Actions

Work Header

I Bloom Towards You, The Sun

Chapter Text

This had all started because Lance was told that he needed to brighten up.

It wasn’t an accusation. Rather, he thought it was a fair assessment, no matter how much it bothered him. See, every mage reached a point where the input of magic flowing into them didn’t match the output. Sometimes that meant they were taking in too little and using too much, or it meant they were taking in too much and using too little.

For Lance’s family, the problem was always the latter. He came from a bloodline that produced astounding magic users with talents in a variety of different fields. His father, Alfor, was a talented mechanic, and could fuse machinery and magic like no one else. Not only that, but he’d created a new type of teleportation magic, one that had been fostered in his first child, Lance’s older sister Allura. She could create dimension doors with a wave of her hand, like her body was infused with the very essence of space.

Lance’s inclinations with magic took more after his mother. She’d been a well-trusted healer, one who’d created a myriad of new spells to treat all kinds of illnesses. Lance had studied her skills in healing and regeneration magic. He liked to think he was good at what he did. He’d started combining his spell work with water magic, since a subclass of healing spells could be manifested through water to make the spells more powerful.

It could be tough, using magic. Magic energy came from the world around the user, and tempering it so that it was safe for use was a vital skill to learn. If magic was kindling, then a mage had to be the spark to light it. Too much force and a blaze would start. Too little, and there’d be nothing but smoke.

Mages who dealt with more powerful spells and magic work, like Lance and his family, tended to require help portioning off their magic use. Falling out of balance with magic could leave them lethargic and unwell. Now that Lance was experimenting with spell work, he found himself constantly tired, and unwilling to do the things he normally enjoyed doing. It was difficult to balance his magic intake when he was unsure how much a particular spell would require.

Acquiring a companion to help with that was considered an honour. Only the strongest magic users had companions. Allura already had a little mouse companion that sat on her shoulder while she did her spells. Lance knew his mother had had doves.

When it became clear that Lance’s spell work was getting to that upper threshold, his father told him to look into finding a companion.

“You seem so down lately,” he’d said, brushing hair away from Lance’s eyes as Lance sat slumped against his desk, his cheek pressed to the wood. “Maybe having a companion would brighten you up a little.”

Lance knew he was right, of course. There was little his father was ever wrong about.

Finding a companion, however, was not an easy task. There had to be a certain level of compatibility between the two that was hard to find. Not only that, but a companion had to be a creature born of magic, since they would be aiding the mage with their magic usage. Allura’s mouse wasn’t a normal mouse, and his mother’s doves hadn’t been normal doves.

He should’ve tried to find a creature that could help him with his water magic, one that had an affinity for it.

His choice, however, was felt like it was made for him by fate.

Most companions could be found through a service in the city. Any willing creature could offer themselves to a mage they felt had potential. He didn’t find his companion there, nor was his companion any usual magic creature.

One evening, when he’d been walking through the sprawling woods behind the city, he came across something unexpected. His family home sat on the upper outskirts of the city, where it was peaceful and quiet. The city’s expansive library and hospital were nearby, so work was never far. Behind their manor was the woods. Paths were marked through it, though not terribly deep, since wilder creatures lived there. Lance always stayed to the safe path, and that evening had been no different.

But there was something unexpected in the woods.

Or rather, someone.

He sensed an overflow of magic first. It was like a wave of heat in the air, one that made his skin prickle with sweat entirely out of place for the season. He’d spotted blood on the foliage away from the path, and let his concern get the better of him by following it into the trees.

What he found was a wolf. A big one. It was easy as tall as Lance, and twice as broad as him. Its fur was pitch black, and when he approached, its massive head swing towards him, teeth bared in a snarl. A wound marred its muzzle, bloody and matted. It had the strangest violet eyes.

Lance was confused. Magic creatures this large didn’t stray near the city, and he’d never seen one like this anyway. There was an almost human quality to its eyes, one that threw him off. Not only that, but the wolf was leaking magic like a broken tap.

“You’re hurt,” was the first thing that came out of Lance’s mouth for some unfathomable reason. “Let me help.”

The wolf was untrusting. That was to be expected. Lance approached slowly, his hands raised to show he wasn’t up to anything. He let his magic pulse out of him a little, subtle and gentle. Healers had to be good at calming their patients. He was sure that it was because of his training that the wolf let him approach.

Water condensed out of the air, collecting in his palm. He held it out towards the wolf and waited. Cautious, its teeth still flashing, the wolf lowered its head towards Lance’s outstretched hand. Lance eased the water over the wound, watching it with critical eyes. A faint blue glow appeared where they were connected as his magic took effect. This was an easy spell, one he’d done a hundred times over. He had no trouble sealing the wound.

When it was done, he pulled his hand back, and grinned at the dumbfounded look on the wolf’s face. “There,” he said, pleased, “feel better?”

The wolf let out a little rumble.

As it turned out, the wolf was no normal wolf. Rather, he was a wolf shifter, and his name was Keith. They had an odd connection, the two of them. Shifters were rare – not quite mage, not quite beast, but an alluring mix of the two – and so Lance had never seen one before. For some reason, Keith trusted him with that secret. He’d shifted back to his human form that evening in the woods so that they could speak.

They spent the better part of the next month meeting in the woods behind Lance’s house, getting to know one another. Lance found it hard to stay away. He got to know a lot about Keith in those few short weeks – he learned about Keith’s family, and where he used to live, and how he’d been injured. The woods had been warm that evening because Keith had a proficiency for fire magic, though he rarely used it, since shifting was a better use of his energy. In return for Keith’s story, Lance shared his own, often talking of his family, his job, his aspirations and his current problem with his magic output.

It was actually Keith who suggested he become Lance’s companion.

That was surprising for a number of reasons. Firstly, shifters didn’t usually become companions. They were human, after all. They weren’t a creature, even if they could shift into the form of a beast. It wasn’t illegal for a shifter to become a companion, it was just uncommon. Incredibly uncommon. A lot of people would try to take advantage of a shifter and their immense skill with magic, after all. Any mage tied to one would become the envy of those around them.

Secondly, Keith didn’t seem like the type to offer such a thing himself. Lance quickly learned that Keith wasn’t very forthcoming with his emotions. He was rather stony-faced, and kept himself in check. He could be competitive – in fact, his competitiveness rivalled Lance’s, which was a feat in of itself – but he wasn’t emotionally energetic like Lance was, or anything like that. Lance never imagined him wanting to tie himself to Lance in the way companionship did.

His confusion must have shown on his face, because Keith felt the need to explain, albeit while looking a little embarrassed.

“Being your companion would be beneficial for both of us,” he insisted, like Lance wasn’t already on board with the idea. “I can measure your magic, and you can keep me safe.” An uncharacteristically vulnerable look had passed over his face. “Right?”

“Of course.” Lance wouldn’t have hesitated to accept Keith as his companion at that point. “If that’s what you want, I’m more than willing, Keith.”

“I want to keep you safe too,” Keith told him, determined.

Lance flushed, pleased and red-cheeked. He’d realised that Keith’s influence on his magic was phenomenal, and to have him as a companion… it eased all his worries. Keith would be able to help him control his magic for more difficult spells, and in return, Lance would help Keith with his. It was an unbreakable bond. Something deep inside Lance, whether it was instinct or magic or fate, told him it was the right decision.

He didn’t regret it.

Perhaps the hardest part of it all was not making the decision, but of telling others about it. His father and sister had noticed the change in him, of course. He’d told them he was looking for a companion, which had been the truth, but not that he’d found one. They’d attributed his uptick in attitude to the possibility of finding one.

Keith decided to stay in his wolf form to meet Lance’s family. Since he’d never met them before, he was unsure whether to trust them with his secret, and Lance left that decision entirely up to him.

“Aren’t you worried about deceiving your family?” Keith had asked.

Lance only shook his head. “No. It’s your secret, and whatever decision you make, I will support that.” He didn’t add that he thought of Keith as family too now, or at least as someone incredibly important to him. Their bond as companion and mage placed Keith very high on his priority list. It flustered him to think of how close he’d grown to Keith in such a short time, but he knew his feelings were reciprocated, so he didn’t worry about it too much.

Walking into the manor with a giant wolf by his side was a little daunting. He found his father and sister in the dining room pouring over a pile of books. They both looked up in surprise at his entrance. He almost wanted to shrink into Keith’s side to hide his nervousness, but the way Keith pressed against him, a reassuring weight, kept him steady.

“This is Keith,” he said, before anyone said a word. “He’s my companion.”

Alfor blinked several times, shocked. “You chose… a wolf?”

“A giant wolf?” Allura amended, eyes wide.

“It’s more like we chose each other,” Lance admitted.

He expected their surprise. This was a very unusual thing for him to do.

Thankfully, it went well. Keith proved to be very protective of him, and that won over his family. He always tended to Lance’s magic with the utmost care, and snarled when people got too close without Lance’s permission, which often happened in his line of work – the loved ones of patients could be quite distraught, and accidentally violent, too. Having Keith there hovering around him, growling, hackles raised, kept him safe.

In turn, Lance protected Keith, too. He fiercely guarded his companion, keeping encroaching mages away. He could tell who were the ones who wanted to steal Keith from him, the ones who wanted to break their bond so that they could bind Keith to themselves. A lot of dark mages would siphon the energy from companions in order to weaken them, and Lance made sure that Keith was always protected from that. Not only that, but he healed Keith’s wounds too, if he happened to endure any.

Keith did end up sharing his secret with Lance’s family, after he’d come to trust them. Lance was rather proud to admit that his family had won Keith over without him interfering at all.

“They love you so much,” Keith explained, when Lance asked him why he’d showed himself to be a shifter. “I can tell they’re relieved you chose a strong companion.”

Lance grinned, elbowing Keith in the ribs. “Strong, huh?”

“I have to be strong to protect you,” Keith said, matter of fact. “And they’re friendly to me. Your family, I mean. They welcomed me without any prejudice.”

“Of course,” Lance said, deeply pleased. “You’re family too, you know.”

Chapter Text

When Lance was little, he found a crystal in the sea.

He often went wading through the shallow tide looking for things. His home overlooked the water, and his bedroom had a seaside view. During the summer, his parents would leave his windows open while he slept, and the scent of seawater would wash in. It felt like magic.

The tide always brought in interesting things. He had a collection of spiralling seashells with pretty patterns, and bits of polished seaglass in all sorts of colours, and even smooth pieces of ceramic that once belonged to porcelain vases or plates. At that young age, he’d thought the crystal had been like any other treasure brought in by the sea.

It was blue, his favourite colour. The crystal had brushed against this bare toes as the tide pushed it in, swelling up across the wet sand of the shore. It wasn’t like seaglass. Instead, it was fragmented and uncut, its edges textured and rough. It was shaped like an imperfect diamond.

When he’d plucked it out from the sea, the biggest urge to protect it had come over him, and he’d curled his small fingers around it tightly. A wave bigger than he’d expected had then come up the shore, making him wobble on his feet. He’d clutched that gem to his chest, eyes closed against the spray of the water. When it settled once more and he’d uncurled his fingers, the gem was gone. Just like that.

It never really cross his mind that that was something strange. Kids don’t really focus on things for long, or rather, things like that don’t like stay in the front of their minds. He didn’t think of it much more.

Years later, he discovered that the crystal meant more than he could have ever expected, and that he wasn’t the only one to find one.

As he matured, he started to discover certain… oddities with his body. Things beyond the norm. Once, when he was cooking, he’d slipped up with a knife and cut his finger. It wasn’t terribly deep, and it did little more than sting, but something strange happened. At first, blood had beaded along the cut, but before it could drip anywhere, it suddenly crystallised. Like frost spreading across a window, the blood had rapidly turned blue and hardened, forming small, pointed peaks like a cut gemstone.

That wasn’t the only thing. Not only did his body rapidly regenerate after injury by forming crystals, but when he bled, he gained other powers. Most of them he discovered by accident, like the time he nicked himself shaving. Crystals had expectedly sprouted from the small cut on his cheek, but when he flinched from the stinging pain, the water running in the sink abruptly reared up.

Discovering that he could control water was a shock to the system. He’d kept his crystal problem a secret from his loved ones, but that was harder to disguise. Of course, he could only do it while he was bleeding, or if he’d just bled. More specifically, he had to have those crystals on his skin somewhere to do it. They didn’t last forever; they dissolved in water, and could thus be washed away. But it was a conscious choice he made to dismiss them.

The first time he discovered he wasn’t the only one with powers was by complete accident. Lance was in the city, where he studied. He was far from home and far from the sea. The noise of the city had taken some getting used to, and he was still unfamiliar with the streets and behaviours of the people he found there. He often got lost. He was lost that evening, in fact.

Some places in the city were bad places to be. Lance like to think he was a pretty good judge of character, but he got overwhelmed sometimes. It could be hard to keep his thoughts on track when he was so easily distracted by the world around him. He’d wandered too far from what he knew, and found himself in an unfamiliar district. Neon signs splashed colour against the damp, dark road. It had rained recently, so everything smelt wet. Rowdiness spilled from open doorways. Equally rowdy patrons stumbled out, chasing after short skirts or broad shoulders. Some places he walked past smelt so heavily of alcohol he almost gagged.

He couldn’t find his way back to a familiar road. His apartment block was in a nicer neighbourhood, a simpler one, that was near a train station. He’d gotten off at the wrong stop – he realised that now. His phone was dead in his pocket, and he was completely helpless.

Panic made his throat tight. He tried to keep it off his face but knew it was a lost cause – his mother always said he was an open book. Unable to help it, he ducked down a narrow alleyway, needing a moment to breathe. If he walked far enough, he’d find a phone booth. He could just call his roommate for help. They knew this city better than him.

Mind made up, he gathered his wits, and turned back the way he’d came.

Except there was someone standing in the alley mouth. Lance instantly smelt the alcohol on them. It was like it had soaked into their clothes, and the wet stain beneath their chin made him think that maybe it had.

“Oh?” the man grunted, a grin stretching across his ruddy, unhandsome face. “Who’re you, doll?”

Lance took a step back, feeling the pendant hanging from his bracelet flick into his palm with a careful tilt of his wrist. He glanced behind him. The alley was a dead end.

“Come here.” The man lumbered forwards, unsteady, aggressive. Lance skidded back, frightened, and the man stumbled against the wall. A snarl twisted his face. “You brat!”

“Let go of me!” Lance cried, as the man’s meaty hands clamped around his arm, hard enough to bruise. He slammed Lance against the bricks hard enough to make Lance’s head spin.

“Just hold still,” the man said. His breath reeked, too.

Lance grit his teeth. Even drunk this man was stronger than him – he was at least double Lance’s weight. Squeezing his eyes shut, he made a decision, and clenched his fingers. From a distance, the pendant on his bracelet looked simple enough: a little blue star, made from seaglass Lance had found on the shore by his home. It had been a present from his older brother.

Unbeknownst to his brother, however, Lance had modified it. He’d sharpened one edge of the star until he’d undone all the smoothing out the ocean tide had done to it, until it was sharp again. Sharp enough to cut.

That edge dug into his palm. He felt his skin split, and a drop of blood well up. The cut didn’t have to be deep. It just had to make him bleed.

The second his blood crystallised, he felt power rush through his veins. Water burst up from the puddles around their feet, forming a ring around the man’s neck that yanked him backwards. Lance pushed away from the brick wall, rubbing dirt from his face. He held out his arm and commanded the water to rise again, faster than a snake. It coalesced around the man’s head, smothering him, forming a bubble. Air burst out of the man’s nose and mouth as he struggled to breathe.

Only when he was on the verge of passing out did Lance let the water go. The man collapsed, coughing and spluttering.

“Oi!”

Lance’s heart climbed into his throat. More strangers had appeared at the alley mouth, and were looking at him angrily. One was holding something in his hand. Lance thought it was a gun.

He squeezed his pendant tighter, feeling blood drip down his palm. He was scared. He was so scared. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, he didn’t know what to do.

Then, before he could do anything, a ball of fire shot past his head.

It sent a flash of light down the dark alley and made Lance recoil. The fire came from behind him, and exploded at the mouth of the alley, sending sparks skittering up into the air. His attackers shouted out and scattered. They were gone by the time the fire disappeared.

Lance spun around. A man was dropping down from the wall blocking off the end of the alley, landing lightly on his feet. He was wearing a red jacket. Blood was smeared over his smoking fingertips. As Lance stared at him, red crystals grew from his palm.

“What…?” His mouth was too dry for words. The hovering water lashed about like a cat’s tail, drifting in front of Lance like ribbons, defensive.

The man held up his palms. One by one, the crystals broke away from his skin, disintegrating into red dust before they hit the ground. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said. He had a deep, comforting voice, one that resonated like a chiming bell through Lance.

“Who are you?” Lance asked.

“My name is Keith.” He turned one palm upwards, facing the sky. Before the last crystal fell away, he created a palm-sized flame, one that burned with an intense brightness. “I’m like you.”

The water dropped to the ground with a splash. Lance’s head was spinning. His wound had closed up already, but he felt like he was still bleeding.

“I think I’m going to…” he began, before everything went dark.

The last thing he saw was Keith lunging forwards to catch him.

Chapter Text

The pain was worse than Lance ever imagined it could be. Blood gushed from his hind leg, sliding warm and thick through his fur. It dripped over parts where blood had already dried, matting his fur, making his leg ache something fierce. At first, he’d been able to limp on it, letting his toes barely touch the ground before staggering on. Now the pain was so bad he was walking on three legs, the inured one curled up towards his body.

He couldn’t go on like this.

Hours had passed since he’d escaped the trap that had injured him. These woods had once been safe for creatures like him, but now… Clearly, that wasn’t the case anymore. Poachers had been slowly edging further and further into the woods for years now, like the slow creep of rot up a tree trunk. At first, they’d done little more than hunt, using weapons and magic alike to strike down magical creatures. Their aggression progressed into laying traps, and destroying homes in order to flush out their quarry – setting fires, cutting down trees, polluting rivers.

It was terrible.

Lance had been on the move when he’d fallen into a trap. It had been hidden beneath a thin layer of soil and leaves, and covered in animal fur to mask the scent of metal. When he’d accidentally stepped on the trigger, iron teeth had sprung out of the ground and speared right through his leg. He’d had to yank himself out of it to get away. That had caused more injury than the initial bite.

Now he didn’t know where he was. Most shifters like him had a good sense of direction, but he was completely disorientated. He couldn’t tell how far he’d wandered from the heart of the woods, where he’d made his home since he set out from his family. He didn’t even know if he was walking right towards the poachers or not.

There was a house ahead. Lance was surprised to see it. He hadn’t even noticed its light in the distance, and yet he’d been walking towards it, aimless and exhausted. Orange light spilled from its windows, and he stumbled towards it, drawn by its warmth. The house was away from the trees, separated by a tame garden. He pawed through a flower bed, stumbling over a plank of wood that marked its boundary. He let out a pitiful yowl as his chin hit the ground. He didn’t have the energy to stand. Everything was going fuzzy and orange around him.

A click made his ears twitch. He lifted his head, and saw a figure peering out of an opened back door. They were shrouded in light from inside the house. Lance saw dark skin and worried eyes set behind a pair of glasses. The man didn’t look like a poacher, but Lance still mustered up a weak hiss, his ears pinned back against his skull.

“Shiro!” the man called over his shoulder. “Get me a towel!”

Lance tried to stand. He shouldn’t have come here. He got his legs under him but wobbled, letting out another pitiful cry as he put pressure on his injured one. There was no way he could go any further like it was. He doubted there was enough blood left in him anyway.

Resigned, Lance slumped to the ground again. He couldn’t lift his head.

Something soft was gently lowered over him. He cracked his eyes open and watched as the man in glasses wrapped him up in a towel, tucking Lance’s legs in so that he couldn’t lash out with his claws. He hissed again, but the sound spluttered, dipping into a frightened yowl.

“What happened to it?” another man asked.

“I don’t know,” the one in glasses said. Carefully, very carefully, he lifted Lance up, cradling in his arms. “He’s already bleeding through the towel. Did you call Allura?”

“She’s on her way.”

The air inside the house was warm. It was so different from the chill of the woods that Lance felt his head spin. He squirmed, but the pain in his leg was too much, so he stopped.

“Can you get a bowl of warm water and another towel?”

“Yeah, give me a second.”

The man carrying him sat, keeping Lance in his arms. One hand came up to Lance’s head, ignoring his hisses, to rub behind his ears. The gesture was so soft and steady that Lance stopped fighting against it.

The other returned with a bowl of steaming water and a small towel. Gingerly, so as not to jostle Lance, the first laid him down on his lap and unwrapped the towel he was covered with. He wet the second one, and pressed it to Lance’s wound, causing him to cry out.

“I know it hurts,” the man soothed, “just bear with it for now, please.”

Lance dug his claws into the towel, shredding it. The pain was too much. It was like the teeth of the trap were biting into him all over again.

The second man crouched in front of him, replacing his partner’s hand with his own. His fingertips smoothed over Lance’s head. “Don’t worry, you’ll be alright.”

Lance only caught a quick glimpse at his face – brown eyes, pale skin, a scar over the bridge of his nose – before his eyes rolled into the back of his head and everything went dark.

 

Time passed in a dreary, confusing haze. He woke up several times to his wounds being tended by a silver-haired woman while the two men looked on, concerned. She had magic, and stopped him from bleeding out, but that was as much as he could understand. He woke up again when his body shifted back to his human form, an unconscious reaction he couldn’t control.

It was a painful process, one that was actually the reason he woke up in the first place. Bones cracked, and his wound reopened as it stretched to accommodate his human body. He was dressed, since his transformation preserved clothing, but his pants and the hem of his tunic were instantly soaked through with blood. It felt like a chunk had been ripped out of his side. The wound stretched around his hip and down towards his thigh like a shark bite.

Tender hands helped him through the transformation. Someone pressed a towel to his wound to stem the bleeding, and another put their hand into his own. He clutched at it like a lifeline, feeling it ground him to the real, to something other than pain. They didn’t complain when he squeezed as hard as he could, clawed fingertips digging into the meat of their wrist.

He stayed in that form until he was well enough to open his eyes. He could tell he’d had a fever, since his body was achy and sweaty in a way that indicated his temperature had been too high, but that had passed now. When he next opened his eyes, he was considerably more conscious than he had been in a long time.

The bed beneath him was comfortable. He was in a small room, sparingly furnished, but quaint. The blankets had been pulled up beneath his chin. A glass of water was on the bedside table, and he shakily reached for it, drinking it down as fast as he could. He was absolutely parched.

It was sunny outside. He could hear morning birds, and the gentle hush of the forest nearby. Muffled voices were coming through the closed bedroom door. When he heard footsteps approaching, he panicked, and hastily set the glass back down. He curled up on his side with his back facing the door, squeezing his eyes shut, pretending to sleep.

The door creaked as it opened. Footsteps padded closer, and a person sat on the edge of the bed, their weight dipping it down. A hand pushed his hair away from his forehead and flattened there. It startled him, and his eyes flew open. When the hand retreated, he met the gaze of the man in the glasses over his shoulder.

“You’re awake,” the man said, surprised. “How are you feeling?”

Lance couldn’t talk, and he couldn’t stop himself from trembling.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” the man said. “You’re safe here.”

Lance struggled not to believe him. There was something deeply honest about his voice, and it made his trembling stop. He’d never heard anything like it before. He glance at the man again, unsure. He was given a reassuring smile in return.

“My name is Adam,” he said. “What’s yours?”

“Lance,” he rasped, before he thought better of it.

Adam gave him a satisfied nod. He peeled back the blanket, giving Lance’s side an inquisitive stare. His clothes had been replaced with a pair of loose shorts and a shirt that was several sizes too big on him. It had ridden up while he slept, exposing the bandages wrapped around his torso. They looked clean.

“You’re on the mend now, I think,” Adam said. “And your fever is gone. That’s a good sign.”

“Where am I?”

“This is my home,” Adam explained, settling the blanket back down. “Near town.”

Lance’s eyes widened. He’d travelled that far?

“Adam?” a voice at the door asked.

Lance flinched, shrinking back into himself.

“It’s alright,” Adam said to Lance. “Shiro, you can come in.”

The man with the scar across his nose approached. In daylight, Lance could see that one of his arms was missing, replaced with a metal prosthetic. He was wearing a sweater, and Lance could see scars peeking out from the same side as his prosthetic. Something terrible had happened to him, too.

“Here, I brought you some food,” Shiro said, setting down a tray on the bedside table. “Can you eat?”

Lance’s stomach grumbled. He pushed himself upright, hiding a wince as his side twinged. Shiro passed him the tray, and Lance couldn’t help but stare, a little overwhelmed by their kindness. His gaze flicked up to Shiro’s warm brown eyes. “Um… why are you helping me…?”

A confused expression flickered over Shiro’s face. “You were really hurt,” he said. When Lance only stared at him, he added, “Do we need a reason to help someone in need?”

Lance lowered his eyes. Everyone knew that poachers were after shifters. They were considered high-quality targets, ones that could be sold as trophies or pets for high prices. Lots of innocent people had been hurt because they’d helped vulnerable shifters. Poachers were indiscriminate in who they targeted.

“I didn’t think there were any cat shifters left in this area,” Shiro said, crouching down to catch Lance’s eyes again. “Were you living in the forest?”

“I was…” At least, he had been for a little while. Most cat shifters lived somewhere between civilisation and wilderness, since the divide between the two was perfect for them. But with poachers, many shifters had fled deeper into forests in a bid to protect themselves. Lance had been wandering around looking for a home for a long time now. He hadn’t found one yet.

He supposed cat shifters were a bit rarer around these parts. He hadn’t come across one. In his cat form he was rather small and lanky, with short brown fur and the same blue eyes he had in his human form. He was fast and good at hiding, but cats weren’t very strong creatures, and he couldn’t take on a poacher in a fight the same way a wolf shifter could.

“Um,” Lance started again, struggling to gather his thoughts, “isn’t it really dangerous to let me stay here? For you, I mean. I should go…”

“You’ll stay here,” Adam said, matter of fact, but not cold. His tone left no room for arguing. “Poachers won’t come this close to town. You’ll be safe, I promise.”

Lance believed him. He wasn’t sure why, but he did. He’d never met anyone with a more believable voice. There was just something in the self-assured way he spoke that Lance found incredibly alluring. He was so overcome by their generosity that he felt tears spring to his eyes.

“Hey now, don’t cry,” Shiro said, reaching forwards to brush Lance’s tears off his cheeks. “Shifters have to look out for each other, right?”

“Huh?” Lance met his eyes, confused. He let his senses expand a little, his eyes flashing with something distinctly feline. He was shocked to see the same flash in Shiro’s eyes. “You’re…?”

“Yep.” Shiro gave him a smile. He was so handsome with an expression like that, Lance thought. It felt unfair.

“Are you?” Lance directed the question at Adam.

“No,” Adam said, chuckling. He leaned back against the bed, careful of Lance’s legs. “I’m just a normal human.”

Lance found that difficult to believe. He shared a glance with Shiro, who only shrugged at him, looking amused. “Thank you for helping me,” he said after a moment. He probably would have died if they hadn’t taken him in. “I really appreciate it.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Shiro said. He gestured at the tray. “Eat, alright? You need to get your strength up.”

Lance smothered his sniffles into a bite of bread. The roll was warm and fresh, and he swore it was the best thing he’d tasted since his last home-cooked meal from his mother. Adam put a hand on his head as he ate, affectionately ruffling his hair.

“Stay here as long as you need,” he said. It was an offer, but it felt like an order, and Lance was utterly reassured by it.

“You’re welcome as long as you like, Lance,” Shiro agreed. There was a subtle purr hidden under his voice, one that Lance recognised as belonging to a shifter. It made him smile.

He didn’t think he’d ever want to leave.

Chapter Text

Lance yawned as he rubbed sleep from his eyes. A gentle breeze blew through his small, private garden, ticking the back of his neck. He wasn’t wearing his usual high-collared tunic, and had instead put on wide-sleeved robes that were comfortable to doze in.

Flowers bloomed all around him. Bluebells and snowdrops hung their blossoming heads in the field beside him, sheltered by the shade of plentiful weeping willow trees. Gladiolus flowers and daffodils enjoyed the sunlight. Camellias and hydrangeas crowded their bushes. Pink cherry blossoms peered in through the willow leaves. Several sprigs of forget-me-nots had pushed up around Lance’s sleeping form, curling between his fingers and up through his hair. They were his favourites.

Sitting upright, he carefully brushed all the flowers away, returning them to the earth. When he closed his eyes, he could feel tremors in the soil, like whispered words spoken just for him. He could sense the land shifting as rays of morning sun fell onto it, delighting the plants into wakefulness. The sun was radiant that morning.

He wondered what had woken him. He spent much of his time on the surface world sleeping, even more so when the moonlight was strong. Though it was morning now, and the sun was a warm presence against his skin, he felt like he could have slept for several days more without waking.

Listening closer to the whispers of the earth gave him his answer.

Somewhere nearby, a fissure in the earth’s surface had opened up. When he concentrated, he could feel it like a cold spot on his back, one that made a tingle go up his spine. Most gods on the surface world felt warm to the touch, since they were always bathing in the sun’s golden rays. Only those from other realms – like the Underworld, or the Deep Sea – felt cold. This sense of cold, however, was familiar to him as one from the Underworld.

A small smile flitted across Lance’s face. Not many knew of this garden, since it was very private to him, and one of the only places in all the realms that he kept to himself. Even entering was a challenge, since the trees could be misleading if the person wading through them had not received permission to be here.

But this visitor from the Underworld had permission.

When the God of the Dead finally made his way through the willow trees, Lance had fully awakened, and was sitting comfortably in his field of flowers.

“You’re awake,” Keith said.

“No thanks to you,” Lance replied, grinning. Every time Keith ascended into the surface world, Lance was alerted to his presence. It didn’t matter how far away Keith was, or how deeply asleep Lance happened to be. He always woke up, and he always knew when Keith had arrived.

He wasn’t complaining about that.

Keith lowered himself onto the grass beside Lance, his black robes billowing out around him. The holster for his dagger was empty out of respect for Lance, who smiled at the gesture.

“Tea?” he offered, sweeping a hand over the pot and cups sitting beside him. This little garden had everything he needed. A small stone shrine dedicated to him always had a teapot and cups siting just beneath its pedestal. Lance could make the tea from flowers he grew, and water was always available at a nearby stream. Heating it was only a matter of asking the sun for warmth.

“Yes, please.”

Lance held his long sleeves out of the way as he poured two cups. The sweet scent of jasmine rose with steam from the surface of the tea.

“How are things in the Underworld?” Lance asked.

“Much the same as always,” Keith replied.

“And the asphodel fields? Are they still blooming?”

A brief smile flitted across Keith’s angular face. “Yes.”

“I’m glad.” As the patron god of flowers, Lance had been very interested to hear about the field of asphodels in the Underworld. He’d grown up very sheltered, only knowing the god of the sun and the god of the harvest for centuries before he was introduced to others. Many warned him to stay away from the gods of the Underworld – the God of Death, the God of Calamity, Death themselves, and so forth – because their nature conflicted so harshly with Lance’s own. He created life, not destruction.

But Lance’s curiosity was something to be reckoned with, and he hadn’t been able to keep himself away from Keith in particular. There was something very alluring about him, something Lance couldn’t explain. He felt it as deeply as he felt the earth around him, beneath his bare feet.

He couldn’t deny that the other gods would be angry if they found out he and Keith met up so frequently. They could barely spend a week apart, that’s how close their connection had become. Lance couldn’t travel to the Underworld, but Keith could ascend up to the surface and find Lance that way. All he had to do was follow the flowers.

They met in secret. It was the only way, and as much as Lance hated keeping secrets, especially from his loved ones, he would be more distraught if he could no longer see Keith. That’s why his garden was such an ideal place for them to spend time together. No one could interrupt them here, not without Lance knowing in advance.

Keith took a sip of his tea before setting the cup down. He moved himself closer to Lance, pulling Lance to recline against him, one arm going around Lance’s chest. He pressed his nose to Lance’s hair and breathed out deeply. “I missed you.”

“It’s only been a week,” Lance said, voice soft.

“It feels like an eternity.”

Lance closed his eyes, letting himself enjoy Keith’s simple touch. The God of Death was incredibly unfriendly with anyone other than him – he had no friends or companions among the surface gods, many of whom thought him to be cruel and dark, someone befitting the supposed hellish Underworld. Lance knew better. He knew that Keith was a fair ruler, and that his social unease came from a feeling of isolation. He was one of only a very small number who were forbidden from living on the surface with the rest of them.

Only Death themselves lived in the Underworld, and even then they were permitted to wander the surface, reaping souls as they pleased. It was harder for Keith, who could never be away from his throne for long.

“Stay until the sun sets,” Lance pleaded.

“I’d stay forever, if I could,” Keith whispered.

Chapter Text

Lance plucked an apple off the stand, turning it over in his fingers. Its skin was shiny and red, and finding it satisfactory, he slipped it into his basket, where four others already sat.

Market day was arguably his favourite of the week. It was a Wednesday, which made getting through Monday and Tuesday easier, since he had something to look forwards to. Come every Wednesday, a variety of stalls and little shops popped up in the town square, lasting until well into the evening, where each stall lit colourful lanterns to light the way.

He always took time off in the afternoon to visit. It was something he did every week, since he enjoyed it so much.

With his fruit picked out, he paid the friendly woman behind the stand, and carried on down the street. The fruit stall was one of his favourites, since the apples were always sweet and rosy. Further along the street, he stopped in to look around a stall full of houseplants, and then another selling jars of honey, jam, and marmalade. It was wonderful to look at.

More than that, however, were the wonderful smells that greeted him.

As an omega, his sense of smell was quite enhanced. He loved scenting the sweet flowers at the florist stall, and the sugar being laden on donuts at a nearby food truck. When night fell, he could always smell the subtle scent of smoke coming from the candles in the lanterns, and the mixtures of savoury treats being sold near the opening of the street. He loved it. The scents here made his stomach tingle in an excited, familiar way. He’d been coming to these markets for so long that the scents here reminded him of home.

Dusk arrived. Lance added a bouquet of freshly cut flowers to his carry bag, along with a packet of handmade wax melts, and a pretty glass bowl wrapped in newspaper to keep it from breaking. As he wandered around the square, stall owners were beginning to light their lanterns, and the streets were shifting from a soft, afternoon atmosphere to an energetic, buzzing night market.

As he was wondering past the food stalls, contemplating what he wanted to take home for dinner, a strange scent caught his nose. He stopped in his tracks, hugging his bag closer as a confused look crossed his face. He’d never smelt anything like it, and it made shivers go up and down his arms. There was a subtle sweetness to the scent, one that indicated an omega, but a strength to it too, like cologne against warm skin. It made him salivate, and embarrassed, he wiped his hand across his mouth, though he wasn’t drooling quite yet.

A need to find the owner of that scent filled him. He knew that most people still had a sort of biological failsafe that would direct them towards a highly compatible mate; it was something commonly seen between alpha and omega pairings, since their hormonal compatibility was the strongest. It could be seen in other pairings, of course, but Lance never expected to find himself drawn to strongly to another person.

It was dizzying.

As the night progressed, the market had steadily become more and more crowded. Scents tangled and mixed in every direction. And yet, Lance hardly struggled to follow the one particular one calling to him, weaving through the crowd with muttered apologies as he bumped into people.

He had to find them. He had to.

The end of the street broke off into two separate directions, but the scent wasn’t coming from either one of them. Instead he followed it into a small space between two buildings, shielded overhead by a fabric awning. There, the scent was the strongest, and it drew him in.

There was a man leaning against the wall, his head bowed. He was dressed casually, in a pair of dark jeans that did wonderful things for his legs and a light cream sweater. He was much taller than Lance, towering at least a head above him, and his shoulders were impressively broad. There was no denying he was quite in shape. Even at a first glance, Lance could tell that.

But he looked troubled. There was a tremor in his shoulders, and as Lance watched him, he dragged a shaky hand back through his snow white hair.

“Are you alright?” Lance asked, voice hesitant and unassuming.

The man startled, turning to stare at him. There was a thick scar running across the bridge of his nose, but Lance thought he was the most handsome man he’d ever seen. The man’s eyes widened a little as he took in Lance’s scent, his worried expression softening just a little.

From this close, Lance could smell a lot more of the man’s scent. He was definitely an omega, and despite how attracted Lance was to his scent, he could tell there was something more to it. Was he close to his heat? That would explain the reason why he smelled so rich. Lance knew that some omegas had irregular cycles, and that a heat – or the signs of one – could sneak up on a person out of nowhere. It had happened to him before.

“I….” the man began, before his eyes flickered over Lance’s shoulder, and he stiffened again.

Lance turned around, a scowl forming on his face when he noticed a couple of alphas blocking off the way he’d come. Their scents were sour in his nose, smothering the sweetness of the omega behind him. He felt a surge of protectiveness swell over him. An omega close to heat could drive an alpha mad, especially if they were unclaimed, like this one.

“What’s this, an omega nearing a heat?” one of the alpha’s cooed, his eyes leering.

Lance let out a defensive growl. Omegas couldn’t snarl or snap like alphas, but they were fierce in their own rights. When an omega felt threatened, their scent would thicken with distress, a twang that could be smelt at quite a distance. If it got to that point, people at the market would surely smell it.

His growl, however, seemed to do the trick. He didn’t mean for it to sound as protective as it did – it sounded as if he knew the omega. The alphas recoiled, likely surprised by his aggressive reaction. They scoffed and postured, acting like children with wounded egos, but they left. Lance only felt his metaphorical hackles lower when they were entirely gone from sight.

The omega behind him was staring at him with wide, brown eyes. “Thank you,” he said, voice weak. He was really leaning against the wall now, looking like he was moments from having to sit down.

Lance approached cautiously, trying to reign in his actions. “Are you alright?” he repeated.

The man gave him a shaky smile. “I think I’m going into heat…”

Lance’s cheeks flushed with colour. He adjusted his grip on his bag. “Do you live nearby? I can walk you home, if you want.”

“Really?”

“If you want,” he insisted, offering a small smile.

The man’s face broke into an expression of relief. “Thank you,” he said on an exhale, stepping forwards. He let out a wince as he pushed away from the wall, and Lance rushed forwards to steady him, holding onto the man’s arm. He was surprised to feel something hard beneath his hands – a prosthetic? The omega flushed, embarrassed, his eyes fixing elsewhere. Lance was embarrassed too, since he seemed to have upset the omega. He let comfort bleed into his scent, trying to ease the omega’s mind. If a little of his desire for the other omega crept into his scent too, well… it wasn’t like it was fake.

From this close, the omega was even prettier than before. He was much taller and more muscular than Lance, though there was a certain softness to him that was distinctly omega. He had an angular jaw and ridiculously dark eyelashes. Lance had always found brown eyes to be stunning, and this man’s were incredibly so. He really was so beautiful.

“My name is Lance,” he said.

“Shiro,” the omega told him, meeting his eyes once more. His cheeks were red. He couldn’t hide his own longing on his scent, especially not when he leaned on Lance a little heavier.

Lance smiled up at him. “Lead the way.”

Chapter Text

Lance had found himself quite wrapped up in domestic duties lately. It was something that happened to many omegas when they were pregnant. They were struck by urges to clean their space, to keep things ordered in the way they liked best, and to take care of their mates perhaps a little more than they’d like.

The last few weeks had seen Lance really take to those domestic duties. He didn’t like them exactly, but he felt satisfied seeing a job done more than he had before. The linen cupboard had been completely cleaned and reorganised, as had their kitchen cabinets, and the bookshelf in the lounge room. Their large bed had turned into a nest he was constantly remarking and adjusting. He’d progressed along in his pregnancy enough that his stomach was decently rounded, not enough to inhibit him, but enough to be unmistakable, so he was able to do those things without struggling.

His fussing had extended to his mates, of course. Both Keith and Shiro were working more than him now, since most omegas were afforded time off once they started to show as much as Lance did, if that was what they wanted. He’d struggled a lot with morning sickness during the beginning of his pregnancy, so he was taking less hours now, which meant he was at home a lot more.

Shiro was far more relaxed about Lance’s instincts than Keith was. He was content to let the omega wander around the house as much as he pleased, moving aside when he needed to, or helping if Lance came up to him for it. Keith was far more concerned with Lance’s behaviours. He followed Lance around like a worried puppy, lifting heavy things for him, or offering to help wherever he could. It was cute, Lance thought, but entirely unnecessary, though he didn’t tell Keith that.

Besides, Keith’s hovering meant it was easier for Lance to cajole him into doing what he wanted.

See, sometimes Lance’s fussing could be a little much. He knew that. But he couldn’t help it, and he got rather upset when his mates hesitated at his requests. It wasn’t like it was anything bad, he always said, teary-eyed. They always gave in quickly – especially Keith.

It helped that Keith got home before Shiro, too. That meant Lance could pounce when there was only one of them around, which was exactly what he’d done that evening. Really, once one of them had given in, the other one had no choice but to as well.

At least, that’s the excuse Lance used to force Shiro into the bathtub when he got home.

“See, this isn’t so bad,” Lance said, entirely satisfied with himself, as he gently scrubbed shampoo into Shiro’s hair. Fitting the alpha in the tub was always a little comical, since he was so tall and broad, but Lance was determined.

Shiro only hummed. He didn’t like baths, but had succumbed to Lance’s pleading, pouting expression. He’d since stripped down and sunk as deep into the steaming bath water as he could, much to Lance’s delight. He’d prepared the bath himself, of course, since everything had to be perfect. Its steam smelt like chamomile and honey, and the temperature was just hot enough to make Shiro’s pale skin turn a little pink.

Lance poured more shampoo on his palm before rubbing it into Shiro’s hair. He had quite thick hair, like Keith, though his was shorter, and cropped closer to his head, aside from a long strand at the front. Shiro had always liked having his hair played with, so Lance ran his fingers through it as much as he liked, smiling when it was all slicked back away from Shiro’s handsome face.

“Baths aren’t all that bad,” Lance continued, delighted to have such a calm mate beneath his wandering hands. Shiro was melting into a puddle, his cheeks slowly getting pinker and pinker. He wasn’t embarrassed about being completely nude, or anything – rather, he looked warm and content, which suited Lance just fine.

“Maybe sometimes,” Shiro conceded.

Lance laughed quietly. He put a delicate hand under Shiro’s chin to tilt his head back and used a jug to pour water through his hair, cleaning it. Shiro was all but snoring by the time he was done, looking like he was ready to slip beneath the water at any moment.

When he was done, Lance pat him on the cheek, and ushered him from the bath. He’d set aside their softest towels beforehand, and spent some time carefully drying Shiro off, perhaps a little more than needed because this was making Shiro flush with embarrassment. Lance only grinned at him, and paid more attention to the areas that made Shiro squirm.

There was little he loved more than seeing one of his alphas all flustered and red.

“I sure hope Keith had to do this too,” he grumbled, though Lance could tell he wasn’t mad.

Lance laughed again, pushing open the bathroom door that led to their bedroom, where their alpha mate was sitting on the edge of the bed. Keith was still wrapped in his own fluffy towel, cheeks very faintly flushed, looking somewhat dazed. His hair was sticking up in a dozen different directions, and was so fluffy it gave even Lance’s bed hair a run for its money.

“Ah,” Shiro chuckled.

“I did a load of washing today,” Lance said, as he made Shiro sit beside Keith on the edge of the bad, watching to make sure neither one of them messed up his nest. He riffled through their chest of drawers, where all the clean, folded clothes had been placed, and found their favourite pyjama sets. “Here, get dressed.”

“You’ve spoilt us,” Shiro told him, smiling.

Lance just grinned back. Spoiling his mates was what he was good at. Knowing he was doing a good job eased his instincts. He needed to take care of his family; it was like a need to maintain control, and making sure his mates were relaxed and clean helped with that.

Once dressed, Shiro pulled Lance against him, slipping his arms around Lance’s waist and rounded stomach. He sat Lance down on the bed in between them, and Keith leaned into nuzzle against Lance’s neck.

“You smell good,” Keith murmured.

Lance let out a pleased purr, leaning into his affectionate mate. “You always say that.”

“Because it’s always true.”

“I agree,” Shiro said, dropping a kiss against Lance’s foreheads. He pulled them all down on the bed, making Lance laugh, their arms and legs tangling.

He’d never been more content.

Chapter Text

“He’s showing remarkable restraint,” Acxa reported.

“Is that so?”

She inclined her head in affirmation. “More than any I’ve heard of before. It’s unusual.”

Lotor was intrigued. It was rare for a fledgling to be able to control themselves. In fact, Lotor’s occupation depended on them being wild and uncontrollable. As one of the strongest vampires in the country – the strongest, in his opinion – he took charge of hunting down and controlling newborn fledglings. It was illegal to turn a human into a vampire, and so making fledglings was a dangerous business. Lotor rather enjoyed punishing those who made fledglings only to toss them aside. Their heads always rolled.

See, fledglings had very delicate sensibilities. There was a great difference in strength between humans and vampires, so to suddenly become one, often due to traumatic circumstances, left them feeling too small in a body too strong for them. It wasn’t unusual to hear that fledglings had murdered their loved ones in their confusion. They didn’t know their own strength, and even shaking a human’s hand the wrong way could break all their fingers.

That wasn’t even taking into account a fledgling’s hunger.

They were ravenous. Becoming a vampire drained them of all their energy, as well as their mortal life. The hunger that came from being a starved vampire could turn even the most composed person feral. Nothing was off the table when it came to getting food.

Finding out that a newborn fledgling was restraining himself from consuming every human around him was utterly fascinating.

Most of the time, when Lotor was called in to deal with fledglings, it was to put them down. A fledgling could usually be controlled by their sire, by the person who turned them. Sires who abandoned fledglings all but assured their death, since they’d become volatile and endlessly aggressive, with no fragment of mortality left in them. That was why Lotor enjoyed killing negligent sires, since it was so against their very nature to abandon fledglings.

Hearing of a new fledgling had brought some interest to Lotor’s night. It had been a while since he’d had any sort of physical challenge – there was only so much sparring he could do with his generals before they got fed up with him. He relished the difficulty in controlling starved fledglings or arrogant sires, knowing he would always be stronger. That he’d be the victor.

This situation felt different.

“I should probably take care of it, then,” he said, feeling a grin curl at his lips, enough that his fangs flashed.

Acxa only sighed. She knew him all too well.

 

The fledgling was being held at his house, of all places. Lotor and Acxa let themselves in the front door, since they were expected, though unwelcome. Inside was quaint. Several scents layered one on top of another, indicating that the family had a lot of members. At least five, Lotor thought. He was too distracted by the scent of the fledgling to fully sort the smells out.

Vampires smelt different from humans, fledglings even more so. They smelt fresh and young, like a flower first blooming. Ripe, almost. It inspired a sense of protection in a lot of vampires, like the fledgling was calling to be taken care of. Lotor himself had never been particularly interested in fledglings, had never made any of his own, but this one…

There was something addicting about it. He had to take a moment to breathe in several times, wanting more. Something foreign stirred in his chest.

“Lotor?”

Acxa’s eyes were far too perceptive for Lotor’s liking. He gave her a fanged sneer and she looked away, dropping the conversation. Fledglings could be a weakness for a vampire. Many vampires turned their lovers into fledglings, hoping to tie their immortal lives together. Lotor wasn’t sure he ever wanted the vulnerability that came with having someone so deeply imbedded in his heart.

But this scent…

He made himself concentrate, and ventured deeper into the house. Vampires usually had a certain air to them, like a weaponised aura. When humans appeared in the hallway, defensive and protective, he stared them down. Predictably, they moved aside. He admired their strength, but there was no point getting between a vampire and their goal. They’d only get hurt.

The fledgling was laid down on a bed, tangled up in blue sheets. He looked rather young, even for a human – perhaps just shy of his twentieth year. His skin was pleasantly dark, though he looked quite withered, almost pale despite his brown complexion. A distraught expression twisted at his face, and dainty fangs peered out of his mouth. If he hadn’t of looked so unwell, Lotor would have thought him handsome.

(He still did, despite himself.)

“What do we have here?” he said, a subtle purr to his voice.

The fledgling’s eyes snapped open, focusing on him instantly. They were a bright blue, which surprised Lotor. Most vampire’s eyes went red shortly after their turning, and Lotor could smell that this one had been turned only hours beforehand.

“Please, he hasn’t hurt anyone,” one of the girls behind him pleaded. From her scent and her dark skin, Lotor assumed she was the fledgling’s sister.

“I’m aware,” Lotor said, cutting her a sharp look. He normally didn’t care who watched him dispose of fledglings, and he never spoke to humans while he was meant to be focusing on the problem at hand, but that feeling in his chest flared up. He didn’t like the idea of the human getting in between him and his fledgling.

His?

He let his gaze slide back to the fledgling, who was still starting him, eyes watery.

“Come on,” Acxa murmured behind him, ushering the flocking humans away. “The fledgling will be fine.”

“But–!”

“Come,” she repeated, more forcefully. The humans complied.

Alone with the fledgling, Lotor felt his aura soften a little, as did his expression. He approached the bed and sat down on its edge, leaning over the fledgling. Up close, his scent was making Lotor’s fangs ache.

“You must be hungry,” he said, tilting his head. “Are you?”

The fledgling swallowed hard enough that Lotor could see the movement of his throat. He was holding himself back, that much was easy to see. It was remarkable.

“What’s going to happen to me?” the fledgling rasped.

Lotor considered it. If the fledgling attacked someone, he’d have to be put down. That was the law. And yet… he knew he’d be rather upset if that happened, and no one ever wanted to upset him. He was too powerful a person to make an enemy of. There was a reason he was the one tasked with taking down powerful fledglings, after all.

But he had a feeling that this fledgling wasn’t going to hurt anyone. He seemed like he’d rather starve to death before feeding, which confused Lotor.

“Why don’t you eat?” he questioned.

The fledgling’s eyes flickered. “I don’t want to hurt my family.”

“Oh?” How interesting. “Not even when your throat is burning like it is?”

The fledgling’s eyes widened, and he swallowed again.

“Not even though your head is so heavy? Even though you can hear their blood pounding, just beyond that door? It smells delicious, doesn’t it? It would be so easy to take.”

A weak snarl wobbled at the fledgling’s lips. “I won’t hurt them.”

Lotor sat back, satisfied. Goading a fledgling into drinking was incredibly easy – just the faintest reminder of their hunger would spark a frenzy. This one really was quite remarkable.

“I suppose I can make an exception for you, then,” Lotor decided. The thought of any other vampire caring for this fledgling pissed him off, so he reached up a hand to undo the buttons on his high collar, exposing his neck. “What’s your name?”

“It’s… it’s Lance.”

“Lance,” Lotor repeated, tasting the name on his tongue. “You can drink from me.”

Those blue eyes went comically wide. “What…?”

Lotor tucked a hand behind the fledgling’s head, yanking him upright. He was like a doll in Lotor’s palm, too weak to resist despite his immense strength. “Drink,” he repeated.

The fledgling’s hands clutched at his coat, fingers twisting in the fabric. He was panting, lips parted to make way for his fangs. Lotor could feel the conflict in him, the way he tensed and loosened, unsure what to do.

He tightened his fingers in the fledgling’s hair. Perhaps a firm hand would reassure him that everything would be fine. “Drink,” he commanded.

This time, Lance complied. His mouth descended on Lotor’s skin, cold and dry, hesitant. The feel of his fangs puncturing Lotor’s skin sent a sizzle down his spine. He’d never quite felt anything like it. Every drag of blood from him into Lance’s mouth was euphoric.

“There you go,” Lotor soothed. “Better, isn’t it?”

Lance only whimpered. He pressed against Lotor, desperate for comfort that Lotor was all too willing to provide. “Tastes good,” he said, licking the mess he’d made on Lotor’s neck.

Lotor only hummed. He’d been alive for decades longer than a human could live and yet he’d never felt so connected to another vampire. He’d always been possessive of things that were his, but this rush of protectiveness was new.

“Sorry,” Lance murmured, when he was done.

“Don’t apologise,” Lotor said. He felt rather good, all things considered. Feeding another had never been pleasurable for him, but feeding Lance was. He felt completely satisfied without having done anything.

Lance slumped against him, his eyes closing.

Lotor had a feeling he was never going to let him go.

Chapter Text

Lance hefted his bag higher on his shoulder, wishing he hadn’t brought quite so many books from the library with him. When he’d had them there spread out on the table in front of him, he’d thought they were incredibly important for his research, and that putting them back on the shelf would have been a big mistake.

Hence why he’d checked them out, and was now carrying around a bag he swore weighed more than he did.

It probably would have been fine if he’d planned on going straight home. He didn’t live all that far from the library, hence why he’d walked in the first place. Today, however, he had other plans.

The café was close to the library, just in the opposite direction than his home, more towards the town centre than the suburbs. It was a quaint little place, with chipped, wooden tables and potted plants hanging from the ceiling. The place was family run and had been for as long as anyone could remember, longer than Lance was alive for sure. Its coffee was just okay, but the cakes were fantastic, and the place as well as the people who worked there were wonderful enough that customers always came back.

Lance was no exception, but he wasn’t going there for the cakes.

When he pushed the café door open, he found exactly what he was looking for. Shiro was already sitting in the table they normally shared, two steaming cups of tea on the table in front of him. He was wearing a turtle-necked sweater today, one that complimented the shape of his shoulders, as well as his reading glasses. A single book sat in his lap, closed.

“Sorry I’m late,” Lance fretted, as he lowered his heavy bag to the floor and took his seat.

Shiro glanced up at him and smiled, looking far too soft and warm to be legal. “You’re not late, don’t worry. I ordered the tea you usually get, I hope that’s alright.”

“Perfectly fine.” Lance was beyond relieved to bring the cup to his lips. He was inwardly pleased that Shiro had remembered his order. They’d been meeting here for long enough that it wasn’t surprising, but it still had Lance all chuffed.

“That looks like a lot of books,” Shiro said, peering over the edge of the table down at Lance’s bag.

Lance let out a theatrical groan. “Oh, you have no idea!”

He and Shiro had been meeting up for several weeks now, after a chance run in at the library had led to Shiro knocking Lance’s drink all over him. He’d thus replaced it here at this café, and their tradition of meeting up together had begun. It wasn’t like they were complete strangers – they shared friends, but hadn’t really talked themselves, and while Lance had seen Shiro around before, nothing had come from it.

But he liked Shiro. More than just like a friend would. He didn’t quite know Shiro’s mannerisms or habits off by heart, but he had a feeling Shiro liked him, too. There was no way any man would blush so much if he didn’t.

No one knew they were sort-of-dating-sort-of-meeting-up. Or whatever it was they were doing. He and Shiro were both a little nervous about the whole deal. A good kind of nervousness, but nervous never the less. They were still at the point where they were worried about others seeing them, because they wouldn’t know what to say, and it was too soon to say they were dating.

That’s why this little café was perfect for them. It was quiet and out of the way, and their friends rarely came here.

Lance knew that once they were done with their tea, Shiro would offer him a ride home, and he’d accept it. Shiro was too much of a gentleman to make him walk home knowing that his bag was heavy. It was one of the many reasons Lance liked him – he was so considerate of others.

It was impossible to not like him, Lance reasoned. His feelings were completely expected. Shiro was just too loveable.

One day, he was going to ask Shiro on a proper date. One day.

Chapter Text

Lance had developed a strong sense for when his daughter was about to cry. It wasn’t unusual for that to happen with omegas, since they were often incredibly attuned to every little noise their children made. Novia was only a few weeks old, but Lance had learned her routine within a matter of days, and most of the time didn’t require a clock to keep her on schedule.

That was probably the reason why he always managed to wake up just before her cries could reach him. Her night-time feeds were one of the hardest things to adjust to. Lack of sleep made even the best of people grouchy, and Lance and his mates were no exception to that. For the most parts, his mates insisted that he didn’t have to do the night feeds. He did many throughout the day, and was very attentive to Novia, so they felt it was only right that they pick up the slack at night so Lance could sleep. He hadn’t gotten much during the tougher months of his pregnancy, after all.

He was surprised, then, to find that one of his mates had woken up at the same time as him, before Novia’s first hungry whimpers had started.

When Lance opened his eyes, peering into the darkness of their bedroom, he felt more than saw Curtis get out of bed. Shiro was sleeping in the middle tonight, so the mattress dipped a funny way without Curtis there on the other side of him. There was a softness to Curtis’s footsteps that neither he nor Shiro could replicate, so it was clearly him that wandered over to Novia’s crib.

Lance nuzzled his face into his pillow, content to watch. Curtis murmured something low and sweet, too quiet for him to make out, as he reached a hand into the crib to rub his knuckles over Novia’s cheek.

He was rather sweet with Novia, which was something that never failed to make Lance all warm inside. Curtis was a beta, so the chances of him fathering a child were lower than Shiro’s, since Shiro was an alpha. Novia was biologically Shiro’s, but that didn’t make Curtis love her any less. He was utterly enamoured, finding even the smallest things she did, like the way she curled her fingers in when she yawned, completely fascinating.

“Hungry, my little star?” Curtis whispered, gently lifting Novia from her crib. She squirmed in his arms, letting out little pleased huffing noises as she stared up at him. “How about we get you some food, hmm?”

They disappeared downstairs for a little while. Lance could count in his head how long it took for Curtis to prepare her bottle, and how long it would take her to drink it. He was mostly asleep by the time Curtis returned back upstairs, Novia cradled against his chest, her head tucked into the crook of his neck. He had a satisfied note to his scent that made Lance happy.

When Curtis turned back towards the bed, Lance shuffled over a little, lifting the edge of the blanket. Curtis seemed surprised to find him awake, but gave him a small, knowing smile as he slipped in beside Lance, rather than back into his spot on the other side.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” he murmured, folding Lance into his arms.

Lance shook his head. “You didn’t.”

Curtis hummed, pressing his lips against Lance’s forehead. There was a coolness to his skin that came from being out of bed, and it made Lance press against him, putting his arm over Curtis’s waist to warm him up. He smelt a little bit like milk and a lot like Novia.

“Thanks for taking the shifts tonight,” Lance said around a yawn, resting his cheek against Curtis’s chest as he closed his eyes.

“The whole point is so that you don’t have to wake up, but… you’re welcome,” he chuckled.

It was a losing battle. Lance would have woken up regardless.

“Go back to sleep,” Curtis whispered.

“Already going,” Lance said. He was more asleep than awake, but he did feel when Shiro pressed up behind him, curling them all together.

There was no better feeling.

Chapter Text

There was something incredibly satisfying about lying on top of Keith.

Lance thought that that was because of a number of reasons. Chiefly, it was because Keith was his boyfriend, obviously. A sense of intimacy made them close, both physically and otherwise. He trusted Keith with almost every part of himself, and was in turn rewarded with the same trust from Keith, so that they almost always felt like equals.

That connection aside, Keith was also quite comfortable.

He didn’t look it, to be perfectly honest. He kept himself in shape and was quite decently muscled, with broad shoulders and strong arms. There weren’t many soft parts to him, unlike the persistent softness of Lance’s inner thighs and the tiniest little bit on his stomach, which never went away no matter what he did. Keith was all muscle and lean limbs, all angles and hard planes. He didn’t seem very comfortable to lie on, especially not with that prickly exterior of his.

But Lance knew better. Keith wasn’t prickly, just quiet. He didn’t socialise much, and was usually satisfied with letting others control the conversation. It wasn’t that he was opposed to socialising, or being friendly. He just wasn’t comfortable with strangers. On the inside, he was quite gentle and introspective, something that had surprised but pleased Lance, at first.

It was something that translated well to when it was just the two of them. Keith had a bit of a front to him when they were around others, though it wasn’t something he hid behind, or anything. He was just more vulnerable with Lance, since he seemed to feel like he could allow himself to. They trusted one another, after all. Time had done that.

So, to put it simply, Keith was comfortable, even if he didn’t look it.

Lance took almost every opportunity he could to all but throw himself down on top of his boyfriend. Keith was strong enough that Lance’s weight didn’t really bother him, no matter how boneless Lance went. Sure, he’d get pins and needles in his arm or something eventually, but he enjoyed the closeness too.

Currently, Keith was lying on his back on the couch, a book in hand. Lance saw the opportunity for what it was and wormed his way into the fold. Keith obligingly spread his thighs so that Lance could fit between them, and when Lance had made himself comfortable against his chest, he put his hand in its usual spot at the small of Lance’s back. His fingers always found their way beneath the back of Lance’s shirt, cold against Lance’s warm skin.

Resting like that made Lance feel like he was drifting. His cheek was pressed to Keith’s collarbones, and eventually Keith’s fingertips began to trace patterns along Lance’s back. He had no doubt Keith was going to get stiff positioned as he was, but he would never push Lance off. After a while, he even put his book aside.

Lance smiled to himself. He was content.

Chapter Text

Lance hummed to himself as he rinsed the dishes. He kept one ear out for his children, knowing that his oldest was going to wake up from her midday nap soon. Novia was sleeping less and less, which made it much harder to do chores. She was very invested in keeping him company, and grew forlorn if he was too busy to play with her.

His son, however, was far less fussy. Atlas was far calmer than Novia had been at his young age. He hardly ever cried, and wasn’t picky with food or sleep. It could be hard sometimes, since he didn’t cry when he needed a change or if he was hungry, but Lance had learned to read the subtle signals he gave. Thankfully, since Novia was attached at his hip, she always reported to him when Atlas woke up. She took her big sister duties very seriously, after all.

As expected, a familiar head peered in through the doorway at him, eyes sleepy but quickly waking up. “Mama, I’m awake now.”

“I can see that,” he chuckled, beckoning her closer. She was almost three now, and growing up so fast before his eyes that he sometimes couldn’t believe it. He remembered when she’d had a little waddle to her step, when she was unused to walking, still learning how to balance and put one foot in front of the other. Now she was running and jumping and she hardly ever tripped.

When she was close enough, he swiped a finger full of bubbly soap suds against the tip of her nose, making her giggle. “No, Mama! I don’t wanna be dirty!”

“But soap is clean,” he said, gasping.

She pouted up at him.

He only grinned, hugging her close when she wrapped her arms around his leg. He ruffled her dark hair – she’d inherited the inky colour from Shiro, and had gotten his warm brown eyes, too. She could get anything she wanted with eyes like that and it was entirely unfair on his heart.

“Is Atlas awake yet?” he asked her.

“I’ll go see.”

While Novia wandered off to check on her little brother, Lance finished up with the dishes and dried his hands. Shiro and Curtis would be home soon; they’d gone grocery shopping, as they did every Saturday morning. One of them stayed behind to watch after the children, and today Lance had happened to be the one who wanted to. Atlas was still quite young – only a few months old – so Lance was reluctant to leave him for long. Most omegas were like that after the birth of a child. He’d been that way with Novia too, though he knew it was an overprotectiveness that would pass.

“He’s awake, Mama!” came Novia’s excited call from the living room.

Lance glanced at the baby monitor sitting on the bench beside him, safely out of the way of water from the sink, and sighed. He hadn’t heard a peep. His baby boy really was so quiet.

Atlas had been napping in a nest of blankets on a mat in the living room, since Novia had wanted to sleep beside him, and Lance had been reading on the couch before going to do the dishes. He was exactly where Lance left him, though now his eyes were wide open and curious, drifting across the room around him.

“Hello there,” he cooed, bending to lift Atlas up into his arms. The sweet thing let out a little huff of laughter, wriggling. “Need a change? Want something to eat? Are you hungry, my little monster?”

Of course there was no reply, but Lance wasn’t expecting one. He was content to nuzzle his nose against Atlas’s brown hair, breathing in his soft scent. All omegas were imprinted with the scents of their children – even in a crowd of thousands, they’d be able to single them out. There was no better scent in the world.

Since it was close to Atlas’s feeding time, Lance went ahead and made a bottle, cradling Atlas against his chest as he did. Atlas was still sleepy, though he was a very sleepy baby in general, so he didn’t move around too much.

He didn’t like feeding Atlas standing, so he reclined on a couch to do it, with Atlas cradled in the crook of his arm. Novia leaned against him as he did, sprawled across his lap. She’d already found a book to occupy herself with, and was animatedly flipping through the pages, tracing her fingers over the drawings she found there.

Lance heard a car pull into the driveway as he was feeding Atlas. “Ah, that’ll be your dads,” he told Novia. “Want to go open the door for them?”

She grinned at him, and after setting her book down on his knees, took off to do just that. Lance watched after her, listening closely as she fumbled with the door. It was locked, but he knew Shiro would get to it and unlock it before she could grow frustrated with it. She liked feeling like she was helping, and although they couldn’t leave the door unlocked with the children around, this was a routine they’d developed to let her feel included.

After a moment, she let out an excited, “Daddy!” which made Lance smile. Atlas made a small noise at his smile, which in turn only made Lance smile wider. Atlas had a complete and utter fascination with smiles, no matter whose face he was staring at. He just loved seeing them, and became fixated on them.

Shiro came in a moment later, arms laden with crinkling shopping bags. Curtis was hot on his heels, though he’d put all the bags on one arm so he could scoop up Novia with the other. Out of the three of them, he was the one with the biggest weak spot for the kids. He could hardly ever say no to them.

“How are you?” Curtis asked, when he came back into the living room without the bags, his arms instead full of their daughter.

“Good,” he said, making a face as Novia pulled one at him.

Curtis wiggled his fingers against Novia’s sides, making her screech with laughter. “No fair, Papa!”

“I win,” Lance grinned. “Thank you, Papa.”

“No!” Novia giggled.

Curtis simply smiled at them, small and to himself. There was a constant softness to his eyes now, less nervousness and more content. There wasn’t a happier person on the planet, Lance thought. Curtis enjoyed the little things in life, and was delighted by small achievements or wonders – the way Novia’s hair curled after she slept, the soft grip Atlas often had on his fingers. He loved his little old teacup, the one patterned with blue because it reminded him of Lance’s eyes, and he always brought freshly washed sheets to his nose so he could breathe in the scent of the softener because it made him feel comfortable and nostalgic.

He wasn’t abashed about those little things – he’d tell both his mates if they asked.

There was just something completely addictive about the way Curtis delighted in things. Both Lance and Shiro thought so.

Curtis set Novia down on the ground, keeping her steady as she got her feet under her. Almost instantly she was climbing back into Lance’s lap, reaching for her book again. Atlas had finished his bottle by then, so Lance set it aside, and offered the baby to Curtis, who eagerly took him.

“Not too fast or he’ll throw up,” Lance chuckled, resting his hand in Novia’s hair.

Curtis didn’t even grimace. He propped Atlas against his shoulder and rocked him gently, rubbing the baby’s back.

Their likeness was striking. Lance would never get used to it. Atlas had Curtis’s warm-toned skin, and his eyes – bigger than Lance’s, since the shapes of their eyes were different – and his thick hair. The colour was more like Lance’s, though since they both had blue eyes, Atlas did too. They were still dark, as all newborns’ were, but they were rapidly lightening. He was going to be a heart stopper when he was older.

Lance was inwardly glad to have a child fathered by Curtis. It was something that had been unlikely to happen, since Shiro was an alpha, and therefore more virile that Curtis, a beta. But circumstances had led to Curtis fathering Atlas, and Lance couldn’t have been happier. He would have loved any child he had regardless of who their father was, but it satisfied a part of him that knew Curtis would have liked a biological child.

Seeing them together only strengthened that satisfied feeling.

“He ate a lot,” Shiro said, pleased, as he appeared behind the couch to pick up Atlas’s bottle. He leaned over to press a kiss to Lance’s cheek, and at Novia’s insistence, one to hers, too. “Are you hungry?”

“It’s lunch time, Daddy!” Novia declared, pushing herself upright. She wrapped her arms around Lance’s neck and gave Shiro a determined look. “You have to make food for Mama.”

Shiro raised his eyebrows. “Oh?”

“Cause Mama made food for the baby,” Novia explained. “So you make food for Mama.” She paused for a moment, then grinned, showing off the little dimple she’d gotten from Lance. “And for me and Papa, too, please.”

“Well, put so nicely, how can I say no?” Shiro chuckled. He ruffled Novia’s hair and wandered over to Curtis, smoothing one large palm over Atlas’s head, too. He dropped a kiss against the baby’s forehead, and then to Curtis’s lips, who brushed very prettily at the unexpected gesture. He’d been too wrapped up in watching Atlas. “Lunch?”

“If you don’t mind,” Curtis said.

Shiro just gave him a smile. He knew how much Curtis loved being with their kids, and was usually more than ready to take over a few tasks here and there to make Curtis happy. “Of course not.”

Curtis joined Lance on the couch as Shiro disappeared into the kitchen. He rested Atlas against his chest and sighed as they settled into a comfortable silence.

Lance continued to run his fingers through Novia’s hair. There was no one more important to him than his mates and children.

Chapter Text

Keith wondered why he wasn’t jealous.

Most people were, in this situation. There was no deeper bond in the world than the one between mages and their familiars. Their connection wasn’t romantic or familial; they weren’t siblings or partners or lovers. A mage and their familiar were bonded on a molecular level, two halves of one whole. Only incredibly powerful magic could separate them. Not even death was that strong.

So if someone tried to take another’s familiar, or if one half of the pair began to show interest in another – a mage favouring a different familiar, a familiar favouring a different mage – it was expected that jealously would arise.

But Keith wasn’t jealous. When he thought about it, he knew he would’ve been, if the situation was any different. But it wasn’t, and as such, he found himself baffled as to how he’d gotten here, and why he wasn’t burning with envy.

His familiar, Red, was quite admirable. She was a massive lioness, standing taller than him, and he was quite tall for a human. Her attitude was usually quite abrasive, quick to judge and even quicker to defend. Earning her trust was difficult, but once it was done, it was almost unbreakable. She was as loyal as one expected a lioness to be.

Keith swore that she loved Lance more than him, though.

Perhaps he was being a little dramatic. To be fair, he loved Lance a great deal, too. It was no great stretch of the imagination to believe that Red had developed a bond with him as well, since Keith was always with Lance nowadays. The lioness had gain quite a fondness for Lance, and a protectiveness that rivalled Keith’s.

In truth, he was glad that Red loved Lance so much. Lance didn’t have his own familiar – at least, not yet – so knowing Red was looking out for him eased his mind. He felt all warm inside when Red wandered over to affectionately lick Lance’s face, or when he found them curled up on the bed, Red’s limbs dangling over the edge because she couldn’t quite fit without squashing Lance. It was endearing, and it made him feel a little competitive. He wanted all of Lance’s attention to himself in a selfish, secret way.

Sometimes, teasingly, he’d push Red’s head away so that he could have Lance all to himself when they hugged. The lioness loved to wriggle her way between them, something that was remarkably easy for her, considering her size. She’d rub her cheek against Lance’s head until his hair stood on end, rumbling up a storm. Lance found it delightful, of course. He’d always laugh and tease them both for being competitive.

But it was nice. Red’s affection for Lance was echoed in Keith, and to have those feelings returned was unimaginably precious. Most of his life he’d only had Red, and to have someone else who valued him, who loved him entirely for who he was…

He’d never take that for granted.

Chapter Text

Keith was worried about Lance. They’d been living together for about a year now, and dating for longer, so he’d grown used to Lance’s mannerisms. He could read his moods and whims, and could tell when Lance was upset or excited or feeling full of restless energy. There was no denying Lance was naturally quite charismatic and open, his face reading as easily as a book, but there were hidden, subtle things that Keith had learned to see with time.

For the most part, Lance was good at handling his own stress and bad days. He was the king of self-pampering, which Keith thought was endearing, and he knew when he needed to take a break for his wellbeing. If Keith were being honest, he was still a little surprised by the depths of Lance’s emotional maturity. As flirty and joking as he was, he knew himself well, and could take a step back to look at himself with unbiased, clear eyes. Not even Keith could do that as well as Lance could, if at all.

But, like with all people, there were times when things just became too much for Lance. He’d get stressed and angry and sometimes sad for no reason, and that was okay. Keith got like that too. Everyone did. Lance just thought it made him weak, like he was a bad person for letting negative things get to him. He always comforted Keith and made Keith feel like he was wonderful when he was upset, so he wanted to be able to do the same for Lance.

That’s why Keith was glad he’d learned Lance’s little ticks. He’d sensed something wrong with Lance that morning, and it hadn’t yet passed. It was like a slowly approaching storm cloud, one that was dark and heavy with rain. Lance could be a hurricane if he wanted to be.

Keith preferred it when he was happy, though. And he wasn’t happy right now.

Currently, Lance was standing in the kitchen, scowling down at the potato he was peeling. He normally cooked dinner – Keith helped, but his cooking skills weren’t as good as Lance’s. Normally, he cleaned up afterwards instead. That night, however, he wondered if Lance was capable of cooking tonight, when he seemed so down.

“Do you want me to take over tonight?” Keith asked, edging up beside Lance, who immediately turned that scowl on him.

“I can handle it.”

Keith was unsure. Lance’s eyes were watery and he was ripping into the potato like it was made from paper. He covered Lance’s hands with his own and made him lower them. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing!” Lance snapped, shirking out of his grasp. “Stop smothering me, Keith.”

Keith bit his lip, trying not to let Lance’s words hurt him. He was just lashing out – feeling cornered and trying to get away. Keith knew that feeling well enough, and he knew Lance didn’t mean to hurt him. There was no denying the slight, frustrated flush to Lance’s cheeks, or the way his hands were white-knuckled around the edge of the bench.

Sighing, Keith manhandled Lance away from the bench, folding Lance in against his chest. If Lance had truly needed his space, he would have pushed Keith off, and Keith would’ve respected that. But instead, he crumbled against Keith, like his legs couldn’t hold him up anymore.

“I’m sorry,” Lance croaked, sniffling and rubbing his nose against Keith’s shirt. “I didn’t mean it.”

“I know,” Keith soothed. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know.”

Keith hummed. “That’s okay,” he whispered. “You don’t have to know.”

Lance let out a little whimper. He was trying not to cry but failing, though Keith didn’t say anything about it. Instead he simply ran his fingers down Lances back, holding him gently, until all the tension and built up stress in Lance’s shoulders had softened.

“How about I cook dinner tonight,” Keith offered again.

Lance just shook his head, rubbing his nose on his sleeve. He gave Keith a watery smile. “No, it’s okay. I can do it.”

A hug couldn’t fix everything, but it definitely made things easier. Keith knew that from all the times Lance had grounded him with just a lingering embrace.

Chapter Text

Shiro’s doctor suggested he take up a hobby.

In hindsight, it was probably a good idea. He’d aggravated his shoulder the other week, and it left him feeling lethargic and sore. Every now and then he was struck with phantom pains from a limb he no longer had, and keeping his mind occupied and active usually helped with that, but he just hadn’t been in the mood to do anything lately.

Finding a hobby, however, was proving to be challenging. He was an utter disaster in the kitchen, so baking or cooking was out of the question. His prosthetic hand wasn’t steady enough for anything incredibly delicate or detail-orientated. He was alright at fixing up cars, but it wasn’t a pleasing pastime. Running was always an option, since he liked doing that, but when he was feeling lazy he could barely be bothered to tie his shoelaces, which was the whole problem in the first place

It was actually Lance who suggested he try gardening. His house had a decent yard, but it was simple. The most he did was water it during the summer, and mow the lawns when the grass grew too long. He’d never been the gardening type, hadn’t even considered it as a hobby.

But Lance loved gardening. He was always lamenting the plain state of Shiro’s yard. “It doesn’t even have to be outside plants,” he’d pleaded with Shiro, on more than one occasion, “you can even get indoor ones! Some of them require less care than goldfish!”

Shiro had never been convinced. Sometimes he could barely take care of himself, so how could he care for a yard, or a bunch of houseplants?

Lance had managed to get him into it now, though. Shiro didn’t really have an excuse to say no, since he was desperately searching for something new and interesting to bring into his life. And having Lance constantly around, giving him individual attention… well, he was a weak man, sometimes. He wasn’t going to say no to that.

Unsurprisingly, Lance was incredibly good at gardening. Over a weekend, he and Shiro built a little flower bed in front of his porch. Another weekend saw them take a trip to the local nursery and come home with a carload of plants Shiro was incredibly concerned about killing. He’d always thought that planting such a variety of plants would be difficult, but Lance knew how to do everything. He’d even gotten Shiro to get a few indoor ones that could sit on his bedside table and on windowsills.

As difficult and overwhelming as it was, Shiro didn’t regret it. Having so much greenery around did boost his mood, and since Lance helped him, he was determined to make the plants thrive. Plus it gave Lance an excuse to come out whenever he wanted – he was always welcome. Spending more time with him could never be a bad thing.

And besides, Lance looked really good in a sunhat. Gardening was worth it, Shiro decided.

Chapter Text

Lance brushed aside large, fan-shaped fern leaves to peer along the road beyond. It was less of a road and more of a dirt track, he thought, but it was large enough and worn enough for horses and carts to pass through with relative ease. Overhanging tree branches created a shady archway above the road, and most plants had been cleared away, ushered to the side by wheels and hooves.

He didn’t particularly like this road. It cut almost directly through his territory, since it followed the bend of a nearby river, which was his home. Humans and creatures alike travelled to the riverbed to drink, since the water was perfectly clear and refreshing, thanks to him.

To be completely honest, he didn’t quite like having humans going to his stream. They never cleaned up behind themselves, and always used his water to wash their skin and clothes. They polluted it, thinking the impurities would just wash away with the current. Even if they did, that didn’t mean the pollution was healthy for the animals living in the water, or the ones who relied on it to survive.

Hence he was always trying to come up with ways to protect the stream, which usually directed him to the road. No road, no reason to come to his specific river, right? That’s what he assumed. Humans could be remarkably lazy when things were inconvenient for them.

Sometimes he asked the forest to block the road for him. He wasn’t particularly connected with nature – his talents were with the water – but this forest liked him, and usually answered his calls. It was a place that had always been saturated with magic, even if most didn’t know that. The trees would grow over the road, or braches would swing down so that carts could no longer pass.

There was only one human Lance liked. Well, the human usually travelled with company, but Lance was fond of just the one. Keith was very prickly for a human, always scowling and snapping. But he had a respect for the forest that Lance admired, and he never did anything terrible to the stream. Lance had learned his patterns, had learned when he came through on the road, since he used it frequently. Over time, he and Keith had developed a tentative friendship, of sorts.

Lance rarely revealed himself to anyone, but Keith had proved himself to be trustworthy – he’d taken care of Lance, once, when Lance had been injured, and slumped over a rock in the river. He hadn’t known Lance wasn’t human back then, but he’d still treated Lance’s injuries, and offered him food and conversation, although he wasn’t good at the latter.

Lance had been intrigued. Who was this strange human with his strange care for the forest? Could anyone blame him for taking an interest in Keith? If they did, it didn’t matter.

A familiar figure appeared at the bend of the road, and Lance smiled. Keith was predictable, but he liked that.

Chapter Text

Lance pushed aside the thick, velvet curtain hanging from ceiling to floor in front of him until the thinnest sliver of warm light shone through. Beyond was the brightly lit circle of the Ringmaster’s stage, ringed on almost all sides by darkened seats that sloped up towards the outer edge of the canvas tent. Like always, the stands were full to bursting, a nervous, excited hush of energy radiating out from them as the crowd watched the current performer.

Burning embers danced through the air, flickering like fireflies. The ground had been cleared of hay and the decorative, wooden platforms other acts used so that nothing would suddenly catch alight. The firedancer, Keith, commanded the crowd just as well as the Ringmaster; he had an intense aura to him, one that complimented his serious face, and the way the fire from his sticks reflected beautiful orange shadows across his cheeks and eyes. It almost looked like he himself was on fire, burning bright than a star, though Lance knew that was all a part of the act.

When the routine neared its completion, Keith brought the flaming end of one of his sticks to his mouth, and let out a long breath. The flames exploded into the air high above the ground, twisting into a myriad of colours – green, blue, orange, each hotter than the next. It looked as though a dragon had appeared in the air, one that swept over the crowd like a great gust of wind, wings spread wide

Lance had no idea what trick Keith pulled to manage that. He had half a mind to believe it was magic.

When the act was done, Keith made a low bow, and the lights dimmed. In one shadow of movement, the Ringmaster took his place, preparing to entertain their guests while the stage was reset for the next act. Lance’s act.

Anxiety clutched at his stomach, digging its claws in. He glanced down at his leg, twisting it this way and that, digging his bare toes into the dirt. The cut was now just a faint pink line down his calf, and there was no pain to it anymore, but he still worried. It had taken a month for the wound to close, but longer for him to even begin to get over it.

The smell of smoke plumed through the curtain, wafting off of Keith’s flame-warmed skin. He was faintly out of breath as he shouldered his way through the curtain, letting out a surprised grunt as he almost ran right into Lance. “Shouldn’t you be in costume?” he asked, confused.

Lance let out a strangled noise. He was partially in costume, something thin and flowy and tight-fitting, and he’d done his make-up, but that was it. Uneasy, he scratched under his eye, feeling scales flake off beneath his nails. He had them painted around his eyes and towards his temple, layered with glitter and iridescent sequins to look like scales. They were on his bare shoulders too, and down his equally bare arms. He was almost ready – all he needed to do was put on his tail, and wait for someone to help lower him into the large water tank that would then be wheeled out onto the stage.

But he couldn’t bring himself to put it on. Instead he fidgeted with his shorts, skin-tight and pale in colour, the same colour as his tail, and at the lengths of fabric circling his hips like a sash. He’d look beautiful in the water, he knew that, but now he just felt awkward and dizzy.

“Lance?”

“I’m just…” He let out a shaky breath, but couldn’t pull another one in.

This was his first performance since his injury. He knew the crowds were waiting for the magnificent mermaid to appear, but he couldn’t take a single step further.

Last time he’d performed, there’d been an accident. A rowdy crowd member had stumbled over the stage barrier and had smacked at Lance’s tank with a rock before anyone could stop him. Attempts to get onto the stage weren’t uncommon – their circus was well loved, and many people became obsessed or fixated on the performers. It was the same for Lance. Usually their security team was enough to control the bad people, but that night they hadn’t been quick enough.

The glass had shattered, of course. A shard had gone right through Lance’s tail and cut through the flesh of his calf. Blood had bloomed in the water as the front panel of the tank cracked and fissured. He’d immediately lost his breath and had choked on water. If the Ringmaster, Shiro, hadn’t sprung forwards to yank him from the tank as fast as he had, then Lance would have been swept right into the broken glass at the front as the pressure made the panel explode outwards. Water had gushed everywhere, and it would have dragged him with it.

He’d passed out from the shock of it, but that hadn’t stopped memories from forming. He could still feel water rushing into his throat and the burning sting of the glass cutting through his skin. The wound had felt hot for days afterwards. He hadn’t needed stiches, but he couldn’t go into the water for at least a fortnight. He could normally hold his breath for up to five minutes at a time, but he was too scared to do that. A minute would pass and he’d start to splutter and thrash.

Now, a little over a month from then, he was feeling better. In rehearsals he’d managed to carry out his routine perfectly. He even enjoyed it.

But it was different with so many people watching. What if someone attacked him again?

“Lance,” Keith repeated, taking him by the shoulders. His hands were hot and covered in soot, and he winced as he left black handprints on Lance’s brown skin. “You’ll be fine,” he continued, voice firm. “There’s more security now, and Shiro will be at the front of the stage. I’ll be watching from here. It’ll be just like it was during rehearsals.”

Lance nodded, swallowing. His nerves were slowly settling. Keith’s eyes felt like a safety net, and he was relieved to hear that Keith would be watching his performance. Normally he’d go and clean up, but to have him looking out for him… Lance felt a little warmer inside.

“Everyone’s missed your routine,” Keith said, softer this time. “I have too.”

Lance flushed.

“Go out there and wow everyone, alright?” Keith nudged him towards backstage, where his costume awaited. “You’ll be perfect. Just like usual.”

Chapter Text

Lance was quite tired that morning. He’d been up late the previous night, and hadn’t gotten as much sleep as he normally did. He was the kind of person who all but fell apart without at least seven decent hours of sleep, eight if he could manage. Most of the time he went to bed at a reasonable time so he could get a full night’s rest, but sometimes it just couldn’t happen.

He probably hadn’t needed to wake up as early as he had. He had a steady internal clock, so although he hadn’t set an alarm, he’d stirred anyway.

Every morning, aside from getting ready himself, he also took the time to make lunch for himself and his mates. Neither Shiro nor Keith were particularly good at cooking, and without a reminder, they might forget to take lunch altogether, or go without eating. He couldn’t have that. And since he always made food for himself, it was pretty simple to make food for them, too.

That morning was no different, he supposed, even though he wasn’t going to work that day. It was a bit of a habit, he guessed. He liked taking care of his mates, and making food for them was one of the best ways he knew how. Both of his parents had always cooked for one another, especially when one was too tired to do so. Food was the language of love, after all.

“Lance? What are you doing up?”

He let out a questioning hum as hands slipped around his waist. “Making lunch,” he said around a yawn, leaning back against Shiro’s warm chest.

“You’re not going into work today,” Shiro chastised gently, steering him away from the bench. “You should go back to bed.”

“I’m fine, I’m fine. It’s just lunch.”

“Go back to sleep,” Shiro said, laughing a little.

“No,” he whined, “I’m almost done.”

“Why is Lance awake?” came Keith’s voice from the doorway, as he wandered in bare-footed and only half dressed from his shower.

“I’m making lunch,” he repeated.

Keith gave him a frown. “Go back to bed.”

Lance couldn’t help but laugh. As much as he tried to care for his mates, they did the same in return. Impasses like this weren’t all that uncommon among them. It was almost like a battle of wills.

“I’m already up,” he reasoned. “I got up without thinking. I’ll go back to bed once I’m done, I swear.”

Shiro sighed, and bent to press a kiss to Lance’s cheek. “Silly man,” he teased.

Lance gave him a sleepy grin. “Admit it, you love my lunches.”

“I’m not going to deny that.”

Lance was left to finish what he was doing, content to listen to his mates getting on with the morning around him. At some point Keith managed to get himself dressed, and Shiro brushed his hair away from his face in that way Lance liked. By the time he was done, they were ready and waiting to leave.

“Thanks, Lance,” Shiro said, kissing his forehead. “Make sure you get some rest though, okay? I know you didn’t go to bed until very early this morning.”

Lance yawned his agreement. He let out a little squeak when Keith swooped in to press a kiss to his lips. He tasted like mint from brushing his teeth and Lance wrinkled his nose a little, making Keith smirk.

“Meanie,” Lance mumbled.

Keith just smirked wider.

After seeing them off, he returned to bed, burying his way beneath the covers. He was content knowing his mates were cared for, and fell asleep almost instantly.

Chapter Text

Not many people believed Lance when he said he was dating Takashi Shirogane.

He supposed that was a fair enough assumption. Him, a normal guy from a coastal town, dating the Takashi Shirogane, hero extraordinaire? Unlikely. And yet, it was true.

Most people in the country knew who Shiro was. They would have had to be living under a rock to not have seen his name or face splashed across a screen or newspaper somewhere. Shiro made news headlines at least once or twice a month for doing something extraordinary. He was one of the few individuals on the planet with amazing powers. Employed by the government, he was well beloved, and much admired among normal people.

Lance was probably biased on the matter, but he thought Shiro was the best of the best when it came to the heroes. He had the ability to control space, which let him do things like teleport, create portals, and manipulate gravity. He was strong and brave, and above all, he valued life. Even one casualty caused him great heartache. His character was appealing, too – he was bashful and polite, and tried not to take advantage of people.

He had a good heart.

Lance perhaps knew that better than most.

Even though he was dating someone so high-profile, he didn’t receive too much attention. There were no cameras following him around, or anything. He sort of thought that maybe Shiro had expressed he would be disappointed if the press began harassing Lance, and that was what held them back. He wouldn’t be surprised. Even news outlets loved Shiro. In any case, he was sort of relieved about that. He didn’t really want to be in the newspaper – at least, not for just dating Shiro. He loved Shiro dearly, but there were more important things to be reported on, surely.

The most he got were questions from curious people around town.

The store owner at a local fruit market once called out to him, “Are you really dating that hero, sonny?”

Another time, when he was returning library books, the librarian whispered, “What is he like in person? You know, the hero?”

Most of the time, he was more than happy to answer those questions. They were never too intrusive – harmless curiosity. People were usually satisfied with a brief explanation, a simple, “Yeah, I’m dating him,” or “He’s really sweet and generous.”

It was the truth, of course. Despite how serious he could be in battle, and how dangerous his abilities were, Shiro was very gentle and considerate in private. He was like any other person, really. He complained about having to wash the dishes and sometimes wore odd socks by mistake and refused to eat carrots because he didn’t like them, no matter which way Lance cooked them.

Sometimes he’d use his powers to get out of chores, like sending trash through a portal straight into the rubbish bin, or making the bed make itself so he didn’t have to. Lance always scolded him for that, but never too much. It was convenient for him too, after all.

And he couldn’t really complain when Shiro used his powers to show Lance affection. Sometimes he’d randomly appear beside Lance at work just to kiss his cheek, disappearing once more before Lance could say anything. Or he’d lift Lance off his feet so that he wouldn’t have to bend to kiss him. It was a little embarrassing, but Lance would never ask him to stop. He liked it too much.

He supposed it was just Shiro he liked. Just thinking about him made Lance smile.

Chapter Text

Lance yawned as he tugged the quilt tighter around him. He was pleasantly warm, and currently very glad to be inside. It was almost below zero outside, a temperature to be expected for this time of year of course, but one that was no less pleasant because of that. He thought it might almost be time for snow now.

The lights in the lounge room had been dimmed, leading him to feel sleepier than usual, on account of being all rugged up and warm. Ahead of him was a roaring fireplace, separated from the room by a grate. Orange light flickered out from it as warmth constantly bloomed throughout the room. There was nothing quite like the warmth of a fireplace.

For the most part, he never used it. He always put the electric heater on instead, since that was simpler to operate. He was kind of terrible at starting a fire, actually.

But Shiro had come over that evening, and he was pretty handy with those sorts of things. He’d assembled the wood without getting a single splinter and locked the grate in place like it weighed nothing. Like Lance, he felt the cold a little more than the average person, and liked to take advantage of the fireplace in Lance’s little apartment because of that.

Once the fire had been made, he’d wormed in beside Lance, and they’d sat together shivering until the room was nice and toasty. Lance leaned against Shiro’s side, happy to feel that his boyfriend was nice and warm, too. He had a blanket around him just like Lance, and they had another tossed over the both of them.

“I love the fireplace,” Shiro sighed, smiling to himself.

He looked quite handsome with the light from the fire reflecting across his face. His hair was all dishevelled and fluffy from his shower, and there was a slight flush to his cheeks now that hadn’t been there before the room had gotten so warm.

“It is quite good for nights like this,” Lance agreed, pressing closer. Shiro extended and arm over him, hand resting comfortably in the dip of Lance’s waist.

Lance wouldn’t have been surprised if he fell asleep like that. It was mid-evening, and he was full from dinner, and warmed by the fire, and he had Shiro with him. There was little else in the world that he cared about, besides that.

Chapter Text

There was nothing worse than feeling frustrated. It was a feeling that was impossible to ignore, one that burrowed in tight and hot and persistent. Lance hated it. He hated feeling out of control or angry at someone, even if he didn’t like them. Half the time frustration made him bite his tongue, and the other half it made him lash out, and he didn’t like either of those reactions.

Overthinking was a terrible side effect, too. If he held his tongue, then he thought about it for ages. It was like a nasty train of thought that came back over and over, even if time had passed. He thought about all the things he should have said and he got more annoyed. And if he spoke his mind, then he overthought that too, wondering if he’d been too harsh, or not harsh enough.

In the end, he was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t. He was left aggravated and upset and overall just uncomfortable. It was a feeling he was sure he’d never learn how to deal with, because it was always so… tireless. He just had to wait until it passed, however long that took.

Having a bit of a rant usually helped.

Thankfully, his boyfriend was usually more than happy to listen. Lance didn’t want someone to give advice on the matter, or tell him how he could have dealt with the situation better, or to try and rationalise it. There were times when he needed that kind of support, but sometimes he just needed someone to side with him, and to be as indignant as he felt.

Hunk was perfect when it came to that sort of thing. He had a way of reading Lance that no one else did, not even his family. He knew when Lance needed support, and when Lance just needed someone to vent to, and he was always willing to be either. Lance honestly appreciated it so much.

“I know I must sound so irrational,” Lance vented, half out of breath as he fidgeted a hole into the couch, unable to keep still. “It’s just so frustrating! I did all that work for nothing. I cleaned out the back, I ordered the new parts for the coffee machine, I even cleaned tables because they didn’t want to! And they get all the recognition for the café getting back on its feet!”

“No, it’s totally unfair,” Hunk agreed. “It’s not irrational at all, Lance. But your boss will know you’ve done all the work, you know that right? When you’re not there things all fall to pieces. You told me that yourself.”

Lance blew out a long breath. He had said that. When he didn’t have a shift for a while, his boss always called him in a panic, wanting to know where things were or how to order something in. He did a lot for that little café, even though the pay wasn’t the best and the newest staff members certainly were terrible. He liked the place, and wanted to see it succeed, but sometimes it was just hard to deal with.

“Come here,” Hunk beckoned.

Lance slunk over, worming himself into Hunk’s lap. His boyfriend was warm and comfortable and being in his lap was the best. He couldn’t help but let out an unintelligible groan as he shoved his face into the crook of Hunk’s neck.

A big hand came to rest on his back. “It’s okay to be frustrated Lance,” Hunk reassured. “It’s a stressful time, and work isn’t always fair. But you’ll be okay.”

Lance grunted. He believed that when Hunk said it. Slowly but surely, the tension eased out of him, and he all but melted against Hunk’s chest. He felt deflated now that he’d said everything that had been tossing around his thoughts for the past few hours. It was almost cathartic, in a way. If he couldn’t get it out in the heat of the moment, than ranting to his boyfriend was the easiest way to wind down.

“Thanks,” Lance mumbled, nuzzling closer.

Hunk let out a quiet laugh, and pressed a kiss to Lance’s head. “I’m always happy to help.”

Chapter Text

Lance was starting to regret agreeing to explore Shiro’s hobbies with him.

See, he thought that when they agreed to do that for each other, they’d be sharing secret little hobbies no one knew about. It was meant to bring them closer, to open them up to one another more. For Lance’s turn, he’d had Shiro help him make a bunch of Cuban food dishes he remembered from his childhood, and he had a little spa day that included face masks and a sweet-scented bubble bath. Those sorts of things were new to Shiro, and he’d told Lance he enjoyed them.

When it came to Shiro’s turn, Lance expected something simple. Maybe Shiro secretly loved board games, or bird watching, or going on scenic walks. He was almost correct with that last one, if one would call a gruelling hike up a mountainside a ‘scenic walk’. Shiro certainly did.

Lance was sure he’d never sweated this much, not even when he went to the gym. As beautiful as the forest was around him, he was huffing and puffing, and his throat was on fire. He was so glad Shiro had talked him into bringing a bigger water bottle.

“Having fun?” Shiro asked, bright and perky, without having broken a single sweat yet. He was taking the lead up the path, only looking back at Lance every so often, which meant Lance only had to pretend to not be suffering for short bursts of time.

“Oh, yeah,” Lance all but wheezed, “this is great.”

To be fair, it was a nice hike. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm without being oppressive, and there was a slight breeze that was cooling on the back of his neck. Every few hundred metres they passed a lookout point, which was also quite lovely. They could see the ocean from here, now that they were high enough.

“Sorry, I know it’s a bit physically demanding,” Shiro said with a small, apologetic smile.

Lance waved a hand. “Honesty, this is nice. I just need to put the treadmill on an incline more.”

He’d hate to think that Shiro thought he wasn’t enjoying himself. Shiro had sat through all of Lance’s niche hobbies without complaint, and Lance was determined to do the same. As much as he complained inside his head, this wasn’t so bad.

And besides, Shiro was enjoying himself. That was all that mattered.

Chapter Text

Lance was flying back from his parents’ home when a storm unexpectedly hit. Most avians wouldn’t risk flying through bad weather, especially because wet feathers made it difficult to move one’s wings. Lance had taken one look at the angry storm clouds and felt a wave of anxiety well up in him.

He got drenched before he could find a place to land. Most of the land between where his parents lived and his home with his mates was forest and meadows. A tall tree offered him shelter from the pelting rain as he squeezed himself between its large, protruding roots.

Wet and cold, he waited for the rain to stop.

It wasn’t a pleasant experience. The wind was like ice against his skin, and no matter how tightly he pulled his wings around him, it crept in to assault his skin, chilling him through his clothes. The entire time he was panting and shivering, unable to dredge any sort of warmth back into his limbs. He just wanted to be home.

Afterwards, when the rain had slowed, he set off again. There was no way he could fly – his wings were cold to the bone, and starting to ache from it. He shook them out several times, sending water droplets flying, but it did little to help.

He’d probably only been trudging along an hour before he saw familiar wings on the horizon. He could have cried with relief. He thought he might have a little, actually.

“Shiro!” he called out, waving a desperate hand as he waded out into the tall grass of a nearby meadow, out from the shelter of the trees. “Keith!”

He tried to take off, beating his wings once or twice, but he only made it a few metres before realising he just couldn’t get any altitude like this. Instead he was forced to wait until they made it down to him.

Keith did first, since he was the fastest of the three of them. His wings were muscled but agile, built for speed and precision. He had the most beautiful feathers – pitch black, thick, usually well-mannered thanks to Lance’s grooming. His face was twisted with concern as he swooped down on Lance, his hands coming down to rest on Lance’s damp cheeks.

“Are you alright?” he demanded.

“Cold,” Lance answered, leaning his face into Keith’s warm palms. He ran hotter than most.

Shiro landed beside the both of them, tucking them both inside his wings. His were the largest and the softest, much to Lance’s chagrin. His feathers were pure white like his hair, though they’d had black speckles when he was younger. Sometimes if new feathers sprouted, they had black parts that eventually faded into white. He could easily fit both Lance and Keith beneath them.

“You’re shivering,” Shiro said, brow furrowed, as he set to immediately wiping Lance down with a jacket he’d been carrying. It was one of Lance’s, and would be no use in his current state. Using it as a towel was the best option.

“I got caught out in the storm,” Lance explained, miserable. He obligingly spread a wing when Shiro began wiping off his feathers. His own wings were the sleekest of the bunch, his feathers angular and well-groomed. He had the most flexibility, and if he pushed himself, could outfly both of his mates.

Shiro let out a worried sigh. “I was afraid that had happened.”

Lance gave him a wane smile.

When his wings were dry enough to fly with, they took off into the sky. Keith held his hand the entire way home, flying just adjacent, since their wings could fit beside one another with some slight manoeuvring. Shiro, as the strongest one physically, wanted to fly just below them, in case Lance’s wings gave out. He carried the wet jacket with him too.

The sight of their home filled Lance with joy. Avians in their area lived in houses built into the trunks of impossibly large trees. Through the windows of his home he could see the faint orange glow of the fireplace, and the promise of warmth was enough to make him hurry a little.

As expected, it was very warm inside. Lance all but threw himself down in front of the fire, spreading his wings to get its warmth on his inner-feathers.

“I’ll go get a towel,” Shiro said.

Keith sat down beside Lance and began to pick through his feathers, removing leaves and loose feathers and other debris. He rarely groomed them, so Lance soaked up the attention. “Did you at least find cover during the worst of it?” Keith asked.

Lance hummed.

Shiro returned with a towel and hairbrush, and after crouching beside Lance, began to rub the towel through his hair. “Nothing hurts?” Shiro asked next. “No scratches? Bruises?”

“None I can see,” Keith said.

“No,” Lance answered, laughing a little. His mates could be such mother hens sometimes, but he would never complain. He loved their attention too much. He was practically purring as Shiro took the brush to his hair. “I’m alright. Just cold and tired.”

“You’ll warm up soon enough,” Shiro soothed.

Lance hummed again. At this rate, he was going to be warm in no time. He remained as still as a doll as Keith methodically groomed his wings from tip to tip, and Shiro carefully dried him off with the towel and brushed his hair neat. He loved to pamper his mates, but being pampered by his mates in return was a close second.

“Thanks,” he said, with a deep, pleased sigh.

Keith pressed a kiss to the back of his neck, making his wings quiver.

“You’re welcome,” Shiro answered, smiling down at him as he kissed Lance’s forehead. “I’m glad you’re safe. You had us quite worried when we heard that storm arrive.”

“Sorry.” Lance nuzzled under Shiro’s chin, apologetic.

“As long as you’re alright it doesn’t matter.” Keith pulled Lance back against his chest, holding him tight.

Shiro nodded. “Agreed.”

Chapter Text

Keith was worried about Lance. His boyfriend wasn’t the type to get sick very often, not even when flu season went around each year. Sure, he’d catch it like everybody else, but it usually only lasted for a day or so with him, and it didn’t often come back. Keith was actually a bit jealous of that. Whenever he himself got the flu, it was completely awful, and it stuck around for a week, persistent and inconvenient.

This season, however, Lance had been struck with a bad case of the cold.

It had started off as an innocent headache, as it often did. Lance woke up with it that morning, groaning and pushing his face against Keith’s chest, reluctant to get out from beneath their warm blankets. By mid-evening it was a full blown cold, with sniffling and sneezing and a cough and everything. Not only was Lance in pain, but he was miserable and exhausted too, and he hadn’t even done anything strenuous that day.

It was definitely unusual to see Lance so put out. He stayed in bed almost all day, or lounged around on the sofa with a growing mountain of tissues and a pile of blankets he buried himself under. Keith made him take medicine when his headache got worse but it didn’t seem to do all that much. Most of the day, Keith let him rest, taking over their shared chores so Lance wouldn’t have to worry about doing laundry or going grocery shopping.

He really wasn’t much of a cook, but he managed to make soup for dinner, and encouraged Lance to eat some. It was difficult to get Lance to do anything when he was like this, but Keith thought that was fair enough. When he was sick he hardly even spoke a word. Sleeping it off was really the best thing to do.

So he let Lance rest. When dinnertime rolled around Lance was still out cold, so Keith let him be. He put the leftover soup in the fridge so it could be reheated later and changed the face washer sitting on Lance’s forehead. It had gotten all hot from sitting against his skin, and although Lance shivered without the blanket, the cool, damp fabric was helping keep his fever in check.

A small part of him liked being able to care for his boyfriend like this. He hated seeing Lance sick, but Lance was always taking care of him, so being able to return the favour pleased him. He knew Lance appreciated it. Having someone there to look out for him while ill was always reassuring. It meant Lance could sleep easy, which Keith knew was important for his recovery. He wanted Lance to get better as soon as possible.

Keith only woke Lance when he got Lance to shuffle back to bed. He tucked his sick boyfriend in and made sure he was comfortable.

“Thanks,” Lance croaked, only half-awake, as he clutched at Keith’s hand.

“Any time,” Keith said.

Chapter Text

Sirens cried in the distant reaches of the city, high but faint. Keith scrunched his jacket tighter around him, breath fogging the air. Puddles dampened his shoes. Night descended over the city like an oppressive smog. There weren’t enough streetlamps working to light the street and the ones that did flickered like moth wings.

There were always sirens whirring at this time of night. During the day, too, but something about the moon brought out the worst in people. He wondered if he was one of those people.

A shaky breath left him. He didn’t like walking at night. He felt watched, or like the darkness was suffocating him, wringing its fingers around his neck. It put him on edge, made him clutch the pocket knife he kept in his pocket. When a car drove past, one of those automated ones that were as quiet as a whisper, he near jumped out of his skin. He’d grown up in this era of booming technology and yet its progress staggered him. Self-driving cars, biometric scanners on every front door, androids that walked and talked and looked like humans…

There’d been a bit of trouble with androids lately. Keith had seen it in the news. In a world where everything was automatic, or controlled by artificial intelligence, what was a human needed for? They no longer drove cars, or performed security checks, and a lot of them didn’t even take care of their homes or children anymore, not when it was easier to get an android to do it.

Except not all androids liked doing it.

To be frank, Keith was sort of on the androids’ side. He didn’t own one – they were expensive, and he felt weird about owning something that was so… human.

Driving a car was something made a lot more difficult with the automated ones, so he took the bus. Also self-driven. The only stop nearby was a ten minute walk from the bar where he worked. It was a trek he made every evening, and every evening he came to hate it more. He tensed every time he heard a glass bottle being broken, or the rowdy drunkenness of people staggering out of clubs and seedy bars nearby. Every time a cat skittered out of an alleyway he sneered into the darkness like that could ward off his uneasiness.

He’d seen what could happen to people around here. Sometimes there was blood sprayed across the gutter but no body. Other times he heard screams and then nothing but ringing silence, no sirens. He hated what the city had become. It was like no one cared anymore.

That night, however, there was something strange in the air. It wasn’t the echo of sirens, or the cold twinge of a night that had just been drenched in a hazy rain. The further he walked, the more he noticed a sound that didn’t belong. It was like… sparks, or something electrical, skittering about in short pulses. He frowned at the sound of it, his fingers tightening around that knife he kept with him.

There was an alleyway ahead, one that was plunged in shadows, since it sat between two lampposts without one at its mouth. Keith normally tried to stay in the light, but something drew him towards the alley. Curiosity, maybe. A lack of common sense, more like.

A blue flickering came from the alleyway, a few metres deep. Keith could smell trash and dampness, but he couldn’t see anything. He fished his phone out of his pocket and turned on its flashlight, sweeping the beam across the ground.

“Holy shit,” he said, because it was the first and only thing that came to mind.

An android was slumped against a pile of bulging trash bags and wet cardboard boxes. He had been knocked around the face a few times – there was a cut beneath his eye, and what almost looked like bruising down along his cheekbone. Androids had synthetic skin like humans that could be cut and split, and they’d bleed, though their blood was blue and made from chemicals, but this went beyond that. This android had been tossed away like rubbish.

That wasn’t even the worst of it.

“Are you…?” Keith didn’t know what to say.

Sticking out from the android’s chest was a long, metal rod. It looked like it might have come off an iron fence or something. Whatever it was, it was what was making that noise. Wires burst out of the bleeding wound, sending sparks jumping along the android’s chest.

At the sound of his voice the android flinched, trying to shy away. He couldn’t get far with that rod in him.

“Shit,” Keith said, because what else could he say? He tore off his jacket and wrapped it around one end of the pole so he didn’t accidentally electrocute himself, then pulled as hard as he could. There was a terrible scraping noise, but the rod came free, and the android seemed to sag. “Who did this to you?”

“My owner,” the android answered. His voice was full of static. He looked up at Keith with blue eyes and a scared face and it made something horrible twist inside him.

Keith used his jacket to mop up some of the blood. He knew androids needed it to run – they could bleed out just like a human. “Are you okay?”

The android made a small noise, something like a mechanical whirr, or a hum. It was almost like a whimper.

“I won’t hurt you,” Keith said, softer this time. “My name is Keith. What’s yours?”

A flicker went over the android’s face. He lifted a hand to press over his stomach wound automatically, like he was only just realising the rod was gone. “LM-002,” he said.

Keith shook his head. He could see the android’s model number printed on his jacket. All androids wore some variation of the same uniform, usually to dictate what sort of job or function they had. He knew this one was a caretaker android from his sensible black pants and collared shirt. “Your name,” he repeated.

The android hesitated, before whispering, “Lance.”

Keith tried to give Lance a smile. There was something incredibly human about having a name. All androids were given one as a part of their installation – it was something they could respond to that wasn’t a string of numbers and letters, something to identify them by. It made them feel more human. “I’m going to get you help, okay Lance?”

Lance nodded. When Keith pulled one of his arms around his shoulders, Lance clutched at him, his body tensing and releasing that tension over and over. Flinching. He was in pain, and that only made Keith angrier. Androids could be hurt, they could suffer and express fear. How did that make them anything less than human?

Keith was relieved that Lance was light-weight. Some androids, especially the ones intended for construction or heavy lifting, were built sturdy. He supposed caretaker models were meant to be light and agile. He probably could have lifted Lance up in his arms with ease, but he didn’t.

“I know someone who can help, okay?” he said, peering into Lance’s face. The skin around his eyes had tiny fractures in it, like glass. It was synthetic skin and had some level of self-repair to it, so the fractures only looked like a bruise. Since his blood was blue, the bruised skin had turned blue, too. It made Lance look incredibly haunted.

“Help me?” Lance repeated.

Keith nodded. He knew a lot of people who shared his thoughts about androids, but some were more capable of changing things than others. Allura had the funds and the heart to start a revolution if she wanted, and he knew Shiro had the smarts and engineering skills to patch up Lance’s wounds. Shiro had a prosthetic arm and was constantly making adjustments to it, and prosthetics worked in the same way as androids did, a lot of the time. They’d both be able to help Lance.

As best as he could, Keith helped Lance limp out of the alleyway. There wasn’t really anywhere safe to rest around here, but he found a building’s awning where they had a bit of cover, and helped Lance sit against the wall. Lance was staring at his own jacket, eyes focused on his serial number. His movements were shaky and unsteady but he reached up a hand anyway and tore at the fabric, tossing it out onto the wet street.

“I’m Lance,” he said to himself, breathing out static.

“Are you okay?” Keith asked again.

Lance’s eyes flickered up to him. They looked wet, and he blinked several times, processing the question. It was always obvious when androids did that – they’d pause, go quiet. Watching their programming tick was as fascinating as it was disconcerting, but on Lance, Keith found he didn’t quite mind. There was a careful consideration in Lance’s expression, one that Keith could feel the weight of. Maybe the question meant a lot more to Lance than he’d intended.

After all, he doubted anyone had asked Lance that before.

“Thank you, Keith,” Lance said, when he’d thought enough. “I am okay.”

Keith was satisfied with that. There was a look of relief to Lance’s expression, one that was slowly spreading through him. His shoulders gained a slump, and the stiffness on his face eased into something more malleable. If he was in normal clothes, and if his wounds were healed, he’d almost look completely human.

That was the way it should be, Keith thought.

Chapter Text

This was the fourth day in a row that Keith hadn’t shown up for guard duty. One could be excused – a conflict of schedules, or a sudden change in plans. Maybe he was needed elsewhere. Two days was perhaps the same. Three was certainly pushing it, but the fourth day of Keith’s absence had now come and gone, leaving Lance feeling oddly rejected and brushed off. It wasn’t a feeling he often felt. As the Prince of Altea, he’d had a privileged, comfortable childhood, and had wanted for little.

As a result of his royal blood, he had bodyguards with him almost twenty-four seven. That was how it had always been. He’d hated them when he was younger, but an incident where he’d been in an unsafe position without his guards had made him change his opinion. As frustrating as it could be to feel as though he had no privacy, it was for his safety that they were there, and he had to respect that. They were doing their job and he shouldn’t interfere.

But it was different with Keith. From the moment he was first assigned as Lance’s guard they’d had an interesting connection. They hadn’t liked each other at all first – they’d argued and bickered and Lance had made Keith’s job awful.

And yet Keith preserved.

Lance really admired that about him. He was brave and confident and behind that cold exterior of his, he was warm and forgiving. Lance wasn’t really surprised that he fell for Keith. It was inevitable, really. They’d been getting along so well lately, and he swore they had a connection that went beyond guard and prince…

He hoped he hadn’t been wrong, but now Keith was avoiding him, and he was miserable. He missed Keith terribly and didn’t know what to do about it. There was little he could do, really. He wasn’t allowed to interrupt the guards while they were on duty – no one was – so he didn’t track Keith down. If Keith didn’t want to see him, Lance had to accept that.

Even if it broke his heart a little.

 

Keith was going to be in big trouble. There were certain rules he had to follow, certain regulations and constricts he had to uphold. It was his duty as a member of the royal guard to be respectful in every way possible. He represented a faction of the royal family, after all, and his actions would reflect back on them.

One thing that would never, ever be allowed was for him to fall in love with Altea’s beloved prince.

And yet…

He didn’t know what to do with himself. He hadn’t liked the prince at first, and had resented being assigned to guard him, even though the position came with prestige and respect. He’d thought Lance to be selfish and spoilt, and out of touch with commoners or people below him.

How wrong he’d been.

He’d quickly learned that Lance was none of those things. He was considerate of people below his station, never ordering workers around but instead asking politely for their assistance. He didn’t care if he was talking to someone dirt poor or extremely rich – in fact, he talked to the rich with less compassion, holding them to a higher standard, one where they were expected to use their privilege for good. Lance was thoughtful and kind and surprisingly competitive, unafraid to get dirty or to look a fool, despite being a prince.

Was it really any surprise that Keith fell in love with him? Everyone loved Lance a little bit. It was impossible not to. He was magnetic and charismatic and almost painfully beautiful, and Keith didn’t think he could control himself or his feelings around the prince anymore. He wanted to run his fingers through Lance’s soft hair, and hold his hand, and trace his knuckles down the curve of Lance’s cheek. Lance often dozed while Keith was on duty and he was temptingly soft and sweet in sleep. It made Keith want to worship the ground he walked on.

There was little he could do except avoid Lance. His supervisor, Shiro, was lenient with him, since they were close. Against his better judgement he caved and assigned Keith elsewhere for a few days, taking on his role in his stead. It was unfair of him to ask Shiro to go to such lengths for his sake but he knew Shiro would, and he did. Maybe he saw how desperate Keith was feeling and sympathised with him. He must make such a pitiful, love-struck image.

Keith thought distance would clear his head. He worked on the other side of the palace, taking great pains to avoid the prince and those doe-like eyes of his, as beautiful and emotive as the sea. But staying away only made him feel more lovesick.

Distance made the heart grow fonder, after all. Or was it absence? Both were working against him, in any case.

He knew it would be impossible to hide his feelings from the prince when next he saw him. Keith was usually good at hiding his expressions, at remaining neutral, but he knew those feelings would show on his face as if it were an open book. He supposed he just had to brace himself for the consequences of loving someone as wonderful as the prince.

Because nothing could make him ever stop loving Lance.

Chapter Text

Keith didn’t often wear Lance’s clothes. He didn’t think that was a strange thing. They weren’t really the same size in some places, and they didn’t have the same fashion sense. Lance dressed in bright colours and very modern styles, and he liked cropped sweaters and tight pants. Keith didn’t particularly think those sorts of things suited him.

Other people seemed to think it was strange, though.

He guessed that was fair. Lance wore his clothes all the time, after all. Keith was broader in the shoulders than him, so Lance could take Keith’s jackets and shirts and they looked nice on him. Sometimes a little baggy, other times fitting him well enough. He liked wearing Keith’s clothes, he said. Keith didn’t quite understand it.

“They smell like you,” Lance had explained once, bringing the collar of one of Keith’s jackets to his nose with a smile. “And they’re comfortable. Plus it’s nice to wear my boyfriend’s clothes. It’s romantic, don’t you think?”

Keith didn’t know about that. He constantly worried that his clothes might smell of sweat, or maybe he’d gotten food on the cuff, or maybe there was a wrapper or something in his pocket. He didn’t want Lance to think he was gross, but Lance didn’t seem to mind. He even wore Keith’s clothes around the house, stealing his largest sweaters to keep himself warm during the colder months.

It was something he was thinking about a lot lately, mostly because Lance looked so comfortable in Keith’s clothes. There was no way he could squeeze into Lance’s pants, but he did have a jacket that Keith sort of thought might suit him. It was the brown coat he always wore, the one with the big pockets. Keith had used it as a blanket before, when it had been tossed over the back of their couch, but he’d never really worn it.

He decided to change that one morning, just in the privacy of their home. Lance was all rugged up in a blue sweater and comfortable pants, lounging around on the sofa with a movie on. It was sort of cold, and Keith was considering putting on a sweater too, when he saw Lance’s jacket resting on the dining table.

Before he could convince himself not to, he’d pushed his arms through the sleeves and shrugged the jacket on over himself. On Lance it fell to mid-thigh, though on Keith it rose a little higher, on account of his broader shoulders. Still, it fit much better than he thought it would. He could rotate his arms just fine.

It was… nice. Nicer than he expected, actually. Curious, he brought the collar up to his nose and breathed in deeply. It did smell like Lance, a mix of their washing powder and Lance’s favoured cologne and something uniquely him, as cliché as that sounded. It smelt like their bedsheets and the scent that filled the air when Lance got ready for a night out. His stomach felt all warm and twisty just breathing it in like he was.

He wondered out into the lounge room to show Lance, spreading his arms a little when he’d caught his boyfriend’s attention. “How do I look?”

“Handsome,” Lance grinned. “It’s comfortable, right?”

He nodded, adjusting the jacket’s sleeves. He liked it a lot, and was starting to understand why Lance enjoyed wearing his clothes so much. He didn’t know about romantic, but he did feel a little closer to Lance like this. Like it was Lance hugging him, not the jacket.

Maybe he’d have to start wearing Lance’s clothes more often.

Chapter Text

Lance was searching for Keith.

It seemed like a simple task, but his mate liked to wonder, which could make it a little difficult. To be fair, he liked to wonder too. Their shared territory was large, with a river running through it and a dense thicket of trees stretching from edge to edge.

Usually the riverbed was where he found Keith, so that’s where he went looking. He fluttered his wings as he shifted between the trees, listening to the sound of running water to guide him. Dragonflies darted up to land on his shoulders and arms for brief moments before flickering away. Little winged insects always liked nymphs like Lance, since they had similar wings.

When the river came into view, the shade from the trees around him broke away into warm sunlight. He had to travel down the river a little ways, lowering himself so he could run his fingertips through the water.

As expected, Keith was by the river, laid out on a large stone with his face turned towards the sun and the rest of him in shade. His wolf companion, Cosmo, was sitting beside him, head raised to watch the surrounding area with inquisitive, intelligent eyes. He caught sight of Lance and lowered his head in greeting, posture relaxing.

Lance landed on the stone, his bare feet touching down against its mossy surface. He leaned over Keith, blocking the sun and making Keith squint his eyes open, drowsy. “What are you doing?” Lance asked.

“Fell asleep,” Keith said, rolling onto his side with a yawn. He wasn’t a nymph like Lance, but he was a magical creature, so he was very much welcome in a magic forest like this. He was a shifter, and he’d had a pretty decent territory for himself before he and Lance had mated. His old territory hadn’t included the river, though.

He seemed to rather like it.

Lance lowered himself down onto the rock beside Keith. The moss made it quite comfortable, so he stretched out himself, laying on his stomach so he could push out his wings behind him before letting them settle against the curve of his spine. “This is nice,” he said.

Keith hummed. He slung an arm around Lance’s waist and dragged him closer, resting his head against Lance’s chest. In a moment, he was asleep again.

“Silly man,” Lance teased.

Cosmo huffed in agreement.

Chapter Text

Lance did not feel well. It was like there was a thunderstorm raging in his stomach, and he could feel it creeping up his throat with every inhale.

“Almost all omegas go through this at some point,” he told himself, as if he had any chance of convincing himself this wasn’t so bad. “You can deal with it.”

To be fair, he was very nervous. That probably wasn’t helping things. He’d known he was pregnant for three weeks now, but those nerves hadn’t faded yet, no matter how much he wanted them to. He knew that it was only a matter of time, that his hormones would settle and with them his anxiety, but the waiting game was driving him nuts. He constantly worried if his anxiety was bad for the baby, or if he was doing something wrong. Was he getting enough sun? Too much? Would the sun even effect the baby in the first place? He just didn’t know.

Rationally, he knew his intense morning sickness was making things worse. He wasn’t getting much sleep because he needed to throw up every few hours, and certain smells made him instantly queasy. More often than not he felt uncomfortable in his own skin.

Of course, his mate went to a lot of effort to make him feel better. Keith hadn’t always been the most emotional or affectionate alpha, but he seemed to know exactly what Lance needed and when he needed it, and was always willing to comply. Over the years they’d been together it was almost like he’d gained the ability to read Lance’s mind.

He’d also become far more affectionate, but was unwilling to admit that out loud. Lance thought it was cute, nonetheless.

There was nothing quite like affection from his alpha to calm his nerves. Even when it was five in the morning and he was hunched over the toilet bowl, Keith’s sleepy but attentive hands in his hair or on his shoulders was enough to stop his whimpering. Other times, when Lance was curled up around his stomach in bed, Keith would carefully lay himself on top of him, sharing body heat and his pleasant scent. Lance loved it.

Since finding out about his pregnancy, Keith had been much more attentive than usual. He was more willing to put aside chores for a moment if Lance needed him, and was reluctant to let Lance wait for anything, even if Lance insisted he could be patient. Even something as simple as getting Lance a glass of water couldn’t wait, in Keith’s eyes.

Lance didn’t complain. As much as Keith had come to know every little thing about him, he’d had the same pleasure of getting to know Keith. He knew that Keith felt like pampering Lance was the best way he could support Lance for the duration of the pregnancy, and that he felt like it was his duty as Lance’s alpha to make him as comfortable as possible. Considering it was Lance carrying their child, Keith wanted to do all that he could to help.

It was sweet. Lance felt a little selfish for wanting so much of Keith’s attention, but sometimes he just couldn’t control it. He needed to be close to Keith, to know that he was there if Lance ever needed help. Bringing a child into the world was scary, but it was less scary with Keith there, willing to do anything he needed. He only hoped that Keith realised how much Lance appreciated him.

There was no one else he trusted with his child as much as he did Keith.

Chapter Text

Shiro watched his boyfriend shuffle around like a ghost. It was always this way during this time of year, on account of end of session exams. He knew that feeling well, and was never more relieved to have graduated than well exams rolled around. Lance constantly fluctuated between study and sleep, and had little time for anything else in between.

At least Keith was a little calmer about the whole ordeal. To be fair, he didn’t have exams, not in the same way Lance did. Rather, he had pilot tests and simulation flights to measure his skills. Most examinations he had were practical these days, since he was near the end of his training.

“Lance?” he called out, when he wandered past the lounge room to get to the kitchen for the third time in ten minutes. “You alright, honey?”

He heard a hum in reply, but that was it. Lance probably thought he’d given a suitable answer, but it just made Shiro raise his eyebrows, amused.

“Honey?” he repeated.

Lance reluctantly abandoned whatever he was doing to wonder into the lounge room, looking confused and a little dazed. “Did you call, Shiro?”

“Mhmm. Can you come here a moment?”

When Lance was close enough, Shiro snagged him around the waist, and dragged him down onto the couch. Lance was clearly tired because he didn’t resist at all, instead all but collapsing against Shiro’s chest, their legs tangling. Shiro pet his hair, squeezing him close.

Keith glanced up from the other couch, where he was sitting cross-legged with one of Shiro’s old notebooks open on his lap. “What happened to him?”

“Studying too much,” Shiro said. “I’m making him take a break.”

Lance made a protesting grunt, but didn’t try and squirm free. One good thing about being stronger than both of his boyfriends meant that Shiro could get all the cuddles he wanted, on account of being an octopus with immovable arms.

Keith closed the notebook and unfurled his legs. “I want in.”

Shiro opened up one arm.

Keith burrowed himself in close, somehow squeezing onto the couch with Shiro and Lance. He tossed one leg over Shiro’s lap and Lance’s hips, letting out a deep, comfortable sigh. He looked rather pleased with himself. When he’d settled, Lance seemed to notice him, and squinted as if Lance wasn’t quite sure when Keith had appeared beside him. Shiro just continued to pat his hair, and he went back to doing nothing but resting there.

Shiro was content to sit like this. Sometimes a break would be exactly what Lance needed to focus better, so he knew Lance would forgive him for being a distraction. He was sure Lance was going to fall asleep for a little while – already those beautiful blue eyes of his were slipping closed, like he couldn’t keep them open.

Even Keith was looking a little sleepy. Shiro lifted his other hand to play with Keith’s hair too.

Maybe a little break was what they all needed.

Chapter Text

Keith rested his head in his hands, sighing deeply. He was wracked with indecision, and could hardly touch the plate of food that had been set down in front of him. It had probably gone cold by now. He wasn’t really hungry anyway.

Around him, the noise of the tavern continued to boom. Glasses clinked and cutlery scraped across chipped plates. Every now and then there would be a cheer from one of the nearby gambling tables, where dice rolled and cards were slapped down with victorious triumph or reluctant defeat. He rarely joined in with the festivities – he didn’t know anyone here that well, and wasn’t the type of person to socialise more than he had to.

But he did usually have company.

Usually.

A hand came down to rest gently on the back of his shoulder as a figure leaned in close to him. “You okay?” Lance asked.

Keith hadn’t even heard him approach. He’d sat in his usual dark corner, away from both the front entrance and the bar, where he had a view of everyone in front of him and a wall behind him. He should have noticed Lance approaching, but he hadn’t.

“I…”

A subtle pulse of blue light radiated out of Lance’s palm. Keith could see the flash of it over his shoulder, and felt the burst of warmth it provided go through him. He felt bad that Lance was worried for him – no amount of healing magic could fix what was wrong.

“Sorry,” he said.

Lance only shrugged, and slipped into the seat beside him, the glow fading. “Still thinking about Shiro?”

Keith winced. Of course Lance could see right through him, he’d always been able to. And he’d been there when Keith had reunited with Shiro, or whatever Shiro was now. He and Lance had been travelling together for some time. To be truthful, Keith didn’t know why Lance stuck around with him. He was only interested in finding his lost brother, and he often got himself into dangerous situations. Still, Lance never left him. He went to rather painful lengths to stay, actually. Eventually Keith couldn’t even bear the thought of being without Lance.

It was as frustrating as it was comforting.

“I am,” he admitted, lowering his hands. “I just don’t know what to do.”

Lance hummed, fiddling with the blue pendant around his neck. It was the stone he used to focus his magic.

“I miss him,” Keith confessed, in a much quieter voice.

“It’s okay to miss him,” Lance said simply, ducking his head to meet Keith’s eyes. Keith couldn’t look away, no matter how much he wanted to.

He’d spent most of his life with Shiro. The man had practically raised him, despite being only a small five years older. When Shiro had gone missing after a mission when awry, Keith had been distraught. He’d set out to save Shiro, to bring him home. That had been nearly two years ago. Since then, he’d discovered that Shiro had been… taken over, by something dark and ravenous and manipulative. His arm was missing and his eyes had changed colour and there was a sharpness to his smiles that had never been there before.

Keith wanted to save him. Wanted to free Shiro’s mind from whatever had captured him.

Lance had been travelling with Keith for about a year now. He’d seen what Shiro had become – and he didn’t know who Shiro had been, so why was he advocating for Shiro? Just because Keith said so? Keith thought that, in all honesty, that was probably why. When it came to family, Lance understood the value a person could place on another.

“If you really think you can save him,” he’d once told Keith, “then I believe you. It’s as simple as that.”

But it was getting to the point where Keith didn’t know if he could really save Shiro. There were so many bad things Shiro had done… he’d hurt a lot of people. Killed a lot. Would he remember these things if he was ever cured? Could he live with what he’d done?

“I don’t know if I can save him anymore,” Keith said, feeling distress claw up his throat like a physical force.

Lance reached out to cover his hand with his own. “I’m no fighter like you, but if it comes down to it, you know you can count on me to…” He shrugged a shoulder, giving Keith a pointed, somewhat nervous look.

Keith gave him a wry smile. “You’re a cleric, though. Isn’t that the opposite of what you normally do?”

“Sometimes death is kindness,” Lance said. “I know that well enough.”

Keith let out a long, shaky breath. Something about Lance’s unwavering devotion to him kept him from falling apart. He squeezed Lance’s hand, holding it tightly. Lance’s healing powers were phenomenal, he’d brought Keith back from the brink of death multiple times. If Keith could save Shiro from whatever had him in its clutches, then he was sure Lance could help heal his body and his mind.

He’d slowly come to a realisation over the last few months of being with Lance. He might not be able to save Shiro after all, no matter how hard he fought. But with Lance… if they fought together, worked together… then maybe it was possible.

He was stronger with Lance by his side. That was undeniable.

Chapter Text

Keith did not like nail polish. The smell always made his nose twitch, and it sometimes gave him a headache if there wasn’t a window open somewhere in the room. Whenever he’d worn it in the past he’d had the insatiable urge to chip it off, which always left him picking at it until he had little flakes of it all over himself.

But Lance liked it, so he put up with it.

Most of the time, when Lance wanted to pain this nails, it was because he was looking for a way to distract himself. Sometimes Lance had trouble focusing his thoughts, and doing something very detail-orientated helped with that. He often painted his nails, so when he needed someone else’s to paint, Keith usually volunteered himself.

To him, it didn’t matter if he didn’t like it. As long as Lance felt better afterwards it was fine with him.

Lance was pretty good at it, admittedly. He always shaped Keith’s nails before he painted them, smoothing them down and running something over them to make them shiny and even. Keith had no idea what any of it was, but Lance was always very gentle with his hands, so it didn’t matter. He always made sure to sit patiently while Lance choose a colour and applied a few generous coats of polish to his nails. He never had any preference when it came to colour (though, if he had to choose, he’d just choose black because it was simple), but Lance usually picked something that would suit him.

When the polish was dry, Lance would put this oil on his nail beds, and then give his hands a massage with some sort of sweet-smelling lotion. “This is what they do in salons when you get a manicure,” he explained once, when Keith asked about it. “Feels good, right?”

The best part about having his nails painted was the massage afterwards, Keith thought. He could definitely fall asleep. To be fair, though, any affection Lance gave him felt good. He didn’t really like it when people touched him, but that was a different case altogether when it came to his boyfriend. Keith trusted Lance, in the same way he knew Lance trusted him.

Besides, the whole reason he let Lance paint his nails was so that Lance felt better. In the end, as long as that happened, the rest didn’t matter.

Chapter Text

Keith wasn’t used to having someone else in his house.

He was starting to see that perhaps he should have socialised more, or hosted dinners, or anything that would have given him some more experience in this matter. He was woefully unprepared when it came to the simplest things, and found himself often lost, unsure what to do.

This was the first time Lance was staying over for the night. Keith had spent the thirty minutes before Lance arrived frantically cleaning, unsure if he had enough clean dishes, and suddenly embarrassed over the dirty clothes he’d left slung over the edge of the bath.

Of course, it hadn’t been as much of a disaster as he’d expected. Lance arrived with an overnight bag and an armful of takeout food that they ate out of the container. It was quite cold outside, so Keith had turned the heater on in advance, though it was kind of shitty and took a while to actually do anything.

In the end, it wasn’t the state of his house or his cutlery that caused him the most anxiety. It was the fact that a lot of the things he had, he only had enough for one. Namely, in this instance, blankets. He’d been living by himself for so long that he hadn’t even thought of buying spares. He had enough to keep himself warm and comfortable, and that was it.

Which was problematic when there were two people in his bed.

Lance insisted it was fine, but Keith was concerned. It got really cold at night, and he worried that his blankets weren’t enough to keep the both of them warm. He was relieved that Lance slept with his socks on during winter, since it meant his toes wouldn’t get too cold. He put an extra sheet on his bed to act as a blanket, albeit a thin one. It mostly helped trap the heat in.

“It’s not that cold,” Lance said, laughing when he caught sight of Keith’s worried expression as they settled into bed. He shifted over so that he was pressed right against Keith and smiled, nuzzling close. “See? All warm.”

Keith couldn’t deny that. He pulled Lance close and let himself relax. He had to admit, it was much warmer than expected with Lance beside him. They’d probably be fine.

Besides, he wasn’t complaining about having Lance cuddled up to him.

Chapter Text

Keith found a familiar in the woods.

He supposed it wasn’t the strangest thing to find, since the fey woods were known to be full of unclaimed familiars. It was their homeland, the place where they lived and thrived. Magic users had to travel into the fey woods to find their most compatible familiar, and bond with them in order to use magic to summon them.

The thing was, most familiars here were unclaimed.

This one, however, wasn’t.

He and his familiar, a large red lion, were walking through the dandelion fields when he found it. Cat familiars like Red rather enjoyed dandelion fluff – of course, this being the fey woods, it was no ordinary dandelion. When the fluff disconnected from the stem, it glowed liked little fireflies, and to cats, it was basically catnip. Red loved rolling around in the stuff.

When he arrived there, Red already ahead of him, he saw that the dandelions had been disturbed. Plenty filled the air at the far end of the meadow. They regrew within a few minutes, but even still there were plenty of bare stalks and flattened areas where a big body had rolled over them.

The familiar was so much like Red that, at first, he was rather surprised. He’d never seen another lion familiar, at least one not as big as Red, but this one was even a little larger. It had deep blue fur and the same white v-shaped mark on its chest that Red did. The blue lion was quiet happily throwing itself into the dandelions, rolling around with little coos and huffs of joy.

Keith knew better than to get between two familiars, since they solved their problems between themselves, and Red had arrived to the field before him anyway. Still, he was surprised to see that they were quite friendly towards one another – Red cautiously approached first, ears perked with interest, nose sniffing the air. She let out quite snuffles until the blue lion noticed her, its head suddenly swivelling towards them.

Their first impressions of one another were cautious and careful, little sniffles and gentle steps, but after a moment they were both wrestling in the dandelions, and Keith knew he had nothing to worry about. He watched for a little while, smiling to himself. Red was usually quite stoic and passive, only showing emotion when she was angered or protective of him. This was a rarely seen sight of her and he savoured it.

Still, he was confused to see a claimed familiar without its partner. As a magic user, he could sense the bond between the blue lion and its partner, one that essentially meant the lion was off the market in terms of familiar contracts. Familiars and their partners were rarely separated, so where was the magic user who belonged to the blue lion?

After a decent roll around, Red stood and shook out her fur, then made her way back to him. He opened his palms for her, letting her nuzzle her face into them.

The blue lion appeared over her shoulder, eyes open wide and curious. Keith held himself still as the creature stepped closer to him, tail flicking. Familiars could be incredibly dangerous, and even though this one seemed quite friendly, he didn’t want to startle it. The blue lion, however, seemed perfectly content, and insistently nuzzled its face closer too, letting out a pleased purr when Keith gave it a tentative scratch.

“Where’s your partner?” he wondered aloud, as he scratched under the blue lion’s chin, making it purr louder. “You’re not here alone, are you?”

Predictably, the lion was too preoccupied to reply. Keith wasn’t sure he would have understood it if it had, anyway. Familiars didn’t talk, per say, but there was a certain way they acted and looked at people that could be easy to read, if one knew them well enough.

A moment later, and the blue lion suddenly glanced up, ears swivelling. It took off running back the way it had come, just as a figure emerged from the trees. Keith winced as the lion pounced, tackling the figure into the dandelions.

Red was curious, so she wandered over, and Keith followed. The man was stuck under the enthusiastic lion, laughing as she rubbed her whiskered muzzle against his face. He had brown hair and brown skin, beautifully blue eyes, and a smile that Keith thought was unfairly handsome.

“Is this your familiar?” he asked, when the man’s laughter died down, and he spotted them standing nearby.

“Ah, yeah,” the man said, gently nudging the lion’s face away so he could stand and brush the dandelion fluff off of him. “She didn’t startle you, did she?”

“No.” Keith put a hand on Red’s shoulder, smoothing down her fur. “She just played with Red.”

The man gave him a sudden grin. “Red?”

Keith bristled. “Well, she is red.”

“No, that’s not what I mean,” he said, laughing. “This is Blue!”

Keith blinked. “You named your lion Blue?”

“You named yours Red!”

A small smile crept across Keith’s face. “I suppose that’s fair. I was surprised to see Blue alone, though.”

“She always runs ahead of me when we come here.” The man sent his lion a soft smile, rubbing his palm up her nose and forehead when she ducked her head down against him. “I’m Lance, by the way. Thank you for looking out for her before I got here.”

Keith didn’t really think he deserved to be thanked, since he didn’t particularly do anything. But he guessed that some magic users would have been defensive, and some familiars would have attacked Blue if she’d been too friendly with them. “It’s fine,” he ended up saying. “I’m Keith.”

“Nice to meet you, Keith.” Lance grinned at him.

Keith felt himself go a little warm. He turned his gaze back to Red and scowled when he noticed the knowing, smug look she was giving him. It wasn’t often that Keith found himself attracted to other people, but when he did, Red always made sure to tease him about it. She was as infuriating as she was loveable.

“I guess lions just really love this place, huh?” Lance continued, completely oblivious to how flustered Keith was slowly becoming. “They’re both covered in dandelion fluff.”

That was true. Red was smothered in little glowing embers, and when she shook out her fur, they drifted off of her like the lingering lights of fireworks. “Guess they do,” he agreed.

Since both lions liked this place, that meant he might see Lance more often. He hoped so.

Chapter Text

Lance shivered as he jerked his jacket tighter around him. He should’ve worn more layers, but he hadn’t expected it to be this windy. The cold bit at every flash of bare skin, creeping beneath his shirt and in the gaps around his neck and wrists where his jacket didn’t quite reach. He should’ve thought ahead, since he was wandering around in the middle of the night during winter.

This probably wasn’t his wisest decision.

But, like with most decisions relating to Keith, he was never clear-headed. It was probably a bad thing, that he could get so wrapped up in his head, but it felt good. He felt like he was himself with Keith, like he knew himself better because he felt more comfortable in his skin. It had taken a while for him to admit that, and a little while longer to accept it.

He didn’t want to let go of that acceptance. He was starting to learn that it was hard to come by.

As much as he hated the cold, this was pretty much the only way he could see Keith. He didn’t like sneaking around without his parents’ permission, especially because he’d been caught before and they didn’t exactly approve. But he couldn’t stop. Rather, he didn’t want to. Not only would it upset him, but it would upset Keith too, and that was worse than any punishment his parents could dole out.

Keith was waiting for him where he usually was, sitting on a swing at a park between their houses. There was a lone street lamp casting light across the little place, but other than that, it was completely empty. Keith was the only person there. It was a little after midnight, after all.

“Hey,” Lance said as he trudged closer, stepping over the low fence that separated the park’s wood chippings from the concrete footpaths.

“Hey.” Keith opened one arm as Lance approached, drawing Lance closer. The swing’s chains groaned in protest as Lance settled on Keith’s lap, one arm going around Keith’s shoulders. Keith was all rugged up in a leather jacket and red scarf, and he didn’t seem bothered by the cold at all.

“How was your day?” Lance asked.

Keith gave him a shrug. He rocked his ankles back and forth, making the swing move. Not hard enough to dislodge Lance, but enough to give them some motion. “Lonely,” Keith eventually said. “Sorry to drag you out so late at night.”

“I told you not to apologise for that anymore,” Lance admonished, voice gentle. He ran his fingers through the strands of hair poking out of the bottom of Keith’s beanie, smoothing out little knots he found. “The time doesn’t bother me.”

Keith only hummed. He turned his face into Lance’s neck. His nose was cold. He’d never been the most talkative person, but Lance didn’t mind. He rested his cheek against Keith’s head and tried to ignore how cold he was.

He wished they could meet without having to go such lengths. It wasn’t like his parents had a problem with him being interested in boys – at least, he didn’t think they did – but they did have a problem with Keith, specifically. Keith didn’t have the best reputation and he didn’t always come off as the friendliest person, but Lance knew better. He knew that Keith was just socially uncomfortable, and that he was quiet because he was nervous, not abrasive.

And a lot of the stuff people thought about him wasn’t true. Keith had been in fights before, but that was years ago, with people who said bad things about the one person Keith had truly cared about – his older brother, Shiro. They weren’t related by blood, but they might of well have been. Shiro looked after Keith when his parents fell short on the job, which was more often than not.

Since then, Keith had completely changed. Lance had known him for years, not well but in his periphery. There was a quietness to Keith now that was new. He was struggling with a lot of things, but he knew not to take it out on others, and that sort of vulnerability was what had first drawn Lance in.

He’d recognised it in himself.

Keith wasn’t the first gay person Lance had met, but he was the first one Lance had really, truly liked. They were both competitive and fiery, and even if they made an unlikely pair, they worked. Most people were surprised to see them hanging out so much. Hunk, Lance’s best friend, was worried, and Pidge was suspicious. His parents hadn’t liked hearing from other parents that their youngest child was getting close to someone with a less than satisfactory attitude.

Lance didn’t put much faith in the flimsy opinions of strangers. By the time his parents brought it up, he’d gotten to know Keith for who he truly was. He felt an immediate feeling of rejection at the idea of giving up his connection with Keith.

In the end, he was glad with his decision. He didn’t regret getting closer to Keith, especially because his feelings were mutual. Just before they’d had to start sneaking around to see one another, Keith had confided in Lance how he felt, and it was like all the mounting tension between them eased away.

“I don’t want to make things more difficult for you,” Keith had said, without looking Lance in the eyes. “I don’t want to make you choose between your family and me, and I keep thinking to myself that… that I should just ignore you, or something. Make the decision for you.”

Lance winced.

Keith caught sight of his expression and gave him a wane smile. “See, that’s why I haven’t. I’m not going to make these sorts of decisions for you Lance, because it’s not my place. And… and it’s just, it’s like I can’t get myself to stop seeing you anyway. Even if I think that would be better for you, I just want to be with you. Always. It’s so selfish.”

Lance had simply said, “I’m okay with that. Be as selfish as you want.” And he’d meant it. He liked that Keith was giving him the freedom to think for himself, because it was something no one else was doing. Not his friends, who thought he was straying from the ‘right’ path, or his parents, who were worried he was walking right into danger’s arms. Just Keith gave him that freedom, because he didn’t want to hurt Lance, but was willing to be hurt by him if that’s what it took.

He sometimes wondered how Keith became the person he was. His childhood had been rough – a mother who disappeared out of the blue and a father who didn’t know how to raise a kid and turned to work and alcohol to get away from him. Keith’s aggression issues had hit their peak when his mother abruptly turned back up determined to take control of everything, including Keith’s life, and now neither of his parents approved of him being gay.

It was probably Shiro who made Keith want to be better. Shiro had walked Keith to school every day when he was younger, and packed his lunches because his dad always forget, and taught him how to drive in his old, beat up car. Keith respected Shiro, which was more than he could say for his absent parents. It was why he’d been so frustrated when people talked bad about his brother.

In the end, Lance knew Keith’s parents would never approve of them as a couple. If they ever did, it would be a long time in the future. He wasn’t so sure about his own family, but time would tell.

If this was all he could have, then he’d take it without complaints, and savour it as long as he could. Even if it was cold outside.

“You know,” Lance began, “I was looking for places that are open this late. There’s a twenty-four hour café on the other side of town.”

“Oh?”

“It’s only ten minutes by bus,” he offered, cracking a smile. “Would be much warmer in there.”

Keith squeezed his waist. “Want me to buy you hot chocolate?”

Lance grinned, bumping their foreheads together as he turned to face Keith. “How’d you know?”

A small, content smile touched Keith’s lips. “I just know you.”

Chapter Text

Lance could tell Shiro was tired. It took a lot to wear out the older man, but that evening Shiro was constantly on the verge of nodding off, unable to keep his head up. Lance thought it was kind of cute, to be truthful. Every time Shiro was almost asleep he’d suddenly perk upright, though that wouldn’t last long.

“Honey, if you’re tired, why don’t you go to bed?” Lance suggested, when Shiro caught himself from falling asleep again with a little jolt.

“There’s stuff I need to do,” Shiro protested, though it was a weak protest, one muffled around a yawn that Shiro didn’t seem to realise he was letting out.

Lance tried not to smile. He didn’t know how much work Shiro was getting done – all he seemed to be doing was resting on the sofa, drifting in and out of sleep. He hadn’t really done much at all that evening, though Lance didn’t really mind. Shiro hardly ever hold back on doing his half of their household duties. Most of the time he tried to do more than he had to, because he was the type of person who wanted to make his loved ones’ lives easier. It was harder to get him to relax than it was to get him to take out the bins.

As Lance made dinner, he kept peering into the lounge room, just to watch Shiro doze. All the lines and angles of Shiro’s expression softened when he slept. He was handsome anyway, but he looked particularly dashing when sleepy, and since it was a rare thing, Lance was taking advantage of it. At some point Shiro had slipped down on the couch a little so he was half lying down, so he was sleeping for more than a few minutes at a time now.

He wasn’t sure what had tired Shiro out so much, but he’d get the man to bed after he ate. Lance would be able to handle the dishes tonight, and the other things that needed to be done. There wasn’t really that much anyway, just a load of laundry and clean up after dinner. If Shiro was sleepy enough, he was sure he could get him to rest without too much of a challenge.

These quiet evenings were some of his favourites, even without Shiro to talk to. Having him there was enough to leave Lance content.

Chapter Text

Lance watched the office workers from a distance, perched high on a rooftop. It was well into night, and the city was alive with colour and noise and a hum of energy that made him feel restless. He only had vague, fragmented memories of the cities he grew up in, hundreds of years ago, but even still this energy felt foreign and exciting to him. He’d been here, in this specific city, for years now, and it had yet to fade.

Like most other spirits and various creatures of folklore, he felt active at night, and was more willing to wander away from his resting place. From his vantage point, he could see little wispy dragons tumbling through their sky, so pale and intangible they looked like smoke. Little racoon-dogs rummaged through nearby trashcans, making a right old racket that any human would simply attribute to foxes or strays. In the yard across from him, mischievous pixies glowed like fireflies, darting from tree to tree in the safety of the leaves lest they attract a hungry bat or night raven, one that could scoop three of them up in an instant – one in each claw.

He was mostly safe from other spirits, being as old as he was. The older one of them got, the more powerful they became. When he travelled around the city, most creatures stayed out of his way, or actively tried to avoid him. It was a little offensive, actually. He was quite friendly!

If only the humans could understand him.

Alas, they couldn’t. Whatever language spirits spoke, humans could never make sense of it. It was very rare for a human to be able to see them in the first place. There weren’t many humans that dealt with spirits, and the ones who did almost always worked with a special secret agency that dealt specifically with otherworldly beings. As far as Lance could tell, they got paid by the government, and were generally respected by law enforcement as superiors, even if common police didn’t know the truth about them.

It was those workers that Lance was watching now. He’d gotten to know the main team for this district in the past few years – a man with a prosthetic arm and a woman with long silver hair. He’d chatted with them before, or rather, to them, since they couldn’t understand him. He was pretty sure they thought him harmless, since he’d never done anything wrong, at least not when they could see. Normally he’d approach them, more out of boredom than anything, but tonight…

They had someone new with them.

Curious, Lance drifted over the rooftop, flitting from building to building as he made his way closer. The city was a strange mix of houses and tall buildings, though most of the cityscape was centralised, with the shorter buildings and parks spiralling outwards. The agents’ office was in a tall building, but more towards the suburbs than the city centre, though both could be reached by train, or even walking depending on how energetic a human was feeling.

The man, Shiro, was the first to spot him. “Ah, there he is,” he said, interrupting the conversation the other two were having. “That’s the one we call the Blue Lion.”

Lance drifted down from the rooftops towards the footpath where the three humans were walking. Gravity was no challenge to him – he could hover and fly around with ease, thanks to his relatively incorporeal status as a spirit.

“Nice to see you again, Blue,” the woman, Allura, said, as she watched him come closer. Both humans were wary of him, as always. He was more much powerful than the average spirit. But Lance had spent a long time not attacking them, and so they’d gained a little trust in him. He thought.

Still, it wasn’t them he was interested in. No, he peered closer at the third one, the one who was bristling at his attention. This human was male, like Shiro, but shorter, and a lot angrier looking. His hair was dark and his eyes almost looked violet in the night-time light. He was clearly apprehensive as Lance circled him, remaining absolutely still.

After drinking in his fill, Lance rounded up to Shiro’s side, giving him an inquisitive look. “There’s three of you, now? It’s always been two.”

Shiro only smiled at him, a little strained. “See, Keith? He’s relatively harmless. A lot of spirits aren’t, but this one is.”

“Keith is a new recruit,” Allura explained, spotting Lance’s miffed expression. He hated being ignored, but that was inevitable around humans. It was why most spirits didn’t like them, except for when they needed someone to mess with.

Lance huffed, squinting at Keith. “He doesn’t look so impressive to me!” He turned on Shiro. “You know, those little turtle things in the pond at the park have been making a mess again. They keep biting humans when humans reach into the water, and really, isn’t that the human’s fault? Of course you’ll get bitten if you reach into their home!”

Shiro gave him a nervous laugh.

“And another thing! Why do humans throw coins in water?” He brandished a coin, pulling it from thin air to let it dance across his knuckles. Shiro tracked its movement with surprise. “They get so confused when these things disappear before they hit the surface. I’m not stealing them, really. I’m doing them a favour! Those turtles will get real mad if you keep flinging metal into their pond.”

The coin disappeared with a flourish. The humans hadn’t stopped walking, so Lance floated along beside them, ready to vent all his complaints to unlistening ears. He always had a lot to say.

“There isn’t much we can do to get him to leave,” Allura murmured to Keith, as though Lance couldn’t hear her. “But all he does is chatter, so it’s usually fine. He knows a lot of the other spirits in this district, so he can be pretty helpful, if he wants to be.”

“Of course I know them,” Lance snorted. “Not like I have anyone else to talk to. But talking to angels and will-o-wisps can be pretty boring sometimes. Everyone is always so concerned with their own problems.” He gave a dramatic shiver.

He talked to a lot of spirits, not just angels and ghost lights, but it could be a little tedious at times. Watching humans was far more interesting, even if he couldn’t interact with them.

“Also, can you guys stop calling me the Blue Lion? That’s kind of weird,” he complained, pouting. “I have a name, you know.”

“What is it?” Keith asked.

“It’s Lance, thank you very much,” Lance said. “Not that humans will ever guess that, but– wait.” He whipped around, giving Keith a wide-eyed look. “You can understand me?”

Keith frowned at him, brow creasing. “Yes?”

“Can you understand him?” Allura asked, expression going slack with surprise as she drew Keith’s attention towards her.

“Yes,” he said again.

“Wait, wait, wait, wait,” Lance cried, pushing past Shiro and Allura to get to Keith, who had been lagging behind. He put both his hands on the human’s shoulders, shaking him a little. “You can seriously understand me? Truly?”

“Yes, I can,” Keith repeated, frowning deeper. “Let go of me.”

Lance only squeezed tighter. “You can understand me!”

“Keith,” Shiro cautioned, concerned. When Lance glanced at him, he saw both Shiro and Allura had tensed up, hands going to their waists where they kept special knives that would damage a spirit. Not kill them, per say, but dispel them for sure. Send them elsewhere for a little while.

Lance scowled at them. “I’m just talking! What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing,” Keith answered, shaking free of Lance’s hands. He turned to his companions. “You can’t hear him talking?”

“It just sounds like noise,” Allura admitted. “Like bells, or chimes.”

“Mean,” Lance hissed.

“But you couldn’t understand the other spirits we saw earlier?” Shiro pressed.

Keith shook his head. “Just Lance.”

“Lance?” both his companions echoed.

“That’s me!” Lance cried, pointing to himself. He grabbed Keith’s arm, unable to help himself, as his feet gently touched the ground. He felt all teary-eyed. “No one has said my name in years!”

“What? Why?”

“Humans can’t understand me,” Lance explained. “And all the spirits run whenever I’m around. Some don’t, but they just call me what the humans call me.”

“You don’t have any… friends, or anything?”

Lance shook his head, blinking several times. “I used to, but… I’ve been alive for a long time, you know.”

Keith’s frown seemed to soften a little.

“What’s he saying?” Allura asked.

“Just that he doesn’t like being called Blue Lion,” Keith answered, hesitant. “It’s not his name.”

Lance tugged on his arm, just gently, so that the humans didn’t go for their knives. “Tell them about the turtles, too! They make so much noise during the day, it’s impossible to sleep.”

Keith dutifully relayed the information, though his report was far less animated than Lance’s complaints had been. Both Shiro and Allura still seemed surprised that Keith could understand him. To be fair, Lance was, as well. No human had ever been able to hear his words. He’d never thought it would even be possible.

“Regardless of this… development,” Allura said carefully, “we do have to move on, Keith. Being seen with a spirit isn’t a wise idea, especially not at night. We have work to do.”

Lance felt his heart get crushed a little. It was true that the humans never let him hang around them too much. If he did, then other spirits might target them. If that ever happened, Lance would probably protect them… if he felt like it. He’d never particularly liked being shoved off by them, especially if he wasn’t done ranting, but he’d been caught unawares at the bad end of one of those knives before, and wouldn’t like a repeat experience.

“Wait, you’re leaving already…?” His hands fell away from Keith’s arms. “But…”

“Let’s get started on the next round, alright?” Allura said, already disregarding Lance, who remained standing still on the footpath. “We’ll have to talk to the supervisors about this development, but it can wait until our shift is over.”

Keith gave a reluctant look to Lance, looking torn. Lance gave him a pleading expression, willing him to stay, but it seemed like work couldn’t be avoided.

Lance watched them go, feeling empty and small. It had been a long, long time since he’d cried, but he felt tears drip down his face, hot and unwelcome. A little hiccup escaped his lips.

From the shadows around him, anxious eyes appeared. At first it was only small spirits, ones that looked like balls of soot or moths made out of leaves that pressed curiously against his feet and legs. Then bigger ones started coming, like those pesky three-legged ravens and a dog made out of weeping, damp moss and even a trio of medium sized gryphons, their eyes as dark as oil slicks.

“What’s this?” one crooned, voice deep and rumbling, as it shuffled its wings against its sides and wound its way out of the shadows. The other two watched from a nearby rooftop. When Lance looked up at them, face tear-streaked, he saw dozens of eyes watching him, slowly filtering onto every rooftop and along every street lamp nearby. Spirits of all shapes, sizes and temperaments were being drawn closer, and it took him a moment to realise they were drawn in by him.

“Someone has upset the Blue Lion,” a second gryphon said from the rooftop, clawed feet digging into the roof tiles.

The ravens squawked indignantly, beaks cracked open like starving beasts. “The humans, the humans!” they cried.

“Bad humans,” came whispers from the shadows.

“Never listen, never listen,” came more.

“Always take, never listen.”

“Even upset the Blue Lion.”

“The Blue Lion protects us.”

“Powerful Lion.”

Lance shivered, sniffling into his sleeves. Powerful spirits attracted other spirits, that was just how they were. Even Lance, in his younger years, had flitted towards those with more strength than him. He’d been scared of them, yes, and had stayed out of their way, but… like other weaker spirits, he’d protected them. Protect the pack leader from small enemies, so the pack leader would protect them from big enemies, the ones that would devour them whole.

He supposed he had become that figure.

“Wait,” he said, but his plea fell on deaf ears. Not all spirits were conscious thinkers. Some didn’t have the ability to feel like humans, or to think rationally. Some were more animal than not.

Before he could do anything, one of the ravens took off towards the humans, screeching. Its flock followed. The gryphons melted back into the shadows, but Lance could sense them departing, following the birds.

“Wait!” he shouted, but again, he was ignored.

He saw the first puff of smoke erupt as Shiro slashed at a raven with his knife. A gryphon emerged from the shadows behind him, beating its massive wings. All three humans had to cover their heads with their arms as they almost toppled over.

“I said wait!” Lance threw out his arm, summoning his powers. A ghostly blue light erupted from him, taking the shape of a large, transparent lion. It let out a roar that made the air tremble. Tiny spirits shrieked and shrunk away. The lion bounded towards the humans, covering the distance in a few short leaps. It closed its jaws around one of the gryphons, tossing it aside. He knew the gryphon wouldn’t be injured – he willed the lion to be cautious – but the message was clear.

The lion was the reason Lance was so feared, and all spirits knew to obey it. To obey him.

The birds and gryphons scattered, slinking back into the shadows with rumbling growls and vaguely concealed threats towards the humans. Lance thought their protectiveness might almost be endearing if it wasn’t only because they were intimidated by his power.

Allura brandished her knife when Lance appeared, forcing him back. The lion sprang between them, and Lance clutched at its fur, uncaring if the humans saw him in a moment of weakness.

“Stop,” Keith growled, pushing down the hand Allura held her knife with. “He’s not a threat!”

“You don’t seem to understand the gravity of this situation, Keith,” Allura snapped. “He ordered spirits to attack us!”

“I didn’t!” Lance protested. The lion rumbled.

“You don’t know that,” Keith argued. “He just wanted to talk!”

“Spirits can’t be trusted, Keith,” Shiro said. “They don’t have the ability to rationalise, to empathise. Just because you can understand one doesn’t mean they’re friendly.”

“You said he’s never harmed anyone before,” Keith protested.

“Well that’s changed now.”

Lance felt a swell of panic in him. Spirits branded dangerous by the agency could be disposed of at any moment. He’d never had to be careful with where he went because the agents he stumbled across would leave him be. If that changed, he’d either have to leave the city, or fight back, and he didn’t want to do either of those things.

All he wanted was to talk to Keith. To someone who actually understood him.

A few minutes on the street wasn’t enough.

“Cruel…” he said, clenching the lion’s fur between his fingers. “Humans are so cruel!”

“Lance,” Keith started, but by then, Lance had dispelled the lion, and disappeared into the shadows.

 

He hid by the pond with the turtles, since the turtles were so annoying no one went near them. He sat cross-legged by the water’s edge, watching the little beasts swim up to nip at his toes, before deciding better on it. They looked like ordinary turtles, which felt a little ironic, since they weren’t.

At some point one of the gryphons wandered by, bowing its head low to him. “We have not offended, have we?” it asked in that deep, rustling voice they all had.

“No,” Lance sniffled. “But if the humans think we’re a threat, they’ll dispel us, won’t they? With those knives.”

The gryphon only cooed. It nudged Lance’s back with its beak, just gently. “Blue Lion is a fierce protector,” it said. “We like you more than others. Do not like to see you cry.”

Lance was surprised by the admission. He gave the gryphon a quick smile before it walked away. When he expanded his senses, looking around him, he saw a few ravens watching him from a branch nearby, their feathers all fluffed up with worry. The little sooty spirits were collected like dust between the roots of a tree by the water. Parks were always full of spirits, but he felt more watched than usual.

It wasn’t the worst feeling in the world. It made him feel a little less alone, actually.

When he’d calmed down, the excess spirits drifted away. He was left mostly by himself by the water, aside from the turtles. They continued to be little buggers.

It was nearing dawn when he sensed a presence behind him. Shock filtered through him when he realised who it was. “Keith?”

“Lance, right?”

He nodded, hesitant.

Keith came closer. He didn’t sit by the water like Lance was, but he stood behind Lance, postured relaxed, hands in his pockets. “I wanted to apologise for earlier.”

“Where are the other two?”

“I came by myself.”

“Do they know?”

“No.”

Lance bit his lip, brows furrowed. “Why?”

Keith thought for a moment. “I don’t believe that spirits lack empathy, like they said,” he explained, each word carefully chosen and weighed up before spoken. “And you feel different. To the others, I mean.” He shook his head. “It’s hard to explain. No one knows why I can understand you, but it must be for a reason. I want to figure out why.”

“I don’t know why,” Lance said.

“We can work it out,” Keith answered. “If you want to.”

“You’ll really talk to me more?” Lance asked, voice small.

“If you’ll let me.”

“Of course! But won’t you get into trouble?”

Keith shrugged. “Probably.” He inched closer and sat, ignoring the way mud seeped into his pants. As a spirit, Lance couldn’t get dirty. He admired Keith’s willingness. “But there’s just something about you I can’t ignore. And maybe you have the answers to my questions, too.”

Lance felt a spark of hope in him. He’d gone so long without company…

Maybe Keith was right. They had to have this bond for a reason.

The fun part would be figuring that out, he thought.

Chapter Text

Keith clenched and released his fingers around the hilt of his dagger, holstered at his thigh. He was uncomfortable in his skin, wanting to sink into the shadows and conceal himself in their inky arms.

Alas, that wasn’t an option for him.

Lance tugged on his hand, just gently. They were the same height but Keith felt like Lance was looking up at him, making himself small to keep Keith from fleeing. “You going to be alright?”

Keith supressed a wince. He didn’t know the answer to that, and Lance only pat his arm, saying nothing more.

Ahead of them stood the large black gates of the Marmora fortress. They were familiar to him, deeply rooted in his mind, his senses. It was almost always dark here, since the fortress sat directly in the shadow of a towering mountain ridge. It was even darker at night. If he wasn’t used to it, he might have struggled to see. As it was, everything here was imprinted in his memory, and he’d be able to make his way around blind.

Nevertheless, it had been a long time since he’d returned. He’d left with the hope of finding Shiro, his brethren. His brother, even if they shared no blood. Shiro wasn’t a born member of the Marmora, neither of them truly were since Keith had been raised with his human father, and as such they were both the same – brothers to the Marmora, but more to themselves. If there was one person Keith would give everything for, it was Shiro.

So when Shiro was taken, his mind warped by something evil, his body used for things the real Shiro would never do…

Of course Keith would go after him.

The Marmora didn’t approve. Shiro had all but betrayed them – he’d killed members of the Marmora on his way out, and that was enough to leave him deserving of their hatred. Keith should hate him, too. But he couldn’t. It wasn’t in him.

He’d promised the senior members of the Marmora, the strongest ones called the Blades, that he’d take care of Shiro. Do something so that their reputation wasn’t tarnished by him. To the Blades, that probably meant killing him. To Keith, it meant healing him.

Neither one of those things had happened.

Shiro was much too powerful for Keith as he was. It was crushing to admit, but it was true. After he’d been almost beaten to death by Shiro, he’d been rescued and healed by Lance, who’d been nothing more than a stranger at the time.

He was no stranger now, but that wasn’t the point.

With nothing to guide him except the need to become stronger, he’d had no choice but to return home. Where else could he go for the training he needed?

Lance had accompanied him to the Marmora fortress. It was rare for outsiders to come, but Keith felt he couldn’t be without him. He knew many of his seniors had a soft spot for him, especially his tutors and caretakers, the ones who had helped raise him after his father died and his Marmora mother left him at the gates. They would allow Lance to stay, if he asked.

“Don’t worry,” Lance soothed, when Keith remained stiff and silent, too ashamed of his defeat to move forwards. He pressed his forehead against Keith’s temple, making Keith relax against him a little. “I’ll be right here. Defeat is only the first step to victory, right?”

“Right,” Keith echoed. It was something he and Lance had discussed many times over night-time fires and quiet evenings spent huddled together for warmth. Keith’s shameful feelings weighed him down as much as Lance’s persistent feelings of inadequacy, but they were both working on it.

“So let’s go,” Lance said, putting an arm around his waist to guide him forwards.

When they’d first met, Keith had been rugged and angry with defeat, and Lance had been a thief to survive on the road. Lance had robbed him blind with a charming smile and quick fingers, but little had either one of them known that he’d taken more than just material things.

(Not that Keith would admit that out loud. Those three little words were still too intimidating, too foreign; like his mouth didn’t know how to form their shape. Lance had returned all of Keith’s belongings but there was one thing that couldn’t be returned after it was taken, and Keith didn’t even want it back.)

“Thanks,” Keith murmured quietly, as they ascended the stairs to the gates. He could already hear the locking mechanisms churning, readying the gates to open.

Lance pressed a barely-there kiss to his cheek before they separated, standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

It was strange how strong Keith felt just knowing that Lance was there. He’d be lost without him.

Chapter Text

Lance winced as Keith’s arms tightened around his waist. His thin shirt did nothing to stop Keith’s hands from squeezing, fingers slotted between Lance’s ribs. They were sitting on the edge of Keith’s bed, Keith behind him, Lance sitting between his spread thighs. Keith was usually so careful with his strength, so careful not to bruise Lance unless Lance asked for it, but his control was paper-thin when he was like this.

A shaky sigh left Lance’s lips. He turned his head down, exposing the back of his neck. Keith’s fangs were already deep in his skin, and had been for the last several minutes, so the stretch was more to relieve tension for Lance than anything. He felt tingly all over, his fingers and toes almost numb. It wasn’t unpleasant, to be fed from. It was pleasurable, in some ways.

In other ways, less so.

Keith was new to the whole blood-drinking thing. If anyone caught them, they’d be in deep shit. But it wasn’t like Lance could let him go hungry, right? That wasn’t fair.

Still, sharing lifeblood wasn’t a safe thing. Most vampires didn’t feed directly from the source – their sires brought them food, sheltered them, taught them control. The good ones, anyway.

Keith’s one wasn’t good.

Hence Keith’s lack of control. He’d been practically feral after his turning, and although he’d improved a lot since then, he was still forbidden from drinking directly from someone. He was on the precipice of losing control when he sank his fangs into someone, balanced on a razor’s edge. But he didn’t have anyone to bring him food on a reliable basis, not one that could accommodate his needs and urges.

Which is why he was currently fangs-deep in Lance’s neck.

Lance thought that if there was anyone Keith might be able to control himself around, it was him. They hadn’t really gotten along in the past, but he didn’t like to see his friends suffering, so he’d offered his help. Keith had been desperate enough to take it.

That was a few months ago now. They’d grown a lot closer since then, which surprised Lance. Something about feeding bonded them in ways he hadn’t expected to experience. He could understand Keith more, and in turn felt more understood. He knew after the first time he let Keith sink his teeth in that he wouldn’t ever be able to say no to him.

“Keith,” he said, voice low and as steady as he could make it, “you’re starting to hurt me, buddy.”

Keith let out a muffled noise, a murmured rumble that only sounded partially intelligent. Lance was getting tense, ready to pry Keith’s mouth off of him, but then Keith started shifting, and his fangs slid free. That was the worst part. It was more painful than when they went in, but Lance was also wracked with a sudden and sharp need for them to remain, one that always made him clench his hands and close his eyes so that he didn’t beg for more.

“Sorry,” Keith whispered against the back of his neck, the words rough and somewhat slurred. His tongue dragged against Lance’s skin, cleaning up his mess. It made Lance shiver.

“It’s okay,” Lance breathed. He could tell that Keith’s restraint was getting better. There had been a few times where he’d been forced to shove his fingers in Keith’s mouths to get him to take his fangs out. But he hadn’t had to do that in a while.

Keith was trembling a little as he shoved his face in the back of Lance’s neck. He let out another quiet noise as he squeezed at Lance’s waist again, still too tight. It took him a few minutes to calm down, his breathing hot and wet against Lance’s skin. Lance’s shirt collar had been pulled down pretty far when Keith had gone for his neck, and neither one of them made any attempt to pull it back up.

“You shouldn’t let me do this,” Keith said.

“Do you want me to stop you?”

Keith’s grip tightened even further. Lance could feel his ribs groan in protest and he squirmed, wincing hard enough for Keith to immediately release his hold. He didn’t let Lance go, but his arms slackened, hands falling to loosely rest on Lance’s thighs.

“It’s dangerous,” Keith insisted.

Lance hummed. He only partially agreed. Feeding directly from someone was dangerous, yes, but only to those without any control or experience. In their case, it was Keith that was the dangerous thing. He’d always had a sharpened edge to him, a harshness in his eyes and the set of his shoulders, like an unholstered blade in a steady hand.

But that blade was never pointed at Lance. If he thought it was, he’d never let Keith drink from him. He was smart enough to know that.

“Are you full?” Lance asked, after a moment of silence lapsed between them.

Keith nodded. He pressed his cheek against Lance’s shoulder and slumped against him, bondless. “Thank you.”

Lance covered Keith’s hands with his own. “Good,” he said quietly. A full stomach would hone Keith’s mind and senses. He was at his most powerful in the days after a meal.

“Thank you,” Keith repeated, a little more forceful.

Lance knew he was being thanked for more than just the meal. He tipped his head back against Keith and let out a soft sigh. “It’s okay,” he said. Keith murmured something unintelligible and they both went quiet again.

There wasn’t much that could convince Lance to stop doing this for Keith. It was really Keith’s level of control that dictated how he felt on the matter. He could withstand a few bruised ribs and bitemarks. Slowly but surely, Keith was improving. That was what mattered to him.

That, and Keith’s wellbeing. He cared too much to let Keith starve, and since he was no vampire sire, this was the only way he could help.

He only hoped he was enough.

Chapter Text

Keith glanced down at the wrinkle note in his hand, reading the hastily scrawled words he’d written on it, before he shoved it back in his coat pocket. The storefront ahead of him looked unassuming enough. Its walls were made of white-painted brick and it had a green awning hung over its wooden entrance door.

He couldn’t say he wasn’t nervous about entering. He wasn’t a nymph like Lance, this wasn’t a place he was meant to be. It was in bad taste to enter a shop for another kind of creature, since it was both a little embarrassing and awkward. After all, what would a shifter like Keith need with nymph-specific products? Not to mention shops like this one also functioned as a space safe for nymphs to go to, if they ever needed anything. Inter-species cities were littered with shops like these. It was so everyone had a place of connection to their natural habitat, a place to feel properly at home.

There was a shifter store just down the street, one where Keith could get anything he needed. It was a place of comfort to him. This store, not so much.

Nevertheless, he let out a quiet, ragged sigh, and entered.

The smell of ocean and moss came over him as he opened the door. It was the same scent that clung to Lance’s skin when he first stepped out of the shower, clean and unperfumed. The store was filled with everything a nymph could ever need – baskets overflowing with flora from the deep woods, collections of coral chunks and shells sat on tabletops, vials of sand, purified oceanic or stream water lined shelves, medicines made from herbs and plants not local to the city stood behind the counter. Keith didn’t recognise more than half of what he saw. He only knew the things he’d seen Lance bring home.

As he entered, the nymph behind the counter gave him a curious, if somewhat wary look. They probably weren’t used to shifters coming though their doors.

“Sorry to intrude,” he said, trying to look as friendly and calm as possible. “I’m here because my mate is too unwell to travel.”

That seemed to put the nymph at ease. They beckoned him in, so he approached the counter. “What can I help with?”

“We’re expecting our first child,” Keith explained, somewhat bashful. He was still a little blown away by the fact that he was going to be a father. It was rare for male nymphs to be able to conceive, but Lance always did like defying expectations. “He asked me to find him something that will help with morning sickness.”

“I see,” the nymph nodded, flashing him a small smile. “You’re very good for coming all this way for him.”

Keith tried not to squirm. He didn’t think it was much to do this for Lance, not when Lance was the one carrying their child. If anything, there was probably a lot more Keith could be doing. Dealing with a little social awkwardness was nothing.

“Can you tell me a bit about him, then?” the nymph asked. “Your mate, I mean.”

“He’s a water nymph,” Keith explained. “He’s been obsessed with taking cold baths lately, since they’re the only thing helping with his morning sickness.”

“How far along is he?”

“Just hit two months.”

The nymph hummed, already looking away from him. They rummaged around in the overflowing cabinets behind them, moving aside overhanging vines to get into a glass box. A vial of unnaturally blue water was produced, alongside a little packet of what looked like flower petals.

“If you put a few drops from this vial into the bathwater, it might help ease any pains he has,” the nymph explained, before gesturing to the packet. “These can be brewed in tea, or crushed into dust and put over food. You could even put them straight into the bath, if you wanted. They ease stomach cramps and nausea.”

Keith felt a wave of relief go over him. Those were things that should help with the problems Lance had told him about – Keith had written them down on that note in his pocket so he wouldn’t forget.

“Thank you,” he said, grateful. “That should work perfectly.”

The nymph gave him a smile. “It’s nice to see someone so caring. It’s not often I see someone other than a nymph in here.”

“I’m sorry to intrude,” Keith said again, because it was the polite thing to do. “I just didn’t want my mate to suffer. He’d be here himself, if he was well, but he couldn’t wait.”

“It’s quite alright.”

Keith paid for the products and left the store feeling rather accomplished. This stuff should definitely make Lance feel better.

Now all he had to go was return home.

Chapter Text

A crack of rumbling thunder woke Lance. He startled, opening his eyes just in time to catch a flash of lightning through the slim gap in the curtains, followed by that ominous sound again. He liked storms, but lightning made him uneasy, and sleep had rendered him unprepared for it.

Despite himself, he was a little frightened. He pushed upright as gingerly as he could, not wanting to disturb the others in his bed. Several moments passed where he could only hear the constant patter of rain on the roof, but then the lighting came again, followed shortly by another deep growl of thunder.

He watched through the curtains as the storm battered the tree beside their house. It was dark outside, of course it was, but he could see shadows well enough. The tree branches were bending and twisting, and he was amazed they hadn’t blown off. The rain looked a lot harsher than it sounded.

His restless movements seemed to disturb the person sleeping to his right. Shiro let out a little sleepy noise, turning his head to glance up at Lance. “Why are you awake?” he whispered, voice hoarse.

Another round of thunder answered for him.

“Oh, honey,” Shiro sighed, reaching for him under the blanket to put his palm on Lance’s waist. “Lie down again.”

Lance complied. He buried himself back under the covers and pressed against Shiro’s chest. Shiro was all warm from sleep, and his arm was heavy when it dropped over him. He felt the blankets get pulled over him, all the way up to his chin. It did little to muffle the sounds from outside, but he felt better anyway.

“Sorry for waking you,” he whispered.

“You didn’t,” Shiro reassured.

Lance hummed. As he shifted to get comfortable, another figure pressed up against his back, grumbling and groaning.

“Sorry, Keith,” Lance said.

Keith rubbed his face between Lance’s shoulder blades, knocking his knees into the backs of Lance’s. His breaths were warm on the back of Lance’s neck. He didn’t seem particularly bothered about being woken, though he wasn’t quite awake in the first place. After a moment he was completely out again, silent and heavy against Lance.

“Will you be able to fall sleep again?” Shiro asked him, looking a little amused at Keith’s ability to fall asleep so quickly.

“Yeah,” Lance said, relaxed. “Thanks.”

“Anytime,” Shiro whispered, kissing his forehead.

Chapter Text

The palace infirmary was having a quiet day. Lance had dealt with a water burn during the morning, when one of the kitchenhands had clumsily toppled a pot. The regular rounds had been made too, of course – cough medicine to a noble’s daughter in the west wing, blood-strengthening tablets to a young lady who’d recently birthed her first child, a healing balm for one of the royal guards who’d sustained an infected injury the previous month.

He was somewhat surprised by how slow the day had been, actually. He’d been working in the infirmary for a while, since his ability to use healing magic made him useful, and it was usually busier here. Most denizens of the sprawling palace grounds used the infirmary for all health-related issues, including the nobles, the staff, and the soldiers, when they were stationed here between expeditions. It was easier to come here than it was to travel into the city to a doctor’s infirmary.

Lance was the only healer working that day. He spent the better part of the morning making salves and potions to restock the infirmary cabinets, and he ate lunch break by one of the windows, staring out over the surrounding gardens and forest. The palace was massive, but the gardens were more so. People passed by quite frequently – members of the upper class strolling by, gardeners tending to the plants, resident scholars and servants taking breaks among the trees and flowers. He sometimes ate there too, but he was content to be inside today.

It was around mid-afternoon when something finally came his way.

The thumping of footsteps approached and Shiro came through the doors. He was one of the upper soldiers in the royal guard, and was quite well respected amongst everyone at the palace, Lance included. But it wasn’t Shiro who was injured. Instead, he had Keith, someone who trained under his supervision, half draped across his shoulders.

“Oh dear,” Lance said. “Hurt again?”

Shiro gave him a wane smile. He helped a wincing Keith over to one of the beds and carefully set him down against it. “Sorry to bother you, Lance.”

“It’s no bother. As you can see, it hasn’t been a busy today.” The infirmary was empty, aside from Keith, who was lifting his injured leg up onto the bed. He’d already been divested of his armour, which was good. Lance could see a bleeding wound on his calf, likely caused by a sword or dagger. The training the soldiers in Shiro’s battalion did was quite intense. They were the best of the best, after all, and were often in and out of the infirmary.

“How’s it look?” Shiro questioned, after Lance had taken a moment to poke around the wound, eyes assessing.

“It’s not too deep,” Lance decided. “I’ll heal it, and then you’ll be on bedrest for a day, Keith. It should be fine tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” Shiro sighed. “I have to get back now. Don’t cause too much trouble for Lance, Keith,” Shiro warned, before he was gone.

Lance laughed quietly. Keith was always causing trouble for Lance – it was why he liked him so much. They’d been getting along better these days. Sometimes Keith visited the infirmary without an injury, just to keep Lance company.

“Sorry,” Keith sound, sounding disappointed as he scowled at his leg.

“Not to worry.” Lance gathered his supplies, and called his magic to his hands, making his palms glow a faint blue. “You’re lucky I’m here today. Without magic, this would take a month to heal properly.”

Keith flashed him a small smile. “Lucky,” he agreed.

Chapter Text

It was unusual for Lance to get headaches this late at night.

To be fair, he wasn’t often awake this late. He had an important exam to study for, so he was still hunched over his desk, every surface covered in a scattering of loose papers and flipped open textbooks. A little frustrated and a lot tired, he leaned back away from the desk, rubbing the heels of his palms into his eyes.

“You should get some rest,” a voice said from behind him.

Lance mumbled something that was probably an agreement. “It’s like nothing is sticking in my brain, no matter how many times I read it,” he complained, scowling.

Large, warm hands came down onto his shoulders. Shiro bent down to press a kiss to the top of his head and said, quite rationally, “That’s probably because it’s almost midnight and you haven’t stopped all day.”

“That’s probably true,” Lance sighed. “My head is pounding.”

“Come to bed,” Shiro beckoned, squeezing his shoulders gently. “A good night’s sleep will do you the world of good.”

It could be frustrating sometimes, Lance thought, when Shiro was so reasonable. He had this way of talking that wormed into Lance’s head and made everything seem clear and simple. That was usually a good thing. Lance got stuck in his head a lot, like when he was studying. Nothing else seemed important. Rationing even half an hour away from his textbooks meant that he might be missing important information that would be on the exam.

Of course, that wasn’t how things actually went. That was just his thinking process when he was in too deep with something.

He was thankful for Shiro, in hindsight. After taking in a deep, ragged breath, he turned off his desk lamp and flipped his textbooks shut.

Shiro gave him a sweet smile. He pulled Lance to him the moment Lance stood, folding him in his arms. The scent of their washing powder was still clung to Shiro’s pyjamas, and when Shiro put a hand on the back of Lance’s neck, he all but melted against him. There was just something he loved about having someone touch the back of his neck. Shiro’s hands were large and strong and warm and it was the perfect combination.

“Let’s go to bed,” Shiro said, steering him out of the study.

Lance, feeling pliant and cared for, went with him.

Chapter Text

Lance dragged a fleece cloth over the curved shell of the dragon egg cradled in his lap. The shell was smooth to the touch, pulsing with a faint thrum of warmth that brushed against him wherever it made contact with him.

He’d spent many months caring for this egg. His bloodline had a talent for caring for magical creatures, but out of all of his siblings, he was the only one with an affinity for dragons. It had been a bit of surprise to him too, actually. When he’d first started training with creatures, he’d gone through the same initiation as all his siblings – he’d been introduced to one of each type of creature to determine his affinity. The dragon egg for dragons, naturally, but there’d been a kelpie in their back lake for water-based creatures, a hippogriff for air-based, pixies for enchantment-based, and so on.

He liked working with the dragons. He’d only seen a few since he’d commenced his training, since they were rare to come by. The egg had only recently fallen into his family’s care, but since no one had connected with it, it hadn’t been anywhere near hatching. After Lance had started caring for it, it had begun to show signs of movement.

Dragon eggs were picky like that. The little hatchling inside would only hatch for one person in the world. Until then, it would allow some people – like Lance, evidently – to care for it. No one knew what determined who a hatchling would prefer, but it was generally accepted that there was some sort of instinctual bond the dragon had that protected it from those who would misuse its powers.

The more time Lance spent with the egg, the more he seemed to develop the same instincts. Since dragon eggs were rare, a lot of people came by to see if it would choose them. It was a bit of a ceremony, really. Lance would often wander around the town with the egg cradled in his arms, waiting to see if it told him its destined partner was close.

No luck yet, but he was hopeful.

That morning, the sun was bright, and Lance was restless. When he finished polishing the egg, he put away the fleece cloth, and set the egg into its sling. He had a sort of harness made out of a leather strap, lined with fleece and soft velvet, that went around his chest to keep the egg still. It sort of looked like a holster for a sword that would be strapped over one’s back. It meant the egg could sit flush against his chest. It wasn’t a terribly big or heavy thing, but he kept one arm under it anyway, just to keep a proper hold on it.

He made his way out of the hatchery, wandered past the main house where he lived with his family, and headed for the front gate. One of his sisters was sitting on the front steps, cradling a swaddled gryphon cub in her arms. It had been surrendered to them a few days ago, and was only a week or so old. Still, it barely fit in her arms, and would soon be running around like mad. Lance was almost glad his egg hadn’t hatched yet. He didn’t think he could handle the energy of a baby creature. They were like toddlers but with significantly more teeth, in most cases.

“Taking it out again?” Veronica asked, even as the little gryphon nipped at her hair, its eyes focused on the locks dangling above its head. “It’s a good day for it.”

Lance nodded in agreement. “I’ll be back by lunch.”

She waved him off.

It wasn’t much of a walk to the town square. They lived on the edge that backed the forest, since they needed the space for all their creature wards. Still, the town was quite clustered, and everything a person could need could be found in the town square.

Like usual, people cast glances his way as he wandered around. He expected it, and wasn’t particularly put off. Most people lost interest after a short while, when they’d decided for themselves that they’d had their fill of gawking at the egg.

Like Veronica had said, the weather was quite nice. Warm but not too warm, without a breeze or cloud in sight. He liked the heat against his skin, and he knew the egg did too. It hummed with a faint energy that he found reassuring.

As he passed the very centre of the town, where a wide, round fountain stood, he felt a different kind of energy come from the egg. It was sharp and restless, and it almost made him stumble.

He had to take a moment to clear his head. The egg had never given him such a strong response before, and he wasn’t even sure what it was to.

Feeling impatient, he cast his eyes around the square, peering at people’s faces as they wandered by. No one in particular caught his attention, but that feeling didn’t fade. If anything, it grew worse. He rounded the other side of the fountain, hoping to see something or someone to ease the turmoil growing in him.

Eventually, he did.

There was a man standing by one of the market stalls lining the square, wearing a black hooded cloak like the ones travellers often wore. He seemed entirely unaware of the world around him, and hadn’t noticed Lance’s intense reaction towards him.

Before he could move away, Lance darted towards him. He hardly saw the people around him, and bumped his way through the midday crowds without a single apology. He carried the egg onwards because that was what it wanted.

He grabbed the man by the wrist and held on tight when the man jerked. “What’s your name?”

Surprised violet eyes stared at him, flickering down briefly to the egg cradled against his chest. The stranger glanced around – people were watching now, and it was very likely they understood exactly what was going on. Lance wouldn’t react this way around just anyone, after all.

“What are you doing?” the man asked, suspicious.

“The egg…”

Words got stuck in Lance’s mouth. He felt completely overwhelmed. He knew with every fibre of his being that the egg wanted this person, that this was the person who was destined to be partnered with the little dragon inside. In no one else’s hands would it hatch, not even his own.

Lance squared his shoulders. “It’s chosen you,” he declared.

The man reeled back from him. “What?”

Lance untied the harness keeping the egg steady and passed it into the man’s arms before he could step away. “See? Can’t you feel it?”

The man’s eyes widened as he held the egg in his arms. Its warmth was tangible to Lance, even though he was no longer in contact with it.

“It’s… so warm,” the man murmured. After a moment, he seemed to startle, and glanced around again. There were a lot of eyes on them.

“You can come back to my house,” Lance said, putting and hand on the man’s arm to guide him. He felt an overjoyed grin come to his face. “We’ve been waiting for you to show up, you know.”

“You have?”

“Of course! It’ll only hatch for one person.”

“Me?” The man sounded disbelieving.

Lance pat his arm. From this close up, he was really quite handsome – dark hair, a sharp jaw, those interesting violet eyes. “Looks like it.”

The man’s cheeks flushed with something like awe.

“You never told me your name, by the way.”

“It’s Keith.”

“Well, Keith,” Lance said, “it’s nice to meet you. I’m Lance.”

“Nice to meet you too.”

Lance flashed him a grin. “I can’t wait to meet your dragon!”

Chapter Text

Keith liked taking advantage of his Galra heritage when the chance arose. At first he’d found it burdensome – he wasn’t human, wasn’t Galra. He hadn’t known where he was meant to fit in.

As with most things, he’d grown accustomed to it. Accepted it even, or almost, anyway. His friends had been quite accepting, despite their initial hesitation. Their experience with Galra hadn’t been all that great, after all. For the most part, Galra were violent and pitiless, following the orders of their ruthless dictator without question. Keith hadn’t wanted to be associated with that behaviour, and he’d rejected his Galra heritage because of that.

But not all Galra were so merciless. His mother turned out to be a member of a Galra faction called the Blade of Marmora, and they were much more civilised. They rejected the callousness of the Galra Empire, and strove to fix the wrongs their people did. After spending some time with the Blade, Keith felt far more comfortable in his skin. He might have been the only half-breed he knew, but that didn’t mean he was alone.

He’d adjusted pretty well, he thought. It had taken some time to get a hang of all his Galra traits – the change in eye colour, the fangs, the fact that he could change his size at will and that if he did, he also grew a tail and perked ears. Transforming also gave him a strength boost, and heightened his senses. It was energy-draining, sure, but sometimes it was worth it.

Like when he wanted to carry his boyfriend around.

That probably wasn’t the best use of his Galra traits, but it sure was amusing.

Normally, Lance was just a little bit taller than him. In the last year or so their height gap had shrunk, and they both knew Keith was going to shoot up soon, but Lance was in denial about it. He was very set on being taller than Keith forever, even though he liked acting delicate and fragile, so he could get Keith to take care of him. It was sort of a running thing between them. Keith thought it was cute.

But it was much cuter when Lance got all indignant and huffy when Keith just… picked him up.

Bringing out his Galra traits made him at least a foot and a half taller than Lance. His shoulders got a bit broader, and he felt stronger. Lance’s weight wasn’t normally much of a challenge for him, but when he was in his Galra form, it was like he hardly weighed anything at all.

Most of the time, he did it to mess with Lance. Like if Lance was taking up too much of the couch, or if he didn’t want to get out of bed. Sometimes it was more amusing to just pick him up and carry him around. Plus, he liked knowing he was strong enough to do that.

It made him feel good.

He knew Lance secretly liked it too.

Chapter Text

Wind buffeted at Lance’s aching wings. White feathers littered the air, torn from his wings where he’d been injured just hours before. He wouldn’t be able to fly much longer. Already his gaze was faltering, his mind dropping in and out of consciousness.

It wasn’t the safest state to fly in, but what choice did he have?

Below him was an ocean of green trees and mountain ridges. He’d been to the earthen realm countless times, and he knew it well. Still, this part wasn’t all too familiar to him, since angels had no reason to come here. He was always sent to watch over mortals, to guide their decision making towards the light and away from the shadows.

A flash of darkness beneath him caught his tired eyes. Between one mountain ridge and another was a thin rupture, a dark shadow where there shouldn’t have been one, even on a stormy night like this. He angled himself down towards it, furiously flapping his wings to keep on target.

That was where the demons were.

As if summoned by his thoughts, Lance spotted a pair of dark wings by the chasm’s edge. A demon stared up at him, black feathers settled like a cloak around him. When Lance’s energy finally gave out and he began to plummet, it was those wings that rose up to catch him, plucking him from the sky like he was made of nothing.

Angels and demons weren’t meant to be near one another. The second Lance’s skin touched the demon’s he felt a strange shock go through him, but by then he was so used to it that it almost felt comforting.

“Lance?” a distant voice cried, deep with worry. “What happened? Answer me!”

He didn’t have the energy. His head lolled against the demon’s shoulder as he was carefully ferried back to the ground. They were both soaked to the bone now, and Lance’s wings were so wet they were too heavy for him to hold up. How the demon had the strength to carry him when his own dark wings were slowly dampening, Lance would never know.

There was a brief push of hot air that made Lance shrink into himself, eyes squeezed shut, but then it passed. He knew they’d moved through the chasm into a place he should never be, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

Beyond the chasm was warm. He’d never been here, and when he forced his eyes open, he was surprised at what he saw. He’d expected something rocky and cavernous, something dark and bathed in red light, but it wasn’t like that. Instead they were greeted by black marble floors and walls, threaded through with veins of red. An expansive room was filled with plush furniture, sparsely decorated but extravagant nevertheless. There was a long, roaring fireplace lining the entirety of one side of the room, long enough for demons to spread their wings out in front of.

He was gently laid down on one of the long chaise lounges. He sunk into black velvet, unable to keep his head up. Time moved around him slowly. He heard muffled voices and footsteps, and felt something being dragged over his wings, drying his feathers and plucking free the damaged ones. It ached but the pain was bone-deep, and he knew he’d have to just endure it.

When he came to again, he found a familiar face watching over him.

“Keith?” he murmured.

“You’re awake, then.” Keith said. He was sitting on an armchair that had been dragged in front of the chaise, though he was perched on the back of it, his feet on the cushion. Both his wings were draped over the back end, and were long enough to touch the floor behind him. Lance knew those wings well.

“Where is this?”

“It’s one of our hidey holes.” Keith shrugged a shoulder. His gaze hadn’t left Lance yet, and if he hadn’t been so used to it now, he would have found it unnerving. “What happened to your wings?”

Lance lowered his eyes, ashamed. Having his wings torn up had been a punishment, one he couldn’t hide away or try to forget. Any angel who saw him would know he’d transgressed.

Though if any angel saw him as he was right then, finding comfort with a demon in a place like this…

Well, they’d probably just cut his wings right off.

“Lance?” Keith pressed.

“I asked too many questions,” Lance murmured. All angels knew not to question their orders. Their belief was what made them angelic, and unwavering loyalty was their utmost sanction. To waver was to cast aside their privilege, their place in the high realm. Losing their wings was worse than death.

Keith sat back a little. Even a demon would know that an angel asking questions was just looking to be punished. “What about?”

Lance turned his face away, covering it with one wing. They still hurt a lot, but it was tolerable. They’d heal with time.

Truthfully, he knew he’d be punished if he asked the questions he had, but that hadn’t stopped him. His yearning to know the truth was like a mouth inside him, yawning wide, teeth flashing. He wanted to know why angels were never permitted to socialise with demons, why they were never allowed to understand one another. Angels and demons were two sides of the same coin: there was no such thing as good and bad, only light and darkness.

And wasn’t light just the absence of darkness? And darkness the absence of light?

They couldn’t exist without one another, that much was evident. So why were they kept separate? He didn’t understand.

Keith sighed. He pushed off the armchair and crouched beside Lance, putting a hand in between his wings, palm flush against Lance’s back. His spread fingertips touched the base of Lance’s wings. It was a very intimate gesture, one that made Lance glad he was hiding his face. Only a demon would be so bold with their affections.

“You should just stay on earth,” Keith said. “Stop going back up there so much. Surely you can find answers here.”

“I don’t know if I can,” Lance admitted. He turned his face back around and was startled when he found Keith leaning cover him, so close their noses almost touched. He didn’t back away. “A lot of demons would take the chance to attack if I stayed down here forever,” he murmured. “It’s safer up there, where there’s only angels.”

Keith hummed, and didn’t deny it. “I’d protect you.”

“And you’d be punished for it.”

He shrugged again. “Part of the job description, really.”

Lance lifted a hand to touch Keith’s face. “I don’t want you to be hurt.”

Keith leaned into the touch. “I’d be able to see you more often, if you stayed longer,” he said, quieter this time. “There’s already so many demons and angels on earth, no one would notice us being gone for longer. You know that.”

Lance did. It was why he’d fled the high realm after his punishment. Other angels would think it was out of shame – and it was, a little – but it was also because he knew he wouldn’t be missed for a while. He’d just wanted to get to Keith.

“You need time to heal anyway, angel,” Keith said, sounding somewhat smug. “You can stay.”

If Lance hadn’t known better, he would have missed that little flicker of vulnerability in Keith’s eyes. For being the big bad demon that he was, he was just as desperate for Lance’s company as Lance was for his. It was why Lance could never say no to him.

“I know,” Lance said, offering a small smile.

Keith matched his smile. “I have so many things to show you.”

Chapter Text

Shiro had had a long day.

It wasn’t very fortunate. In fact, it was quite terrible. It had started with his alarm failing ot go off, since his phone hadn’t properly connected to the charger overnight. Easy enough to deal with, he thought. His body clock didn’t wake him up too much later than normal – he’d had to skip breakfast, but that was manageable. He’d just charge his phone in the car.

Of course, traffic to work had been terrible. It had practically been full from the minute he pulled out of the suburbs. He’d been late and his boss had been unhappy, even though he’d never been late before, and he couldn’t control traffic.

Work had just been horrible. Some things had been completed by others wrong and he spent hours cleaning up messes he’d had nothing to do with, because no one else would do it.

Really, he spent the entire day looking forwards to the end of his shift. That way he could go home, had a warm shower, something delicious to eat, and spend the evening cuddled up with his fiancé. There was nothing better than spending time with Lance, and when his day had been as awful as it was, there was nothing he looked forwards to more than seeing Lance’s optimistic face.

It was later than usual when Shiro arrived home, again on account of bad traffic. The front light had been left on for him, and when he entered, he could smell that dinner had been cooked. He smiled to himself as he set aside his coat, taking off his shoes and anything else he didn’t need when relaxing around the house. He expected to find Lance in the kitchen, but when he went in there, all he found was dinner staying warm in the oven.

“Lance?” he called, but there was no reply.

He found Lance a moment later, curled up on one of the couches in the lounge room, completely asleep. He looked so soft and gentle when he slept that Shiro didn’t even mind that his plans to spend the evening with him had to be changed. Lance was using one of Shiro’s jackets as a blanket and it was so cute that he couldn’t bring himself to be tense or frustrated anymore.

Sometimes just knowing that Lance was there waiting for him, and missing him, was more than enough.

Chapter Text

Keith found a stray vampire in a dark, damp alleyway.

This wasn’t something that usually happened, despite his nose for it. He had a sort of instinct for getting into trouble, and finding a fledgling was usually just that. When someone was newly turned they were incredibly strong and impulsive, still riding the high of having human blood despite now being very much not that. It was why vampires weren’t allowed to turn someone without permission and ample preparation, and why fledglings without an intensive support system – an abandoned fledgling, or one that was too violent and feral – were usually put down on the spot.

Someone had just left this one to rot in the alley, though. Keith couldn’t sense vampires nearby, and the only scents he could catch were human. It must have been hours since another vampire had walked through this way.

The fledgling was wedged in a doorway, curled up as tiny as he could make himself. There were still bloody fang marks leaking on his neck. When he sensed Keith watching him, his eyes flashed up. They were the bright, vibrant red all fledglings had.

What surprised Keith was that the fledgling looked… scared. There was an upwards furrow in his brow, and his mouth seemed to wobble as he cowered, making himself even smaller. He looked young, by human terms. Early twenties possibly. There was a freshness to him that wasn’t just because he’d been recently turned.

If anyone else had found him, Keith knew they would’ve put him down straight away. In fact, he’d been getting ready to do just that when he met the fledgling’s eyes, and found himself completely unable to do anything. He’d never had a vampire look at him like that before, like he was truly terrified. Weakness was something their kind never showed because it put a target on their backs, and arose suspicion. A vampire’s natural instinct was to fight, it was why fledglings were so dangerous and unpredictable.

But this one didn’t seem that way.

“How did you end up here?” Keith asked. He stayed a safe distance away, but was close enough to see every detail of the fledgling’s face, every flinch and twitch of his body.

“I…” His voice was raspy, and it took several moments for him to talk. “I was walking home, and then–then I don’t remember anything, but I woke up like… this.” He touched a hand to his neck and winced, unable to look at the blood on his fingertips.

“You’ve just been here? In this alley?”

“Where else can I go?” the fledgling whimpered.

He had remarkable restraint. Keith couldn’t say he wasn’t surprised by it. He’d never heard of a fledgling being able to control themselves like this. By now, the fledgling should have drained some unsuspecting human dry.

Something in Keith just knew he was worth protecting.

He approached, and held out a hand. “Let’s go.”

The fledgling stare at him, wavering, hesitant.

Then took his hand.

Chapter Text

Lance frowned at the book spread open in his lap, running his fingertips along its worn, fraying edges. The book was at least four times as old as him, which was saying something, since he was immortal. The language it was written in was convoluted and dense. He wasn’t particularly fluent in it, either, but…

Well, there were only so many books in the world.

And without Keith around to keep him entertained, what else could he do? He’d been in this manor for decades, locked inside by a magic stronger than his. It had faded in the last few decades, and he knew a time would come when he’d be free. It was just a waiting game, now.

Sighing, he set aside the book. It was dark outside, the moon high, but he could see perfectly fine out into the expansive gardens that surrounded the main house. He’d watched trees grow and wilt over countless years, had seen the gardens remodelled to suit the slowly changing shape of the land. They were always beautiful, because that was what he wanted. Even if he was trapped inside the walls of the manor, his magic could reach far beyond, as far as he could see.

Aimless, he wandered around the manor, taking in every familiar spot in the floorboards, every chip in the furniture. He could wander this house with his eyes closed and never bump into anything.

He ended up in one of the front parlour rooms on the lower floor, where he promptly threw himself into one of the plush armchairs by the fireplace. He knew Keith would be returning soon, that it was selfish of him to want Keith to stay in this manor with him forever, but it was very lonely on his own. The only person he frequently saw was Keith, since it took a lot of power to get through the wards keeping Lance in.

But Keith was powerful enough.

Unbidden, a smile came to Lance’s face. Thinking about Keith would do that do him. He waved a hand to strengthen the warmth from the fire and then made a beckoning gesture towards one of the bookshelves in the room. A photo album floated over, depositing itself in his waiting palms.

Inside were dozens and dozens of photos from Lance’s life. From other people’s lives, too. They were mostly of him and Keith, some taken by him, some taken by Keith, others taken by their companions. Many photos were of the outside world, of Keith in the outside world. He brought them to show Lance what was out there, to show him how things had changed. Lance treasured them – he had similar albums all over the manor, in pretty much every room in case he ever wanted to flick through one.

Soon enough he’d be able to see the outside world for himself. Magic wasn’t permanent these days, not like it had been when Lance was young, when the dark warlocks had sealed away all the nature mages like him. Their dark energy was slowly dying out, and according to Keith, so were the warlocks themselves. When their magic failed, all the nature mages would be released, and the world would fall back into balance.

Until then, he would stay here, and do what he wished. For the most part, that meant reading and learning, practicing and strengthening his magic, and doing what he could to alleviate his boredom.

Absentmindedly, he rubbed his thumb over a picture of him and Keith. It had been taken in the greenhouse, when they were both bracketed on every side by overflowing greenery. A friend of theirs, a powerful mage, had taken it. Neither of them were looking towards the camera. Instead they were staring at one another, looking entirely enamoured. It was almost embarrassing.

One thing that made being here tolerable was Keith. Lance knew Keith would always return, and that because of that, he would never be truly alone. Centuries had passed of this routine, of Keith coming to keep him company, to love him.

A tingle down his spine alerted him to someone entering the manor.

Lance smiled, and wandered into the foyer. “Welcome back, Keith.”

Chapter Text

Most people assumed Shiro had a crush on the handsome barista at the Blue Lion café.

For the most part, they certainly weren’t wrong.

The café was located in a nice part of town, on a boulevard with a dozen quaint stores of all kinds, and had good value for money. There was a blue and white stripped awning out the front, and inside had a cute farm-chic decoration style, with homey, white furniture and wooden accents. There was even a wooden trough overflowing with colourful garden flowers by the front door, which a lot of people liked to take photos of their drinks in front of.

And the drinks were pretty good, he had to admit. The café served its hot drinks in a variety of different teacups, each patterned with a different kind of floral pattern. There were matching plates and saucers for each cup. Takeaway cups were similarly pleasant and simple – recyclable, and they always came with a hand-drawn smile or some other little doodle from any barista taking the order, not because they were told to, but because the air here was genuinely quite enjoyable.

Shiro usually ordered the same thing when he visited the café. Nine out of ten times, he got a cup of earl grey tea, black with two sugars, and a slice of continental cheesecake. It was his little treat to himself, one he had regularly. The food here was always fantastic, and he had quite the formidable sweet tooth. Everything was freshly baked, sitting like pure temptation in the front counter display. It had taken him a few trips to decide that the cheesecake was his favourite treat, back when he’d first discovered this café a few years ago.

As he entered the café that morning, the familiar face of the cute barista behind the counter smiled up at him. “Shiro! You’re here late,” Lance said, eyes warm as he flashed Shiro a grin. “Don’t tell me you slept in?”

Shiro hummed. “It’s my day off, you know.”

“I know.” Lance turned away for a moment, then returned with a slice of cheesecake and a teacup and saucer, both of which he slid across the counter. “The usual, I assume?”

“Of course.” Shiro took his order with a smile. “Nothing better.”

Lance laughed. “Give me five and I’ll come join you, okay?”

“Alright. I’ll be waiting.”

Shiro went for his usual seat at a table by the front window, where he had a nice view of the street. He ate his cheesecake and drank his tea and waited for Lance to join him.

If there was one thing he had to pick as his favourite out of everything at the Blue Lion café, then it was definitely Lance. No competition. It was impossible to disguise the way he stared after Lance like a love-sick puppy, flushing at every smile sent his way.

It was completely fair for others to assume he had a crush on Lance.

They were married, after all.

Chapter Text

Snow blurred the horizon, whipping through the air with all the energy of an enraged, spiteful viper. Lance huddled against the base of a tree, fur all puffed up and icy. He needed a moment to catch his breath. He’d long since lost his sense of smell – his nose was too cold, and the air was too bleak and frosty – and the snow was blowing around so hard he couldn’t hear anything over the roar of it.

He needed to find somewhere to take shelter. The blizzard had come over him unexpectedly, and the only good thing about it was that it was hiding his tracks. There was no way anyone could hunt in this weather, not even experienced poachers, the kind who’d been chasing him down for days now, waiting for his stamina to give out.

But he had a little left in him. For now.

The trees here didn’t offer any sort of shelter, so he pressed on. The forest was bare, stripped clean for winter by harsh weather and the deer that ate the bark right off the trunks. What was left was purely skeletal, trunks standing in the snowy wastelands like wraiths. He flittered from one to the next, inspecting anything he came across. An old fox den was too snowed in for him to get into, and an outcropping of rocks were too jagged to protect from the wind.

Eventually he found himself travelling upwards, trudging through inches of freezing snow as the ground began to incline. The trees grew more numerous, though no thicker. The ground grew harder, more angled. He was near the mountain base, he knew that. Rocks became more frequent, pointing up and out of the snow like small, jagged peaks. They were easier to walk on, and kinder to his paw pads.

Minutes seemed to last hours. Any time the wind changed he found himself blown off course, unable to stand the snow battering him. Cats weren’t designed to survive the snow, and that was becoming very clear to him.

His legs were going shaky. Climbing upwards was tiring. If he’d been even a few inches larger the snow covering the ground wouldn’t have bothered him as much as it was, but in this form it was deep, and he was struggling. He readied himself to make a jump between rocks but his paw slipped out from beneath him a moment before he launched, and with a pained whine, he rolled through the snow.

It took several moments for him to right himself. He was covered in snow and everything hurt so much that he couldn’t feel a single thing. He couldn’t stay out in the snow, even his exhausted mind understood that, so he limped on.

Not far from where he’d fallen he found a hole in the ground. A second glance revealed that it was less of a hole and more of a cave, though it wasn’t terribly large. It was strangely positioned, more in the ground than adjacent to it. A crude stairway of rocks led down to its floor. There were more rocks around its entrance, barring any snow from getting in.

Lance slowly lowered himself down the steps, shaking off snow as he did. As soon as he stepped inside the roaring of the wind calmed down, and he could hear again. His ears rung for a moment before settling.

Old leaves littered the floor. He looked around, unsure and wary of the shadows. When he flicked his ears forwards, he swore he could hear something, but he was so tired…

Sleeping right where he was suddenly seemed like a good idea. He wobbled and lowered himself to the ground, wheezing out a shaky breath. It was only a little warmer in here than outside, on account of there being no wind.

Footsteps echoed around the room. Lance couldn’t bring himself to do anything other than lift his head. A dark figure emerged across from him. It wasn’t a poacher, or even a human.

It was a dog. A big one, with thick fur and dark eyes. It almost blended into the shadows around him.

Lance let out a pitiful noise. The dog approached, sniffing him cautiously. When he was close, Lance felt the strange sensation of a mind brushing against his own, a sensation he recognised. Shifters had a way of communicating with each other in their animal forms, a sort of telepathic bond that only they could hear. Lance was too exhausted to think words, but he pushed his mind forwards, pleading for safety.

The dog startled at the brush of their minds, and stooped closer. His nose snuffled along Lance’s fur, and then ever so gently, he opened his jaw over Lance’s neck. A huff of air escaped Lance as he was picked up by the scruff. It wasn’t painful, but it was a strange thing, and all his paws curled in instinctively as he was carried to the back of the cave.

A pile of leaves had been scraped into a makeshift nest with a dog-sized indent. The dog curled up back in his spot and put Lance between his front paws. He didn’t say anything as he rested his head on the ground, allowing Lance to squirm into the scruffy fur of his neck. The chill was chased out of him as he leeched warmth from the dog.

It’s safe here, came the dog’s voice, deep and reassuring and a little gruff. You can sleep now.

A thankful little purr built up in his throat. The dog let out a comforting rumble, curling up closer. Lance did his best to push his thanks through their telepathic bond, but he wasn’t sure how well he succeeded. Perhaps the purring would suffice.

He would be sure to communicate properly when he next woke up. For now his mind drifted, sinking into the warmth of the dog pressed against him, keeping him tucked close.

It didn’t take long for him to fall asleep.

Chapter Text

“Does this suit me?”

“You know I think everything suits you, angel,” Lotor answered, resting his cheek against his hand as he watched Lance twist and turn in front of a tall mirror. He was wearing a stunning outfit designed by Lotor himself: slim-fitting pants, a deep blue shirt and a black vest. Each item fit his body perfectly, since Lotor had made them that way.

“Are you sure?” Lance asked, frowning. He smoothed his palms down the vest, straightening the hem.

Lotor hummed. This was one of his favourite parts about having a partner willing to model for him – getting to see the clothes in action. After all, he only designed things he found attractive, and Lance was already rather attractive on his own. The clothes were an added touch of… well, Lotor. Seeing Lance in things he specifically designed for him gave him quite the thrill.

“If you don’t like the clothes angel, that’s perfectly fine,” Lotor said.

“But you made them for me.”

Lotor chuckled. “Yes, I certainly did. But they will be manufactured for the company, as well.” If they weren’t to Lance’s specific taste, that was fine by him. He was just rather pleased he had Lance to design for, since he tired of mannequins, and it was nice to see his clothes moving around. He supposed it was a little frustrating that Lance wouldn’t accept a wage for his work, since Lotor did consider this work, but Lance was more than happy to accept the clothes he liked as payment.

(And, if he happened to really like an outfit, Lotor wouldn’t send it onto the shelves. Sometimes his sweetheart deserved to have a one-of-a-kind. As many as he wanted, really. Lotor would never say no.)

“Tell me honestly what you think,” Lotor encouraged, giving Lance a sly smile, one he knew would make Lance roll his eyes in exasperation.

“I think it’s too formal for me,” Lance said, in that teasingly irritated but mostly fond way of his. “But it’d sell well.”

“All of the pieces?”

“Mhmm.”

“Wonderful.” Lotor flicked a hand, and several store assistants entered, one to help Lance undress and then redress behind a screen, and another to bring in and take out the clothes. There was one more outfit for Lance to try on. While the assistants were around, Lotor also had one refill his glass of champagne, and then Lance’s too, though Lance wasn’t really drinking it. Lotor was only sipping at his to keep himself occupied between outfit changes, but it was mostly to have something to hold than anything.

“I like this one a lot more, Lotor,” came Lance’s voice from behind the screen, sounding far more pleased.

Another sly smile tilted at Lotor’s lips. He knew the outfit Lance was trying on was far more to his taste that what Lotor’s brand catered to. Lotor designed a lot of formal wear – suits and waistcoats and slinky but modest dresses. He loved nothing more than a smart shirt or a halter-necked dress with a slit up to mid-thigh. Even more so when it was one of his design, because he put a particular emphasis on choosing the absolutely perfect fabrics, and in making each seam perfectly aligned and suited to the silhouette of the garment.

Sometimes, however, he decided to make things a little… trendier. Just for Lance.

The assistants disappeared from the room, and Lance stepped out from behind the screen, beaming. He looked at himself in the mirror, and evidently, he liked what he saw.

Lotor did too, though that wasn’t very surprising.

Lance was wearing a vaguely see-through mesh top, one with solid black cuffs sitting snug around his wrists and a collar with a silver button sitting at his front of his throat, comfortably beneath his Adam’s apple. It was paired with slim, black pants, ones that hugged his lovely thighs and athletic calves. He’d sewn a stripe of blue velvet down the outer side of each leg. It was always challenging combining fabrics like that, and he was rather proud of how effortless the seams looked.

He knew Lance loved that particular navy velvet too, which was an added bonus. He looked like he was positively glowing as he rubbed his fingers down that stripe.

“These feel so good,” Lance said, running his fingertips along the waistband of the pants to settle them properly at his hips, then touching the edge of the top, looking rather mesmerised. “The shirt isn’t itchy at all.”

Lotor hummed, drinking in his fill of his lovely partner. He looked much more at home in clothes like that. Lotor could see him stepping off any runway in the world. At times he wished Lance was interested in modelling, because he was such a lovely muse. But then he was glad Lance wasn’t, because he had him all to himself like this. He imagined he’d be rather jealous of having so many other eyes on Lance.

“I really like this one,” Lance decided, turning his grin towards Lotor.

Lotor rose from the plush sofa he’d been lounging on, and beckoned Lance over. He smoothed out the shirt – more of an excuse to touch Lance than to actually fix the shirt – and took an inquisitive, assessing look at the clothes. As expected, they fit him well. Lotor circled around him, inwardly smirking at the way Lance’s cheek flushed pink.

“Not too tight?” he asked, pinching at fabric near Lance’s knee, testing the give. It wasn’t the most forgiving fabric, but it was far more lenient than denim.

“No, it’s good.”

Lotor straightened, and pressed a kiss to Lance’s cheek, lingering for a little longer than necessary. “I’m glad.”

“Are you going to put these into production?” Lance asked, glancing up at him. He had the most wonderful blue eyes, Lotor thought. Sometimes, when the light was bright enough, they were terribly blue. Glacier blue. But other times, when Lance was happy or sleepy, they were a darker blue, like pure sapphires. It was no surprise to anyone who knew the both of them that Lotor’s recent designs had been much bluer than usual.

“No.” Lotor shook his head, and smoothed his hands down Lance’s arms, before stepping back. “These are just for you.” He didn’t bother mentioning that he’d already picked out a pair of shoes to go with the outfit, as well as earrings. Lance would like both, Lotor was sure. He knew his partner’s tastes well.

Another flush spread across Lance’s cheeks. “Really?”

“Of course, angel. You could wear it out, if you like. That’s the last of the lot I wanted you to try on today.”

Lance gave him a bashful smile. “No, I don’t want to ruin it before I get a proper chance to wear it.” He gave himself one last glance in the mirror. “Help me undress?”

Lotor really couldn’t help the look that came on his face. “Of course, angel,” he repeated. Lance only rolled his eyes again and swatted at Lotor’s arm.

For all his teasing, nothing untoward would happen. Lotor had standards, and he wanted to treat Lance with all the worth and attention he deserved. A quick go in the dressing room at his boutique – as beautiful and spacious as it was – was nowhere near what Lance deserved. Lotor felt himself to be truly fortunate to have found Lance, and to have won his affection. There was no one out there who would care for Lotor the way Lance did – putting up with his whims, his terrible work hours, his somewhat unsociable attitude, despite his politeness. Lance was caring and forgiving and supportive, and more importantly, he knew how to stand up for himself and he was confident and he never held back from expressing exactly what he needed from Lotor.

And that was what Lotor needed in a partner. He needed someone who would tell him exactly what they felt, someone who wouldn’t hold back from being emotional and honest and open in equal measure.

Someone who wouldn’t take advantage of him or his wealth or his social connections.

That was Lance.

Really, Lance was it for him. There would never be another who sat so firmly in Lotor’s heart. Someone who was so accepting of his lifestyle, and of his needs. Someone who treated him like an equal. If Lotor needed something, whether it was a model for his clothing or an honest if somewhat brutal opinion or a warm cuddle, than Lance was accommodating. He never looked down at Lotor for any of it, either.

Lotor did all he could to keep Lance happy, in his own ways. He designed clothes for him, helped him choose his outfits, made wonderful dinners (because even he could become sick of dining out, after a while, and cooking was a hobby he liked to indulge in). He was endlessly proud of Lance’s accomplishments, and loved to listen to Lance talk, even if it was about nothing in particular.

It was strange, he thought, how honest he felt around Lance, how much he felt like himself. Anytime Lance smiled at him, or when Lance was happy, or excited about one of his achievements, Lotor felt a deep and pervasive feeling of joy burst up within him. It had startled him, the first few times. He’d never felt so intensely for anyone, but Lance was just that special.

“Lotor?”

“Hmm?” He blinked several times, settling his gaze back on his partner, who was looking at him curiously. “Sorry, I missed that.”

“Where’d you go off to?” Lance laughed. What that laugh did to him…

“Nowhere in particular, angel.” He ushered Lance behind the privacy screen and helped him out of the clothes. While Lance dressed, he folded the clothes, and slipped them into a carry bag. Lance joined him a moment later, dressed, and slipped his arm through Lotor’s.

“You spoil me too much,” he sighed, resting his head against Lotor’s arm.

“Not enough,” Lotor amended gently.

Lance only laughed, eyes sparkling. “You’ll have to let me treat you to dinner tonight,” he declared. “I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”

It was Lotor’s turn to flush. “Sounds wonderful, angel.”

Chapter Text

The moon fell for the sea eons ago, when it first rose above calm waves.

There was a bit of a misconception about that tale. The moon was associated with darkness, with nightmares that happened during its watch. Even if the moon had no control over such things, it was blamed, vilified. Over time, it would become that villain, because what else was there to be? Most believed that the moon liked the sea because it was the only way for it to see its own reflection. Its own brilliant light dazzled it. Made it blind to its own wrongdoings.

But when it first rose, it was just the moon, infatuated with the glittering sea spread out beneath it. That was all.

And, arguably, that was all it had ever been.

 

Lance slowly dragged his feet through the cool, still water, back and forth, back and forth. At high tide, when the moon was at its peak, the seawater rose up to within inches of this old pier, enough for him to sit and comfortably dangle his feet over the edge. For the past two months he’d ventured out over the sodden planks to be right where he was then, because it was the only place in the world where he felt like he wasn’t all tangled up inside.

He hadn’t been able to sleep well, lately. Strange dreams disturbed him every night, things made of twisting shadows and bursts of light and fire waking him, leaving him restless. They weren’t bad dreams, necessarily, but when he’d mentioned them once to Hunk, he’d looked at him with a look on his face that Lance didn’t like, so he never brought it up again. Pretended it had happened just the once when Hunk asked about it again.

Of course, it happened more than once. It happened every single night, sometimes more the once.

It was weird, he thought, how much of the night he’d started spending awake. As soon as he could see the moon he was filled with that unusual energy, the one that made him all fragmented inside. Only sitting by the sea helped. He wasn’t even tired the next day, even if he managed a few broken hours of true sleep.

He sort of thought he should mention it to his friends, because that look on Hunk’s face haunted him. It was a look that said he knew more than he was saying, but whenever Lance thought that to himself, he chastised himself for being overimaginative. Strange dreams and a sudden need to be by the sea weren’t that much of a concern. Probably stress related.

Right?

A ragged sigh left him.

The real reason he was hesitant to say anything was because he’d started… noticing things, lately. Things to do with his friends – all of them. Hunk, Pidge, Keith, Shiro, Allura… there was something different about them. Something he’d never noticed before, but was now starting to see out of the corner of his eye.

He closed his eyes, and tried to think.

 

Once, a month ago, he saw something. Well, that wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t like he stumbled across them having a secret meeting or anything. They were all together at Allura’s place, slouched around her large living room, a spread of takeout stretched between them. Lance was in the middle of a mouthful when something in him had ticked, like a sharp shiver up his spine.

He remembered it perfectly. Hunk had been sectioning out more food for himself and Pidge. Pidge had one eye on the food and one on her phone. Keith was sitting on the floor, face turned towards the conversation Shiro and Allura were having. Shiro was talking. Allura was laughing.

It was something about them all that came over him, like someone turned all the lights off in his brain. He’d blinked once and the world had faded, just for a moment, replaced by something completely different.

Hunk was standing next to him, holding his shoulder tight enough to keep him still, to bruise. Pidge was helping Shiro stand. Shiro was battered and bruised, shadows dripping off of his right arm like oil, except he didn’t normally have a right arm. Keith was shouting, face twisted in anger, but Lance couldn’t hear the words. And Allura was coming towards him with pale v-shaped marks under her eyes, her palm glowing, pressing over his forehead and eyes–

And then nothing.

He blinked again, and found he’d accidentally spilt his bowl of food over his lap.

Allura was frowning at him, all traces of her laugh gone. “Are you alright Lance?”

“Yep, yeah,” he said with a strained laugh, carefully putting everything spilt back into the bowl. “Sorry about the mess. Totally spaced out just then. Ha.”

She clearly didn’t believe him, but what else could she say?

He scurried off to the kitchen to clean up, scrubbing at his eyes as he did.

 

It was such a clear image. Lance stared at his feet in the water as he thought about it, trying to make sense of it. All of his friends had been dressed in clothes he didn’t recognise – armour, almost. Each matching.

It just made no sense.

 

Lotor stared at the stones spread out before him. There were seven in total, each a different colour, size and shape. He wandered around the pedestal holding them, tracing his hand over the smooth obsidian stone. For as long as he could remember, only six of the crystals had glowed with energy. Shadow, light, fire, earth, nature, and mind. Black, white, red, orange, green, pink.

The seventh, a smooth, blue sphere, lay dormant.

Or it had, rather. Now it pulsed ever so faintly, like a struggling heartbeat. He only felt a soul-deep connection to the black stone, his shadow stone, but he reached for the blue one, the water stone. It fit perfectly into the cradle of his palms, as it always had. As it always would.

He’d never been so grateful that he’d managed to steal these stones from their guardian – the light, Allura. She’d watched them for centuries, each reincarnation of her stronger than the last.

But he was strong, too. Ever since the beginning, he’d only ever wanted one thing. He protected the night, the shadows; he did his duties. Absentmindedly, he turned the sphere over in his hands, at ease with the familiar weight of it by his side.

Perhaps now, he’d finally get what he wanted.

 

Allura scowled out into the distance, utterly uneasy. The view from the second story of her home was quite marvellous, all things considered: a sprawling lookout over the city, over the twinkling lights of buildings and skyscrapers. She knew that if she crossed to the other side of the house she’d get a view of the sea, of the moon glinting off restless waves, of a lighthouse spinning on its axis. She’d never particularly found the light of the moon pleasing, not knowing who it belonged to.

Footsteps echoed up the stairs behind her. She sensed more than saw Shiro approach, and beckoned him out onto the balcony.

“You can feel it too,” he said.

She nodded. “The water stone is awakening.”

“Can you tell who it is?”

She shook her head. One of her many gifts was being able to sense those like her, the ones charged with protecting the balance of the world, of fighting off the shadows that threatened to seep into daylight. They’d become much stronger in recent years. Expontentionally so in the last few months, when she began to feel the water stone waking.

“The moon always goes for the sea,” Shiro murmured.

“It’s misguided love,” Allura said, her tone a touch harsher than she wanted. “If it can even be called that.”

Shiro nodded in agreement.

There had only been a sparse few times when the water stone had begun to awaken in the past. Each time Allura could sense it happening, and could find the champion its powers would claim. The threat of one of them siding with the moon was too much, and water had always been the weakest of them all. If they sided with the shadows, there was no telling what would happen.

Before that happened, they needed to be removed from the equation. As much as she hated destroying one of their own, it was the only way the balance could be maintained. There was nothing worse than the threat of someone siding with the moon.

With that beast, Lotor.

 

Lance was starting to feel worse. His friends had blown him off several times, even Hunk! It was so unusual, and it made him feel small and unwanted. He’d been feeling a little like a third wheel to the entire group lately, and he didn’t know if it was his nightly-walkabouts stress, but it was just… getting worse.

If there was one person that would listen to him, he thought it might be Allura.

Except she wasn’t answering her phone.

He’d always been sure that if he ever desperately needed one of his friends, they’d be there for him. That night, the urge to be by the sea was almost painful, making him uncomfortable in his skin, desperate to be by the water. He was riddled by loneliness and a strange, scared feeling that he could neither pinpoint nor shake.

He was out of the house and wandering before he could stop himself. Allura lived near the water, so before he reached the pier, he went to her house. It was dark outside, the moon hidden by a layer of clouds. It was cold without it.

The lights were still on at Allura’s house. Surprised, he knocked, and flinched when the door immediately swung open.

“Keith?” Lance frowned.

Keith frowned back at him. “What are you doing here?”

“I– I rang Allura, but she didn’t answer.”

“Who is it?” came Shiro’s voice from further in the house.

A squeezing feeling clutched at Lance’s chest. “Shiro’s here too?”

“It’s Lance,” Keith called, stepping away to let Lance edge inside. “Why did you need Allura?”

“I just wanted to talk.” He hugged his arms around himself as he glanced into the living room. Shiro was coming down the stairs, looking surprised to see him. Both Hunk and Pidge were in the living room. He couldn’t see Allura. “Everyone’s here?”

“Hey, Lance,” Hunk said, forcing a smile. “What’s up?”

“Why wasn’t I invited to this gathering?” he asked, somewhat sour.

Hunk floundered.

Shiro stepped in. “Sorry, it was last minute.”

“Uh huh.” He glanced around again. “Where’s Allura? I wanted to talk to her.”

“So late at night?” Keith questioned. He was still frowning.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

Allura descended down the stairs, a grave look on her face, one that fell away into surprise at the sight of him. “Lance? What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to talk to you, but you didn’t answer the phone.”

“It’s the middle of the night.”

“You’re clearly not asleep,” he snapped, defensive. “None of you are.”

“I’m sorry, but I am busy at the moment,” she said, coming to put a hand on his shoulder. He got a flash of glowing palms behind his eyes, briefly saw marks pulse on her cheeks, and it made him shy away.

“Busy, right, right,” he said, trying to hide the hurt in his voice. “You’re probably all busy. Hanging out here. Without me. Okay.”

Allura let out an irritated sigh. “Lance–”

“It’s fine. It’s fine! I’ll just go.”

He didn’t move. No one asked him to stay. No one said anything, actually.

“You should probably go,” Allura said quietly.

He went.

 

Unsurprisingly, he ended up at the water. He was sniffling, but refused to cry. He was just empty on the inside.

The water was restless tonight. He dipped his feet in and sighed when coolness began to spread up through him. The water made him feel better, like it was filling a hole inside of him.

A ripple went over the surface. That in itself wasn’t strange, but as he watched it, it seemed to come from nowhere. His eyes tracked the ripple as it spread outwards, blurring the reflection of the half-moon that had come to peer out from behind the clouds.

Almost like magic, a voice appeared.

“You look sad.”

He jumped, spinning around wildly, but he couldn’t see anyone. “Hello?”

A figure appeared beside him, taking a seat on the edge of the pier. The man was tall and lean, with pale skin and long silver hair, as bright as moonlight. He had the most intense eyes Lance had ever seen, and they were fixated right on him. “You look sad,” the man repeated.

“I’m… I’m not…” Lance shook his head.

The man gave him a faint smile. “Sorry to sneak up on you,” he said. “My name is Lotor.”

“Lance…”

Lotor looked out over the see. There was something ethereal and beautiful about his face, and Lance couldn’t take his eyes off of him.

“Do I know you from somewhere?” Lance asked.

“No, I don’t believe so. But…” Lotor held out a hand, and out of nowhere, shadows seemed to condense in his palm. They dripped between his fingers like oil.

Lance leaned away. “What is that?”

“Magic,” Lotor said. He tilted his head. “Of a sort.” He reached for Lance’s hand, gently cradling it, and pressed a blue sphere into it. “You have it too.”

The minute the stone touched his skin, Lance felt a rush go through him. He gasped, and water from the sea surged up his legs, spinning around him in a spray that left neither one of them wet. He was panting by the time it ended, but utterly clear-minded. “What is this?”

“It’s yours,” Lotor explained. He flashed his palm again, and a black stone appeared. “Just like this is mine. I’ve been waiting to give that to you for a long time.”

“I don’t understand,” Lance said, holding the sphere close.

“It’s alright,” Lotor soothed. “I’ll explain as best as I can. But I need you to do something for me, Lance.”

“Do something?”

Lotor nodded. A vulnerable look fluttered over his face, but it was gone in an instant. “Nothing terrible,” he reassured. “I just want you to believe me when I say I’m not here to hurt you, or misguide you. Of course, I understand I will need to earn your trust, and rightfully so. But I just want to help.”

“Why wouldn’t I believe that?” Lance asked, confused. He’d always been one to trust his instincts, and he didn’t sense anything bad from Lotor. In fact, there was something quite peaceful about him, as though he’d been watching over Lance for a long time. He realised he felt far less lonely with Lotor sitting there beside him.

Lotor gave him a wane smile. “Some believe there is inherent badness in shadows,” he said. “Eons have made many afraid of the dark. It’s not so strange for me to assume you might be frightened too, is it? And who knows what others have to say about me.”

“Others?”

“Like us.”

Lance thought about it for a moment. “My friends…?”

Lotor hesitated, and then nodded.

“If I’m like them, why didn’t they tell me?” he demanded, angry.

“I can’t answer that, I’m afraid.”

Lance deflated. “I’m not afraid of you,” he eventually murmured. Lotor seemed to be the only one being honest. He couldn’t ignore the way he felt so protected around the man.

Lotor gave him a small, almost bashful smile. “I’m glad, then.”

Chapter Text

Lance circled his fingers around his wrist, his hands clasped behind his back, thumbing at the collecting of bracelets he wore. He stood by a wide window at the middle landing of a tall, double staircase, his back to the stairs, eyes cast out across the sea that the manor overlooked. It was low tide, almost exactly the middle of the day now.

Seawater dripped from his hair, sliding down the back of his neck and shoulders. He’d ascended out of the underwater realm only minutes before, travelling across stretches of sand exposed by the low tide to enter the manor. He didn’t bother wringing out his tunic or silks, even when they dripped across the stone floors. Patiently, he waited, eyes never leaving the sea.

It was rare for him, or any of his kind for that matter, to leave the water. Only the strongest enchanters could magic their bodies to be suitable for land, turning their beautiful, scaled tails into awkwardly, trembling legs, their gills into lungs suitable for breathing pure oxygen. He was one of them, the strong ones. It was why he was here, waiting.

Eventually, he heard a set of familiar footsteps approaching him from behind. A figure came to stand beside him, just half a step behind out of respect.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Keith said.

Lance could feel the heat radiating off Keith’s skin, even with the foot or so of space between them. Keith was standing a little too close to be considered anything other than friendly, but Lance wasn’t complaining. There was no one watching them, anyway.

When Lance took his eyes away from the sea, it was only to place them on the next best thing: Keith. He half turned, giving Keith a small smile as he did. “No matter.”

Keith matched his expression with a faint smile of his own. It was an almost strange expression to see on his face, since Lance only saw it when they were alone, without other eyes watching them. It was one of the reasons why he invited Keith into the manor every time he was requested for a meeting above water. The manor belonged to his people, so to invite another in as he did with Keith was quite the gift.

“So?” Lance questioned. “What can I help with? It’s not every day you call me to the surface personally, you know.”

Keith hummed. “Yes, I’m aware.” He paused for a moment, then let out a small breath. “I actually called you here for a personal matter.”

“Oh?” Lance was surprised. He and Keith came from fundamentally opposing sides – water and fire. While Lance lived in the underwater realm, Keith lived on land, close to volcanoes and rivers made of lava. Lance’s people worshipped the moon and all her bright glory, while Keith’s worshipped the sun and all of his fiery warmth. Every natural instinct in nature demanded that they dislike one another.

But, of course, the two of them were never any good to sticking to such rules.

They’d first met a long time ago, during one of Lance’s first few trips to the surface. He’d been terribly unused to legs, and had wobbled all over the place. The fire tribes had offered him Keith as an assistant, because Keith hadn’t had the rank he did now. Of course, that didn’t stop Keith from lending an arm if Lance needed some time to adjust. Now, however, it wasn’t an order he had to follow.

They hadn’t particularly gotten along at first, but that wasn’t the case anymore, obviously. Anytime a delegate from the underwater realm was needed, Lance would visit the surface, and he’d get to see Keith again. Their positions meant they often crossed paths. Lance was rather fond of Keith, of the way his eyes flashed with fire when he was determined or embarrassed, of his strict but at times foolish attitude, of his loyalty and strength towards his people.

Last time Lance had come to the surface, he’d given Keith a token – a little blue shell tied on a string, a shell he’d carved himself from the beautiful blue stone that could only be found in his little corner of the underwater realm. He could see the string sitting around Keith’s neck, though the pendant was tucked beneath the collar of his clothes. Lance’s people gifted tokens to those they had a great deal of affection for, and a desire to be with.

Of course, he didn’t tell Keith that when he offered him the token. He’d only called it a gift, something interesting from his realm that he thought Keith might like. He’d been sure Keith wouldn’t know the true meaning of it.

“Sorry if I raised any alarms,” Keith said, spotting Lance’s surprised expression.

“Not at all.” Lance waved a hand, sending water droplets flicking off of his skin. It was very rare for him to come to the surface for a matter that wasn’t purely political, but he didn’t mind. If it was Keith, then he was more than willing to expend the magic for it. “Is something the matter?”

Keith cleared his throat, a rather nervous gesture for someone usually so indifferent. “Actually, I wanted to give you something.”

Lance gave him a confused frown.

Keith reached into a pocket and withdrew a little velvet bag, which he pressed into Lance’s palm. “Here. For you.”

“For me?” Lance ran his fingers over the fabric, delighted by the strange, soft feel of it. Fabrics like these didn’t mix well with seawater – he was always fascinated by things like it on the surface. After a moment, where he could feel Keith’s tension palpably rising, he untied the strings on the bag, and pulled out the object inside.

It was a bracelet. Made of thin strands of leather woven together, it had a gem sitting in its middle, one that was round and polished, almost like a marble. It was bright orange, threaded through with faint browns and reds, like amber. He’d never seen anything quite so beautiful.

“Do you like it?” Keith asked, stiff.

Lance blinked several times, fighting to find the right words. “Keith, it’s… stunning. Are you sure I can have this?”

Keith nodded.

A grin stole its way across Lance’s face. He added the bracelet to the collection sitting on his wrist, twisting it this way and that to admire the way the midday sun coming in through the window glinted off of the marble. “Wow.”

Keith’s posture seemed to relax a little. “Well, then,” he said, clearing his throat again. “That’s all.”

Lance’s eyebrows shot up as he watched Keith hurry back down the stairs and out of sight. He wasn’t quick enough to hide the way his face and the tips of his ears had gone ridiculously red.

Lance’s smile softened. He held his wrist to his chest and returned to watching the sea out of the window, still dripping water everywhere. Such a short visit on land – not even long enough to dry – seemed like a waste of magic, but to him, every second had been worth it.

He had a precious token of his own now, after all.

Chapter Text

Keith was in that strange but comfortable space between full sleep and wakefulness, neither fully one nor the other. He felt weightless, his limbs sunk deep into the mattress. There was something bone-deep relaxing about being cushioned beneath a mountain of blankets, warm from his head all the way down to the tips of his toes. Even more so when he knew it was quite cold beyond the edge of the covers.

It was one of those nights were he was drifting off to sleep slower than usual. That wasn’t a particularly bad thing, since he still felt rested, and he was so comfortable it hardly seemed to matter. He wasn’t the biggest fan of winter, since he preferred things a little on the warmer side.

In that regard, he was just like his boyfriend, Lance, who was most comfortable in the summer heat. He was the reason their bed was piled high with thick blankets and quilts, since he couldn’t stand being cold at night. He’d wiggle his cold toes against Keith’s legs or inch his cold fingers under the waistband of Keith’s pants, searching for that warm part at his waist where his shirt and pants met.

That night, it seemed like Lance just couldn’t get warm, despite the blankets piled on the bed. Every now and then a shiver would wrack through him. It was enough to keep Keith from fully drifting into sleep. He’d been worried earlier that evening that Lance was coming down with something, because he constantly seemed cold no matter how many layers he was wearing, or how high they turned the heat up.

Dragging himself a little further away from sleep, Keith shuffled over in the bed, careful not to wake his sleeping boyfriend. He dug around under the covers until his fingers found Lance’s chest and then pressed closer, carefully draping one of his arms over his boyfriend. The covers settled over him again, heavy and warm, and he sighed as Lance curled into him.

After a few moments, his shivering eased off, then stopped. Lance let out a small noise as he all but melted against Keith, his breathing evening out.

Knowing Lance was finally warm enough made it easier for Keith to drift back off again. Lance was a warm pressure against him, and the feel of him breathing was almost hypnotic.

Soon enough, he fell asleep without issue.

Chapter Text

Keith was on child-minding duty. It wasn’t unusual for only one of their triad to be looking after their two young children, especially since Lance’s current pregnancy had progressed so far. He was almost seven months now, and for the past week or so, he’d been struck by terrible fatigue. It left him needing to sleep once or twice a day, as well as throughout the entire night. He and Shiro weren’t fond of the idea of Lance exerting himself when he was so tired, so they’d taken on most of the household duties.

For the most part, that meant they alternated between minding the kids and getting on with everyday chores, like cooking meals and doing laundry.

That afternoon, Keith was the one looking after Edelira and Julio. They were remarkably well behaved kids, he thought. There were temper tantrums and arguments, of course, and a lot of pouting, but they usually just wanted to be good. Julio was quite content to sit in Keith’s lap, chattering to himself, his fingers clenched around a crinkly baby toy.

Edelira was a little more challenging to entertain, considering she was four now. She was incredibly smart and sharp-minded for her age, and needed a lot of stimulating activities to keep her interested. They’d already watched a movie that day while Lance was still asleep in the morning, since that kept the kids busy and quiet, so he knew that wouldn’t work now.

Instead, he’d brought out all of their colouring supplies, and a bunch of coloured paper. Julio was only interested in bashing around crayons for about twenty minutes before he crawled back into Keith’s arms, but Edelira was a great artist, and she enjoyed the activity for a little while longer.

“Look, Daddy,” Edelira exclaimed, when she had a decent pile of new drawings spread over the craft table. “I drew us.”

He peered closer at the drawing, offering his daughter an indulgent smile. She’d drawn their entire family – him, her Papa, her Mama, her baby brother, and even the new baby in her Mama’s arms. “That’s amazing, Lira,” he praised. “I love your colours.”

She gave him a blinding grin. Every day she grew more and more beautiful. Half the time he could hardly believe she was already four years old.

“Do you think Mama will like it?” she asked him.

“Mama will love it,” Keith said.

At the mention of Lance, Julio perked up, his brows puckering. “Mama?”

“Mama is still napping, Julio,” Keith explained. He pressed a kiss to Julio’s head, breathing in his soft scent as he did. “We have to wait a little while longer, alright?”

Julio was mollified by the affection from Keith, but he knew that was going to be short lived. Both the kids loved Lance more than anything in the world. There was nothing as pure as their happiness when Lance was around, pressing kisses to their cheeks and wiggling his fingers into their sides to make them cry out with laughter. It was hard on them knowing that Lance was unwell, even if both the kids were excited for a new baby. They missed having all of Lance’s attention to themselves.

“Can I show Papa?” Edelira asked him next.

“Of course.”

While she wandered off into the kitchen, where Shiro was getting a head start on their dinners, Keith continued to play with Julio. His son was rather interested in the toy in his grip, because it was made of different fabrics and textures, and squeezing it made different crinkling sounds. He cooed and giggled whenever he found one he really liked, so Keith kept poking at the toy, making Julio squirm with joy.

When Edelira didn’t arrive back as quickly as he expected, he got up, resting Julio against his hip, and went looking for her. He found Shiro cooking in the kitchen, as expected.

“Where’s Lira?” he asked, heading over to peer at the stove. It smelt like they were going to have pasta for dinner.

“I thought she went back to the living room with you,” Shiro answered, first ducking to give Julio a kiss on the head, before giving Keith a confused frown. “She was just here a moment ago, showing me her drawing.”

Keith hummed.

“Papa,” Julio cooed, reaching out his hands.

“Papa can’t hold you while he’s cooking, baby.” Shiro bent down again and nuzzled his nose against Julio’s, making their son burst out into giggles. Shiro accepted a spectacularly wet kiss on the cheek before Julio settled back into Keith’s arms, content once more with his crinkly toy.

Keith had a feeling he knew exactly where Edelira had wandered off to.

As expected, he found the main bedroom door half open, instead of closed as he’d left it. When he inched inside, careful not to knock Julio into the doorframe, he saw his daughter standing by the bed, her drawing turned towards Lance.

“And this is the new baby,” Edelira whispered, pointing towards her drawing. “I drew it for you, Mama.”

She was talking so quietly that Lance hadn’t woken up. He was curled up on his side on Keith’s end of the bed, cheek pressed into Keith’s pillow. There were still dark circles under his eyes, but he looked fairly well rested regardless. It was like the sound of Edelira’s voice was comforting him. Keith thought that was a very likely possibility.

“I’m going to leave it here, okay Mama?” she said, as she carefully placed the drawing beside him on the bed. “So the baby can see it too.” She leaned over the edge of the bed to kiss Lance’s cheek before drawing away. “Okay, bye bye for now.”

Keith stepped away from the door before she noticed him, and waited at the end of the hallway. He watched, unnoticed by his daughter, as she ever so carefully shut the bedroom door, then made her way back towards the living room.

He smiled to himself.

His kids really were the best.

Chapter Text

Shiro was determined to get the cake right.

So far, that wasn’t really working out for him.

See, he wasn’t the best cook. To put it lightly, he was terrible at cooking, and should never really be let in the kitchen without proper supervision and guidance. Really simple food was fine – he could manage grilled cheese toasties and porridge and that sort of thing, the stuff that doesn’t require much preparation or cooking time.

Cakes were a different matter altogether.

He’d gotten one of those ones that came in a box, since it seemed safer than trying to mix ingredients by himself. He wasn’t quite sure how but his mixture had turned out a little dryer than he thought it was meant to be, so he’d added a bit of milk and prayed everything went alright in the oven.

There was no way of knowing if everything was smooth sailing though. This was a step he’d often stumbled on: leave the cake in too long, and it would burn on the bottom, but take it out too soon, and the middle would be uncomfortably liquid. There was the matter of remembering to line the pan, and making sure to leave enough room for the cake to rise when portioning batter into the pan… really, the entire pan thing was another ordeal he didn’t particularly like dealing with.

Baking really was just too finicky for him. He had no idea how people did it so flawlessly, but he was certainly trying.

He wanted to bake this cake for Lance. It was his boyfriend’s last exam today, and it had been one he’d been stressing over for quite some time. What better way to celebrate a bit of freedom than with a bit of cake? And he knew Lance appreciated homemade things more than store bought, when Shiro could manage. He’d had the entire day off for this.

The box told him that the cake would take thirty minutes to cook through properly, but he knew their oven was a little temperamental, so he set his alarm for ten minutes. When that check proved the cake to be somewhat still liquid inside, thanks to him sticking a skewer inside it to see, he gave it another five minutes.

Somehow, in that five minutes, the cake had completely cooked. He didn’t pretend to know how it happened. Instead, he pulled it right out of the oven before it could turn to charcoal and set it to cool down on a rack, because he couldn’t decorate it while it was warm (he’d learned that the hard way).

Shiro knew exactly what Lance would most enjoy on the cake. The box had come with a little package of icing, so when the cake was cool, he spread that along the top. Then he cut up fresh strawberries to put along the edge, and a drizzle of passionfruit pulp, since Lance loved the stuff.

When he was done, he was rather proud of himself. The cake had baked unevenly, but the strawberries hid that pretty well. It had made their house smell nice.

Now all he had to do was wait for Lance to get back. He was always a bit nervous about showing Lance things he’d made, but Lance loved everything, even if it was terrible. Lance always looked so happy with the effort Shiro put into things, and it always seemed to raise his spirits.

And there was nothing Shiro liked more than seeing Lance happy. Even if the cake was mediocre, as long as it made Lance smile, that was all that mattered.

Chapter Text

Lance hummed to himself as he tugged a blanket around his shoulders. He was sprawled out on the lounge wearing soft pyjama pants, a half finished cup of tea within easy reach. He was the epitome of pleased omega, and he was luxuriating in it. The last few weeks had been rough – he’d discovered he was pregnant, and had started having terrible morning sickness.

Today was going to be a good day, though. It was one of the first that he hadn’t been woken by an upset stomach, which was promising.

“Lance?”

“Hmm?” He glanced up, and saw his mate looking for him, peering in through the living room doorway. “What’s the matter?”

Keith shook his head. “Nothing. You just weren’t there when I woke up. I thought you’d been sick again.”

“Not today,” Lance sighed, pleased. He put a hand on his stomach, feeling out the soft curve that seemed to have sprung up overnight. When he and Keith had made the decision to have children, he’d tried to picture what it would be like for his body to change like this, but he hadn’t been able to imagine it. The thought had been scary, for sure; to think something would change him so drastically, and he’d have no control over it…

But he wasn’t scared anymore. Well, it wasn’t the same type of fear. There were many things to be afraid of, and the changes his body was and would go through were one of them, but not for the same reason anymore. He was rather fond of his little bump, truth be told. He liked the shape of it, the way it fit in the palm of his hand.

“Have you eaten?” Keith asked. He looked half asleep, but Lance knew from experience the alpha wouldn’t be able to rest unless Lance was beside him. It was a protectiveness he’d developed when they’d found out Lance was expecting. Lance had crept out of bed very quietly that morning, and Keith had managed to sleep for at least half an hour before coming to find him.

“Not yet,” Lance said. “But I had tea.”

Keith glanced him over, eyes assessing. Lance wasn’t particularly bothered by Keith’s protectiveness, because he knew it was just how some alphas got. Keith had already talked to Lance about his instincts, so Lance was aware of the struggles he was having with them.

After a moment Keith disappeared from the doorway without saying anything, then returned a minute later, carrying a pair of fluffy socks. When Lance raised his eyebrows, Keith just gave him a look.

“You’ll catch a cold if you don’t stay warm,” he said, somewhat indignant, as he crouched to slide the socks on Lance’s feet.

Lance wasn’t going to say no to such gentle treatment. He wriggled his toes as Keith fixed the socks around his ankles, making sure they were on comfortably. “You’re ridiculous,” he said, utterly fond.

Keith patted his legs. “And you’d get cold without me.”

Chapter Text

Keith was trying not to make a fool of himself.

This wasn’t normally a problem for him. He kept himself composed, and didn’t often let his instincts overwhelm him. A lot of alphas had problems with aggression and snap-decisions, and he was like that sometimes too, but more often than not he kept to himself and stayed quiet. It was the easiest way for him to glide through social interactions.

It wasn’t working out so well for him this time.

See, he was experiencing very… alpha-like feelings. Ones he’d never paid particular attention to before, rather forcefully ignoring them, actually. But that was difficult now.

He was rather infatuated with an omega.

To be fair, the omega was his friend, and he’d known him for a while. He and Lance hadn’t gotten along at all at first – they’d butted heads at every turn, and had been almost spiteful to one another. Keith’s competitiveness had been unusually stroked by Lance, something that didn’t often happen. He just couldn’t ignore the omega.

That was probably because he liked him, but he hadn’t known that back then.

Their group of friends were having a games night at Allura’s house. She had the largest living room, one that could fit all six of them comfortably, along with snacks and whatever games they’d managed to find. After a particularly vigorous game of Monopoly, everyone had retreated to the couches for a break. Allura was off somewhere ordering pizza with Hunk, and Pidge was showing Shiro something on her phone, so what better time than to bond with Lance?

He could feel the side-eyed glance Shiro shot him. The other alpha was well aware of Keith’s feelings, though he was (hopefully) the only one. He pointedly ignored it as he moved towards the couch where Lance was sitting cross-legged, draped over the cushions like a particularly ornamental cat.

Keith tried his best to throw himself down on the couch casually. Like a normal person would. Totally at ease. He wasn’t quite sure he managed that, if Shiro’s subtle wince was anything to go by. He decided to completely ignore that.

Being this close to Lance was always delightful. He had a very pleasing scent, something that was a mix of the cologne he wore and the natural scent of his skin, something soft and distinctly omega. It made a warmth coil in Keith’s belly.

He hoped Lance liked his scent, too. They weren’t so hostile to each other anymore – they were friends, really. They hung out together without their other friends. Lance had fallen asleep during one of their previous game nights resting against Keith. That clearly meant the omega trusted him, otherwise he wouldn’t have pressed so heavily into Keith’s side.

Lance didn’t seem too perturbed by Keith’s sudden arrival beside him. He immediately leaned over to show Keith something on his phone, his scent comfortable and at ease. Keith couldn’t help but lean into him too, the tension in him easing away.

Infatuated, indeed.

Chapter Text

Lance ran his hands down Blue’s side, smoothing out her short, sleek fur. She was a beautiful beast, a powerful one – a lion at least two feet taller than him, her shoulders broad enough for him to comfortably ride. He’d been bonded to her since his twelfth summer, as all young members of his den came to be. But he was of the opinion that Blue was the most beautiful of lions, and it was no secret that many were envious of her strengths.

He was rather proud to have earned her favour.

“Ready to go out, Blue?” he murmured, pressing his face against her large snout. She let out a low, pleased rumble, nuzzling against him. She was so large she almost knocked him over, but he just laughed.

After a moment, Blue crouched down low to the ground, giving him room to swing up onto her back. When she stood, he could feel all her muscles bunching up and tensing, ready to spring into action at his slightest provocation.

It was his turn to run the boundary of their territory. Everyone with a mount large enough to ride was tasked with a shift of protecting their border. It was one of the shared duties of his den, among other tasks, like child-minding and cub rearing. And as much as Lance loved being around the young children and the tiny lion cubs, there was something very peaceful about being in the forest away from the chatter and noise of the den. It was a rare thing, getting a moment to oneself. He liked company, but the quiet time was good for him and Blue to bond.

Even if they did have to run the border to get that.

When he was comfortable, he gave a light pat to Blue’s side, and she rose up. He was much taller up on her back, and enjoyed the height boost as she began to trot towards the gate surrounding their settlement. Guards with their own lions, none as beautiful or large as Blue, moved aside to let him pass through.

Blue was never more powerful than when she ran. There was a grace to her body, a strength evident in the stretch and release of all her muscles as she thundered through the forest. Greens and browns blurred around him. He held tight to her fur as she weaved her way through the trees, avoiding any low hanging branches, utterly aware that he was perched on her back.

Much of the patrol passed in pleasant quietness. Their territory had neighbours on almost all sides, but they were amicable. Problems only came from the mountains, since no den claimed them. The terrain was too rough and unpredictable, with vicious snow during the winter and wild lightning storms during summer. A lot of strays came over the mountains, people without dens or family. There was safety in numbers, and those without any affiliation could be dangerous or feral.

It was as Lance was travelling past their border edge that faced the mountain that Blue began to slow. He focused on the bond between them, sending his curiosity through. She gave out a low rumble, one that made him tense up. The fur on the back of her neck stood on end, and he hunched low over her, eyes scanning the forest around them.

At first, he didn’t see anything.

But then a dark shadow emerged. It was a human, a man with dark hair and a scar on his cheek. He was accompanied by a lion of his own, large but not quite as large as Blue, his hand on its shoulder. Both man and lion stopped at the sound of Blue’s threatening growl.

“Who are you?” Lance demanded.

The man’s harsh expression seemed to waver. When Lance took a closer look at him, he could see a bleeding injury on the man’s side, and that he was leaning for support quite heavily on his lion, not just holding onto it.

“My name is Keith,” the man said, voice rough with misuse. “I… we don’t mean to trespass, we just came over the mountain… I didn’t know there was a den here.”

Lance frowned. He sunk his mind into Blue’s senses, using her enhanced perception to assess the figures ahead of them. He couldn’t smell any deceit on their scents, but rather something like apprehension, something that made a strange, protective instinct rise up in him, in them.

He hadn’t experienced that before. It made him relax a little, straightening up on Blue’s back. “What happened to you?”

“I left my den,” Keith said.

Lance startled. Leaving one’s den was a grave and serious matter – if the den was unwilling to let you go, you could be hunted down and attacked by them, killed for knowing secrets the den doesn’t want shared. Lance had only heard of a few dens so terrible their members wanted to leave, ones where the hierarchy of authority was incredibly unequal, and the quality of living was terrible. Dens were meant to be families, safe communities where people could live peacefully in the knowledge that they had a place to call home and a home protected by its devoted people.

The fact that Keith had left his den could only mean he’d come from a terrible place.

Lance sent a questioning thought to Blue, conflicted. She was sniffing the air, her tail twitching, her eyes locked in the gaze of the other lion. After a moment, she turned her head back to glance at him.

He’d always been taught to trust the instincts of his lion. Hers were far better than his, and had yet to lead him astray. He could only see determination in her eyes, and a willingness to extend an offering hand. He agreed with her decision. Something in him was telling him to help this man, if he could.

“You can come back to our den,” Lance reassured. “See what the elders have to say.”

Chapter Text

Lance pushed aside a leaf the size of his arm with the back of his hand, ducking under foliage that darkened the world around him. The forest here was made almost entirely of large stalks of leaves, many which rose to almost twice or three times his height, with leaves sprouting at intervals up each stem.

Magic was in abundance here. Little flowering orbs grew beneath the stem of every leaf, ones that could be harvested and made into pure magic particles, if one had a careful enough touch. Lance often came here to pick them, using them to craft spells and brew potions.

At midday, with a basket full of orbs, he found himself simply enjoying the forest for what it was. Sunlight broke through the gaps in the leaves to warm his skin. The orbs had a faint sweet scent that made the air feel balmy and comfortable. He was one of the only people willing to venture this far into the forest, since he had the skills and the magic to deal with the strange creatures that happened to live nearby.

Lately, he’d been receiving a lot of orders from one patron in particular. He often sold what he made with the orbs since it fetched a high price and was a good source of income for him. He had regular customers, people who came by every month or so to buy something specific. Travellers often stopped in too to stock up, since stores like his were rare, his wares even more so.

But lately, a very specific customer had been coming in.

Shiro was a knight in the service of Allura, one of the strongest magic users on the continent. She was an important political figure, despite her young age. She was in training to one day take on major roles, particularly the ones her father occupied. Shiro oversaw the garrison of guards and soldiers employed by the bastion of mages that oversaw the use and moderation of magic. As such, the bastion often sponsored merchants like Lance who could provide them with high quality products at a relatively steady rate.

Usually, an errand boy or messenger was sent to collect their order. Lately, however, Shiro had taken it upon himself to come collect everything.

Lance wasn’t complaining. Shiro was a surprisingly sweet man, and very polite. He always flushed a little when Lance smiled at him, and made pleasant conversation if he had to wait for Lance to get everything necessary together. As far as Lance was aware, most soldiers found it tedious to travel to Lance’s place of business to collect the order, but Shiro didn’t seem to share that opinion. He came down more than was needed, after all, sometimes showing up just to check on things in a friendly way.

It was hard for Lance to hide the fact that he was becoming rather fond of Shiro. Just thinking about him made Lance smile.

Maybe he should invite Shiro in for tea.

Chapter Text

Lance was not having a good day.

He supposed, comparatively, that it wasn’t the worst day he’d ever had. For the most part, things had been alright, even. But if there was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was being cold, and he was currently shivering like a leaf.

When he’d left the apartment that morning, there’d only been a faint smattering of clouds in the sky, and the sun had been out. To be fair, it wasn’t like it had been warm. But it hadn’t been cold, either, so he hadn’t bothered layering up on clothes like he had been for the last month. Winter had well and truly arrived; most mornings, there was frost on his balcony railing and on the edges of his windows.

He was currently holed up in a café on campus, cold hands clutched around a cup of tea that was quickly losing its warmth. He still had hours of class to go, and was dreading having to step outside the café to walk to his lecture. It was windy and bitingly cold outside, and he was only wearing a thin sweater.

On the table in front of him, his phone vibrated. He was reluctant to take his hands away from his warm cup, but he’d been expecting a reply from his boyfriend, so he reached for it anyway. He’d been complaining to Shiro about his lack of warm clothes for the last twenty minutes. Shiro didn’t have class today, and Lance had rather enviously left him all rugged up in bed.

Shiro had sent him a photo of the outside of the café. Confused, Lance stared at it for a moment. Then he jolted upright, eyes flying to the front door.

His ridiculous boyfriend gave him a cheery smile and a small wave from the other side. When Lance beckoned him in, Shiro came to join him at his table, though not before Lance could drag him down into a hug.

“What are you doing here?” Lance cried. “It’s your day off!”

“I brought you a jacket and scarf,” Shiro answered. Sure enough, one of Lance’s warmest jackets and a cream coloured scarf were tucked over Shiro’s arm.

Lance flushed, smiling. “You didn’t have to, Shiro.”

“I didn’t want you being cold all day,” Shiro insisted, leaning over to tuck the scarf around Lance’s neck. “I love you too much for that, honey.”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t unusual for Lance to wake up in the middle of the night for no apparent or discernible reason. Since falling pregnant, he’d found that his body and senses were attuned to things he couldn’t quite pinpoint, and over the last few months, he’d become used to it.

Sometimes if he smelt a certain scent he’d completely short circuit for a moment, waiting until it passed before he went back to what he was doing. Other times he’d get a little shiver down his spine and instantly know it was going to rain that day, even if the weather forecast was clear and sunny. He had yet to be proven wrong.

Waking up during the middle of the night was something he could usually figure out, if he spent a moment or so thinking about it. At times it happened if there was a sudden shift in temperature, but he’d usually be settled enough to sleep if he pulled another blanket over the bed. Sometimes it was because he was about to be struck with a craving. Or sometimes he woke up just before there was a big noise – a backfiring car, a crack of thunder, a barking dog – that would have startled him into wakefulness if he’d still been asleep.

That night, however, it was none of those things. He blinked into the dark of the bedroom, breathing in his own soft, omega scent and the scent of his alpha, Shiro, and waited to see if something was bothering him. He was all warm and tucked up beneath the blankets, and it was perfectly quiet outside, as it was most nights.

When nothing presented itself, he rolled over to find his mate to cuddle against, and instead found empty sheets.

That instantly had him lifting his head. “Shiro?” he whispered.

There was no response.

“Shiro,” he called again, louder this time.

Soft footsteps echoed down the corridor. The bedroom door opened, and Shiro slipped inside, giving Lance an apologetic look. “I’m here,” he answered.

Lance’s ruffled instincts settled as Shiro re-joined him in bed. “Where’d you go?”

“Just to get a drink,” Shiro reassured. He adjusted the blankets over them, lifting one arm so Lance could slide over beside him. When he’d made himself comfortable, he wrapped his other arm around Lance, one hand gingerly resting against the pronounced curve of Lance’s stomach. “Sorry to wake you.”

Lance made a small noise, pressing his cheek against Shiro’s chest. His heart had been racing, but now it was calming down. Shiro was cold from being out of bed, but he quickly warmed up. “Was just a baby thing.”

Shiro laughed quietly. “Well, I’ll try to disturb the baby less, then,” he promised, pressing a lingering kiss to Lance’s head. “Try and get some rest, sweetheart.”

“Already on it,” Lance mumbled, eyes closed.

Now that he knew where his mate was, Lance was almost already asleep again. All he needed was his alpha beside him to feel safe and comfortable.

Chapter Text

Lance didn’t like to think he was lazy, but he did enjoy relaxing. He and his mate had different roles when it came to taking care of their nest – Lance groomed their wings, prepared their meals, and kept their bedding in order. They were instincts that came very naturally to avians like him, the ones that were more settled, more homely. It was usually their mates, the hunters and protectors, that kept their homes and them safe, and foraged for food.

Even though Lance knew he should’ve been building the fire in their living area, he couldn’t bring himself to get out of the hammock stretched between two large boughs of their home tree. All avians lived in ancient trees, ones large enough to build homes in, high above the ground. Their tree had large, hanging leaves that offered them the perfect amount of shade and privacy. He and Keith had worked hard to hollow out their home, and to fill it with everything they needed.

The hammock was a touch indulgent.

He lay cushioned in it, resting on his stomach, his wings draped over the edges. He’d woven the net himself from strong, durable rope and filled it with cushions so that there was something soft to rest against. As he was, there was a beam of sunlight sitting right in the middle of his back, one that was making his feathers puff up with delight. Afternoon sun was dreadfully warm, and he was content to relax in it until the evening chill began to creep in.

The only thing that would make this afternoon better would be if Keith were back.

He was due to return soon. That morning, he’d left to restock their pantry. There was an avian-run market nearby, as well as a field of apple trees that Lance was particularly fond of. Keith always brought some home for him.

It was nearing the last rays of sun when Lance heard a familiar beat of wings. He lifted his head, watching the sky until a dark figure appeared, black wings spread wide. Keith was carrying a lidded basket over his back, and a second fabric bag over his chest. It took him a few minutes to reach their tree, but he eventually touched down, giving Lance a raised eyebrow as he did.

“You look comfortable,” he said, as he began to lighten himself of his packages, carefully setting them down at the front entrance of their nest. “Have you been there all afternoon?”

“No.”

“That was not very convincing.”

Lance gave Keith a grin, lifting up a wing in invitation. Keith set down the satchel of apples before wandering over, rolling his eyes as he did. A bit of adjusting and squirming was always needed to happen when the two of them sat in the hammock together. Their wings weren’t small by any means, and sitting the both of them in without crushing a wing in the process was a challenge. Lance somehow ended up on his back, wings spread out, with Keith resting against his chest.

A pleased sigh left him as the weight of his mate settled on top of him. Keith’s wings were pressed against his, their feathers tangling together. The strength of the hammock helped carry the extra burden of Keith’s weight, so Lance didn’t feel crushed. It was nice, actually. He slipped his hands around Keith’s waist, holding the small of his back.

“Get everything we need?” he asked.

Keith only hummed.

Lance took that for a yes. Keith was a little sweaty, and his wings had those pulses of heat coming off of them that signalled his long flight. It would take him a bit to cool down, even with evening fast approaching. Lance was quite happy to stay where he was until Keith had regained his energy, running his hands along Keith’s back, letting his wings cradle Keith’s tired ones.

“I’m thinking poached apples for dessert,” he said tilting his head back as he shifted his wings to get the hammock rocking a little. “With honey.”

“Sounds good,” Keith answered.

Lance nuzzled the side of his face. No matter what he made, Keith always accepted it without complaint. Their roles may have been very different, but there was no hierarchy between them, no sense of inequality. Sometimes Keith cooked, and sometimes Lance went on market runs, but they each had preferences – Lance didn’t particularly enjoy long distance flying, and Keith wasn’t very fond of cooking. What they had worked, and Lance was glad for it.

“I’ll wash your wings later tonight,” Lance said.

Keith hummed again, rubbing his nose against Lance’s neck. “Thanks,” he mumbled. “Will you groom them too?”

Lance laughed quietly, pushing his wings to rock the hammock once more. “Of course. It would be my pleasure.”

Chapter Text

“I’m really sorry to bother you like this, Lance,” Lisa fretted, “I was meant to have time to pick her up but Sylvio’s school called me saying he’d tripped and hurt his knee–”

“It’s okay,” Lance said, laughing. “I don’t mind.”

“You’ll have to stay for dinner to let me make it up to you,” she insisted.

“Is my big brother cooking?”

“Of course.”

“Then how could I say no?” he teased. He did miss Luis’s cooking, and dinner at their house was always a lively event with the kids. “I’m at the studio now, so I’ll talk to you later, alright?”

“Aright. Thanks again, hun.”

Lance let out a little sigh as he slipped his phone back into his pocket. The dance studio that Nadia practiced at was only a short train ride away from Lance’s work, so when Lisa had called him frantically asking him to pick her up that afternoon, he hadn’t hesitated before agreeing. It was hardly out of his way, after all, and he loved his niece. Sometimes he wandered over just to see her dance, because she looked so happy while she did it.

Nadia was predictably excited to see him. She ran out of the dressing room at full speed, a simple jacket and pair of boots thrown over her dance uniform. “Uncle!”

“Hey there, tiny dancer,” he grinned, scooping her up. She buried her face in the crook of his neck, breathing in his soft, omega scent, a similar scent to the one her mother exuded. Nadia was still young enough to be utterly soothed by the scent of an omega family member she trusted, and Lance certainly qualified for that.

After checking her out at reception – he had permission to pick her up as a family member – the two of them began the walk back to the train station. Nadia clutched his hand, half dancing as she walked along beside him.

“I learned new steps today, Uncle Lance,” she exclaimed, grinning up at him. “When we get home I can show you.”

“That’d be wonderful.”

It was getting darker now, evening turning into dusk as the streetlights flickered on. The area around the dance studio was nice, but towards the station was less so, since it wasn’t as well maintained. During the day it was fine, and if Lance was on his own he’d probably be fine, but with Nadia beside him his protective instincts were all ruffled.

There was a strange chill going down his spine as they rounded the corner before the station. He could see the lights of passing trains ahead, and pulled Nadia a little closer to him. She’d gone quiet, and was holding tight to the hem of his shirt, so he reached down to pick her up.

“It’s dark now,” she whispered into his neck.

He hummed his agreement, eyes scanning the shadows around them. He let his scent wrap around his niece, comforting her.

As they neared a gap between two buildings, he heard feet scuffling, and the scent of alcohol and alpha reached his nose. He tightened his grip on Nadia, holding her close to him, away from the hulking figure swaying towards them.

He knew better than to say anything. Some alphas could be straight up assholes, and drunk ones hiding in alleyways were right up there with the worst. They thought they could control others with their scent, intimidate them into doing things they didn’t want, giving things they didn’t want to give. Lance had been lucky to never come across someone aggressive, alpha or otherwise, and he wasn’t keen on breaking that streak anytime soon.

A warning growl left him. He wouldn’t take any risks with Nadia with him, and warned the alpha off before he even approached. The sound rippled through the air around him – it was clearly displeased, and it made Nadia curl up into him, utterly quiet. Even at her age she knew to trust him to keep her safe.

He’d do anything for her.

It seemed like his warning growl was doing the trick, but that didn’t make him any less nervous.

Then, another voice rang through the quiet street.

“Everything alright here?”

Lance turned to eye the alpha who’d approached. He was tall with snow-white hair and a prominent scar across his nose, though he was no less handsome for it. Something about him looked undeniably soft, though there was no mistaking the strength in his shoulders and in his scent.

The newcomer seemed to be enough to intimidate the other alpha into leaving him be. Lance felt his entire body relax as he gave the new alpha a wide-eyed look.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Not a problem,” the alpha replied, smiling a little. “I’m Shiro, by the way. Are you just heading to the station?”

“Yes that’s right. And my name is Lance.”

“Do you mind if I walk you to the station then, Lance?”

Lance felt himself flush. “I’d appreciate that, thanks.”

And so Shiro walked them the rest of the way. He maintained a polite distance between himself and Lance, and reigned his scent in. Lance had never met someone quite so considerate of him, and he found himself instantly intrigued.

There was just something about Shiro… and he hoped that, by the way Shiro was looking at him out of the corner of his eyes, there was something about himself, too.

Chapter Text

Shiro was unused to certain things. He was a bit of a person of habit, and although he didn’t mind trying new things, there was just something familiar and comforting about the known. He liked knowing what to expect, liked having some sort of sense of control, because otherwise things got overwhelming and hard to understand. He liked predictable things.

Lance was the furthest thing from predictable.

It surprised him, a little, that he could be so enamoured with someone he didn’t completely understand. Lance’s mind seemed to work twice as fast as his, cycling through reactions and responses while Shiro’s was still taking in the question. Half the time the stuff that came out of Lance’s mouth wasn’t very intelligible, but it was funny more often than not, and Lance always took his blunders in stride.

Lance was a very affectionate person. His boundless energy meant he had a lot of it to spare for the person he liked, who just happened to be Shiro. He liked to hold hands and link their arms together and drape himself over Shiro when they were sitting down together. At first, Shiro had been very unused to it, but he grew to like it quite well.

Sometimes it was hard. Shiro was a few years older than Lance, and at times he felt it sorely. He often got wrapped up in his head, and not even Lance’s boundless energy was enough to pull him from that. He needed the time to sit and do nothing, to take a break from being active and just let himself be miserable for a while, on his own, and Lance struggled to understand that a little. He constantly needed company, even when sad – others cheered him up, and reassurances from his loved ones worked wonders on him when he was upset.

But that wasn’t the worst thing in the world. The more time they spent together, the more they came to understand what the other needed. When Shiro needed his space, Lance would simply kiss his forehead and leave him be, waiting patiently until Shiro sought him out for company. And if Lance needed someone to sit by him, or humour him, or distract him, Shiro was more than willing to be that someone.

It worked for them. Shiro thought it worked for him, personally, in a way it had never worked with anyone else. He’d dated before, been serious with people before, but none had made him feel like Lance did. There wasn’t a moment when he felt like he had to hide any part of himself from Lance. He was embarrassed by some things, of course – like the fact that he had three-and-a-half teaspoons of sugar in his tea, or his weird hiccups, or the fact that he snored while he slept – but he never felt ashamed because of them. Lance saw everything as a cute quirk, something that made Shiro Shiro.

For him, that was enough, even with Lance’s unpredictability. More than enough.

Chapter Text

Shiro ran his fingers through Lance’s hair, enjoying the peace and quiet. He had an old book in one hand, and Lance tucked under his other arm, with nothing to worry about except the ways he was going to fill the approaching evening to distract him. It was rare for either one of them to have such an empty evening – they were some of Allura’s strongest spellcasters after all, so their services were often required in the name of the royal family – but that evening had been given to them to spend however they wished.

Predictably, neither of them was willing to leave the other, and an uneventful but homely evening at their spacious loft commenced.

Every time Shiro’s fingers hit a snag in Lance’s hair, he sent a little flutter of magic through his fingertips, and the strands would magically drift apart. Lance hummed every time it happened, his eyes closed. He was more interested in spending the evening dozing than anything else, and Shiro certainly wasn’t going to complain. He rather liked being a pillow for his beloved, and the quiet company while he was reading was much appreciated.

“Do you reckon Allura is regretting giving us the afternoon off?” Lance mused, tilting his head further back into Shiro’s affectionate palm.

“It did seem rather busy when we left the palace,” Shiro conceded, an amused smile flittering across his lips, “but if she truly needed us, she would have asked us to stay.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

Shiro hummed, eyes going back to his book. Allura was rather generous with them, since they were close friends. They worked hard for her and her country, so when the opportunity arose for them to have a little time off, she always gave it to them. It wasn’t often all that much time – a day here, and evening there, sometimes just enough time for them to share a private meal away from the palace dining hall – but it was enough.

Lance leaned against him a little heavier, drawing Shiro’s gaze. They were curled up on one of the lounges in their living room, Lance’s legs up on the cushion, his shoulder resting against Shiro’s side. It should have been awkward, since Shiro had a hand in his hair, but it was oddly comfortable instead.

Currently, it looked like Lance was on the verge of falling asleep. Shiro kept up his gentle ministrations as he continued to read, using little bursts of magic to turn the pages of his book. The city murmured outside, and it was familiar, reassuring. Night times were busy most days of the week, crowded with markets and displays of magic put on by talented illusionists. A faint blue glow was already beginning to emanate from the lanterns strung between every house and building in the city. He could see it through the living room window.

The city was alive with magic and it was delightful.

At some point, when night had fully arrived, Shiro noticed that Lance had fallen asleep. He let his magic dog ear the page he was on before whisking the book back to its place on the shelf. Then, without waking his lover, he stood, and lifted Lance up into his arms.

He didn’t need magic to do that.

Their bedroom was close to the living room, so he didn’t need to carry Lance far. He gave the bedsheets a glance and they pulled themselves back so that he could rest Lance down on the mattress. Lance hardly stirred as Shiro tucked him in, already fast asleep.

He was utterly precious, Shiro thought.

Chapter Text

The curtains had been left closed in his chambers that morning, but he could still see light trying to peek through the gaps between them. Lance blinked, thoughts staggered and hazy. He felt like his head was full of honey, heavy and slow moving. Being unwell did that to a person.

Belatedly, he realised it was probably well past morning. If no one had come to wake him, it meant the palace healers had decided he needed rest above everything else. He was rather relieved about that, actually. He felt so unwell that it was unlikely he’d be able to step far away from his bed. He just hoped he hadn’t made too much of a mess by having to skip on his royal duties that day.

A gentle knock at his door drew his attention. He was too tired to answer it, but he knew there were guards on the other side of his door, watching out for their prince, so when the door opened he wasn’t too concerned. Footsteps padded over to his bed, and a weight dipped down beside him, before a warm hand touched his shoulder.

“There you are, Lance,” Keith whispered, peering down at him. “I’d heard you were unwell.”

Lance managed a pitiful whine. “Sorry I didn’t get to greet you this morning,” he rasped.

Keith shook his head. “Don’t apologise for that.”

Lance had made it a bit of a habit to greet the foreign delegates they received at the palace every month or so. Keith was a high-ranking guard from a neighbouring kingdom, one Lance had grown fond of. He often visited their palace bringing important information or messages from his superiors, since they had an amicable relationship with Lance’s parents, the King and Queen.

It was why Keith had probably been allowed into his room by the guards at the door – almost everyone at the palace knew they had affections for one another, and Keith had proved himself to be rather protective of Lance, so his parents approved.

Gently, so as not to disturb Lance, Keith laid down beside him and put an arm over him. He was still wearing his light armour and hood. He must have come straight to Lance’s room when he arrived. Thinking that filled Lance with a rush of warmth.

“Thanks for visiting me,” he whispered.

Keith pulled him close, uncaring of Lance’s sniffles. “Of course.”

Chapter Text

Keith dreamed of a boy made from ice.

Dreams weren’t always things that could be trusted. They were mischievous things, tricky things, that knew the deepest truths a person kept buried inside. They’d twist those truths, make a person believe something was real when it wasn’t, show someone what their hearts most desired or most feared. They were things without morality, without reason.

But Keith didn’t believe his dreams of the boy were mere fabrications of his mind. How could he conjure up someone so beautiful?

The dreams had only started in the last few years. At first, they’d been sporadic and faint, barely memorable. But then they started coming more – every few months, then once a month, twice, four times, until he was having them every few days, remembering more and more each time.

They weren’t frightening dreams. He’d disclosed details about them to the people he trusted most – Shiro, his brother in every way but blood, and Allura, their commander. They worked for the Kingdom of Altea as some of its most experienced spellcasters and war mages, though Keith had originally come from a different faction. Allura was quite knowledgeable about dreams and visions, so Keith had trusted her with his thoughts.

“Each time, I see him hiding away in a room. His back is to me, and I only see his face after frost has spread around him, freezing everything – the chair, the floor… It’s like it seeps out of him with every breath. His hair is white, but it freezes too, each strand turning to ice. I can feel the cold, even though I know I’m dreaming.”

It was always the same dream. The boy would be there, alone, and as the world froze around him, he’d turn his face. Not looking at Keith, but to the side, out of a window that Keith couldn’t see through. He always looked so sad, so lonely, like the cold was hurting him. He was as fragile as a freshly frozen river, looking like a single touch might shatter him into a thousand pieces.

Keith didn’t disclose his utter fascination with the boy to his companions. For one, it was embarrassing. He’d never been particularly interested in people before – never courted, never been interested in marriage. He knew it was out of character for him to be so enamoured with someone, especially someone he’d never met. For another thing, there was no saying if dreams could be trusted, even ones that Keith believed meant something important.

Allura had been sceptical. “It could be anything,” she’d told him. “But if it’s something you’re interested in pursuing, that can be done.”

He’d been unsure, back then, but certain circumstances had recently changed his opinion.

The three of them had been assigned a new mission. A small town was being ravaged by magic near the coast, an area under Altea’s control. Issues of magic were often assigned to teams like theirs, since they had expertise in it. Keith thought it was likely that some sort of magical artefact or dark caster was the source of the problem, whatever it may be.

It was a five day ride from the capital to the town. Despite being by the coast, the town was bracketed by tall mountains that often saw snow during winter. There was a noticeable chill in the air as they approached, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Keith wasn’t much of a talker, so Allura and Shiro handled the information gathering. They stopped in at the town’s garrison first, where guards were stationed, then checked in at inns and taverns for first-hand accounts from the townspeople. Most were the same – every night, a freezing chill swept over the town, like an avalanche of sleet. Although the frost receded by sunrise, crops and gardens were destroyed, and infrastructure was quickly degrading. Anyone caught out in it was instantly frozen.

There was no mistaking that the phenomenon was magically generated. Keith could sense it, and the accounts from townspeople only strengthened that feeling.

“There’s one last place to check before we can retire for the night,” Shiro said, as he flipped through his notebook. They’d stabled their horses at a nearby inn where they’d purchased rooms for the week. Keith was tired from travelling, but it was best to get as much information as possible before nightfall.

The entire town was quickly closing up as the sun began to set. According to what they’d heard, the waves of ice didn’t strike every night, but rather they were arbitrary and unpredictable. At first they’d been quite spaced apart, but they were becoming much more frequent. No one wanted to risk being outside after dark.

“The McClain house,” Shiro read, having found the page he needed. “It’s just down the road, towards the shore.”

And so they walked. Keith listened as Shiro and Allura talked, discussing the things they’d uncovered that afternoon. They were used to his quietness, and understood he was far better at understanding things when he kept silent.

“Apparently one of the McClain children has something interesting to say,” Shiro murmured, tucking his notebook away. “They saw the frost creeping in one night.”

“So they might know which direction it comes from?” Allura questioned.

“Or at least where it begins.”

“And who told us this?”

“The barkeep’s wife – the one who runs the fruit stall. Near the town square.”

“Right, I remember.”

“She’s fond of the McClain children.”

“Sounds reliable,” Allura said, a thoughtful look on her face. She turned her eyes towards the sky. “Though we won’t have long to talk before sunset.”

It had been a while since Keith had been this close to the sea. The town wasn’t exactly a port, since it only had a small dock and not a harbour, but it was close enough for the air to be slightly salty. When the sun began to dip beneath the horizon, it threw streaks of orange over the tops of buildings, casting them in afternoon shadows. The atmosphere felt nice to Keith, despite the thread of worry tangled around the townspeople.

The McClain house looked like all of the others in the town – taller than it was wide, made of stone and wood with a slanted, tiled roof. There were flowers hanging from every windowsill, which marked it as different from the ones beside it. There was a certain homely feel to it that Keith found rather interesting, which surprised him.

As they climbed the short set of stairs leading to the front door, he noticed that the house had a view of the sea. The town was slightly elevated, but it was so slight that he hadn’t noticed it while they were walking. Here must be where the town was built up the highest, if he could see the sea.

A woman – presumably Mrs McClain – opened the door and escorted them in. There weren’t many people who would turn away members of the royal guard, let alone Allura, the heir to the throne.

“I think it’s my eldest daughter you’ll want to be speaking to,” Mrs McClain said, as she settled them in the living room. Somewhere in between entering and sitting, Keith found himself with a hot teacup in hands. He couldn’t bring himself to refuse it, since Mrs McClain’s face was so motherly and concerned. “Let me just call for her.”

She disappeared from the room for a moment, giving Keith a chance to stare without retribution. It was a quaint home, with wooden furniture and handmade furnishings. The seat he’d somehow been put into had a soft cushion on it. There was a fire roaring in a fireplace more towards the adjacent kitchen than him, which warmed the entire house sufficiently. The curtains were already drawn and tied shut, despite it still being light out.

It was a necessary precaution, Keith thought.

“This is Veronica, my daughter,” Mrs McClain said, when she returned with a young woman beside her.

Veronica introduced herself. She had the same dark hair and eyes as her mother, though her face was more angular, her build more willowy, something she likely inherited from her father. Allura and Shiro questioned her, since they were far better at it than Keith. He listened and watched, since that was where he excelled.

“It happened a few nights ago,” Veronica explained, when prompted. “Frost spread over the house so fast I could hardly keep track of it.”

That aligned with what others had said. Even with severe cold fronts, Keith knew it was unlikely that sort of rapid weather would occur without magic playing a hand.

“Did you see where it came from?” Allura prompted.

Veronica hesitated – only for a moment, but enough for Keith to notice. “Sort of,” she answered. “But it looked like it came from nowhere.”

“Nowhere?”

“Around here, maybe,” Veronica said. Her tone had taken on an edge of unwillingness that made Keith suspicious. “Behind the house – towards the mountain.”

“Does anyone in your family know how to use magic?” Keith asked. He earned surprised looks from Shiro and Allura, though they didn’t say anything.

Veronica hesitated again, this time enough for his companions to notice.

“Magic is a very tricky thing,” Allura soothed. Keith would never know how she made her voice like that – comforting but stern, a voice you could tell a secret to, though you had no choice in the matter. “While it makes people powerful, it makes them vulnerable, too. It opens us up to powers greater than ours.”

“I know some,” Veronica admitted. She sighed, ragged. “But my youngest brother, he’s quite talented with it. He always has been.”

“What can he do?” Allura asked.

“Manipulate water,” Veronica said. “Shape it, control it. Make it, if he wants to. He purifies the town’s water supply. He can heal minor injuries with it, though he’s not as good at that yet.”

Keith’s eyebrows went up. That was quite an admirable feat. People who showed some sort of aptitude for magic were usually sent to academies where they could hone their talents, so to think someone had grown up in this small town and developed such a talent was rather admirable.

But without the proper training, they might not be able to defend themselves against more powerful mages. Dark casters often preyed on young prodigies, using their bodies and their magic to further their causes. If a mage couldn’t defend themselves against someone with more power, someone with darker intents, then they could be torn apart from the inside out.

When a dark caster sunk their teeth into a vulnerable mage, that mage usually died. And if they didn’t die, then they became a dark caster, too. Magic was pure energy, but it was an energy that was at the mercy of its wielder. It could be easily corrupted.

“Creating frost is not a far step from controlling water,” Allura said carefully, her gaze locked on Veronica, who was looking more and more stone-faced with each word. “Would he be the type…?”

“No.” Veronica shook her head with sharp, jerky movements. Her fists clenched in her lap. “Lance would never do anything like this! All he wants to do is help people. He has a good heart.”

Allura relaxed her posture. “I believe you,” she reassured, “but good people can be taken advantage of, by people with more power, more anger and hatred.”

Veronica pursed her lips.

Allura cast a quick glance to Keith out of the corner of her eyes.

Keith set his full teacup down on a small side table and stood. “I’m going to look around.”

Veronica made to stand, but Allura held out a hand, and she reluctantly sat down once more. “He’s my baby brother,” she pleaded, expression cracking. “Just because he can use magic…!”

“There’s no telling if he’s the cause of this or not,” Allura said. “And if what you say is true about his character, then there’s a very good chance that if it is him, then he’s not the one in control of his powers. He could be in just as much danger as everyone here.”

Keith slipped out of the room. There was a staircase leading up, so he ascended to the second floor, looking around as he did. Several bedrooms lined the hallway, but none stood out to him. One held another young woman, younger than Veronica – Rachel McClain, as she nervously introduced herself. Another McClain child, older than Keith, was in the next room – Marco McClain, the second oldest son, who explained that the eldest no longer lived in the family home. Keith gave them both polite nods as he passed.

It was as he climbed to the third floor that he got a sudden wave of vertigo. He paused, clutching the staircase’s railing as he waited for it to pass.

He wasn’t sure what had caused it, but it put him on edge.

The third floor was much like the second, though a little smaller. There were bedrooms and a linen closet, none particularly interesting, save for one of the bedrooms. He didn’t knock as he pushed the door open. The room was bathed in light from the setting sun; it faced the ocean, and looked so strikingly familiar to him that at first, he swore he was dreaming.

Except he’d never been here before, never seen this room before, so he didn’t know how that could be.

The room wasn’t empty. A boy was curled up on the bed, brown hair tossed in every direction imaginable. He seemed deeply asleep, so Keith let himself stare at the room a little longer, trying to work out why he felt like he knew it.

The window had been left open, so the room was colder than the rest of the house. He thought it was a careless thing to do, leaving that window open, and strode forwards to shut it before he could really stop himself. The bang of the window hitting the pane startled the sleeping boy, who jolted upright.

“Who are you?” he rasped, words thick with sleep and indignation. He had the bluest eyes Keith had ever seen, which was saying something, since he worked with Allura. There was something about his face – his pointed nose, the slight curve of his cheeks – that rocked something deep inside Keith, like a ship tossed around by an angry sea. For a moment, he couldn’t say anything.

He recognised this boy. He knew he did.

But where from?

“My name is Keith,” he said. He pointed at the insignia on his chest. “I work for the royal family. Are you Lance McClain?”

The boy gave a hesitant nod. There was a strange, confused look in his eyes, one that Keith felt echoing around inside of him.

He couldn’t sense anything out of the ordinary from Lance. Nothing dark or twisted. He felt all conflicted inside, and decided immediately that he couldn’t be the one to question Lance. Instead he gestured for Lance to get up, and left the room, purposefully leaving the door open behind him as he did.

His companions gave him confused frowns as he returned downstairs. Shiro caught him by the arm as he attempted to go back to his seat, pulling him closer for a moment.

“What is it?” he asked, voice barely above a hushed whisper. “You look flustered.”

“I don’t know,” Keith answered.

Shiro’s frown only deepened.

Lance came downstairs a moment later, drifting towards Veronica, who gave up her seat for him. “What’s going on?” Lance asked, nervously glancing between Allura and Shiro, before looking at the ground. He looked incredibly tired for someone who’d just been sleeping. “Is it about the frost thing that’s been happening?”

“Yes,” Veronica said, before anyone else could. “But you don’t know anything about that, do you?”

Lance looked up again, eyes landing on Keith as he shook his head. “I don’t,” he said. “I mean, I know how to use magic, and I can create frost.” He held out a hand, and a wispy little snowflake bloomed into existence above his palm. “But that’s about as much as I can do.”

Something in Keith urged him to believe Lance.

“Dark casters can manipulate a person without their knowledge,” Allura explained. “They can take control of a person’s powers and amplify them as much as they want.”

That was the dangerous thing about dark casters. Doing that to a person pushed their body far beyond its strengths, to the point of death.

“But…” Lance trailed off. He was still looking at Keith.

Strangely enough, Keith was still looking at him, too.

For a moment, no one spoke. Then Veronica said, “It’s almost sundown,” and Keith realised they had to leave or risk being stranded in the McClain household.

“Thank you for your time,” Allura said, as they were escorted back to the front door. “We don’t mean to worry you. I hope you’ll forgive our harshness in this matter.”

Veronica gave them a nod. She was standing in front of Lance, who’d wandered out after them, almost like he was in a daze. “I understand,” she said. “It’s just been tense around here, lately.”

“Understandable,” Shiro said. “Be safe this evening, now.”

Keith was very conflicted as they began the walk back to the inn. He couldn’t stop himself from glancing over his shoulder – Lance had taken the job of closing the door from his older sister, and was watching Keith leave with an oddly vulnerable, doe-eyed look on his face, almost like he didn’t know what to do with himself.

“Keith?”

His gaze jumped back to Shiro.

“Are you alright? You acted strange back there.”

“I’m fine,” he said, though he wasn’t convinced of that himself. “It’s just, that boy…”

“Lance?”

He nodded. “I feel like I know him.”

Allura gave him a small frown. “That’s odd.”

“I know.”

He didn’t say much more on the matter. He was thankful he’d known Shiro and Allura for long enough that they knew not to press him when he was like this.

The sun was almost gone by the time they reached the inn. They had a decent dinner down in the tavern, then retired upstairs to their room – one for them to share, but with three separate beds. Small, but comfortable.

Keith fell asleep restlessly, listening to the quiet murmur of his companions talking. He didn’t normally sleep until they did but something dragged him under, cold fingers prying his mind open, thrusting the dream upon him.

It was almost the same as usual. Almost. Except tonight, there was an edge of desperation to it. It was like he could hear his own laboured breathing, rapid in his ears. He was back in the room – Lance’s room, except this time he could see the ocean from the window, the window he’d never been able to see out of before.

The boy was sitting in the chair, like he normally was. This time, however, he was shivering, arms wrapped around himself. Frost crept over his skin, up his neck, through his white hair, turning the strands to ice. When his face turned to the side, staring out of the window, Keith recognised him.

It was Lance.

He looked so frightened. His blue eyes were glazed over, his eyelashes bleached as white as snow. Every exhale made a puff of fog plume in front of his lips. “Stop,” he croaked, voice sounding like his throat was full of ice shards, “it hurts…”

Ice spider-webbed over his cheeks, making him squeeze his eyes shut.

He looked like he was moments away from breaking.

Keith jolted awake with a pained gasp, clutching at his chest. He was so cold. A burst of flames rushed out of his palms and over his arms and chest, warming him up. He’d never been gladder to have control over flames and heat.

“Keith?”

“Get up,” he said, kicking the sheets off. It was dark in the room, and almost painfully cold. He already had half of his armour on by the time Shiro and Allura were both properly roused. “It’s Lance, I know it.”

“Slow down,” Allura insisted, squinting at him in the dark. “What is?”

“The boy in my dreams!” Keith snapped. He snatched up his daggers off the nightstand and holstered them at his thighs. “Something’s hurting him, I can sense it.”

He left them half-dressed in the room as he fled from the inn. Beyond the door was a frightening ice-scape: it looked like winter had hit within hours. Snow was piled up at the entryway, and ice covered everything, making the road as hard as marble but twice as slippery. If he hadn’t enchanted his armour with his fire magic, then he was sure he would have frozen to death in an instant. He was glad he’d taken the time to enchant Shiro and Allura’s armour too, because he had no time to wait for them as he took off back towards the McClain house.

The entire town was dead to the night. Keith couldn’t hear or see any signs of life as he bolted down roads and rounded corners, desperate to find Lance. The closer he got to the McClain house, the more he could sense dark magic in the air, something sinister and powerful.

The front door to the McClain house was blown open, its hinges caked in ice. Veronica stumbled out of the doorway just as Keith arrived. He caught her before she fell and ushered her back in, heaving the door back over the frame and pointedly ignoring the sound of the frozen hinges snapping clean.

“Where’s Lance?” he demanded.

“He ran out,” Veronica said through her shivers, eyes watery. “He was so frightened, he said he didn’t want to hurt anyone else, but he looked like he was in so much pain– my little brother–”

Keith sent little flames dancing up her arms, completely harmless, designed to warm her. The blue tint to her skin receded. “Stay inside until morning,” he said. “I’ll go get him.”

“Please,” she pleaded.

Keith heaved the door open just enough to squeeze out through it, then shut it behind him. As long as the frost didn’t get inside, the family should be fine.

He rounded the side of the house and sprinted towards where the backyard met the forest. Something told him that was the right way to go, so he went.

Lance wasn’t very far in. He was staggering away, not running, as ice darted over his skin like shadows.

“Lance!” Keith shouted, when he came into view.

He looked so different now. His brown hair had been bleached a pure white, and just like in Keith’s dreams, had been turned to ice. He looked like he’d been left in the snow for hours, his lips blue, and his eyelashes full of snowflakes. All Keith could focus on was that terrified look on his face.

“Lance, it’s not your fault,” he said, as he approached, hands held out.

“Stay away!” Lance shouted, stumbling backwards. Ice speared up the trees around him, cracking through the air like a whip. “I can’t control it!”

“It’s not you controlling it,” Keith insisted, stepping closer. “I can help.”

Lance let out a gasping sob. “I can’t… I can’t stop it anymore…”

A blank look crossed over his face. Keith saw something as black as ink pulse through the veins around Lance’s eyes, just once, and took the chance to strike.

Flames burst out of his hands with a deafening rumble. Ice shattered and the leaves on nearby trees popped and sizzled as the fire engulfed everything around them. Keith darted forwards, drawing a dagger, and thrust it through the middle of Lance’s chest.

It sunk inwards with a wet squelch.

Orange flames danced along the blade’s edge, searing Lance’s clothes.

Lance gasped. The black around his eyes shuddered and disappeared as colour began to return to his face. He touched his fingers to the blade, hands shaking. “W-what…? Keith?” he asked, voice small.

“Trust me,” Keith whispered.

Lance hardly seemed able to stand. His knees shook and he slumped forwards, head cradled in the crook of Keith’s shoulder. “Okay,” he murmured, sounding tired.

Keith drove the blade in further.

It wasn’t any ordinary blade. It hadn’t pierced Lance’s flesh, despite going right through him. Instead it had severed his magical core, the part of him that was receptive to wielding magic – the part that had been corrupted, stolen by someone else. Inky, black sludge began to bubble around the hilt of the weapon, seeping out of the wound, down over Keith’s and Lance’s fingers. It sizzled when it hit the icy ground.

There was a rushing noise in Keith’s ears, like an agonised roar.

And then everything stopped. The spreading ice halted, and Lance’s hair slowly faded back to white, then brown. He let out shuddering gasps as Keith pulled the blade back, shaking the black sludge off of it with a violent twitch of his wrist.

Lance lifted his hands to clutch at Keith’s arms. If Keith hadn’t grabbed him around the waist, he definitely would have slumped to the ground.

“I’ve seen you before,” Lance slurred, blinking up at Keith with worshipful eyes. “In my dreams. You always watch over me.”

Surprise went through him. Lance dreamed of him too? “I…”

“I tried for so long to stop the cold,” Lance whispered. “Because you were there, I could. But it was so strong…”

“It’s not your fault,” Keith said again. To think Lance had been fighting corruption for as long as Keith had been dreaming of him…

“Don’t go,” Lance whimpered, grasping at him tighter.

Keith held onto him, sending warmth through Lance’s tired body. “I won’t,” he promised, fierce, protective. “I swear it.”

Chapter Text

Lance would never admit it, but Keith was sort of crushing him. He thought that if there was a good way to go, this would probably be it: crushed beneath his boyfriend, who was far more muscled that his lean figure hinted at.

And he sort of liked being crushed, anyway. Came with the appeal of liking someone who was as strong as Keith was.

Currently, they were lounging about in the games room on campus. It was the middle of their exam period, though they’d been lucky enough to have early exams, and were therefore done for the session. The games room was usually full of people, half of them playing on the consoles available, the other half napping on the couches, but it was completely empty that day. He and Keith had claimed one of the giant beanbags for themselves – well, Lance had claimed it, and Keith had decided to claim Lance, hence the crushing.

“I swear I’ve got more of your hair than oxygen in my mouth right now,” Lance claimed.

Keith only grunted. He was lying down almost entirely on Lance, chest-to-chest, his head tucked under Lance’s chin. His last exam had been that morning, and he had since decided that lying exactly as he was right then was all he was going to do for the rest of the day. Lance had his arms around Keith’s waist, and was staring at his phone over Keith’s head, something that made his arms ache after a while.

As much as he was not exactly comfortable, he still wasn’t going to say anything. At least not directly. He could feel the heaviness in Keith’s limbs, and every now and then his breathing would slow, like he was just on the cusp of falling asleep. It was only midday, so for him to be tired enough to doze meant he was really exhausted. Keith only slept during the day if he was sick.

Lance did try not to breathe in Keith’s hair. His nose was all but pressed into those dark locks, since Keith was cuddled up so tightly against him. At least he’d washed his hair recently – it still smelt like his shampoo, just a little.

When his arms became too sore to continue holding up his phone, Lance let out a small sigh, and set it aside. Instead he rested his arms around Keith’s waist properly, waiting a moment for Keith to settle with a token, protesting huff. He turned his head to press his cheek to Keith’s hair instead of his mouth and let his eyes slip shut.

Even if Keith was a little heavy, this was comfortable. The quietness that enveloped them felt intimate and private, even though they were out and about. The more he relaxed, the more he felt Keith relax in turn. Lance drew patterns on his back until Keith let out a long, almost silent breath and fell completely asleep.

Lance couldn’t help but feel a rush of fondness for him.

Chapter Text

Keith could smell Lance’s frustration from across the house. As Lance’s alpha, he was quite attuned to Lance’s scent, could make out emotions and Lance’s general wellbeing if he took a moment to concentrate.

Recently, Lance had broken his arm. A clumsy fall had led to a clean fracture at the wrist that meant he’d be in a cast for two weeks, and a sling for six. Unfortunately for him, he’d broken his dominant hand, which meant doing normal, every-day things were a touch more challenging now. He had to shower with a bag over his arm, for example, and shampoo his hair one handed – he’d complained about that, specifically, at least three times in the last week.

Most of the problems he was experiencing were more inconveniences than anything. He could still wash his hair, but it took a little while longer. And he could still dress himself, though he needed a little help easing his sore arm through the sleeves of jackets. And he could still eat with a fork, it was just in his non-dominant hand. He could get by.

But there was one important thing he couldn’t manage to do, and it was what was making him upset.

The stress of the injury meant all of Lance’s omega instincts were perked up. When he became anxious or homesick or in need of comfort, his first solution was to build a nest. He’d pile up all their blankets, quilts, pillows – anything soft, even the couch cover and clean bath towels – on their bed and make a nest out of them. He’d arrange them in a way he found utterly perfect, usually making some sort of circular wall for him to sink into, so he was pressed in on all sides by the comforting weight of their household fabrics. It was very meticulous work, and very important to a lot of omegas.

With a broken arm, getting everything perfect was not possible.

If Keith peered down the hallway at a certain angle, he could just see into their bedroom. Lance had dragged the couch cover in half an hour ago, but he hadn’t settled yet. Keith watched him fuss with the sheets, pulling one side flat only to have the other bunch up. If a pillow happened to tumble off the edge of the bed, which they often did, he couldn’t catch it fast enough with one hand. The more he tried to fix his nest, the most frustrated he seemed to become.

Hence the upset scent he was exuding. The smell of his omega in distress was enough to rile Keith up. He knew that Lance didn’t particularly want an alpha’s help with his nest; it’d always been something he’d done on his own, something that was very private to him.

But Keith couldn’t stand seeing Lance upset, so he decided to try and help. He entered the bedroom after knocking quietly and found Lance scowling at their mattress, holding onto his sore arm with his good one.

“You alright?” he asked.

“No,” Lance snapped, cutting Keith a sharp, teary-eyed look. “My arm hurts.”

“Come here,” Keith beckoned, letting just the smallest rumble enter his voice, the one that all alphas had. Lance gave him a sour look but sidled over anyway, letting Keith fold his arms around him. He gave Lance’s shoulder a little rub, knowing his warm hands would ease some of the tension in his muscles. “Want me to help this one time?” he offered.

Lance frowned, and was silent for a long moment. Keith could almost hear the cogs turning in his brain. “Alright,” he said, slumping forwards a little. “Just this once!”

Keith pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “Of course. Tell me what you need me to do.”

“Can you move that pillow here?”

Now, Keith had exactly zero experience with nest making, but he thought he did an alright job. He’d been in Lance’s nests dozens of times, and had grown to know exactly how Lance liked them. Lance had him moving pillows and rearranging blankets and making sure all wrinkles were smoothed out. Lance always put the softest things up near his head, the things that carried scent the most. Rougher fabrics, like the decorative cushions on their bed and a stray towel or two, were always put by the foot of the nest, or even as layers beneath everything else.

There was an order to things, he realised, as he let Lance boss him around. An order he would never really understand, but made perfect sense to his omega. Lance needed things a specific way, and was hesitant to tell Keith to change the same thing a dozen times because it didn’t look right to him, but Keith encouraged him to ask as many times as he needed (even if he swore nothing changed).

It took some time, more than Lance usually spent making nests, but eventually it was done. Keith found himself rather worn out, which surprised him. Worn out but satisfied.

“How’s it look?” he asked, stepping back to let Lance inch in closer to their bed.

Lance’s scent had mellowed out quite a bit over the last twenty minutes or so of Keith working. He looked surprised, but in a good way. “I like it,” he said, giving Keith a shy grin. “Help me in?”

Keith obliged. He kept his hands steady on Lance’s hips as his mate clambered into the nest, unbalanced because of the sling. He watched as Lance made himself comfortable, and found himself straightening up the edges that had been disturbed almost without thinking about it.

“Comfortable?”

“Yep.” Lance laid back in the nest, resting his injured arm carefully by his side after loosening the sling. He let out a long sigh. “I feel so much better now.”

Keith’s lips quirked up into a small, private smile. There was nothing quite as pleasing as having a content mate, he thought. Lance’s scent was slowly but surely sweetening, and the frustrated furrow in his eyebrows had completely disappeared. He looked like he was ready to melt into the nest.

“Do you mind if I just lay in here for a little while?” Lance asked, voice hesitant. “You can come in later, but I just…”

“It’s your nest, Lance,” Keith reassured. “You don’t have to share it at all if you don’t feel like it.”

Lance gave him a small, fond smile. “Of course I want you in here. You’re the best pillow.”

Keith leaned over to kiss Lance’s forehead again. “Let me know when you want some company, then.”

Chapter Text

Keith wasn’t a heavy sleeper, but that wasn’t to say he woke up at every small noise, either. Some things would wake him, no matter how loud or small – the sound of the bedroom door creaking, someone else climbing into bed, his name being whispered. There were some things he’d often sleep through too, like the sound of a car going up the driveway, or Cosmo shifting around the bed, if he happened to be on it.

That night, he wasn’t immediately aware of what woke him. It was dark, and Cosmo was sprawled at the foot of the bed, asleep. Keith felt across the mattress beside him where Lance usually was but found it empty. That was unusual.

Lance normally went to bed at the same time as him. He liked getting a certain amount of hours of sleep, and wasn’t normally willing to give up any of that just to stay up a little while longer. Keith was certain Lance had followed him to bed earlier that evening, and when he squinted at his bedside clock, he saw it was only an hour past the time he’d gone to sleep.

A little sigh escaped him. He waited a moment, blinking tiredly into the dark, but when his boyfriend didn’t materialise he heaved himself up and out of bed. He wouldn’t be able to sleep again until he knew where Lance was, anyway.

Cosmo watched him leave with a look that promised he was going to steal Keith’s spot the minute he was out of sight. Keith rolled his eyes at his dog, and ventured out to find his wayward boyfriend.

Said wayward boyfriend was curled up on the lounge, staring into space. He had a blanket around his shoulders, though Keith wasn’t sure where he’d found it, since it hadn’t been taken from their bed. He didn’t notice Keith approaching until Keith leaned over the back of the couch.

“What’re you doing up?”

“Couldn’t sleep,” Lance admitted, sheepish. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” Keith somehow managed to get himself slumped down on the couch, his head resting in Lance’s lap. “Anything in particular bothering you?”

Lance shook his head, his fingers coming to rest in Keith’s hair. “No, I just need to wait it out, I think.”

Keith was already mostly asleep again. “Okay, wake me up when you want to go to bed,” he yawned.

Lance laughed quietly. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

The hand on the back of Lance’s neck was keeping him from moving around too much. It wasn’t as painful as it must have looked to others – rather, the hand was warm and firm, and quite comforting to Lance, who was currently quite flustered.

“Do you think it’s broken?” he asked, worried, his eyebrows pinched together.

The hand on his neck briefly tightened. “It will be if you keep squirming around like that, Lance. Try and keep still, okay?”

Lance stiffened, leaning back into Shiro just a little bit. “Okay.”

It wasn’t like Lance was a clumsy person. On any given day, he was rather coordinated, actually. He had good hand-eye coordination, and didn’t often drop things. He liked to believe he was the kind of lanky that was more graceful than overgrown.

But he did have his moments. Only moments before, he’d taken an unfortunate slip on the footpath, one caused by frost he hadn’t quite expected. Even though he’d fallen flat on his ass, it was actually his ankle that was throbbing. He’d somehow managed to twist it under himself as he fell, making the bone crack in a way that was entirely unpleasant. There was an ache travelling up his leg that hadn’t been there before.

Shiro had heard his pained yelp and come running. It must have been quite a shock to him – he still had a concerned little frown in the corner of his mouth, one that made Lance feel guilty, though he wasn’t sure why. Shiro had taken one look at him and told him not to move around too much. He was currently helping Lance sit up, hence the hand on the back of his neck, as he gave Lance’s leg a once over.

With his other hand, he gently felt around Lance’s ankle, twisting it this way and that. It stung a little, but the more he did it, the faster the pain faded.

“Doesn’t hurt?” he questioned.

Lance shook his head, grinning. “It already feels so much better. I think I just sprained it.”

Shiro managed a small smile. “I think so.” He helped Lance stand, hovering close by until it was certain Lance wasn’t going to topple right over again. “Try not to give me another heart attack?”

“No promises.”

Shiro dropped an affectionate kiss to Lance’s head and went inside. Lance continued on his day, no worse for wear.

Chapter Text

Lance ran his palm along a low-hanging bough of a tree, letting magic infuse the air around him with frost. Cold spread along the branch, freezing the bark perfectly as it was. Snow piled along its top edge, delicately balanced. A gust of wind would surely send flurries of it flying.

Winter was well on its way, finally. Each year he felt like an eternity passed between one winter season and the next. For most of the year he was essentially in hibernation, hiding out in the winter kingdom where the cold never faded. All elementals like him belonged to one season or another, though there were rarer kinds that were chosen by the sun or moon – light and dark, day and night. In the same way Lance brought winter, those kinds of elementals brought sunlight or moonlight, and were tasked with making sure the day cycle remained steady and constant.

But now, after a long year, it was winter’s turn to watch over the world. Almost all of winter’s wayfaring elementals had been sent across the globe, bringing snow to every inch they crossed. Lance was rather proud of his work. He spent a lot time perfecting his snowflakes, making sure his flurries were elegant and powerful. There was nothing quite like the beauty of perfectly placed frost, the way it fractured across glass panes, how it made the world stand still, captured in glacial fields.

He was always amazed at how rapidly the landscape could change in a year. Spring always brought new life after the quiet, stillness of winter, but summer ravaged the new greenery, and autumn rendered it down to its most basic parts.

If there was one thing, however, that never changed, it was the fact that no matter where he was, he always received a visitor.

Shiro was a child of the moon. He wasn’t like other elementals, even among his own kind – he was scarred and flawed, and very human. Lance often wondered if he’d once been mortal. Perhaps he’d won the favour of the moon and had been granted immortality for it. He could see that as a possibility, considering Shiro’s nature.

The man was unendingly polite. He always apologised for taking the daylight away from Lance, since it wasn’t as easy to work in the dark, though the cooler temperatures certainly helped. And he was constantly in awe of the snowflakes Lance made, always bashfully asking to see new patterns and displays of winter magic.

Lance thought he was rather sweet. Winter elementals were sort of lonesome workers, since they each had their own signature snowflakes, their own designs they wanted to impart on the world. They were far more social throughout the rest of the year, so a little time alone wasn’t all that bothersome. Lance was more than happy to spend his time with Shiro, though. His company was rather comforting, and Lance enjoyed seeing Shiro’s talents, too.

There was nothing quite like spending winter with someone you adored.

Chapter Text

Keith wasn’t one for displays of power, but sometimes they were necessary.

Most of the dens around here were ruled fairly. People and creatures with magic each owned a small territory to themselves, a place where their magic saturated the land, and uninvited magic users were considered intrusive. It went against an unspoken set of rules to invade another’s territory without permission, and was accepted for a territory owner to attack an intruder, even to the point of death.

He didn’t like attacking intruders, and neither did most territory owners in the area, so they were merciful when it came to things like crossing borders. If Keith needed to cross through territories to get to the nearby town, or over the mountain creek, then the owners would allow him to do so. It was the same if someone he knew needed to cross through his lands. He allowed it, because it was fair.

But many other magic users weren’t the same. There were regular meetings and other political events that strong magic users were required to attend, Keith included. It was there that foreign magic users would try to assert their dominance – anyone they saw as weak was a potential target for a territory takeover. While many magic users were individual, forming a den of even only one person, there were many with dozens of members. Their territories spanned large expanses of land, and were usually ruled by a merciless and greedy leader.

Keith tried to avoid those meetings as much as he could get away with, but a certain level of attendance was required to keep himself out of the line of fire. He wasn’t in a single-person den, contrary to what seemed like popular belief. To be fair, he did always show up to the meetings alone, when it was more common to come with those one was aligned with.

This time, however, the stakes were higher. Keith knew there were powerful magic users in attendance, ones who had begun to claim territories that Keith knew of, ones that weren’t all that far away. If he didn’t prove he was strong, his area could be next.

So, even if he had to involve a bit of trickery, he was determined to look as strong as he felt. No holding back.

A deep rumble from beside him pulled him from his thoughts. He rested his hand on the head of the giant lion prowling around beside him, letting the blue-furred beast curl up against him. Even to an untrained eye it would be clear the lion was a creature of pure magic – it could have been any number of things; a shifter, a celestial creature. Something powerful.

To Keith, it was just his husband.

Though his husband wasn’t usually covered in fur.

Lance’s abilities to shift forms was just one of the many things he could do. He liked socialising, but these sorts of events freaked him out, so he never came. Some dens, particularly the brutal ones, were known to forcibly recruit strong magic users, forcing them to be soldiers or human shields. Lance’s gifts, especially his ability to shift forms, would make him a prime target for any den looking to beef up its ranks.

But Lance wasn’t really a fighter, not at heart. He could and would defend himself and their shared territory from attack, but he wouldn’t provoke a fight, and he wouldn’t fight someone else’s battles of his own accord. He just wanted to live as he was, like Keith did. It was a trait they shared that balanced out their explosive competitiveness.

They both knew this meeting was important though, and that having Lance beside him as he was would make Keith look incredibly powerful. Even if they had to endure stares all evening, and probably a lot of suspicion from those that didn’t know them, it would be worth it. A display of power was the only way to remove any potential targets from their backs, and from the backs of the dens they were aligned with.

“It’ll be fine,” Keith said, answering the unsaid question in Lance’s inquisitive eyes. He always looked far more perceptive in this form, his animal face devoid of the teasing smirks and charming smiles he was partial to in his human form.

Lance let out another rumble, tilting his snout into Keith’s wandering palm. His fur was so soft, and Keith was comforted by the feel of it between his fingers. He’d lost track of the amount of times he’d asked Lance to transform just so Keith could sleep with his head resting on Lance’s side or one of his front legs. He was lucky Lance was so willing to oblige him, but he knew Lance secretly enjoyed it when they did that, because it meant he was bigger than Keith and could get Keith to curl up against him much easier.

It was almost time for them to leave. Keith gave himself a little while longer to simply admire Lance, knowing he wouldn’t be able to stare so easily once they were in view of others. He’d have to be aloof and distant, have to control Lance almost like he was a pet or guard, and not someone Keith loved dearly. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he wasn’t a very social person in the first place, and his attitude made him seem standoffish on a good day.

At least he’d know Lance was there, even if most other people didn’t know the truth about the massive lion. Lance had only come to these events a handful of times, and when he did, they made a point of coming separately, so that people didn’t know they shared a territory. It was safer that way – less chance of someone going after one to hurt the other, or of people questioning their match, wondering why someone like Keith would go for someone like Lance, who didn’t seem all that powerful.

It went without saying that Lance was actually incredibly powerful, but others didn’t need to know that. Some secrets were best kept close to one’s chest, after all.

Sighing, Keith lowered his hand, giving Lance one last pat. “We should go, or else we’ll be late,” he said with a barely hidden wince.

Lance grunted his agreement and stood, shaking his head to settle all the fur Keith had messed up. He looked a lot more confident than Keith felt, though he knew it wouldn’t show on his face.

One night. That’s all he had to go through.

Then he could go home with his husband.

Chapter Text

“Hold still, Keith.”

“Just so you know, I am entirely against this,” Keith grumbled.

“I’m aware. You’ve said so several times.” Lance tilted Keith’s head to the side, turning it this way and that so he had the view he needed. “You’ll get over it, babe.”

Keith made a doubtful noise, but obediently kept his mouth shut.

Really, this wasn’t as bad as Keith was making it out to be, Lance thought. A bit of face painting never hurt anyone, and if kids could sit still for long enough for it to be done to them, then so could his sulking boyfriend.

Lance carefully painted another line down Keith’s cheek. He was being painted like a butterfly, with orange-red wings on either side of his eyes and down towards his cheeks, outlined in black. There was a tub of glitter waiting to be applied too, which was probably the part that Keith was most dreading. To be fair, he didn’t even like having make-up put on him when Lance wanted to experiment, so face paint probably wasn’t going to be a big hit with him.

But it was for a gala event, one they were volunteering at. Allura’s father was hosting the event, and all of their friends were helping out – Keith and Lance at the face painting stall, Hunk cooking pancakes near the food stalls, Pidge running a gaming stall inside the main hall of the venue. It was still early in the morning, and most stalls were in the last stages of being set up, theirs included.

Since they were running a face painting stall, it was sort of granted that they had to have their faces painted. Keith was surprisingly artistic, which was why they were running this stall, so Lance’s matching blue butterfly wings looked quite good. His skills were a little less clean, but that didn’t mean he was terrible at art. He was pretty good with make-up, and this was similar.

Keith just hated having things on his face.

“Almost done,” Lance said, as he set aside his paintbrush and reached for the glitter pot. “I won’t put too much on, I promise.”

Keith hummed.

Lance rather liked being this close to Keith’s face. He stared all he wanted because Keith’s eyes were closed. He really was handsome, even with paint and glitter all over him.

Face painting was a blessing in disguise, really.

Chapter Text

Keith couldn’t stand seeing his mate sick. There was something about seeing Lance vulnerable that ruffled him wrong way, made him protective and hyper-fixated. He was very aware of just how fragile people were, how easily a harsh winter cold could steal someway away, or how one illness could be hiding another.

He was almost certain that Lance’s current bout of illness was brought on by a sudden turn in the weather. He’d been caught out in the rain the previous week, which had left him soaked to the bone and shivering. Keith had never seen him looking so miserable.

Now he was curled up in bed, trembling under a mountain of blankets that seemed to be doing nothing for him. Keith had already forced him to take some medicine and drink a glass of water, and was now impatiently waiting for it to kick in. He was concerned that the house wasn’t warm enough, so he’d shut all the curtains to keep the warmth in, and stocked up the fireplace so that it would burn hot for the next few hours.

He figured it was better to be too hot than too cold in this sort of situation.

There wasn’t much for him to do when he was so worried about Lance. He supposed that most mates felt this way when their partner was unwell, since the mating bond ran so deep. There were things he could do, like cleaning the house and chores, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave to do their grocery shopping. What if Lance needed him and he wasn’t there?

For the most part, he wandered in and out of the bedroom, attending to all of Lance’s needs. He made sure the blankets were straight and Lance’s glass of water was always in reach. Lance drifted in and out of consciousness, sometimes murmuring to himself, sometimes remaining completely silent.

At midday, Keith made Lance eat something. Lance’s face was flushed an unnatural red, splotchy with fever. There were dark circles under his eyes that made him look utterly exhausted. He didn’t want to eat, but Keith persisted, and eventually Lance finished most of the soup Keith had brought him.

As Keith was preparing to take away the dishes, Lance latched onto his sleeve, turning his dazed, watery eyes on Keith. “Don’t go,” he whimpered.

Keith’s heart squeezed. He put the dishes on the bedside table and laid down beside Lance, making sure to tuck him in tightly. “I’m not going anywhere,” he said.

Lance blinked at him. “You’ll get sick.”

Keith put an arm on top of the blankets around Lance, pulling him close. He wasn’t worried about getting sick, so long as Lance was alright. And if Lance wanted him to stay, then he would. There was nowhere else he wanted to be.

“If I get sick, you’ll be there to take care of me,” he said simply.

Lance gave him a weak smile, pressing closer.

Keith hoped he would get better soon.

Chapter Text

Lance was shivering, though he wasn’t cold. He rubbed his arms, wondering if the shaking would stop anytime soon, and hoping that it would. He was sitting in a staff room at the hospital, hunched on the small couch pushed against the wall. A paramedic had given him a blanket when they’d dropped him off, and he anxiously pulled it tighter around his shoulders.

It smelt like alpha in here. He supposed that if it were any other alpha, he probably would’ve been uncomfortable, but it was just Allura. Her scent was comforting, and knowing she’d called his mates to come get him eased his worries.

But it didn’t get rid of them. An anxious hand went to his stomach, where he had the smallest hint of a bump showing. He wasn’t far along enough that he couldn’t work, despite his morning sickness, so he’d gone to work that day. He’d expected it to be a day like any other, and for the most part, it had been.

Until the café next door had caught fire.

And considering he worked in a bookstore, it hadn’t been pretty.

Thankfully, no one had been hurt, if one ignored half a bookstore’s worth of charcoal pages. He had no idea how the fire had started, but guessed it had something to do with gas or chemicals, since it had all but exploded out of the kitchen – he’d heard the rush of air and sizzle of flames even through the thin wall connecting the two stores.

A few of the café cooks had been taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation, and Lance had been taken on principle, being pregnant. He and the other bookstore employee had both inhaled smoke as they’d rushed out of the store, since so much of it was pluming out of the café. There’d been no point going for an extinguisher when the fire was already so large, so everyone had evacuated instead. Pretty much the whole street had.

He was glad he wasn’t hurt, aside from feeling sooty and shaken. The doctors assured him his baby was fine, and that as long as he rested, everything would be okay. Stress was bad for anyone carrying a child.

But at least he had a moment to catch his breath now. It wouldn’t be long before Keith and Shiro arrived, and then they’d take him home and no doubt pamper him to his heart’s content. He wondered if the bookstore was too damaged for him to work there anymore, but guessed that he wouldn’t be getting shifts for a while.

Lance let out a long, uneasy sigh, and laid back on the couch, tugging the blanket over him. He felt a little better just lying there, listening to the sounds of the hospital working around him, like he was trapped in a bubble. Allura had asked the nurses she worked with to give Lance a bit of space, and since the office wasn’t used for anything other than filing paperwork, they didn’t mind. He appreciated that they hadn’t forced him to wait in a patient room. There were people who needed those beds more than him, after all.

And it wasn’t like Allura was going to make him wait in the waiting room. It was incredibly crowded there, as it always was, and the smells would have overwhelmed him. He needed the quiet space and she understood that. He was quite fortunate to have such understanding people care about him – Allura, his mates, his family.

He must have dozed off for a little while, because when he next opened his eyes, he found Shiro hovering above him. Gentle hands brushed hair away from his face. He was so tired that he only closed his eyes again, tilting his head into the touch. If Shiro was here, that meant Keith probably wasn’t far behind him.

“He’s completely fine, just tired,” came Allura’s voice from somewhere behind Shiro, her tone quiet and low. “We checked for any smoke inhalation injuries but he’s completely fine.”

Even though she said it twice, Shiro didn’t seem convinced. He was trying to hide the worry from his scent, but Lance could still smell it, just a little.

“And the baby?” Shiro asked.

“Doing well, as far as we can tell. Nothing bad came up on the scans.”

Shiro let out a long breath. “Thanks for taking care of him, Allura. We really appreciate it.”

“He’s my friend, of course I’d take care of him.” She paused for a moment. “Where is Keith, by the way?”

“He’s coming, there’s just bad traffic from his direction.”

Allura sighed. “Well, it is school pick-up time. Cars everywhere.”

Shiro hummed in agreement. He hadn’t seemed to notice that Lance was sort of awake, and gently took a seat on the edge of the couch so that he could continue running his fingers through Lance’s hair. “You don’t mind if I wait here until Keith arrives?”

“Of course not. You want anything from the cafeteria? I’m taking my afternoon break in a minute.”

Shiro shook his head. “I’m alright, thank you. I won’t keep you any longer.”

“Alright. Let one of the nurses know if you need anything, or message me.”

“I will.”

The door closed behind her with a quiet click. Shiro leaned back on the couch, sighing again as he made himself comfortable. Lance shifted around so that he could rest his head on one of Shiro’s thighs, taking comfort in the scent of his mate. Those hints of worry had all but disappeared now, replaced with something sweeter, something gentler, like relief. Lance couldn’t have imagined how worried his mates must have been, to know their pregnant omega was in the hospital. He didn’t want to think about it.

Instead he just let himself relax knowing at least one of his mates were with him. It was easy to ignore the memory of smoke billowing into the bookstore, of the immediate panic that gripped his heart and throttled him. He hadn’t thought of anything except getting out, of making sure his baby was okay – he’d left his phone, wallet, everything back in the office. Even his car was still in the employees car park, since he’d let the deputies attending the scene convince him to ride in the ambulance so the paramedics could observe him.

Soon, Keith would arrive, and they could all go home. Someone would make a nice dinner and Lance would shower the smell of smoke off of himself and everything would be fine.

With his mates beside him, it was easy to believe that.

Chapter Text

Lance was not impressed. The last time he’d been down to the mortal planes, the land had been full of lush and fierce jungles, clean, sprawling oceans, snow-capped mountains. There was far less nature now, and scarce few places remained pure of angelic energy. The angels had been working hard to clear out any and all demonic activity, slaughtering hordes of roving hellhounds and battling any demon they came across, though it was an endless battle.

Not Lance, of course, since he’d long since moved on from all that warmongering nonsense. He had the scars to prove he’d been a good fighter, but none of the spirit left for it. He left the scrapping to the younger angels, the ones desperate to prove themselves to those higher up, to the archangels and such. They were always eager to defeat demons, and often travelled to the mortal plane to help the battalions already stationed around the land.

Lance was far more content doing his own thing these days.

Even if that meant doing things that other angels wouldn’t necessarily… approve of.

Though it wasn’t like anyone would challenge him over his doings. His business was his own, and anyone wanting to challenge that would also be challenging him. He was ranked pretty high up there, and thus was given a lot of leeway when it came to angelic activity. He’d earned his place up above, and wasn’t afraid to prove his worth in any way necessary.

And his scars were usually enough to warn off the younger, headstrong angels, anyway – they were marks of pride, and were proof of his strength. The scars that crisscrossed down his back and between his wings like a starburst were a testament to his power.

Lance found himself standing on a cliff overwatching the ocean, a forest of tall trees to his back. He spread his wings wide and let the sea salt breeze ruffle through his white feathers. Even if he wasn’t a fan of the colder elements of the mortal planes, like its expansive glacial fields and frigid snow peaks, he adored the oceans. There was something undeniably ethereal about flying over its sparkling surface, his fingertips or wingtips gracing thin lines through the water. There wasn’t anything that could quite compare, at least not in his eyes.

Yes, this had to be one of his favourite places on the mortal plane. Nothing but glittering oceans spread out before him.

Of course, a certain ruffling of wings behind him had him pausing in his admiration of the sea.

“What took you so long?” he said, with no disguised amount of snappish impatience.

“You just got here,” came an indignant voice behind him. “I saw your decent.”

Lance huffed, and furled his wings against his back, creating room for the person to come stand beside him.

Keith gave the ocean a disdainful look. “I still think volcanoes are much better.”

“That’s only because they explode.”

“No, it’s because they’re warm. Haven’t you ever felt the heat of an eruption of lava against your wings?”

Lance gave him an incredulous look.

The demon simply raised his eyebrows. “No, I suppose not.”

“Hellish fire is sort of your thing, my dear.”

Keith only snorted.

A companionable silence came over them. Keith’s black-feathered wings stretched out a little, his pinions brushing against Lance’s arm, then his shoulder, and over the backs of his wings. Such a careless little gesture. Intimate.

Perhaps it was just his wings fluffing out, feathers jostled by the breeze. Or maybe he was just restless, unstimulated by the ocean in the way Lance was.

But Lance knew better than that. He let the demon caress him in the gentle way he did, unafraid of any wandering eyes watching them from above or below, respectively. He’d long since shaken off the idea that being around Keith was wrong, though he would regretfully admit it was something that bothered him for decades before he finally gave in.

See, not all demons were particularly demonic. Or at least Keith wasn’t, in any case. Lance truly couldn’t say he was sure about the rest, since he only ever interacted with Keith, outside of angels of course. But he liked Keith well enough. There was a certain sinful edge to him, as expected – a sharpness in his smile, in the angles of his face, a roughness to his movements, and most obviously his black wings.

But Lance didn’t mind those things. After centuries spent with angels, with their softness and their grace and their intense servitude, it was almost refreshing to be with someone so obviously different. Countless battles took the shine off the whole angelic gratitude thing all angels had. Made them less subservient to the greater good, and more interested in neutrality, though they would always be loyal to up above.

Keith’s loyalties were far looser, as were his morals, but that wasn’t to say he was like other demons. He didn’t fly around the mortal plane causing war and famine, setting wildfires to forests or tearing down buildings made by mortals with rumbles through the earth. He wouldn’t tempt mortals to sin like other demons – would rather be far away from them.

That was how they met, actually. Avoiding mortals. When they were seen, mortals tended to get a little funny, spouting off nonsense ideas about their humanity and things of the like. They weren’t very good at processing heavenly or hellish things, not when faced with it. It was much kinder to leave them be, working miracles from behind the scenes, where they could remain unseen.

Though Lance did little miracle working these days. He tended to stay out of all of it – heaven, hell, above, below. Instead he enjoyed the mortal plane for what it was, sometimes helping plants to grow, or cooing at fish in the sea that rose to greet him, or simply watching.

And he often saw Keith, of course. Whenever he descended onto the mortal plane, the demon always somehow managed to find him. Lance had half a mind to think Keith spent days, months, even years watching the sky for him, waiting for the next time he descended. Lance visited as much as he could, finding the time between visits too long and lonesome. He’d grown rather used to Keith’s company, against his better judgement.

But he supposed, after an angel’s lifetime of servitude to above, he was deserving of a little relaxation time. A few centuries should do. He wasn’t sure what he’d do with himself after, but perhaps Keith would think of something to occupy them.

Chapter Text

There was a spark that flashed in the air as Lance and Keith’s blades collided. Steel grinded against steel, the blades skittering as they broke apart. Sweat dripped down the back of Lance’s neck, pooling uncomfortably beneath his collar. Not for the first time, he wished his uniform wasn’t so stiff and formal.

Even when sweating it out in the training hall, a prince had to look his best. It was a little infuriating, especially since he felt it put him at a disadvantage, especially against Keith.

His training partner was quite clearly much stronger than him. Keith had muscles in his shoulders, arms, and thighs that could only came from years of hard training. He was built like the soldier he was, with an undercurrent of sharpness to him that others – including Lance, in the beginning – found undoubtedly intimidating. Even just a cutting stare could make people recoil from him, if that was what he wanted.

He often wanted that.

Not towards Lance, though. Usually at the people bothering him. It was kind of sweet, actually, especially because he thought Lance never noticed. They were always together – Keith was his personal guard, after all, and it was practically against the King’s wishes for them to be apart. Because of that, Lance had gotten to know Keith quite well, and could recognise the soldier’s little soft moments, despite how hard he tried to smother them.

Like when he brought Lance an extra plate of dessert after dinner, even though he said it was only because Lance would whine and complain if he didn’t. And when he made sure to come into Lance’s room in the middle of the night just to stoke the fireplace he had, to keep the room warm in winter. Or when he’d make excuses to pull Lance away from terrible conversations with nobles who thought they could win him over with affluent, emphasised flattery.

There were those protective glares of his too, the ones that warned people to stay away when Lance was busy or otherwise occupied. There were a lot of people in the upper circles that Lance didn’t like – the ones who thought money could buy anything, who let privilege get to their heads, who thought they could play matchmaker with their children and Lance just because they were beautiful.

But Keith was never soft with training. If there was one thing he refused to budge in, it was that.

Lance kind of loved him for it.

“You’re not concentrating enough,” Keith snapped, as he pushed forwards with all his strength, sending Lance stumbling backwards.

“You know I’m better with a bow than a sword,” he snapped back through his hurried panting.

“That’s no excuse.” Keith lunged forwards again, and their blades met.

There weren’t many people who could best Keith with a blade. It was one of the reasons he was chosen to be Lance’s personal guard, despite his young age – he was only as old as Lance, which was young for someone of his status among the soldier ranks. It was also the reason he was personally overseeing Lance’s swordsmanship training, much to Lance’s chagrin. There was no reprieve for him when he was training with Keith.

“You’re not putting enough strength into your blows,” Keith chastised, as another one of Lance’s blows did little more than glance off of Keith’s sword. “You need to carry out the full movement, not give up halfway, when the blades collide.”

Lance had heard the same criticism before. He was struggling to shake the feeling of force that jolted through his hands and arms when his sword met Keith’s. It always jarred him, made him tense up. He couldn’t seem to master the fluidity with which Keith attacked, no matter how hard he tried.

And he did try. Sometimes he even practiced by himself, desperate to make Keith proud, to prove that he was learning. That he was getting better.

It got to him sometimes, that he wasn’t fulfilling the image people had of him in their minds. He was supposed to be the perfect prince, always clean and polite, a master of all skills – calligraphy, horse riding, hunting, swordsmanship. He always had to improve, always had to succeed.

“Let’s take a break,” Keith said, when it was clear Lance was struggling too much to learn anything from this session. “Give your arms a rest.”

Lance let out a ragged sigh. His arms were trembling, like they always did when he pushed himself too hard. He set his sword down on the appropriate rack and sunk down onto a bench on one side of the training floor. A frown twisted at his mouth as he tugged at his collar, trying to loosen it. The royal training attire covered him from ankles to wrists to neck, and although the fabric was breathable, it became constricting after a while. He wished he could loosen the collar or the wrist cuffs, but that would make him look too dishevelled, so it wasn’t even an option.

“Stop pulling at it,” Keith said, as he came to stand behind Lance, brushing away Lance’s hands. “What’s going through your head today? You’re not concentrating at all.”

Lance sighed again. “It’s just… I’m tired.”

“Of what?”

“This uniform,” Lance said, with more venom than intended. “And having to be good at everything. I don’t even like sword fighting.”

Keith hummed. His hands travelled across Lance’s shoulders, palms flat, fingers digging in just a little. It was enough to drag the tension out of Lance, make his head tip forwards.

It wasn’t like he even had a choice with the sword fighting, though. He was exceptional at archery, and did well during archery shows and competitions. Less so when it came to sword displays. There were yearly shows put on by the royals that had them showing off their skills, and the skills of their soldiers. People came from all over the kingdom to watch the week-long displays that culminated in a show from the royals themselves. And as much as Lance liked performing, he was always nervous for that one in particular.

But it was always better if Keith was there. Keith, who personally picked and sharpened his swords for him. Keith, who personally strapped him into his armour, making sure each buckle was tensed exactly right. Keith, who personally tended to his bruises and scrapes afterwards, glaring when anyone came too close while Lance was catching his breath.

“Am I even improving?” he asked Keith, voice exhausted.

“Would you believe me if I told you that you were?”

“If you said it, then yes.”

“Well, you are.”

A smile came to Lance’s lips. He reached up to cover one of Keith’s hands with his own, squeezing Keith’s fingers. He’d be completely lost without Keith. It was almost strange to think he’d come to rely on Keith so much for so many things, when their first few weeks together had been a competitive, abrasive mess.

“Ready to start again?” Keith asked, when Lance’s breathing had evened out, and the trembling in his arms had subsided.

“I guess,” Lance said, longsuffering.

Keith snorted, and gave his back a solid pat. “Up you get.”

Chapter Text

Lance fussed with the hem of his tunic, smoothing out imaginary wrinkles as he tried to get it to sit on him properly. He stared at himself in the floor-length mirror standing in front of him, twisting to each side. It had been a while since he’d worn such ceremonial clothing, and although he loved dressing stylishly, he was nervous to be attending the upcoming ball, if only because Keith was going to be there.

Keith was his equal in many ways – but most importantly, in his status. They were both wards of their respective states, him adopted into the royal Altean family, and Keith into the upper ranks of the Blade of Marmora, a division of the Galra Empire. Neither were the heir to the throne, but were still considered royalty, of a sort.

Aside from that, they were of a similar age, and they had similar temperaments, though Lance was far more socially outgoing than Keith was. But they were both incredibly competitive and hot-tempered, and even though they hadn’t gotten along at first, they were companionable now. More than just that.

Not that anyone else was aware of that little development in their relationship.

He supposed he was nervous because Keith would be there, but he couldn’t have the comfort he wanted from Keith while others were looking. It wasn’t like relationships were forbidden between their two states, but they weren’t exactly sanctioned for people of their status. Marriages were usually things decided upon for them, things of convenience or political advantage and not love or happiness. Lance wasn’t sure who the royals were planning to wed him to, or even if they’d thought that far ahead yet.

But he knew he wouldn’t be able to stomach a marriage if it wasn’t to Keith. That was one of the reasons he was so nervous – because these sorts of events were perfect for matchmaking, perfect for seeing who got along with who, and who would look well paired with who. He couldn’t show obvious favour for Keith, not when it could potentially offend someone.

Not to mention that it was possible Keith had been promised to someone. That others were looking at Keith for a match. He was handsome enough, and certainly strong enough.

Sighing, he lowered his eyes, and stepped away from the mirror. Was love meant to be this difficult?

A knock at his door made him pause. Before he could open his mouth to ask who it was, the door was opening, and a familiar figure was slipping inside, quiet as a mouse.

“Keith?” he asked, confused. “What are you doing here?”

“Distracted your guards,” Keith said, stalking closer. He slipped his arms around Lance’s waist, careful not to rumple his clothes. “I needed to see you.”

A little smile came over Lance’s face as warmth bloomed in his chest. He pressed closer, tucking his head under Keith’s chin. He’d been so annoyed when Keith’s height had overtaken his, but being those few precious inches shorter was useful at times like these.

“You’ll get in trouble if they find you in here,” Lance whispered. Even if he and Keith were friends and their people knew that, it still wasn’t proper to break into a royal’s private chambers. This wing of the palace was off-limits to everyone except the royal family, their trusted advisors, and their attendants. How Keith had managed to get this far always perplexed Lance.

“They won’t find me,” Keith said, utterly sure of himself.

Lance was pretty certain of that, too. Keith was rather good at sneaking around, always somehow finding Lance when he was alone, in a place they could be together without having to watch themselves. “Still, it’s dangerous…” He wouldn’t want Keith to get into trouble just because of him, even if he was desperate for Keith’s company.

“It’s worth it.” Keith brushed a lock of hair behind Lance’s ear, staring at him until Lance met his eyes. “I knew you’d be worrying, and I was right.”

Lance gave him a wane smile. “It’s just… we’re getting to that age, you know? I’m worried our guardians will…” Marry them off, is what he was about to say, but couldn’t. Even just thinking of having to attend Keith’s wedding made his stomach coil in on itself. It was almost as bad as watching potential brides fawn over Keith at these events.

“I know,” Keith said, with a barely concealed wince. He was far more expressive around Lance than he was in public, which was something Lance noticed as they spent more and more stolen time together. “It’ll be alright.”

“But how can you know that?” Lance asked, pushing away. The stress of it all was getting to him. Every day he wanted to tell his parents how he felt, or confide his feelings in Allura, who he thought of as a sister. The Altean family had been nothing but good to him after taking him in, had treated him as one of their own, as someone who belonged among them. They’d taught him humility and confidence and how to be true to himself.

Wasn’t keeping his feelings for Keith a secret defying all those things?

“Lance,” Keith sighed, only to suddenly hold himself very still for a moment.

There was another knock on Lance’s door, one that made him stiffen all over.

“Prince?” a guard asked. “Are you alright? I thought I heard something.”

Words got choked in Lance’s throat. Keith put a gentle hand on Lance’s shoulder, pulling him close again. “Tell them you’re alright,” he whispered in Lance’s ear.

Lance cleared his throat. “I’m alright,” he said, loud enough to be heard through the door. “Just arguing with my tunic, that’s all.”

There was a fond chuckle. “If you say so, Prince. It’s almost time to go.”

“I’ll be ready in a few minutes.”

“Yes, Prince.”

Footsteps echoed away from his door, and Lance let out a heaving sigh, sagging against Keith’s chest. He dug an elbow into Keith’s side just to let Keith know he’d only complied because he wanted to, not because Keith had told him to. He didn’t want Keith to go and get a big head, after all. Keith’s quiet burst of laughter told him the message had been received loud and clear.

“There’s the fiery Lance I know,” he teased.

Lance rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright, I get it. No need to worry.”

“Exactly.” Keith kissed his cheek and gave his waist a gentle squeeze before heading to the door. “I’ll see you out there, okay? Look for me.”

Lance smiled. “I will.”

Chapter Text

Lance groaned as Keith grabbed his thighs. “Not so hard!”

“I wouldn’t need to do this if you just concentrated,” Keith snapped back.

Lance’s head banged back against the bed he was lying on. The stinging in his thighs was pretty unbearable, and as much as he wanted to be mad at Keith, he knew that Keith was probably right.

Less than an hour before, they’d been training in the courtyard. Lance was a water elemental, a person born with the ability to harness water and mould it to his whim. He could draw moisture from the air and form it into weapons or shields. He was quite skilful with detailed work, making arrows that could pierce skin and blades so sharp they’d cut through anything with the right amount of pressure.

But he was less skilled at being directly forceful. He could create shields and long distance weapons, but using his ability in close combat was difficult for him. He needed the space to work his movements, needed distance to see properly.

Keith had no such struggles. He was a fire elemental, and with his flames, he could take on just about anyone. He’d create daggers and swords out of pure heat and lunge forwards with all the confidence of someone who knew they were going to win.

He’d been helping Lance train for situations when getting distance was not an option. Lance had the smallest edge on Keith, since water generally triumphed fire, but Keith’s flames were strong enough to resist being drowned immediately. They had to be careful when they trained, because it was easy to destroy anything around them – courtyard walls, the gardens, the pavement beneath their feet. More than that, too, was the risk of injuring themselves or one another. Lance’s water was sharp, and it could leave welts or slice through flesh like it was air. And Keith’s flames carried the obvious risk of burning someone.

Which was what had happened to Lance.

He hadn’t been concentrating as hard as he should’ve been. He had been preoccupied, and in a split second, his shield of water had cracked and Keith’s flaming blade had exploded around him. His ability meant he healed quicker than normal, so the skin on his stomach and arms had only been singed, turned a stinging pink by the heat. But his thighs had taken the brunt of it, and from his hips to a few inches above his knees was completely scorched.

Keith had taken it upon himself to slather Lance in a healing balm, one that would stop the burn from scarring or blistering. Probably took it as a chance to further scold him, Lance thought. As if he hadn’t already been made miserable enough by his failure.

As if sensing Lance’s despondent mood, Keith gave a rough sigh, and his ministrations turned a touch gentler. He nudged Lance’s tunic to the side as he applied the balm onto the lower half of his hips, dipping his fingers beneath the waistband of Lance’s pants to get the parts he couldn’t reach where the pants were pushed up.

If it was anyone but Keith, Lance would have been thoroughly embarrassed to be so exposed and rumpled. Even with Keith, he felt a little flushed. But that was for a different reason altogether.

“You need to concentrate if you don’t want to get hurt,” Keith said, his voice not unkind. Quieter, he added, “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I know,” Lance murmured. “I’m sorry.”

Keith shook his head. “It was an accident.”

Lance reached for Keith’s hand and held on.

Chapter Text

Lance folded his hands behind his back, lips pursed in a thin line. Unease made his spine straight, his shoulders stiff. The line of suitors waiting to greet him was endless, the hall filled with princes and princesses and noblemen’s children, all watching him with hunger in their eyes.

For how much longer would this go on? Hours of smiling and bowing at the waist and feigning interest stretched ahead of him.

“How about her?” the Queen whispered from her place beside him, eyes trained on the princess turning to take her place in the waiting crowd around the edge of the hall, having just been introduced to them by the royal attendant.

Lance gave a stubborn, minute shake of his head, a pleasant smile remaining on his lips all the while (but not in his eyes).

The Queen gave a sharp noise of disapproval, one that had him wanting to shrink inwards. She wasn’t his birth mother, but rather had married his father after his real mother had died while he was still very young. He could recall faint memories of a time when his father was caring and gentle, but the passing of his first wife had hardened him, and the vicious, greedy hunger of his second had turned him bitter and scornful. He ruled their kingdom from behind the closed doors of his private office, and had no interest in Lance, beyond being assured that Lance was obeying the rules expected of him.

Which he wasn’t. Not exactly.

The King and Queen wanted him to marry. It was more the Queen’s idea than anyone else’s, since if Lance married a wealthy woman, she was entitled to part of what that woman brought to their family – jewellery and property and greatly coveted social standing. Not only that, but she’d have complete freedom to raise whatever children Lance had, moulding them to her expectations and attitudes.

Lance didn’t want that. Didn’t want any of it. Soon the Queen would tire of him rejecting his wealthy suitors and choose someone of her picking. Knowing her and her bottomless cold heart, she’d choose someone exactly like herself, someone Lance could never love. Would never love.

Another suitor stepped forwards as the royal attendant announced their name and status. The prince had a pompous look in his eyes, one that said he knew how attractive he was – and he was quite handsome, with his angular face and smoothed back hair, but looks weren’t everything. He extended a hand towards Lance, taking Lances palm in his fingers to press a kiss to his knuckles, one that made Lance want to jerk away.

He suppressed the disgusted shiver that swept over him, carefully schooling his expression into something simple and passive. He was careful to withdraw his hand slowly, and offered the standard half-bow and smile.

“His kingdom is wealthy, and his father is training him to lead their entire armed forces,” the Queen hissed, when Lance’s roiling disinterest became obvious. “Why not him?”

“Sorry, my Queen,” he murmured over his shoulder. It was always Queen, never Mother. “I’ll think more wisely.”

“See that you do,” she snapped. It was frightening how such harsh words could come out of a face with an expression that never changed. “Or else.”

He had to physically supress another shudder. Some deeply rooted fear made him tremble inside, made some hollow hole yawn wide inside of him. At his age, he shouldn’t have fear for his step-mother, and knowing that he still did made him incredibly ashamed.

If he hadn’t of been in the situation he was in, he would have simply chose the first person who gave him a kind smile – and many of his suitors had, thinking he wanted a gentle marriage. But his situation meant their pleasantries meant nothing to him.

See, he was already in love.

It was just with someone his parents would never approve of.

Unbidden, his gaze slid to the side, anxiously seeking out the form of his personal bodyguard. Keith was standing at the bottom of the dais, only a few shallow steps of a staircase away. He was facing the hall, but as if he felt Lance’s pleading eyes, his stare flickered over for a moment. A frown creased his brow at what he saw, but it wasn’t like he could say anything.

They both turned back to the front.

Lance had fallen in love with Keith months ago. He was a solider pulled from the royal army, one chosen for his talent with a blade, his no nonsense attitude, and his sense of discipline. He’d been trained as a personal bodyguard befitting a royal, and assigned to Lance when his skills had been honed to perfection.

Somewhere in between their bickering and their competitiveness, feelings had developed, and they’d started seeing each other in secret. It was easy, when they were often alone together, and it was generally expected for them to be close.

But the Queen’s sudden decision to marry him off was ruining things. Lance didn’t want to marry, and Keith hated seeing his hand offered to someone else. Keith was often frustrated and angry when they were alone together, his emotions plain for Lance to see in the privacy of his bedroom or an empty corridor. Keith hated the situation Lance was being put in.

“Even if it’s not me you marry,” he’d once said, “I only wish the best for you. For you to marry someone who will love you in the way you deserve. This– this is just selling you off to the highest bidder. The biggest wallet.”

Lance quietly agreed. He was little more than a bargaining chip to the Queen, something to trade for her benefit. It had always been that way.

He often wondered what it would be like if he just told the King and Queen that he was going to marry Keith. It wasn’t like Keith was of low standing – his rank as a royal guard placed him high in the social food chain, and although he wasn’t wealthy, he was healthy, handsome, and in possession of a refined personality (or at least the ability to feign one when needed – he could be quite cheeky when it was just the two of them, eager for a competition).

But Lance knew that wasn’t enough. It didn’t matter how much Keith loved him, cherished him, or how much Lance craved his comfort, his companionship. That would never be enough, not even if Lance pleaded, got down on his knees and begged.

So he also wondered what it would be like to leave. If he just backed a bag, just a single one, and left. He knew exactly what he’d bring, exactly where he’d go, who he’d ask to help him. He and Keith would be able to marry in a small town somewhere, build a home by the sea, and live as they pleased. They wouldn’t need to hide their affection for one another.

But he wasn’t sure he could do that, either. If he left, then it would be within the Queen’s rights to have a child of her own, and name that child heir. His father was very likely to die before her, since he was older, and the Queen would be fit to rule as she pleased. She’d raise taxes, cut benefits, spend exorbitant amounts of money on jewels and balls and gowns…

And as much as Lance didn’t agree with his parents, didn’t even particularly like them, he loved his kingdom. Loved his people. They were good and hardworking, and they’d adored his mother just as much if not more than they adored him. Many people were uncomfortable with the King’s lack of involvement with society, and with the Queen’s influence over the King. Lance needed to take the throne if he wanted to make things better.

And he needed to be married before that could happen.

“I think I need a break,” he murmured, before politely excusing himself with a smile he only just managed to maintain. He descended off the dais before the Queen could complain, and although he knew he would be severely punished for his attitude, he fled anyway.

Keith followed closely on his heels.

Beyond the hall was an empty corridor. Lance found a cove in the arched stone walls and slipped into it, pressing his shoulder blades to the wall and a hand over his heart. There was heat on his cheeks that came more from panic than embarrassment.

A cool hand brushed against his cheek, drawing him out of his head.

“Just breathe,” Keith murmured, coming in close to Lance, their foreheads pressed together. “That’s it. You can do it.”

Lance sucked in a sharp breath and let it out slowly. He matched his breathing to Keith’s, feeling each inhale and exhale in Keith’s gently rising chest. Knees weak, he slumped against Keith, his eyes squeezed shut.

“I can’t do this,” he rasped.

“You can,” Keith repeated.

Lance shook his head, no doubt messing up his hair, the positioning of his gaudy crown, chosen by the Queen. “I can’t do it anymore, Keith. If I don’t choose someone to marry she’ll choose someone for me, but if I do choose, I’ll never be able to love them. They’ll be trapped in a loveless marriage, and if they’re a good person…”

“Stop thinking about it,” Keith told him. Lance knew Keith would say the things necessary to calm Lance down, to make Lance think everything was fine – that he was fine with this whole marriage situation, though Lance knew he wasn’t. It wasn’t fair, to make Keith say things like that, to have him think he was better off unhappy if it meant Lance wouldn’t struggle so much.

He didn’t want to break Keith’s heart. It would break his, too.

And it seemed like Keith knew he wasn’t in the mood to hear those words. Instead he simply pressed his lips to Lance’s forehead, leaving them there for longer than just a kiss, as if he couldn’t bring himself to move away.

“It’ll be okay,” Keith whispered.

Lance really wanted to believe him, wanted to so desperately.

But he didn’t.

Chapter Text

Lance anxiously waited by his vanity, too restless to sit on the plush stool standing before it. His chambers were chaotic – bed sheets rumpled, tunics and other luxurious pieces of clothing strewn across the floor and bedposts, the entire contents of his jewellery boxes spilt across his vanity.

He wasn’t usually such a messy, disorganised person. Even then, as distracted as he was, the urge to clean up his messes simmered under his skin. But the chaos was carefully cultivated, each object thrown with deliberate negligence. Mess was the easiest way to hide something that didn’t want to be found.

Or, that needed to be hidden.

Unable to continue pacing, he threw himself down on his vanity stool, riffling through all of his jewellery. Even if he lived in a castle, wore a crown studded with gemstones worth more than the average yearly wage, was dressed in finery of the highest price and quality, he was no prince. Was no member of the ruling family. Was not someone to be respected or feared, as others of a similar wealth and status most certainly were.

He was little more than one of those pieces of jewellery spread out before him: a treasure. Something to be coveted, to be on display and showed off. Stolen, like half of the trove buried in the vaults of this castle.

Resentment boiled in him, old and deep. Made him scowl at his reflection.

Civil unrest had plagued this continent for decades, and the result of that was bloodthirsty and monstrous.

Ten years ago, one side of the war – and there were too many to count, mind, but some were much worse than others, and this side was one of them – invaded other territories in the middle of the night and stole children from their beds. It was a demonstration of power, a way to remove the next line of nobles and royals from enemy kingdoms. And instead of killing the children, which would have been merciful, most kept them, using them as slaves or trophies that they paraded around in front of other kingdoms, knowing nothing could be done about it unless more fighting was to break out.

Lance was young when he’d been taken, but not young enough to forget where he came from. His home kingdom was far to the east, with several borders lying between him and them. The country that had taken him had targeted him because of old rifts with his family, ones that spanned decades. The best way to hurt his family had been to take him, to make him into proof that they were stronger, that they could do as they pleased.

And if his family, his kingdom, tried to get him back, they’d just hurt him. Keep him starved in a cell and then have him sit in on delegations, shivering and cowed by hunger. Or dress him up in jewels and fine embroidery, forge him into a subservient and silent pet, brag about who he was going to be sold off to – given to a king for pleasure, or made a wealthy noblewoman’s pet, someone to sit by her feet and grovel.

Over the years, he hadn’t seen his family much. Every time the opportunity arose he rejected it, even if it meant he was going to be punished. No matter how much he craved home, any sign of them had him turning away.

After all, being allowed to see them wasn’t just a way to hurt him, to keep him pliant – it was a way to break his family, his kingdom.

But there was unrest amongst the stolen children, just like there was unrest amongst the borders, and the common people. The royals and nobles had been playing these vicious games for more than a century, spilling blood at their leisure, using trickery and underhandedness to get what they wanted. If there was any way to shake their resolve, to make them feel frightened on their own thrones, it was to remove their prized pawns from their possession.

To have people like Lance returned home.

Still filled with restless anxiety, he found the item he was looking for, and pulled it from the pile. He had so much jewellery that this piece went unnoticed. If any of his captors looked closely enough, or even dared to worry that he might resent them, might not be the pet they thought he was, then they’d know it wasn’t a piece they’d draped across him.

No, it had come from someone else.

A year ago, the court had received a new round of delegates. Lance had never seen them before. They were from a kingdom called Altea, far to the south, almost entirely removed from the bloodshed plaguing this part of the continent. Despite their relative disconnection from the dealings of the warring kingdoms, the Altean delegates knew a surprising amount of what had been going on.

Later, Lance learned that that was because they’d allied themselves with several kingdoms, including Lance’s home. They’d been working for years to quietly establish themselves – they had a bigger army than any single kingdom here, and hadn’t been affected by the political machinations of the last century. It was the pleading from kingdoms like Lance’s home that had convinced them to make a stand, to stop the warring.

One of the guards that had come along with the delegates had slipped something in Lance’s pocket without anyone noticing. He’d been on display then, dressed in a skimpy tunic and splendid gemstones, told to sit on the floor beside the king and remain quiet. How the guard had managed to get the little red ruby into the folds of Lance’s light tunic without anyone noticing, including himself, was a mystery.

As it turned out, the ruby was no normal gemstone. When Lance held it, he felt an ancient sort of magic thrum through him, one that opened a door in his mind.

And like with any door, there was something – someone – waiting on the other side.

The guard’s name was Keith, and he worked for Altea. The ruby acted as a communication device, allowing Lance to talk directly to Keith’s mind, and to hear Keith’s words in return. He hadn’t trusted Keith at first, too weary about it all being a trick of the king, or some malicious test of the queen. But Keith had earned his trust over the last year, as had Altea.

They’d let him use the ruby to speak to his family. Only the one time, so as not to draw attention to themselves, but just the once was all that Lance needed. To hear his mother and father’s voices, the voices of his older siblings, voices he’d long since forgotten but knew on instinct in his soul… it was more than he could have ever asked for.

He curled his fingers around the ruby, holding the smooth stone in his palm. He’d removed a similarly sized stone from a different necklace and replaced it with the ruby so that he could wear it in plain sight without arousing suspicion. He slipped it over his head then, letting it rest against his chest beneath his clothes. The minute it settled on his skin he felt the bond latch onto him, prying his thoughts open.

“You’re being impatient,” came Keith’s gentle admonishment. “I’m almost there, Lance.”

Hearing Keith’s voice eased some of the anxieties raging in him. He’d come to cling to that voice like it was the only thing that kept him from drowning these past few months. Only he could hear it, and when he opened his mouth to reply, he knew his voice was only audible to Keith.

“How much longer?” he pleaded, wringing the hem of his tunic. “There’s meant to be a ball tonight, and if I don’t arrive soon, they’ll know something is happening.”

A flicker of worry came through the bond, there and gone in an instant. “Soon,” Keith reassured. “I’ll be there for you soon. I promise.”

Lance settled. He still had some time to linger, to pretend to be dressing himself for the pleasure of others.

But he knew that he would not be going to the ball tonight. Would not sit by the king’s feet and let his hair be pet. Would not put a sweet smile on his face when nobles cooed at him, a sneer hiding in their eyes, smugness on their lips.

Tonight, he would be free.

All over the continent, soldiers from Altea were readying to take back the stolen children. To return them to their kingdoms, or if their kingdoms had perished, to take them back to Altea where they would be safe. Keith himself had personally decided to come free Lance, despite his importance to the Altea forces. Over the last few months, he and Lance had… grown close. Too close, maybe. Lance had stubbornly pushed those feelings away, but now they overwhelmed him.

Whether it was magic or fate, he knew his life was tied to Keith’s in a way he would never truly understand. This bond they shared ran deeper than just the ruby. He didn’t even know what Keith looked like, not really – he hadn’t been permitted to lift his head when the Alteans had visited, had only gotten a glimpse as Keith walked away. Dark hair, broad shoulders, a flash of a scar on his cheek… those images burned into his mind, impossible to forget.

He needed to be free of here. To see Keith, to be reunited with his family.

And tonight, it would happen. If it didn’t, he would rather die.

Would probably be killed for disobeying, if the ruling family found out his plans.

A muffled snarl echoed down the bond, startling him. “I’d never let them hurt you,” Keith swore. Lance forget how easily it was for private thoughts to be laid bare through the bond, how easily the ruby took away mental barriers. “Never again, Lance.”

He closed his eyes. Just because he had a connection to the outside world now didn’t mean his torture at the hands of his captors had lessened. There’d been many nights when he was too exhausted or in too much agony to answer Keith through the bond, his body wrung dry and aching.

The royals had made him dance for them and their guests once, until his feet were so bruised and swollen he was afraid he’d never walk again.

A steady stream of music began to curl up from the lower floors, where the entertainment hall was. Lance swallowed the nervous lump in his throat.

He didn’t have long…

“On your balcony,” Keith whispered.

Lance stood, his heart pounding. It was night, but he could see by the light of the moon.

Keith had come for him.

Chapter Text

Lance barely managed to contain a yawn as he sunk into the couch, feeling pleasantly warm from the tips of his toes all the way up. It was cold outside, but inside the apartment was warm, making him sleepy in the best way.

He supposed having Keith playing with his hair helped.

It wasn’t often that Keith was in such an affectionate mood. He liked being close with Lance, and never complained when Lance initiated something between them, but he didn’t usually start it himself. He was content to let Lance do it most of the time, and so was Lance, for that matter.

But that evening he’d beckoned Lance to lean in close and sunk his fingers straight through Lance’s hair. Despite Keith’s rough exterior, he could actually be quite gentle, and he was careful not to tug on any knots or tangles he came across. He let Lance all but melt against him, the perfect picture of satisfaction.

He always made sure to appreciate moments like that, when Keith initiated things. That wasn’t to say Lance was solely in charge of the more romantic side of their relationship – no, Keith was more than willing to take Lance to bed, or show his affection publicly, and he never denied his feelings towards Lance. But these gentle, quiet moments, where neither one of them needed to say anything but could enjoy silence and simple touches… those were rarer.

It wasn’t a bad thing. They were both busy people, were both people with energised and fiery personalities. Sometimes it took more than quiet cuddling for them to get the attention they needed. Nevertheless, these little moments were still special, were still appreciated. Sometime slowing down and doing nothing other than being beside one another was exactly what they both needed.

So that was what they did. Lance pressed heavily into Keith’s side, his eyes closed, and let his hair be played with. Keith let him lean against him all he liked, never complaining, simply adjusting his arm whenever Lance shifted around. Soon enough Lance’s hair was free from tangles, his mind empty of any thoughts or concerns, of anything that wasn’t Keith against him, Keith’s fingers in his hair, Keith’s gentle breathing on his neck.

There was something romantic to quietness, he supposed. Something he’d only discovered while he’d been with Keith. A certain softness he could never be without anymore.

Chapter Text

Lance carefully adjusted the blanket around Novia. She hardly stirred, nothing more than a faint parting of her lips, almost a yawn, to indicate she’d been disturbed. His infant daughter was so sweet.

Carrying her in a sling was more tiring than it looked, but shared between himself and his two mates, it wasn’t so bad. He was currently carrying onto her, having been overwhelmed once again by the urge to hold onto his pup, to have her in his arms. Thankfully his mates understood his instincts, and didn’t feel as though he couldn’t trust them with carrying her. Rather, they only smiled, indulgent and affectionate, and simply kept a close eye on him as he trailed after them, more interested in Novia than what they were currently doing.

It had been just under a month since she’d been born, and therefore just under a month since they’d done a proper household shop. Shiro had long since run out of his favourite protein powder, and Curtis was only barely putting up with using cheap washing detergent and not the fancy stuff he really preferred, and Lance was so out of tune with anything that wasn’t his baby that he hadn’t even noticed he’d completely burned through his entire stash of hot chocolate, shortbread, and all the honey in the house.

Not to mention babies went through nappies and formula much quicker than any of them anticipated.

Lance was feeling more willing to do things these days. The first week or two after Novia’s birth had him doing nothing except resting in bed, studiously refusing to leave the house for anything other than sitting in the sun. His omega instincts had been raging, and he’d needed time to settle after his pregnancy. He was far more relaxed now, almost back to some semblance of normal.

Though he still tired easily. As much as he was willing to do things, caring for an infant – even between three people – was exhausting. Lance legs were aching after going to three separate stores that day, and now that they were at the fourth, he was desperate to sit. Shiro had offered to drive him and Novia home, but he knew if he was on his own he’d fall asleep, and no one would be there to tend to the baby.

And he wanted to stay with his mates. Curtis’s gentle beta scent and Shiro’s unbending alpha protectiveness were like arms around him, keeping him calm and happy.

But that bench just past the front entrance to the food market was becoming more and more appealing.

Lance glanced at their trolley. Shiro was pushing it, and Curtis had their shopping list in hand, dutifully plucking things off shelves before checking them off said list. They always bought their fruit and vegetables here, because the market was fresh, and they’d never bought bad produce before. Not to mention the store carried a lot of foreign foods, particularly Asian cooking staples and snacks that Shiro utterly adored. Their trolley was almost full, and a quick peek at their shopping list told him they had just about everything they needed.

“Do you mind if I go sit out the front?” Lance asked, tugging on Curtis’s sleeve to get his attention. “My legs are sore.”

“Of course, love,” Curtis said, his expression softening as he looked down at Lance, bending to nuzzle his hair. “We’re almost done anyway.”

Lance smiled, warmth flooding through him at Curtis’s sweet affection. He waited until Shiro had pressed a kiss to the back of Novia’s head before making his way towards the bench, sighing at the gentle warmth of the air outside. It was early spring, so the weather was pleasant, and he was perfectly content to sit on the bench in the shade of the store’s front awning. If he looked back, he could see his mates at the register, slowly unpacking their trolley.

Smiling to himself, he pressed his nose into Novia’s hair, cradling her close. She’d been asleep most of the morning, or sitting quietly, comforted by the scents of her parents. They’d timed this trip around her more active hours, so that she wouldn’t cause too much of a fuss while they ere out.

He was rather glad she was so sweet tempered, something he swore she got from Curtis, despite being biologically Shiro’s. He rocked her gently, attention solely on her, on keeping her comfortable.

He was so enraptured that he didn’t notice the strange alpha approaching him until the man was right in front of him.

“What’s a pretty omega like you doing by yourself?” the alpha purred, leaning over him.

Lance immediately sank into his shoulders, his arms tightening around Novia, so quickly that she gave a quiet huff of protest. He had to grab a hold of his instincts, keep his scent even and unafraid, not wanting to disturb his sleeping, vulnerable pup.

“Waiting for my mates,” he replied, terse.

“I don’t see any alphas around,” the man said, edging closer. His eyes landed on Novia, on her sleeping face, and Lance had to suppress the snarl building up in his throat.

Instead he shuffled Novia higher up on his chest, hiding her little face from view.

“Cute kid,” the man smirked. His scent washed over Lance, arrogant and sour, like he expected Lance to swoon. “Bet we could make cute kids, too.”

Lance bared his teeth, a little rumble escaping him. Novia squirmed again, letting out a louder noise of discomfort.

He was getting ready to unleash his scent, something distinctly aggressive omega, when he suddenly smelt Curtis’s scent beside him. The beta appeared over his shoulder, face perfectly even. But his scent… it was infuriated.

“Come here, Lance,” Curtis murmured, opening a beckoning arm.

Lance stood, slipping past the alpha to huddle under Curtis’s arm, Novia pressed protectively between them. He knew a pregnant omega’s scent was quite attractive to unmated individuals, especially alphas, and that the scent lingered even after pregnancy.

Most individuals, however, knew not to overstep boundaries.

“A beta?” the alpha sneered.

Curtis sneered right back. There was something about his face, usually so calm and demure, wearing such a harsh look that made him seem far more intimidating than he normally was. Even the alpha took a wary step back.

But only for a moment.

“What, that’s your mate? He’s clearly not even the father of the kid,” the alpha taunted.

Lance flinched. He was very conscious of the fact that Shiro was more likely to father a child than Curtis, just because alphas were more virile. It was something he’d struggled with a lot, especially during his pregnancy – he wanted to make both his mates happy, but there was a chance Curtis would never father a child. He knew Curtis desperately wanted children, but having Novia had made Curtis so happy, even if she wasn’t biologically his. To him, it’d never mattered who fathered the child. He loved her more than anything.

Lance didn’t like having his insecurities thrown in his face like that.

The snarl that Curtis let out would put any alpha to shame. Over Curtis’s shoulder, he saw Shiro at the register, saw Shiro’s head abruptly snap up.

Curtis tucked Lance tightly against him, putting himself between Lance and the alpha. “It’s none of your concern,” he said, voice sharper than broken glass. “If you don’t leave now, security will be notified.”

The alpha recognised the threat for what it was.

And Shiro appearing behind them, looking utterly murderous, sealed the deal. The alpha took off with a snappish growl.

“Are you alright?” Curtis asked, cupping Lance’s face in his palms. The harsh exterior melted away the second he turned his eyes to Lance, replaced with worry. “Did he do anything to you?”

“No,” Lance said, shaking his head. “I’m alright.”

Curtis bent to sniff Novia’s hair, scenting her for distress or discomfort. His presence had completely calmed her, even with his angry display. He seemed satisfied with what he found, and let out a sigh, cuddling Lance close. “Sorry for taking over there,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean to just… I know you can handle yourself.”

Lance smiled to himself, pressing his forehead against Curtis’s chest. His beta, ever so thoughtful. Never wanting to make Lance into a damsel, into someone who needed his mates to do everything for him.

“I needed the help,” he admitted. “I didn’t know what to do, not with Novia in my arms.”

Shiro ran a comforting hand down his back, and one down Curtis’s too. “If everyone is alright, then I’m going to get our groceries, and we can head home.”

Lance nodded several times. “Home sounds good.”

Shiro and Curtis shared a look over his head, and Curtis nodded a little. He’d stay with Lance while Shiro got all their groceries to the car.

“Thank you,” Shiro whispered to Curtis, pressing a soft kiss to his cheek. “I’ll be back in a moment.”

Curtis’s cheeks went faintly red. He would never admit it, but both Lance and Shiro knew Curtis liked being the protector every now and then. He liked taking care of his mates, liked being the one in charge, even if it wasn’t something he did very often. But Shiro had never hid the fact that he was entirely comfortable leaving the safety of their omega and child to Curtis, and never once doubted Curtis’s ability to protect and care for them, even though many would say an alpha was the better option.

Lance always felt safe with Curtis nearby, too. Just as much as Shiro.

“Let’s go wait in the car,” Curtis said, ushering Lance away before he could be further embarrassed by either of his mates.

Lance went. He’d had enough adventure for the day, and wanted to be home with his pup and mates, ready to do nothing but relax.

When Novia was buckled into her car seat, Lance in the back beside her, he leaned over to the front spot where Curtis was, and kissed his cheek. “Thank you,” he said too, smiling at Curtis’s immediate flush.

“Stop teasing,” he pleaded.

Lance only grinned. “Never, my knight in shining armour.”

Curtis groaned.

Chapter Text

Lance stared at himself in the mirror, eyes assessing. If nothing else, he thought, at least he looked good.

The outfit he’d chosen for the evening suited him just about perfectly. The tunic clung to him, tight around his hips and shoulders. The fabric was so light he wouldn’t have felt it if not for the hundreds of little crystals decorating it, set in feather-like patterns over his chest and back. When he moved, the crystals caught the beams of moonlight streaming in through his balcony, glinting like stars. The high collar and tight cuffs around his wrists gave him a streamlined look, but the gauzy sleeves, a soft billowing silk that exposed his arms through the fabric, softened him.

Since the tunic was so dazzling, he’d opted for tight, clean pants, and simple black shoes with a slight heel to make him taller. He’d forgone wearing almost any piece of jewellery and makeup, aside from tiny dangling stars at his ears and a line of kohl on his upper eyelids.

In some ways, he felt dressed for battle. The beautiful clothes were his armour, his protection. He knew he was going to stun, that he’d draw lingering gazes and stand out. That was what these clothes were for.

They made him look prepared, even though he didn’t feel it.

Every year, a celebration was thrown on a night called Starfall. Attendees came from all four of the solar territories – night, day, dusk, and dawn. The celebration was held on neutral territory, a place where each territory could step without fear, a place that intersected every movement of the day at the same time. It was a bit of an anomaly, Lance thought, that there was a place where it was day and night, dusk and dawn, all at once. He’d only been old enough to attend once, the previous year, and it had been beautiful, despite its strangeness.

This year would be different. The previous year, the Prince of Daylight hadn’t been in attendance. He was Lance’s counterpart, so to speak. The person who would one day rule over Daylight, while Lance ruled over the Night.

He wasn’t sure what had gotten him so nervous. He’d never met the Prince of Daylight, at least not officially. He’d seem him before, of course. There were often talks between their two territories, and he’d glimpsed the prince in amongst the other day delegates. But it was different to meet at Starfall, when so many eyes would be on them, would be judging their interactions, looking to see cracks between their two powerhouse territories.

A shaky sigh escaped him as he pressed a hand over his heart. He turned his head this way and that, watching the tiny stars dangling from his earrings catch the light. Perhaps others would be so blinded by his outfit that they wouldn’t see the way he’d gone pale.

When it was time for him to join the celebration, he made himself walk with deliberate purpose, schooling his features blank. The celebration hall looked like a giant ballroom, though it was far more beautiful than any architect could hope to design. Large archways lined every side of the room, with only a thin slip of wall in between each. Beyond the archways was not a balcony or window view, as one might expect, but rather an endless expanse of shifting night, dotted with twinkling stars and fleeting comets.

Once, the previous year, Lance had dipped his hand out through one of those massive archways, curious about what was beyond. Was it an optical illusion, or some portal straight out into the night sky? The night had shifted around his hand like smoke, stars wobbling along his wiggling fingers. He still wasn’t quite sure what enchantment made that wondrous, surrounding view possible.

Each of the four territories had an entrance door on one side of the hall. The Night’s door connected to a hall in their royal palace. Apparently it had suddenly appeared the first year of Starfall, more than a century ago, completely harmless. Every year since, they’d pushed open those ebony doors and found a matching ebony staircase leading them down into the celebration hall.

From what Lance could see of the other doors, it was much the same in the other territories. The Day’s staircase was like liquid gold, Dawn’s like preserved amber, and Dusk’s as deep and pleasing as a dark blue moonstone. Each carried the weight of all its territories attendees as they descended the stairs onto the main floor.

As was customary, Night was the last to enter the celebration, as they came last in the solar cycle (though from their perspective, they were first). It only made Lance more nervous, to know the celebration hall would be full to bursting by the time his territory made their entry. And as a member of the royal family, he would lead the territory, be the first Night emissary to have eyes upon them.

Like always, the ebony doors parted under the hands of the guards stationed beside it, and a set of stairs greeted him. There was a small corridor between the doors and the stairs, a thirty second walk for him to calm his breathing, to smooth out his hair and his tunic one last time as he listened to the excited murmurs of the Night territory attendees behind him.

His parents, the King and Queen, would not be in attendance this year due to unexpected, pressing matters. He was by himself.

The stairs appeared, spiralling gently downwards into the waiting hall, where light and chatter filtered up towards him. He paused once before he stepped into the light, breathing out, putting a smile on his face. He’d prepared for this. He knew what the hall looked like, knew where to go and who to speak to. He looked beautiful. He would be fine.

Stepping into the light was as intimidating as he imagined it would be. It wasn’t the fair moonlight of the Night, the sort of light he was used to. No, it was the warmth of glowing chandeliers and the sparkling stars of the illusions beyond the archways. Dozens and dozens of faces gazed up at him, watching and expectant.

Without anyone to guide him down the stairs, he placed a hand on the ebony railing that lined one side of the staircase, and slowly began to descend. The crystals on his tunic flashed with light, just as stunning at the little twinkling stairs in the illusion, and he felt some of his worries ease.

He’d almost made it to the bottom of the staircase, only two or three steps away, when he felt one of his feet slip. He sucked in a small intake of breath, eyes briefly widening– he was going to fall–

And then a strong hand grasped his, another going to his waist, and he was smoothly guided to the floor, as if he’d never started to slip at all.

“Hello,” his saviour said.

Lance’s eyes flashed up. The man holding him was breathtakingly handsome. His face was sharp and angular, expression closed off but not cold. He couldn’t hide the spark in his violet eyes from this close up, and it made something in Lance flare, immediately interested. He’d never seen such an interesting face.

The scar running down the male’s right cheek, hooked under his chin, did nothing to diminish the stranger’s handsomeness.

“Thank you,” he whispered, breathless, as he allowed the stranger to guide him by the waist out onto the floor.

A flash of recognition was hovering at the back of Lance’s mind. As his territory descended the stairs behind him, he took a moment to glance the male over, taking in his deep red tunic and the intricate gold embroidery along his collar and down the centre of his chest. He was wearing only a blood-red ring on one hand – no other jewellery, no makeup. He somehow made an impression on nothing more than that, combined with his handsome face.

Lance was sort of envious.

“To think the Prince of Night would be clumsy,” the man murmured, an amused smirk pulling at his lips.

It was that smirk that grabbed Lance’s attention. He’d seen it before – on a certain Prince of Daylight. How had Keith grown into the handsome man standing before him in just a few short years?

“To think the Prince of Daylight would get so good at catching people,” he retorted, turning his gaze away.

The entire celebration hall was watching the night territory attendees filter amongst their ranks. One could easily tell them apart – they all wore shades of black and silver, crystals around their necks or foreheads, though none as extravagant as Lance. He waited until everyone had arrived and the ebony doors had shut behind them before letting out another long breath.

“Never far from the night, are you?” Keith whispered in his ear, squeezing the hand he had on Lance’s waist. Crystals rustled. “Brought the entire night sky and all its stars with you.”

A teasing smile came to Lance’s mouth. He felt oddly invigorated by Keith’s blatant flirting. He certainly didn’t remember Keith being this forwards before. In fact, he wasn’t certain he’d ever heard Keith talk in those meetings.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” Lance said, carefully – reluctantly – pulling himself away. “There are others I must greet.”

Keith tried to hide his disappointment, but Lance could see it plain as day on his face. He kept a hold of Lance’s hand for an extra moment. “I’m sorry I couldn’t come last year,” Keith said, “because I couldn’t meet you properly, as I’ve been hoping to. I hope you’ll come and see me again before Starfall is over.”

A flush crept up Lance’s cheeks. There was an earnestness in Keith’s voice, and a hopefulness in his eyes, that was entirely unexpected for someone who was so indifferent on the outside. He was intrigued by Keith, he found. Deeply so.

Especially because he realised Keith had been waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs, close enough to catch him.

“I’ll be back,” he said.

Keith only nodded, and let Lance go.

Chapter Text

Lance had never particularly liked his freckles.

On skin like his, they were usually difficult to see. He had to spend a lot of time in the sun for them to show through, but when they did, they were obvious. They stretched beneath his eyes, clustered strongly over the bridge of his nose. He’d get them on his shoulders and down his arms too, if he’d been exposed to the sun there.

As a kid, he’d thought they’d looked like dirt on his skin, like he hadn’t bathed properly. He wasted hours away in front of the mirror, scrubbing at his skin like he could remove them. When he’d noticed them on his shoulders and back for the first time he’d been devastated, thinking they’d spread like some sort of illness.

He knew better now, of course. The freckles weren’t something that could be washed away, and they weren’t something to be ashamed of. They just happened. Completely natural.

Some of those old insecurities lingered, however. They were hard to shift. He’d become pretty good with makeup and knew how to conceal the freckles if he wanted, but recently he’d tired of doing that. Sunscreen helped keep them at bay, but when the freckles came out, he let them be.

He supposed it helped that his boyfriend liked them. He’d dated lots of people who’d had no opinion on the matter, but when Hunk had said he’d liked them… well, Lance was swayed, to say the least.

He’d known Hunk since he was a little kid, so it wasn’t like the freckles were a surprise to him. When they’d started dating, Hunk hadn’t been shy to compliment Lance, and Lance knew he only ever said the truth. It wasn’t in Hunk’s nature to say something if he didn’t believe it.

“I can’t believe no one’s said they liked them before,” Hunk told him, frowning, when Lance had confessed that Hunk was the first to do so. Lance now understood why Hunk had never really liked who he dated, despite putting up with them for Lance’s sake – because he liked Lance himself, but had been too shy to say anything.

He was so glad Hunk had said something, eventually.

“I mean, I always used to hide them, so…”

“Well, I’m glad you don’t anymore,” Hunk had said, one hand cupping Lance’s cheek, like he wanted a minute just to look at them.

It should have been embarrassing, but it wasn’t. Lance supposed that to Hunk, the freckles were like any other little quirk of his, no less appealing than the rest of him. That was something he understood. It was the same thing as how much he loved the way a strand of Hunk’s hair had a tendency to curl to the side a little, right above his forehead. Or how much he liked the stretch marks on Hunk’s hips.

Little things that made him exactly who he was.

Things that he loved Hunk for, and was loved for in return.

Chapter Text

A low snarl sat vibrating in Keith’s throat, persistent and agitated. He scratched at the Limiter clamped around his throat, feeling along its smooth, adamantine edges. The Limiter was a collar made from a type of metal as black as polished obsidian. Once in place, it had no start or end, no crack to pry a fingernail into, no lock to be unlocked.

Keith would know. He’d tried for years to remove it.

But that was impossible. It could only be removed by one person: whoever held the key for it. For now, that meant his handler, the person who controlled him, gave him orders.

See, Keith wasn’t human. Not exactly. He looked human, was born one, felt like one, but he had certain abilities that marked him as… other. Some of the abilities were easy to hide, like his ability to see in the dark, or his enhanced strength and dexterity. No one would know he could jump higher than a house or lift a car above his head if he didn’t do any of that in front of them.

But it was his true ability that gave him away, because it couldn’t be hidden. He wasn’t the only one of his kind, but he was the only one he knew – their handlers never let them interact, because it often led to explosive fights, or in them making a bid for freedom together, so he’d heard. He’d only sensed another like him nearby once, and it had made his blood boil in a way he didn’t quite understand. They weren’t good around one another, that much was obvious.

Mostly because they were very likely to set everything and everyone around them on fire if they were.

Keith’s flames tended to rush out of him like billowing steam, when he chose to use them. Like all of his kind, his body could produce flames hotter than any other in the world, completely malleable with the right kind of training and will power.

He had both, of course.

His flames were powerful. They were scorching shadows. They burned a deep red, fringed black and smoky. He could burn through anything with them, if the Limiter hadn’t of had such a tight grip on him.

Wearing that unbreakable collar meant he wasn’t in control of his powers. He didn’t know how it worked – that was the point, so people like him couldn’t find a way around it. Having it on felt like having a giant fist around the source of his powers. He could only use what escaped between its fingers, could only force its grip to loosen a small amount before it tightened up again.

He hated it. If he was ever free of it, he swore he’d take his revenge on those who imprisoned him. They claimed it was for his safety, for theirs and everyone else’s too, but Keith didn’t care. His power was his alone, his to decide what to do with.

He’d never forgive anyone for taking that choice away from him.

It wasn’t like he’d do anything bad with it anyway.

That evening, his handler came to his cell to announce his ownership was being changed. Keith did nothing but sneer in response as he was taken out of the holding facility. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence. He bounced around between handlers like a piece of property, only made useful when the humans needed him to clean up their messes.

There were other creatures, somewhat like him but far, far less human. Made completely from shadow and roiling anger, they hungered after human flesh, carving out chaos wherever they went. Only someone with Keith’s abilities could control them, even if they rarely had the urge to without the Limiters controlling their every action.

In some ways, people like Keith were made for chaos, too. Like was drawn to like, and all that. If the Limiter wasn’t clamped around his neck and he came across a monster made from shadow… he wasn’t sure what he’d do. Destroy it, maybe, if it was hurting others. Leave it, if it wasn’t.

That wasn’t what humans wanted. They wanted a world all to themselves, free of shadow and danger, as if they weren’t a danger to themselves. Not all shadows feasted on humans. Some… some grew into different creatures, into things more human.

Like Keith.

But therein lay the problem. People like Keith were born from the shadows, were people who went from chaos to clarity, and that frightened humans. To think someone so like them could come from the shadows that devoured them… Keith could understand, to some extent. But that didn’t excuse their blind hatred towards him, towards his kind.

In fact, it only fuelled hatred in return. Keith supposed he was a perfect example of that.

The facility where he was kept was locked down harder than a prison. He had to pass through countless security doors that only handlers had the passes to, while handcuffed and collared the entire time. Long minutes of walking down endless bare corridors where nothing but locked security doors marked the walls had him ending up in one of the several meeting foyers the building hosted. Before he was escorted in his handcuffs were removed by the handler, for appearance’s sake.

He wasn’t a prisoner, after all. Just a public servant. A soldier.

The meeting foyer was as bland as he remembered, much like the rest of the building. There were windows to the outside world, but beyond the facility was nothing more than an empty forest, trees so dark and lonely that not even animals strayed nearby.

The room itself held the commanders of the facility – two broad-shouldered men wearing black uniforms, their faces and visible skin scarred and calloused. They didn’t so much as spare him a glance as the handler left him standing behind them, his hands obediently folded behind his back. He knew better than to make a break for it, or to act out of line.

His new handlers stood across from the commanders. Keith found himself surprised to see someone so young standing there. He looked about Keith’s age, though his face was youthful, a feat not helped at all by the smile playing in the corners of his lips. There was no recognition of the place he was in or the people he was around on that expression.

“This is him,” one of the commanders said. “As promised.”

“We’ll be off then,” the smiling man answered. His voice was somehow flat and even, with no room for argument. Again, Keith was surprised. Usually there were more talks to be made, and the terms of his handling laid out: when he would be returned to the facility, what it was legal for him to do, that he had to be kept away from others like him.

There was none of that this time.

The commander’s face gave an annoyed twitch, but he did little more than gesture for Keith to step forwards.

And that was that. He was passed off to the newcomers, and obediently followed them out of the facility, his eyes glued to the back of the young man’s head. He was accompanied by two others, a brown-skinned man and a woman wearing glasses, but they registered so low on Keith’s register that he paid them no attention.

There was an armoured car waiting for them. A door was opened for Keith by the man, and he stepped inside the cool interior, letting out a slow breath as he did. This was standard procedure, though he normally knew where he was being taken.

The others joined him, with the smiling man sitting across from him. The door shut, cutting off all light from the interior. No one turned one on. Keith’s eyes adapted instantly, but he knew the humans would not be able to see him. A moment later, the car rumbled to life, and they were off.

He suppressed the urge to ask questions, and instead stared his fill, almost comforted by the dark pressing in around him. The man across from him still looked amused, like he wasn’t bothered by the dark at all. His face was quite slender, his nose little, his eyebrows raised high. His eyes were very blue, Keith realised.

Keith couldn’t see any scars on him, but that confident look on his face made Keith think he wasn’t a stranger to the shadows.

“You know, I can see your eyes, the glint in them,” the man said, his eyes pinned to Keith’s face. Not directly at his own gaze, but close enough. “Just a little. You’re staring quite intently.”

“Where are we going?” Keith asked, fixing his gaze just beyond the man’s face.

“Come now, don’t be like that,” he said with an easy going laugh. “I know your name, of course. But aren’t you curious about mine?”

“No.”

The man pouted. “Not even a little?”

“No,” Keith repeated. He was never with his handlers long enough to care. Most of the time, they delighted in torturing him, anyway. It wasn’t like the Limiters just put a lid on his abilities. They could be used to hurt him too, if he ever disobeyed.

“Lance,” the brown-skinned man said, nervous and placating at the same time, “don’t be too mean.”

“I’m not being mean!” Lance exclaimed. He sat upright, resting his elbows flat on his legs. “Is it true what they say about you?” Lance asked him. “That those with abilities were once shadows?”

“Yes,” Keith answered.

Lance leaned back again. “Do you remember any of it?”

“No.” That was a lie, but one he always told. He remembered fragments of chaos, of hunger and desperation and the feeling that he could never be still. Those memories were more like dreams than anything he could put his trust in. Just flashes, like a reflection glinting off glass.

It was far easier to remember all of the training he’d been put through at the facilities once he’d been captured. When they’d collared him, and conditioned him to respond to pain and orders.

“You wear a Limiter, right?” Lance continued.

“Yes,” he said again. What a strange question to ask, when it was such common knowledge.

“Can you describe what it’s like?” Lance asked.

Keith clenched his fists, feeling an instant bolt of rejection go through him. Limiters were a sore subject.

Lance waved a hand, completely oblivious to Keith’s mounting irritation. “I mean, I know what it does in theory. It manipulates your power output, right? Makes it so you can’t fully control your abilities.”

“Yes,” Keith ground out.

“But what is it like? Tell me.” Lance pressed.

He barely repressed a snarl. “Is that an order?”

Lance frowned at him, or at least in his general direction, thanks to the complete darkness of the car’s interior. “I suppose so.”

Such flippancy. Keith wished he’d been thrown back in his cell.

Regardless, an order was an order, so he explained, “It’s like a fist is closed around a vital organ. There’s only so much room to breathe. Whatever squeezes out is what I can use. That’s all.”

Lance’s frown deepened. “Is it painful?”

Keith wasn’t sure how to answer. Of course it was painful. Not only did the Limiter manipulate his abilities, but it made him into the servant of whoever was handling him. If a handler told him to walk in front of a train, he’d have no choice but to comply. Handlers had physically hurt him before, made him do tests of strength that resulted in injury. That wasn’t even considering the way it could shock him, or constrict until he couldn’t breathe.

“Let me see,” the woman demanded.

“Go ahead,” Lance said.

She was quite young too, Keith thought, as she stood beside him, leaning over. He held still as she shone a light towards his neck, her eyes fixed on the Limiter. There was a small beeping sound from a handheld device she was holding. It must have been scanning the Limiter.

“Well?” Lance asked. “Care to share, Pidge?”

She hummed, ignoring him. “I’ll send you the data, Hunk. You should look at it.”

The other man murmured his nervous agreement.

“It’s certainly high-tech,” Pidge said. “Might take a while to crack.”

Keith frowned as the light turned off, plunging them back into darkness as Pidge returned to her seat.

“I guess I should explain,” Lance said, drawing Keith’s attention back to him and those perceptive blue eyes. “I’m not here to use you as a soldier, Keith. Though if need be, I will ask you to protect us from the shadows. We humans aren’t as well equipped to deal with them as you are, no doubt.”

Keith agreed. Who better to destroy a shadow, reluctantly or not, than someone who knew their every secret?

“If I’m not here to fight, then why bother going to the effort of requesting me?” Keith questioned. Whenever he was given to new handlers, it was only to fight. To kill. To devour.

Lance reached for his hand blindly in the dark, and to Keith’s own astonishment, he moved his hand into the man’s path. Even as he did it, he didn’t understand why he let the strange human hold him in such a way. Or why he didn’t pull away immediately, for that matter.

“I’ll put it simply,” Lance said, gaze intense. “We’re going to break your Limiter.”

Keith stiffened. “What?”

“If there’s anyone that could do it, it’s these two.” Lance inclined his head towards his companions.

“Why?” he snarled, pulling away. Twisting shadows condensed around him, darkening him further, as if in response to his rising emotions. It would be just like humans to trick him into thinking they were on his side, only to punish him severely for it later.

“Not everyone agrees with the way the shadows are being handled. Not from a prevention standpoint, and certainly not from a tactical standpoint. Turning people into unwilling soldiers…” There was a flash of anger across Lance’s face, there and gone in a moment, that made something in Keith feel like it was crumbling. “Is it so wrong to defy orders?”

“Yes,” Keith hissed, because he’d be punished for insubordination if this conversation left the car. It wouldn’t be Lance or his companions shocked within an inch of their lives, their very soul compressed and compressed and compressed until it was nothing but a fraction of its true form.

No, it would be him suffering the consequences. They’d send him out to fight, would force him to kill shadows – shadows who could become like him, who could be human under the pain and confusion of chaos. And if he didn’t, they’d hurt him until he did. Until he obeyed.

“If I’m to be of no use, return me to the facility. The Limiter doesn’t hurt,” he lied, spitting the words out.

Lance gave him a small smile, but this one wasn’t amused. It was sad. “Liar.”

Chapter Text

Lance was on night duty. The responsibility of keeping the inn open during the moon’s rise was rotated between him and his four older siblings, and for the time being, it fell to him.

Their patrons arrived at all times of the day and night, most without any reservation or hint of their impending arrival. For the most part, they didn’t host the usual traveller or vacationing noble, despite the relaxed nature of their inn. Rather, his family worked under the direction of a demon hunting organisation, one that employed hunters all over the continent.

Though his family weren’t much for fighting. Instead they were healers, of a sort. They provided safety, a place for rest and recovery. Somewhere where hunters were sent when they needed to heal from their injuries, or when they needed a place to stay for the night. His family provided beds, clothes, and food, at no cost to the hunter, in exchange for their service regarding demonic matters.

It was work he was proud to do, if he told the truth. Since he was young he’d shown a proficiency for healing, and this was one of the best ways he knew to use that skill, aside from enlisting in the imperial armed forces. There were only a small handful of inns like this on the continent, so ensuring they remained functioning was something he took seriously. Demon hunters risked everything to keep human cities safe, and this was how Lance thought he could contribute.

Nights were always quiet, but not silent. The inn was a sprawling place built from wood and stone, so the walls creaked when a breeze came through. The mountain was shrouded in a dense forest, their inn was no different – the high, wooden wall surrounding the complex was built curved around the forest, so there were trees pushing in on buildings, offering shade and protection from the elements. It was idyllic, and hidden from prying eyes.

Lance let his awareness creep out from his mind, rippling in every direction like the waves of a disturbed pond. He could hear running water in a nearby stream, one they diverted to run the baths at the inn, and the ever present rustle of tree leaves. Night time meant there were no birds, but there was a different kind of alive energy, one that came from whatever nocturnal animals wandered about.

Beyond that, something else prickled at his mind. He was standing in the entrance foyer, leaning against the reception desk, but found himself straightening as he focused on it. Beyond the confines of the inn, and even beyond the tall front gate, something snagged his attention, like a rope pulling taunt.

Someone was coming.

Lance turned to the wall of bells behind the reception desk, pulling the ones that would alert staff to prepare a bath and room. The kitchen ran at all hours, so he didn’t bother notifying them. They’d have food prepared regardless.

On his own, he exited the inn, heading down a sheltered pathway towards the front gate. It was dark outside, but his way was lit by low hanging lanterns, ones so dim they couldn’t be seen from a distance. The night was quiet company, but he could sense a disturbed ruffle in the breeze, one that was deeply engrained in his being.

The gate made for an imposing figure as he approached it. Its wood was painted with protective markings, ones used to ward the grounds from demon attacks. They were too heavy for him to push open on his own, so he forced all of his weight against just one of them, and it slowly gave way.

Beyond the gate stretched a dark road. He only had to wait a moment before two figures stumbled into view. One was leaning heavily on the other, clutching at his side. Lance could smell the blood before he saw it.

“This way,” he said, pushing the gate open a little wider.

Startled eyes met his, but the two demon hunters complied, hurrying in through the gap. Lance let the gate shut behind him as he took a moment to assess the pair. One was tall, with a shock of white through his black hair, and a prominent scar over the bridge of his nose. The other one, the one who was bleeding, seemed younger, with dark hair and a half-conscious expression. Both wore the standard demon hunting uniform, with black fighting leathers over the top. There were blades strapped to their hips and down the columns of their spines.

“Let me see,” Lance said.

“You’re a healer?” the taller man questioned, staring down at him.

“I am.” Lance stepped forwards and gently pried the injured man’s fingers away from his wound. Something sharp had cut right through his leathers and the clothes beneath, leaving a bleeding gouge in pale flesh. The blood had yet to clot, and was still running. “Here, pass him to me.”

The taller man seemed doubtful that Lance could hold his companion up, but Lance was stronger than he looked, and he’d dragged bigger, heavier patients into the inn before.

The injured man was reluctantly passed to him. Lance slung his arm around his shoulders, taking most of his weight by himself. “A bath has been prepared,” Lance said, as they began the walk back to the inn’s entrance. “You’ll find a room and food waiting, too.”

“Ah, thank you,” the man said. “You knew we were coming…?”

“Not exactly,” Lance said, “but we can anticipate these things, you know. It’s what we’re here for.”

The man gave him a relieved smile. “Thank you. My name is Shiro.”

“Lance,” he replied.

“That’s Keith,” Shiro said, gesturing to his companion. “We were ambushed in the middle of a raid, and advised to come here, since it was closer than any headquarters. I apologise for intruding in the middle of the night.”

“You’re not the first,” Lance reassured, “and you won’t be the last.”

“I suppose not.”

Staff members were there to help them when they made it to the entrance. Lance escorted the hunters to the baths after appointing someone to take over the front counter. At the baths, he helped strip Keith of his armour so he could sink into the water, uncaring if his clothes got wet. Keith let out a little hiss when the water touched him, but Lance knew it would help.

Soon enough, the bath hall was clouded with steam, and the scent of blood faded. Staff members came in to take away the discarded armour, and eventually their drenched clothes (though their underclothes remained on, just for propriety’s sake). Lance was too focused on assessing Keith’s wound to worry about nudity.

The gash was deep, but the bath water was helping the blood flow stop. It seemed like the water was helping bring back some of Keith’s consciousness, because his eyes became more alert, and he started giving Lance a frown.

“I’m just helping,” Lance said, amused, as he filled the bath with fresh water. Each bath was a large, square-shaped fixture in the ground, something that allowed staff members to move injured patients in and out easily. Water was controlled by a lever at each bath, and could be drained underground with ease.

“What happened?” Keith demanded, his voice little more than a rasp.

“You’re at an inn,” Lance explained. “You’re injured, but you’ll be alright.”

Keith only continued to frown, looking lost.

He had the prettiest eyes, Lance thought. Almost indigo in colour. They were harsh and sharp, but focused, intense. They seemed to look right through him, and understand his intentions, and after a moment their intensity softened.

“Your eyes,” Keith murmured, gripping Lance by the wrist. “They’re so blue.”

Surprised, Lance let out a flustered, little laugh. “Funny, I was just thinking how nice yours looked, as well.”

Keith continued to stare.

Lance could tell both demon hunters were exhausted, so he sent them to their rooms straight after their bath. Food was brought up, and he took Keith’s plates to him, with another staff member attending Shiro. Keith was already asleep in bed when Lance arrived, so he left the tray on the small table in the room, and took a moment to glance Keith over.

He had more colour in his cheeks now, which was reassuring.

There was something undeniably intriguing about him, Lance thought.

Chapter Text

The click of bullets slotting into place was as familiar to Lance as his own heartbeat. He tested the weight of the gun once it was loaded, passing it back and forth between his hands, waiting to see which it fit better in. The gun itself was newly made, suited perfectly to the type of hunting he did. It almost looked like a revolver, but it was faster to load, equipped with a permanent silencer, and could hold more bullets.

Specially made bullets, at that. Ones that wouldn’t fit into a standard weapon.

But this was no standard weapon, and its bullets were the only kind that could effectively and permanently kill a monster. He decided that it fit well enough in his left hand and slotted it into the holster sitting under his arm. He’d need it for the evening’s hunt.

It was night out when Lance left the small inn he’d been staying at for the past few days. Rowdy customers had already filled the tavern downstairs, but were too drunk off cheap ale to pay him any notice as he slipped out between them. Small towns like these always made their fun at night, because it was the only time available – the day had to be spent working if they wanted to eat, wanted to keep their economy afloat.

The energy on the streets could go one of two ways, Lance had found. Sometimes a town would revel at night, with food stalls and lanterns crowding each corner. Music and laughter would spill out of any open taverns. Guards would still patrol the area, but they’d be more lenient on the people, so long as they didn’t too anything too illegal. But if that wasn’t the case, then the streets would be quiet; sinister. Darkness would collect in alleyways, around corners, in windows that hid silent watchers. Walking the street would be a gamble. Even the guards were dangerous.

He was somewhat relieved to see this town wasn’t like that. The streets certainly weren’t as loud as indoors, but he didn’t feel the need to look over his shoulder as he walked towards the edge of town. No one stopped him, though there weren’t many people out anyway.

Beyond the town was a forest. It took him at least half an hour to walk there, but he wasn’t in a rush. His job wouldn’t properly start until the moon was at its peak.

Monsters were most active at night, after all.

He wondered if he would have a tagalong this hunt, too. Lately, every time he’d gone monster hunting, another beast had showed up to keep him company. Lance always sensed it watching him, but he’d never had a clear shot, and had thus never killed it. Part of him didn’t want to; was too curious. Most monsters had lost their humanity, if they even had any in the first place. He hadn’t met one that displayed such interest, such restraint, towards a human.

It wasn’t like it had attacked him, in any case. It simply followed him around, watching, letting out small whines if it happened to see him get injured.

Sure enough, it showed up that evening, too. Lance was on the hunt for something straying too close to town – not close enough to frighten the townspeople yet, but enough for someone like him to be contracted.

The beast never tried to hide itself from Lance. If it did, Lance would probably shoot at it the moment he sensed it. Instead, it approached slowly, making sure Lance knew exactly where it was at all times. It almost seemed like it respected Lance’s skills as a hunter, which was a thought that certainly pleased him.

“There you are,” Lance said, when it appeared just off the side of the path he was wandering. The beast didn’t look like any monster Lance had hunted before. It wasn’t deformed or hideously scarred, and it didn’t carry the stench of death in its fur.

The beast looked like a wolf, though it was much larger, and there was something more streamlined about the shape of its jaw. Talons protruded from each paw, and whenever it opened its mouth, Lance caught a flash of lengthy fangs. Amongst its black fur it had blood-red markings, particularly around its eyes and down its back. He’d spotted them on the back of its ears, too.

“Coming?” Lance inclined his head and continued on his way, knowing the beast would follow him, its strange, violet eyes pinned to his back. Sure enough, its footsteps padded after him, loping close beside him.

He heard it sniff the air and let out a displeased huff.

“New bullets,” Lance said, pulling his coat aside to reveal the gun. “Don’t worry, I won’t use them on you.”

The wolf made a low growling noise, one Lance had learned was something along the lines of indignation. When it walked beside him – this was the closest it’d been, and yet Lance still felt no instinct to draw his weapons – its head was level with his. He imagined that if it stood at its full height, head up, it would be far taller than him.

“Seen anything monstrous around?” Lance asked, quirking a brow. He’d been with this beast for so long – whether willingly on his part or not – that he’d grown used to its company, and could figure out when it was trying to help him. It seemed interested in hunting monsters, or at least helping Lance do so. It never killed them itself, though it looked strong enough to.

The wolf only made another low growl. Neither here nor there, it seemed.

Lance sighed. He didn’t expect to come across the monster he was hunting the first night he stepped out into the forest. Nothing was ever that easy.

Perhaps it wasn’t wise, but he didn’t consider the nights he spent roaming the area with the wolf beside him as a waste. He still learned the layout of the forest, learned where it would be good to place traps, where he could get to higher ground. If he just happened to be accompanied by the wolf the entire time… where was the harm? It wasn’t like anyone was around to see them.

He had no idea how the wolf kept track of him when he travelled from town to town. There was something deeply human about the look in its eyes, something he had yet to place. It was a bit of a puzzle, that beast. One Lance was becoming progressively more invested in figuring out.

He never did have the safest hobbies. The guns he carried at his sides and his current occupation were clearly testament to that.

But he was good with guns – a sharpshooter. It wasn’t just with guns, either – he could wield a bow and arrow if he needed to, and could toss darts with nothing more than a careless flick of his wrist. He never missed a shot. And he’d gotten good at his job, too. Had to, if he wanted to live long enough to see the sun rise the next day.

So maybe he’d figure the wolf out soon. He hoped so.

Chapter Text

Lance jolted awake to the feeling of cold hands gripped tight around his throat. He let out a spluttering gasp, wheezing, as a spasm wracked through him. He clawed at his neck, but there was nothing there.

Nothing there at all.

It took several long, draining minutes for his breathing to even out. He was unhappy to find that he’d sweated right through to his bedsheets again, and that they were uncomfortably twisted around his legs and hips.

Again and again, he was assailed by the same, haunting dream. It rippled at the edge of his consciousness, elusive, but caught intrinsically in his blood, in the fibres of his body, in the sieve of his mind. No matter how hard he tried, he never fully recalled the dream, not even in the seconds after it’d ended. He was blinded by panic each time, by the need to draw in a proper breath.

Like always, he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again. It was getting worse. When he glanced at his bedside clock, he realised he’d only been asleep for a mere handful of hours, even less than the previous night.

Would this go on until he couldn’t sleep at all?

 

“Hey, you believe in all that… ghost stuff, right?”

Keith gave him a strange, wary glance, looking like he’d rather be having any conversation but that. “I do,” he said, slow and careful. “Why?”

Lance gave him a shrug, forcing an easy going smile to his face. “Just curious. Do they really exist?”

“Ghosts?”

He nodded.

“Depends on your perspective,” Keith answered. “And what people want to believe.”

Lance felt a familiar thread of anxiety weave through him. He tried for casualness as he asked, “And what do you believe? Are they real?”

Keith took his time answering. “I do, yes.”

Lance hummed, considering. He’d known Keith for years now, and their friendship had progressed from competitive arguments into something more like begrudging companionship. It had taken time, but what they had now… he liked it. They still bickered like nothing else, but it wasn’t spiteful. It was easy. He could be alone with Keith and feel no urge to leave, no urge to flounder for conversation. Whether it was intense discussions or simple quietness where they did nothing but exist nearby one another, it was simple.

Which was probably why he’d brought this subject up to Keith in the first place. He hadn’t told anyone else. No one else he knew really had any knowledge on the subject, anyway. To be fair, it was a bit obscure.

Maybe Keith expected to be ridiculed for his… hobby, if that was even the right word for it. Passion, maybe. He’d always liked cryptic things, and had always had an interest in the paranormal, probably for longer than Lance had known him. He wasn’t scared by it, like most people. Lots of people had given him shit about it before, but Lance hadn’t, not even when their friendship consisted entirely of arguing.

He wasn’t going to do so now, either.

“You must know a lot about ghosts, then,” he said. “Like hauntings.”

“Yes,” Keith said, hesitant. He set aside the textbook he had spread open in front of him – they were studying at their on-campus library, waiting for their next lecture to begin.

“Can ghosts give people bad dreams?”

“Sometimes. Why?”

“Just curious,” Lance repeated, though his mind was already elsewhere. He could feel Keith’s stare intent on the side of his face, and tried to subtly turn his gaze elsewhere, burying his nose back into his own textbooks. He was scared that if Keith looked at him for too long he’d see the dark circles under Lance’s eyes, or the way he was paler than usual, his face more gaunt.

He wanted to ask Keith about his… problem… but doing so would be admitting he had one in the first place. He felt almost ashamed to think he couldn’t sleep just because of some bad dreams. There was no telling if it was even a ghost doing it to him, despite the phantom hands around his neck he always felt. What if he was just imagining it?

Better to say nothing at all. He was already regretting asking the questions he had.

It would go away on its own.

 

It did not, in fact, go away on its own.

 

Lance fell asleep at Keith’s apartment. He hadn’t meant to, obviously. Their group had been over for a games night, one that went well into late hours. Lance had crashed on the couch after becoming bankrupt in Monopoly, and no one had seen fit to wake him as they left. He lived nearby anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal.

That night it was, though. Because of the whole bad dreams thing. It didn’t stop just because he wasn’t in his own bed.

This time he woke to hands on his shoulders, as well as around his neck. He thrashed, gasping for breath, his eyes immediately wet. His fingernails dug into the hands at his shoulders, and it was with a shiver that he realised they were real. Solid.

Actually holding him down.

“Lance!” Keith shouted.

He sucked in another shuddering breath, willing his eyes to focus. Keith was hovering above him, his hands on Lance’s shoulders. Lance could still feel pressure on his throat, even as the last wisps of the dream faded, leaving him soaked in a cold sweat and trembling again.

He must have only been asleep for an hour. Maybe less.

“Lance, are you with me?”

“I can’t… breathe…” he rasped.

Keith clenched his jaw, eyes scanning Lance’s face, his throat. He moved one hand to Lance’s neck, fingers warm against Lance’s chilled skin. His fingers didn’t encircle Lance’s throat like he expected, but rather he just rubbed the pad of his thumb over the skin, as if soothing away an injury.

It was so unexpectedly gentle that Lance found himself able to breathe.

“What the hell was that about?” Keith murmured.

Lance was too exhausted to say anything. He felt like he’d swallowed sandpaper, and not even Keith’s gentle touch at his throat was enough to soothe it.

“Is this why you were asking me about ghosts last week?” Keith asked.

Lance closed his eyes. He didn’t protest when Keith’s hand slipped around to the back of his head, pulling him up against Keith’s chest. The faint smell of Keith’s cologne and whatever snacks they’d eaten that night comforted him more than he expected. He let Keith hold him, because he wanted to be held.

“You should have told me,” Keith chastised, but his voice wasn’t unkind, and his hands on Lance weren’t rough. “You think a ghost is haunting you?”

“I don’t know,” Lance croaked. He didn’t know what to think about any of it, other than the fact that he couldn’t sleep, and he was scared he was going to choke to death. He just wanted rest.

“It’s okay,” Keith whispered, pulling him closer. Lance didn’t know how they both managed to squeeze onto this end of the sofa, but he didn’t care. The closer the better. “I’ll figure it out. I promise, Lance.”

Chapter Text

Keith was starting to notice things he’d never noticed before.

More specifically, they were things about Lance. Some remained casual and easy, were things he didn’t pay any mind to because they weren’t unusual. Every person had mannerisms as unique to them as their fingerprints, and Lance was no different. He had an energy in his voice that couldn’t be replicated, and when a particularly happy mood struck, there was an energised bounce in his step that Keith had never seen on another person.

Keith was spatially aware of him, could sense him in the same way he sensed when any other person was standing beside him, or talking to him, or in his periphery. Before, it was like that way with anyone. No one particularly stood out. He was always watching the people around him, always monitoring who went where, or who came close enough for him to see their faces clearly. Being socially anxious did that to a person, though it was less anxiety and more apprehension. Now, however, Lance had become someone who demanded almost all of Keith’s attention, without doing a single thing out of the ordinary.

But there were… other things that Keith started to notice. Not just the way he walked, or the way his mood seemed to live in his entire body, not just in his voice or words or thoughts like it did with other people. Things that had certainly been there before, but were now the focus of his attention, for no apparent reason. It was driving him crazy because it kept happening, over and over, those new things he kept noticing. Like there were endless new things to see about a person he’d known for years. Maybe he was just looking more. Focusing more.

There was no other explanation for it, when he couldn’t reliably say that Lance was doing a single, unusual thing. He was just being himself, as he always had been.

When he noticed something new, it always made him pause for a moment. His thoughts would stumble, his gaze quietly drawn elsewhere, his attention diverted.

Even if just for a moment, it was enough for him to realise what he was doing.

It started with Lance’s hands. They were slender, in the sense that all of him was slender, built lean and fast, not broad and strong, though that wasn’t to say he didn’t have any strength in him. He was pretty intense about his skin care routine, so his hands always looked soft, and never got dry in the winter like Keith’s did. His nails were clean and rounded, and his knuckles were boyish, protruding a little more than normal because of his slenderness. Lance gestured with his hands a lot more than he thought he did, so Keith always got a good, long look at them.

And then there was Lance’s face. His eyebrows did this thing where they quickly jerked inwards when he was puzzled by something, though the expression never lasted more than a second, because Lance didn’t like looking confused. Keith had only seen it a few times. He could also tell how genuine Lance’s smile was by the way it affected his eyebrows – they’d arch up high when he was surprised or excited and furrow low over his eyes when he was plotting something devious.

Those eyes…

They were much harder to stare at, simply because there was a good chance Keith would one day find them staring back at him, which couldn’t happen under any circumstance. But when he did get to look his fill, when Lance’s attention was entirely occupied by something else, he was always seeing something new. Lance had the bluest eyes he’d ever seen, flecked with dozens of different shades that he only noticed when he was sitting right beside him. Framed by dark lashes that had no business being so pretty, his eyes were truly beautiful, even when dark and stormy with frustration, or light and clear with joy.

All the little things that made up Lance… Keith was discovering them, over and over. He had no idea why those things appealed to him so much, but…

He didn’t want to stop discovering them.

Chapter Text

Lance had developed a bit of a sixth sense for knowing when one of his mates needed him. It was like a tingle in the back of his mind, one strong enough to wake him if he happened to be asleep. It had done just that several times now, actually.

It had happened that night, too.

Normally, he didn’t like waking up in the middle of the night. Sleep was important to him, and he tried his best to get as much of it as he could, even when times were busy. Sometimes he even slept with an eye mask and earmuffs on, just to drown out most of the world, though there was little he could do about his sense of smell.

He sometimes wondered if it was that sense of smell that woke him up, if his nose was somehow connected to the part of his brain that would always worry after his mates. Like a lot of omegas, his sense of smell was greatly heightened, to the point where he could tell a person’s mood from their smell alone if he knew them well enough.

And that was certainly the case with his mates. He could always tell their moods or their general wellbeing by the state of their scent.

Curtis was a beta, so his scent wasn’t as strong as an alpha’s or omega’s, but that never bothered Lance. He liked Curtis’s gentleness, thought it was a good medium between himself and Shiro, whose secondary genders sat at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Curtis’s displeasure made his scent nullify; unease made it flinch, taking on a tang of something sharp and natural. But when he was happy or excited or content, his scent would soften, turning warm and thick like honey or flower-scented candles.

Shiro’s scent was always strong, unless he was consciously reigning it in. Most alphas had scents like that, ones built to dominate and control, though Shiro never let his go wild on purpose. When he was angry, his scent doubled, swelling until it filled every inch of the room, like the crack of ozone after a close lighting strike. And when he was uncomfortable it soured, turning citrusy. When he was pleased or satisfied, though, his scent would envelope those around him in a comforting embrace. He would exude the scent of sugar, like freshly baked donuts, or something intrinsically masculine and trusting, like cologne that had been sitting on warm skin.

Lance knew his own scent fluctuated in much the same way – his mates had described it to him once, telling him he smelt like a cool breeze or the sea or other hopelessly romantic and affectionate things – but they couldn’t detect the same things he could. At least not as quickly, anyway.

He could tell when they were injured too, even if it was for something as small as a papercut or bruise. It was like he could scent it, like some strange mix of instinct and smell alerted him to their wellbeing. He could never explain it well. It was like… something in their scents changed, but only in certain spots, where they were hurt.

Shiro bumped into a doorframe and got a nasty bruise on his arm once and Lance knew it was there without ever having seen it.

It was the same when one of them fell ill. Lance woke that night to a strange scent, one that had him instantly awake and wide-eyed, every instinct in him alert.

The three of them shared a bed together, so he always had their scents close by. When he took a cautious sniff of the air, something made him frown. There was a slight twang hiding beneath the usual, scent-heavy smell of their bedroom. It took his sleep-addled mind a moment to work through them all, sifting through his own scent coming off his pillows, Shiro’s scent on the other side of the bed, Curtis pinned between them, the smell of washing detergent and shampoo…

But there, hiding just under Curtis’s scent, was that twang. It was almost like sweat, but not quite. Less his normal, clean scent and more like he was dirty, like a twinge of discomfort had come to him. When Lance squinted at him, battling to see through the dark, there was a noticeable sheen to Curtis’s face, and his brows were deeply furrowed. He was breathing through his mouth a little heavier than normal, and while he normally loved being in the middle, he looked ready to roll over elsewhere.

Lance leaned in closer, pressing his nose carefully to Curtis’s hair as he breathed in his scent. There was definitely something sick to him, not quite fully formed, but enough for him to notice. To wake him up.

Frowning, he pressed his cheek to Curtis’s forehead, then his palm, too. Curtis didn’t stir, but Lance felt the slight amount of unusual heat in his skin, and it made him worry.

He leaned over to feel for Shiro’s shoulder and shook the alpha awake. “Shiro,” he whispered.

There was a pause, and then the mattress shifted a little as Shiro leaned up, looking over to him. “Lance? What’s wrong?”

“Curtis is getting sick,” he said. “I can smell it.”

Shiro blinked at him, then breathed in deeply, scenting the air. When he evidently didn’t smell anything, he leaned over their beta, breathing in again. He let out a little hum this time. “He might have the flu,” he murmured.

It had been rather cold lately, with the onset of winter coming quicker than any of them expected. Curtis always got sick when it was cold. Lance always made sure to rug him up in layers of sweaters and coats and scarves, probably more than his beta would have liked, though he never complained.

“Nothing to do but let him sweat through it, for now,” Shiro said, smiling at little at Lance’s immediate scowl. “We’ll give him so medication and tend to him in the morning, okay? Sleep is what’s best for him.”

Lance wasn’t sure how he was expected to sleep when his mate was suffering right in front of him, but he knew Shiro was right. It wasn’t like he could pry the illness from Curtis, though he would if it were at all possible. Anything to make his precious mate suffer less.

Shiro reached over him to put a hand to Lance’s cheek, cradling his face. “Try and get some rest,” he said, gentle. “You can mother hen him in the morning.”

Lance sighed, but hummed his agreement. “In the morning, then.”

Chapter Text

Lance let out a long sigh as he finally sunk down into the cushions of the couch. He felt weary; every bone in his body, every muscle and sinew, every thread of thought was worn out and thin, and he’d never wanted to sit down so badly. He ached.

Long days at work and continuous study would do that to a person. He swore he hadn’t actually sat on the couch in days. Between running to and from his shifts at the local diner at all hours of the night, and his classes on campus, he didn’t have time to do anything except shower and sleep. Even sitting down while eating had become a luxury he couldn’t afford – he scoffed down toast while packing his bags come morning, and ate dinner standing up more often than not.

But now, a bit of a reprieve had come his way. A large chunk of his assignments had been submitted, and work had called to cancel his shift that evening, something about a burst water pipe flooding the main floor.

Coincidentally, it seemed like Keith had the evening off, too.

Lance’s boyfriend had been just as busy as he had lately. Keith didn’t work night shifts, but he had long day shifts at a mechanic’s, and it always left him exhausted and covered in black grease smears. Lance thought it was kind of hot, though Keith insisted it was just gross. Between that and his study, Lance often found him simply passed out in bed, having the energy to do little more than shower and eat.

That evening, however, he shuffled around the house like he was determined to stay awake. They’d eaten dinners at odd times – Keith scarfing down whatever he could find as soon as he got home from his shift, hungry as hell; and Lance heating up leftovers when he realised he wouldn’t be eating his dinner at some ungodly hour at the diner that night.

“No work?” Keith grunted, as he wandered past.

Lance closed his eyes as he tilted his head against the back of the couch. “Nope.”

There was a hum, and then a long pause. Lance almost fell asleep.

“Have you eaten?” Keith grunted again, as he walked past once more.

“Mhmm.”

Another long pause. God, he was tired.

Keith suddenly dropped down on the couch beside him, startling Lance into opening his eyes again. There was an exhausted look on his face, one that was one-hundred-percent disgruntled. He said nothing, didn’t even grunt, as he threw himself down into Lance’s lap, nuzzling his face into Lance’s thighs. He let out a sigh.

“You alright there?”

“Perfectly fine,” Keith mumbled.

Lance tilted his head back again, settling. He dropped a hand into Keith’s hair, twisting strands around his fingers. After a moment or so of doing that, Keith started out letting these little deep noises, as close to purring as a human could get, Lance thought.

It was nice. Even if he was exhausted, and knew he should probably drag him and his boyfriend to bed, he just wanted to sit there. Keith’s weight was warm in his lap, and he could feel the steady up-down of Keith’s breathing, deeper and a little louder than usual because he was tired, too. He liked concentrating on nothing but the feel of Keith’s hair between his fingers.

“You have work tomorrow?” Lance asked. He wasn’t even sure how he got the words out.

Keith grunted. Again.

“I’ll pack you a lunch in the morning,” Lance said.

“Thanks, babe,” Keith said into his thighs.

Lance snorted out a laugh.

Chapter Text

Lance clenched his fingers around the strap of his bag, staring at the back of his front door. Deep breaths, he told himself. Except not too deep, because then he’d inhale too many scents, and he’d very swiftly learned that that was a very bad thing.

Being a fledgling vampire in a world full of potential-food was terrifying.

Fledgling. That was a word he’d learned the night he’d been attacked, more than three months ago now. He’d been walking home from a late shift at work, jumping from wedge of light to wedge of light cast by old streetlamps. Alleyways were always dark once the sun set, and he knew the area wasn’t good, so he did everything he could to stay out of harm’s way.

Of course, no one ever expected harm’s way to be inhuman. He certainly hadn’t.

The hands that had grabbed him were stone cold. That was one of the most striking memories he had of that night, how cold those hands were. Like blocks of ice, but utterly solid, completely unbreakable. They’d dragged him twisting and thrashing into an alleyway, far away from the road and lights. One had gripped him over the mouth and nose to keep him quiet, and their grip had been so hard he’d felt his teeth go right through his lip.

It hadn’t taken long for him to die. At least, that’s how he thought he became like this. Their fangs had sunk into any inch of skin they could uncover. They’d pulled at his limbs and hair and clothes, tugging him in any direction that would let them get a bite. The first had gone straight for his shoulder, sinking their teeth deep into the meaty junction where it met his neck. The pain had shot down his spine, his cries turning high-pitched, like a shriek.

Then they’d gone for higher up on his throat, just beneath the line of his jaw. Another had wrenched up his shirt to get to the meat of his hip, below his ribs, because they were pulling at him so hard he barely had his feet on the ground. Then there’d been a bite just above the outside of his elbow. The soft inside of his wrist. The meat of the opposite palm.

There hadn’t been that many of them. Two or three. But they didn’t want him to live – they didn’t make clean bites, or try to hide the wounds they were inflicting. They’d torn into him multiple times, drinking several mouthfuls from one bite before making another. Tearing flesh. Breaking bones, when they pulled too hard – his shoulder, a rib maybe. Drained him until he was dry.

That’s when the panic set in. For them, anyway. Lance’s had long since withered into oblivion.

There’d been curses, then hissed phrases, some too lisped around fangs for him to hear clearly. Everything was muffled, anyway; distant, foggy. But that word had been thrown in there, spat like a slur, or a curse.

“He’s gonna fucking turn!”

“Fucking fledglings, they turn too easily!”

“If the territory boss finds out–”

Fear, then. Lance had smelt their fear, like the tang of sweat on his tongue. He hadn’t understood it until months later, when the scent had happened past him once more. He’d already started turning by that point.

“Just leave it here, it’ll die on its own,” one had hissed.

“Not if it fucking turns!”

“Just leave it!”

He’d been left. Dropped to the ground, bones creaking, veins drank dry. Left to die. He’d worked out that if the situation had been any different, he might have actually done just that. Vampirism didn’t work on everyone, and he didn’t know why it worked on him.

But it had. He hadn’t died in that dark, damp alleyway, or at least he hadn’t stayed dead. The hunger had woken him, dragging him from murky unconsciousness kicking and screaming. It had burned his throat, not with heat but with dryness, like the dryness crumbling his empty veins.

It demanded to be heard, to be obeyed. It was a looming master – consequences, judge, executioner. If he ignored it, he would catch alight, every cell and atom of his body burning like a body hitched to a stake. Hours passed while he screamed himself raw and clawed at the ground and broke his bones over and over.

Except none of that happened, not outside of his head. His body was as still as a statue in that alleyway as the turning took a hold of him, as the hunger situated itself as his strongest instinct – his only instinct.

When he’d finally opened his eyes, it was still night. A part of him had known it wasn’t the same night. The darkness didn’t look the same, feel the same against his skin. He could see better than before, the alleyway less shrouded in shadow. Could hear dripping from a nearby pipe, could smell the slick of oil from a nearby road.

At first, it was overwhelming. He laid there, crumpled and stunned, and waited until it quietened down. A siren sounded in the distance, miles away, but he could hear it wailing right beside his ears. He could close his eyes against the sudden sharpness of the world around him, but not his ears, not his nose.

It had faded, eventually. His senses had crawled back into him, inch by inch, until the world settled into something bearable.

Then the hunger started. The writhing pain, the desperate clawing at the ground, even though his body remained completely unresponsive.

The only reason he was where he was now, three months later, staring at the back of his front door, was because he hadn’t drank anything. Eaten? He wasn’t sure what the correct word was, but the point of the matter was that he hadn’t bitten anyone. Blood remained as forcefully appealing as ever, and the hunger persisted, twisting and scratching just under his skin, but he ignored it.

Or tried to.

That’s where the scents came in. He could smell people now, could smell how tasty they’d be if he bit them. Their heartbeats were like drums in his head, ones that took dead silence for him to drown out. He’d managed to drag himself back home that night, call his worried friends and family to say his phone had just died.

And then he’d holed himself up. For months. He managed to get away with it because he had some money saved up, and work was only casual anyway. He could take his classes from home, could play at being sick when friends or family wanted to visit. Food wasn’t exactly an expense he needed now, and he didn’t get cold, or need the light to see, so he only had to worry about his water bill and his rent.

But those were only minor concerns, compared to the hunger.

He’d decided that he needed to get out of the house. He hadn’t done anything more than walk to the end of the street in the last few months, and that was only at night, when there were less people around. He missed being outside, missed being in fresh air. Even if it was just to go to work, he needed to get outside of his cramped apartment.

He’d take the bus this time, though.

Actually leaving the front door was the hardest part. He sucked in a deep breath, briefly wondering if he even needed to anymore – he’d been too scared to test out that theory.

“Just open the door,” he muttered to himself, even as he slumped against the wood, resting his forehead against it.

He’d taken every precaution he could think of. Headphones were already jammed in his ears, the music turned up loud. He had glasses in his bag in case the world became too sharp, ones with a super high prescription – he thought they might be Pidge’s spare pair, she was always forgetting them. He couldn’t do much about the scent, though. He’d done everything to block his nose or muddle his senses, but the hunger pushed through all of it.

“Just the door,” he whispered. It didn’t have to be hard. He could do it.

Another breath went into his lungs. He wrapped his fingers around the doorknob and twisted, glad he’d already unlocked it. It gave way easily under his hand, as it had done a thousand times, and before he could convince himself to retreat back inside, he threw the door wide open.

And, standing there on the other side, was a man Lance had never seen before.

Fear rippled through him. He took an instinctual step back before reminding himself that he looked human, could act human. “Can- can I help you?”

The man just stared. He had dark hair and an angular face, his irises a colour so deep Lance wasn’t quite sure what they were, even with his eyes. Lance couldn’t immediately smell his scent, hadn’t even heard him come close to the door.

Maybe acting human wasn’t the right call.

The man stepped into Lance’s apartment. He was wearing dark clothes, but a glint at his thigh drew Lance’s attention. There was a dagger there, something too ornamental and large to be just a knife. It wasn’t fully sheathed.

Lance’s eyes darted back up to the man’s as he took another step back. In his three months of wallowing, he’d never once considered that maybe there were people out there who hunted vampires. Could they tell he was one, just by looking at him? He’d stared at himself in a mirror for hours, trying to see if he looked any different. Sometimes his eyes looked a little wild, especially when he was starving, fighting off the hunger. Sometimes his fangs would descend too. They were small, dainty little points that looked nothing like the movies. He couldn’t control them, but couldn’t work out what triggered them, either.

“Wait,” he said, breathless, as he held up a hand.

The man only reached his dagger, stalking closer, not a hint of emotion on his face.

Lance’s body knew a second before his brain did that the man was going to lunge. He threw himself backwards but cried out as the dagger still sliced into his arm. It came away clean – he didn’t bleed. Didn’t have enough blood in him to.

But it still hurt. His back hit a wall and the breath punched out of him. The man was frowning at him, looking between the blade and the open wound Lance clutched.

It was only for a split second, but Lance took the chance while it was there. He only lived on the third floor, and for a vampire, it wasn’t a long drop. He bolted for the window he’d left open when he’d been desperate for air and dove out of it, tumbling down onto the concrete below. The impact stung his ankles, but nothing broke, not like it would have if he’d been human still.

He chanced a look back up at the window.

The man was staring down at him.

Lance took off running. The streets were dark, but not entirely empty. Cars drove past. Not many people walking, but he sensed them nearby, in their homes and at work.

He only made it a block before he heard footsteps coming after him. He was fast, but being a vampire hadn’t made him any faster. Maybe if he wasn’t hungry…

But as he was, he was starved. Parched. He skidded around a corner and nearly toppled right over. He didn’t know where he was going, or even where he should go, if he couldn’t go home.

The footsteps came closer.

Lance turned around another corner, moving too fast to stop himself from crashing into the foul-smelling man just around the bend. He yelped as he crashed to the ground, but wasn’t hurt. The human, however, let out a string of curse words.

The smell of blood bloomed in the air.

Lance’s eyes jumped to the cut on the man’s palm from where he’d landed on a broken bottle. Blood swelled out of it, pooling along the man’s skin. So close. So close Lance could almost taste it, as if he’d caused that cut himself.

He heard rasping breaths, and realised that they were coming from him. He felt his little fangs poke at his bottom lip, felt that hunger stir up in him again, fighting to take over.

“Shit,” the man with the dagger said behind him.

Lance dragged his eyes away, clamping his mouth shut. He met that man’s eyes, and knew instantly that the man knew he was hungry. Starving. It must have been clear on his face.

But he wouldn’t eat.

He scrambled to his feet and hauled himself down the nearest alleyway, one hand around his own throat. There was a muffled scuffle behind him, and words exchanged – the drunk man he’d run into was shoved on his way, grunting and groaning the whole time.

Lance collapsed against a brick wall, breathing heavily. The scent of blood was in his nose, his mouth. He was wheezing now, and so hungry. Starvation scratched at his throat, made him dizzy. Before he knew it he was groaning, hunched over his stomach.

“You haven’t eaten,” the man said.

Lance looked at him, eyes wet, expression strained. “Of course I haven’t,” he hissed.

“Why?” the man demanded.

“I don’t want to,” he said, then louder. “I don’t want to!”

“How long since you turned?”

Lance pursed his lips, struggling to find words. “Three… three months, maybe?”

“Months?” the man repeated, incredulous.

Lance flinched at his tone.

But the man only sheathed is his dagger, and approached. Lance couldn’t move, not even when the man grabbed him by the arm and hauled him upright. “You can come with me,” the man said. It didn’t sound like he had much of a choice.

“What?”

“Vampires aren’t allowed to create fledglings,” the man said, “and you are clearly a fledgling, which means someone has broken the rules.”

Lance flinched again. He could still sometimes feel those fangs in his flesh.

“Normally, fledglings are killed on sight,” the man continued, as he led Lance away from the alley and down the street. He didn’t seem to notice Lance’s fear. “That’s because they’re uncontrollable, and go on killing sprees at their first hint of hunger. They never last more than a few hours, let alone months.”

“I haven’t eaten!” Lance insisted.

“Clearly. You’re not bleeding.” The man tugged him along faster. “Which makes you an anomaly.”

Lance blinked, swallowing dry air. “Which means… you’re not going to kill me?”

The man cut him a look. “Not at the moment.”

Lance forced himself to a stop, wrenching his arm free. “I’m not going with you just to die later,” he hissed, baring his fangs.

“Then what are you going to do?” the man demanded. “Stay in your house forever? Starve until you go crazy and kill everyone around you?”

Lance baulked. “I… I wouldn’t…”

“You don’t know that,” the man said. “You obviously don’t know anything about your own kind.”

“This isn’t my own kind,” Lance said. “I was human!”

The man only stared. Lance knew what he saw – someone scared, someone with fangs and tears in their eyes, someone who was gaunt and hollow from hunger. But he was a fighter, too. He’d fought it off for three months. He could last a little while longer.

“But you’re not anymore,” the man said, some of the harshness from his voice evaporating. “Even if you’ve held off the hunger, you’re not human. You’ll need to eat eventually.”

Lance swallowed again.

“Come with me,” the man repeated – this time, it sounded more like an offer. “As long as you don’t hurt anyone, you’ll be fine. And you don’t seem like you want to hurt anyone.”

“I don’t want to.”

“There. Problem solved.”

“If I go home, will someone else come after me?”

“Undoubtedly.”

Lance shrank into his shoulders. “Okay,” he whispered.

“Okay?” the man repeated.

“Okay, I’ll go with you,” Lance said.

“Alright.”

“Can you at least tell me your name?” Lance asked, despondent, as he followed after the man. He didn’t have any of his belongings on him – not his clothes, his phone or wallet, nothing. He’d even dropped his work bag at some point.

“It’s Keith,” the man said. After a pause, he asked, “What’s yours?”

“Lance.”

“Do you remember what happened when you were turned?”

“You mean, do I remember being dragged into an alleyway, getting ripped apart, and then dumped like a piece of trash?” Lance muttered. “Yes, I do remember.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you,” Keith murmured.

Lance looked at him. He looked honest. “Yeah,” Lance said. “Me too.”

Chapter Text

Lance frowned as he tucked his wings in against his back, regretting that he hadn’t covered them like Keith had offered. He’d been too proud of them, too sure that he wouldn’t feel self-conscious or out of place.

Though he was clearly both of those things.

See, the territory they walked through was Keith’s home. Lance’s mate was a fire nymph, someone born of heat and flames. Almost all fire nymphs had red-coloured wings, mixed in with shades of yellow, gold, orange and brown. Fiery colours. Ones that reflected light like coloured glass, were as bold and brass as flames.

Keith’s wings were no different. The durable membrane of his wings was bright red, a colour deeper and more vibrant than Lance had ever seen before. The patterns were outlined in deep black, and they were so pretty he still felt his breath get stolen away sometimes, when a flash of them caught the corner of his eyes. He had beautiful, strong wings, ones perfectly befitting a powerful fire nymph.

They were wings incredibly different from the pair fluttering nervously at Lance’s back.

Lance wasn’t a fire nymph. He was born from water, from the rush of a tide and the endless blue of the sea. As a water nymph, his wings were appropriately blue, a mix of several different shades that shimmered in sunlight. They’d all but blend into the sea, if he deigned to ever get them wet. He was incredibly proud of them, because he did a lot to maintain their lustrousness, and even among water nymphs they were highly regarded.

Here in the fire nymph territory, however, they did little more than stand out.

The water territory was a place of constant movement. Not only of the tide and the water itself, but of people, too. Their citadels were built on waterways both inland and by the shore, so people and creatures alike were always coming and going. Lance had seen every shade of wing there was to see – the greens and browns of nature nymphs, the burnt umber and onyx of earth nymphs, even the glittering silver of moon nymphs and the wispy whites and greys of the air nymphs. Of course, blue always reigned supreme in their territories, because it was home, and water nymphs were truly best situated by some body of water.

Here in the fire territory, such culturalism was far less apparent. Lance truly had to strain his eyes to see anything other than red and orange, and only then did he see a flash of black here, or the deep brown of rich soil there.

He could sort of understand why. Fire nymphs lived in terrain that was incessantly hot, and usually quite fire-prone. This included at the base of volcanoes, sometimes even up the sides of them, even if lava was a frequent visitor. Their wings were practically fireproof, after all, and fire nymphs thrived in the heat. They couldn’t stand the cold of arctic regions where ice nymphs lived with their pale ice-blue or snow-white wings; they couldn’t stand the drifty temperatures of the air citadels, or even the damp jungles where nature nymphs sometimes lived.

Fire was best for them. Heat was best.

So their territories weren’t usually at the top of anyone’s visit lists. Lance himself would have preferred seeing the air citadels, or even the arctic vales, since his wings were equipped to handle both climates perfectly fine. He wouldn’t have particularly stood out there.

Here he did. There was scarcely any water nearby, with the fire territory instead getting its water from deep underground. He couldn’t see blue wings anywhere. Not white or icy ones, either.

“I feel like people are staring,” he whispered to Keith, giving his mate a brief, panicked look. Lance’s wings were the furthest thing from fireproof, and if anyone happened to send a flame his way…

Keith stepped closer to him, as if he’d heard Lance’s thoughts. His own wings stiffened, flaring a little – a warning sign, possessive and harsh, to anyone staring. Mates would do anything to protect one another and Lance’s mate was no different.

It had been Lance’s idea to come here. He wanted to visit Keith’s family, and see where Keith had grown up. There was a whole side to Keith he’d never witnessed, despite Keith telling him much about his life here. He knew Keith missed his home territory, even though he preferred living by the sea with Lance, where they’d made a little home for themselves after finding one another.

“They’re staring because you’re beautiful,” Keith answered, though his eyes were glaring at anyone who stared too long, and not looking at Lance. “And they’ve probably scarcely seen wings like yours.”

That made sense. Regardless, Lance inched closer to Keith, and kept his gaze straight ahead as they travelled by foot through the residential district, towards Keith’s old home. They’d planned to visit his family – his older brother, though they weren’t related by blood, and the people who’d trained him, which was as close to raising him as Keith had gotten after his parents abandoned him (though that was a long and complicated story all of its own).

Lance was looking forwards to it, despite his apprehension. They’d spent some time walking around so Lance could get used to the town, to its architecture and its pressing heat. They were close to an active volcano, though Keith seemed completely at ease, so Lance ignored it.

“Do you think your family will like me?” he asked. It was something he’d already asked several times, but it was a good distraction. Worrying about impressing Keith’s family was better than worrying about if he fit into this place.

“Of course they will,” Keith said, without a hint of doubt. “I love you, so they will too. They’ll be happy to finally meet the person who sparked my fire, so to speak.”

Such a fire nymph thing to say, Lance though. It was endearing. Keith had already met all of Lance’s family and friends, and they adored him. They’d met in the water territory, and once their mating bond had snapped into place, Keith had decided to stay. Said he thought the water territory would be a better place to live, and that he wasn’t as attached to his home as Lance was.

As Lance had learned, Keith valued Lance’s happiness over everything. It was hard work getting Keith to be selfish sometimes. But the truth of the matter was that Keith didn’t have the same familial bonds that Lance did, and he was far more willing to move to be with his mate. Had always planned on it, if his mate happened to be from another territory.

“And I like it here,” he’d added, when Lance still expressed concern over Keith’s willingness to make such a big decision so quickly. “Home has never been a place for me, Lance, but an idea instead. An idea of somewhere that I can be with my mate, where we’d have the safety and freedom to start a family of our own. I like the people here – your family. Here… we’d have a support system, and such an adoring family… I want to stay. If you want to.”

Lance had. He’d taken a bit of convincing, made Keith really think about it, but their home in the water territory really was perfect for them. Living there didn’t mean they couldn’t visit. Apparently, Keith’s brother was thinking about moving over too, anyway.

He would make sure this wasn’t the last time they visited. Their mating meant their two families were united, and this first meeting would surely help strengthen that bridge.

Besides, touring the fire territory would be a good opportunity to relax with Keith. Lance was looking forwards to it.

Chapter Text

Keith wouldn’t call himself a vigilante.

It was more like he was filled with powers, with shadows, and every now and then he had to release them. They coiled and thrashed around inside him, becoming restless over time, and the only way he’d figured out to release them was physical. He’d let the shadows slink away from him, fling them over the city, let them fix problems that police and security couldn’t.

At first, it started small. Shuffling strays off roads, scooping up rubbish, locking forgotten windows for exhausted single mothers and students. It escalated as he grew older, and the powers became stronger – snatching up robbers, shielding members of the public from random acts of violence, protecting people on the street from drunk and angry stalkers.

He could see why people would think he was a vigilante, but he wasn’t. He didn’t go looking for trouble to fix. All he did was let the shadows out every now and then. He used to wonder if he was fortunate that the shadows were kind, or at least morally guided – now he wondered if they were merely an extension of him, or a reflection of his own morality. He didn’t think he was a bad person, so maybe the shadows weren’t bad, either.

One night, something happened that challenged his relative passivity on the whole situation. He normally sat himself on the rooftop of his building, always when it was close to midnight so it was dark. His shadows would spill out of him like smoke, making their way all over the city, however they pleased. He could always sense them, in the vaguest meaning of the word. He could tell what they were doing and where, but it wasn’t like he could see through them, or hear. Not properly.

It was more like instinct.

And that night, his instincts grated against his nerves like fire. It had never happened before, and it made him scramble upright. He felt his heart began to race as he tracked his shadows, following each branch, searching for the source of his sudden anxiety.

Whatever his powers were, they had given him better physical abilities than a normal human. Nothing extreme, but enough that he had no fear leaping from one rooftop to another, following the wispy trails his shadows had left behind. He blocked out everything but his shadows – ignored the wail of sirens in the distance, the screech of car tires, breaking glass from dark streets, everything.

Until he heard whimpers. Familiar ones. Fear that didn’t belong to him rippled through the shadows, infecting him. He drew his shadows in from every direction but that one, strengthening them. No one knew who he was, so he made them obscure his face, settling over his face like a featureless mask.

He found himself above an alleyway. It wasn’t a great part of town, but he was familiar with it. A few of his friends lived nearby because it was cheap and close to a train station, and he knew one specific friend – Lance – worked at a nearby late-night diner.

When he glanced over the lip of the rooftop, he felt a cold, horrified jolt go through him.

His shadows had found Lance. By the look of him, he must have just finished a shift – there was a smear of icing powder on his sleeve and his apron was sticking out of his small bag. He wasn’t alone.

No, there was a stranger pressing him into the brick wall of the alley, cornering him like an animal. There was a reddening bruise already blossoming across his chin, like he’d been punched, and his clothes were dishevelled. Around Keith, his shadows thrashed through the air, as if sensing Lance’s fear. Keith felt something sharp go down his spine, like a bared-toothed snarl.

“I don’t have anything–” Lance started, his shaky voice echoing up the confines of the alleyway to Keith. He’d never heard Lance sound so… unlike himself. Any words following those were abruptly cut off, and Keith couldn’t tell why until he leaned over the edge of the building a little further.

A glint of silver shone in the stranger’s hand, only half-pulled from the pocket of his large jacket, enough to be a threat to Lance but not to anyone passing by.

Anger rippled through him. Night in and night out Keith saw people like this – muggers, thugs, the desperate. People did stupid things when they were hungry or high or inebriated. Sometimes they did those things just because they could, too.

But it had never happened to someone he knew. He’d always thought it wouldn’t make a big difference, that crime was crime – and he wasn’t a vigilante anyway, just someone with shadows in his veins that needed to be let out every now and then.

How fortunate that they were out that night.

A wave of shadows slid over the edge of the building, dripping down the walls like ink. He pushed himself upright until he was standing, and his view into the alleyway was optimal. There were places for his shadows to hide, where the darkness behind doorways and alleyway debris strengthened, deepened. Became alive, even.

Before the man could do anything, tendrils of shadow slipped around his ankles. There was just enough pressure to make him pause, and in that moment, Keith struck.

The shadows could be hardened, if he concentrated enough. Enough to know it must have felt like fingers wrapping around the man’s ankles as he was jerked off of his feet. There was a yelp and then a sickening crunch as his face hit the concrete. The man groaned, stunned, and tried to stand, but the shadows pinned him down, clawing into his legs and shoulders.

He let out a string of slurred expletives, and shouted, “What the–!”

Keith put a foot on the edge of the building. Shadows twisted around his fingers, wicking off his skin. He put his other foot on the edge and stared down, counting the windows on the other side of the building – only four stories. He could manage that.

With a small intake of breath, he stepped over the edge.

The ground always arrived before he expected it to. His ankles stung as he reached the concrete, but the shadows softened the blow. When he stood, he felt Lance’s eyes on him. Lance was still frozen against the wall, his eyes impossibly wide. He looked pale, even with his dark complexion.

But, for the most part, he was unhurt. The bruise on his chin would heal, and Keith knew he’d be shaken for a while, but Lance was resilient. He would be okay.

It was only that thought that stopped him from doing something truly terrible to the man caught in his shadows. Instead he dug them into the man, hauling him upright. He didn’t care that the shadows would leave bruises. He hoped they would. With a flick of his wrist, he sent the man sprawling out onto the street, shadows hanging off of him. A promise of worse to come, if he didn’t leave.

And he did run off. He spat curses the entire time, but it seemed hard for him to talk through the blood gushing out of his nose. Guess he hit the concrete harder than Keith thought.

“T-Thanks,” Lance stammered, as he pushed himself away from the wall, shaky.

Keith had to force down a reply. The shadows could obscure his face, but they’d do nothing for his voice. He’d be lucky if Lance hadn’t recognised his clothes, at this point. It wasn’t like he wore more than a couple outfits. He nodded, just because he didn’t want to seem creepy, but then wondered if nodding silently was a creepy thing to do.

He wanted to stay, to make sure Lance got home alright, but he slunk away into the shadows instead. He could watch from the rooftops.

 

“He is real!” Lance insisted, not for the first time, as their group sat around a table at a café they often frequented. Teacups and plates of half-eaten pastries were spread out between them. Keith was remaining pointedly calm on the current issue, because he wanted to sink into a hole in a ground, but that was very unlikely to happen.

“There’s no proof of that,” Pidge answered, also not for the first time. She looked like she was on the verge of frustration, which was a lot for her. “There’s barely any proof of malevolent, do-good shadows anyway.”

“Isn’t it sort of scary to think there’s someone with powers like that anyway?” Hunk added.

Lance scowled at her. “I saw him, Pidge,” he argued, folding his arms across his chest as he slouched in the booth chair. “He was standing right there in front of me. He saved me.”

The bruise hadn’t faded as quickly as Keith thought it would. It had gone a mottled blue-black along the edge of his jaw. Lance said it didn’t hurt, but Keith didn’t believe him. He felt angry just thinking that someone had hurt Lance like that, when Keith could have prevented it. He already knew he’d be paying much closer attention to Lance’s workplace from now on, especially on his late shifts.

Their group of friends had been arguing about the existence of the strange shadow-controller for the better part of an hour now. Lance insisted he was real, but the others weren’t so convinced. Keith wasn’t sure he felt about all of his friends’ steadfast disbelief in his existence, but he wasn’t going to weigh in on that matter.

At least the conversation seemed to drift away from that after then. Lance frowned harder than before, slouching even further into the booth. He’d never liked losing conversations.

That morning when they’d arrived at the café, Lance had somehow ended up beside Keith in the booth, and turned to him then, blue eyes imploring.

“You believe me, right?” Lance asked, low enough for the question to be between just them.

“Yeah,” Keith said, against his better judgement. He couldn’t say no to that expression.

Lance gave him a smile that had no business being as warm as it was.

Chapter Text

Lance couldn’t stop the sharp wheezes escaping him. It had taken him an hour to squeeze out of the cage he’d been kept in. Maybe more than just an hour. He’d certainly spent far longer than that starving himself, eating less and less until his body shrank enough for him to fit through the bars.

But tonight was the night. It had to be. He’d wriggled through the bars of his cage, huffing and puffing the entire time, and dropped down to the concrete floor below. The facility was dark, but he could see perfectly fine in his fox form. He’d done his best to memorise the layout of the rooms when he’d been moved from experiment to experiment, and knew where to go to find the nearest exit points.

He was fortunate that there weren’t many workers scheduled to be around that night. His fur was dark, something close to a brown-mahogany colour, and it helped him blend into the shadows. He waited around a hallway corner, hunched close to the ground, until someone exited through a back door. And when it almost shut behind them, when only a sliver of space was left, he rushed out.

The air outside was cold. That was the first thing that crossed his mind. It had been a long time since he’d felt it, since he’d breathed in fresh, cool air. It made his lungs ache in the best way possible, and he wanted to cry out at the feel of it, but he didn’t.

Instead he bolted for the forest. It was a short trip over an asphalt parking lot, and then he made it to the trees. The ground turned to damp, mushy leaves and little stick pinches as he darked further inwards, uncaring of how hard he was breathing. Sounds rushed around him, ones he hadn’t heard since he’d been captured – night owls and wind rustling leaves and little animals digging burrows in the wet soil beneath his paws. It sparked something wild in him, made his blood sing with feral freedom.

He knew the forest here wouldn’t be dense. It didn’t have the right scent. He must have only been running for forty minutes, an hour at the most maybe, before he picked up the sounds of cars rushing by. They sounded a lot further away than they were, as he soon found out when he suddenly burst out onto a road.

Headlights washed over him. The light was blinding, and he instinctively bared his teeth, all his muscles bunching up. The car swerved, tires squealing, and he darted away as fast as his trembling legs could get him. He hadn’t expected the road to come up so quickly, and blamed his exhaustion for his muddled senses.

“Damn fox!” was shouted after him.

After being stuck in a cage barley big enough to turn around in for months, the world seemed a lot bigger than he remembered.

Cars sped down the road on either side. He froze in the middle of the two lanes, tail tucked in close to his body as he measured the distance between the other side of the road and the oncoming car. He bolted for it, trying his hardest to ignore the screeching of the car’s tires as it twisted around him. At least it tried – a lot of people would just run a fox over, rather than risk hitting another car or a telegraph pole.

There wasn’t much on the other side of the road. A strip of cracked concrete and clumped weeds separated the road from what looked like a tiny strip of shops and motels. It might have been a tiny stop on a long highway, he wasn’t sure. There were probably suburban houses further away from the road.

He made a beeline for a diner a little way’s down the street. A neon sign flickered intermittently, a few of its letters dark, and there were cars parked in front of the storefront. He skittered under one, eyeing the diner warily. There were customers sitting at the counter. None were particularly facing the parking lot. His stomach clenched when the smell of donuts and coffee wafted out of the door.

Hunger was a persistent beast.

The door to the diner opened with a little bell tinkle. He perked his ears up, watching as heavy black boots scuffed the ground, trudging past him. The smell of food followed, making his head turn. He probably would’ve eaten anything right then, but whatever that was he smelt was certainly high up on the list.

He followed the man’s boots with his eyes, and drawn by the smell of food, edged around under the bottom of the car so he could see where the man was going. There was a car on the opposite side of the lot that he stopped by. A back door was opened, and the food thrown in, sitting like a perfect target in a paper bag. Grease stains were already leaking through where the food touched the sides. Lance could feel himself bunching up, everything in him wringing, wanting to eat so badly.

The door to the diner opened again.

“Keith!”

The boots turned. “What?”

“Come hold the door for me while I bring out the cases,” a man called from the open door.

Lance watched the man in boots, Keith, walk back. When he’d passed the car Lance was hiding under, Lance bolted. He crossed the parking lot and hopped up into the car through the open back door in seconds, burying his way under a seat as he waited, tense, to see if he’d been caught.

Footsteps returned. The car’s boot was opened, and it shook as heavy things were placed inside. Suitcases, maybe. When the boot was shut, the footsteps rounded the front of the car. Lance could feel his time running out – he could see the food on the backseat, and the door was still open, but if he moved he’d definitely be seen.

And no matter what, he wasn’t going back to the facility. He’d rather die.

He sunk further under the seat, cursing his impulsiveness. The back door was closed, the two men got in the front, and the car rumbled to life.

If he was going to be stuck in here, he was at least going to eat.

He used the noise of the car turning on to disguise the sound of him pulling at the paper bag with his teeth. Hot chips spilled out, and he’d chomped down a whole mouthful of them before he could stop himself. They were terrible and he loved them. There was what smelt like a burger wrapped in paper, and it took a bit of digging, but eventually he had that scoffed down, too. Or most of it, anyway. It was hard to eat without hands.

“Where’d you put the food?”

“It’s in the back,” Keith said.

Lance was so distracted that he’d missed the entire conversation the two men had. A sick feeling settled in his stomach as he squeezed as far under the seat as he could. He was by no means a large fox, probably a little under average in height, and the thinness was helping, but…

“Holy shit,” the man said, as he twisted around in the seat to look for where his food had been. “There’s a fox in the car, Keith! Pull over!”

“What?” Keith exclaimed, twisting around too.

Lance growled, his hackles rising.

“Pull over!” the man shouted.

The car careened to the side. Lance dug his claws into the carpet to keep himself from sliding around.

The two men flung themselves out of the car the second it pulled onto to the side of the road. The back door was ripped open, and Lance aimed a snarl out of it, every inch of him defensive.

“How the hell did a fox get in the car?” Keith asked, frowning down at him.

Lance had never seen such a handsome person. In fact, both men were attractive. Keith had dark hair and an angular face, but it was his eyes that were the true show-stopper – they were such a strange mix of blue-grey that they looked almost violet in the night’s dim light.

The other man looked older, though still young. He had a strong jaw and thick eyebrows, as well as a scar sitting right over the bridge of his nose. His hair was somehow as white and pure as starlight.

“Wait, look,” the white-haired man said, leaning in a little. “Look at its eyes.”

Keith leaned in further, too.

Lance flattened his ears, unsure where to look. He knew his eyes were blue, even in this form – it was a sign he wasn’t just an average fox. No fox of this colouring would have blue eyes, after all. It was the feature that had gotten him caught in the first place.

“Are you a shifter?” the man asked, surprise thick in his voice.

Lance shrunk as far back as he could go. He was sure he was going to throw up.

“It’s okay,” the man soothed. “Just–”

His words were drowned out by a black car slowly driving past. Lance jolted upright, staring at the car. He recognised it. The logo on the side was the same one he saw on the uniforms of the workers at the facility.

Fear gripped at him like a big, meaty fist. He heard a pitiful, scared whine and realised it was coming from him. Panic made him bolt for the other side of the car, but the door wasn’t open, and he scrabbled at it uselessly.

“Get back in,” the white-haired one said to Keith.

A hand grabbed Lance by the scruff, pulling him up onto a lap. Keith had slid into the backseat and slammed the door behind him. In one swift movement he’d all but smothered Lance under his leather jacket, tucking each limb under the fabric, even Lance’s fluffy tail. The other man had climbed in behind the wheel and then the car was peeling away, shooting off down the road.

“Don’t they have a facility near here?” Keith asked.

“They must do,” the white-haired one muttered. “Did they see him?”

“I don’t think so.”

Lance was frozen. All he could smell was the faint scent of cologne coming from the jacket. There was warmth radiating off the soft interior fabric, wrapped tightly around him. Keith’s hands slipped around him, readjusting his weight.

“Shiro I can feel all of his ribs.”

“No wonder he ate my food,” Shiro said. “Good thing he got away, then.”

Lance shimmied until his head popped out from beneath the jacket. Keith dutifully pulled it back over, but at least he let Lance’s snout stick out of the end. He let out another pitiful whine.

“Don’t worry,” Keith said, rubbing a fingertip across Lance’s snout. It felt oddly comforting, after being prodded with needles and medical tools for months. “Why don’t you shift back?”

Lance whimpered.

“He might be too weak,” Shiro said, consoling. “It takes energy, and if he feels unsafe, his body won’t comply. All we can do is find someplace safe to let him rest and recover.”

That was true. Lance hadn’t been able to shift back since he’d been captured. When he tried, his body disobeyed. It was almost painful.

He wondered why these two people were helping him. Shiro seemed like the comforting sort – he had been so careful talking to Lance before – but there was a protective edge to him, one Lance could see in his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. And Keith seemed so abrasive, but he’d instantly gone to shield Lance from view, and his touches on Lance’s nose were so gentle.

He knew these people didn’t want to hurt him. People had hurt him for so long that he knew what that looked like, and it wasn’t this. It wasn’t instant protection and softness. He didn’t understand it.

But he welcomed it. His body craved it. He dug his claws into Keith’s thighs and settled under the leather jacket, unable to stop his huffing whimpers. When Keith’s hand progressed over his head, still so gentle, his trembling only grew worse, but it wasn’t from fear.

Maybe he’d be safe here, with these two. He’d apologise for eating their food when he could.

For now he peered up at Keith, meeting his eyes, and then Shiro’s in the rear view mirror. Shiro, at least, offered him a smile to match Keith’s soft petting.

For the first time in months, Lance let himself relax.

Chapter Text

Lance was very aware of how handsome his alpha was. It was a begrudging admission, in the beginning, because he hadn’t liked Keith and had resented how handsome he found the alpha. Didn’t they see the awful attitude hiding under those pretty eyes and sharp cheekbones?

Of course, Lance hadn’t held that opinion for too long. Their initial impressions of one another had changed over time, moving from self-proclaimed enemies to begrudging friends to something more, and then to what they had now – mates. Bonded partners (though, to this day, he still denied that their first ‘bonding moment’ ever happened, just to pester Keith).

In hindsight, he’d always appreciated Keith’s good looks, even when they weren’t friends. It was an appreciation that only increased, even as Lance saw the less glamorous sides, like the bed hair and the allergies and the sweating during summer. Lance, crazily, still thought he was handsome. Maybe the imperfections endeared Keith to him more.

Sometimes, when Lance was particularly hormonal, he got a little… possessive over his mate. That handsomeness could be a double-edged sword, his brain told him. As attractive as Lance found him, that meant other people could find him just as tempting. What if Keith found a prettier omega? There sure were a lot of beautiful ones out there. It didn’t matter how much Keith reassured him, Lance was sort of intimidated by his prettiness.

Rationally, he knew that wasn’t a healthy way to think. When he wasn’t so close to heat, he had no insecurity over his mating bond, and had no worries that Keith’s eyes were straying. Their bond was close, and ran further than skin deep. It wasn’t like he just liked Keith for his looks. There was far, far more to it than that, possibly more than Lance could ever put into words.

It was just a little harder to control himself around his heat cycle. That was a time when his emotions were all in sharp relief, and many of his insecurities both old and current liked to wriggle their way to the forefront of his mind. It was difficult for him to control, especially when he was right on the cusp of his heat. He’d get clingy and whiny and feel upset if Keith put his attention elsewhere, especially if it was on another person.

Which, you know. Not healthy. He knew that.

He was thankful Keith understood it. His alpha always tended to his needs, and did his best to sooth Lance’s worries, no matter how irrational they were. Keith had the same sort of problems close to his rut, when he was unusually possessive and touchy, so he knew how it felt to have his mate fully support him through that.

Sometimes, however, Lance just needed to… do his thing.

It typically started with nest building. He’d steal Keith’s most-worn jackets and pile the nest full of things that smelt strongly of the alpha. Sometimes he’d make Keith himself sit in it, just to get his scent imbedded in the fabrics. He’d snarl or whine if Keith went to move.

Or if he wanted attention, he’d get teary-eyed if Keith was busy. Sometimes they’d be resting on the couch and if Keith needed to leave, or if Lance got the slightest inkling that he couldn’t have Keith’s arm around him, he’d become unexpectedly emotional. He had no idea what he was afraid of, but something needy always gripped him.

Around other omegas, however, it was always worse. Lance could freely admit he was a bit of a jealous person, but he tried to rein it in. It was usually over silly things anyway, like Keith getting cuter latte art when they went for coffee, or when Hunk got a better grade then him, or something equally as fleeting. He wasn’t jealous over Keith, or tried not to be. He didn’t get mad when Keith talked to another omega, or when a beautiful girl hit on him.

Except for when his heat came by.

Keith had described him like a wild animal, once. “It’s like you have this sense for when someone un-mated comes too close,” he’d said, utterly amused, even as Lance pouted and hung off his arm. “You get this really intense look in your eyes, like a lion ready to pounce. I don’t feel like I need to be aware of my surroundings at all.”

Lance wasn’t sure how he felt being compared to a wild animal, but he couldn’t really say it was untrue. He did tend to glare at people he felt were competition, and he knew he’d let out a snarl or two if he felt his mate was being poached from him.

He was having such problems that week. His heat was fast approaching, right on schedule, and it was driving him a little mad. It wasn’t the wisest decision for him to leave their house when he was feeling so riled up, but being stuck inside could drive him equally as mad, so they compromised. And by compromised, Lance got to do what he wanted, and Keith got full warning that he was feeling tetchy.

They went for lunch. Lance’s clinginess wasn’t limited to just his handsome mate. He wanted to know his closest friends and family were alright too, so that he wasn’t stressed out about their wellbeing when he went into heat. His family was very important to him, and something he prioritised above pretty much everything else, aside from Keith. If they were happy, he generally was as well.

Joining him and Keith were Hunk, Pidge, Shiro, and Allura. Shiro’s mate, Curtis, couldn’t make it, and neither could Hunk’s mate, Shay, but that was alright. Lance was content to be with those who could make it, and enjoyed the food at the restaurant they visited.

He was making sure not to let his emotions run away from him. If he felt someone glance their way, he let it brush off of him. They were a larger group entering the restaurant, it was natural to draw some eyes. And so what if their waitress was an omega who’d glanced more than a few times at Keith? He was a handsome alpha. Lance wasn’t being clingy. He supposed to an outsider it wouldn’t be obvious they were mated.

That didn’t stop him from feeling irrationally annoyed, though. He tried to choke it down, but the waitress kept drifting around their table, more than Lance thought was necessary. He could smell that she was an omega – there was a sugariness to her scent that marked her as one, though even if she wasn’t, he still would have felt threatened by her.

The longer he sat there, stewing in his thoughts, the more interested the waitress became. It was clear she had her eyes on Keith, literally and figuratively. Her scent was pleasing, wafting over them, aimed towards Keith but Lance could smell it as well.

In the end, he knew she didn’t mean it when she spilt a jug of lemonade over him. If he’d said something, just casually, or if he’d leaned into Keith’s space to get Keith’s arm around him, then she’d probably have gotten the hint.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, as she carried the lemonade to their table, someone behind them accidentally pushed back their chair, and she tripped. Lemonade spilt over the lip of the jug, pouring cold and sticky down Lance’s shoulder and chest. It seeped through his shirt, ice cubes skittering across his lap.

A startled yelp escaped him. He jerked upright, sending the ice cubes flying.

He could make out the waitress apologising, but it made no sense through the buzzing in his head. He was absolutely horrified, and could feel heat crawling up his cheeks. A mortified whine whispered out of him, small and pitiful, as he gave his mate a miserable look.

The responding rumble from Keith was deep and protective, pure alpha. He was by Lance’s side in a moment, almost shouldering the waitress out of the way as he did.

“I’m okay,” Lance said, before Keith could get indignant on his behalf. “I’m… I’m just going to go to the bathroom, okay?”

Keith looked torn between following after him and staying to snap at whoever had upset his omega. He seemed to realise though, just as Lance had, that it was only an accident, and stuck close by him as he made his way past all the tables.

Mercifully, the bathroom was empty. Lance yanked free a handful of paper towels and began blotting at his shirt. It was already sticking to his abdomen.

“Cold?” Keith asked, spotting Lance’s wince.

“Quickly warming,” he grumbled. “And sticky.”

Keith took the paper towels from him, wet them, and then went back to blotting Lance’s shirt, pulling the fabric away from his skin. He was quiet for a moment in that imposing, alpha way of his, though it was a quiet Lance felt comforted by.

“Are you okay?” Keith eventually murmured. “You’ve been quiet all lunch.”

“That omega likes you,” Lance said, before he could think better of it. “I know that’s stupid of me, but I just– I feel all out of place–”

“I didn’t even notice her,” Keith said, before Lance could ramble himself into an early grave. “You weren’t talking as much as usual, that’s what I noticed.”

Heat crawled into Lance’s cheeks for an entirely different reason. He loved how Keith took care for him, because half the time he didn’t notice it happening, not until he thought back on it. There were times when Keith’s care was obvious, like when he made dinner or when he looked after Lance while he was sick. But a lot of the time it was subtle, like a second habit to him, something he did without thinking.

Like when he tucked Lance in at night, after Lance had kicked the covers off of them. Or when he cleaned out Lance’s hairbrush, even though it was gross, and Lance hadn’t asked him to.

Or when he watched Lance at a café, entirely unknown to everyone around them, just because Lance wasn’t talking as much as usual.

Keith leaned forwards a little, interrupting Lance’s thoughts, to breathe in his scent. He could likely tell that Lance as slowly getting closer to his heat, which would help explain his anxious behaviour. He let out a little rumble as he exhaled, stepping a little further into Lance’s space. “You smell good,” he said.

“Not like lemonade?”

“A little like lemonade,” Keith admitted. “Still sticky?”

“Not as much.”

Keith hummed. He tossed the paper towels away and stepped back to squint at Lance. “You still look like you had a drink spilled all over you, but at least like you’re half dry.”

“Thanks.”

“Welcome.” Keith gave him a sarcastic smile to match the one Lance was giving him. “Ready to go back?”

Lance’s smile faded a little. “Can we just stay in here for another minute or two? Please?”

“Yeah,” Keith said, hooking his arm around Lance’s waist to hold him close. “Of course.”

Lance sunk against his mate. He wanted to be a little drier when he left the bathroom, for his own sake. He’d be fine in a little bit, when his lingering mortification had drifted away, but for now he just needed a moment to settle. There was no better place to do so than with Keith, who he knew would protect him and comfort him for as long as he needed it.

And Keith didn’t even complain about Lance’s damp shirt. He simply held Lance to him, one hand firm at his hip. He was projecting a sweet, calming scent, which Lance appreciated. It soothed that ruffled, instinctual part of him like nothing else ever did.

“Do you think the others are mad?” he asked.

“About what?”

“I sort of stormed off.”

Keith snorted, amused. “You didn’t. They’re not mad.”

Lance hummed, smiling. He was already feeling better.

Chapter Text

The sound of excited growling made Lance pause. He straightened, wincing at the twinge in his back – he knew he should be wearing a supportive harness when he was working in the hatchery, but in his excitement to get to the dragon eggs, he always forgot – and turned towards the entrance.

A familiar fledgling, already the size of a small horse, was bounding towards the hatchery. Red, oh so aptly named because of her crimson scales, let out another deep, excited noise. Lance hardly had time to brace himself before the dragon was squeezing herself through the hatchery doorway and throwing herself at him.

Laughter built up in his throat. “Nice to see you too,” he said, looping an arm around the squirming creature’s neck. He’d helped incubate Red while she was still unborn, and had been there when she’d hatched for Keith, his mate. Speaking of… “Where’s Keith, hmm? Surely not far behind.” The two were never apart.

Red jerked her head up from where she’d been rubbing against his neck to glance behind her, huffing out an impatient, almost barking noise. Keith had just made his way into the hatchery, looking amused. “How are the eggs going?” he asked, leaning against the doorframe.

“Great,” Lance was happy to report, gesturing to the eggs lining the padded incubating shelves around him. “I think the ebony one will hatch soon, he’s getting active.”

“Still certain it’ll be a boy?”

“Just a feeling,” Lance said, smiling. He made his way over to Keith, leaning in when Keith slipped an arm around his waist. “Is it already lunchtime?”

Keith nodded, pressing his nose into Lance’s hair. They always ate together during the day, them and their dragons – Red had already bounded off to find and retrieve Blue.

This is perfection, Lance thought.