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Siren's Call

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Beware, young sailor, when the tides are still,
And those blue eyes reflect the moon,
Their voices are sweet, and words are too,
As they spell out your doom.

Don’t wander too deep,
Don’t wander too long,
Into the night when the moon is hung,
High in the sky,
And the light is bright,
To backdrop the siren’s song.

Beware, young sailor, the siren’s call,
Beautiful, sweet, and haunting.
For if you hear,
And do not fear,
You shall surely fall.

Tongues that hiss,
Teeth that gnash,
Claws that tear,
Magic flash.

Fear the voice,
Fear the song,
Fear the beast,
When the night is long.

Beauty bright and eyes alight,
They’ll drown you on a whim.
A grave awaits, Ill-gotten fate,
If you hear the siren’s hymn.

 


 

Everyone knows of the sirens. Everyone has heard the tales and the songs and the warnings. The beasts of the western reaches. The islands out to sea. A kingdom of it’s own, who’s influence and reach spreads throughout the common seas. Parents within the oceans touch tell their children the stories. They instill the fear young to keep them from wandering out at night.

Leave the beaches before nightfall. Plug up your ears. Do not look at the eyes that glow with moonlight.

Or you will fall to the siren’s song.

Dragged into the depths. Drowned and slain and devoured. Blood stains their domain and makes no distinction between the innocent and the guilty.

Sailors are trained, are cautious, are superstitious. For good reason. They brave the siren’s seas, and few live to see old age.

The war with the sirens was a long and tremulous one, spanning across centuries, generations, devouring life after life. No one would submit. No one would surrender. The battles lulled when the realms of men retreated. The sirens didn’t venture past the beaches, content to stay to the seas. But men cannot stay land bound for long. They’re restless, itching with the need to expand, explore, grow, conquer.

The sirens weren’t man’s only enemy, not their only war with those unlike them, but the sirens were the most trapping, one of the most dangerous, and one of the most feared.

That is, until the siren prince was captured. A war brought to a halt with a hostage as leverage. A truce. An impasse. So long as the siren prince lives, held captive and trapped beneath the earth, the sirens dare not attack the realms of men.

So they pulled back, retreated into their island homes, giving the sea over to ships that think they own the waters.

They watch, and they wait.

Biding their time for the day their prince will return.

And the siren prince waits, and he watches.

Biding his time for an opportunity to escape.

 


 

The first time Keith sees the siren, it’s an accident.

They’re escorting the chosen one through the caves to the siren’s lair. At least, that’s what the job description says. Knights of the realm, sworn to the crown and trusted above all others. Warriors. Defenders. Keepers of the peace. Enforcer of the royal whims. Protection. Valiant. Just. Escorts of the chosen ones to the siren’s lair every month, on the night of a full moon.

He’s only a knight in training, but the job leaves a bitter taste on his tongue.

It’s all just fancy words. Dressed up and decorated like a bobble meant to sparkle and shine in a market place.

The chosen ones are merely sacrifices, and the siren’s lair is just his prison.

The kingdom dresses up a corpse and parades them through the streets like they’re a hero. They give the families money to keep their cries silent. The crowds gather and cheer, but it’s all a show. Their eyes reflect the relief that it wasn’t one of their own, and the fear that it might be at the next moon.

A show. A facade. A farce dressed up to hide the gruesome truth that it is. But the knights know. They’re the ones faced with the task of taking the sacrifice to the beast. They’re the ones faced with the knowledge that they’re walking a man to his death.

The procession loses it’s fanfare as they leave the city streets. As the cobblestones turn to hard packed earth. The road rises, pulling away from the buildings, from the crowd, from the shadowed eyes. The capital city is sprawled out amongst a valley, and the castle is pressed up against the mountains. The entrance to the cave system lies at the back of the castle’s grounds, rock wall around it carved and decorated with warnings.

It’s guarded and bared, but the men at the entrance open the gates for them as they approach, faces stone and eyes pitying. No one likes to go down into the siren’s prison.

Shiro leads their small procession. He and one of the other senior knights. They walk ahead of them all, dressed in full armor and displaying their full rank. Their armor shines, capes draped from their shoulders and billowing as they walk. Their hands remain poised on the polished pummels of the swords at their hips. Chins lifted high, eyes fixed firmly ahead, lips pursed into thin, wary lines.

The chosen one is dragged along behind them, two other knights holding his arms. He’s dressed in white, scrubbed and cleaned, no doubt more so than he has ever been in his life. He’s clean shaven, and his hair has been brushed and braided, body adorned with simple jewelry to make him shine. As if dressed him up might make him look less like a pig for the slaughter.

He doesn’t struggle as much as he did when he was brought out of the prison cells. Doesn’t kick or fight or spit or attempt to run. His movements are stiff, but with a heaviness to them and a slump to his shoulders. A man who’s embraced his fate. A man who’s in disbelief and denial. A dead man walking.

Ropes wound around his wrists, tight in the grip of the knights. A gag tied around his mouth, made of silk, as if that might detract from what it is. He stumbles between his two assigned handlers, and they have to keep him upright as he trips and drags his feet.

Keith brings up the rear of the procession. Himself and three other knights in training. Squires assigned to serve and learn under each of the knights assigned to this duty for the month. This is the first time since he’s officially begun training that Shiro’s been chosen, and as such, it’s Keith’s first time entering into the bowels of the mountain that cages the siren prince.

The tunnel is twisting and winding. Shiro and the other knight leading their procession take torches from the walls, as do two of the other squires. The four small fires cast their little band into warm hues as they make their way through the darkness.

Shiro seems to know the way, and Keith wonders how often he came down here during his training. How many deaths did he witness?

There are darker caves and tunnels that branch off from the main one where they travel, dark maws that loom among the cave walls, leading deeper into the mountain.

Keith pays attention to the turns they make. To the paces that they tread. It’s habit more than it is precaution. Something he picked up from years living among similar conditions. Navigating mountain tunnel systems and the streets of the capital are oddly similar. He adapted well when Shiro brought him here.

The tunnels lead down, down, sloping so gradually that Keith doesn’t notice until he realizes that his momentum and balance are pushing him forward. Then Shiro pauses and lifts his hand for the others to stop. They start pulling out the strips of fabric looped into their belts, and the others take that as their cue to do the same, holding each other’s torches momentarily as each knight wraps a specially designed swatch of fabric around their heads.

The fabric is long and thick, the colors of the kingdom and embroidered as if they’re something special. Two patches along the strip are thicker, padded, and made to settle over their ears. A headband tied at the neck, covering one’s ears, to protect them from the allure of the siren’s call.

With a quick glance to make sure they’re all properly equipped, they move forward. When the tunnel opens up, leading them into a large cavern, Keith’s breath hitches in his throat.

The cavern is monstrous in size, and the tunnel opens up well above the cavern floor, the path before them winding down, zig-zagging down the rock wall. The floor below opens up into a pebbled beach, and spreading out from there is a large lake, bordered on all sides by rock outcroppings and perches, rising up stone walls that dome high, high above them.

At the crest of the dome is a hole, in which the moonlight filters through, casting a single beam of light down to the lake below, dust particles floating lazily through the air, caught and suspended. The beam of light illuminates a small mound of an island at the center of the lake. The island holds a rising tree and a large, metal pole. A chain attaches to the base of it, disappearing into the water.

The water itself is black as ink and still as glass. The occasional drip from a stalagmite or movement of a fish breaks the surface, sending out slow moving ripples before fading, the sound of the dripping water echoing gently throughout the cavern.

Keith is caught staring, transfixed by the lake, and it takes him a moment to realize that the others are proceeding without him. He hurries to catch up, feet quick and silent on the dirt path before falling into step with them once again. The others are staring straight ahead, eyes fixed on the winding trail ahead, making him believe that perhaps their eyesight is far too limited and they haven’t noticed the lake yet.

He can’t imagine how blind they must feel in the dark.

Shiro and the other senior knight lead them down the path, until dirt turns to gravel and pebbled stones. They step to either side, facing the lake ahead of them. it stretches beyond what the eye can see, beach ending far to their left and right to give way to the rocky outcroppings. The two knights escorting the chosen one step forward, and when faced with the lake, the man begins to struggle anew.

He fights his bonds. He digs his feet into the gravel, slipping and sliding, losing his balance before he’s hoisted back up to his feet. He tries to lash out at the knights with his limbs, a frantic display of desperate panic. One elbow catches one of the knights in the gut, but the other is pulling his chains taut before he can make a move away. His muffled shouts can be heard beneath his silken gag.

Keith and the other squires stop, watching as the knights drag the chosen one forward, his protests creating grooves in the pebbled sand of the beach. There, ahead of them, mere yards from the water’s edge, is another pole. This one wooden, a stake thick as a small tree, driven deep into the ground. They push the man’s back to it, making him face the lake, and loop the ropes around his wrist to the metal crossbeam sticking out higher up the pole.

He tries to kick at them. It does no good. He tries to struggle out of his binds when they step away. It does no good. He tries to scream, to plead with muffled cries. It does no good.

The knights walk back up the beach, an urgency in their steps. Shiro and the other knight wait until they pass before casting one last look at the lake. Then they all hurry back up the way they had come, a quickness in their steps that is far from the somber march they had been at earlier.

There are rules they learn. Rules they’re meant to follow. Rules that are in place for their safety. They’re drilled into them from the beginning, from the moment they’re assigned escort duty. Rules that, if broken, can result in death. As it has in past. The rules are there for a reason, and Shiro, knowing Keith better than he knows himself, had made him promise to follow the rules no matter what.

Keith had promised.

Keith had sworn, both to crown, commanders, and Shiro.

Keith has also been known to act on impulse and instinct.

The rules are simple: keep your scarf on at all times, never look back once the sacrifice has been secured, and never, under any circumstances, make eye contact with the siren.

The first rule he doesn’t mean to break. His hearing is more sensitive than others. It’s a fact that he’s always known, and a fact that he hadn’t realized would cause him trouble now. So despite the precautions and the scarf designed to block out the sound, he hears it.

He hears the siren’s song.

Muffled and soft and gentle beneath the thick fabric wound tight around his ears. Soft hymns. A gentle voice. Wordless and haunting. Reverberating off the cavern walls. Coming from everywhere and no where at once. Beautiful. Sending shivers down his spine and causing his hair to stand on end. A burn at the back of his neck. An itch demanding to be satisfied. A desire, hot and fierce, growing deep in his gut and spreading up through his chest.

Beautiful. Echoing. Haunting. Fading to nothing before picking up again.

He stops at the mouth of the tunnel, watching as his fellow knights and squires disappear into the darkness, the light from their torches growing dim. He stops, perched high up the cavern wall, at the top of the path. And with a chill in his throat and fire in his lungs, he turns.

Despite the lack of torchlight, he can see. The shadows down at the beach take form. The light from the moon enough to illuminate. Enough for him to see. The man tied to the stake has stopped struggling, body hanging limp.

The lake ripples as a body moves out of it, details lost to the shadows. The siren steps slow, ripples across the lake barely breaking the surface as he slowly glides out of the inky depths. The song rises in volume as he walks, movements fluid, graceful, body gleaming and dripping, backlit with the moon’s illumination cascading down from the hole in the high domed ceiling.

He steps onto the beach, moving forward only a step, facing the man tied to the stake.

And then the song stops, the echoes of the last note bounding around the cavern and fading to silence.

His head snaps up, and his gaze finds Keith.

Blue eyes. Blue and glowing, even in the darkness, even from this distance. He can’t see the details of the siren’s face. He can’t see anything besides a silhouette figure and glowing eyes. But he gets the distinct impression of a toothy smile.

Keith stands frozen, breath still and shallow in his lungs, skin and chest burning. It’s not like he thought it would be. He hasn’t lost control of his senses. He doesn’t feel the urge to rush toward the siren. He still has enough presence of mind to think, to feel, to understand. He doesn’t feel the siren’s will wrapped around him like a vice.

He feels a healthy amount of trepidation, of wariness. He is, after all, facing down a predator. A beast. The strangest part, however, is that he stands still, frozen, and unmoving. Not from fear. Not from a magical allure. But from curiosity. From an urge that’s entirely his own. An urge to know. To understand.

He finds himself staring down danger, and instead of feeling afraid, instead of losing himself to the force of the siren’s song, he finds himself drawn to that danger in a way that, in and of itself, is frightening.

Then there’s a heavy hand on his shoulder, jerking him back to himself and pulling him around. Shiro. Shiro’s face twisted in concern, brow pinched in worry, lips pressed into a deep frown.

They hurry out of the cavern, moving down the tunnel to meet up with the others, and as Keith goes, he swears he can hear the haunting echo of laughter.

 


 

The second time he sees the siren, he knows he’s making a mistake, but he also knows he won’t turn back.

He hasn’t had many friends since Shiro found him during a northern expedition. Alone, half wild, half starved, distrusting of everyone. Shiro found him. Shiro saved him. And, he likes to think, he saved Shiro.

Shiro brought him back to the capitol, gave him a place to stay, a home, a family. He watched Shiro go through knight training, and he aspired to do the same. To follow after him. To watch each other’s backs, now and forever. He didn’t make friends easily, so he was grateful to the ones he had.

Hunk had never once shied away from him. Had never bristled at his prickly attitude or sharp rebuffs. He had never treated Keith with anything but kindness and understanding, serving him stolen meals from the kitchen with mischievous smiles. What had started as a quick trip to the kitchen for a stolen bite of bread and a moment away from the other squires blossomed into a new and budding friendship.

And the sight of Hunk’s eyes, wide and glassy with panic, voice muffled behind the silken and embroidered gag, clothes white and clean, body decorated with cheap metals and jewels, wrists bound in front of him as he was dragged through the streets of the capital, haunted Keith every time he closed his eyes.

He had been on an errand to town with Shiro when he saw the processional. He and Shiro had been on escort duty several times, but they were on their fifth month without the assignment. For which, Keith had been glad. Every time they made their way into the siren’s lair, he heard the haunting music. And every time, he turned around, catching a glimpse of a shadowed form and glowing blue eyes.

But because they weren’t on escort duty, they didn’t get word of who the chosen one would be until it was too late.

They tried. Shiro rushed to the castle to attempt to rectify the mistake, Keith on his heels. They wouldn’t listen. The never listened. The process had already begun, and they refused to take the time to pick and prep another. The chosen had to be in place before the moon was high.

Keith didn’t pay much attention to the chosen ones and the process of the choosing. It was a gruesome ritual that happened far too often. A piece of their daily lives that was shrouded in shadow. A part they all acknowledge but few chose to think about. It was a necessity. It kept them safe.

That’s what the royalty said.

Keith didn’t pay much attention, but the times that he had, the chosen were men and women who deserved it. A man who murdered his neighbor. A woman who poisoned her husband. A leader of a rebellion. A traitor. Treason. Arson. Murder. Theft. Crimes that were punishable. A harsh punishment, but a punishment nonetheless. Weed out the guilty from society by feeding them to the enemy. The beast beneath the mountain.

But Hunk was innocent.

A noble had been poisoned at a royal dinner party. Just another movement in the game of nobility. Another move, political or personal. Another calculation. Another crime. But whoever had done it had covered their tracks well. The kitchen staff had been blamed. Hunk had been blamed.

He had been in captivity while the murder was being investigated. It had been recent. Not nearly long enough to gather appropriate evidence of guilt. Yet he had been chosen. No doubt by a noble looking to execute the one who had taken the weight of the blame. Cover their tracks. Be rid of the loose ends.

Hunk was innocent, and he was chosen to die.

Except Keith has no intention of letting that happen.

Shiro had attempted to go through the proper chains of command. Keith had opted to go straight to the heart of the problem. While Shiro was still in the castle, no doubt trapped and held by those who thought he might do exactly what Keith has planned, he makes his move. He waits in the shadows, watching from a distance as the escort party leaves, making their way leisurely down the road.

He sets fire to the hay stuffed dummies on the training field and slinks away. He waits, holding his position near the entrance. Waits, and waits, as the fire builds, and builds. And then the commotion starts. The shouting. The rushing toward the growing fire. The guards by the entrance to the tunnel system abandon their posts, drawn to the chaos.

Keith makes a run for it, slipping through the gate before closing it behind him, hurrying into the darkness and out of sight.

He knows the way through the tunnel. He knows the turns to make and the path to tread. He’s poorly equipped. Nothing but the clothes on his back, his mother’s knife strapped to his back, and a torch in one hand to light his way. He has no other weapons, nor does he have armor. He hadn’t even grabbed the scarves they use to block out sound.

He always hears the siren’s song anyway. Besides, he can’t waste time. Every second that ticks by is a second that Hunk is alone with the siren.

His steps turn to a sprint as he barrels through the tunnels, until it opens up into the familiar cavern and Keith freezes, chest heaving and his own breath loud in his ears.

The cavern is empty. He can see it from the top of the winding path. His breath freezes in his lungs, a chill seeping down his spine. As soon as his eyes rest on the shadow of the wooden stake, void of any bound prisoner, Keith’s feet are moving, carrying him swiftly down the path, feet slowly only once the gravel crunches beneath his boots.

He approaches it slowly, holding his torch high. No sign of Hunk. No sign of a body. No bones. Just fallen rope around the stake. He steps across the beach, closer to the pole. Closer to the lake. The waters are jet black in the darkness and eerily calm, just as they always are. The occasional ripple catches his attention, but they’re gentle and slight. He can hear the occasional drip of water echo throughout the cavern.

He’s never been on this beach alone. Never heard his footsteps alone. They always blended into the hurried chorus of his fellow knights. But here and now, each step sounds far too loud in the silence.

He stops when he reaches the pole, holding his torch high, eyes sweeping across the lake. But he sees nothing. No hunk. No siren.

He falls into a crouch, poised on the balls of his feet, gaze casting down to the beach. He runs his fingers along the pebbles, barely touching, caressing the smooth surfaces gently. His eyesight is good in the dark. It’s better in the torchlight. He sees no sign of a struggle. Not one drop of blood. He touches the fallen ropes hesitantly, torn and fraying, picking it up in his hand.

Then the singing begins.

His blood runs cold, even as his pulse runs hot.

Beautiful. Haunting. Notes long and drawn. Highs and lows. Wordless, or at least in a language he doesn’t understand. Soft, but rising. Pausing long enough to take a breath, letting the last note hang in the air and echo throughout the domed ceiling before it’s picked up again.

It’s awe inspiring, just as it is chilling.

A shudder runs down his spine as he slowly stands, turning his head to face the lake. But he sees nothing. No extra ripples. No body rising from the depths like a shadow made of water itself.

The song rises, swelling, growing. It fills the cavern, bouncing off the rock, making it impossible to find a source. It fills him. Shakes him down to his bones. Makes his core run hot even as his limbs feel numb.

It’s beautiful. It’s captivating. But it doesn’t steal his will away like it’s supposed to. Like he’s heard in stories. He remains in his right mind, even as he feels drawn to it. His body remains his own, even as he wants to hear more.

Slowly, eyes darting around the cavern, he reaches behind him, pulling out his knife with his free hand, holding it so the blade lies parallel to his wrist. And then he takes a step forward. Then two. Slow and measured. He stops when his boots are at the water’s edge, soft ripples lapping at the pebbles beneath his feet. He sees well enough in the dark to know he doesn’t see anything.

His lips purse, a frown catching the edges of his lips. Brows pinched, chin lifted in challenge, he raises his voice. “Show yourself.”

His voice clashes heavily with the song. Far too rough and deep. Far too flat and blunt. A jagged rock thrown into a pool of polished gems. But his voice doesn’t crack, and for that, he’s grateful.

The music stops, notes echoing out of existence until an oppressive silence rushed in to fill the space. Pressing in on him with the towering rock walls. Ringing in his ears with the nothingness. He can only hear his own breath. The siren is there, and it feels like he’s waiting.

So Keith clears his throat, stands a little taller, and tries again. “Come where I can see you.”

“Impatient, aren’t you?”

Keith whirls around, nearly losing his footing on the gravel beneath his feet. He holds up the torch, falling into a slight crouch with his knife at the ready. He’s never heard the siren speak before, but the voice is strangely calm. Lifting at the edges. Light and amused. Soft and unhurried, yet sounding crystal clear in the silence of the cavern.

His eyes rake across where the beach ends and rocks jut out from the cavern walls, spilling out over and into the lake, creating plenty of nooks and crannies for shadows to hide.

Then movement catches his eye. A shadow that doesn’t belong. Two eyes that aren’t quite as bright, but still eerily backlight and brilliantly blue. He moves like ink, sliding through the shadows and along the rocks, crawling over them with a fluidity and grace of running water.

Keith’s breath comes shallow, heart hammering in his chest, as the siren steps down onto the beach. One foot at a time. Weight settling onto the pebbles and shadow detaching from the rocks. He stands just outside of the torchlight, but Keith can see the outline of his form. Tall. Body long and lean. Shoulders broad and hips narrow.

“You’re not affected by my song,” The siren says, slow and thoughtful. He tilts his head to the side, curiosity edging into the liquid cadence of his voice. “Not in the way you should be.”

He takes several steps forward, feet barely making a sound against the gravel. Each step is unhurried. Measured. Flowing seamlessly into the next, even as the chain attached to his ankle drags across the pebbles. The weight and sway of his body constant and graceful as a snake. Keith is transfixed. Lungs tight as his chest burns. His eyes never leave the siren’s, unable to look away as they peel out of the shadows.

Then he steps into the circle of light, and it snaps Keith back to himself. “Stay back!” He snaps, jaw clenched as he shifts back a step, boots sliding on the pebbles.

The siren hesitates, a strange stillness and jagged movement from what he’s seen so far. Those blue eyes blink, long and slow, and then a smile spreads his lips. He continues forward, stepping into the light.

The torch casts his body in hues of fire. Dancing golden and heated across bronzed skin. Short, chestnut hair, wavy and wild at the edges. A circlet of gold and a gem of blue resting on his forehead.

He looks... shockingly human.

He’s dressed in blues and whites, clothes cinched at the waist, looped over one shoulder, flowing and billowing past his waist and behind him. Not looking the least bit damp. His legs are covered in tight black leggings, swirling patterns of blue along the sides. Long legs. Shapely legs. Giving way to bare feet covered in shimmering blue scales. A shackle and chain attached to his ankle.

The scales rise up his midsection, along his hips and his sides, shimmering beneath the translucent fabric. Down his arms, clustered around his shoulders and elbows. he wears bracers on his forearms, a slit in the side revealing blue fins that look hard and sharp and deadly. There’s light webbing between fingers that end in nails, black and sharp, scales dusting the back of his hand. The scales crawl up his neck, curving around slits that are currently closed. They rise to dust across his jaw to his temple, ears that are long and pointed, decorated with earrings of gold and silver, bobbled gems hanging from the lobs.

Beneath his brilliant blue eyes, scales decorate his cheeks and the bridge of his nose.

He’s beautiful. Ethereal. And the sight of him makes Keith’s blood race with equal parts heat and chilling fear.

He comes closer still, eyes locked onto Keith’s, stealing his breath away. Keith finds himself holding his ground, knife held at the ready but unable to use it. He’s heard the stories. Grown up on them like everyone else. Sirens sap your will. Put you in a trance. He’s heard the tales. A mind gone hazy and a body you can’t control. You go eerily calm, unable to sense the predator right in front of you. The siren’s song, its presence, is supposed to be like a drug. It’s supposed to put you somewhere between alive and dead, a medium in which you’re blissfully unaware of the dangers of your last moments.

But Keith doesn’t feel drugged.

He feels alive.

His heart is racing. Blood pulsing in his ears. There’s a buzz on his skin. Electricity in his fingertips. He wants to reach out and touch. He wants to listen. He wants to take.

It’s an urge from deep within. Something hot as coals and burning, blinding, and powerful. It hits him hard, racing through him like a wildfire. It takes him by surprise, so wholly and completely, that he freezes, unable to move. Fear for himself. Fear for the siren. Fear of whatever he’s found lurking within himself, brought to the surface and forced into the moonlight by the siren’s presence.

Then the siren stops, ignoring the knife he holds mere inches from his chest. He reaches out, soft and lingering knuckles brushing across the skin of his cheek. “You’re a pretty one.” He say softly, gently, a whisper in the wind as it brushes across his face. Breathless in a way that’s calculating, perfected, like an arrow through the leg, meant to hamper and disarm.

Keith jerks back instinctively, feet scrambling for purchase as he stumbles back several steps. “I said stay back!” He growls, clenching his jaw, knuckles tight as he holds his knife in front of him once again. More purposeful this time.

The siren caught him off guard. He won’t again. Whatever is growing inside him, whatever strange sway this siren holds, Keith isn’t as affected as he should be. He’ll take advantage of that.

“Feisty.” The siren’s lip quirks at the edges, tugging upward into a lopsided grin with teeth that are far too sharp. “I like when they bite back.”

A shiver runs down Keith’s spine, fingers flexing as he ignores it. “Where is he?”

An eyebrow quirks, delicate and strangely expressive. “You are very demanding for someone trespassing in my lair.” Keith never imagined a voice like silk could sound so dry.

“You mean your prison.”

The siren lifts his hands, shoulders rising and falling. “Sometimes you have to make your home where you are.”

It’s casual. Almost flippant. Conversational? Strange, definitely. Keith shakes his head once, frown deepening. “Where is he?”

The siren’s hands fall, crossing over his chest, weight leaning to one hip as he cocks his head to the side. He looks thoroughly unimpressed. “Who?”

“The...” Keith trails off, voice cracking as a lump in his throat threatens to choke him. He swallows past it, tongue feeling thick and mouth feeling dry as he forces out the words. “The sacrifice.” He rolls his shoulders, trying to physically shrug off the unpleasantness that runs down his spine at the thought of Hunk, bound and gagged. “The one they just brought down here.”

Something dark passes over the Siren’s eyes. The smile that seems to be a constant ghost on his lips fades, pressing into a frown. The lines around his eyes become hard, and his voice is firm and clipped. “Gone.”

Keith feels his breath hitch. “You... you killed him?” He hates saying the words. He feels like he can’t breathe. “Already?”

Another casual shrug. “Perhaps.”

A new fire builds in him, anger and rage, burning and fizzling out the numbness in his fingertips and toes. He takes a step forward, knife shifting and eyes unwavering as he meets the Siren’s gaze. “Did you kill him? Yes or no?”

He needs confirmation. He needs to know. He dreads a yes. He hopes for a no. He prepares himself for both, teetering on the edge of uncertainty, chips in the air, weightless before they fall.

Keith bristles as the air around him changes, chilling and shifting. There’s no wind this far into the mountain, but he can feel the hair around his face shift. Can see the siren’s clothes billow, his own hair waving at the edges. The hair on Keith’s arms stand on end, spine straightening as a pressure of power emanates from the man in front of him.

“Why?” He asks, voice clipped, harsh and short. It’s still beautiful and alluring, but in a way that’s far more dangerous. Beautiful in the same way a freshly sharpened blade is, dancing and clashing through a battlefield. Alluring in the same way a fire is, even as it destroys and consumes. Deadly in the way a storm is at sea. “Did you come here in a vain attempt to play with me while I’m full? Do you think that will make me weak? Sluggish? You think just because you are not a designated sacrifice that I cannot rend you limb from limb?”

He steps forward, and Keith instinctively takes a step back. The siren’s hands fall to his sides, fingers curling and claws catching the torchlight. His eyes dance with fire, blue and beautiful.

“I promise you,” He says, voice low and chilling, causing a shiver to race down Keith’s spine. His lips curl into a sardonic smile, toothy and gleaming. “You won’t find me to be easy prey.”

He steps forward again, and Keith stumbles back, scrambling to gain ground. He doesn’t know what’s changed his attitude, but he doesn’t know which he prefers: the beast being open about the danger, or the beauty hiding his teeth.

“What—“ His foot catches, and he falls. As he hits the ground, his torch rolls out of his hand, still burning but too far out of his reach to be of use. Knife still clutched in shaking fingers, he scrambles backwards, feet kicking up pebbles and hands trying to gain him purchase as he moves away from the advancing siren. “What are you talking about?”

The siren stops, head tossed back as he laughs. It’s beautiful. It’s sickening. “You pretend not to know? I’ve seen you, knight. You are not the first of your brethren to think they can take advantage of a chained siren, and you will not be the last.”

A step. A rattle of his chain against the gravel.

“I didn’t come here for you!”

The siren stops, frozen mid step, regarding him with wary eyes, narrowing into slits. “No?”

“No.” Keith says firmly, pursing his lips and lifting his chin. Meeting the siren’s glare. Refusing to back down. The siren watches him, eyes boring into his own, as if peeling back the layers of his flesh to see his core, picking him apart from the inside out to read him, to know him.

He doesn’t know why he does it. Perhaps it’s Hunk’s panicked eyes haunting him. Perhaps it’s the strange fire inside him that the siren has awoken. Perhaps it’s simply because he finds it hard to turn down a challenge. Perhaps it’s because he wants to prove he isn’t like the knights he trains with.

He throws out his hand and tosses his knife aside, far out of his reach, never once looking away from the siren as he repeats. “No.”

The siren holds his gaze for a moment longer before his eyes flicker to the fallen knife, eyebrows raising slowly as he looks back. Then he crouches, falling quickly and gracefully to balance on the balls of his feet, forearms resting on his knees. He’s close, hovering over Keith’s feet, putting himself on eye level.

He stares at Keith with a newfound interest. Eyes wide, the hard lines wiped away. His brows remain raised, lips pursed lightly and outward, head tilted just a fraction to the side. He looks far too innocent, far too curious, and far too, dammit all, cute to be what he is.

The way he can go from seduction, to fury, to innocent curiosity is far too disarming. Keith feels like he’s reeling.

“Then why?” He says finally. A demanding question, but without the heat of anger. His eyes narrow, suspicion bordering on wariness.

Keith refuses to back down. He’s here for Hunk. He’ll face this creature for Hunk. And so he answers honestly, because he doesn’t see the point in lying. “I came to save Hunk.”

His eyes widen slowly, eyebrows shooting upward. “The sacrifice?”

Keith blinks, brows pinching. “You know his name?”

A one shouldered shrug. “He told me. Why are you here to save him?”

It’s curious. Suspicious. Wary. Cautious. But not at all angry. Not what Keith has been expecting when he found out Keith came to steal his meal.

“He’s...” Family. A friend. One of the only people in the world who has ever been genuinely kind to him. Far, far too good for this cruel place and this cruel fate. “Innocent.”

The siren regards him silently, lips pursed, eyes flickering between Keith’s. Keith holds his breath and waits. Finally, the siren nods. Once. Sharp. “He is.” He turns his head slightly, as if turning to look at the lake, but his eyes remain on Keith. “And... I’m beginning to believe you are, too. How strange...”

That thoughtfulness is back. The siren is silent once more, and Keith doesn’t trust the silence. He can’t read this man. This creature. He doesn’t know what to expect now, what will happen. He knew this was a mistake, and yet he came anyway. Because he couldn’t stand by and let Hunk die without at least trying.

“What’re you going to do with me?” He asks, and is surprised by the steadiness of his voice.

Then the siren sighs, shoulder sagging as he turns to look out over the still, inky waters of the lake. “What indeed...” Then he turns back, eyes locking onto Keith’s with new fire, new determination. But there’s no rage, and no false promises. No attempts at seduction or playfulness.

He’s serious, hardened, and when he reaches out to touch Keith’s cheek and jaw, cold fingertips dancing across his skin, nails sharp but not cutting, Keith doesn’t pull away.

“What do you want?” He asks, and his voice is grave and solemn enough that Keith bites back the initial question to actually think.

He holds the siren’s questioning gaze, brows pinching as his lips press together. He sighs a long exhale through his nose, letting the truth slip out. What does he want most in this moment?

“For Hunk to be safe.”

Keith thinks he sees a flicker of satisfaction in his eyes, but then the siren presses onward. “And if you could give yourself to me to set him free, would you?”

“Yes,” He says without hesitation. He would give his live for Hunk’s. For Shiro’s. They’re both worth more than he is. They both are worth so much.

The siren huffs, demeanor melting away as his posture slumps, brows furrowing and lips pursing. Keith just blinks, staring wide eyed and slack jawed as the siren pouts. “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have let him go so soon. Your company is one I think I wouldn’t mind.”

Keith feels his heart stutter in his chest, lungs clenching. “He’s alive?” Voice barely above a whisper, hoarse and cracked.

The smile the siren offers him is small, a ghost across his lips. “I don’t eat the innocent.”

A breath passes between them, the siren’s fingertips still pressed against his face, knuckles moving to trace his cheekbone, down over his jaw, his neck. A light caress that his goosebumps rising his flesh and his stomach rolling pleasantly.

And then voices break the silence.

They both snap to attention, heads whirling around to face the mouth of the tunnel up the cavern wall. Voices. Loud and brash. Echoing out through the darkness. Not quite to the cavern, but getting close. They laugh, rough and grating.

Keith stares, frown forming. “Who would come down here?”

“I told you,” The siren says, pushing himself to his feet, standing with the fluidity and grace that reminds Keith that he’s a predator. His eyes, for once, aren’t fixed on Keith. Instead, they stare at the mouth of the tunnel, face hard once more, voice clipped and cold, low and dangerous. “There are knights who use their position to seek to take advantage of a chained siren.” He flashes Keith a toothy grin, one that has his hair standing on end and his stomach rolling with heat. “They will find I’m not easy prey. Now go.” He throws out his hand, gesturing to a shadowed crack along the wall, unnoticed until attention is drawn to it. “Follow that tunnel. It will lead you outside.”

Keith blinks, brow pinching. “You’re... letting me go?”

Lance looks at him then, blinking, and for a moment, the hardened edge slips away when he smiles. He moves to pick up the torch and Keith’s fallen knife, crouching beside him to hand them to him. Keith takes them numbly. “I told you, I don’t eat the innocent.” His hand snatches Keith’s wrist as he moves to pull away, and when he captures Keith’s gaze, he leans in, breath hot as it caresses his cheeks. “In exchange for your life and letting you go, will you promise to visit me again?”

He asks it lowly, quickly, like a whisper and a secret. It comes out of him in a rush of an exhale, eyes wide and searching, like he’s asking a thing he shouldn’t. Like he’s afraid he’ll regret it if he doesn’t ask right away.

Keith nods before he realizes he’s doing it, and he’s rewarded when the siren smiles.

Despite the teeth, he has a beautiful smile.

“Good. Now go.”

He pulls Keith to his feet and pushes him toward the crack in the wall. It leads to a hidden tunnel, and Keith charges down it, glancing back in time to see the siren standing at the lake’s edge, staring up at the mouth of the tunnel. He can heard the voices of knights, confident and vulgar.

And as he rushes through the cramped and jagged tunnel, smelling fresh air and chasing the sound of running water, he hears their screams echo deep within the mountain behind him.

 


 

The third time Keith sees the siren, he’s chosen to die.

The ropes at this wrist chaff, cutting off his circulation until his fingertips prickle and sting, rubbing off the skin of his wrist until they’re raw and bleeding. Still he fights his binds. He struggles, and pulls and yanks until the knights on either side of him grab his elbows roughly, tugging them sharply to the side until his arms have no more leverage.

And still he fights.

He digs his feet into the cobblestone, looking for enough traction to push and shove those holding him. They barely budge. They’re bigger than him. Stronger. They chose his escort wisely. Why wouldn’t they? They know him. They know him too well. They trained him. They practically raised him. And now they chose him to die.

His hair has been washed, the roots still aching from being tugged too hard while they braided it down his back, from where he had struggled even then. His skin felt pink and raw from the coarse bristled brush, nose still burning from the sharp and pungent smell of lavender and potpourri. There are bobbles and jewels in his hair, circlets around his arms and neck, sparkling like the blade of a knife. The clothes on him are loose and flowing, making the chill of the night raise goosebumps on his heated skin. The pristine white of the fabric is already stained with sweat and dirt and blood.

By the time they reach the gates to the tunnel, he’s fallen several times in his attempts to escape, being yanked roughly to his feet. His muscles are sore. He has bruises forming from being struck for his struggling. His bare feet are scraped and raw and bleeding. His knee aches and stings, and he can feel a small trickle of blood making its way down his leg. His mouth tastes metallic from where he’s bitten his tongue and from where his lip is split from where they hit him when he nearly escaped during his preparation.

And still he fights.

The gates open, and the guards at their watch post give him somber looks. Pitying looks. Looks with shadows in their eyes as they look away and pretend they don’t know him.

And still he fights.

The knights shove him along, through the tunnels and passageways that he knows by heart. Deeper, deeper, and deeper into the mountain. Until the air grows cold and the only sound are their foot steps, the knight’s shifting armor, his heartbeat in his ears, and the rasp of his own breath.

And still he fights.

The gag covering his mouth is smooth and cool to the touch, but covered in his own spit and blood. He wishes he could bite down into it, if only to keep from biting his own tongue, to have something to grind his teeth against. But it’s too much fabric. It covers his mouth and chin, tied painfully tight behind his head and threatening to cover his nose as well.

He finds his hard to breath, movements and struggles weakening the deeper they go into the mountain.

And still he fights.

He’s innocent. He’s innocent. He’s innocent.

And so he fights.

Until they enter the cavern, and Keith is struck with the weight and reality of his situation. It settles into his bones with a weight and a numbness that make his limbs heavy and his movements sluggish. He stares at the still, dark lake as they make their way down the path, eyes wide as fear starts to settle into his core, chasing away the rage.

They take advantage of his momentary numbness to shove his back to the wooden pole, to pin his arms behind his back and around the pole, tying his wrists to it with the rope, securing him before he has a chance to shake away his haze.

The knights step away, footsteps heavy on the loose pebbles of the beach and armor shifting with the clank and glint of metal and chains.

Then there’s something pressing against the damp skin of his lower back, shirt shifting away as something is tucked into the waist of his ceremonial leggings. His breath hitches in his throat. He knows that feeling. He’s felt it pressed against his back for years and years: the sheath of his dagger.

A hand falls on his shoulder, a firm and comforting squeeze. He can’t see who it is. He doesn’t know if it’s one of the knights or squires in his escort. No words are exchanged between them. Nothing to break the eery stillness of the cavern. But he can hear the others making their way up the path, no doubt refusing to look back, as is their creed.

He doesn’t know who’s helping him, but he feels a knot in his stomach unwinding and his limbs loosening with relief that there is at least someone amongst their ranks who doesn’t agree with this decision.

Then the hand is gone, and the footsteps echo back up the path, drifting down the tunnel until silence fills the cavern. Whole. All consuming. Heavy. Pressing in on him from all sides. Making his ears ring and his own shallow breaths far too loud. The silence is choking. Tension rippling across his skin as he waits.

He doesn’t have to wait long.

The song starts slow, low and soft, rising into the space with a gentle cresting, until Keith isn’t sure when it began and questions whether or not it had always been there. A soft hum rises into long, drawn out notes. The highs are lilting and soaring, and the lows are swooping and rumbling. Wordless, as always, but notes that combine in a song that Keith can nearly decipher, like understanding is just at the tip of his tongue but he’s unable to fully grasp it.

His body freezes as the notes rise, louder and louder, growing and filling the cavern and chasing away the silence. Echoing off the rock ridges, floating up before falling down, pauses just long enough for the notes to finish echoing and fade to silence before they pick back up again.

The hair on the back of his neck stands on end, blood ringing his ears as his heart bruises his ribs. He can feel his body breaking out in a cold sweat, adrenaline making his limbs tense and fingertips numb.

His eyes dart around the cavern. To the rock outcroppings along the sides of the beach and the lake, looking for shadows that move like running water. To the lake, inky black and still as glass. To the small mound like island at the lake’s center, lit by the filtering moonlight from above, small tree and metal pole still and looming.

Seconds feel like hours, ticking by like molasses, dragging across his skin and making his hackles rise.

Then he sees it. Movement. In the lake. Something rising out of the darkness, shadowed and dark. Ripples drift away from it, slow and lazy. The Siren doesn’t break the surface of the water as much as he moulds it. He rises out of the lake like he melds from the surface. Like he’s water taking a new shape. It’s slow and deliberate. The ripples that move away from his body are barely there, barely scraping the surface of the lake. Just an attest to how fluid the motion is.

When his eyes breach the surface, the air rushes from Keith’s lungs, and he finds it hard to draw in more than a shallow breath.

Blue eyes, beautiful and backlit, glowing and sparkling in the darkness of the cavern.

The Siren moves fluidly, gracefully, each movement leading into the next without a moment’s pause or break in slow, dragged on momentum. Even with Keith’s eyesight, the siren is shadowed, darkness clinging to the edges of his form, but he can see some details. He can see the darker spots of his scales, catching and gleaming small glints of blue light. He can see the way the thin fabric of his attire is translucent and clinging to his body. He can see the way his muscles shift and flex beneath his skin as he moves forward toward the beach, legs barely disturbing the water as he does so.

And throughout it all, he never stops singing.

Keith stands frozen, transfixed, body unable to move and muscles coiled tight as a bowstring. Even as his mind reels, muddled and panicked and confused. Even as the adrenaline pumps through his veins, making his breath come short and shallow. Even as his limbs buzz with the need to move, to fight, to struggle, to be free.

The siren’s song wraps around him, calming, beautiful, haunting, terrifying. But the siren’s song isn’t what holds him in place. It doesn’t fill his mind with haze and make his body limb with submission. It never has before, and it doesn’t now.

No. Keith is paralyzed with fear. Fear because he’s staring into the beautiful face of his own death.

Fear because he was chosen to die.

Fear because he’s tied, helpless, and this man’s next meal.

Fear because the siren is beautiful in the same way a beast is. Beautiful in the same way a gleaming blade it, meant to maim and kill despite the way it’s sharpened silver edge and jeweled pummel catch the light. Beautiful in the way a storm is before it tears cities apart.

He’s seen the siren before. He’s spoken to him once. The siren let him go once. But Keith doesn’t hold onto the foolish hope that he’ll do it again. Then, his movements had been seductive, playful, just as dangerous but without a fully malicious edge. Here and now, the siren looks at him with his full attention, eyes trained on Keith’s, movements measured and graceful as a predator stalking its prey.

In the depths of those glowing blue eyes, Keith sees the promise of his own downfall.

A foot steps onto the beach, rocks and pebbles shifting under the siren’s weight, and it snaps Keith out of his trance.

The cold, paralyzing fear turns to rage in his veins. Hot. Bright. Afraid, but determined. He may be chosen to die, but he won’t go down without a fight. He’ll kick and claw and bite and—

The knife. His knife.

His eyes go wide before his brows furrow in concentration, gazed fixed on the siren as his hands fumble behind him. He realizes, belatedly, that his hands are tied behind his back. It’s odd. Every time he’s been down here, the chosen have had their hands tied above their heads. He was tied differently. His knife is within reach where it presses up against his back.

He has a moment of thankfulness at the small gifts his fellow knights have given him, but the moment is short lived.

The siren is still stalking toward him, and he needs to focus.

He wrestles against his binds, raw wrists screaming and heat running down his skin as the ropes cut deep. His fingertips fumble with the hilt of his blade, grasping, reaching, desperate. Then they get ahold of it, pulling it from his sheath. He nearly drops it, and his heart stutters in his chest. But then he’s breathing steadily through his nose, face scrunched up in concentration as he expertly turns the blade around in his hold, getting a firm enough grip and pressing it to the ropes, biting his cheek against the pain of the ropes against his wrists as he works the blade back and forth—

The siren stops in front of him. Eyes crystalline and glowing with moon, blue depths shifting and swirling like a whirlpool.

Back and forth—

This close, Keith can see his face, lax and at ease, lips drifting with the shaping of the notes he sings.

He’s beautiful. He’s terrifying.

Back and forth—

He feels a rope snap, and he sets to work on another. It’s not unraveling fast enough. He starts tugging at the binds as he works, trying to work himself free.

The siren’s song swells, building, cresting, rising to echo high in the cavern and falling to settle on the lake before he picks it back up again. There’s a pressure building in Keith’s chest, making his lungs feel tight and heart leaping into his throat. His skin is alive with electricity, buzzing with energy and a desperate need to put distance between himself and this predator.

Back and forth—

The siren reaches out, and Keith instinctively pulls back. He can’t go far, and the siren’s knuckles brush along his cheek, his jaw, over the silken scarf obscuring half of his face. The touch is light and soft, not unlike what he had done before, but then his song drifts to an end and suddenly claws are digging into his skin as the siren grips his chin hard.

Keith’s breath hitches as the siren leans down, sharp teeth glinting in the dim light.

Back and forth—

The rope snaps, falling loose around his wrists before dropping to the beach. Keith is instinctively jumping away, skirting around and past the pole he had been tied to, lashing out with his knife as he goes.

The siren sees his movement, hazy blue eyes snapping into sharp focus as Keith moves more than he should, leaping back and body bending away from the arc of Keith’s knife. A hiss escapes as his lips draw back, face contorting into surprised anger as he snarls. He drops into an aggressive stance, fingers at his sides, curled and clawed, body poised and ready to strike.

Keith automatically falls into his own defensive stance, knife at the ready, ignoring the way his wrists ache and bleed. Not even bothering to remove the scarf around his face, lest the siren take advantage of that movement to attack. He just stands there, and waits, watches, stares the siren down.

Slowly they move, one step, then another. Slow, calculated movements, both of their bare feet shifting and stepping carefully on the loose pebbles of the beach as they circle each other. Without the siren’s song, the cavern falls back into a heavy, oppressive silence, filled only by the sound of shifting gravel and the harsh rush of Keith’s breath out of his nose, muffled and loud against the silken scarf.

With his knife in hand, free from his binds, poised and ready to fight, Keith feels calmer. He feels it settle into his bones, muscles losing their tension. His adrenaline seeps out of him as he slips comfortably back into what he knows best: fighting for his life. Surviving. Defending himself. He’s not a stranger to it. He’s been trained and honed by experience and time.

So when the siren strikes, Keith is ready.

The siren is fast. Keith is faster. He strikes, and Keith dodges out of the way, swinging and slicing with his knife to get the man to retreat. The siren dances away, slipping out of Keith’s reach like water before swinging back around, coming at him again at another angle, recovering faster than most. Keith, however, is not most.

He’s always been fast. He’s always been quick. He gives himself over to instinct and muscle memory, gained through years of practice and practical application. The other knights joined to put food in their mouths, fighting to keep the population in line. Keith grew up fighting for survival, on his own with nothing but his wits.

He fights for survival, and the siren fights for his meal. It’s clear by the glare in his eyes and the scowl on his face, the frustrated hiss the leaves his lips, that he’s not used to his prey struggling, but it’s clear from his movements that he’s not a stranger to fighting others, defending himself, prepared to rend limb from limb with nothing but his bare claws and sharp teeth.

They fight. Swipe for swipe. Keith’s breath loud and rasping in his ears. His feet feet bruised and cut and sting, but he pays them no mind. Adrenaline hides the pain. The entire time the siren’s chains clack against the pebbled beach, shifting and tearing across the gravel with every frantic and quick movement.

Even as they fight, the siren is beautiful. Terrifying, deadly, and indisputably beautiful. His song is his weapon, and his defense is his dance. Moving in and out of Keith’s range with a grace and fluidity that is deceiving, strength and power and a vicious animalistic hunger driving the movements.

He blocks Keith’s attempts to scrambling further up the beach, out of the siren’s range, forcing Keith back down toward the water, forcing retreated step after retreated step, until his bare feet touch the coolness of water soaked pebbles.

He loses his footing, falls in a clatter of rocks and a splash of water. It soaks into his sparse, light clothes, clinging to his skin and stinging his cuts. The scrambles backwards, unable to get his footing as the siren advances, looming over him with a victorious grin.

It’s ethereal. It’s deadly. It sends a shiver down Keith’s spine.

The siren takes another step forward, feet slipping into the shallow water that rides up the beach, chains scrapping against the pebbles.

Keith’s gaze snaps to it before flicking back up. The siren’s sneer gleans in the moonlight. It’s clear he thinks he’s won. Keith lets him get a step closer. And another. Hold. Wait. Body tense and muscles coiled. Now.

He lashes out, aiming for the chain, hooks his foot into it and pulls, using it to off balance the siren as he uses his hands to shove. The siren goes down, and Keith is on top of him, wrestling him down, using his weight to pin the man beneath him.

Back in the shallow water, clothes clinging to his form, scales glinting like stars against his skin. The siren stares up at him, glowing blue eyes wide, brows raised, and jaw gone slack. Beautiful shapely lips part as he gaps up at Keith, arms pinned to his sides by Keith’s knees. Keith’s knife presses into the skin beneath his chin, tip and edge digging into his throat.

The siren tests his hold, body tensing. Keith pushes down, digging him down into the gravel. The knife digs a little deeper, a little firmer, pressing in just enough to break the skin, causing a small rivet of blood to drip down the column of his neck, looking black in the darkness, dripping into the inky water beneath them.

Keith holds his gaze, lips pursed, brows pinched. The siren stares back up at him, surprise and shock giving way to grim acceptance, which bleeds into a stubborn and prideful challenge.

“Go ahead,” He says, the anger in his voice rippling like the tide before a storm. Defiance gleams bright in his eyes. “Kill me.”

Keith holds for several more seconds, feeling them tick away in his heartbeat.

He considers it. He really does. This is a beast. A hunter. A predator. A prince of a race that fights and feeds off his own. He’s feeling angry, distraught, betrayed, and adrenaline flows through him, feeding his desire to lash out against his pain.

But this siren is innocent. Maybe not as a whole. Maybe not completely. But in this matter, he is. He once let Keith go when he could have killed him. He let Hunk go. He was just trying to survive, just like Keith. He’s not the one who sentenced Keith to die. At least he’s honest about who and what he is. Unlike the knights of the realm and the nobility they serve.

Keith closes his eyes, pressing them tight as he exhales. His entire body deflates with it, shoulder sagging and weight going limp. He tosses his knife aside, hearing it clatter across the beach as he sits up. When he opens his eyes, he finds the siren watching him warily, a mixture of surprise and caution twisting his expression. Keith meets his gaze steadily.

Reaching behind him, movements slow and deliberate to appear nonthreatening, he untiles the scarf from around his head. He pulls the soiled silk away, rubbing his mouth with one hand and flinching when he brushes past his split lip. “I don’t want to kill you.”

Then, slowly, the siren’s expression smooths out. The pinch between his brows unravels, eyes softening as they then crinkle at the edges. The corners of his lips tug up into a small, lopsided smirk. “What a coincidence. I don’t want to die.”

The snort of amusement huffs out in a sharp exhale before Keith can stop it. It only makes the siren’s smirk widen.

Before he can move away, the siren’s hand shoots up, and Keith bristles, freezing in place. He stares at the siren, wide eyed and wary, heart hammering painfully in his chest. But the hand only touches his face gently. Much like he had before, but without the underlying danger. Just a light touch. A brush of his knuckles along Keith’s jaw, fingertips dancing along his cheekbone.

He watches in amazement as the siren’s expression goes from wide eyed awe, to surprise, and then melts into something almost warm. Almost fond. Just a hair excited.

“It’s you,” The siren says, soothing voice breathless. Keith blinks, feeling his own breath leave his lungs, struggling to get it back as the siren touches him, traces his face and neck and collarbones with almost a shy reverence.

The siren tilts his head, smirk less confident, less cocky, less self assured, and taking on the look of something kinder, softer, warmer. It makes heat rush to Keith’s face.

“You know,” The siren says, voice lilting and playful. “When I asked you to come visit me again, I didn’t expect it to be like this.”

At that, Keith scowls, shoving the siren’s hand away. “I didn’t exactly ask to be a sacrifice.” The look on the siren’s face is far too kind and open, so far from the animal he had been moments before. Keith rolls off of him, putting space between them as he settles onto the beach.

“No,” The siren says, pushing himself to sit up slowly, voice thoughtful. “I suppose you wouldn’t.”

The water shifts between the pebbles beneath him, but this clothes are already soaked. His feet disappear beneath the water’s surface where they rest in front of him, cool and soothing on his aches and cuts. Knees pulled up, he leans forward, resting his elbows atop them. He holds the scarf between his hands, silk stained with blood and sweat, but cleaner than anything else he wears. The material is expensive, embroidery elaborate and in the colors of their kingdom.

The sight of it makes his stomach roll, betrayal hot and bitter in his gut, rising to the back of his tongue. Dressing a corpse up like a doll doesn’t stop it from being a corpse.

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the siren move, adjusting to his sitting position a couple feet away. A grim acceptance settles into Keith’s bones, a weariness making his body heavy but his mind light. At this point, if the siren wanted to kill him, he wasn’t sure he would stop him. He was a dead man either way.

Silence starts to settle back into the cavern, the water beginning to still as neither of them move, looking like glass overtop Keith’s feet.

“Why are you here?” The siren finally asks, not so much breaking the silence as sliding through it, parting it gently, voice melodic and alluring even without a melody.

“I was chosen.” Keith says simply, bitterness souring his tone.

“A knight chosen by his own?” There’s surprise there, as well as a dry amusement, before his voice settles into something softer, still curious, but with a sort of grim understanding and companionship that Keith isn’t expecting but appreciates nonetheless. “What did you do?”

“I asked too many questions,” He says, surprising himself. But then again, there’s no point in staying silent. The siren isn’t eating him, so he might as well indulge him. His quelled rage starts to flare up again, simmering beneath the surface of his skin. “I made too many accusations. I called attention to things they wanted to keep hidden.”

“So they sent you to me to silence you.” It’s not a question. Merely a statement of fact. It’s lilting at the edge with amusement, even as his tone is dry enough to crackle in the wind.

Keith doesn’t answer. He clenches his teeth, fingers fisting tight in the silk scarf.

Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the siren lean back, on his hands, head tilting back. One leg long leg stretches out before him, disappearing into the water of the lake, barely disturbing the surface. The other is bent, rising out of the water as if apart of it. “Little did they know I’ve actually taken a liking to you.”

Keith looks at him then, head whipping around to stare. But the siren continues to look out across the cavern, a light smile settled on his lips, eyes and cheeks gone soft. He looks relaxed, at ease, and a natural part of the underground lake. Like this, with his chain hidden beneath the water, and his rage set aside, Keith can almost believe this is his home and not his prison.

“You’re not going to kill me.” It’s not a question. Merely a statement of fact. Jagged at the edge with incredulous surprise, even as his tone is thin and breathless with hope.

The siren turns then, head lolling back to his shoulder to slide his eyes toward Keith. They glow faintly in the shadows. The scales adorning his body catch the moonlight like stars against his bronze skin. The sheer fabric he wears is translucent and clinging to his torso.

He smiles, eyes crinkling at the edges, and he’s beautiful enough that Keith’s breath hitches. “I told you before. I don’t kill the innocent.”

“You were about to.”

The siren’s brows furrow, lips pursing forward until that strange pout returns to his face. It’s strange to see such an expression on the face of a creature like a siren. It’s even stranger that Keith finds it endearing. “You attacked me before I could question you!”

Keith shrugs, turning away to gaze out across the cavern. The tree and metal stake on the small island at the lake’s center are draped in moonlight from above, unmoving and eerily still as dust particles float lazily through the air.

“I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.”

“You wouldn’t have needed to fight at all, if you had just waited and answered my questions.”

“Do most people just sit there and politely answer your questions before they die?” Keith asks dryly, voice dripping with sarcasm as he rolls his head to the side, giving the siren a flat look.

The siren, however, is grinning. “Yes, actually, they do. You’re the only one I’ve ever met who can resist my song.”

Keith’s brow furrows, lips pursing before he lets out a small, “Oh.”

The siren’s head tilts to the side. He doesn’t look perturbed by this fact, or even affronted. He’s merely curious, intrigued, pinning Keith with eyes that want to pick him apart and put him back together, a childish wonder that looks far too innocent on the face of a man who has killed far too many.

“The fact that you can resist me at all is strange.” He says, voice thoughtful and eyes glowing brighter as his gaze roams Keith’s face. “There’s a fire in your blood, knight. An ember in your heart, waiting to be ignited.”

Keith looks away, jaw clenched, breathing heavily through his nose. He feels exposed, like his chest is cracked open and the siren can see far too much. He’s always know he’s different. He’s known for years.

He’s faster than the others. Stronger. Quicker reflexes. A fierce drive. Single minded fury. Able to ignore pain while others crumble. He can hear better. He can see clearer in the dark. He can see further and sharper. He’s leapt from cliffs without a second thought, landing with barely a scratch. He picked a cauldron off a fire once with his bare hands, only to have Shiro snatch his wrists up, surprise written across his face when he saw Keith’s palms were unblemished.

He’s always know he’s different, but he’s never thought too deeply about it. Always pushed it aside. Accepted he’s strange and left it at that. Hearing the siren call attention to it, to confirm it and see past what Keith’s been trying to hide, makes something in him stir. Awakens and fear and a curiosity and an exhilaration.

He doesn’t know what to make of it, so instead he says, “I’m not a knight.”

There’s a moment of silence. A brief, surprised pause. “You’re not?”

One sharp shake of his head. “I never finished training.”

“What should I call you, then?”

“Keith,” His voice feels thin, tongue thick and mouth suddenly dry. He clears his throat, sitting up a little straighter, eyes turned back toward the small island in the lake. “You can call me Keith.”

There’s movement out of the corner of his eye, but he barely hears the water move or pebbles shift before the siren is suddenly there, beside him, moving with quick grace and fluid as the water itself.

Keith jumps as a hand reaches out, suddenly in his vision as it snatches the scarf out of his hands. He stares, wide eyed, at the place where it had been, lips parting. “Wha—“

Then long, slender fingers are wrapping around one of his arms, firm but strangely gentle as he’s suddenly tugged forward, hand and wrist submerged in the water. He flinches, hissing between clenched teeth as the open wounds on his wrists sting. He tugs his arm, but the hand holds him steady.

“Lance.”

Keith jerks his head up, gaping at the siren beside him. He sits in the shallow water beside him, legs crossed and turned to face Keith. His eyes are on the spot where his hand is submerged, brows pinched lightly in concentration and lips pursed slightly.

“What?”

“You can call me Lance.” He moves Keith’s arm gently, back and forth, forcing his hand to move in the water. It’s cold. Nearly frigid. Keith had barely noticed before, his own body temperature usually running far warmer than most. But he notices as the sting lessens and the water numbs the wounds on his wrist. The siren glances up then, peering sidelong at Keith from the corner of his eye, a small smirk tilting his lips. “That’s my name.”

“Oh,” Is all Keith can think to say, mind going numb at the knowledge. He never thought to ask the siren for a name. Never considered him anything but the siren prince. He purses his lips, feeling heat rise to his cheeks.

But the siren— Lance— isn’t looking at him anymore, turned back to the task at hand. He pulls Keith’s hand out of the water, holding it up so he can inspect his wrist. Keith winces. It looks bad. Bruised and cut and raw. Blood seeping through places where the ropes had torn away his flesh. But then Lance nods, letting him go. “Do the same with the other one.”

“What?”

Lance gives him a flat look before nodding to Keith’s other arm. “Wash out the wound. Now.”

Commanding. Confident. Sure. Keith doesn’t know what else to do, so he sinks his wrist into the water, wincing as the cold water rushes into the wound, but relaxing after a moment.

He watches as Lance dunks the scarf into the water, washing out the dried blood and sweat. When he pulls it out, he holds it in front of him, and Keith watches in awe as his eyes begin to glow brighter, irises swirling. He runs a hand along the scarf, and as he does so, the water is pulled from the fabric, dripping down into the lake.

When he’s done, the scarf is dry, his eyes settle back into their usual subtle glow, and he smiles.

Keith feels his heart thump in his chest.

Then Lance puts the scarf to his mouth, sinking his teeth into it, and pulling, tearing it cleanly through the middle. He drapes one half over his shoulder, holding the other in one hand as he holds out the other, palm up. “Give me your wrist.”

He does. Moves automatically to put one of his arms into the siren’s grip. He watches in numb amazement as Lance begins to bandage his wrist, gentle with the wound but firm enough to be effective.

“Did they do this to you?” He asks, voice low and soft as he works.

A wry smile touches Keith’s lips. “I mostly did it to myself.”

Lance glances at him out of the corner of his eye, a ghost of a smile to compliment the amusement in his gaze. “You struggled the whole way here, didn’t you?”

Keith lets a smirk curve his lips, eyes fixed on the bandage being tied around his wrist.

Lance snorts, a small indignant huff. “Stupid. You hurt yourself for no reason.”

“Like I said, I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.”

Lance lets go of his arm, holding his hand out for the other one. Keith gives it to him automatically, and Lance takes the second half of the scarf to do the same. “And look what you have to show for it. Two wrists torn to hell and two feet, torn and bloody. Heavily bruised and scraped knees...” His gaze travels up Keith’s body, eyeing the tears in Keith’s clothes suspiciously, and Keith wonders if he can see the bruises in his sides through the sheer fabric. Then his gaze sweeps higher, lingering on his mouth. One hand leaves his wrist, cupping Keith’s cheek far more gently than he anticipates, like a ghost of a touch as his thumb brushes the corner of Keith’s mouth. “And a split lip.”

Heat rushes through his body. Not the fire of rage, but something deeper. Something warmer. It curls in his gut. Tingles at his fingertips. Rises up the back of his neck and stains his cheeks.

He feels his lips quirk into a wry smirk beneath Lance’s touch. “And yet I still managed to best you.”

He doesn’t know why he’s doing. Why he’s risking teasing the siren, poking at him, mocking him. But in this moment, Lance doesn’t feel all that dangerous. Powerful, yes. A mysterious danger that lurks beneath poise and smile and clings to him like a second skin. But it’s not a danger that puts Keith on edge. It’s not one he fears. It’s a passive thing. One that’s just apart of who he is, and not something that’s actively directed at him.

Keith feels... safe.

And that’s a strange thing to feel in the midst of a siren’s lair.

Lance huffs, brows furrowing as his back straightens. His movements get more rough, tying the bandage a little tighter than necessary. Beautiful lips pursed into a frown. “You only bested me because you surprised me.”

“You were easy to surprise.”

“I’m not used to people being immune to my song!”

“You’ve known your song doesn’t effect me.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t recognize you with—“ He gestures frantically to his face, indicating a line across his mouth. “Your face was half hidden! And your—“ With frustrated, jagged movements, his hand flails to gesture to Keith’s hair, pulled back from his face with a thick braid that runs down to his neck, stay strands loose and slipping out, wet and plastered to his temples. “And all this—“ He gestures to Keith’s clothes, the bracelets pushed up his forearms and away from his wrists, the necklaces glittering around his throat. His face settles into a pout, shoulders slumping as he hunches over Keith’s wrist, tying off the bandage. “I didn’t recognize you.”

It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. Keith is sitting on the beach of an underground lake, in the siren prince’s lair, being bandaged by a siren prince who’s pouting and frustrated over the fact that Keith had bested him in a fight. Bickering with him in a way that feels so natural, so comfortable, and not at all like a dangerous thing to do.

It’s ridiculous.

It’s absurd.

Keith throws his head back and laughs. Deep and bubbling. Relief and a strange giddiness flowing through him as his adrenaline and fear and rage fade. When he gets ahold of himself, laugh choking off into chuckles that are far easier to control, Lance is watching him, eyes wide and soft, smile small and barely there.

“Whatever you say, your highness.” Keith says, smirk on his lips. Playful. Teasing. It’s natural. Comfortably so. It should be frightening, but it’s not.

Lance snorts, rolling his eyes as he lets go of Keith’s arm. He reaches down, taking ahold of Keith’s ankle, and yanks it upward out of the water. Keith flails, balance tipped as he falls backwards, catching himself on his elbows. He glares up at the siren, but Lance just smirks, shifting so he can get a better look at Keith’s foot.

After a moment of inspection, lips pursed and brows pinched, Lance nods, reaching over to tear off some of the fabric from his shirt. Keith watches with surprise as he dismantles his own clothes, drying them out and pulling Keith’s leg into his lap as he begins bandaging his aching and torn foot.

“Tell me why you were chosen.”

“I already did.”

Lance rolls his eyes, head shifting with it. It makes Keith smile, though he tries to dampen it. “Tell me why they chose you. Tell me why you’re angry.”

And because Keith can’t think of a reason not to, he does. He tells Lance about Shiro, the one who found him years ago, living on his own in the mountains to the north. He tells him how Shiro brought him home, gave him a home, gave him people to care about. He told him how he followed Shiro to the knight academy, how he became Shiro’s apprentice, how things were fine.

He tells him how Shiro was assigned to a mission with a couple others. A dangerous mission. A secret mission. One that was publicized one way, but Shiro told him the information and instructions they were given were strange and vague. He told him how Shiro had left him behind. He told him how Shiro never came back. He told him how the failed mission and disappearances had been covered up.

He told him how Keith had asked questions, snooped around, pushed lines that weren’t meant to be crossed. He had caused disturbances, disobeyed, and continued to question. He started to accuse, and that’s when they decided to silence him, to send him to the siren to stop him from finding out what had happened. To keep him from the truth.

Lance listens, quiet and intent. There are moments where Keith stumbles over his words, has trouble finding his voice, where his tongue feels thick and his heart is in his throat, but Lance waits, patient and serene. He doesn’t interrupt. He lets Keith go at his own pace.

He bandages Keith’s feel silently, leaving the remains of his shirt in tatters where it ties around his waist. He doesn’t seem to mind or notice. Keith tries not to stare. When it’s done, Lance helps him scoot backwards up the beach until they’re out of the water, so his fresh bandages won’t get soaked. And they settle onto the beach, side by side, and Keith continues to talk and Lance continues to listen.

“The Kerberos mission.” Lance says softly, voice creeping into the silence Keith left when his words were spent.

Keith’s head snaps up, whipping around to the side as he gapes at the siren. “How’d you know that?” Lance continues to stare out at the lake, eyes fixed on the metal pole. His brows are pinched, not in frustration but in thought, lips downturned at the edges. Keith shifts more to better face him, heart hammering in his chest. He never mentioned the name of the mission Shiro was sent on. “Where have you heard that name?”

Then Lance’s lips relax, curving up into a wry smile. There’s an odd look in his eyes. One that Keith places somewhere in the realm of melancholy and sorrow. “There was one before you. Last month. She was small. Very young. Younger than any of the others. But her spirit was fiery and defiant, much like you.” He glances sidelong at Keith, smile growing for a moment before he looks back to the lake. His smile fads, pursing into a frown. “She was innocent, too. Sentenced to die because she asked too many questions, broke too many rules while she sought the truth. She said her brother and father were lost on the Kerberos mission.”

Keith feels the air leave his lungs. Shiro had disappeared with two others. A father and son. The Holts. “They sacrificed Katie?” He breathes, ache in his chest.

Lance looks thoughtful, idly scratching his smooth chin. “Katie, huh? She told me her name was Pidge.”

“Is she...?” He feels his heart in his throat.

Lance looks at him then, leveling him with a flat, exasperated look that is almost comical on his beautiful, ethereal face. “I already told you, Keith. I don’t kill innocents.”

He turns more, hand going down to the pebbled beach and knee bending against the stones as he leans toward him. His heart is frantic, pulsing in his ears. Hope rekindles a long dead fire in his chest. “Can you tell me how to find her? I need to talk to her. She might know something. We can try to find—“

Lance laughs, holding his hands up defensively. It’s a beautiful sound. Rumbling and light. Bubbling and gentle as it rushes past his lips. “Calm down, Keith. Slow down.” Keith stops, feeling the rush of air out of his lungs once more. This time for entirely different reasons. He stays where he is, leaning on an arm and turned toward the siren. Lance puts a hand on the beach next to his, leaning into Keith’s space until they’re close, until he can feel Lance’s breath on his lips. He can’t look away from the siren’s gaze, blue depths backlit and beautiful, crinkling at the edges. “I can tell you how to find her. If,” He says, hard emphasis cutting off Keith’s immediate questions. “You give me something in return.”

“What’d you want?” He asks before he can think on it. Anything. He realizes he’d give anything for a shot to find Shiro, and Katie is his best chance of doing just that.

He doesn’t fear for his life. He knows that now. He doesn’t fear Lance. Not in the way a rabbit fears the hawk. The thrill he feels whenever the siren is near is different, just as dangerous, but not deadly.

“I want some of your essence.”

Keith blinks. “What?”

Lance’s smile grows. Keith can see it in the way it lifts his cheeks. He tilts his head to the side. “Essence. Life force. Energy. It sustains us just as much as physical food. We need both to survive.”

Keith’s brow furrows. “You said you wouldn’t—“

“It won’t kill you. Not if I only take a little. Just enough to take the edge off.” He turns his head then, breaking the eye contact. Keith hadn’t realized he had been leaning forward until Lance looks away, leaving him reeling without those beautiful eyes to fixate on.

He blinks, watching Lance’s profile as he frowns. The scales that decorate his jaw and temples and cheeks are smaller than those on his arms and chest. Beautiful gems of blue set into the bronze of his flesh.

“They think one person a month is enough to sustain me, but still keep me starving. They want me alive, but they don’t want me strong. But they don’t realize that my kind is perfectly capable of surviving on less.” A wry smile quirks his lips. “I can spare the innocents they send me and still survive until the next month.” He waves a hand out to gesture to the lake. “There are fish here. Creatures that live in this cavern. I’m not without food, but the life force is harder to come by. Much easier when knights seek to take advantage of me.” The frown is back. “But I didn’t eat last month, and no one has been down to see me in two—“

“Okay.”

Lance turns to him then, one eyebrow cocked and lips pursed as he looks Keith over. “What?”

Keith can feel his limbs shaking, his heart hammering in his chest. There’s a warmth in his gut, but it’s not one of a fear or anger. Excitement, maybe? Anticipation, perhaps. He licks his lips and doesn’t miss the way Lance’s gaze flickers down to fixate on the motion. “You can take what you need.” He says, voice soft to keep from cracking. Breathless.

Lance’s gaze returns to his, and his eyes are molten and blue, lidded and glowing. He doesn’t smile, but he doesn’t need to. He doesn’t sing, but he doesn’t need to. He doesn’t charm, but he doesn’t need to.

He reaches a hand up between them, fingertips dancing across Keith’s neck, his jaw, moving to cup his face. His eyes flutter shut, pulse beating in his throat. His lips part, trying to keep his breathing even and steady despite how his lungs constrict.

Lance tilts his head and leans forward. Keith can feel his breath fanning out across his lips and cheeks. He can feel his presence, close and warm, a buzz across his skin. He feels the brush of Lance’s nose against his own, and a shiver runs down his spine. The caress is gentle, deliberate, fingertips dipping into Keith’s hair as he tugs him forward.

And then there’s lips on his. Soft and gentle. Pliant but firm. They slot together perfectly. His split lip stings, but he can’t bring himself to care. Lance is obviously taking that into account, moving light and fleeting, as if ready to pull back at any moment. As if the touch is just a ghost ready to dissipate.

Keith surges froward, pressing into him firmly, ignoring the pain in his lip. He heard Lance’s sharp intake of breath, feels the way he stiffens, feels the hand holding his cheek tense. Then he’s melting, meeting Keith kiss for kiss, push for pull, a give and take, tilting his head for the perfect angle, fingertips curling as he holds Keith in place.

Lance parts his lips, and Keith does the same. Lance’s tongue slips into his mouth, exploring, purposeful but strangely shy. He hums in the back of his throat, and something far more guttural and far more embarrassing comes from Keith’s.

Then Lance is pulling back, just until their parted lips are barely touching. He inhales, and Keith’s lips feel cold. It’s a shiver that runs through him, like a gentle breeze, rushing down his throat. He feels the chin in his chest, a strange contrast to the heat on his skin.

It feels strange. A sensation of a slight tugging. Of a gentle pull. Of parts of him flacking and slipping away. Drowsiness. Exhaustion. His liveliness draining. His fire dimming. HIs consciousness clouding.

It only lasts a moment, just long enough for the strange feeling to register, just enough for his fire to flicker before it’s suddenly raging forth, burning bright, heat and fire filling the strange emptiness that had started to take hold. Whatever Lance is taking, whatever parts of him slip away, something inside him fills it faster than it can be gone. A fire filling in the spots, the nooks, the crannies, chasing away the numbness and the chill.

Lance gasps, pulling back from him abruptly, hand in his hair gone tense. When Keith opens his eyes, everything in the cave is brighter, despite no extra light slipping through the stone walls. He can see Lance clearly, face alight and beautiful. He can see the cavern walls glistening like the starry night. He can smell water, damp earth, wet stone, and Lance, salty and cooling and alluring.

Lance is staring at him, blue eyes wide and lips parted, surprise coloring his features. His fingers slowly loosen, hand slipping away from Keith as he touches his lips, awed and curious. The licks this lips, tip of his tongue pink. Keith stares at it until Lance’s lips curl into a smile behind his fingers, then his eyes snap back up to his. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

Keith swallows, trying to find his voice, trying to recover from the strange experience. “Expecting what?” He finally asks, voice rough and hoarse.

“You taste warm. Spicy. Like fire and brimstone.” Keith frowns, brows furrowing, but then Lance’s hand is back at his face, brushing back the stray strands of hair that have fallen loose from his braid to frame his face. He says in a low voice, eyes lidded. “I never said it was a bad thing.”

He purses his lips and looks away, eyes falling to the beach to their side. He follows the curve of Lance’s long, slender legs, gaze fixating on the shackle around his ankle. On the chain that runs down the beach, disappearing into the dark depths of the lake.

“This Shiro...” Lance says softly, almost hesitant, like he regrets it as he says it. Keith lifts his gaze, meeting Lance’s curious eyes, noting the way his lips purse. “What is he to you?”

“He’s—“ How does he describe Shiro? A mentor? A friend? He’s so much more than that. “The only one who’s ever believed in me. He never gave up on me. He’s... the closest thing I have to family.”

“Is he your lover?”

Keith starts, jerking back slightly to look at Lance, incredulous. He sputters, voice momentarily failing him. “Wha— No! I mean, there was one time I thought— maybe— but no. But that doesn’t matter.” He says firmly, meeting Lance’s curious gaze firmly “He’s still important to me.”

Lance’s lips quirk at the corners, head cocking to the side. “Good to know.” Then his hand is leaving Keith’s face as he pulls back. He sits up straight before pushing himself to his feet. The chain at his ankle rustles against the pebbles as he strides forward. When he steps into the water, it barely moves, ripples long and slow. He doesn’t so much move into it as he becomes apart of it.

He stops when it reaches halfway up his shins, and Keith watches curiously as he tips he head back and breaths deeply, one hand resting on his chest. Clawed nails run down the scales that pepper his chest, stopping at one, nails biting into his skin—

Keith gasps as he pulls off a scale, one fluid motion, without flinching. Keith scrambles to his feet as Lance bends down, rinsing his scale off in the water of the lake. He turns as he straightens, striding back through the water and up the beach to where Keith waits, watching with his mouth agape.

He just smiles, a dark, bloodied spot on his chest, a drop and a trickle running down the ridges of his ribs. “Here,” He says, holding out the scale, held aloft between his finger and his thumb.

Keith takes it with shaking fingers. It’s a bigger scale. About half the size of his palm. Dark blue and listening where it catches the faint moonlight. Like a flat, smooth edged sapphire. He holds it in his palm, staring at it in awe before he lifts his gaze. Lance is merely watching him, brows raised and an amused smile lingering on his lips.

Keith frowns. “What’s this?”

“A scale.”

Keith’s frown deepens, a huffed exhale escaping his nose. Lance’s smile widens. “Obviously. But why?”

Lance’s hand rise to cup Keith’s, fingers gently pushing his own down, folding them over the scale in his palm. “I give one to all the innocents I let go. It ties you to me. You’ll be safe from my people.” Lance’s smile has a bitter edge to it. Shadows in his eyes. “Scales plucked from sirens turn black. They only keep their radiance if we do it ourselves. A siren’s token is a blessed gift.”

Keith’s tongue felt thick. His mouth dry. He stared down at their hands, Lance’s cupping his own. He tightened his fingers around the scale. “Thank you.”

“If you follow the same tunnel as last time, you’ll reach the outside. Turn to the left, toward the mountains. Follow the hunting trails. There are marks in the trees to guide your way. You’ll find the home Pidge and Hunk live.”

Keith looks at him then, eyes wide. “They’re living together?”

Lance shrugs, head lolling to the side, smile easy and fond. “They have no where else to go. People believe them to be dead, and if they returned, they’d be executed. Hunk lived there first, but I sent Pidge there after I freed her. They both visit me often.”

“They... visit you?”

An amused gleam in his eyes, even as his voice was dry. “Even a captive siren prince is allowed to make friends, Keith.” His fingers tighten around Keith’s, and when he speaks again, it’s softer, hesitant, almost shy. Keith watches his face, but Lance’s eyes are on their hands, a small smile on his lips. “I hope you will be one of them.”

When he glances up through his lashes, Keith finds that he’s smiling, small but genuine. “We’ll see.”

He turns then, pulling his hand out of Lance’s loose grasp, intent on getting to the tunnel, of escaping into the night and up the mountain to find Katie and Hunk. There’s so much they need to talk about. Hope flutters in Keith’s chest like a caged bird, desperate and restless.

But then Lance is catching his hand, fingers loosely intertwined as he pulls Keith to a stop. He tugs, forcing Keith back around to face him. As Keith watches, Lance steps forward until they’re toe to toe, bodies close and nearly touching, but not quite. Just enough that his body aches to lean closer.

He lifts his hands, cupping Keith’s face with both of his own. His touch is gentle, reverent, kind. He meets Keith’s gaze steadily, irises swirling and glowing like a storm at sea, radiating with the light of the moon and surging with the ocean.

“What do you want, Keith?” His voice is low and rippling, spreading out through the cavern and the silence like gentle waves. His words are a melodic cadence, tranquil and lilting, causing Keith to catch them, hold onto them, desperate to follow their flow. He doesn’t sing, but he doesn’t need to for his voice to be beautiful.

He’s asked the same question before, but there’s more behind it now. More tension. More pressure. More intent. More power. Before, Keith had an answer, now, staring into the intense gaze of the siren, he wracks his mind for an answer and only comes up with unclear chaos.

“I don’t know.” He says, honesty dragging his voice down and uncertainty furrowing his brows.

Lance smiles. A small quirk of his lips. There’s understanding in his gaze, but it hides something else. Something almost akin to disappointment. “You have a spark in you, Keith. Powerful potential. When you know what you want, come back to me. I’ll help you build that ember into a flame, and you will be bright. Together, we can make this place burn.”

He lets go of Keith’s face to reach for his own ear, pulling an earring from the lobe of it. It dangles in his grasp, a bobble of gold and blue, a gemstone glinting nearly as bright as his scale.

He reaches for Keith again, and he feels the sting before he realizes what Lance’s intent had been. He winces, but the sting fades quickly, replaced by a dull ache that’s easy to ignore.

When Lance pulls away, stepping back on the beach, Keith can feel the earring dangling from his ear, an unfamiliar weight that isn’t entirely unwelcome.

He raises an eyebrow. “Another token?”

Lance smiles. “A gift.”

Heart in his throat, warmth coiling in his gut, Keith turns, picking his way carefully across the beach to the mouth of the small tunnel he had escaped from once before. When he reaches it, he turns, body aching and compelling him to find Lance once more, to see the siren, to catch one last glimpse of him.

But when he turns, Lance is gone and the lake is still.

 


 

Keith visits the cavern several times after that. Sometimes he goes with Pidge and Hunk. Other times he goes alone. They sit on the pebble stone beach and talk. He learns about Lance’s home. His family. The siren. He tells Lance about the mountains. About his first few years in the city. About what it’s like to live with Pidge and Hunk.

They bring him food often, sit on the beach or the island and share stories. They bring him books and instruments and knick knacks and bobbles and toys. He keeps them among the rocks where the knights can’t find them.

Sometimes he swims out to the island in the center of the lake, and they sit in the sun falling from the hole in the center of the dome ceiling. Sometimes Lance shows him his favorite perches along the rock outcroppings along the walls. Sometimes they swim, and Lance takes great pride in slipping seamlessly through the water while Keith flails and splashes. Sometimes they sit on the beach and Lance plays with his hair.

And when they’re alone together, sometimes Lance will sing for him. Not to enchant or charm, but to sing simply to sing. Because that’s what he does. Because song is apart of who he is. He sings, and Keith can hear his soul on his lips, his heart echoing off the cavern walls.

He sings, and Keith leans against him, head on his shoulder and eyes drifting closed, just listening.

Looks are often exchanged between them, gazes heavy and lidded and molten. Touches linger and explore. Keith finds he’s addicted to the feeling of Lance’s lips. To his taste. To the sounds he can pull from the siren’s throat. The whines, and gasps, and soft, gentle moans. He loves the smirk and heated gaze he gets when Lance is able to pull the same from him.

And as time passes, Keith starts to see Lance smile more. Not the charming smile. Not the toothy grin of a predator. Not one meant to disarm and entrance. A genuine one. One filled with the warmth of the sun and the beauty of the ocean sparkling beneath it.

And every time Lance smiles like that, when he laughs with his whole heart, Keith’s eyes drift to the shackle around his ankle, ugly heat and anger twisting in his heart.

 


 

This time when Keith makes his way to the siren’s lair, he does so with a hardened heart and purpose in his steps.

He travels along the familiar tunnel that leads through the back of the mountain. It’s far smaller than the main entrance he took as a knight. Less carved and rounded. The ceiling dips and curves, walls jagged and unpolished. The floor is scattered with loose rocks and stalagmites. In some places it opens up wide enough to walk comfortably. In others, it’s small enough that he has to hunch and weave himself through.

He moves quickly. He’s familiar with this tunnel. He’s taken it many times in the past few months. There’s a torch clutched in one hand, though he doesn’t quite need it for the light. He never usually takes one when he’s by himself, perfectly capable of seeing in the dim light of Lance’s cavern. Still, he carries it with him, brandishing his way and casting the rock in hues of flame.

He hears the humming as he nears the cavern. It’s not Lance’s full blown singing. It’s not loud and echoing and ringing throughout the domed ceiling. It’s soft. Whispered. Hummed. Sang beneath his breath. Not for others but merely to himself. Almost an absent minded gesture he tends to do when he’s deep in thought.

It makes Keith’s heart race, both with the familiar softness of it but also with the anticipation of his purpose.

He steps out of the crack in the wall, boots crunching against the pebbles of the beach. The cavern is dark. Not a spec of light filters through the hole at the top of the dome. The new moon casts the night in shadows. Still, Keith can see outlines of the rocks, of the beach, of the lake, of the island at its center. He can see well enough, even without the circle of warm light surrounding him, splashing out onto the gravel beach and rising along the rock outcroppings along the wall.

The singing continues as he walks along the beach, steps slow and deliberate. As soft as the sound is, he finds it easier to pinpoint. Echoing from the island at the center of the cavern and vibrating through the air. Echoing lightly. As haunting as it is beautiful.

Keith stops when he reaches the wooden stake driven into the ground at the water’s edge, half turning to gaze out over the still, inky water.

Only then does the music stop. A shadow moves in the branches of the tree. It sits up, leg slipping down over the branch to dangle. The chain that disappears up into the shadows shifts and sways. He sees the specs of light where Lance’s eyes glow. He can’t see the details of his face, but he can hear his smile.

“Keith?”

Keith knows that voice, light and hopeful, pleasantly surprised. Strangely breathless and whispered across the space between them. Lance is always happy to see him, even more so when he isn’t expecting it. He always greets Keith with a beaming grin and a playful light in his eyes.

But Keith isn’t here to play. Not this time. He has a purpose. One that burns heavy and dark in his heart.

Keeping his head turned toward the island, eyes locked on the distant glow of Lance’s gaze, Keith holds out the torch, pressing the tip of it to the sacrificial pole.

The wood isn’t damp, but the moisture in the air has kept it from completely drying out. Still, without any bark or ragged timber, it takes the polished surface a moment to catch. Even then, it doesn’t flame immediately. It smolders and smokes. Blackens and chars. And still Keith holds the torch to it.

Lance watches, silent across the lake, and Keith doesn’t move. He holds the torch in place as the fire licks up the smooth wood. As the air hazes and blackens with smoke that fills his lungs.

He doesn’t know how long they stand there, silence stretched between them, filling the cavern with nothing but the crackle of fire and the occasional drip of water, before the post catches fire. It does so slowly, flames inching along the surface, struggling to exist independently of the torch Keith holds. But it does, eventually, catch fire.

And as it does so, as the flames start to lick up the sides of it, as the blaze begins to burn in earnest, small at first but steadily growing, Keith continues to hold the torch to it. Continues to stare across the lake.

He can feel the heat against his side, pressing through the clothes he wears, hot and stinging against his skin. He feels the heat engulf him this close to the flames. He feels it all along his body. But while it’s oppressive, it’s not uncomfortable.

Then the flames begin to lick down his torch, pole blazing bright enough that the flames reach his hand. Still, he doesn’t move. He holds. Waiting. Eyes locked onto Lance’s.

The flames lick across the skin of his hand and wrist. It stings. It’s hot. It feels nigh unbearable. It feels like an itch beneath his skin. It feels like his flesh is too tight, threatening to crack and splinter, to peel away and free itself. But it does not burn. There is no pain. The fire touches him, but it does not harm him. He knows that if he looks, his hand would be warm and red, but it wouldn’t be burned.

It’s in this moment that he sees true understanding flicker across Lance’s eyes. He can see it in the way the glow brightens. In the way the air in the cavern shifts.

He watches as Lance slides down from his perch in the tree, body moving snake-like and fluid as water as he touches the ground, weight settling for a moment before he’s stepping toward the water, walking at a pace that’s even and controlled.

He wades into the lake, barely a ripple spreading from where he touches the surface, body simply disappearing beneath it’s depths.

Keith watches, and he waits.

Body submerged, Lance swims toward him. Half of his face remains above the water, eyes still locked onto Keith’s. His limbs move serpentine and fluid, not so much disturbing the water as shifting through it, displacing it, slicing through it instead of shoving it aside. The way he cuts through the water is far too fluid to be human. Far too powerful and ethereal. A shiver runs down Keith’s spine despite the heat, and he knows it has nothing to do with fear.

Then Lance is wading out of the water, body slowly revealed with each measured step he takes. He rises from the still, inky darkness like a shadow taking form, body slick and smooth and dripping. His clothes cling to him. He steps through the water without resistance.

As he rises, the light from the fire casts him in flames. His bronze skin lights up with hues of yellow and orange, golden and shifting. The scales along his body gleam, catching the firelight and reflecting it as they’re own. Blue flames. Almost dark purple in the dark cavern. His body moves with purpose, muscles shifting beneath his skin with grace and power. A predator. A beast. Beautiful.

Once, Keith might have feared him.

Now, he feels nothing but thrilling anticipation.

Lance stops in front of him. Waiting. Watching.

Keith drops the torch, hearing it hiss and crackle on the beach. His hand drops to his side and he turns to face Lance fully, taking a step forward to meet him. They stand toe to toe, bodies close, so very close, but not quite touching. He can feel the heat from the blazing pole at his back and side. He watches the way the fire dances across Lance’s face with shadows.

Lance’s blue eyes swirl like a stormy sea, looking him over, searching his face. There’s a slight pinch to his brows. A slight purse to his lips.

He reaches out and touches his cheek, knuckles brushing along the slope of the bone. Keith leans into the touch, eyes lidded but blazing. Lance’s fingertips trail along his face, hovering at his lips, tracing their shape before curling along the line of his jaw, stopping by his ear to play with the earring, still dangling from Keith’s lobe, before drifting down the slope of his neck.

Keith revels in the touch, and it sends shudders through him, warmth spreading through him that has nothing to do with the fire. He craves Lance’s touch. Leans into it. Stretches his neck out but bites back any sort of plea for more.

Lance’s fingertips move along his collarbone, tracing it softly before his hand settles over his chest, lying overtop the dark blue scale Keith wears around his neck.

He leans forward, lips over Keith’s, close enough to feel his breath. Noses brushing. Eyes locked until all Keith can see is that glowing blue storm.

“What do you want?” He asks softly, gently, voice a breeze whispering across the ocean tides. It’s a challenge. A dare. A plea.

Keith realizes then that Lance knows what Keith wants. Has always known what Keith wants. Has sensed that fire in him from long ago and has just been waiting. Watching. For the day that Keith realized it in himself. He wants Keith to want it. But he also needs Keith to say it.

“Revenge.” The word drops from his lips like embers, hot and burning on his lips, filling his lungs with smoke.

Lance’s smile curls at the edges of his lips, sharp teeth on display. His eyes crinkle at the edges, brightness of his eyes darkening as the swirls of a tide pool turn into those of a whirlpool. He steps closer, their chests barely brushing. His fingers curl, nails biting lightly into Keith’s chest. “I can help you tap into your ancestry. I can help bring that ember in your blood into the light. I can help you grow into a flame. I can free you, if you free me.”

Keith doesn’t need a moment to think. He doesn’t need a moment to consider. The deal was already struck the moment he stepped into the cavern. He knows that he would do anything for this siren. He’s known it for months now. Lance’s freedom is a gift he would give without payment.

“How?” He breaths, throat dry and voice cracking in the heat.

“This chain represses my magic. My shapeshifting. My strength. I can’t break it. Weapons can’t break it. It’s a lock that can’t be picked. But dragonfire...”

Something inside him stirs. A rumble deep within his core. He feels himself smile, baring his teeth. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

Keith leaned into him, tilting his chin up until their lips brushed, smirk curving when he hears the barely audible sound of Lance’s breath hitch. “You’ve got a deal, siren.”

Lance’s grin is wide and bright, and Keith only gets a flash of it, along with the spark in his eyes, before Lance’s hand is at the back of his head, fingers curling into his hair as he yanks him forward, crushing their lips together.

The kiss is rough and hard. It’s all teeth and pushing, neither of them wanting to give way, both of them breathless with it, both of them desperate for more. Lance’s tongue in his mouth is possessive and deliberate. Claiming him. marking him. Stealing his breath away as one hand tugs at his hair and the other arm wraps around his lower back, holding them together, feeling the hard, smooth planes of his body.

The kiss, Keith knows now, is completely unnecessary for Lance’s feeding. A siren doesn’t need to lock lips before sucking life force away. But Lance kisses him like he can’t help himself Like he’s indulging. Like there’s something about Keith that drives him mad.

And Keith kisses him back with just as much as he’s given.

Then Lance is pulling back, lips hover hover his own, parted and panting, as Lance breaths in. Eyes bright and glowing, he inhales deeply, and sucks the breath from Keith’s lungs.

It’s not as gentle as it has been in the past. It’s not a whispering wind tugging at his lungs. It’s a whirlwind. It’s a storm. It’s a hurricane. Keith can feel the cold numb his mouth and seep down his throat. He feels the chill in his lungs and the rush of air leave his body. He feels the ice form, chasing away any warmth that’s built up in his gut.

And all the while he holds Lance’s gaze, brows furrowed and eyes hard, as the siren sucks the life out of him.

His skin is hot, burning and crackling beside the heat of the fire, but inside he’s ice. Numb and hollow. Unable to take in a breath. Feeling his heartbeat slow. Seeing gray dots at the edges of his vision as his mind begins to grow hazy. As his knees begin to shake and he holds onto Lance desperately to keep from falling. Falling. Falling—

Thump.

His heart beats. One, hard, sturdy pump. Then another. Something inside him snaps, and fire floods through him. It breaks through his core like a raging wildfire. It’s not an ember coming to life. It’s the sun consuming him from the inside out. It burns through his heart, spreading out through his veins, chasing away the numbness, melting the ice, settling and coiling and curling inside him. Mind a sudden sharp clarity and strength rushing through his limbs.

He gasps, and Lance’s eyes widen.

Lance jerks away, releasing him quickly and suddenly, leaving Keith to stumble and fall to his knees. He backs up, stumbling as his eyes grow wide, but a smile persists on his lips. Even as he stumbles back into the water, the lake barely splashes with his hasty steps.

Keith crouches on the beach on his knees, hands to his head, hunched over as the fire rages through him. He feels like his skin is burning, crackling, flaking away. Too big for his skin. An itch. He feels his flesh crack and split. He feels the fires in his veins bleed down his body. Smoke fills his lungs. Brimstone on his tongue.

He opens his mouth, and he screams.

His body rips. Growing. Elongating. Scales ripple across his flesh, red as rubies and dark as blood. Wings tear from his back, spreading wide and glistening, newly formed bones and skin stretching and reaching.

He’s a fire. He’s a storm. He is rage.

His scream morphs into a roar, deep and guttural, ferocity and power rumbling from his throat.

His body is different. Far bigger. A tail. Wings. Horns. Sharp teeth. Fire in his lungs and claws that tip his fingers. A creature. A beast.

Death.

Destruction.

Dragon.

He bows his head, gazing down at the siren standing in knee deep water. He looks smaller like this. Far smaller than Keith. He tilts his head back, gazing up at him in wonder and awe and unbridled excitement. Eyes bright, body glistening. Beautiful. Ethereal. A creature. A beast.

Death.

Destruction.

Siren.

Keith throws back his long neck and roars. Feels it deep in his chest and rip from his throat. Hears it reverberate around the cavern, loud and haunting and terrifying.

Beneath him, Lance shouts, excited and eager and wordless, gazing up at him like he’s something beautiful.

When Keith swings his head back around, leveling him with eyes that can see perfectly in the dark, he huffs, tasting embers on his tongue and seeing smoke trickle out of his nostrils.

Lance jerks with a start, and then rushes out of the lake. He runs with a speed that’s inhuman and fluid, serpentine and predatory. He runs until he can’t. falling to the beach and holding his leg out until the chain is pulled taught. Connected to the metal pole at the lake’s center. Hovering over the still, inky surface.

The sight of it sends fury spiraling through him. A creature so beautiful should not be chained. He lets his rage condense, burn, swirling inside him and rising up his throat like bile. And when he bends over and roars again, flame licks out past his tongue and teeth, burning hot and bright in a steady stream from his jaws to the beach.

Lance curls his arms over his head, pulling away from the blast. But then Keith stops, shifting on his feet, pebbles shifting beneath his weight. The chain lay broken and melted against the stones. The shackle, still attacked to Lance’s ankle, only has a few chains before it disappears into nothing.

There’s an itch beneath his skin. A need to move. To be free. To fly. To escape.

He shifts toward the lake, bowing his body low as he crouches, wings spreading wide as he tests them with a few slow flaps. Feeling the way they resist the wing. Feeling the stretch of the membrane and the flexibility of the bones.

Lance lets out a loud trill. Something high pitched and vibrating. Something ringing and terrifying. A war cry. Excitement. An outcry of everything Keith is feeling and more.

The siren sprints across the beach, never once losing his footing as he reaches the dragon’s side, He leaps, throwing himself up the beast’s side, latching onto spines and scales and scrambling up a foreleg onto his back just as the dragon’s wings beat down.

They rise, the dragon’s body lifting into the air as the siren settles into a crook on the back of his neck.

The pebbles of the beach scatter. The surface of the lake shivers and ripples under the forced wind of wingbeats.

Keith rises, higher and higher. He tips his wings and soars circles around the cavern, gathering speed, gathering momentum.

He tips his wings again before diving to the center, shifting sharply upward.

They burst through the hole in the domed ceiling. Sending rock and mountain debris scattering through the air. Crumbling down into the cavern lake.

Keith rises. Rises. Wind beneath his wings. Lungs aching with the effort. Burn in his muscles. It feels good. He feels alive. He feels free. He feels powerful. He feels like a beast.

At the apex of his climb, he lets out another roar, hearing it echo off the mountain and throughout the valley, hearing the ache and pain and rage in his own voice. Above it all, Lance’s screeching call rings, high pitched and deafening, a scream of fury that could bring men to their knees.

Creatures.

Beasts.

Death.

Destruction.

Revenge.

Keith sets fire to the castle as he passes over the valley, delighting in the burning timbers and smoldering stone. In the screams of the royals and nobles who had send Shiro to his death. Had sent Keith to his. Had sent Hunk and Pidge to theirs.

The nobles that ran the kingdom by stepping over the backs of the common folk. The men and women who covered their treacherous deeds with death. Those who glittered themselves up in gold and gems to hide the rotten core beneath.

Keith sets fire to their kingdom and flies toward the sea.

He leaves Lance on a beach. Lets the siren hold his massive jaw in his hands as he presses his forehead to Keith’s snout. “When you’re done, come find me.” He says, eyes glowing and smile strangely fond. Strangely shy. Keith can smell the excitement on him. The prospect of going home makes him glow. The ocean at his back makes him otherworldly.

He’s beautiful, and he’s free.

“I’ll be waiting.” He says with a quirk of his lips, stepping back from Keith and toward the ocean.

Keith watches him disappear into the depths before he stretches his wings, rising into the air with a leap and a few mighty downbeats. Then he turns toward the northeast. To the land of the Galra. The taste of fire and rage on his tongue.

 


 

When he sees Lance again, it’s after months of rampaging along the Daibazaal countryside.

He’s found Shiro. He found the Holts. He returned them to the growing cabin he, Pidge, and Hunk have in the mountains. And all the while leaving ashes and cinder in his wake. He burned supply lines. He tore stone from castles. He ripped apart the colosseum where they had kept Shiro. He ruined the mines where they sent the Holts.

He left Daibazaal with scars and blistering burns along its landscape. Corpses, burned and blackened, dotted the destruction as his wings carried them away.

They settled into the home they had built, recovering and reuniting, debating the next steps and where to go when the kingdom they lived in betrayed them and thought them all dead.

They had been content to take a moment to breathe, but Keith was restless. He found himself gazing out to the west, climbing high onto mountain cliffs to get a glimpse of the glittering, distant sea. He often found himself clutching at the scale around his neck, fingers tracing it, watching the way it glistened in the sunlight. Found himself playing with the earring that dangled from his ear.

He dreamed of siren songs and eyes like a glowing storm.

He left shortly after, and his friends weren’t surprised to see him go. He promised he would come back. He knew he would. He wouldn’t abandon them. His friends. His family. But also knew he couldn’t stay away from Lance.

He might be immune to the siren’s song, but that didn’t stop it from weaving into his heart, nestling deep in his chest, claws that wouldn’t let him go.

He doesn’t know where he’s going, but his instincts guide him. He feels a distant call from across the ocean. Silent in sound but drifting across his skin all the same, pulling him, tugging him, dragging him forward. He flies out to the western sea, keeping high where the air was thin and cold. Fire burning in his blood. Shadow small as a bird’s on the ocean’s waves below.

He follows the song in his chest. The silent notes that pull at him. Tug at him. He gives himself over to them and allows them to guide him forward.

Once he sees the cluster of islands, he knows without a doubt that he’s looking at Atlea. Islands scattered, rock outcroppings rising from the sea. From this height, he can see the shadows of coral and rocks beneath the surface. It would be dangerous for any ship to come near the cluster. Mountains rise from the outer islands, and cities dot the inner ones.

It’s a beautiful sight, but it isn’t what Keith wants to see.

He circles the islands, halfway to the clouds, gliding on the wind with his wings spread wide. He roars, loud and echoing, voice desperate and raw but powerful and demanding.

He circles slowly, drifting downward with every round of the island cluster. His eyes search the islands, but while he sees several moving bodies, he knows they’re not Lance.

Then he hears the song.

It’s soft. Gentle. A drift on the wind. His head whips around, eyes landing on an expanse of beach on one of the islands. He tilts his wings, instantly narrowing himself into a dive. Wind whistles by his ears, loud and roaring, but he can still hear the song.

As he nears the beach, he can see Lance. He stands on the beach, knee deep in the waves. Waiting. Watching.

Keith pulls up at the last moment, flaring his wings out to cut his dive and drift slowly to the ground. He lands heavily in a flourish of sand, wings folding at his back.

Lance strides out of the water, steps slow and methodical, looking just as ethereal with the ocean at his back as he did in the shadows of the underground lake. He continues to sing, notes familiar and lifting, rising and drifting off to sea. He moves like water. His body shifts, serpentine and powerful, free and controlled all at once.

Keith steps forward, shifting as he does. He feels his scales slip away. He feels his wings dissolve. His claws retract. His hair grows. His skin feels tight as his form shrinks, and there’s still a fire in his veins, but he’s back in the body he’s known the longest. The form he’s most comfortable in, despite how freeing his dragon form is.

Lance’s song drifts off to nothing as he meets Keith on the beach. His body is cast in the glowing embers of the sunset. Bronze skin fiery, cooled by the dark blue of his scales.

Familiar, crystalline blue eyes, backlit and dazzling, meet Keith’s. The smile on his lips is small. Just a touch. But it lifts his cheeks and crinkles his eyes.

As they near, Keith opens his arms, and Lance steps into them easily. One arm wraps around the siren’s lower back, the other lifting to cup his cheek. Lance leans into it, sighing softly, eyes going lidded as he tilts his head. His hands lay flat on Keith’s chest, sliding up to linger on his shoulders, wrapping around his neck to dig his fingers into Keith’s hair, idly playing with it as Keith’s thumb caresses the scales on his cheek.

Keith’s hand shifts. Fingers on Lance’s jaw and neck. Thumb lightly drifting across Lance’s bottom lip. Plush and soft and inviting. His eyes flicker upward, meeting Lance’s gaze, noting the playful spark in those blue depths.

“Did you get your revenge?” 

"Yes." Keith's voice is soft. Low. A rumble in his chest.

Lance hums, fingers tracing Keith's ear and down along his jaw. "And what do you want now?"

As the sunsets, the shadows stretch across Lance’s face. But his eyes glow brighter, even as the blue darkens, deepens, like the depths of the ocean. Like the calm before the storm. His lips stretch beneath the pad of Keith’s thumb, widening into a sly grin, sharp teeth glinting.

He’s beautiful. He’s terrifying. He sets Keith’s blood pulsing and heart racing.

“You.”