant to leave Lance as well as knowing that they’ve been here long enough that the other two have probably already started their ‘fun’. But then again it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve had to make a swift exit.

“I got Romelle not to question anything as soon as I learnt about Lance. Get the other two and head back to the ship, we’ll meet you there.” She stated receiving a nod from the other pirate before swiftly exiting the room.

“Lance.” She spoke softly and gently stroked his brown hair, “Lance I’m going to take you back to our ship.” The boy merely whimpered in response completely unaware of his surrounding now. “You remember The Black Lion right.” She tried to get him to look at her, “Lance?” His eyes eventually met hers. She smiled softly before pulling him into another hug and gently lifted him up bridal style and left slowly the room. Romelle had kindly turned a blind eye and had everyone else do the same.

...

Somewhere between leaving the brothel and getting on the ship Lance had passed out and broke out into a fever. Keith, Shiro and Matt were waiting for her on deck along with Coran. Hunk and Pidge were asleep and they decided it’d be best not to wake them for now. Coran took Lance and put him in Matt’s room. It wasn’t as busy as Shiro’s or Allura’s since they didn’t want to overwhelm him, but the others slept in hammocks and Lance definitely needed comfort.

“What happened to him?” Coran asked while soaking a towel in some cold water and gently placed it on the unconscious boy.

“He’s a Siren.” Allura grimaced at her own words. “I don’t know what happened exactly.” She looked to Keith hoping he might know more.

“I don’t really know.” He was still in shock at the event that had unfolded, too much had happened in such a short space of time he was still processing it all. “He said something about being captured and escaping but that’s literally all he said. I was going to get more out of him before Allura showed up.” He looked at her and frowned, “Not that I’m saying you screwed up or anything I’d much rather he be here with us.” He put his leaned against the door frame and sighed while running his hand through his hair stressfully. “He knew who I was when he saw me but- but he wasn’t Lance. I was actually scared of him. But when Allura hugged him it was like he broke out of a trance and suddenly it was like he really began to understand who was in the room with him.” The room fell silent save the small pained whimpers coming from the boy in question.

Pidge and Hunk soon stormed into the room with the small girl breaking the silence “What you guys doing- back.” The words died on her throat as she saw a very sick Lance in the bed in front of her. “What?”

“L-Lance?” Hunk stood next to Keith in tears instantly recognising the sick boy.

“Mmm Mum?” Lance murmured in his sleep completely unaware of the shock that had overtaken the room. Coran re-soaked the cloth and started gently caressing his hair.

“Now, now everyone.” The older man eventually spoke, “I know this is a lot and it might be hard but I think it’s best everyone gets some sleep.

Hunk bristled, “But-”

Shiro stopped any protests, “Coran’s right, Lance needs to rest and there are many questions we have for him but rest comes first. Come on now everyone out.” Save the two mers everyone quietly exited the room.

As everyone left and the commotion died down the Sirens eyes gently fluttered open, “Coran?” He croaked.  

“Not now lad. You just rest.”

“m’missed you.”

“We all missed you too.”

“M’sorry.” He slurred trying to fight the sleep that threatened him, “Did bad stuff.”

“It wasn’t you’re fault Lance.” Allura sat on the bed and held his hand in reassurance.

“I killed people.”

“That wasn’t you.”

“Yeah. Yeah it was.” He whispered before eventually drifting off into a deep slumber.

“I’m so sorry this happened to you.” Tears eventually fell down Coran’s face as Allura pressed her weight into him gently swaying as they hugged and silently cried.

Chapter Text

Days past aboard The Black Lion with awkward tension as Lance still remained bed ridden and no less confused as he drifted in and out of consciousness in Coran’s care. The rest of the crew weren’t sure of how to handle it but Shiro insisted they continue with their business. Hunk and Pidge gathering stock to continue their journey. While Matt and Keith took to local pubs to gather intel on any information they could get about the Princes visit the month before. Meanwhile, Shiro and Allura revisited the brothel during the day to speak to Romelle. As it turned out was more than just the ‘receptionist’ and had figured out Allura and the groups intentions the moment they had originally stepped foot in her domain.

“I knew you’d be back.” Romelle gave the two pirates a wide grin. “Let’s go somewhere private, I know you have questions. It’s not like you persuaded me to look the other way last night.” She gave a side glance to Allura and before a response could be made she’d motioned them to follow her towards the elevator.

Allura shuffled uncomfortably at the blunt statement, trying to ignore the walled mirror that surrounded them as they stepped inside the metallic box, “I’m guessing you know why we’re here then?”

Romelle hummed as she pressed a button to take them up to the penthouse. Shiro wasn’t sure if going too far from an exit was wise but decided to remain silent and just accept he’d have to improvise.

After a moment of awkward silence the woman spoke, “Is my little Silvertail okay?”

Silvertail?” The two pirates questioned in unison and looked at her awaiting a explanation.

“Lance of course, unless you took another whore of mine?” She smirked teasingly.

Neither knew how to respond to the question. It shouldn’t have been difficult to voice but the nickname was lingering in both of their minds which now just added another question to their long list.

Allura returned to looking at her feet uncomfortable that the woman had in a way called her out for being a mer, so it was up to Shiro to do the talking. Romelle was looking at him expectantly and he realised she was waiting for an answer.

“He’s sick.” He decided to keep it simple. Lance was feverish, confused and was definitely struggling between mer and Siren. The day before he had attacked Coran despite saying the older man’s name. But the name and what the name meant to Lance clearly hadn’t registered together, much like what Keith described when he first saw him. The most unsettling thing was how no matter how sick he was, Lance still hadn’t returned to his non-human form. Coran had already suggested it was the ring he was wearing, but the boy screamed bloody murder when it was nearly removed.

Romelle seemed satisfied with the short answer but gave a look that said, ‘we can talk more about that later’. Before more could be said the elevator doors gradually opened with a loud creak, startling Allura who looked into the vast room in awe.

“I take it this is your room?” The mer eventually spoke up in a soft tone.

“Yep.” She popped the ‘p’ in satisfaction, “I’m not the owner of this place, at least not technically, but I do essentially run it.” She practically skipped over to the breakfast bar, encouraging the two to make themselves at home on the massive burgundy sofa that filled most of the room. “The owner is the mayor, officially, he pays for this place any who. But, obviously politics ’n all, he can’t be tied to this place, so he has an alias which would be me!” She chirped as she pulled three glasses and began pouring out the drinks she remembered them ordering a few nights before and a whiskey for herself.

The white-haired mer found herself sunk in the corner piece of the sofa looking a little more at ease while looking at the black screen of the golden-rimmed television dumbfounded at its size stretching across most of the wall. Mayor huh? Yeah it shows. Her thoughts her broken as Romelle passed her a drink of rum and coke and perched herself on the purple ball chair perpendicular to them.

“I think you’ll find most of Lioness is funded by this place. Morally its shit of course-” she rolled her eyes in mockery, “-which is why people can’t know. But desperate times y’know.” Taking a swig of her drink she observed the two pirates, noting the scares and metal arm of Shiro to how Allura was looking around the room like a child at Christmas. “You seemed much more confident last night mermaid.” She continued breaking Allura out of her trance as her pink eyes grew wide in horror, “Don’t worry I’m not going to say anything. I mean we’ve actually had a few mers come here as clients, hiding away as humans of course.” She drank again, “And then there’s the matter of Lance. Which brings to you two, so let’s just get into it shall we.” She flicked a finger to them encouraging them to talk showing her business side.

“How did you know what I was? Did Lance see me or something?” Allura shook away her tension and sipped her drink after sniffing it and examining it to make sure nothing had been put in it. Although with how Romelle was acting there didn’t seem to be a reason for her to do such a thing. Both pirates were careful regardless as she looked to Shiro doing the same thing.

Romelle laughed, “I thought you could sense quin- oh wait I have this on.” She suddenly looked down to her necklace, it had the same symbol as the silver ring Lance was wearing, she gently removed it, walking over to the glass coffee table and lightly placed it down with a small ‘clunk’ when it levelled onto the table. “There you go.”

Allura’s eyes grew wide after a few moments while Shiro looked to both of them in confusion as nothing had changed to him. He was startled as Allura he mer suddenly jumped up and walked over to her, “Y-you’re a mer!”

Shiro nearly choked on his drink and the statement, in the last six years, before a few nights ago, they’d only met two other mers, neither from Altea however but both had also lost their homes. Shay and her brother Rax from Balmera city. They had to leave because of the Galra two years ago and now resided in Arus village, which was just south of the Olkarion Empires border. Every now and then the crew would visit them for ship repairs.  

“Yeah. Somehow.” Her voice grew quiet as she turned away from the other two and looked at a large painting of a story ocean. A stunning acrylic piece filled with greens, greys and blues with emphasised depth from the paints texture. “I nearly became a Siren, I was from a small village, heh- I can’t even remember its name. It was shortly after hearing about Altea. We were so small in numbers though, so out of the way, deep in the ocean that we never thought we’d be found out. Prince Lotor found us, in their wretched metal ships. He spoke all high and mighty, something about saving us.” She sniffled as Allura placed a reassuring hand on paler woman’s shoulder, “We didn’t really know much about humans, or anything on the surface. We didn’t know and we were dumb enough to believe him. We were just subjects to him. We weren’t living beings, mermaids, anything!” Her voice raised an octave briefly before trying to compose herself, “I remember growing numb to the things he did, and if I’m honest I never learnt what it was he was trying to accomplish. Other than it was something to do with our quintessence. Every being on earth has it. But Mers and other mythical creatures have much higher concentrations that we can actually utilise it.”

She eventually turned around and settled herself back on the chair, finishing off her drink. Allura sat back down in the corner piece. Shiro eventually spoke up, “You don’t think the Galra are trying to weaponize quintessence do you?” He directed the question to both mers.

Allura felt rage grow inside of her and gulped down the rest of her drink to try and settle it, “How dare they! How dare they use my people for their wars!”

Romelle was clearly far past the anger stage and looked rather calm and she sat cross-legged in her chair, “I don’t know, I don’t think Lotor was acting with his parents. He said he wanted to continue his mother’s research who was the old Galran Empress, Honerva. But they were taking mermaid scales to improve their armour and weapons from what I hear. If they were working with quintessence, it wasn’t with the same goal as Lotor. But like I said, I never learnt what Lotor wanted to achieve.” She shrugged.

“This might have something to do with Sam.” Shiro muttered more to himself than anything, if Romelle heard him she didn’t question it.

Romelle got up to make more drinks which Allura now took gladly although Shiro refused. After a few moments Allura brought up the main reason why they were here.

“When did Lance come to you?” She asked bluntly.

“Only about a year and a half ago. He stumbled in looking lost and scared so we took him in. It happens.” She sipped her drink nonchalantly, her reaction demonstrating how normal it really was in her world. “I buy most of the whores and the Mayor bought me.” She shrugged unfazed by the weight of the words she’d just said. “Some stumble in though. Always looking to be escaping something or someone. It's never just because they think it'll be a good job to get into.”

“Bought? You mean on auction I take it.” Shiro asked leaning in now invested in where this was going. Lance had clearly been through hell and he wanted to know who did that.

“Well I don’t know what happened with Lotor’s little ‘project’. But after some of the mers started turing into Siren’s and were giving the guards the hell they deserved, he decided to get rid of the rest of us. I guess he wanted to benefit the best he could so, he put the Sirens on the private market held for the scientists only and the Mers on the Black Market.” She sighed before continuing, “Anyway the Mayor bought me and I ended up here and took over from the previous ‘receptionist’ who’d died and every now and then we ‘buy’ new whores since there’s only so many who just waltz in. Not exactly a desirable job despite what this room looks like. Only I get this benefit though and you’d have to pay a lot to have me. Well except for this fine thing.” She winked at a now flustered Allura. 

Ignoring the clear flirtatious remark Shiro awkwardly coughed for attention and moved on, “So do you know what happened to Lance?”

“He wouldn’t talk about it. I knew he had to be connected to the Princess here because of his markings. Although even then he was starting to turn. Have you seen his real form yet?”

“We tried to take his ring off but he wont let us.” Allura stated. Romelle had figured out she was a mer and knows her name, so she didn't question how she knew Allura was once the princess of Altea. White hair was incredibly rare unless you were old Romelle could have easily connected the dots. 

Romelle looked deep in thought as if pondering on what to tell them, she didn’t know exactly what happened to the young Siren but she could take a guess from what she’s seen of his form.

“He isn’t fully a Siren yet, I mean he’s killed while being here and doing very ‘Siren-like’ activities. But I guess there’s a fraction of him that doesn’t want to be like that.”

The two seemed to perk up at that, if he was holding on, even just a small fraction, then there was still hope. “We can still help him.” Allura whispered.

Shiro however, was holding on the other fraction of her words, “You let him kill?” He felt angry by this, killing would only send him closer to such a state. “Why wou-”

“They deserved it. Plain and simple.” She cut him off, ignoring the anger in the mans eyes. “I only know he was captured and he managed to escape. He’s only kill three people, which is nothing really compared to some of the others. There’s always a reason though so don’t just assume. It’s not always so black and white. You’re pirates you should understand that.” She pointed to both of them in frustration.

Shiro slumped back. He did understand. Doesn’t mean he liked the thought of the innocent mer he knew to do such a thing, it hurt more knowing there was clearly a heavy reason for doing so. It was like when Keith first killed another Pirate on one of many raids, it was self-defence and there weren’t many options, but Shiro remembered the boy didn’t sleep well for weeks after that. Of course sleep didn’t come easy for any of them anymore.

Because I didn’t like him. That’s apparently what Lance had said about killing one of Lotor’s guards. But now with a little added context it seemed there was more to it than that. Neither were sure if they really wanted to know. But they needed to.

“He admitted to killing one of Lotor’s guards. Why?” He asked.

“He said that the guard was working near him when he was captured. He didn’t elaborate on his time there or where there even was – and I didn’t ask before you question it – but he said he deserved it after the things he’d done.”

Allura flinched at the other mers change of tone, “Which was what exactly? Other than being a guard for the Galra Empire of course.”

The girl downed the rest of her drink before speaking in a blunt tone, “He raped him.”

The two pirates were stunned, sure Lance had been a whore for over a year now so sexually speaking, he definitely wasn’t innocent anymore. He’d been through hell and there were an array of white lines scattered across his tanned back what were clearly whip marks, accompanied with his now paled wrists and ankles from chains. The boy had been through torture. But rape? That took a whole other meaning sex worker or not. Psychologically speaking, that’s one of the worst forms of torture. Especially if what Romelle is insinuating to be correct, that guard wasn’t the only one. Which meant that this was simply for the guard’s pleasure and nothing more.

With that it seemed there was nothing more to say. Romelle couldn’t really offer any more information that would be of any use, either about the Galra or Lance, so she bid them farewell but also promised that she’d keep and ear out for anything.

Before they walked out of the building Allura turned around to ask one more question, “Why did you call Lance ‘Silvertail’?

Romelle frowned, “You should take that ring off.” Is all she said and they left.

“Hey do you think Lance still likes garlic knots?” Hunk asked while picking up some potatoes from the stand.

Pidge just shrugged while engrossed at some device, it looked like a blender. Actually it was, which lead Hunk to his next question, “Pidge are you interested in cooking now?”

“Huh? Oh. No I was just thinking I could use some of the parts from this to start-” She began to ramble into explanation about the computer she’s working on that was taken from one of the few blueprints left behind from her dad. It was a computer was all intent and purposes but it was more of a tracker. For what she didn’t know. It wasn’t mentioned anywhere and the hard drive for it is missing. But if Pidge was anything it was stubborn and determined and for the time being she’d use the algorithm that was left to use against the Galra Empire.

Hunk just listened while he paid for the food, aside from Matt he was probably the only other person who could keep up with her. Coran could sometimes, but he was more of a medic than engineers, he only knew the basics, which was more than most, but the old mer would still get lost with anything either of the Holts would say. Keith could do what you told him too, but he is also impatient and has led to a few accidents. The most prominent one being on his face after a boiling pipe fell onto him. He didn’t ask to help again and the larger teen didn’t blame him.

Pidge was still listing off things about the tracker by the time they arrived back to the ship, much to their surprise Coran and Lance were on the main deck leaning against the railings looking at the ocean in front of them. They had their backs to the other two pirates so Hunk decided to make it clear they were there.

Or at least he was going to until Pidge had realised that Lance was outside and not in bed, “Hey! Lance you’re up!”

He turned around slightly startled by the sudden noise before realising where it’d come from and immediately relaxed. That gave the smaller girl the signal to practically run into him and bundle him up into a hug, after a moment hunk had placed the bags of food to the side and joined them.

Lance froze for a moment upon further contact but quickly eased into it, “I missed your hugs big guy.” Lance, for the first time since seeing him actually smiled, it was small but its was genuine and that was the important part. Hunk tried to fight back the tears as he hugged him tighter, forgetting the small girl in-between them begging for air.

“Ah sorry Pidge!” He jumped back as the girl scowled, although there was no actual anger in her form.  

Hunk now properly looked at lance, the boy was still quite pale and his eyes were red-rimmed a mixture from crying and tiredness. However, he looked a lot better than the previous days, not to mention he was actually standing on his own and out of bed.

“How are you feeling dude?” Pidge looked up to him with a soft smile.

“Tired still. I um-” He started to fidget with the sleeves of the green jacket he was wearing. It was one of Matt’s, the two should be the same size, but Lance was clearly underweight so the jacket sort of just hung on him. Hunk was determined to fix that though. “I’m sorry for scaring you.” His voice was quiet and a clear signal that there was a long way to go before they had their Lance back, which they were determined to do. Whoever hurt him was going to pay.

“We don’t know what exactly, but we know you’ve been through a lot. I’m just so happy to see you up.” Hunk gave him a warm smile which seemed to be enough for the boy to return it but it didn’t quite reach his eyes and the larger teen pulled him back into another hug causing the mer to flinch before accepting it.

“Coran already filled me in on everything.” He pulled away from the hug gently and looked at his friends, “I know it was just coincidence, but I’m still so happy you found me. But I’m- I’m not-”

“No. No. Nope.” Pidge stopped him before he could continue the obvious train of thought, “Lance you’re family. We thought you were dead for six year. So we have six years on not trying to find you to make up for. No don’t do that- We know what you are.” The boy grimaced at the statement in shame.

“You’re a survivor and you’re our Lance.” She finished with a bright smile on her face. For a small girl she knew how to use her voice. “We’re going to help you and you’re going to damn well let us.”

“Well said Pidgeon.” A voice came from behind her, “Nice to see you up and about Lance.” Matt smiled with a slightly shorter boy next to him wearing a red leather jacket giving him a soft smile to, Lance felt some warmth flutter inside of him, for the first time in a while he felt like he was home. That feeling quickly went however as he vaguely remembered what he did to Keith. He expected to be embarrassed, but his job somewhat made him immune to such a feeling, instead he felt a tremendous wave of guilt crash onto him.

“I’m still pretty tired though.” he rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly.

“Now now my boy.” Coran piped up as he fiddled with his orange moustache, “You’re still recovering, maybe after some food from Hunk you get can some well needed rest.” Food would likely be a soup or broth of some sort since he hadn’t been able to eat for the last few days, but today he felt like he could stomach something. He just hoped his stomach didn’t have other plans. He’d really missed the chefs cooking.

“Well I need to cook so if you want you can sleep for a bit and someone can wake you up.” Hunk began grabbing the bags and started heading below deck, “Or you can join me. Matt can you help me with these. Your sister was pretty useless.” He glare at Pidge who acted oblivious. Without any protest her brother helped Hunk out with the rest of the groceries.

“Is Romelle okay with me being here?” Lance asked for anyone said anything else.

“Well Shiro and Allura left to talk with her. But she said ‘I’d rather he was with Pirates than whores’.” Keith spoke for the first time and decided to go all in by mocking the receptionist’s poor accent. Much to everyone’s surprise Lance actually laughed which left pride to swell in Keith’s chest.

“You’re still terrible at that mullet.” Lance giggles oblivious to how proud everyone felt in the moment.

The moment was soon broken with Allura running over to him and hugging him, after the amount of contact he’d had in the last half an hour he still wasn’t quite used to the action. He knew his cousin meant well, she wasn’t going to hurt him but the sudden impact was hard to quickly adjust to. Sadly before he could relax Allura had picked up on his tension and quickly pulled away muttering an apology.

“Don’t apologies ’llura, you just startled me.” He quickly hugged her back in reassurance.

“I’m so glad to see you’re up.” Her voice was muffled in his jacket so only Lance picked up on what she’d said and he hugged her tighter.

Lance wanted to be happy about the reunion, yet he felt nothing but guilt. His first meeting with Allura and Keith wasn’t exactly pleasant. He nearly hurt them and then he hurt Coran, which is what he’d be crying about when he woke up this morning, suddenly remembering that interaction. The last few days had mostly been a blur to him, however sadly, that moment stood out. He didn’t know how the old mer looked at him as family. He nearly tore his throat out with no remorse. But he just kept being told that it wasn’t him. It was though. His quintessence may have been damaged, but it was still him. He was broken not possessed. And he didn’t know if he could be fixed again, but knowing that the crew all believed him to be dead the last few years it would be unfair to just leave them. Plus he didn’t want Pidge to kill him. He didn’t completely agree with her, but the sentiment was right. It felt right at least. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to talk about what happened. He didn’t know if he mentally could. But they were gathering intel to find Sam and that was something he might be able to help with. The crew helping him would just be a result of him helping. If he thought of it that way he’d feel less guilty.

He pulled away from Allura and mulled over what he should tell them. There’s a lot he doesn’t want to say and probably doesn’t need to, but he’s clearly stuck with this obscure yet loveable family now as well be useful.

“You’ve been to see Romelle. So I guess I should start talking huh?” It momentarily threw Allura off at how direct he was but she gently smiled at him.

“Only if you’re ready to Lance.” It was Shiro who responded while gently placing a hand on the youngers shoulder.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready.” He looked down at his feet trying to hide the shame and guilt he felt, but Shiro’s metal hand gripped him a little tighter, it didn’t hurt, it was grounding him.

When he looked up he saw everyone, really saw them. Hunk and Matt had joined them outside and he could see the larger teen had been crying, but the warm smile on his face assured him it wasn’t out of sadness. Matt smiled at him proudly, Lance had noticed that he’d really grown out of looking like Pidges taller twin. They still definitely looked alike, but he no longer wore glasses and he had his hair in a rugged pony tail similar to Keith’s. Thinking of which, he looked at the raven haired boy. His violet/blush-ish eyes brighter than ever. He was still very much the scowling emo from all those years ago, but he looked, calmer. His hair wasn’t really a mullet anymore (for that Lance was grateful, but he’d still comment on it just to annoy him) and aside from the scar on his face, he looked softer as he gave Lance a small smile. It was the gentlest look he’d seen from the other boy and that moment of guilt came back as the memory from a few days ago came back in flashes.

Keith must have noticed as his eyebrows furred in concern but before anything could be said Hunk spoke up, “Hey you know I’ve kinda missed having an assistant in the kitchen. I mean Pidge tried to help-” He rolled his eyes at the small girl who glared daggers at him, “-But tech is clearly her thing. She nearly broke the stove last time.” He laughed.

“Hey! That wasn’t my fault!” She said in a tone that said was definitely her fault, everyone just laughed. Lance did too.

Lance did perk up on the offer, it’d give him time to really catch up with his best friend. We’re they still best friends? Lance shook away the thought. Things had obviously changed, but they we’re clearly still wanting him there and he had missed helping Hunk out. He did feel a little tired but he knew he wouldn’t sleep for a while and Coran had mentioned that while he shouldn’t push himself, sleeping too much wouldn’t help him recover. Getting somewhat a normal sleeping pattern was important. Normal wasn’t something he had for a long time however and he could tell from the varied tired eyes that normal was kind of subjective to the crew as well. He knew those tired looks, and as guilty as he felt he knew that their lack of sleep was happening long before they found him.

“I’m a bit out of practice.” He rubbed his arm nervously before continuing to speak again, “But I’d love too.” He looked to his friend with a wide smile on his face. He knew it wasn’t quite as Lance-like as it once was, but it was the biggest and most genuine smile he’d given in a long time, he felt proud of himself for that and judging from the smiles of his team they’d picked up on it. He finally felt home. Even if home was a ship filled with was society had deemed as delinquents and probably much worse. But they were his abnormal family. They were his family. Even thinking his was dead they hadn’t given up on him. He wasn’t going to give up on them.

 

Chapter Text

It was decided that Lance was going to explain his years away from the crew after a much needed meal, in the meantime the crew all split up into their little groups. Pidge saying she needed to work on something (Lance had no idea what she rambled about as she headed below deck), Coran went off to check on some parts of the ship, Lance had noted the damage at the hull and wondered what the hell had happened at sea, he noted to ask someone later. Shiro, Allura and Matt all headed to the captains quarters to make a plan for their days spent in the gloomy city and where to head after. A for Keith, the dark haired boy had just simply vanished, Lance had no idea where but for the time being he was a little glad. They needed to talk about what happened in the brothel, amongst some other things, but Lance knew he needed to get everything else out in the open to everyone first.

Everyone knew it wasn’t going to be easy for him and had assured him he didn’t need to, no matter what he knew or how important it could be. Shiro had said his wellbeing comes first, something the boy felt a little guilty about, but was willing to accept it and not push himself. He still felt a little out of it yet, for the first time in years, he could actually feel something and that was progress he didn’t want to undo. They knew he’d tell them eventually and for now they wanted to focus on him getting better.
Lance had insisted that even if a part of him wasn’t ready, he needed to do this, but promised he wouldn’t push himself. He joked about how he was going to be stuck with them and that he’d rather get it out of the way. It was an odd sense of relief to them all to hear Lance talk like that, mainly because of the sense of determination that flickered in his dull blue eyes. You could rip the boy’s soul apart and stitch it back up to your suiting all you wanted, but they could see their Lance fighting back.

Hunk guided him towards the kitchen of course and was thrilled to show him around and start cooking with his old friend. Ever since they saw each other on the beach as kids, back when Lance couldn’t form legs, to two became instant best friends despite their differences. Mermaids were rare to see and Lance shouldn’t have even been on the surface, but he doesn’t regret it at all, especially knowing that Allura and Coran had people to turn to after Altea’s fall. No. He doesn’t regret it one bit. If he hadn’t, he’d still be in that brothel slowly becoming a Siren. A demon. Numb to any emotion.         No matter what happened, Lance was happy to see Hunk not treating him any differently. Not to say he didn’t appreciate the pity and concern – and everyone tiptoeing around him was to be expected after how he’d been in the short time he’s spent with them. But, normalcy is something that, until now, he hadn’t realised he needed so much.
            He smiled as he examined the contents in the cupboard, completely oblivious to the wide grin on the larger teen as he still couldn’t believe Lance was stood there, let along smiling. Alive. It was clear that he wasn’t quite the same boy six years ago, and it was highly possible he would never quite be the Lance again (Then again, Hunk would admit none of them were who they were six years ago). But it was clear he was already starting to heal. With their journey everyone was going to expect fall-backs. Allura still has nightmares. Coran has quiet days. Pidge and Matt have days where they just want to be alone. Even Shiro will look more tired than usual as his soldier days haunted him in the night, and Keith will just disappear for a day or two if they’re on land, or hide away somewhere on the ship (Pidge usually knows where at least so he doesn’t worry too much about it). Hunk’s usually spends a day cooking when a pirate or soldier he’s had to kill haunts him. It was to survive. But it doesn’t make it any easier. The whole crew has off days for one reason or another, Lance will definitely have them too. But the fact that after a few days he was stood here in the kitchen, smiling – albeit not the wide grin he remembered – was enough right now. At the end of the day they’re a family and they support each other.

“So shall we get started?” Hunk asked trying to fight the urge to hug the boy in front of him again. He had noticed Lance’s tension with contact earlier. One step at a time he told himself.

Lance closed the cupboard and looked at Hunk, “Sure.” He smiled.

Keith later entered the kitchen to see Hunk away at work on the stove and Lance chopping away some vegetables for the soup. He wanted to laugh at the sight as both were clearly heavily focused, if Lance’s tongue sticking out was anything to go by. Of course his missed the way Lance would sing to himself after him and Hunk would pester Coran if they could cook.

“Hey guys.” He spoke receiving a murmur of what sounded like a ‘hey’ from Hunk.

Lance finished chopping and put the contents in a bowl, he looked up and let out a soft ‘hey mullet’. The tone so welcoming that – despite the added nickname – Keith couldn’t find it in himself to argue about it. Instead his cheeks felt like they were on fire and judging from the playful smirk from the other boy it showed as much.

Unfortunately the moment quickly disappeared as Lance looked away from him with a look of guilt spread across his face. He looked down at the pepper he needed to chop. Even if his eyes weren’t directly in view, his body language held an ashamed look as he practically curled in on himself while chopping. He was surprisingly efficient with the knife too.
            He must have remembered the other night after all. Keith had really hoped that he didn’t. He knew that wasn’t really Lance but he also knew that he’d very obviously been scared of the other boy in that moment and Lance had acknowledged as such. He hated it. He hated that while he was able to disconnect this Lance from the Lance he witnessed the other night, it was clear the other boy couldn’t do the same. This was going to be a difficult journey. But Keith was determined to help him.

Moments passed in silence, aside from Hunk humming some pirate song about some sea animal that everyone, including Allura, was convinced Coran had made up (Keith still had no idea what a Torukkaa was) and the odd sound of a knife cutting through some vegetables, it was relatively comfortable. But as Keith could see Lance drawing more and more into his thoughts he decided to break it.

“So what are we having tonight?”

Hunk finished up frying off … something … (he honestly wasn’t sure, but he knew it’d taste good whatever it was) he turned around and began rambling off all the ingredients and where he got them from, before he realised he hadn’t actually answered the question and saw both boys looking at him expectantly.

“Sorry.” He let out a small laugh, “Soup. We’re having soup. With some fish in it of course. I’m shredding it though.” Rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly he continued, “I figured Lance wouldn’t be able to stomach something solid and I didn’t fancy cooking separate meals.” Noticing the blue eyed boy frown from guilt Hunk quickly added, “Besides it’s been a while since I made an easy meal and everyone always loves soup.”

Keith looked over to Lance, even with Hunk’s justification he could see the boy felt guilty that they’d gone out of their way for him, even if it wasn’t any trouble. But Lance had always been like that. It only made sense that he’d gotten worse over the years and couldn’t find it in himself to hide it anymore. The pale boy hated it. Hated seeing him like this. When was the last time you had a decent meal Lance? I saw the food at the brothel and you don’t look like you’ve eaten well in a long time. Keith wanted to ask him so many questions, as he was sure everyone did. He wanted to just bundle him up and show him how much he’s loved. Take away the pain the years have cause him. Kiss him and tell him it’s going to be okay. But of course he didn’t. He couldn’t. Not yet anyway. Maybe eventually. But not now. Instead Keith turned to the larger boy and said “We always love your cooking Hunk.” Keith felt some accomplishment seeing that his comment drew the boy out of his thoughts and smile.

Yeah I’ve missed it.” Lance’s tone had an added melancholy too it. But there was also a sense excitement, which satisfied the other two enough to not pull him into a hug.

As Hunk began putting all the ingredients together for the soup Lance joined Keith at the table sitting to the side of him against the wall so his back wasn’t turned to anyone.

Lance had been awkwardly fiddling with his fingers as if trying to find what to say. There was so much, but a part of him was scared. The last few years had mostly moved forward in a haze, but there were moments, moments he wished didn’t happen. Moments that felt like a fever dream but we defiantly real from the scars he now had and the hollow feeling in his chest. Moments that would change how the crew looked at him. That’s what scared him. They looked at him as family now, but what happens when they know. They already knew he’d begun turning into a Siren, but knowing that and knowing the full context are two very different matters.

Keith realised this was the first time it’d just been them since the brothel. Sure Hunk was a few feet away in the kitchen, but he was so engrossed in what he was doing that it wasn’t really like he was there. They needed to talk about the other night but he knew Lance was going to explain things after dinner and it was probably best to focus on that before anything else. So instead he coughed awkwardly before stuttering out a, “I um. I missed you.” And instantly hating himself at how pathetic he sounded.

Surprisingly Lance laughed. Laughed! Keith didn’t really know what his response was going to be but laughing wasn’t it. Was he still delirious from fever? He didn’t look as pale. Did he do something wrong? “I uh-”

“Wow mullet you’re just as terrible with talking as ever.” He grinned at him and despite the words they were spoken with no malice. Keith eventually couldn’t help but laugh with him. Any previous tension quickly vanished as he could see some light returning to the mers eyes.

And like that, they were young teens again so naturally Keith’s response was “It’s not a mullet!” as Lance began ruffling it in teasing fashion.

Hunk had stopped cooking at this point and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. There was still a dull look the mer held, but it was Lance. Not to mention he couldn’t remember that last time he’d heard Keith laugh and look happy. It was Lance and Keith teasing each other like the kids they once were and the cook couldn’t fight the tears that were welling up. He turned away before they saw and ruining the moment, leaving the two to laugh and tease each other playfully. “It’s good to have you back buddy.” He spoke quietly to no one.

They eventually calmed down and silence returned, but it wasn’t uncomfortable anymore. Usually, in the past, Lance did all the talking and Keith would patiently sit and listen. He hoped that someday it’d return to that having always loved listening to his voice and ramble on so passionately about everything and anything. But now Lance was looking at Keith expectantly to continue talking. That threw him off for a second, until he remembered most, if not all, of the mers stories were about Altea and his family and it was clear he wasn’t ready to talk about them yet.

He shuffled uncomfortably before deciding what to say, “So, um, not much exciting has happened if I’m honest.”

A smile formed on the other teens face, Keith still wasn’t the talker it seemed. He wanted to listen though so he encouraged him, “What about that scar.” His eyes darted to the pale boy’s cheek.

“Oh that. Heh. Yeah you’d think as a pirate I’d have cooler stories to any scars I get. But nope.” He touched it, mind flashing back to that day, “I was helping Hunk with some stuff around the boiler room and got a little impatient.”

“Shocker.” Lance rolled his eyes with a smirk on his face.

There were many things about himself he’d deny but there’s only so many times Shiro could say ‘Patience’s yields focus’ to him before he had to accept that he was, in fact, impatient, “Yeah. I don’t really know how but a hot pipe fell and hit me on the face. It was only a few seconds. But it was enough for this.”

“And I thought you’d grow a beard while I was gone. Like the big scary pirate you are.” He chuckled unaware of Keith faltering smile as he was reminded of Lance’s absence. “Maybe you should make up a story, the ladies will love you then.”

Keith’s eyes went wide at the simple statement, but not at the word itself but didn’t know if it was just impulse to say ‘ladies’ or if maybe Lance didn’t remember the other night. Except that thought came to an abrupt halt when Lance corrected himself.

“Sorry. Guys I guess Right? Could be ladies too though?” His smile was now gone clearly feeling guilty and a minor mistake that honestly didn’t bother him he tried to reassure as much.

“Guys. Ju- Just uh guys.” He responded quickly at embarrassment. He could hear Shiro’s awkward talk even years later when he first came out. “Yeah Shiro was pretty bad and awkward about trying to explain that it was okay.” He added trying to lighten the mood, it seemed to work as Lance’s lips curled back up. “Yeah. When he and Allura didn’t work out, I guess it made me think.”

“Shiro and Allura. The flustered idiots didn’t work out?” His eyebrow raised in curiosity. Lance had gotten the vibe earlier they weren’t together, but still clearly good friends. But it didn’t make it any less surprising.

“Yeah. Shiro, he uh, he met someone. A guy. Or rather they became reacquainted. They used to be in the same unit, before- you know.” Shiro lost an arm, nearly died and was abandoned by the Empire because he needed a prosthetic and they considered him weak. Is what Keith wanted to say, but Lance nodded in assurance that he didn’t need to go there. The mer knew the story already. “Anyway they reconnected and I guess things just went from there. Allura was cool with it.” He shrugged not going into why Allura was cool with it because that would involve mentioning Altea and that wasn’t a line he’d cross. There was a flicker in Lance’s eyes that told him he knew why anyway.

“Ah yes. Keith, ever the story teller.” He deadpanned with a smile betraying his sarcasm.

“Shiro was no better. Blame him.” He chuckled a little before frowning suddenly running out of things to say that wasn’t about Lance. The conversation they needed could wait, but Keith also needed to know so he could help the other boy better.

Lance had noticed his sudden change however and spoke for him. “We need to talk about, um, things.” He fumbled nervously, “But I don’t think I can handle it now. Especially not after talking to everyone, about- stuff. So um.” His voice grew quieter with each other showing Keith how uncomfortable he was.

“It’s okay Lance. We can talk later. I uh- I mean later- being, like- you know. When-you’re-ready-later.” Keith of course wasn’t much better, but it got Lance to laugh a little, so he felt relieved he hadn’t screwed up too much.
Very quickly Lance had changed to subject, asking about what had happened with the ship, so Keith told a very poor rendition (‘you gotta sell it dude! Give it more zest!’ is what Lance had told him) of how they had run into Zarkon’s top general Zendak on their way to London and they got lucky because of a storm. Although Keith’s convinced it was Allura’s doing after the way she acted about it when he asked her. Lance laughed at the fact Keith even remembered him saying that and how he’d been joking. Keith didn’t believe it however and eyed him suspiciously sending the blue-eyed mer into further laughter.

“Wow Hunk this has to be the best soup I’ve had so far!” Allura gulped down the last part of her meal with enthusiasm.

It was funny how when they first met Lance was considered the goofball and Allura the serious one, when after a few weeks of knowing the mers, reality sunk in and they were very alike in a lot of their mannerisms. Talking excitedly over something they love was the most amusing one. They’d use their hands a lot and have come to nearly hit someone quite a few times. Hunk couldn’t help laugh at the memory of a seven-year-old Lance accidently hitting Keith on their first meeting, giving him a black eye and an eight-year-old Keith – who was socially inept – nearly punched him but was stopped by his brother. Safe to say that their first encounter wasn’t great. No one knew what happened between the two but a few days later they were seen laughing about the ordeal.

“I’ll keep that in mind Princess. Happy you liked it, I wasn’t sure if everyone really wanted soup.” He beamed.

“Well when it’s your cooking none of us can really complain Hunk.” Shiro added as he began clearing up.

“Well Lance helped too!” Hunk smiled at the blue eyed boy next to him. He frowned a little when he noticed that Lance hadn’t eaten much. But he had spent the last few days throwing up whenever he had so much as water, so it was to be expected really. He’d eating something though so that was enough for now. What was a little disheartening however was how Lance was looking down at his bowl with an empty look like he wasn’t in the room. Hunk gave him a gentle nudge that startled him a little, but any fears he had was soon masked behind a tender smile directed at the large boy. A mask that would have fooled them, but it was so cracked everyone saw through it.
Lance said he wanted to clear everything up before getting too settle though so it was obvious at how anxious he was. It was the determination on his face that caused no one to try and convince him it was okay to not tell them immediately or all of them at once.

“Well you both did great.” Allura chirped.

Once everything had been cleared away the crew sat around the big wooden table. There was a tense silence with everyone shuffling around uncomfortably trying to figure out how to start.

Eventually Lance decided to just get on with it and spoke. “I don’t really know where to start with this. I mean most of it’s a blur and I- I don’t-”

“It’s okay Lance.” Shiro cut in seeing the boy’s frustration and anxiety rise. “How about we tell you what we know and we can go from there.” He paused for a moment to let the other process, “And of course it doesn’t have to be anything to help us with Sam. If you’re even ready to talk about things. But if you don’t feel comfortable talking about it. It’s okay. Just know we don’t just want this for information. We’re here to support you too.” He looked at him and smiled which seemed to get Lance to relax a little and let out a small ‘okay’.

“So I guess go from the start.” His voice went quiet. Allura placed a hand on his knee and squeezed.

A tick passed in silence before finally Shiro sighed and began, “Well six years ago, shortly after we left the port in Arus – I think it was about a week or two? – I don’t remember.” He shook his head, “Anyway, Allura and Coran found us and well, as you figured joined our crew. They explained what happened, at least as much as they could-” He trailed off debating whether to really repeat what had been told about that day. Lance was there so he probable didn’t need to relive that memory right now. Neither did the other two mers.

Allura took the moment to take over the conversation. “I don’t know what you remember of that day Lance, and I know you definitely don’t want to relive it. But I want to understand as much as possible. So I hope you don’t mind if I tell you.” Lance gave her a small nod to continue. “Well, I was in the royal palace with my mother and Coran. My father was out on business with the Mamoran Empress at the time. To talk about Zarkon’s actions against other empires, that I now know. I believe you were given the day off from royal duties and you were with you family right?” Lance nodded again. “Well it was honestly a normal day if anything. At least until my father returned from spending a few days on land. He seemed distressed about something and wanted to hold a briefing. You and your family were to join us.”

“Yeah I remember. A guard showed up before-” He shook his head and balled his hands into fists clenching so tightly his knuckles turned white. This time it was Keith whose hand had found its way one top of his, squeezing his tension away. Even if he didn’t look at the other boy he immediately felt calmer.

“Yes. Well. Clearly we never got that far as the Galra were suddenly on us. Everything happened so fast. My mother, she- My father too. Zarkon’s witch killed them-” Lance flinched at the mention of the witch, he’d have to tell them. But he wasn’t sure if Allura could handle that right now. Telling the story now was hard enough for her. But he had to. He needed to, he kept reminding himself. “-amongst many others. I don’t know exactly what she did, Coran had me out of the city as quickly as possible. I wanted to- I wanted to go back. I felt like I was abandoning everyone. I- you- I didn’t know where you and your family were. I’m sorry I left you.” As soon as she apologised Lance jumped up and hugged her before the mer began to sob.

“Don’t apologise ’llura. You didn’t abandon us. Many fled that day, it wasn’t just you. If you’d gone back they would have killed you. I’d rather you flee to fight another day.” His words came out unexpectedly calming and assuring, making her feel strong. If Lance could go through hell and come out with still fight in him, then she could keep fighting too.

“You’re right as always Lance.” She gave a little laugh fighting back the tears that were already falling as arms wrapped around her. She squeezed Lance tightly as if to remind herself he really was there before unravelling themselves from each other.

“So um.” Lance looked at the rest of the crew who were all looking at anything but the two mers, as if intruding on a private moment. Lance pushed on grabbing back their attention, “You guys left to find Sam right?” They all nodded collectively, “Well I might know some stuff. But I want to know what you guys know first.” His voice sounded unexpectedly confident, surprising himself. After hearing Allura’s story he felt like he was gradually getting back into the rhythm that was himself. The story didn’t exactly change anything, but hearing it made him feel assured. A reminder that he isn’t alone anymore.

Pidge and Matt perked up at the mention of their father. Leaving Pidge to take over next. “Oh? Well honestly- we don’t really know much more than we did six years ago.” She frowned before picking herself up again and jumping back to talking, “Oh yeah! So before I snuck- Um left with these guys.” She received glares from both Matt and Shiro. Lance sat there with a confused look, before remembering Hunk telling him about how Pidge had snuck onto the ship in one of the empty food crates they had.                    It didn’t surprise him. It hadn’t even occurred to him that she shouldn’t even be here. Everyone probably took his lack of surprise due to him going through a lot and not remembering. It totally wasn’t because he already knew that she’d planned on sneaking.
             The look she gave him that day when he said he’d pay her a visit told him she wasn’t staying behind. She wasn’t subtle. Not to Lance anyway. It wasn’t his place to stop her either so he never told anyone. He probably would have done the same. But he had approached her about it.

“So pidgeon found a crate big enough for ya?” The mer crept up behind the small girl as she was eyeing up the crates Hunk and Coran were loading onto the ship. “Then again you’re small enough so I guess you could get into any of them.” He laughed as the girl looked to in in mild panic.

“Lance I- I uh. I wasn’t thinking-”

“Psht. Pidge, you’re always thinking.” He mocked as her face contorted from panic to I’ll-kill-you.

“Are you gonna stop me?” She eventually confessed looking slightly ashamed but to her surprise the lanky mer laughed with a ‘nope’ spoken from his lips. “What? Lance seriously. Please don’t tell anyone. I need to do this. I know Matt will kill me but-” Before she could go on there were two slightly scaled hands firmly planted on her shoulders. Looking up she had two bright blue eyes looking down at her. Any hint of playfulness gone, replaced with seriousness and caring.

“Pidge the sea isn’t for a human child- And I know before argue with me. Keith’s a different case. Trust me on that.” He let out a little smirk thinking about the stubborn, hothead before resuming his serious tone. “You have a mother here. A mother who cares about you and seeing that her son is heading off she’ll only have you. Now I’m not trying to guilt trip you. If I’m honest I’d probably would do anything different. But I need you to consider that.”
Pidge had never heard him talk like this. She wondered if this was how he sounded in those royal meeting he had to attend. If he talked at all. Which he probably did, this was Lance after all. The mer continue on breaking her thoughts, “I won’t stop you. And I won’t tell anyone. But are you really sure you want to do this.” She hesitated before nodding, but yes, she had thought a lot about this. She was going. “I know I’m a goofball a lot- particularly around you guys. So this might be hard to believe, but I do have a duty to Altea that I can’t abandon. Allura and Coran do too.” He sighed almost sounding tired. “What I’m saying is we can only check on you guys so often, and the moment you enter Mamoran or Galran territory, you’re on your own. We can protect you from the sea or any ships that attack you. And they will. So you need to promise me something if you’re adamant on going.” He glared at her making sure he had her full undivided attention.

“Come back to us smiling.” He bared his mermaid fangs in a beaming Lance-like smile.

She smiled back, “I promise.”

Lance pushed the memory away as Pidge continued on. “So, anyway, yeah, um. Oh! I found some blueprints for a computer of sorts. It’s more of a tracking device, except I have no idea what it’s supposed to track. I’ve got one running. There’s something about a hard drive that had what I need to find out what it’s actually for. But for now I’ve reprogrammed it for Galra activity.” She gave a delighted grin and Lance couldn’t help but feel proud.
The Holts were all incredibly intelligent and most underestimate Pidge because of her age and gender, which may explain her ‘boyish’ looks these days. The crew obviously respected her, but outside that (particularly in certain Galran and Mamoran areas) being a girl would only have people patronise her. For their sake of avoiding a black eye, opting to be a boy was just easier. Being a boy suddenly didn’t make age an issue either. It was a frustrating world to live in, but sadly they had to make do with what they’re given.

“That’s amazing Pidgeon.” Lance didn’t notice as he was to in awe of the girl’s words. The way he spoke suddenly sounded like Lance, their Lance. Keith could swear there was a shine appearing in his blue eyes (not that he was looking at them or anything).

Matt smiled at the boy before continuing on from his sister. “Sadly aside from that we haven’t really found much else. About a year ago a whore had told us that some client was bragging about a job he did years before and how he was still making money from it. It involved capturing our father and the other scientist that were working in the main Olkarion city. They’re known as the Zynthad, paid off by the Galra Empire to capture our father and collect nearly every piece of evidence in that building. Empress Ryner said there was only small scraps left- and we know she wouldn’t lie as far as the Galra are involved.” He sighed.
“As you can guess what was left was useless and not even out dads work. That’s the only breakthrough we’ve had all this time. We already suspected the Galra, I mean our dad goes missing with some important work and a few months later Altea collapses. It had to be them. But hearing it wasn’t any less easy.” Trailing off Matt looked down at the table, feeling a small sense of guilt. That was the only conclusive piece of information they gotten in the last six years, and it told them nothing, nothing new anyway. It confirmed what they already suspected. Knowing the Galra were involved changed nothing. He just hoped Lance could give them something a little more useful. A location maybe, but judging from how he spoke earlier a location wasn’t the information he had. But hopefully it was better than any dead ends they continuously got. “We found the group, but they didn’t know anything. They just got paid to ‘capture a bunch of scientists and their work and hand them off to the empire’.” He mocked in what Lance could assume was supposed to be the bandits accent, his lips curled up slightly at that. He’d forgotten Matt was just as much as a performer as Lance used to be. Maybe he could be that Lance again someday. He only hoped.

“Well that’s it really in summary. I’m aware Coran told you about our various adventures outside of that.” Shiro summarized.

Lance let out a small laugh at the stories about some of the stuff Coran and Hunk had told him. The crew still managed to have some fun in this shitty situation. “Yeah he did. Sound like you guys have been busy even when trying to have mini breaks.” Coran had told him about the time they took a few days out to rest in Arus and Hunk had tried to ask Shay out, only for another Pirate crew to arrive and try and rob their ship. They ended up leaving to track down the pirates and a fight ensued. The fight ended with a Kraken appearing and sinking the ship. Having Allura and Coran on board is why they didn’t sink too. The crew were still traumered at the sight of Allura treating the beast like a dog. It must have been Blue, Lance wondered, hoping she hadn’t missed him too much. Coran never mentioned it, but Lance and Allura had raised her in secret after so he wouldn’t know, he’d have to ask Allura at some point.

The crew now looked to Lance. Once upon a time he would have loved to be the centre of attention while telling a story. But his anxiety got the better of him these days and this wasn’t a story he wanted to tell, but he needed to, for his family.

“Well I guess it’s my turn.” He spoke sounding a little chipper. “I don’t know where Sam is exactly, I’m sorry.” Even though it was out of his control, he still felt guilt about it. The two Holt’s looked understandingly at him though.

“It’s okay dude.” Pidge grinned.

“So um. Maybe I should just start at the beginning. But like I said most of its kinda blurry so I’m sorry if I jump about a bit.” He rubbed his arm nervously and sighed.

“Just tell us what you can. It’s okay, you don’t have to tell us everything my boy.” Coran assured.

“So my story in Altea is pretty different. I- um- yeah.” He looked at the two mers trying to choose his words carefully. Unfortunately, there was not careful way to place it. “So, like- a guard came to my place asking us to head to the royal court for a meeting set by Alfor. We got about half way when the Galra suddenly started attacking. There was so much chaos that started in such a short amount of time.” He flinched at the memory of his sister Rachael screaming to swim away. “I quickly got separated from everyone and disoriented and I somehow found myself at the palace. I, um-” His breath shuddered trying to fight off the fear building up in him.

Allura went to comfort him but was broken off by the boy’s next statement, “I saw them die. The King and Queen. Actually I saw my brother Marco die too. He was a guard for them. I- I saw- I saw the witch. In fact I’ve seen her a lot over the years.” He laughed, but there was malice to it, “She did something to them. They kinda just- yeah. Died.” He was going to say how, but they didn’t need to know the detail of them shrivelling up and disintegrating in nothing but bones before his eyes. “I think- no- I know she took their quintessence. I don’t know how but that’s how most- died.”
            The room went into a shocked silence. Neither mer had seen much as they’d been so focused on trying to get out. Allura was too angry to cry right now and in a way was thankful, Lance didn’t need that from her right now, he had more to say.

He remembered finding his family again after that incident. But they were like rotting, bloated corpses. He chose to skip over that before he threw up at the memory of his sister Veronica- nope not thinking about it. “I don’t really know how it happened or why, since they seemed pretty hell-bent of just killing us there and then. But me and some other mers were thrown into glass boxes that were filled with seawater and we were transported to some prison- at least they called it a prison- it was more lab. They- so like that was a thing- that happened.” And then starts the point where his memories start to jumble and become hazy, something everyone picked up on.

Matt decided to see if he could jump start the memory. “I know you probably don’t want to. But can you remember anything from the lab? Like maybe who was there? What they were doing or something?” Lance should have been irritated at the prodding but he understood that it could really help them and he wanted to be useful to the team again. For Matt and Pidges sake, he wanted to, for the first time, try and remember.

Lance explained what he could. “They- I- um- so- so they.” The words were caught in his throat. Just thinking about it made him feel the pain again. He couldn’t remember much visually or verbally. It was just the pain. Pain was all he remembered of that place. Pain and then degrading into numbness.
He cleared his throat and tried to start again, everyone was being incredibly patient he owed them something for that much at least. Keith’s hand squeezed his again like he knew Lance’s internal struggle. He looked at him this time to see the boy smiling fondly at him. It gave him air to start talking again. “There were many labs I got bounced around. All days away from each other, I’m actually glad I spent more days travelling than in those places.” He shuddered. “It was while travelling that I got out. But that’s later and not really important right now and-”
Despite the grim situation he was talking about, Shiro couldn’t help but feel a little amused to hear him rambling and using his hands to exaggerate certain points. With every sentence he became more animated and himself. No matter how gloomy the content it was, simply talking about it was relieving him from the darkness that was constricting around his quintessence. Even if he was skipping sections, Shiro noted that he’d probably talk about it eventually. If this is what talking did now, then he hoped he’d do it soon.

“-Anyway.” He eventually got back on track, “I was kinda out of it if I’m honest. They drugged me up with something.” It defiantly wasn’t for the pain though. “They were messing with my quintessence, a lot. I think. But uh. I don’t know how long I’d been in that routine. I recognised three labs that I got taken too back and forth. I’m sorry I can’t really tell you where they were, other than that they were a few vargas from each other. It was kind of just a cycle of these three labs that did different things- I don’t know what really- I only knew they did something different. Until one day someone said about completing something. I don’t know what.” He looked down and gradually was curling back into himself in shame.
He was saying ‘I don’t know’ too much and he hated it. He didn’t want to remember the trauma. But he wanted to remember something for the sake of finding Sam and hell, maybe even take out the Galra Empire while they’re at it. “M’ sorry.” He trailed off before suddenly feeling a pale hand hold tightly onto his. He looked up to see it was Keith smiling at him. He got so lost in talking he’d actually forgotten who he’d been sat next to this entire time. Allura was still the other side to him and Hunk after that. Everyone else of sat opposing to him, all with soft looks on their faces assuring him they weren’t mad at him for not being able to remember much.  He relaxed a little from that.

“You’ve got nothing to apologise for Lance. You don’t have to go on.” Shiro, who sat opposite him gave him a gentle smile. As much as Lance had relaxed he still felt a twinge of guilt. Shiro was wrong for once. He did have to go on, and so he did.

“They took me to a new lab. This one was different, so different I don’t think it was run by the same group of people.” He looked at Allura, “Rom told you what happened to her right? With Lotor.”

“Yeah, she mentioned about how unlike his parents, who only took the scales-”

“They didn’t just do that.” Lance cut her off before she could explain further, he didn’t want them to know. “I didn’t tell Romelle what happened. Maybe small bits and pieces about stuff that happened to her too. But the labs I was in. The Witch ran them.” He stopped abruptly giving everyone a moment to really process everything, mainly Allura and Shiro and no one else had heard about Romelle’s story as of yet. “Lotor, as Rom probably told you two, was working with quintessence. The new lab I got taken to was his. I met him a lot and he preferred us in human forms more than mers. I think Rom was the ‘batch’ that was removed before I entered which is why we hadn’t met before I went to the house. Zarkon did use the scales for weaponry ‘n such. But his Witch was carrying out the same work as Lotor. Just their ways of ‘treatment’ so to speak was a little different.” He shuddered.

“Different how?” Coran asked unwavered at this new information.

“Well we were just subjects to Haggar – the witch – but Lotor. He- I uh. I don’t think I had the same treatment as the others.”

“Well little blue-eyes are you quite the specimen.” Lotor devilishly glared at the mer in the small glass tank before him. “Been through hell with my mother and your eyes still shine so, so bright.”

It felt like one of the human coffins. He wasn’t great at his human form and hated it, despite Keith saying it looked ‘nice’ (that kid wasn’t good with words, so Lance took that as the greatest compliment), but he’d rather be in human form right now if it meant not being in this tiny box.

“I think I can have some fun with you.”

Lance snapped out of his thoughts when Keith’s hand tightened around his again, “S-sorry.” He muttered again, “I just- he- the others were always locked away. But he gave me this ring which helps me stay in human form for much longer.” He gestured to the bland sliver band around his ring finger.

“How long exactly?” Coran seemed genuinely curious.

“Well without it I can manage two weeks, at a push anyway. With this its two months, two and a half if I push it. Which I did once but don’t really want to try that again. I slept for three days straight after that.” He chucked to himself before looking up to the everyone looking at him in shock. “W-what?”

“L-Lance! Oh my god! I’ve never seen anything like it. I mean for that long!” Pidge jumped up startling the boy.

Coran tugged on his moustache enthusiastically, so much Lance thought he was going to rip it off. “I mean- Lance that’s amazing!” The direct statement threw the boy off. It was the ring, why did they make it sound like his doing?

“What do you-”

Allura jumped up too in excitement. “Lance most mers can only stay in such a form for three days! How have you managed two weeks?! Even I can only manage five days at most.” It wasn’t the ring. It was Lance. 

“Now that I think about it. I remember you stayed over a week with us and you weren’t a mer once. How did I not realise! Coran told me everything about mers!” Pidge added with awe in her tone. “That’s really cool!” She had that look that said she’d want to ask a bunch of questions later. It hadn’t surprised Lance that she’d mithered Coran about it.

“You are unique in every way aren’t you my little mermaid.” The Princes condescending tone echoed in his head sending shivers down his spine. Is this what he meant?

Allura began talking about how his prolonged transformation meant he must have powerful quintessence. Quintessence that was now damaged is what they all thought but no one said anything. He didn’t know if he could still manage two weeks anymore. He didn’t know how the ring worked exactly. Romelle had a necklace- also from Lotor- she could last three weeks. He didn’t know if it was because the necklace was different or if it still came down to quintessence usage. He could test it out soon enough. Pidge and Matt both clearly wanted to look into it.

“Was there anything else?” Shiro interjected pulling him away from his thoughts. Lance did feel better talking even if there was thing’s he couldn’t bring himself to say just yet. However, the conversation was also making him feel exhausted, Shiro must have caught onto this as he continued without an answer, “How about we finish this up tomorrow. It’s getting late.”

Everyone silently agreed now really looking at the boy who was zoning out with the bags under his eyes becoming more noticeable as the ashen look on his skin gradually returned. They got ready to stand and leave when Lance spoke again. “Mamoran.” He mumbled like no one was in the room.

“What?” Keith looked at him waiting for him to say something more.

Lance blankly looked at the table but continued, “The ones that attacked the carriage that day. They were Mamoran.” He eventually looked up a Shiro who watched him patiently. “I don’t know what they wanted with me. But they had come for me. Not me specifically- I don’t think. Just whatever mer they could find. I- I don’t know their intention. I uh- I was scared and got away from them. Sorry.” His tone dropped to barley a whisper. “I don’t know why I said that. S’not important.” He shrugged only to be startled by Shiro’s human hand firmly grasp his shoulder. He felt ashamed at the lack of help he was and couldn’t find it in him to look at the older man.

“We’re just happy you’re here Lance. It doesn’t matter if it’s not important. If you need to talk we’re here to listen okay? Get some rest. We can talk tomorrow.” His voice was soothing as Lance always remembered. He only hoped he could rest, he was actually grateful for the fever because it forced him to sleep. But now he was better. Not great. But better- he didn’t know if he could, but Keith still hadn’t let go of his hand, as if he was scared Lance would just disappear again. But it was okay. He wasn’t alone.

It was going to be okay.

Chapter Text

Lance got better, more his old self, as the days went by, although he stayed on the ship after his one attempt to go the market his Coran ended with two people recognising him from the brothel (A place he had yet to return to and speak with Romelle, he owed her everything). While he’d heard the insults they threw at him countless times before and it hadn’t bothered him, regaining his own mind and such words being said in front of family gave such words their venom back. The old mer assured him it changed nothing. That he had made the most of a bad situation, but he didn’t feel much better about it.

That was three days ago.

He hadn’t gone further than the docks since.

The nights didn’t fare much better. Insomnia had kicked in after some of his hazy memories returning to him in his dreams. The last two nights he had found himself on the top deck staring out at the ocean that peacefully lay beyond the dock calling to him. It’d been a while since he’d transformed. Even longer since he swam. He still wasn’t ready for that.

Tonight was another one of those nights. Lance like the previous nights, he’d woken up in a cold sweat having dreamt about his time with the Prince. It was always the same.

“This Empire is pathetic. But it’s always worth returning home to you my sweet, sweet little mer.”

There was a storm approaching which was why they hadn’t left yet. Another two days Allura said. This place had been Lance’s life for a while now, most of it was a shameful blur. He’d miss Nyma and Romelle, hoping he’d get to see them again someday and with Allura regularly returning there to see the blonde mer, something told him he would. But this place. He’ll be happier when they’ve gone.

Coming from a big family Lance used to hate silence, hate the stillness night-time usually offered. But a lot’s changed and now silence and peace is something he craves. Obviously he still loves being social, especially with his second family. I guess they’re my only family now huh? But looking out to the ocean, hearing distance waves crashing against rocks while the rest of the world is asleep is calming. Another reason he couldn’t wait to leave this gloomy city was so he could see the stars again. Light pollution and smog always blocked the night sky out. I miss the stars. Can you see me Ma? Dad? Are you even up there? Are you ashamed of me? Tears quickly found their way down his face as he let out a quiet whimper, which soon stopped when he heard creaking from the wooden stairs.

“Lance?” A voice softly called out and approached him as he tried to wipe his face, likely only to leave red eyes.

“H-hey mullet.” He didn’t spare a look to know the voice and see the black mullet now stood next to him leaning over the railings looking out.

For a while they simply stood in silence looking out into the distance. Keith heard the shallow sob come from the mer and felt it best to not push it. He’d heard Lance get up and leave for a few hours the last few nights and had watched him look out to the ocean. Allura always said she could sometimes hear the ocean call out to her, he never asked Coran but he assumed it made sense for the guardians of the sea. Despite still being hesitant to have Coran give him a full examination as a mer, the ocean is always calling.

Tonight was the first time he’d heard the boy cry however, which is why he found himself here stood next to him thinking what to say. Keith was never good with words. Thankfully Lance knew that. But he wanted to be there for him, help him. Like he once did for him.

“Hey so um. I kinda sorry about the other day.” Lance approached the pale boy sat hunched over on the white sand.

“Kinda sorry?” The boy scoffed while remaining to look down at his book.

Lance sighed. Shiro didn’t tell him much. Only saying that ‘he’ll tell you when he’s ready’.
            Lance had learnt that a lot had happened in his short life that mullet-boy becomes easily hostile. The mer knew he could be too energetic at times and was willing to understand that not everyone is used to that. The almost punch to the face he witnessed a few days ago was the biggest sign that Keith was one of those people. It was a bit of damage to his ego to apologise. But it was damage he was willing to take if it meant he could make a new friend. Even if he had claimed him as a rival in the single week he’s know him. His Ma will be proud when he tells her later.

So far he only had one real friend which was Hunk. Sure he was close with Allura but she was his cousin. There was also his brothers and sisters. But, Family didn’t count. He did have fun with Pidge, but she was so young and always had her head in a book and Matt was busy flirting with Shiro like the mess he is.
Besides, Keith looked like he needed a friend or two, but he’d been hostile with both him and the literal sunshine that was Hunk. If Lance was anything it was stubborn. So seven-year-old Lance just had to apologise for being himself and get grumpy to acknowledge he isn’t alone.

Of course emo here wasn’t making this easy.

“I’m trying to apologise here.” He sighed.

“And I’m trying to draw here.” Keith mocked in a teasing manner.

For the first time however, it was just that, teasing, Lance couldn’t help but smile a little. He looked down at the book he was holding and now realised it wasn’t for reading, but drawing as Keith twiddled with the wooden pencil in his left hand.

Lance rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. Keith eventually looked up in confusion at the sight of this usually energetic mer, now holding an awkward and quiet demeanor.

“I uh. I didn’t know you drew?” He asked.

The pale boy quickly looked away, in shame? He looked down at the few lines he’d drawn that would eventually pan out to be the military ship docked nearby. Shiro would be setting off on it soon which he wasn’t too happy about. He wouldn’t be alone this time however. Although Matt would be going too his parents were more than happy to take him in. While they were a family of genius’s (even Pidge despite still being a baby had an aura that made him feel like an idiot. How is that even possible?) that he couldn’t keep up with, Colleen had made him feel welcome. He still felt out of place. But it was enough for as long as he knew Shiro would return. There was also Hunk, a boy who was too nice for his own good, and a boy he needed to apologise to for snapping at him a few days ago.

Then there was this hyperactive, happy-go-lucky-mer who wasn’t leaving him alone and was now apologising to him? He didn’t do anything wrong. If it was about what happened, that wasn’t his fault. Keith knew that he had a short temper and Lance was just being nice. He didn’t deserve anything from him after nearly punching him for no real reason other than he was loud.

He has a nice voice though. Especially his singing.

Keith would never voice that out loud though.

“My mum taught me.” He eventually responded when he realised the mer hadn’t left. In fact he’d done the opposite and sat down in the sand next to him, looking out at the vast ocean ahead of them.

He was so close that Keith could see the array of freckles that splattered across his face, made subtle by the deep blue markings below his eyes and the stray scales that ran all over his body. He’d never seen another mer before so he didn’t know if that was normal. From what he heard they were supposed to be good at blending in with civilisations. But this mer didn’t look good at it. Then again he was only about his age so maybe he was still learning. He thought the markings looked pretty though.

He wondered if they use some special waterproof paint. They wouldn’t possibly tattoo a child would they? Or do mers age differently and seven was like twenty in human years? Lance was too immature for that though, so Keith just settled on he was bad.

“Shiro didn’t tell me anything only that ‘stuff happened.’” He tried to imitate the fourteen-year-olds voice cracks (obviously over exaggerating which got a smile out of Keith). “Obviously we didn’t get off from a good start and you haven’t known me that long. But if you wanna talk ’bout- stuff. Then I’m a good listener.” He gave a toothy grin looking at Keith with bright blue eyes that shimmered like the ocean under the sun.

Keith hesitated a moment. There was something about the mers warmth that made him want to tell him everything. Not even Shiro knew everything. Only that his dad died in a fire last year and a few months before that his mum ‘died’. Something his dad told him but he didn’t believe. She was perfectly healthy and there was no news about any murder. Not to mention they never had a funeral and there’s no grave with her name on it. He had her knife and the sketchbook she bought for his birthday two years ago that, until recently, he’d barely touched. When he left the small little village for the first time with Shiro he automatically grabbed the knife and the sketchbook without thought and practically leaped out of the orphanage. He didn’t take anything else despite the three day trek ahead.

Shiro bought him new clothes on the way.

“I uh. Thanks. And I’m sorry about the other day too. I’d like to talk- eventually. Just maybe not now.” Is what he said instead. Lance beamed at him and upon Keith’s request began talking about the million sisters, brothers and cousins he has. Keith was actually shocked to learn that one such cousin was the princess to his civilisation and that the Mermaid’s only have one Empire- Altea. That made the responsibility even greater when Mermaids, as Keith had now learnt is spread across every ocean.

Their friendship grew after that and before Lance was believed dead Keith may have caught feelings for the boy. Then again what would a twelve-year-old know? He did tell Lance a lot. Not everything, he didn’t need to know the details. But he knew the mer was grateful for the show of trust. Of course there was a lot more Keith now needed to update him on.

“Hey.” A soft voice snapped Keith away from his thoughts.
He turned to see two bright blue eyes staring back at him. They didn’t look so dull anymore and every day Lance looked more himself.
            Yet there was still the matter of his mer form. Coran only approached him once about it, only for the boy to snap back in an almost murderous tone. Coran simply said he’d come to him when he was ready. The old mer was always understanding and could see Lance didn’t mean to snap in such a way.

“Hey.” He eventually replied. Keith was mesmerised by the other boy’s eyes as they practically glowed. He couldn’t wait to get far away from the cities pollution and see them under the moonlight. Maybe getting away from this place will help Lance further.      “So- how are you feeling?”

Lance turned back to the scenery humming slightly, “Better I think.” While he did appear well, Keith wanted to call him out for being out here for the last few nights, but Lance continued as if knowing what Keith was thinking. “Not- great. But better.” His lips curled upwards as he glanced back to the pale boy next to him. Keith couldn’t help but smile back.

They’d had moments like this as kids, many moments. Moments of them peacefully watching the world go by with looks on their faces that spoke for them. It was just how in tune they were, no one ever saw this side to them, and it was their secret. They could have a whole conversation without saying a single word and Keith would feel like his whole world had just gotten better. It was something Keith missed and thought he’d never get to experience again. But there was something about Lance’s face that said he missed it too.

Unfortunately, this was a conversation that required words, words that would echo pain and darkness. Both boys knew this and yet they were doing everything to put it off. But the peace was becoming strained and at the same time they both decided to bite the bullet.

“Hey do you-”

“So we need to-”

“-Sorry.”

“-Sorry.”

For a few seconds the silence returned. Lance looked down at his feet showing no sign of continuing. “Um. Lance do you remember the other night?”

For a moment there was a sense of tension as Lance began fiddling with his fingers remaining silent. “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have asked, I just wanted to know and-” He went to ramble until Lance cut him off.

“I’m sorry.” Lance shrunk into himself and looked so small, fragile and wrong. He looks so wrong. His voice was hoarse and faint. “I’m sorry. I hurt you I didn’t- I’m sorry.” The last words barely audible through the sob Lance was try desperately to fight back.

“Can I hug you?” Keith blurted out in a panic. Lance didn’t have it in him to verbally reply so he just nodded before being bundled up by the awkward teen.

After a moment of a stiff hug Lance let out a small laugh, fighting back the tears that we’re already streaming down his face, “I thought you’d be better at this.”

“You wouldn’t have me any other way beanpole.” Keith slightly pulled away to look at him all while making sure his arms were firmly wrapped around the other boy. “I won’t lie to you. It’s not okay right now. You’re not okay.” He looked into the watery blue eyes, eyes that told a lifetimes worth of pain, “But you’re not alone. Not anymore. You have us. A stubborn bunch of pirates and two mers who’ll never give up on you. We’re your family and don’t ever forget it. Don’t you ever forget that we won’t give up on you?” He smiled feeling a burn of tears trying to escape. “I’m just sorry. So fucking sorry we didn’t find you. We-I- We thought. We thought you were-”

Lance could see the boys struggle. No one had directly said it, but when Keith and Allura first saw him they looked like they were staring at a ghost. So he understood why he wasn’t being searched for. But by sheer luck he’d found his way back onto The Black Lion. Way back to his family.

He smiled cupping Keith’s cheeks gently. “I know. Thank-you Keith.”

“I want you to promise me something though.” Keith’s hands found their way on top of the tanned boys. “Don’t you dare give up on us.”

A wave of guilt hit Lance before he could answer. He was turning into a Siren, another few months and not even having Allura hug him would have brought him out of it. But even then he knew. He knew that he started getting whispers of his old self the moment he saw Keith in that room. Keith wearing a pony tail and an expression that said he didn’t want to be there, but had to be for business sake. Keith who stared at him with his violet-blue eyes in shock and worry. Keith who kissed him with hesitation.

Keith who was afraid of him. He hates you. He’s ashamed of you. He didn’t want it. He just played along because he pitied you. You didn’t even look at him as Keith. You’re just a slut looking for your next fix.

“Lance?” Keith looked at him with concern as the moments had passed in silence.

“K-Keith. I- I uh. I didn’t- didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t-” Why would anyone love a broken whore like you? “I’m sorry.” His voice broke as it rattled with sobbing.

“You didn’t hurt me Lance. I promise you didn’t. We can mend this you know that right?” Keith let the boy sob into his chest as his arms wrapped around him tightly. He didn’t want to ever let go.

Lance had been smiling and laughing a little here and there, but it still wasn’t reaching his eyes. Keith wanted him to joke and laugh, even hear his stupid pick-up lines. He wanted Lance whole again, because the day they thought he died was the day Keith felt like a piece of him died too. He’ll never get that back, just like the pieces Lance has lost will never come back. But they can be remoulded and still be whole again.        
            Once the process of a Siren started, it wasn’t really known if it could be stopped or reversed. But it wasn’t someone anyone had ever handled before. There was a first for anything and logistics be damned if they weren’t going to help him. “We will. Trust us. Just don’t give up on us. You’re Lance. Mermaid or Siren. You’re still and always will be Lance.”

“But Keith I-”

“If this is about what you’ve done in the past I don’t care. You’re still Lance. You’re not who you were six years ago. None of us are. But you’ve been through the extremes. I don’t know what all of it was. But I know enough. You were forced to fight to survive. You. Didn’t. Hurt. Me. You were tired of fighting.” Lance frowned which made Keith quickly continue and fix his words. “You were fighting alone for a long time and honestly. I think you’re the strongest person I know. Most would have given up a long time ago. You haven’t ran away from us and you’ve have the freedom to do so. Which tell me that you’re ready to keep going. You’re ready to let us help you.” He looked at the boy intently making sure his words were reaching him.

Lance wanted to protest again, correct him. I’m weak. I did give up. I didn’t even try. I sold myself that’s why I’m here. I’m pathetic.

He wanted to tell him that it wasn’t always necessary for survival. The guard he killed didn’t even know who he was in the brothel. He didn’t have to die. Lance killed him out of revenge and his mama always told him revenge is a dangerous drug. A drug he took on many occasions.

Keith continued on, somehow knowing what Lance was thinking. “-Maybe somewhere down the line you got lost, your- your reasoning got a little jumbled. But you. But you were fighting alone.” He began repeating himself. He needed Lance to understand. To know he wasn’t weak for giving up. “You’re stood here holding onto being a mer while the rest of the world is trying to drown you. But we’re not letting you be alone again okay? I won’t let you be alone again.” He finished really emphasising the last part.

I won’t let you be alone again. Those were the words that finally pushed through the dark voices that tormented Lance’s mind.
He’d have to keep fighting this darkness trying to overtake him, but he didn’t have to do it alone. But he couldn’t simply give up either. And now, this pale boy, who is terrible with words, is passionately rambling in front of him about him not being alone. Very much like how he’d done for him all those years before, he had a reason to keep going. His family wanted him. They needed him.

“I promise.” He said with more conviction than he thought he could muster up and it made the other boy feel nothing but pride.

After some moments of calming silence they eventually let go. Keith had no idea how long they’d been outside, but he could see a slight shimmer of pink-orange breaking the surface of the water. Going back to sleep wasn’t going to happen now and he wouldn’t be surprised to see Shiro or Coran soon. He figured since that was the case he’d start filling Lance in on his life for the last few years.

“So uh.” He leaned forwards onto the wooden railings facing the ocean again. “I don’t know if you remember. I wouldn’t blame you if you forgot since it’s never been useful to you. But remember what I said about my mum?”

Lance blinked at him in confusion. Of course he remembered. Remembering things his friends. His family. Had told him is what kept him sane- for the most part. “Yeah I remember.” He joined Keith by the railings, looking at the boy to continue. “You said you didn’t believe she was dead.”

“Yeah and that the blade she gave me was made out of a metal only found in Mamlyran Lake in Mamora’s main city.” He pulled the knife out and held it gently in his hand, Lance wasn’t even surprised the boy still carried it around with him.

Lance remembered the first time he pulled it out, being the size he was the knife looked huge and the mer was terrified. Even more so when eight-year-old Keith had no skill with it. Lance remembers that the giant scar trailing down the pale boy’s leg is from the time he and Lance had a competition about who could catch the most fish.

Rule number one of Mermaid etiquette: Never challenge a mer with anything that involves water. It took many competitions before Keith finally acknowledged that.

“So funny story.” Keith gave an odd smile Lance couldn’t quite place. But anything that starts with ‘funny story’ is definitely not funny. “I found my mum. Heh. Yeah. That happened.”

Lance didn’t really know what to do with that information. But he was happy for Keith. Though Keith doesn’t sound so sure, so Lance wasn’t entirely sure he was supposed to be happy for him. “That’s great- right?”

“Yeah it is- I mean- Don’t get me wrong. I am happy I found her- kinda found her.” He corrected himself.

With each word the mer was getting more confused. Are you happy? Your tone says otherwise? Or do you feel guilty telling me this because I’ve lost mine? Keith I’m happy for you!

“Well after we thought you- you know.” He gestured to Lance letting his motion continue that sentence. “Things got bad. Like really bad. Allura and Coran were a mess. Matt was already pissed at Pidge for sneaking on board and then he was pissed at the Galra. Shiro’s PTSD went into overdrive and Hunk just cooked and didn’t talk to anyone. Pidge- Pidge she-” He tried picking his words carefully since he didn’t want Lance blaming himself for all of what happened. But he also felt like he deserved to know. “Pidge just kinda- shut down for a while.”

He took a risky glance to the boy next to him not knowing what to expect. Lance looked guilty (okay he expected that much) but he also looked grateful for Keith telling him this. That he wasn’t sugar-coating anything. Keith doesn’t do that because he knows how much he hates it and has noticed the boy get frustrated at how some of the crew have been tiptoeing around him at times. Hunk didn’t do it for long, knowing his oldest friend well and Pidge had been too distracted by getting her dads computer to work to change her attitude towards him. Matt’s been joking around with him like old times, but Lance has clearly picked up on that fact that at times it’s forced. It’s only obvious if you’re looking for it and Lance was definitely looking for it. Keith has just avoided him when he could, unless others were in talking reach, only because he didn’t know how to be alone with Lance anymore. But after their chat in the kitchen the tension sort of just left.

“I’m sorry.” Were the next words that came out of Lance’s mouth. It surprised no one.

“It wasn’t your fault so don’t apologise. Besides we’re all fine now- well as fine as a bunch of pirates can be. You get what I mean.” Keith huffed struggling to find the right words, fortunately it got Lance to smile.

“I thought you’d get better at talking too.”

“I’m as good as I need to be.” He folded his arms in annoyance, but the small smile breaking his face betrayed him.

“Whatever helps you sleep at night samurai.” He chuckled.

With hesitation Keith put the conversation back on track. “Anyways. After what happened. We were a mess because we realised you were the glue that kept us together and in check.”

“I’m flattered but I really don’t believe that Keith.” He frowned as his voice grew small.

“Lance I’m serious. You always knew what to do. You got Coran to tell stories when he needed someone. You distracted Allura from her duties when she got too stressed. You eased Shiro’s PTSD when his nightmares got too much. You helped Hunk in the kitchen when his anxiety-”

“Okay. Okay I get it. But still. I haven’t been around and you guys have managed fine.” He puffed.

“No Lance we haven’t. We’ve found distractions sure. But we haven’t managed.” He paused a moment. “I left for a while.”

Lance turned to him wide-eyed. “You what?”

“About five months after Allura and Coran arrived, we reached Quanlatis city.” He sighed, it wasn’t his proud moment that much he’d admit regardless of what came out of it. “We had just fled from a sea-battle with some other pirates. We needed repairs badly but Arus was too far so we settled for the next best place. A Glaran city of course.”

“Of course.” Lance mocked with slight smile.

“Heh yeah. Surprisingly nothing bad happened. I mean it’s on the borders of the Glara Empire and these days it’s practically part of Mamora. I guess it’s the safest Galran owned city you could enter. If you have to.” He laughed. “Anyway I uh. Um.”

“You did something stupid?” Lance laughed a little when Keith nodded. “Of course you did. Clearly this leads up to you leaving.”

“Actually it doesn’t uh. Lead up to. It was me leaving.”

“What?”

“I bolted-”

“What?”

“-and I didn’t tell anyone.”

“Keith-”

“At least at first-”

Keith-”

“I left a note eventually. Like a few days later.” His voice raced and it went up a few octaves he hadn’t achieved since a kid.

Keeeitth.”

Keith sighed sensing the mers annoyance with him. It was a dumb stunt he pulled off he knows that now. “I saw a group that had blades like the one my mum had given me and I panicked. I needed to understand why? Who they were? What the symbol was. I- I just. I needed to know Lance.”

Now Lance was sighed in exasperation. “So you’re mum was with them I’m guessing.”

“Yes and no.”

“What do you mean yes and no?”

“She wasn’t with that group I saw but she was part of the organisation.”

“So it’s an organisation now?” Lance raised a brow, “Well this just gets better and better.”

“How do you think I felt?” He chuckled. “Anyway, when they eventually told me. Which they only did when they made me do this trail- Shiro still doesn’t know about that by the way so please don’t tell him.”

“You’re saying organisation but I’m hearing cult.”

“Shush let me finished. And it’s not a cult. I guess the best way to describe them is rebels. As you know Mamora is such a small empire that it’s barely one. They were once part of the Galran Empire until the revolution that happened over one-hundred years ago. Anyways the Galra are still set on taking it back.”

Lance laughed again only it was bitter now, “Tell me something I don’t know.” He mumbled. Keith could see his hatred but decided to not comment on it and continued.

“There’s a group of Mamoran’s called The Blade of Mamora.” Keith notice something change in Lance’s eyes when he spoke but could place what it was so he carried on. “They’ve carried out a lot of assassinations against the Galra Empire which is why I wouldn’t quite call them rebels but not quite assassins either. Somewhere in-between I suppose.”

“Like vigilantes?”

“Yeah. But as I’ve said they’re a group. They never act alone.”

“So to find you’re mum you went with them.” Lance asked bitterness gone from his voice.

“Yeah.”

“For how long?”

“Two-years.”

“Damn.”

Keith just shrugged. He told Lance about the things he did with them, that he’d killed something Lance wouldn’t have been happy about once. A part of him still wasn’t, regardless of who it was or why, he still wasn’t fond of murder. He’d unintentionally reminded Keith that he’d killed in cold blood. “I don’t get to judge you for that I suppose.” He’s said. Keith hated that Lance had spilled blood. Lance who was good-natured and joyful.

“Do you remember?” Keith hesitantly asked. He didn’t know why he did, but a part of him wanted to get to know Lance. The good and bad parts.

“Remember what?”

“Those you’ve killed?” He hated himself for asking it, especially seeing Lance flinch at the words, “You don’t have to talk about it. Just know nothing will change.” I still love you went unsaid of course.

“I uh. Like I’ve already said, most of the last few years have kinda just moved in a blur. But, y-yeah. I remember them. Most of them. There’s some I think I killed but I don’t um. Know.” He ran a hand through his curly brown hair, he had it slightly longer than Keith remembered. He liked it. “So I have heard of the Blade. I won’t tell you everything now because I think it’s something you all need to hear and I’m too tired to repeat myself.” Keith understood that he didn’t mean from the lack of sleep when he said that. “But they were the ones who attacked the transport I was on. I um. I may have accidentally killed on of them.”

Keith looked at him in shock. “You what?” Anger flared up inside of him why would you kill someone that helped you? However the anger soon changed to guilt with Lance’s next words.

“I panicked. They were in their outfits they wear. So I knew they weren’t Galran. But I was just- just so confused and scared and lost and I-I-” Keith could see the internal struggle happening inside of him. His voice grew weak, “I didn’t mean to kill them. I didn’t mean to kill them Keith. I just-”

He placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it gently grounding him, “its okay Lance. I think I understand. I mean I can’t understand what it must have been like for you. But I get it.” He smiled fondly at him, unfortunately the boy wouldn’t even glance in his direction. Keith frowned.

“They weren’t the first I’d killed. Lotor he- Lotor made me kill for him sometimes.”

Now Keith was unshakably angry. How fucking dare he! Does he not have enough soldiers to kill for him? “He what?” He didn’t even hide his anger as Lance flinched away. “Lance?”

“I don’t want to talk about it right now.” He responded quickly seeing the boy flare up in rage. “I promise I’ll talk. It’s not useful. I don’t think. But I feel like I need to talk about it. I just- Not yet. Is, is that okay?”

He was still angry but nodded seeing that it wouldn’t help Lance right now.

“Good. Thanks.” He smiled easing the other boy’s anger a little. “Anyway I killed some soldiers too they were in self-defense. Then- then there was the um. Brothel. About five that I kinda uh- drowned.” He looked away in shame. It was definitely more than five. Not my proudest moments.

Keith remained silent. Someone about the last part, knowing one of them was a soldier that had been part of Lance’s torment made Keith think they were all revenge kills. Something also told him Lance wasn’t even sure it was five and that it was more. He wouldn’t push it though.
            Revenge, Keith’s learnt, is a dangerous thing. It could be justified. But it doesn’t mean you should do it. Yet, with Lance’s quintessence being damage and gradually turning him into a Siren. Then revenge killing by drowning sounds like just the thing Siren-Lance would do. Siren-Lance, nope not going there. He’ll be okay. Mermaid-Lance. His Lance. He’ll be okay.

“So yeah. There’s that. I don’t really know what else to say. ’M sorry.”

“You weren’t yourself. It is okay Lance. Or at least, it’s going to be okay.”

It’s going to be okay. “Yeah. It will. Thank you Keith.”

There looked at each other for a while as the sun began to rise in the distance igniting the clouds in arrays of reds, purples and oranges, with the occasional blue sky trying to break though. Before either could register what was happening Lance felt the warmth of Keith’s lips against his as he closed his eyes.

Yeah. It was going to be okay.

Chapter Text

Hey everyone, 

         I would like to firstly say thank you to those who have come this far with me. 

But I also need to apologise. I said some months back that because of university work taking priority I didn't have the time to write. Another aspect was that I'd recently got into doing digital art and wanted to practise more with it than writing anything. 

However, I have since (somehow god knows how) graduated from uni (yay me!) and have placed a lot of my free time into job hunting (a have one thankfully that I will be starting full time in the next few weeks), drawing and writing. But, my writing clearly wasn't this fic. I actually have a big project, a novel, that I started waaaay back when I was 15 and have been on and off writing it and have even started from scratch with it on multiple occasions. But in the last few months, I've finally started to get somewhere with it and it's finally beginning to look like the novel I wanted to write. 

Now I haven't at any point forgotten about this fic. In fact, I regularly feel guilty about not working on it whenever I work on something else. I still have half a chapter written up which I feel guilty cause I promised I'd have had that published by now with a longer chapter too and yet it's not changed at all since I said that. But the problem was when I did finally get the time I managed about 500 words and then I just... lost motivation for the story. I didn't know where I wanted to take the plot. Now while I hated S8 of VLD I won't place that as the reason why I lost motivation, because I never really wrote that with the shows plot in mind so it never mattered what S8 gave us in regards to what I was writing. I simply just lost my creativity for it and for I while, I'd lost my creativity for everything, not just this. 

I'm making this post now because I feel guilty for just disappearing after making a promise that I would give you another chapter. I really do want to finish this story. But my own novel is really starting to form into something that may or may not be good but something nonetheless and I want to finally finish it in the hope that I might self-publish. Not finishing this fic will bug the hell out of me I know it will because it happened with my fairy tail fic (that I may throw up on her for y'all at some point since fanfic is kinda dead these days).

I won't make a promise because I don't know what the future holds. But I'll be real with y'all when I say I do want to finish this, but right now my creativity is required elsewhere and I know it'll be obvious if I forced myself to write chapters. I think you'd rather wait and get something good or even get nothing at all than get weekly half-hearted attempts.  

Maybe I'll be back (I'll try) maybe I won't as I said, I don't know what the future holds.

But I hope y'all can forgive me and I'll see ya around :)

Cat x