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Cum Moriar (When I Die)

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“Third shelf. Halfway from the bottom. Reach all the way back. B-black bottle.” Keith’s voice gurgles a bit at the end, bringing that sense of urgency that’s been lingering in the air like a thick fog right down on their heads.

Lance is the one who scrambles to follow his instructions. Everyone else is occupied. Pidge is speed-skimming the book Keith called for, Hunk is doing his best to strike a match, and keep it lit long enough in the damp air to light a candle, and Shiro is doing his best to hold Keith’s body upright. Two strong, if mismatched, hands under his armpits, and panicked breathing in Keith’s ear.

Lance finally gets the bottle, fumbling it in his shaking hands. “Fuck,” he whispers. “I can’t do this.”

“I t-think you all need to take a deep breath.” Keith wants to laugh, but it catches somewhere below the knife between his ribs. “It’s not like I’m dying.”

It’s as though he calls something forth with the way his vision darkens on the last syllable. It’s all he can do to breathe as he pitches forward, Shiro steadying him further. The bottle glints in the light of the candle Hunk has finally lit, and Keith grabs for it in vain.

“Break...b-break it,” he chokes. He whispers. The dark at the edge of his vision just keeps coming. “I-it’s time.”

Everything goes black to the sound of glass shattering.
——————

Keith has known he was different since he was seven, and his mother sat him down on the aged-wood top of her work table after he’d fallen from his bike.

She had smoothed his hair, and bandaged the scrapes on his knees, and said calmly, “Do not worry, do not cry. Wounds heal, and for us, faster than most.”

He had cried anyway, and told her that the pain made something inside him feel as though it was flickering, and that he was afraid.

She had only smiled, smoothed his hair once more and repeated. “Do not worry, do not cry.” Then in a softer tone, “You are magic, Keith, and pain can affect you, but no pain, not even death, can claim you if you don’t want it to. You’ll see in time how wonderful it is to be magic. I’ll teach you.”


Shortly after she began to show him books, and at first he could only understand the pictures, but slowly, as he grew, he learned the words as well.

He learned of his own magic, the history of it—of his mother and others before him. He learned of spells and of beings, of darkness and of light, things of this realm and things of other. But most importantly he learned of death.

He learned his part in it, or rather, how he sits upon its fringes. Because to be of magic is almost to be of death, and death will surely come to claim him for it. It will seek him out, grasp him within its big dark maw, and pull him through the veil.

Keith just has to make sure it spits him right back out.
—————————

He wakes up to silence.

It’s the unnerving kind, the type of quiet that makes the air around you feel foreign and disorients your sense of self. He groans as he sits up just to shatter it.

He knows he’s not alone, though his friends are nowhere in sight. He can feel the presence lurking in what seems to be every corner of his workshop, every shadow on the floor, up close and far away all at once; invisible. He knows it, though he’s never met it face to face.

“I would prefer it if you came out now,” he says slowly, his voice straining. “I know you’re here.”

All at once the presence gathers; solidifies, and his eye is drawn to the center of the room. A few bottles rattle on their shelves, and the air takes on a thick quality, then there’s a man before him. No , something that can only be considered a man in the loosest sense of the word, with stark, lily-white hair, lavender skin, and a smile so sharp it looks menacing. Keith calls it for what it really is.

Demon.

The word barely passes Keith’s lips and the demon moves. Crossing what space is between them in no visible way, as though it blips out then back into existence right in front of him; one of its hands suddenly under Keith’s chin pulling up, and forcing him to meet otherworldly violet-blue eyes with sharp yellow sclera.

 “Witch,” it says, in a voice that drips like honey on gravel. An accusation, and greeting wrapped in one statement. “He who cheats death.”

 Keith’s breath stutters, and he feels the phantom pain of a knife entering his chest all over again, as sudden and sharp as the moment it happened, then the demon releases his chin and it vanishes.

 “I don’t cheat death,” Keith corrects on a gasp, “I merely reject it.”

 There’s a pause, and the Demon’s eyes wander as though they’re now considering Keith as a whole.

 “Tell me, Witch, do you plan to put me back inside a bottle?” The demon leans closer, whispering the question against the bone of Keith’s cheek. “Summon me again when everything fades to black, and you can’t claw your way out of the darkness? Over and over. Or do you think you’re going to have to banish me altogether? Maybe call those friends of yours in here and wrangle me back down to hell as though you’ll never need me again. As though you owe me nothing.”

The last words are spoken in a guttural growl that ricochets through the wall of Keith’s chest and feels like it grips his beating heart.

Keith shakes his head, the little bit of unease in his body fading to steadfast decision. There’s a burn in his left palm that tells him Pidge followed his instructions perfectly, and it’s all the reassurance he needs to reply.

“No.”

“No?” The demon repeats, pulling back to meet Keith’s eyes once more, steely curiosity burning like hell-fire behind its features. “Surely you have some plan in place, Witch . My summoning was no accident.”

“I do,” Keith confirms, letting a smile of his own leak onto his features, and enjoying the way apprehension clouds the demon’s eyes. He takes a deep breath and quietly, subtly, raises a hand between them. “ I plan to keep you.”

 Then he presses the ancient seal inscribed on his palm to the demon’s naked chest, and before either can blink the world fades to black once more.

_____________________

 

This time he wakes up gasping, trying to pull air and energy both back into his lungs, and blinking the dim lighting of his workshop from his eyes. It takes a second to remember why the air feels heated with magic, charged in a way that’s inherently dangerous, then he glances down to the floor below him and it all comes rushing back.

The lavender demon is lying prone on the gray linoleum, seemingly a much more solid entity than he was before, and the fresh, trapped-pentagram shape of a seal is burning brightly on the left side of its chest. It’s lines glow a startling aqua-blue against the demon’s unique skin, and they seem to ripple and shift with every second that passes, but the seal’s magic is solid, permanent.

He lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding in relief. It worked. He checks his right palm for the matching seal, and runs the fingers of his other hand over the glowing blue lines. The light they give off is a different hue than the demon’s side of the seal, slightly darker, and fused directly with the aura of Keith’s magic. Perfect.

He sends up a silent prayer to those who came before him, and slips off the altar table he’s been lying on. He’s a little woozy when his feet first touch the floor, but he finds his balance and moves forward. The lavender demon doesn’t stir when he steps closer to it. He circles around it once, checking it from all angles, but it remains wholly unconscious. Still, he’s cautious when he steps over it, and makes his way to the door. He has full faith the seal will keep it here until his return, but he still sends up one more prayer that it won’t wake up as he exits and gently shuts the door behind him.

The air in the hallway is noticeably different, and he sighs. The only magic flowing through it is the stale signature of his wards. It brushes his skin lightly like a cool breeze and sings briefly over the new magic in his palm, welcoming it into the fold and recording it like data. He hadn’t realized just how heated the air of the workshop had been with the presence of power between himself and the demon, but that’s something he will have to worry about later. The wards will keep anything from spontaneously combusting, and right now, he needs to see his friends.

The moment he thinks of them he can feel their energy again, flowing into the corners of his aura like a recharge, and his ears finally tune in the low chatter coming from the living room. He crosses the hall and steps through the doorway before he even realizes he’s moved, and the chatter dies instantly.

Four sets of eyes widen, and everyone in the room rises in unison, but Shiro is the fastest. All but leaping from the couch and enveloping Keith in his arms.

“Keith, ” he breathes into Keith’s hair like a plea, and his metal prosthetic arm creaks with the force he’s exerting into the hug. If it wasn’t held together by magic Keith is sure it would fly apart. Keith’s ribs feel a little twinge of that phantom pain again, but he manages to return the embrace.

“I’m okay,” he assures softly.

Shiro jerks back just as swiftly as he’d crossed the room, and levels Keith’s violet eyes with his own watery gray ones.

“You were dead.” It’s not an accusation, it’s a fact, and Shiro is visibly angry about it. “You had a knife in your guts, and you were dead, Keith.” He moves his hands to Keith’s shoulders and squeezes like he’s afraid Keith might fade away at any second like the end of a bad movie. “We all watched you die. You aren’t allowed to stand here and tell us you’re okay after that.”

Keith breaks eye contact and looks around at the others. They haven’t moved, seemingly frozen in place with unnamed emotions. Lance looks like he’s seeing a ghost, standing awkwardly by the armchair as though he can’t decide if he wants to cry or scream. Hunk’s clenched jaw gives the impression that he’s about to hurl, and he’s fidgeting with a small burn on his left glove like putting his thumb over it can somehow make it disappear. He rotates between looking at Keith and looking at the floor until Keith moves on. Pidge seems as stoic as always, but the subtle downturn of her mouth gives away her unease, like she’s calculating a problem but the solution she keeps coming back to isn’t the one she wants. 

No one says anything.

Finally he brings his eyes back to Shiro. There’s a blood smear across his cheekbone that looks like it was transferred there by the wiping away of tears, and a full hand-print stain in the white portion of his hair as though he had been clenching his fist in it. Suddenly, Keith can imagine it all so sharply— the grief— and it feels like a punch to the chest. Or a stab to the ribs.

“I’m sorry,” he starts—and he is, but he’s not sure how to properly express it. For him, a death like he just faced has always been an inevitability. Something sure to come, and something impermanent at the same time.

But his friends don’t know the extent of his magic. Not really. They don’t know the stories his mother told him, or the books he read as a child; the knowledge sealed inside him about what it means to be magic.

They just know that Keith died, and they had to watch it happen.

“I’m sorry,” he repeats, and it feels like a piece of him breaks in the seconds of silence that follow. Then Pidge shifts uncomfortably.

“The fact that you are alive again, means we will probably forgive you,” she speaks from her corner, “after a few more apologies and a damn good explanation.”

“I want to explain,” he says truthfully. He has to explain or they’ll never move forward, and he can’t exactly hide a demon forever. “I’m just not sure where to start.”

Her frown evens out a bit, golden eyes flickering from Shiro back to Keith as she adjusts her glasses on the bridge of her nose. “I’m sure we all have some questions for you. We could maybe start there? See where it goes.”

“Yeah...I can answer questions,” Keith agrees shakily and shrugs himself out of Shiro’s grip,  motioning for everyone to sit back down. Questions would probably be the easiest route to take for this, and his self preservation tells him that at least he won’t have to answer what they don’t think to ask. “What do you want to know?”

“How are you alive?” Lance speaks before they’ve all fully sank back down in their seats, looking up to where Keith remains standing and swallowing heavily. “I—I mean, we’re no strangers to magic obviously. We chase the occult for a living, but that… what happened in there—” he makes a stilted motion toward Keith’s workshop— “that was beyond mortal witchcraft.”

Keith clenches his sealed fist at his side. It burns slightly, reminding him of the very beyond mortal elements still lying on his workshop floor.

“It might help if I start with what you do know,” he states, not meeting Lance’s eyes. “The things you did while I was… out.”

“We did what you told us to do,” Hunk states flatly, voice weaker than Keith has ever heard it. “Lit a candle, read a spell, broke a bottle. Then all hell broke loose.” He clears his throat. “We’ve chased ghosts, we’ve blessed houses, we’ve un-cursed cursed objects, but I’ve never felt as afraid as I did in that room, Keith. I need you to know that.” He pauses and Keith can see the sincerity behind his eyes. “It’s like it locked us out. I don’t even remember moving, I just did what you said, then all of a sudden I was on the other side of the door and I couldn’t get back in. None of us could.”

Shiro, Pidge and Lance all nod. A mix of worry and apprehension re-etching itself onto all of their faces in unison.

“I think what we really need to know is,” Shiro starts, lifting a hand toward Keith and then letting it drop warily, and Keith gets washed by a wave of dread and regret as the rest of the question forms visibly on Shiro’s lips, “what was in that bottle?”  

Fuck.

The question might as well be a summons. Keith feels the air change suddenly and the brush of a hand materializing on his shoulder before he hears the voice answer from behind him in a deep split-tone rumble.

I was.”

Then the world blurs into a whirl of colors and shouting, as Keith is yanked out of the room.

 

_____________________

 

Keith lands on his feet with his vision slightly blurry, but thankfully there’s no blacking out this time. He’s not sure how many times he can handle being unconscious in one day. It still takes him a moment to get his bearings, and when he does he’s less than satisfied with what he sees.

“What the fuck ?!”

The room around him is unfamiliar; made up of stonework and magic that he can sense in his chest, but nothing he’s ever touched before. It wraps around the walls and slides over his own aura giving off a faint feeling of...dread. Something in the back of his mind whispers ‘ demon lair ’ though he has no precedent to base this conclusion on. He knows it’s correct though; can feel the sureness in his gut, but the demon himself is nowhere to be found.

Except he is.

He materializes directly across from where Keith stands in the same manner he had first appeared in Keith’s workshop. Only this time, Keith can feel every inch of magic behind the trick as if it were coming from his own core. He can almost see the patterns and intricacies involved, flowing with a firm control on unchecked raw power, and he can’t stop himself from gasping as it lights something unidentifiable inside him.

The demon smirks. “Surprised by the strength of my magic, Witch? I find myself quite shocked at the strength you’ve managed to display thus far.” He steps toward Keith and the feeling of his magic amplifies so much that Keith has to grit his teeth against the burn singing in his palm. “Though, I do not believe you know what you’ve done with it.”

Keith tries not to visibly flinch. The fact that they’re standing in a demon lair and not somewhere within the walls of Keith’s home is a giant indicator that something he’s done with his own magic...went slightly  wrong. The spell was supposed to bind the demon, not only to Keith, but to Keith’s realm. Any demon lair is far outside of that, and this one feels further still.

The demon must sense Keith’s unease— the confusion and anger and panic— he’s sure it’s rolling off him in waves, as his brain tries to pinpoint the misstep taken when performing the spell.

“You are unaware, aren’t you?” The demon taunts, stepping forward and closing Keith in, feeling as though he somehow surrounds Keith while they’re standing in the middle of the room. “You have no idea the extent of the spell you’ve cast, the channel you’ve opened, the bond you’ve forged. You wanted merely to trap me, and instead you’ve trapped us both.”

Keith doesn’t like feeling this cornered. It makes him function on instinct, voices and inklings in the back of his mind moving him until his palm is pressed flat against the demon’s chest; emblazoned seals lining up the way they had earlier. The magic he forces through his palm is volatile enough to make the demon shudder, and Keith speaks through his still clenched teeth.

“Explain.”

The demon pushes back without hesitation—a clear message that says this link flows both ways—sending magic that tastes black stuttering through the bones of Keith’s wrist, and vibrating under his skin until it explodes past his ribcage. He can’t stop himself from breathing heavy, eyes wanting to roll back in ecstasy at the sheer amount of power being flung between them, but he keeps his gaze steady, eye to eye with the lavender demon. The magic is so much, so strong, and Keith is horrified to find that something about it feels right.

“Why explain, Witch, when I can show.”

The demon raises his hands slowly, as though he doesn’t trust Keith to hold still, even though Keith feels more paralyzed than he’d care to admit. Then he brings his palms to rest lightly against Keith’s temples; a movement so gentle it leaves Keith unprepared for the searing pain that follows.

It hits him like a flood, a sudden, heavy flow of imagery and information, magic and mana, that feels like raw flame to the sides of Keith’s human brain. His back arches with the influx and his lungs vibrate, languages push themselves from the back of his tongue that he can’t even speak, and he thinks, with what little capacity he has left, that the demon means to break him.

It’s as though his thoughts amplify the flood more, like a whispered challenge, and the demon in front of him seems to loom larger as all feeling leaves Keith’s limbs.

“Now, now, Keith.” The demon says his name like a vice, pulling the syllables from somewhere behind Keith’s own skull. Keith’s magic bends to it, an unwilling moth to the draw of a brazen flame. “Surely one who withstood death can survive this.”

And the demon has a point, but Keith still isn’t sure what this is, his mind unable to grasp the fleeting visions pouring behind his eyes. It’s an assault.

He sees himself, younger, balancing blood and knives with knowledge, Latin pouring like webs from his own skin and his future being set without his permission.

He sees his mother, hands pressed to stone, skin glowing a sickly foreign violet, and chanting words that shake the earth like a prayer and a promise all at once.

He sees dimensions, witches flickering in and out in lines and rows, those who came before and those who’ve yet to come, and all of them screaming.

Then he sees the demon, beginning, pulled from a wall of pure light by a hand of evil, blessed by death, and cursed by gods. He sees it resurrect armies, level realms, then bring life back from the ashes. He sees it destroy, create, destroy.

The palms on his temples tighten.

“Go deeper than that, Witch, find the bond that has been formed between us, feel my magic strung up with your own, find the spell, find my name.”

The images change. Too fast at first, then slowing to a multifaceted blur. Then he’s in his workshop. His own body on the black stone altar, chest not rising, and his friends chanting sheet-faced around him. Then they’re gone, a flashbang-pop and he can hear them screaming outside of a closed door.

Something replaces them, bottles turning circles on their shelves, and wall-stones threatening to break free of their mortar. The demon rises from a pool of shattered glass like an oily fog off of hot pavement, then its hands are on Keith’s corpse, smoothing fingertip-pathways around his lips and along his throat. Keith breathes again, choking down a flow of energy and the life force that had been stolen from him.

The vision speeds up once more, like a technicolor fast-forward of reality on an old TV, blipping briefly into the wrong dimension, a place of cold and dark, fear and death, then returning to the workshop.

Keith’s hand is on the demon’s chest now. His mouth is moving. The lines of invisible magic grow shades, violets and evergreens, harsh yellows and mellow aquas. The force blows Keith and the demon apart, but the magic holds them together.

He sees their magic link, then he’s transported once more. A roar behind his ears, and walls made of blood shake around him. The demon’s consciousness, it’s very soul and his pulsate and form solid. He sees the spell end, the final weave of magic seal their fate. He knows, suddenly, the way it will allow them to pull and tug at each other’s power. A balance. An exchange. Power for life. Life for power. Inseparable and never-ending.

Then the roar changes, grows syllables, and malleable letters. A whisper. A scream. One word shattering through the rattling recesses of Keith’s mind.

A name.

It ends as suddenly as it had begun, Keith gasping, full weight being held up by the demon’s hands on his scalp and pain dissipating from his limp body.

Lotor.” Keith’s voice comes out dry, barely there, and pained. “Your name is Lotor.”

The demon—Lotor— releases his face, catching Keith’s shoulders instead as he slumps forward from exhaustion.

“Very good, Witch. But do you understand the spell you’ve cast?”

“Yes.” Keith wavers, his mind reeling and trying to make more sense of the trauma it’s just experienced. He finds the words he needs at the forefront of his memory, the last vision playing back more slowly. “An exchange . My life for an eternal bond. My resurrection left me with a debt to you, but the spell I cast to seal you to my realm, somehow paid that debt. You have access to my magic, my entire core, and in exchange, everytime I die, you’ll resurrect me?”

Keith trips up at the end, unsure, a feeling he’s not used to, but has experienced way too much today.

The demon hums, an aura of satisfaction coming from him, passing through their invisible bond that Keith is now much more aware of.

“It’s more than that.” Lotor’s voice rattles the migraine forming behind Keith’s eyes. “The exchange of power is equal . You can take from me as much as I can take from you. The seals come with a range of connection and emotion, the further you come to understand the spell, the deeper the connection will go. The spell you meant to perform was changed, warped and made stronger; turned into something truly ancient. Your resurrection is likely the cause.”

“How?” Keith asks, though he isn’t certain he actually wants to know, but the demon obliges his question.

“Dying removes the spirit, and my resurrection magic forced your spirit back in. You came back…” The demon trails off as though he’s struggling to find terms Keith will understand.

“You came back closer to the realms of demon magic, and further from the light of your world. You came back other , eternal, unable to age. Power for life, as you said. Henceforth, every resurrection you endure will mark you further as other , and eventually, your magic will be entirely of the demon realm.

The knowledge should burn.

It should sear fear into Keith’s exhausted core, but his mind has already accepted the visions put before him without his permission. In a way, this path was laid out for him long ago, when he decided to never give himself over to death. He didn’t know it would happen this way, but a part of him is unsurprised that it has. Immortality , he thinks bitterly, comes at a price.

A distant echo of his mother’s voice, a warning he’s never forgotten, plays through his thoughts.

Be careful when you play with life, it can only ever expand or end.

He can’t dwell on all the things he’s done that she would disapprove of, he has to focus on the here and now, and this future that he’s forged himself with hell-magic and mistakes.

The last thought he has, before finally slipping unconscious in the demon’s hold, is that he really dreads explaining all this to his friends.

_________________________

 

It takes Keith three days to return to his own home. One full day passed out in the demon’s lair, and two more of recovery, negotiation, further explanation...and against his better judgement, more deals with the demon himself.

The most beneficial of which, is the agreement that the demon is to stay out of sight—in another room, effectively dematerialized—anything to not be visible in the presence of Keith’s friends. He figures both his friends and his magic, will have an easier time remaining calm if a being of hell isn’t constantly looming over his shoulder.

Yet, the sense of dread that has gathered in Keith’s chest never really goes away, not even when he finally faces his friends. It goes easier than expected. He’d been met with horror, worry, anger— all emotions he had anticipated, and taken time to prepare for before returning Earth side—but what truly blindsides him is the quick acceptance of a situation beyond their control.

They’d determined that they were dealing with a demon on their own, piecing it together from Lotor’s sudden appearance and the ripping of Keith from their realm right before their eyes. Paired with their collective knowledge as Occult Investigators, and a whole three days to suss out the details between them...Keith’s explanation ends up being rather short.

He does manage to explain the spell, or at least its baser parts. The revelation of becoming Other remains stored in a part of his mind reserved only for himself and the demon. They know he’s changed. He senses their apprehension every time he enters a room, but he’s unsure how much is from their new knowledge of Lotor, or from the lingering experience of Keith’s resurrection replaying in their minds.

The slam-shutting of a book brings Keith from his thoughts to reality. 

“I’m not sure I have any good ideas anymore,” Pidge sighs.

She’s sitting across from Keith at his workshop table. Everyone else is in bed, whether asleep or lying awake Keith couldn’t say, but he knows they all lost enough sleep while he was gone. Pidge stayed up, stacking heavy tomes and volumes around herself, and making Keith watch while she poured over every spell-casting codex she could find.

She shoves the one she slammed shut away from herself, and doesn’t bother reaching for another one. Her movements are tired, and Keith watches as she removes her glasses to rub her red-lined eyes. She balances them back on the bridge of her nose before finally looking up at Keith.

“We have to reverse the spell.” She says it with an air of sureness and determination that only Pidge is capable of.

Keith feels Lotor bristle through their bond. The demon isn’t present in the workshop, but Keith has felt the constant ripple of his wards one room over. Close enough to listen in.

“I’m not sure that we can.” Keith bites his lip, and uncurls his fingers from the seal. The colors have deepened since his demon-bond equivalent of a vision quest. “At least not safely.”

“We have to try!” Pidge slams her palms on the table between them and stands. “You can’t honestly tell me you want to spend the rest of your life soul-tied to a resurrection demon. Not even one that saved your life.”

He did a bit more than that, Keith thinks, the guilt of not having told the entire story finally flaring. He can feel it echo through his aura, mixing with the agitation still being pushed through by Lotor.

“I don’t want to,” he states truthfully. It’s never been the ideal option, but it’s the one Keith’s decisions have landed him on the ever turning wheel of fate. “But I might have to.”

Anger at being disagreed with flares behind Pidge’s golden eyes, and she huffs a strand of her short brown hair off of her face. The storm brewing in her glare becomes almost malleable.

“I’m not stupid, and I’m not gullible—at least not as much as Shiro is when it comes to you. I get the sense you’re keeping something to yourself, K, and I’m going to let it slide for now. I’m not going to grill my recently-deceased, resurrected and kidnapped friend with all the questions flying through my mind.” She makes a sharp whirling motion with her hand to demonstrate the statement. “But we both know I’ll figure it out eventually, and I’m placing my cards—tarot and aces— that it’ll be much worse for you when I do.”

Keith wants to curl in on himself; a feeling no one other than Pidge or Shiro is capable of giving him. She’s right . He knows she is, but he also knows this is a problem too complex even for her to solve.

“There are worse fates,” he says, like a broken proverb that sounds ominous to his own ears.There are fates worse than death, too. He reminds himself, but those are the fates he’s vowed to escape. He really needs to redirect this conversation. “We should probably get some sleep...you could definitely give me a more thorough verbal-lashing after a full eight hours, kiddo.”

Pidge visibly rankles at the pet name, but it doesn’t distract her the way it normally would.

“I’ll go to bed if you can promise me something, K.” Her voice is softer, the anger is still there, but the sincere concern is more present.

“Name your price.” Keith keeps his reply light, knowing he’ll agree to anything if it eases her mind and keeps her off his back for while.

“Promise me you won’t do anything stupid.” She doesn’t hesitate, and the last word comes out with more venom than Keith even knew she possessed. “At least not until after I find something to fix this.”

Keith just nods, re-clenching the seal. That’s at least a promise he can try to keep.

__________________


Keith is blissfully alone when Lotor materializes hours later. The sudden throw of magic still catches him off guard with its strength, but he isn’t given time to savor its power.

“Wake your friends, Witch,” Lotor commands, an air of urgency pushing out from him and expanding both their auras.

The light of dawn has barely filtered through Keith’s kitchen curtains, casting a gray hue over the empty room; no one has joined him at the table, yet. He can sense through his wards that someone is mobile—probably Lance—milling about in the bathroom and likely procrastinating facing Keith and his demon first thing in the morning.

“Why?”

Keith knows he doesn’t have room to act blasé, but the cup of tea clutched in his palm is barely warm, and his capacity for care lowers with each passing second that it grows colder. He’s never been a morning person—like most magic user stereotypes, he functions best after dark— and recent events have made him bone weary. Not even the apparent worry of a literal demon could spur him into fast-action right now, at least not without really good cause.

Lotor rankles. A hot, fierce and festering anger bubbles to his surface, and Keith swears the lavender skin of his chest literally ripples. Then the feeling of their bond grows cold, like ice forming in Keith’s veins and he shudders. Lotor looks pleased to see him affected, but pushes on with his urgency.

“Something has torn through the veil. Something that wants.”

Oh no. That’s a descriptor line that feels uncannily familiar. And a bit like good cause.

“Fucking hell.” Keith sits the mug on the table sharply, and sends an alarm through his ward signature. It’s a trilling, pulsing burst of magic that will jar his friends awake as soon as it touches their auras, and leave them with a single word message ringing about whichever room they’re in: Urgent.

Lotor’s eyes flash, and Keith knows it’s because of the severe, sudden, emotional change emanating from Keith’s side of the bond. It’s like all his thoughts are now screaming bad, bad, bad  instead of bored, bored, bored. Keith is familiar with the whiplash effect of his own psyche, but it’s still reassuring to see the demon react.

“I cannot dematerialize,” Lotor says, the tone of his voice back to being inflectionless. “The entity is already too close for me to safely leave this plane, even by half. Your friends will have to cope.”

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Keith states, just as Pidge bursts into the room, glasses askew and sock-feet sliding on the linoleum, with one accusatory finger pointed sharply at the demon in question.

“What have you done?! ” She seethes, voice still croaky and full of sleep, but when she sees Keith’s face, her arm falls back to her side and she faces him instead. He can tell by the set of her lips that she’s trying to read him, but he stills his features enough for her to narrow her eyes and reconsider. “Why do I suddenly feel like the demon at your side isn’t  the guilty party?”

The others choose that moment to file in, saving him from having to stall Pidge with a response. Lance is first, then Shiro and Hunk behind, all three seeming rushed with matching looks of panic upon their faces. Those looks quickly turn as defensive as Pidge however, when their eyes land on Lotor’s fully corporeal form.

“What is that doing here?” Lance’s voice is filled with uncharacteristic malice, and Shiro’s jaw visibly clenches. Hunk is the only one who seems fearful; worried instead of enraged.

Keith almost wants to sigh, because the demon-fear reaction is getting old so quickly and they have bigger problems now, but when he opens his mouth to express that, Lotor steals his thunder.

“Mine is not the presence you should be concerned about.” His voice booms with a clear tone of warning not to interrupt him, and Keith can still feel that underlying sense of urgency in the bond. “Something  tore through the veil this morning. It’s growing nearer— solidifying—and based on what I glean from our dear Witch’s internal reaction, you all can guess exactly what it’s seeking.”

Every face in the room collectively pales.

Shiro steps forward, balancing with a grip on the back of one of Keith’s kitchen chairs that’s tight enough to make the wood groan. He leans over the table and pins Keith down with eyes full of rage and pleading.

“It’s not possible,” he says, and Keith can tell Shiro’s teeth are grit together hard enough to strain the muscles in his temples. “Keith, tell me it’s not possible.”

Keith wants to—oh god, he wants to—but the fresh aching of the now phantom wound below his ribs won’t let him. Keith remembers the exact look on Shiro’s face as he died in the other man’s mismatched arms. It’s hazy, blurred out by the careening darkness that had been swallowing Keith whole, but he can see it plain as day in his mind’s eye; anguish, the face of pure, hopeless loss. He wants to stand up, take Shiro by the shoulders, and say ‘It’s not possible. It won’t happen again. Not this soon,’ or ‘It’s not the same this time. I promise.

But he can’t, because this time, it’s much worse.

“It’s possible. ” He swallows around the fear in his throat and closes his eyes, unable to bear seeing Shiro—or any of the other’s— reactions.

He can feel Lotor probing through the bond, chasing the memory Keith just re-lived, and seeking out more of the gaps left unfilled on his previous journey through Keith’s mind. Keith lets him, not having enough energy left to safeguard his remaining secrets, and he hears a sharp hiss the moment Lotor finds what he’s looking for.

De Pythonissam Venandi. ” The demon’s tongue caresses it’s way over the forgotten latin, and Keith feels it like hot steel being smoothed along each rung of his spine. “The Witch Hunter.”

__________________

 

Keith is barely twelve and he’s with his mother in her workshop. She’s leaned over him with one hand on his shoulder and the other smoothing out a page in her bestiary. She reads it to him, out loud, as though he isn’t capable of understanding it if he read it silently on his own. Perhaps he isn’t.

Her voice is strong, soothing, but he can hear the undertone as the passage furthers; can feel the slight too-tightness of her fingers through the material of his t-shirt. She’s afraid. She doesn’t want to show it; wants to pretend that there’s nothing in the world that scares her as much as what’s on this page, in this book.

Keith stops following the words on the page, and looks up at her. “Is this what’s after us, mama? After me?”

She stops reading, words sputtering out, and she clears her throat before meeting his eyes with a false smile. 

“No, baby, of course not,” she reassures softly, but Keith hears the not yet lingering at the back of her throat. “Just something I want you to learn about.”

Keith looks back at the page. There’s an illustration in the upper left corner; magic infused ink that creates a black, misty mass. It swirls in and out of a shape that’s vaguely human, long white hair and dark skin, but its shroud is so dense you can’t really glimpse its true form. It’s a spirit, part of another realm, and evil. At least… malicious, in the terms the bestiary defines. A thing that seeks, a being that wants, something that feeds from the very soul of the object it hunts.

Witches. Those like Keith, or his mom, his ancestors, anyone with a magical core tied to all realms.

Keith runs a finger lightly over the ink and thinks, you can’t have me. He knows, one way or another, that he can never let it take his soul. Dead or alive.

____________________

 

De Pythonissam Venandi, commonly known as The Witch Hunter, is a greater spirit; a product of the Altean realms of god-lore, and the most feared and malicious seeker within its magical genus. There is only one of its kind, and its purpose is to seek the soul energy of those who draw magic from the ley lines connecting all realms.” Lotor pauses to snarl hard enough that it echoes off the stone walls of Keith’s workshop. “Witches, being the foremost threat to its existence, are within its top line of prey, though lesser magical creatures are known to be absorbed by it, and have their cores used as revenant like servants; The Hunter acting as their supreme.” His voice is searing, and Keith can see the line of his jaw flexing where he speaks through clenched teeth.

There’s a flood of apprehension spilling through their bond as he holds the black bestiary in one hand, at arm’s length, and reads from the one page that haunts Keith’s memories. He looks at Keith sternly, if a bit sadly, when he finally stops. “The aura of this tome is heavy. Your mother must have been very powerful.”

Keith frowns, the bitter ache in his gut intensifying and he can’t tell if it’s from Lotor or himself anymore. “She was. Just not powerful enough.”

“I could spend hours showing you why I believe you are wrong,” Lotor says oddly, and when he snaps the bestiary shut there’s a flicker of something that Keith can’t identify emanating from his core. “Unfortunately, our time right now is limited.”

Then he turns to face the others seated around the table, who Keith had almost forgotten. They all look wary—weary —and Keith is sure the passage of the bestiary they just heard is settling more heavily on their minds than on his own. They’ve not had years to study it.

“Is this—” Shiro starts, then stalls, his face hardening. It hurts Keith to see the malice glued to the lines of Shiro’s frown, but Keith feels so detached from him—from everything at the moment—that the pain is fleeting. Then Shiro forces out what he was trying to say. “Is this the same creature that just killed you.”

It’s not even a question, just phrased as one, and Keith’s heart hammers. His brain is screaming at him to say something, but he’s spared the effort.

“Most likely not. At least, not directly, but I’m afraid our little Witch’s resurrection… may have sped up a sequence of events years in the coming.” Lotor doesn’t have to glance back the way he does, for Keith to know that what he says next is a direct answer to the questions roiling through Keith’s head. And probably the bond. “Dying removed whatever protections were laid down on Keith’s soul. I only know that there were protections, because I can feel a trace of them now that I’ve been in contact with something that holds the same magical signature.” He extends the bestiary again, for emphasis, then sets it on the table between them more gently than any being of hell has the right to. “I’ve no doubt The Witch Hunter felt them collapse, and now, she comes for what those protections hid from her.”

She?” Lance hisses, head rising from the corner of the table where he’s seated. He avoids looking directly at Lotor by cutting his eyes straight to Keith. “Now it's a she?!”

“Yes.” Lotor doesn’t look amused by the outburst, and from what Keith can tell, he feels even less so. “Though you’ll likely find that information irrelevant when she’s standing before you and you’re waiting to die.”

“And we will, won’t we?” Hunk’s voice startles everyone’s attention to him. “Die, that is… it—she—is going to kill all of us, not just Keith. Or am I reading the tension in the room incorrectly?”

He sounds much calmer than he probably is, and it would break Keith’s heart if he was sure he had one left.

“No.” Keith shakes his head, then rolls his neck in frustration. “None of you are going to anything, because you’re not going to be here.” He lets the bite of his words settle for a moment. “This is my problem, and Lotor and I will handle it, alone. You guys will be somewhere safe.”

“And leave you to do what?!” Shiro shouts in response, standing suddenly and causing his chair to slam to the ground behind him. He’s leaning over the table and grabbing Keith by the collar before anyone can stop him. “You’re going to just fight it?! You’re going to march headlong into your own death, again, with no one but this demon beside you!” He all but spits in Lotor’s direction. “We’ve been beside you for years, Keith, and you think we're just going to let that happen?!”

He’s shaking Keith, and Keith lets him, sending a silent command through the bond so Lotor won’t interfere. It’s better that Shiro gets the anger out now. It’ll make it easier to convince them all to leave.

“No, Shiro—”

But Shiro’s decided he’s not going to let Keith argue, and he makes that abundantly clear by closing the gap between them abruptly; his lips hitting Keith’s, and Keith’s mouth snapping shut in shock. Keith is stock-still on contact, bones locking into place. He doubts he could move even if Shiro wasn’t holding onto him so tightly and whispering feverishly against his mouth.

“No, Keith. I won’t allow it.”

Keith’s head suddenly feels like it’s about to explode, the sound of blood rushing fills his ears and the scent of white-hot rage flares his nostrils. He’s light headed, overcome with heat, burning from the inside out, and it has absolutely nothing to do with Shiro. No, the sudden, untethered and overwhelming flood of soul-searing feeling, is coming from Lotor, and it’s strong enough to radiate out of Keith’s pores.

His aura expands so much that it physically forces Shiro back, his weight leaving Keith fast enough that he wobbles in its absence and has to place one hand on the table to steady himself. Lotor’s magic uses the opportunity to stretch further outward—like tentacles—and wrap its way around Shiro’s throat.

“Fortunately, human, that decision isn’t yours to make.” Lotor’s words are so snarled they’re almost a different language; more of the guttural pitch-speak of the abyss than of English, and it sends a chill down Keith’s spine.

“Then is it yours?” Shiro snarls right back, seemingly oblivious to the phantom pressure on his trachea. “Keith won’t—” He stops, the tendrils of Lotor’s magic visibly tightening. Keith can see them, though he still isn't sure if everyone else can, but for some reason he can't bring himself to use his own magic to unwrap them.

Shiro seems to fight it off well enough.

“Who’s to say you won’t dematerialize the moment we’re gone?” Shiro finally spits. “You’ll let Keith die and you’ll take your freedom, Demon.”

“He can’t!”

Keith thinks the words, has them on the tip of his tongue, but Pidge is the one who speaks them, so shrill that her voice cuts right through the madness, and brings Keith fully back into focus.

“If he does, that bond will kill them both.” Her voice lowers, the calm rushing out of her. “At the very least, he’ll have to resurrect Keith. I’ve not quite figured the rest out yet, but I know that much from helping Keith place the rune seals.” She looks at Shiro a bit sadly. “Magically, their bond is permanent. The Demon can't abandon Keith, he won't abandon Keith, because it would mean death for him too.”

The air shifts with her words, and Lotor’s magic retreats suddenly from Shiro’s throat. At first Keith thinks its an odd reaction to Pidge’s exposed truth, then he feels it.

Like a warm blue ichor flowing into the room. It feels heavy, abyssal, like the pressure in your chest when you’re running out of air. Keith notices the others shift and freeze, their heads snapping back and their feet lifting just far enough off the floor for them to flail. It has them, binds them, before it even becomes visible. Then, like a slow-motion cacophony, his wards snap. The building pressure comes to a shrieking head that makes him stumble forward, gagging and reaching to cover his ears.

We wasted too much time, he thinks, reaching into his core for his own magic, for any little drizzle of power he could use to send the others away right now. He can feel Lotor respond, a push of energy flowing into him from the demon through the seal in his palm, but just as it forms solid it becomes too late to use it.

Before them all, over the empty space between himself and Lotor, materializes a fog. Keith does his best to stay on his feet as it wisps by, moving to the center of the room and gathering. It seems like the entire room darkens, the gray light from the tiny workshop window turning deep cerulean, and the light above their heads flickering blue before it explodes.

Then she’s there.

The fog forms legs and hands, solidifying and breaking apart again, moving and shifting, until she’s whole. An entire woman made of night, with pale hair flowing around a soft face, and one palm held out toward Keith like a greeting.

She looks human, he thinks, or she would if she had eyes in place of the dark pits in her skull that swirl down at him.

I have come to collect you.

Her voice echoes around his head, like it’s inside, and Keith’s frozen, bound by her unstoppable magic flow just like his friends.

This is his biggest fear come to life. The bogeyman he evaded as a child. The monster his mother protected him from until the very end of her life, and she’s standing before him, gripping the entire room in her clutches while he can do nothing.

He has to try to save the others. He keeps repeating the thought, if only we had more time, but he knows he’s had a lifetime and little good it’s done him. But Pidge, Shiro, Lance and Hunk are innocent to this world, no matter how much they’ve dabbled in it. They don’t deserve this fate.

“Collect me if you want,” he says, forcing the words with a heavy tongue. “But let the others in this room go.”

She tilts her head, like she’s confused he can even speak, let alone understanding of what his words mean. 

I will collect those that have magic. That is my right.

They don’t! Keith wants to scream, but the thickened air is suffocating him harder with each passing second, her aura pressuring his own into nothing. Behind him Lotor growls.

Tum proelium mihi.” The words are pitch-speak, some Latin conjugate that Keith can’t understand, but he feels the fire rolling from Lotor as the demon steps forward beside him. “Surgere et ignis consumet. 

There’s a halt, a pause in the magic aura surging around her, and Keith takes a grateful breath as the air momentarily clears and purple flames grow to lick at her feet.

Creature of the abyss, you stand against me with the one who consumes? ” Her palm lowers, gesturing to the flames, and stifling them as quick as they arose. “You think to bind me?

Keith feels her magic reach out, and feels it bind Lotor in return, a tight squeeze around his torso that might as well be around Keith’s own for the way it carries through the bond.

I see,” she says, slowly moving what would be her eyes between them. “You are one.

“Please.” Keith manages to gasp. He looks at his friends—bodies still levitating— now unconscious in her hold, then he looks back at her with a steel resolve. “Your fight is with us! The others. Let them go!”

Again she tilts her head, like the meaning of his request is undecipherable, but the magic holding his friends in the air releases, and their bodies crumple to the floor.

Those who do not consume will be fine,” she states, bearing her focus back on Keith and Lotor, “when you are gone.

This is it, he thinks as her palm rises again slowly, aimed directly at Keith’s heart, the moment he’s dreaded his whole life.

He’s prepared for her attack, but he’s not prepared for how it feels . It’s an acidic crawl, a burn and ache that starts at the soles of his feet and travels upward. He can feel it eating it’s way through every vein, all his muscles trembling in their lock-tight holds, and when it reaches his heart he can feel its grip tighten.

Before his chambers can cave in on themselves, he gasps and a final blast of raw energy, seemingly from nowhere, pours from him. Then he hears it, a tiny echo, far-off in his own psyche and barely above a whisper.

Do not worry, do not cry. We are made of magic.”

And he knows, undoubtedly, that this is some final protection from his mother. A gift, sealed off somewhere down inside his core, until the very moment he needed it to release. There’s a hush with it, like the aftershock of a tornado; a moment where even The Witch Hunter is silent.

Then she wails; a cataclysmic, shuddering note that tears into Keith’s already open soul. His vision blurs, but he forces himself to watch; to see. He wants to die knowing what his mother’s power can really do. Then The Hunter’s throat seizes up, her face contorts, and her visage flickers back and forth between being corporeal skin and the thick black fog of spirit, then it’s over.

Just like that she fades.

The only thing trailing behind is her aura, a pure white light that proves she isn’t evil , not in the sense of this realm’s gods, though her purpose was unsavory.

She isn’t dead—Keith isn’t sure how he knows, but he does— just banished . Sent somewhere else for the time being, for a long while, Keith suspects. His mother’s magic was enough to ensure that.

It’s just not enough to save his beating heart. Right before everything goes dark, he feels it shudder one last time and explode in his chest.

 

____________________

 

He wakes up in the dark, with a pain right behind his sternum that’s so sharp it makes him nauseous. He feels empty, like his flow of magic has been fully rung from him, then he remembers why.

The Witch Hunter.

He always knew his first encounter with the creature would be a narrow escape, but he never thought the aftermath would feel like this. Slowly, his sense of self reinstates, and he can feel a hum of energy that can only be from his workshop. He flails out a hand, brushing over familiar stones.

He’s on the floor. That’s not surprising since the last thing he can remember is his heart erupting in his chest, but the more feeling returns the more he senses that something is off.

His clothes for one. He’s awoken in a lot of strange situations lately, but fully naked is somehow a first. He groans, and tries to sit up before he can ponder the hows and the whys of what was probably an arduous resurrection. It occurs to him that this is what the rest of his life will be like, a series of waking up in less than ideal circumstances.

He shakes the thought off, saving that guilt for later, and stumbles to his feet. He’s barely upright, the ball of one foot scarcely finding purchase, when a new wave of sensation takes him. It’s a cold, full-body pull, deep and as jagged as a cliff’s edge. He can’t tell where it’s emanating from, but it's like his magical core is throwing him forward before his aura can even right itself from death.

He falters under the sudden weight of a step forward, but someone else’s hand comes between his shoulder blades to steady him and the pull gets unerringly stronger.

Lotor. Keith’s brain correctly identifies the hands holding him. Then the pull moves, vibrating from Keith’s shoulders— crawling down to his wrists like unhinged spiders— until it focalizes like magnets in Keith’s fingertips, and he can’t resist digging them into the violent-purple skin of Lotor’s upper arms.

What the

“It’s the bond,” Lotor states, answering a question Keith doesn’t even ask out loud.

His voice is right beside Keith’s ear, and if they weren’t in the dark Keith is sure the demon would see the sudden flush on Keith’s skin. He can probably feel it where his hands press along Keith’s bare back.

Fuck.

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

“What does it want?” He asks tentatively.

“You know what it wants,” is Lotor’s only answer before his teeth dig into Keith’s throat.

“Blood? ” Keith gasps questioningly.

“Magic, ” Lotor echoes, pulling back and laving over the fresh bruise he’s created. “Mostly connection. It wants us to be one again. It didn’t break when you died, but it seems to have become very… fragile. It’s pushing us to repair it, using the easiest method available since both our magicks appear to be quite stifled.”

The sudden rolling heat in Keith’s abdomen lets him know exactly what that means. “Fuck.

“You can choose to reject it,” Lotor says, voice unsteady; wary, like he doesn’t want to speak the truth but is anyway. “But I fear that you and I would both perish.”

“Fuck,” Keith repeats, unable to get his head on straight with Lotor all over his body, and the push-and-pull need of the bond singing between them. “Do we have any other options?”

“Are you that opposed to this one?” The demon breathes along Keith’s jaw.

Oh god, if that’s not a loaded question. Because no, Keith finds, he’s really not that opposed to this option. He’s known, on a surface level, that Lotor is… appealing, since the first time he laid eyes on him. But it’s one of those things you’re meant to ignore; shove to the darkest depths of your mind and never revisit. The hell beast caressing him is made up of smooth lavender skin stretched taught over lean muscle, his height—when stretched fully—is intimidating, and the illusion of pants that have constantly covered him, have never really covered much. The flow of his hair and his manner of moving would make him princely, if he were human, but the violet and gold glow of his eyes is what really makes him.

Keith’s felt every flash and glance of those eyes over the past week, and right now, he has no idea how he managed to ignore the heat held behind them.

“No,” Keith gasps. “Not opposed.”

That seems to be the only consent Lotor needs, because he growls. A rumble so deep it feels like it comes from the floor, and they move very suddenly, blipping out of existence standing, and blinking swiftly back in lying down. His back hits the smooth stone of something that can only be his altar.

This is probably symbolic somehow, he thinks blandly, before everything rational leaves his brain.

He moves his hand on instinct, palm coming to rest on Lotor’s chest, perfectly aligning their seals as Lotor moves back to his throat. Keith only has a second to let go and enjoy the feeling of Lotor’s unusually long tongue laving above his jugular before there’s an electric jolt and his head gets thrown back for a different reason.

It feels like static, like little pins and prickles moving along the blue lines of his rune seal, passing in and out of his body and Lotor’s at the same time. It feels familiar somehow.

Almost like when Lotor forced a vision sequence, he thinks lightly, then just like that he’s thrown from reality.

Keith recognizes himself as being older, though he doesn’t seemed to have aged. The passage of time denoted only by his much longer hair and an unfamiliar scar running along the crest of his jaw. He can see it clearly dark purple against the pale skin of his throat with his head thrown back the way it is, hair fanning across unfamiliar sheets and lips parted on a silent scream.  Lotor is below him, further down the bed, crouched over him with the purple skin of his back rippling with his movements. He’s taking Keith apart, bit by bit, and Keith can feel it as though he’s actually there. Each biting kiss on his thighs, each press of fingertips behind his knees, each arch of his own back, and each stroke of a tongue over his

He’s thrown again.

Lotor is holding him, sat down in unfamiliar surroundings with Keith laid across his lap. Keith is limp, head lolled back far enough that his black braid drags the dirty ground, and he can tell he’s dead. He feels nothing this time, no sensations as Lotor’s hands work over his body, trailing a mist of magic in their wake. He’s quick about it, never lingering too long on one area of Keith’s skin until he gets to Keith’s mouth. His lips are blue and slightly parted, a trickle of blood running from one corner. Keith sees Lotor hover there, thumb barely brushing the stain away. Then he watches intently as a single tear falls from Lotor’s eyes, and his body

His chest aches as the vision changes once more.

A bestiary hits the ground beside another unfamiliar bed. Keith sees his own arm knock it off as he arches, responding to the slow drag of Lotor’s tongue along a particularly raised scar above his collarbone. He moves his lips in a trail, up the expanse of Keith’s neck, around his jaw, until he can finally connect with his mouth. The kiss is searing, deep and hot with the bond all but vibrating between them. Keith feels the way it pulsates, as Lotor takes a hand off Keith’s waist, using it to grab Keith’s wrist and guide his palm— the one glowing black-light blue— to the matching seal above his own heart. Keith’s other hand follows a natural path, tangling in Lotor’s hair and gripping tight just before the surge of magic—

Keith’s starting to feel like he can’t breathe, but he can feel his magic again, pushing away then coming back, forming solid.

The visions start to rapid fire.

He’s turned away, a book in his palm, eyes tracking the words along each page. He finds something he doesn’t like and slams it shut, Lotor materializing behind him immediately to place a calming hand on his shoulder and whisper—

He’s lying down again, tiny mage-lights floating around him. He’s somewhere in the demon realm, but he’s safe. Lotor is pressed against his back, hand tracing comfortable patterns across his ribs. He rolls to face him, edging just close enough that—

He’s running. It’s pitch-dark and he’s running with everything he has, magic pouring from every pore and trailing dangerous footprints behind him. Lotor’s not there, but he can feel him pushing a message through their bond. He’ll be here soon, he’ll get here before it’s too late, he’ll—

He hits the bed with enough force to steal his breath, mattress sinking up to hold him, and hands reaching out to pull Lotor down with him. The demon comes easily, brushing the hair gently off Keith’s forehead and leaning over him with a sinister smile—

He’s dead again, and Lotor’s screaming—

He’s being kissed—

He’s dying—

He’s being held—

He’s shaken—

He’s coming apart—

Keith grapples back to reality panting, jerking his seal away from Lotor’s chest and breaking the surge. The lavender demon is panting too, still in the crook of Keith’s throat where he’d been trailing kisses.

“What was that?” Keith asks, magic finally lighting the air around them enough that he can almost see. “Was that—"

“What could be? Yes,” Lotor answers, echoing Keith’s thoughts and pulling back far enough that Keith can make out the weary look of his eyes. “Little glimpses of what’s possible if we finish repairing the bond.”

That’s… wow. Keith deflates slightly, feeling the cold of his altar table seep into his back.

“They felt so real,” he says, hand moving up to search for some kind of support, and tangling in Lotor’s white hair instead. “It’s like I could—”

“Feel everything?” Lotor echoes again.

“Yes.” Keith dry swallows, aware of every inch of Lotor that’s pressed along his body. It makes him feel bold, hand tightening in Lotor’s hair, and his rationality slipping more. “I’d almost like to feel it again. For real this time.”

He has no idea what he’s doing, but if those visions and Lotor’s earlier movements were anything to go by, he’s really going to enjoy it.

But Lotor still hesitates when Keith tries to tug him down, lips hovering barely an inch above where Keith wants them. “Only do this if you’re sure, Witch. You just showed me that there’ll truly be no going back.”

Keith meets Lotor’s eyes and finds fire there. The kind that could burn centuries to dust, but even without the bond tugging him toward this decision, he knows his fate is already sealed.

“I can’t go back anyway,” he says, admitting his truth for what it really is. “The moment I chose to cheat death I decided that.”

Lotor’s eyes search his one final time. Heat intensifying as he gives Keith one last chance to escape before he closes the gap, mouth crashing down on Keith’s like falling rubble. It’s sudden, jarring, and absolutely wonderful.

Their lips slide off each other like matchsticks, and Keith can feel the magic energy attempting to strike between them as he responds to the kiss. Every breath, every parting of lips, and every swipe of a tongue creates a buzz, until Keith feels like his teeth are vibrating harder than his aura. It doesn’t just feel like they’re regaining magic letting it bubble back up where it was hidden within their cores it feels like the kiss is creating it.

Lotor must feel it too, and Keith senses the moment Lotor’s magic reaches its full potential then explodes beyond. The bond is still shaky, weak, but Keith can feel it thrumming.

Once. Twice. Then Lotor hisses into his mouth abruptly, and they’re somewhere else entirely. The cold stone of the altar being replaced by a silk softness around Keith’s shoulders.

He breaks the kiss to gasp in shock. “What did you just—”

But Lotor cuts him off with another searing kiss, waiting until Keith can’t breathe well enough to speak before he finally pulls back, straddling Keith’s hips and snapping his fingers firmly. Several magelights break into existence around them, and Keith blinks his eyes open to their iridescent glowing.

“I took us somewhere,” Lotor says in between labored breaths of his own, “more appropriate.”

As the magelights move, Keith’s eyes follow them, and he recognizes the room in bits and pieces. It’s the same one Lotor took him to when he ripped them from Keith’s living room. The demon’s chamber. In the demon realm

Keith manages not to sigh at the realization he’s literally in Lotor’s bed.

“Was there something inappropriate about my warded altar table?” He asks lightly. “Or perhaps my  bedroom?”

Lotor gives a smirk that looks positively dangerous in the low light.

“Sorry, Witch, but there is not a room in your house that’s warded strongly enough to survive what I’m about to do to you.” He pauses, reaching up and untangling the hand Keith still has in his hair, and bringing it to his lips gently. “Nor what you’re about to do to me, I believe.”

Keith gasps again, the warm sensation of Lotor’s lips sending sparks across his knuckles, and he has to fight to keep his bearings as the heat pools lower, lower, lower, until his cock becomes all too noticeable where it’s trapped between them.

“If I hadn’t just felt what kissing you can do, I’d accuse you of stalling,” he says breathily.

He doesn’t mean to sound taunting, but he’s all too aware that the injured bond thrums harder with each passing second, making Keith want to reach out, writhe, and dig his fingers into Lotor’s flesh until he draws blood.

Lotor hums, but Keith sees his smirk falter under the wave of sheer want Keith is now emanating.

“I thought it would be best to take this slow,” Lotor says, pulling up Keith’s free arm and wrapping his hand around both Keith’s wrists with purpose, “but have it your way, Keith.”

The sound of his name in Lotor’s voice is almost as foreign as pitch-speak to Keith's ears, so set apart from his usual taunt of ‘ Witch’ that it lights Keith’s skin on fire, and sinks into his chest. Too late, he realizes the distraction and tries to tug his wrists free, needing to get his hands on Lotor’s skin again, but the sudden black tendrils of Lotor’s magic have already locked into place. They hold Keith’s wrists steady, slowly tugging on them until his arms are suspended above his head, allowing Lotor to let go and move off the bed entirely.

Keith watches him go, a small something pitting in his stomach at the sudden lack of skin-to-skin contact. Fear maybe , he thinks, swallowing back a groan as Lotor stares down at him hungrily and his cock gives another involuntary twitch, or perhaps just desire.

The magelights circle back in, shrouding Lotor in their unearthly hues and glowing enough that Keith can finally see Lotor’s whole body, but before Keith can send something absolutely desperate through their frayed bond, the misted illusion of pants that Lotor’s sported since Keith first laid eyes on him, vanishes. Lotor stands there in their wake, lights swirling brighter and allowing Keith to take in the full sight of the demon for what it is.

Captivating.

Otherworldly.

Hell-on-legs.

Keith can't come up with appropriate adjectives. There's not an inch of Lotor’s skin that doesn't glow with magic, the seal on his chest pulsing the brightest and calling out to Keith’s palm like a beacon. He ignores it and lets his eyes drift further down, savoring the tight lines of muscle he’s often seen ripple in Lotor’s abdomen, then lets his gaze drifts further still, down to what rests between Lotor’s legs.

Wow. He blinks twice as he forms the thought. That’s intimidating.

Keith’s not sure what he expected. He knew Lotor’s anatomy wouldn't be couldn't be entirely humanesque, though the erection presented before him is similar to his own.

Just a lot larger, and with unfamiliar dark ridges trailing all the way down to its base. The head is rounded, but shaped a bit oddly, and even in the low magelight Keith can tell that it's leaking. Lotor’s full want is before him, and framed by strong thighs it looks like a weapon, poised and ready to tear Keith in half.

“Don't worry,” Lotor rumbles, reading the hesitation on Keith’s side of the bonds he dematerializes only to reappear much closer than before. Keith startles in his binds, bed bouncing slightly under him as Lotor runs a smooth hand up his left leg. “I won't do anything until you're ready.” 

The bond chooses that moment to flare, the distance between their bodies suddenly feeling like a canyon, and Keith growls a subhuman growl of his own, reminded that they’re doing this for more than just the inevitable pleasure.

“Then you better get me ready fast,” he breathes. “My magic's not going to let us hesitate for  much longer.”

As he says it, spell tendrils of his own snake out and caress their way around Lotor’s waist, urging him closer. Lotor doesn't hesitate in obeying them, pushing his way between Keith’s legs, draping himself back across his body, and finally reclaiming his mouth.

This kiss is more desperate than the lastmore certain than the last the surging of power welling up faster and holding a thicker air of promise for what's to come. Keith feels it in his bones, mouth parting immediately to allow Lotor back into his core. It quickly becomes a slick slide of tongues, Lotor’s longer demonic one finding places behind Keith’s teeth that he wasn’t previously aware existed.

Then Lotor moves, breaking away and sliding down Keith’s body, moving against the force of Keith’s magic subtly, until he’s staring up at Keith and laving kisses over his thighs. Keith watches Lotor’s mouth, bruises forming under it, getting closer and closer to Keith’s now aching cock.

Lotor’s taking his time to tease, possibly more time than they have, but with his wrists bound Keith is powerless to stop him. He wants nothing more than to break the magical binds and sink both hands into Lotor’s hair wants to pull it—and move him to where Keith wants him, then hold him in place.

He thinks about it hard enough that he feels a pulse through the bond—Lotor’s reaction—and Lotor moves again. He hovers, breathing over Keith and licking his lips, letting his tongue snake out expertly once more, then abruptly running it from the base of Keith’s shaft to the tip.

It’s too much. Keith’s whole body jerks toward it and away from it all at once.  It’s not enough.

The sensation mixes with his still mounting power, and Keith moans. His blood feels ready to burst from his veins, and he hears the sharp snap from above him at the same time the seal on Lotor’s chest gives a bright surge. Then the tendrils of magic binding his wrists shred like they’re nothing more than paper.


“Seems I can’t contain you after all,” Lotor says with little concern, removing his mouth entirely and ignoring Keith’s whine of protest. The disconnect only lasts a moment as he brings his hands around to bracket Keith’s thighs and hoists him into a better position, legs dangling over the demon’s shoulder’s. “Good thing I won’t need to.”

Before Keith can react, he feels Lotor’s mouth move lower, biting a new path in the bend of Keith’s legs, swapping back and forth maddeningly.

“Fuck,” Keith pants, flailing a hand out to grip the bed. “You’re going to kill me.”

He feels Lotor’s laugh, vibrating up and making the mark he’s sucking right above Keith’s ass cheek tingle. He pulls back and smirks. “Actually, I exist to do the exact opposite.”

Keith throws his head back and groans, the bond giving another sharp tug to the pit of his stomach. “Well, whatever you’re doing, hurry it up.” 

“With pleasure,” Lotor rumbles, and he obeys. Leaving Keith’s legs draped over his shoulders, but moving his hands to spread Keith open before unceremoniously diving in with his tongue. 

Andohholyshitfuckdamn.

Keith’s not ready. He would probably never be ready, but he closes his eyes and arches his back into the first firm swipe over his most sensitive area. Then Lotor moves his mouth in ways that truly rip the air from Keith’s lungs.

It almost feels like his tongue gets longer, interchanging between circling and pressing at Keith’s entrance until he finally breaks the barrier. Keith screams, high pitched and whining at the unfamiliar probing, Lotor’s tongue works him open and Keith feels him add a finger to the mix, moving it gently against the slick Lotor is creating with his mouth.

Keith is in no way a stranger to foreplay, he’s never shied away from good sex, but this. This is some kind of mystical awakening type shit. He can feel his cock throb and leak, Lotor putting him so close to the edge he’s sobbing and begging out loud, but right when he’s about to break apart Lotor moves back and whispers.

Facta est mihi.” Made for me, Keith somehow understands the pitch-speak. It’s subterranean, and Keith feels it vibrate from Lotor’s lips directly into his soul. “Et partum.” 

There’s a moment of chill, the air around them pausing, then Keith feels a cascade of magic from Lotor’s still embedded finger. Keith jerks his head up, glaring down at Lotor. “Did you just cast

“Yes,” Lotor answers, giving one final prod of his tongue before moving his mouth away entirely and replacing it with a second finger. “Makes this easier.”

Keith lets his head fall back again as Lotor moves both fingers slowly, dragging them back out, then pushing back in and curling them up. It doesn’t take long for him to have Keith mewling, hitting his sweet spot with every push upward. Finally, he adds a third, another gush of slick wet magic along with it, and Keith doesn’t feel the tell-tale burning stretch that he normally would. It’s like his body is opening on its own, and Lotor’s just doing the motions.

Thank fuck, he thinks, remembering Lotor’s size, and stutters on a gasp, almost tipping over the edge into climax. Demon dick should not be that exciting.

“I believe it’s time.” Lotor lets out a light laugh, like he can hear Keith’s exact thoughts. “Don’t you?”

He slows the motions of his hand, and Keith can only answer with a whine, his knuckles turning white where they grip the sheets. Then Lotor removes his fingers entirely, moving his hands to Keith’s knees and pulling Keith toward him. He balances briefly, Keith watching him as he lines his cock up to Keith’s entrance. There’s only a moment for Keith to hesitate, seeing the odd ridges again and wondering what they’ll feel like. Then he gets his answer.

The second Lotor slides into him the world rights itself. Keith feels it tilt and shift and explode before something inside him screams right, yes, yes, complete, whole . He's never felt anything like it in his life, no past use of his magic even coming close to the energy suddenly erupting in his blood. He’d scream, if he could pull air into his lungs. Instead he just shakes, suddenly sure he's going to explode.

There's no way to survive this, he thinks, magic burning up from the inside, getting hotter, hotter, hotter until he's certain he's going to burn out and take Lotor with him. Like a dying sun. There'll be nothing left but a pit in the demon realm to prove they existed. So much for never dying.

Then Lotor moves, starting to thrust slowly, stoking the flames raging between them until he bottoms out. It's like a puzzle piece clicking into place, the way the bond snaps back into being whole. It's unexpected, and so satisfying.

Keith watches the glow of his seal light up where it's now tangled in Lotor’s hair, then Lotor’s follows, casting the whole room in a neon sea of blue enchantment that actually extinguishes a couple of the magelights with its force. Then the fire dwindles, dying out as they breathe together, connection repaired, and the sensation of bursting leaves Keith's limbs one by one until he's left feeling something else. 

Pleasure.

Pure, unbridled, pleasure. The motions of Lotor rocking into him, and every little ridge and oddity of the demon’s anatomy, is bumping over Keith’s sweet spot so perfectly. They’ve really only just begun, but he's already on the edge again, bones feeling hollow and spots lighting behind his eyes with every gasp. He has to close them, and tighten his hold on Lotor to keep from coming apart.

Then Lotor’s hip stutter, and Keith feels the grip behind his knees get tighter. There’s a hesitation, an instant of settling, then Keith can’t hold it any longer. He arches harder and opens his mouth to scream

The bed disappears, and the lights behind his eyes swap from reds to blues to pinks and purples. He feels Lotor grappling for him, tugging him down from somewhere high up, somewhere where he’s floating. It’s like his body and mind have transcended to the astral plane. When he feels the bond flutter like butterfly wings then switch to sharp stinging needles, he soundlessly gasps. He’s coming. His physical body is at least, reaching its threshold for pleasure, seizing up and spilling, and he can almost feel it in this body. Almost, but he’s too in and out, seeing nothing and feeling everything else the universe has to offer.

Then, just when he thinks he could get used to this feeling, he’s released.

“Fuck.”

Lotor breathes the curse into his ear, and Keith blinks his eyes open. The demon is collapsed on top of him, absolutely spent, and the plush material of his bed is still beneath them. He can feel both of their cocks softening, his skin still hypersensitive to their every breath.

“God,” is what he manages to say himself, “or whatever. That was just—”

“Astronomical?” Lotor finishes for him, their thoughts still loud enough to mix together through the bond. “Otherworldly? Magic.”

Keith just nods, too worn out to do more than push against Lotor’s shoulders until the demon slides out of him and rolls to the side. Keith winces, the sudden emptiness more of a shock than he anticipated, and the realization that he’s damp with sweat from head to toe making him groan. Now that the bond is repaired, and the urgency of it is fading, all of his senses and are rushing back to his body at once. The fact that not long ago he was dead again really settles into his chest, only to ache when the memory of why comes back too.

“Shit. Shit, shit shit!” He yelps, throwing himself into a sitting position and bracing a hand against his forehead. “The others, are they I’ve got to go check on them they’re

Before he can force himself to leap out of bed, or try to find enough magic to portal himself from the demon realm, Lotor’s hand comes to his chest to stop him, pushing gently until Keith eases back down to the pillows.

“Safe, ” he says with feeling. “They’re all safe. I made sure of it.”

Keith believes him, simply unable to mistrust him at this point, and it’s all the knowledge he needs to relax into his exhaustion. He still has so much to do, so many things to explain, so much to fight, but Lotor’s hand resting above his heart emanates peace an unerring calm and Keith knows that for now, it can all wait.

__________________

 

“I'm sorry.” Shiro’s voice comes from the doorway of Keith’s workshop, where he stands hesitant, as though he's afraid to step into the room.

Keith is staring studiously down at The Witch Hunter’s page in his mother’s bestiary, trying desperately to find the strength to update it with his own words. Lotor is hovering behind him—dematerialized—but Keith can still feel him even though their bond is blissfully blank; the demon’s way of giving Keith space after the events of the last few hours.

“Why are you sorry?” Keith asks, acknowledging Shiro’s presence with a numb tongue, knowing he’s the one who should be apologizing. You’re not the one who keeps dying.”

“You know why,” Shiro bites back, his usual unwillingness to let Keith beat himself up coming to the surface. Keith doesn't even have to look up to know Shiro’s shoulders are squared and his arms probably crossed. “I didn't...when I…” He trails off and huffs, and Keith finally looks at him, just in time to see him run a vexed hand through his hair. “I realize now, that you’ve just been trying to keep us safe this whole time. All these new things just keep happening, and they’re new to you, too . I didn’t consider that as much as I should have. And I…  I shouldn't have tried to force you to let us stay...at least, not like that.”

He winces, and so does Keith, at the memory of Shiro’s lips pressed against his own. It feels so far away, in light of other things, and Keith bites his lip.

“Shiro,” he says, but Shiro shakes his head.

“No, I know.” He looks frustrated, the way Keith feels. “I just didn't want you to think…” Another pause, another huff. “You just keep almost dying. I’m still not really sure what’s going on, or what just happened to all of us in that room or with that demon, and I’ve been advised to wait a while before I really ask, but I had to at least come say this stuff. I felt like I had to do that—the kiss—right then, or I’d maybe never get the chance. You know, I just had to see if it was… something , but now I think...I mean I know… that we wouldn't…”

He makes an aborted motion with his free hand to replace the words he can't seem to find, but Keith think he understands.

“Wouldn't really work out?” Keith finishes for him, softly.

Shiro nods, letting a breath of tension go and Keith is relieved to see that his best friend doesn't look hurt, just a bit resigned. “Yeah… that.”

“Which part brought you to that conclusion?” Keith asks lightly, even though the weighted secrets that keep piling up alter the feeling in his chest. The fact that he’ll outlive everyone now is a problem he’s yet to face. He’ll have to explain it all one day, have to tell them that the fight is far from over, have to confess . But for now he tries to joke it away. “Was it my bad breath, or the fact that I’m tied—every single part of me— to a literal demon?”

“Definitely the bad breath.” Shiro takes the teasing confession for what it is, and smiles sadly. “But about the demon part, Keith, are you…okay with that?”

Keith feels a flicker through the bond, not a full emotion, but something that says Lotor is listening, and is concerned about Keith’s answer enough to slip up in the control of his silence. Keith sends a small reassurance quickly back to him, glad that he can feel the demon on the other end of their metaphorical string. It's a comfort that, no matter where this turbulent life is going taking him, it will no longer be taking him alone .

“Yeah,” he says finally, and meets Shiro’s question head on with a smile. “I think I might be.”