Zarkon’s Mark – Day One
The whispers hidden by hands and mumbled under their breath by the little old ladies from the small little community in the Sonoran Desert was nothing new to him. Over the years he had learned from the best, becoming an expert on tuning out the little insinuations and bias opinions that they had of him. Of course, he could only handle so much before going insane.
Twenty-three-year-old Lance McClain reluctantly stayed behind and watched as one by one the caskets of each of his family members exited the funeral home by the pallbearers, who marched them to the inside of the family burial colosseum he had purchased through the adjourning cemetery. Now that he was the only living survivor of the McClain family, though not by blood, he had been tasked with handling every one of their funerals. The task had been stressful, but it helped him focus and avoiding the inevitable pressure of actually having time to mourn his adopted parents, siblings, and the younger children who loved more than anything to call them their ‘Uncle Lance’. If it hadn’t been for the task of making sure everything was perfect for the only people he had ever truly loved, he would have surely ventured down the rabbit hole of despair.
He hated to admit it, but the small community that made up the Sonoran Desert had been welcomed, the older community gratefully attending the service and showing the deceased family their love and respect for everything the McClain family had done for them over the years.
Yes, it was times like these that he shouldn’t allow their chatter to upset him, even though it was hard to not ignore what they were saying.
“I heard he chased anything that walked on two legs. Sounds like a little bit of a man whore if you ask me. I don’t understand how they could handle raising someone as promiscuous as that!”
“Well I heard the only reason why people gave him attention was because he actually scared them. Something about he gave people the heebie jeebies when he walked by. They even said if you didn’t interest him, he gave you the cold shoulder and stuck his nose up in the air like a little prick.”
“Now you just shut your mouth! Think about everything Lance has done for us! Who helped us when little Natalie broke her leg? It was him who said a prayer of healing and look what happened, she was healed up good as new despite the doctor’s saying it would never heal right.”
“He is a very capable young man, but something’s a little…off about him. I heard he was able to find something that was lost one time after the owner searched high and low for it. He found it instantly. It was quite eerie he was able to find it just like that.”
Lance couldn’t help but roll his ocean blue eyes as he swung his suit jacket back on over his pale blue dress shirt and walked out of the cathedral. It was bad enough he had to wear a black suit in the middle of a desert, but now he had to listen to chatterers talk nonsense without a care in the world. He ran a hand through his light brown hair, ruffling the small hairs beginning to grow on the nape of his neck. Dang it, I got to get a haircut soon. Ronnie was the only one who could shape it just right.
He flinched slightly when he felt a heavy arm cross his shoulders and draw him close to a warm body. Lance glanced up to see the owner of the arm, Hunk Garrett, easing his nerves as he allowed himself to ease into the man for comfort. Hunk along with his other friend Adam were now the only things left to family Lance had. The dark-skinned man had gained a little weight over the past few months, but his time in Special Forces had reformed his body into a tightly muscled machine capable of mass destruction if he saw it fit. He was the greatest guy to ever exist and always brought a smile to Lance’s face whenever he was down. He loved cooking and having Lance taste his newest creations, each one better than the last. He had the kindest darkest eyes and an easygoing personality. He looked decked out today in a black suit with pale yellow undershirt. His dark black hair was free of his bandana and was slicked back to stay out of his face. He was truly a machine that could kill if need be. And judging from the tightness of his jaw at that moment, Lance knew he wanted to lash out and hit someone.
“Pay them no mind, compañero,” he asked him softly. Hunk barely nodded in reply as they steered away from the gossipers.
It wasn’t a promise, but Lance knew it was the best he would get. It had been over seven years that Hunk had left the Sonoran Desert, full of excitement about changing the world and intending to end all war. When he had returned a few months ago, he was a completely different person. Gone was the soft and gentle man he had grown up with, and in his place was a man who was grim and often seemed disconnected, as though he cared little whether he lived or died.
The two young men stopped next to the colosseum. It was surrounded by floral arrangements and greenery was woven around the canopy poles. Hunk moved to sit next to his mom, whose reddened eyes and pale, tear streaked face gave testimony to her grief from losing some of her true friends in Lance’s parents. When Hunk placed his arm around her, she turned to him with a low sob and buried her face in his shoulder, seeking what comfort she could. Lance took his place at the podium set up and cleared his throat. He could feel the reassuring weight of his father’s last gift, a silver lion head with blue diamond inlays that he wore on a matching silver chain around his neck given to him by his sister Rachel, feeling a slight sense of comfort. He gazed out at the crowd gathered there.
“I would like to thank everyone who came here for my family today. In one way or another you each brought my family the happiness they deserved, and I know they loved you all as well. My request to you is to please not mourn them and to celebrate the lives they lived and be thankful for your own loved ones. The saying is true, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” He closed his eyes and try to hold back the tears that threatened to spill. He knew if he broke down in front of them now, he would just give those gossipers more to talk about. Taking a deep breath, he looked back to the crowd. “Once this is done, please enjoy the reception inside. My friends have helped me day and night with getting everything done and I wouldn’t want their time to go to waste. I would appreciate anyone that would like to join us in celebrating my family. “After the service, there will be a reception inside. We would be pleased if you would join us.”
Lance stepped down and took the seat on Hunk’s mother’s other side. He was grateful that he hadn’t had to plan the reception, instead entrusting the task to his best friend Adam Wakim and his former classmate and newly hired receptionist at his record shop, Shay Bulmeran-Crystals. They were inside the mortuary in the reception room, setting up the food and drinks. Lance let his mind wander as the minister prayed, not paying much attention to words said to a deity he didn’t believe in but appreciating the heartfelt sentiment just the same. In just a few minutes, the words would be said that would send his family to their final resting place. The crowd filed past the colosseum one final time to drop roses near the entrance. Many were crying and a few approached Lance to hug him.
“You did your family proud, son,” Minister Iverson said as he placed a firm but comforting hand on Lance’s shoulder.
Lance stood and walked to stand by his family’s caskets one final time, idly caressing the shiny finish of the one belonging to his mother. “Thank you, sir. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you.”
Two stragglers passed by on their way to the reception. One remarked to the other in a voice that carried, “Strange that he doesn’t cry. Apparently he doesn’t realize he literally has no one.”
The minister’s face tightened and then he shook his head. “Your family knows you love them, Lance. They were always so proud of you. This is your final gift to them, and you pulled it together beautifully.”
Lance almost cried then but hugged him instead. “Thank you. Believe it or not, that really helps sir.”
Minister Jones inclined his head. “Do you want me to walk you in? I could use some grub after a service like this.”
Lance shook his head with a small smile. “I want to stay here for a few more minutes. Please, go on ahead. You haven’t eaten anything all morning and we don’t need your health deteriorating any more, sir.”
The minister nodded his head and again placed his hand on Lance’s shoulder before heading inside.
Lance was finally alone. He took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of recently cut grass and freshly turned dirt mixed with the almost sickly-sweet scent of flowers and a hint of rain in the air. Minister Jones was right. He had done his family proud. That felt good; it felt right. His family had adopted him as their own when he was only a baby. No matter how odd a child Lance turned out to be, no matter that he was bisexual, no matter the dissent amongst the older generation of the family, their love had remained rock steady. Always and forever, as they said.
“I miss you guys so much...It’s so freaking hard. Why did this have to happen? Why did you leave me behind? I don’t think I can live in that house. Not without you guys. I was thinking Hunk-”
Lance’s words faltered as the air took on a sudden deep chill. He snapped his head up and looked around. There was a young couple a little way up the path in front of him, and to his right was two women standing at a headstone while a man knelt in front of it. One of the women caught Lance’s eye and noticed where he stood. She gave him a sympathetic nod before turning her attention back to her companions. They all looked like normal visitors to the cemetery.
Lance dropped his gaze and shut his eyes for a brief moment. “I guess I’m just tired. Anyway, about Hunk-”
He felt it again. This time chills rand down his back and the hair on his arms and at the back of his neck stood up. His heartbeat sped up until it pounded against his rib cage. He whirled around to look towards the canopy.
A man was there, standing next to the chair Lance had sat in for the funeral. He was tall and had on a long black coat. He didn’t have a large build but there was something off in his appearance, something Lance couldn’t quite place. He had long white hair that seemed to go past his shoulders and down his back. Si claro, Lance. He’s probably a late mourner. He took a deep breath, noticing a sudden coppery smell. “I’m sorry, you startled me. Are you here for the McClain service?” The man was probably an acquaintance of his father’s or a customer of his mom’s that he just hadn’t met.
The tall man stared at him. “I’m here for you, Lance.”
The man’s eyes were vacant and a cruel strangely blue with yellow tinting. Lance broke into a cold sweat. A voice inside his head screamed Run! Lance shivered, then turned and ran. The soles of his shoes slid slightly in the wet grass. He stopped and turned back. The man was still standing there watching him with a nasty smirk playing on his full lips.
Fear spread hot and bitter in the back of his throat. He reached down and tugged off his shoes. When he looked up again, the man was gone. Vanished.
Get out of there now!
Terror pulsed deep inside him and he ran towards the mortuary. His breath hitched in his throat. It was still too far, at least thirty or forty yards...
It was Hunk striding towards him from the right, Shay by his side, her dark curly hair escaping the bun on top of her head as they ran towards him. Lance turned and ran headed in their direction, a feeling of relief washing through him at seeing the familiar faces. His lungs burned and his legs felt weak. He couldn’t get rid of the metallic taste of fear in his mouth.
Hunk caught him in his arms, lifting him up and spinning with the momentum. “What’s wrong?” Hunk asked as he set Lance back on the ground and whipped back around, keeping Lance at his back as he took in his surroundings.
Tears burned Lance’s eyes at the protective gesture. Hunk had always looked out for him. No matter what happened, Hunk and Lance considered themselves brothers and Hunk would do anything to have his back.
“Lance, are you okay?” Shay asked, her huge brown eyes full of worry.
Hot embarrassment began to build in the middle of Lance’s chest, and he could feel the flush spreading across his cheeks and down his neck. What exactly had he panicked over? “I think I might have just made a fool of myself.”
Hunk’s sharp eyes scanned the surrounding area one more time and then turned to look at Lance. “You look terrified. What happened?” His brows drew together in a frown and anger flashed in his dark brown eyes. “Was somebody bothering you? One of those old ladies-”
Lance shrugged, then grimaced as he slid one of his now damp feet back into one of his shoes. He would have to get them back off soon enough, he didn’t want to ruin them. “This guy just freaked me out.”
Hunk snorted. “That’s a switch. Isn’t usually the other way around?”
Lance rolled his eyes and balanced to brush some grass off his other foot before putting on the other shoe. He straightened up and said, “He startled me. I never heard him walk up, he was just...there. I asked him if he was here for my family, and he said ‘I’m here for you, Lance.’” Lance quoted before he groaned as he thought over the words. “I made something up in my head, didn’t I? Now that I say it out loud, he probably just meant he was here to support me at the funeral or something.” He was startled again when Shay suddenly grabbed his arm.
“What did he look like, Lance?” she asked.
The fear suddenly coming off Shay prickled Lance’s skin and nearly made him step back. In high school, Shay had been the popular captain of the dance team while Lance had spent most of his time awkwardly trying to figure out how to fit in, yet somehow, they had managed to become friends thanks to their mutual interest in Hunk’s cooking skills. Something had changed Shay, though. Lance frowned as he tried to answer.
“Well, he had white hair and these weird goldish blue eyes. And there was something off about his face. It was almost...well, delicate.” Lance grimaced at using the term that had been used by others in reference to himself so often in the past.
“Was he a small guy?” asked Hunk.
Lance shook his head. “No. He was a tall guy, maybe even taller than myself. He had on a black knee length suede coat and black slacks on under that.”
Shay’s frightened eyes darted around the cemetery and she placed her now icy cold hand back on Lance’s arm. She opened her mouth and then grimaced before saying, “I need to tell you something. But I can’t seem to remember what exactly...” She reached up and started rubbing her temples, closing her eyes as though she were in pain.
“Shay, you need to eat something. You’ve been working since this morning,” Hunk said.
Lance silently agreed. That was true. But he had felt the fear in Shay. After being gone from there area for a few years, she had returned, troubled and scared. But then again, Lance himself had just raced across a cemetery as though the hounds of Hell had been after him, so who was he to judge? “Let’s go inside. I’m acting like an escapee from a nuthouse and Shay’s got a case of the mind blankness. We could all use some food and there are guests waiting.”
Hunk put his hand on Lance’s shoulder, his touch warm and protective. “I’ll look around inside. If that guy’s there, I’ll get his story and find out why he did that.”
Lance looked up at him and managed a small half smile. “Thanks.” It made him feel better that Hunk took him seriously even though he himself felt like an utter ass.
But seriously – what on Earth had possessed him to run away?
Lance didn’t arrive back to his small apartment until well past midnight. He was driven to last as long as he had with a promise of a nice long hot bath with a glass of wine to end the day. He lived on the ground floor of an apartment building that had a nice courtyard just outside his window. On sunny days, he enjoyed his time on the comfortable benches or under the shade of the large oak trees with so many interesting branches he couldn’t stop the urge to climb them when it hit him. He also liked the sit out and sunbathe at times (though he already had tanned skin) when the other tenants weren’t complaining about him exposing himself. Having your shirt off and flaunting your body is not considered exposing yourself, thank you very much!
But tonight, it seemed overly dark and shadowy with too many hiding places.
Lance shook his head in disgust. His imagination was in overdrive. Were it anyone else with these feelings, he would think they were overwrought.
He hurried to his front door and quickly slid the key in to unlock it. As soon as he was inside, he closed the door and slid the deadbolt home, followed by the chain lock. He took a deep breath, feeling just a little calmer. He slid his feet out of his dress shoes and ruefully inspected the inside of them, sure they would never be quite the same ever again. He glanced up at the tapestry hanging over his brick fireplace, then took a closer look. It had hung there since he had moved in, but tonight, somehow, it looked brighter.
It pictured an ocean blue lioness, a paw placed on a silver box and looking down into a still lake looking at its reflection. Behind the lioness, mountains shadowed in pink and lilac rose up and petals filled the air, seemingly caught in a breeze. The lioness and mountains cast odd reflections into the lake, making it feel as if sometimes the picture was moving and alive. When he had been younger, Lance would find himself mesmerized by staring at the picture, trying to make out images in the lake surface and trying to catch even the slightest twitch of movement.
Sometimes, when he was lucky, he would see the tiniest movement from the threads of the painting.
And tonight, it seemed clearer and more vibrant than it had even been before.
From what he knew, the tapestry was the only thing he had inherited from his biological mother. His parents had never spoken much about the adoption, but they had hung the tapestry in Lance’s bedroom while he was growing up, swearing that Lance would never have to be without it as long as he lived. His grandfather, who had lived with them at the time, had hated it the thing with a passion. But his father had steadfastly refused to let him touch it and made sure the man had no say in what Lance had hung in his room.
Why had his mother left it with Lance?
He had never really thought much about it before. It had always just been there. But just before they had died, his parents had dropped a bombshell on Lance. He had been signed up with an online birth parent search agency. They had told Lance that it was time for him to learn who he was and where he came from.
Lance bowed his head. He should probably comply with his parent’s wishes and follow up with searching for his birth parents, but his grief for his family was too fresh to decide.
He went into his bedroom and took a hot shower. When he finished, he pulled on a pair of black sweatpants and an old white wifebeater that was soft from repeated washings. He left his hair damp and padded barefoot into the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of wine and fixed a plate of cheese and crackers, then carried everything to the small breakfast nook and sat at the table. He turned on his laptop to check email and saw that there were a few of condolence letters and a couple from online orders for his shop.
Lance took a sip of wine and started replying to the emails and handling the online orders accordingly, occasionally pausing to pop a cheese topped cracker into his mouth or sip his wine. When he finished, he realized that some of the tension had left his shoulders, his headache had eased, and the soft murmuring voices in his head had quietened.
His laptop made a dinging noise to indicate a new email message. The subject line said Warning. Without even thinking, he clicked the email to open it.
The Galra know where you are! If they get a hold of you, they will kill you. You need to find the Paladins!
Shocked, Lance set down his wineglass. What the hell is this? The noise in his head grew to a loud buzz and fear pounded in his chest. He tried to breathe calmly, sure that he was overreacting, just as he had with the man at the cemetery. He had probably read the email wrong in his utter mental and emotional exhaustion. He leaned in closer and read it again.
The Galra know where you are! If they get a hold of you, they will kill you. You need to find the Paladins!
What Galra? And who the hell were the Paladins? Why would they look for him or want to kill him? Was this some kind of joke, crass and poorly timed? Lance looked to see who had sent the message. What he saw made his mouth go dry and unease skitter up his spine like icy fingers. The cheese and wine turned his stomach queasy.
This didn’t make any sense at all.
The sender of the email…was himself.
Trying to drown his afflictions in the assortments of alcohol he had to work with, Keith Kogane roamed the floors of his nightclub, his eyes open to find his next piece of action. He really couldn’t explain why he tried drowning himself in alcohol, it wasn’t like it was going to help, but it at least scratched the itch in his body that craved the overwhelming need for sex. Now the want/need to hunt and kill, well that was a different story.
“I can’t believe how busy it is tonight,” Takashi “Shiro” Shirogane commented as he walked up beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it slightly before dropping his hand and tipping back his bottle of beer.
Keith smirked at his ‘brother’ and gave the older man a shrug. Ever since they had opened Voltron two years ago, the establishment had been nothing but successful. Not known to the public, the club filled nightly with men and women looking for “relief” from their everyday stress of their afflictions they had buried deep down inside them. Shiro had enjoyed decorating the place in blacks, reds, and blues. The bars on all sides were a smooth black marble that reflected all the overhead lights, which sometimes made the bar appear as if it had dancing lights with the way the lighting hit it. The dance floors were lined with interchanging lights as the music pounded from the speakers. Throughout the bar there was seating and stone statues of many ancient creatures that helped spark up the interior.
Keith sighed as he gave Shiro a questioning look. Shiro wasn’t one for small talk on nights such as this when it came to him trying to deal with his problems. By now he would have found a willing man to take on the large hunter. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
Shiro’s dark eyes roamed over the club as if looking for something. “I don’t really know. But something’s going on, I can just feel it.”
Keith nodded his head. He had begun feeling uneasy more as the hour had passed. “Is it a witch?” he asked.
Shiro frowned. “No. If there was, we’d all be affected.” He eyes scanned the room again and he motioned with his head. “And…so would they.”
Keith turned his attention towards Shiro’s gaze, and a growl escaped his throat as he looked over at the men sitting in an unoccupied area of the club. There was three of them, all wearing matching black clothes and jackets. They also all shared the same discoloration of skin, a purple hue that went unnoticed by humans but to the supernatural would help them be identified easily as to what they truly were. They were witch hunters, but not like the kind who entered his club looking to relax or let loose their tension with a good fuck. “Great. Why in the fuck are there Galran hunters in our club?” he hissed.
Galra were a group of witch hunters who had strayed from the ways of their ancestors and lost their souls after a simple dirty deed. All it took was the kill of an innocent elemental witch for them to become what they are. Keith couldn’t stand them and their ways. Those who sold their souls were no good in his book. “Every time I think we are keeping ourselves in check, I see more and more hunters losing their battle with our curse and allowing themselves to go Galra. Do you know why they are here?”
Shiro quirked a brow, knowing the shorter male should already know the answer to that question. “The Red Lion, what else?” he replied.
Keith rolled his eyes. Of course they wanted to goggle at the man who bore the tattoo of the Red Lion, the signature mark of their ancestor The Blade of Marmora. They wanted to see him in action, to see what he was capable of in his element. As if it knew he was thinking about it, he felt the large tattoo on his back warm slightly as he felt a small growl roar somewhere deep inside him. “I still think Matt was fucking with me when he gave me this tattoo. I wanted a freaking wolf for crying out loud. Yet he gives me this. I bet you he and Pidge had a field day when he came up with the idea.”
Shiro shook his head. “You know that’s a lie,” he stated as he swigged his beer. “I was with him the entire time he was giving you that tat. I watched him ink your skin with black and blue, just for it to turn around and turn into a bright red. He was doing a wolf, but by the end of it the shape had morphed into that of the lion. It was downright creepy to watch. You were the first of us to have our marks changed, therefore The Blade chose you as our rightful leader.”
Keith hopped onto the bar and reached down for another beer. He like his friends wanted nothing more than to keep their souls. They had been born as witch hunters, a breed of men and women that swore to provide justice and protection to those The Blade had demanded they protect. At one time they had been immortal, there to become the support and undivided guardians of the elemental witches: highly evolved women and men with the ability to draw in power from the elements to protect, heal, and assist mortals while they along with their guardians and familiars hunted and killed demons and the Galra.
But that had been in the past. For close to fifty years, witch hunters had been cursed with an affliction that called for the need of an elemental witches’ blood and a sex drive that was out of control. These afflictions would destroy their very souls if they gave in. “Why go the Galra care that I have the Red Lion tattoo?” he asked as he took large gulps of his beer, slamming it on the marble counter when he was done.
Shiro leaned against the bar. “The reappearance of that tattoo means that The Blade might be alive somewhere. If he is, then all the Galra are in for the time of their lives. Something changed the tattoo you were getting, Keith. And it surely wasn’t Matt. You also failed to remember that the exact same thing happened to the rest of us as well, before you very eyes. You were fascinated watching my tat become a black lion while Pidge’s became a green lioness and Matt’s a matching orange. That showed you there all you needed to know about what might be coming.”
“I’m just glad we aren’t Galra,” Keith remarked. Witch hunters bearing no soul became a celestial after they died, a spirit that walked between worlds without ever being able to move on.
“Lotor Daibazaal and his late father Zarkon convinced the Galra that if they kill all the witches it will break the curse and their souls will return. To this day Lotor still preaches Zarkon’s ways, even though they are twisted.”
Keith snorted in disgust. “Lotor Daibazaal is the one who should be afraid of The Blade. His bastard of a father was that one that renounced Him in the first place!” Keith turned to fix his gaze on Shiro. “His doing that combined with the demon witch curse caused the break between The Blade and His hunters. Zarkon caused this mess and he ought to be glad he is dead or I would have killed him myself.”
Shiro studied Keith intently. “So, you do believe The Blade is alive then?”
Keith nodded. “I do. I believe it, but what the fuck I’m supposed to do about it is something else altogether. Why would he tag me as the leader of the witch hunters? We can’t protect elemental witches, we can’t even get within smelling distance or we risk losing control and killing them ourselves.”
Shiro studied Keith, his dark eyes sweeping over his face thoughtfully. “Is it bad tonight?”
The better question was when wasn’t it? There were nights Keith dreamed of sliding his knife into a witch, feeling the bliss of their power-laced blood coating his skin and sinking into him. The he would wake covered in sweat and terrified that it had actually happened. Or would happen. “It’s bad enough, let’s leave it at that,” he shortly answered Shiro.
“Go. Go get some relief. I’ll keep an eye on the Galra,” Shiro said.
Keith nodded once. “Give Pidge and Matt a heads up that we have company. I don’t want any surprises.” The four of them made up The Paladins, the most revered group of hunters thanks to the mark on Keith’s back. He knew the siblings were somewhere in the club, probably already on high alert with the Galras infiltrating their environment.
“Roger that,” Shiro replied as he strode off.
Witch hunters were able to find relief from the curse with sex. Sex helped the hunters ease the need of wanting to kill a witch. He knew Pidge was roaming the club somewhere, either tinkering with something electronical or finding someone to take her edge off as well. Being a woman witch hunter was rare, but those who were generally had a higher sex drive added on top of their normal hormones, so sometimes Pidge had to have some type of sex at least twice as much as Keith to be able to control herself. He grimaced, not really wanting to dread on that fact. He thought of her like a little sister and thinking about her and her numerous amounts of sex partners she had sometimes made he and Matt gag.
Keith decided to head to one of the lounge areas away from the Galrans. The one he had chosen had several women sitting in it, but women never interested him in the slightest. Sitting down in one of the leather black armchairs, he searched the crowd in search of his prey. He sights finally caught on a male with olive-toned skin, brown hair parted in the middle of his forehead, and steely blue-gray eyes. He was wearing a pair of tight blue jeans along with a white long-sleeved shirt that clung to him in all the right places. Catching Keith’s gaze, he smiled as he made his way over to the hunter.
“Hello there handsome. The name’s James,” the human introduced himself.
Keith surveyed him. Up close he could smell the desire coming from the man mixed with cheap body wash. The man smelled as if he had drunk one too many and his eyes seemed to be filled with pain. Welcome to my world. “You lookin’ for a good time, James?’
James boldly settled himself so that he was straddling Keith’s lap. Keith could feel his hunger inside as the human pressed his desire against his leg. “Sure am. Got somewhere we can be alone?”
Keith nodded as he licked his lips. “Sure do. I’ve got a place upstairs we could get acquainted in.”
James smiled but Keith could tell he was slightly hesitant. He knew what James was thinking, something all the guests thought. Rumors spread like wildfire regarding the men and women in the club. The men themselves were well endowed in many places and the women’s sexual desires drove many wild. If the hunters weren’t careful, they could hurt their sexual partner. But Keith prided himself in being careful with the humans he indulged in. He slid his hands to James’s hips and pulled their lower bodies flush together before grinding up into the man, making them both to groan. “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you. I just need you to help me with this problem that I have. You will come out of this unharmed and fulfilled, I promise you.”
Keith stood and took James’s hand, realizing that he wasn’t much bigger as Keith himself. He’d been staring at James’s crotch and the noticeable bulge there and hadn’t thought about his overall size or how much of himself he’d be able to take. Keith wondered how much control it would take to keep his partner safe. He briefly wondered if it was worth it. If he let go and let his animal side take control, he could bury himself hard and deep in a man, completely and balls deep, with absolutely no thought for his partner’s comfort. Lust flamed white hot through his gut and his groin at the thought of being able to give a man everything he had.
Someone jostled him in passing and Keith snapped out of his fantasy. Control. It was what separated the man from the animal, the witch hunter from the Galra. He let go of James’s hand and moved behind him so that they could make their way through the crowd. Keith focused on his sexy ass. James would bring him some degree of relief from the cravings and Keith would make damn sure the human enjoyed himself in the process. He put a hand in the small of James’s back and guided him towards the stairs but stopped when he saw the man standing at the foot of them.
Before Keith could fully react, Shiro moved in behind him to show that Keith wasn’t alone. He didn’t have to look to know that Pidge and Matt were on alert and ready for trouble.
Keith knew he had to get James out of the way. He had taken another step before realizing Keith no longer had his hand on his back and turned to look at him. Keith gently took his arm and pulled him towards him before passing him to Shiro. “Take James up to my condo the back way. Get him whatever he wants.” He looked at James. “I need to take care of something, but I’ll be up as soon as I can.”
James looked confused but nodded and followed Shiro.
Keith turned back to the man. He knew that the four Galra he had seen by the fire pit earlier had closed in, but his focus remained in front of him. “What the hell are you doing here?”
The man held out a piece of paper towards Keith, his smooth palm revealed with the movement. “This is your last chance. Prove your loyalty to me and our leader. Take care of this witch or die yourself instead.”
Keith gave a huff of mirthless laughter. “Hell, Pops, that sounds like a bad line from a movie.” In his early fifties, Richard Kogane looked no older than thirty. The blood of murdered witches kept him looking young. His dark eyes were flat, lifeless, and held no mercy as he regarded his son before him.
“You’re a fucking idiot if you think you can keep living like this. The Blade is dead, killed by the witches and their curse. You hide behind a dead and useless god because you are too much of a coward to man up and kill the bitches that cursed us,” Richard sneered.
Keith could smell the scent of copper coming off his dad, the result of absorbing witch blood. A mortal would never smell it, but a witch or witch hunter definitely would. “Man up? Killing elemental witches who can’t defend themselves is being a man?” The thought made him sick, but what really churned his guts was knowing the dark desire coursed through his veins. The craving to sink his knife in a witch and feel the high of the powerful blood covering his skin.
Richard chuckled darkly. “Maybe you are too much a bitch yourself.” His meaning was obvious, and Keith’s body tightened in fury.
“Get the fuck out of my club.”
The two Galra hunters behind his dad pulled out their knives. Keith reacted swiftly, reaching back to the holster at the small of his back and pulling out his own knife with lightning speed. He glared at the Galra in challenge. He wanted the fight.
To his disappointment, they sheathed their blades. Keith struggled to get himself under control. Galra preferred to fight dirty and never liked a fair fight where they might run the risk of being killed and spending eternity in agony as a shade. He knew that Pidge, Shiro and Matt were watching and would protect everyone in the club with him. They would never start a fight but they damn sure would finish it. Keith was pissed. All he wanted to do was sink himself into the body of a willing man and pleasure them both, and instead here he was having to deal with his asshole dad and some of his flunkies.
The tension in the air was palpable and a restless murmur ran through the crowd. Richard looked at the silver hilt of the knife in Keith’s hand. “There aren’t any wings magically engraved there, are there? The Blade can’t give you back your immortality if he’s dead. Stop being such a pathetic coward and kill the witches.”
Keith grinned coldly. “Thanks, but no thanks. I like my lifeline just where it is.”
Richard flinched before his face hardened once more. “Once we kill all the witches and break their curse, we’ll all have the immortal lifeline. We will all have our souls eternally.”
Keith tilted his head to the side as if pondering. “Try to justify all you want. You know once you kill a witch and lose your soul there is no going back. You’ll always be a soulless monster. And for the record, it was demon witches that did the curse, not elemental witches. They had nothing to do with it.”
“They were there! They did nothing! Nothing to stop the curse from happening! You are out of excuses and out of time. You have twenty-four hours to do your duty and kill this witch. If you don’t, you’re dead,” Richard snarled. He dropped the sheet of paper he held. It was still fluttering to the floor when the door slammed behind the hunters.
Keith snatched the paper out of the air before it touched the ground and looked at it. His eyebrows shot up in shock when he realized that the witch that he was looking at in this picture was, in fact, a very rare male witch. Although elemental witches were typically female, throughout history the witch bloodlines had produced a few males along the way. They were usually unlike human men, being fairer and slenderer. And they were usually incredibly powerful and cunning, many even stronger than females themselves.
Keith studied the witch’s picture for a long moment. His eyes were a beautiful blue that reminded Keith of the ocean, and like most witch eyes, they tilted ever so slightly. While a hunter might not be able to recognize a witch by their appearance, they would always be able to tell by the scent of power in their blood. This witch was extremely attractive. Even in a photograph, he looked vibrant and alive. At the bottom of the sheet was the information Keith would need to hunt down and kill him. He looked for a name and found it.
Keith shook his head. This wasn’t his fight. He wanted to keep his soul very much intact. He had vowed to never give into the curse and kill an earth witch. He would not kill this Lance McClain.
He folded the paper and stuck it in his pocket.
Zarkon’s Mark – Day Two
Lance was still sleeping when his cell phone rang the next morning. Fumbling around, he finally located it on the nightstand and managed to answer it before it went to voicemail. “Hello?” he said, voice raspy with sleep as he sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
“Lance? Did I wake you sleepyhead?” Lance could practically hear the sarcasm in Adam’s voice. His voice sounded gravely, a testament to the amount of alcohol he had consumed along with Lance the day before.
“Yeah, you did jerk,” Lance said, managing to fight off a yawn and the slight pang of his head. He was grateful he didn’t get hangovers, but the headaches were always bad after he went on a binge. He let out a low groan as he stretched under the covers. “I was finally dreaming about my lion again. It’s been months since I last saw him.”
“Oh? The Red Lion?” Adam questioned gently and with a hint of amusement.
Lance chuckled. “Don’t try to psychoanalyze me, Detective Wakim. At least while you aren’t on the clock.” Adam always referred to the lion of Lance’s childhood dreams as his heavenly red lion. Back then the lion always appeared to comfort him when he was alone and frightened in his dreams. Last night he had come to Lance to comfort him in his grief. The lion had stayed with him all night in his dream world, wrapping around him and keeping him warm as Lance dreamed of luscious fields of green and mountains.
“Of course you would dream of something comforting during a time like this, Lance. This is a difficult time for you. And I am world’s worst friend, because I’m calling to cancel our plans for today. An emergency came up,” Adam said.
They had planned to meet for lunch at a local bistro for coffee and a bite before going to family’s house and starting the process of going through their things. Lance sat up in his bed, propping himself up with his pillows. “Something come up with one of your clients? Do they no longer need you since they found the evidence to prove their spouse’s deceit?” the man joked.
The line was silent for a few moments. “Not...exactly,” Adam evaded.
Lance had learned from the past to leave it alone. Adam’s clientele usually dealt with those with some sort of mental issue, but there were times that he worked with those who had been brainwashed by cults or similar situations that brought forth ever more trouble that what it was worth. He had been thankful of getting a psychology degree while also studying to become a detective since he was known now as an expert for these. Sometimes it was dangerous, and Adam took extra precautions to protect the safety and privacy of himself and his clients.
“I promise I’ll make it up to you. We’ll order a pizza with extra cheese and pineapple on it and drink an entire bottle of wine and not worry about the consequences, okay? I have to drive out for a case in a few days, but we’ll definitely get together before then,” Adam promised.
Lance clucked his tongue in soft disapproval. “You’re working too hard, Adam. You’re a detective and part doctor, you of all people should know better that to run yourself dry.”
“Your mama always said the same thing,” Adam said, fondness mixing with sadness in his voice. He often visited his family home to hang with his mother. Growing up, Adam didn’t have a mother’s influence so being with her was a comfort for him when Lance was busy as his records store. Sometimes Lance would come home to see them drinking herbal teas Adam had brewed while they talked about books they had recently read.
Lance’s little huff of laughter held off his tears. “They loved you so much. You were like another part of the family.”
“I know. I loved them, too. Besides,” Adam said, mischief creeping into his voice, “your siblings were always trying to get all your secrets about your love life out of me.”
Lance laughed. “I don’t doubt it for a minute.” He checked the time. “You’d better let me go and get going yourself. We’ll talk tomorrow, okay?”
Adam hummed. “Lance, please be careful. I didn’t forget what happened yesterday and we still haven’t talked about it. Meet me at the office tomorrow, okay? I have something important to talk to you about. We can work on your family’s house later.”
Lance raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Okay. Is there something wrong, Adam?” he questioned.
“No, nothing’s wrong, but I want to talk to you. I really do have to go, but please, Lance. Promise me you’ll be careful,” Adam said.
“Wow, the suspense may be too much!” Lance teased him. “But I will be. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Drowning deep in my sea of loathing
Broken your servant I kneel
(Will you give in to me?)
It seems what’s left of my human side
Is slowly changing in me
(Will you give in to me?)
Keith relaxed as he stretched out against the cool marble of the bar, his pants the only clothing on as he tried to cool off from the burning desire deep under his skin. The night before had taken part of the edge off, but of course the desire never fully left him. He hummed along to “Down With the Sickness” blaring from the speakers. His long black hair was fanned out under his head as he casted his violet eyes up at the ceiling.
“I’m going to wake up Matt,” Pidge groaned as she passed Keith on the bar and made her way to the stairs. “I want him to finish up my butterfly tat before tonight. Lord help me though if I find him naked with his ass hanging out again. I really don’t want a reminder of what my brother’s junk looks like.” Keith snorted at that, reminding him of the mini freak-out she had after catching her brother in the nude with a woman a couple of years back. He had never heard her scream so loud in her life.
Unlike others, Pidge was a fairly small and thin woman, though she appreciated that about herself since she could take others by surprise when she ‘opened a can of whoop ass’ as she put it when she fought. Her light brown hair reached to her neck, growing it out over the years out of habit since she barely had time to sit still and cut it, preferring to tie it in a ponytail or bun. Her brown eyes were generally nose deep in anything technological and hidden by a pair of large circular glasses she had stolen from her brother Matt after he had gotten his sight corrected. Though the lenses had been replaced with fake ones, she had enjoyed wearing them while she wasn’t working as a hunter as a sort of façade. He figured it was a way to hide herself among the masses and it had helped them in numerous occasions when unsuspected Galras had tried attacking the group.
Looking at my own reflection
When suddenly it changes
Violently it changes (oh no)
There is no turning back now
You’ve woken up the demon in me
Shiro chuckled as he stood by the pool table contemplating his next move. The man had rolled out of bed about an hour ago. Unlike his brethren, he had not handled his desires the night before and felt on edge. The man was the biggest out of the group of hunters. He was tall and had broad shoulders. He was of Japanese descent and had pale skin and dark grey slanted eyes. His face had been marred by a scar, which he had received during his battle with a Galran, etched across the bridge of his nose. He would his hair in an undercut, his short bangs died white that he styled to the center of his forehead. The man was all muscle, from his head down to his toe. He was truly the most mature out of all of them there.
Get up, come on get down with the sickness
Get up, come on get down with the sickness
Get up, come on get down with the sickness
Open up your hate, and let it flow into me
Get up, come on get down with the sickness
You mother get up come on get down with the sickness
You fucker get up come on get down with the sickness
Madness is the gift, that has been given to me
“Stop being a lazy ass and get my tat done like you promised,” Pidge said as they trudged down the steps with a sleepy Matt being pulled behind her. Matt towered over his sister and could be her male self. He had long brown hair he wore down his back in a low ponytail. He and Pidge had matching eyes and Matt had a small thin scar under his left eye that curved from his nose to his jawline, a wound he had received when he had gotten too close to his sister during one of her episodes. She had felt horrible afterwards, but Matt had confronted her and had comforted her, convincing her it was not truly her fault. He was wearing only a pair of black sleep pants as he followed his sister to his tattoo station with a groan.
Shiro took a seat looking at the multiple monitors of the security system Keith had in place. Shiro usually kept a close eye on the various camera angles that showed the club as well as the grounds surrounding Keith’s private dwelling next door. Since it was midafternoon and the club wasn’t open yet, it was unusual to see anything on the monitors. Keith sat up from the bar as he saw Shiro’s posture change in alert.
“What is it?” he asked Shiro.
Shiro looked over at Keith. “Your mom and sister are here.”
“By themselves?” Keith asked. He walked over to the monitor to see for himself. Sure enough, his mother was headed for the back door with his sister held in her arms. That was unusual. “Let them in.”
“Already did,” Shiro said, having hit the button that would allow them entrance. Pidge went to the stereo and turned the music off. Keith crossed the room to the door to open it for his mom and sister.
Krolia Kogane was by all accounts a beautiful woman. She was as tall as Keith and had similar violet eyes and long matching hair. But today, she was pale and lines of strain were visible around her eyes and mouth.
Keith’s sister Acxa held out her arms when she saw him.
Keith grinned and took her from his mom. She wrapped her little arms around him and squeezed tightly. “Hi, Keith! Mommy said I could come and color with Matt. Can I? Pretty please?” Her blur eyes sparkled with excitement. She had no idea what he and the other men were, being a mortal like his mother. She loved them all, completely and unconditionally. And to them, each of them a witch hunter with a dark killer instinct they barely controlled, the Paladins were putty in her tiny hands.
Keith looked at his mother. When she nodded Keith set Acxa down. “Go ask Matt if he wants to color,” he instructed her gently. Anyone else who knew Matt might have laughed at the idea of the tough hunter coloring with a little girl, but he and Acxa would spend hours coloring together. Matt was gentle with Acxa and always had time for her. And of all the Paladins, he was her favorite. He would color My Little Pony with the same patience and skill that he used to create his livelihood.
Keith watched Acxa as she skipped away to find Matt, her long dark hair swinging in their pigtails, then turned to Krolia. “Mom? What’s wrong?”
Krolia still stood in the same place she had been in when Keith took Acxa from her. She was one of the toughest, smartest women Keith knew, but at that moment she looked tense and anxious. Vulnerable somehow.
Pidge and Shiro came to stand behind Keith. There was a tension in the air that was palpable. Krolia looked at them, men she loved and had watched grow from boyhood, then turned to look at her son. She swallowed, then took a shaky breath. “She has the mark, Keith. Acxa has Zarkon’s Mark.”
Keith jerked as if she had struck him. Her words echoed on repeat in his brain, his blood surging to a boiling rage. No. Not his sweet little sister. “You’re sure?” he heard his own voice ask, sounding a million miles away.
Krolia nodded jerkily. “I’m positive. It’s Zarkon’s Mark.” A tremor shook her and Shiro quickly led her to a chair to sit down while Pidge grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator.
Keith wanted to tell his mother she had to be mistaken. But even though Krolia was a mortal, she was fully aware of the immortal world that coexisted with her own. She had been a successful travel agent when she was younger and had traveled extensively all over the world as part of her job. During one of those trips, she met and fell in love with Richard, and had accepted that he was an immortal witch hunter. She knew that meant that she would age and one day die while Richard continued to live. But she didn’t let that trouble her. She and Richard married and had been overjoyed when she got pregnant with Keith. Then the curse happened, and Krolia had believed that her love would be strong enough to keep her husband from going Galra, and that since Richard was no longer immortal, they would grow old together.
She had been wrong. And she had fought for years to keep her son from the same fate as his father. Now she looked at Keith with tears forming in her eyes. “It’s on her forehead, Keith. She woke up with it this morning. Just a small pink spot. I thought it was probably a bug bite, but then this afternoon it was bigger and had become perfectly round. And I don’t know what to do!”
Keith felt his mother’s pain adding to the compulsion running through his veins. He knew what he had to do. No matter how much he wanted to hold on to his soul, he would hunt down the demon witch responsible and kill her. It would save Acxa, but it would destroy him at the same time. But he couldn’t let his sister die. He had only a short time. The victim of a death curse would sicken and die at the full moon, which gave him about fourteen days.
“I’ll take care of it. I won’t let anything happen to Acxa. I’ll hunt down the witch who did this and kill her,” Keith said, looking into his mother’s eyes.
Krolia trembled again. “Keith,” she cried, her voice cracking on a sob.
Keith understood. He knew she loved him. She loved him so much that she had stayed with his dad even once he went Galra. She knew Richard would kill her before he would let her take Keith from him. And she had stayed until things got too dangerous for Keith, the two of them going into hiding and on the run until Keith was old enough to handle his dad. They had always been there for each other, especially after Richard found Krolia that one time and used his powers to seduce her, getting her pregnant with Acxa. And now she was faced with having to sacrifice one child to save the other. She shook her head vehemently.
“No, Keith. It only takes killing one witch to change you, demon or not. I won’t let you. I’ll kill her. You hunt her down, and I’ll kill her myself,” she said fiercely.
Pidge growled low in her throat and Shiro stiffened. “Krolia,” Shiro said, the warning in his voice clear. Just the idea of his mother facing down a demon witch made Keith’s rage burn hotter. A hunter was born to protect and to kill. Both instincts ran deep. He put his arms around her.
“Mom, only a witch who has given up her soul in exchange for demon powers can cast a death curse. Killing you would be as easy as swatting a fly. You have to take care of Acxa. I’ll find the witch who did this.”
He let go of her and walked into the next room. Childish giggles and a low male voice could be heard, and he found Matt and Acxa sprawled on the floor. They had a giant Disney Princess coloring book open in front of them with a large box of crayons between them. Acxa lay on her stomach as she colored. She had taken off her shoes and her rainbow striped sock feet were kicking in the air.
Keith kneeled down next to her. “Whatcha coloring?”
She grinned up at him. “Ariel. She’s the Little Mermaid. Wanna help?” She held out a red crayon towards him.
He reached out and casually brushed her bangs off her forehead. There in the center of her forehead was the dime sized pink mark. His head pounded with the compulsion to find the witch that did this and spill her blood, make her pay. Carefully, he pulled his hand away.
Matt’s eyes hardened, narrowing as he saw the mark. Hatred flared hot in their brown depths. But when he spoke to Acxa, his voice was gentle as always. “You’re stuck with me, peanut.” She giggled at the silly nickname. “Your brother has some business he has to take care of.” Matt looked at Keith directly. “Go take care of it.”
Jaw tight, Keith nodded. He knew exactly what had happened. His dad had pissed off a demon witch and she’d cast a death curse on him. But witch hunters were immune to death curses, so the curse had passed down the line, bypassing Keith and settling on Acxa.
A short time later, Keith pulled up to the compound where his father lived. The compound had once been a veterinarian’s house, complete with an office and a kennel behind it. The house had been renovated and Keith didn’t want to know what use the office and kennel were now serving. The place was owned by the Galra Cadre, but Richard was a loyal witch killer and they gave him what he wanted in return. Keith couldn’t imagine living in that type of servitude to anyone. He wasn’t a Galra and on his orders, the Paladins would kill him if that day ever came. It was looking more like a certainty with a death curse on Acxa.
Keith jumped the fence and strode up the driveway. He knew there were cameras on him and that suited him just fine. He wanted Richard to know he was there. When he got to the door, he pounded on it. “Open up, Dad! We need to talk right now!”
The door opened and Keith nearly let his jaw drop in surprise when he recognized the man in the doorway.
“Rolo? Is that you?”
It was Rolo Ronalds. They had played together as kids growing up. Rolo had been the first guy he’d ever kissed. They had lost contact when Keith had gone on the run with his mother. Keith caught his breath as the scent of copper hit him. Galra. That realization was like a kick to his gut. His childhood buddy and young teenage crush had become one of them.
“Hello, Keith. You’re looking super-hot today. Richard never said you’d grown up so fine. I always knew you’d be a looker, but damn, you’re practically sex on a stick!” Rolo leered at him, licking his lips lasciviously.
Keith blinked at him, in a state of stunned disbelief that was quickly becoming outrage. “What the fuck, Rolo? You’re one of them!”
The leer fell off Rolo’s face and his gaze hardened. “Cut the dramatic bullshit, Keith. We aren’t kids anymore and this isn’t a game. The witches destroyed us and took our heritage. It’s time we fought back and reclaimed what’s rightfully ours.”
Keith thought of the Galra he had killed over the years. He never sought them out, but if they caused trouble of the deadly kind, he would end it. And he always felt a tug of pity and remorse for the hunter who had lost the battle with the curse. But seeing the man he had known as a boy, the boy with whom he had played games where they pretended to hunt down demon witches together, the boy whose lips he had tentatively pressed his own against one night a lifetime ago, made him furious. “You’re fucking stupid if you believe that. You sold out our heritage, and every drop of witch blood you’ve shed has sealed your doom.”
Rolo’s jaw tightened as rage flared in his eyes. “Richard’s upstairs.” He didn’t move from where he was and Keith hit him with his shoulder as he passed.
There was another Galra at the foot of the stairs in the entryway. This one had a gun. So, Richard had guards now. What was he doing that required guards? Keith shook his head. It wasn’t his problem. What was his problem was Acxa. The Galra guard let him pass with a suspicious glare that Keith returned before heading up the stairs. He found his dad in the master bedroom laying on silk sheets and drinking Hennessy. A porno was playing on the television screen.
Richard took a sip of his drink, savoring it in his mouth while he looked at him. Finally, he swallowed. “Is the witch dead?”
Keith knew Richard wasn’t talking about the witch that had cursed Acxa, but the one he had ordered him to kill. “Beats the hell out of me.” He noticed the angry looking burn along Richard’s torso. That kind could only have come from a fire spell. Hunters healed extremely fast, but a burn like that would take several days to heal. His dad had definitely tangled with the wrong witch last night.
“Do you want to die? Lotor Daibazaal knows you’ve killed Galra hunters and that you marked yourself to show allegiance to a dead god. You are as good as dead if you don’t join us,” Richard snarled.
Keith pulled out his gun and aimed it at Richard’s heart. “I don’t care about your threats or Daibazaal’s delusions. Did the witch that did that to you survive?”
Richard took another sip of his cognac. “What the fuck do you care?”
“Acxa’s been death cursed,” Keith growled.
Richard gave an unconcerned shrug then winced in pain. “So?”
Hatred flared up in Keith’s gut and roiled through him. It took all his control not to pull the trigger and just kill his father right then and there. The only thing keeping him from doing it was that he needed to know who the witch was. And besides, killing Richard at that moment would bring the wrath of the Cadre on him, and he didn’t need that additional headache while he hunted down the witch that cursed Acxa. “Who is she? And what did you do to piss her off?”
Richard glared at Keith. “I did my duty. Only by ridding the world of witches will we ever end this curse and regain our souls. How was I to know her mother would show up?”
Keith stared at his father in disbelief. “Christ, dad, you killed a kid?”
“She wasn’t a kid. Probably around your age. She fought like a hellcat until I cut her enough,” Richard said, closing his eyes and shuddering in pleasure just remembering.
Keith’s gut twisted as he looked at his dad. This was his future. Just killing the witch that did the curse...but Acxa. Richard might not care that his daughter would die from the life sucking curse, but Keith did. “Who is she? Who’s the witch that cursed Acxa?”
Richard laughed, then grunted in pain. “Don’t know, don’t care.”
“Damn it, Dad, I’m not going to let Acxa die,” Keith swore in frustration and rage.
“Do you think I give a flying fuck about that girl? You want the curse lifted? Go find a witch and force her to undo the curse.” Richard drained his drink.
Keith’s trigger finger positively ached with the need to pull and end the bastard right there. He would watch his father die with absolute pleasure. But he couldn’t do it. Not yet. He had to save Acxa, and he didn’t need the Galra Cadre getting in his way or going after his mom in retaliation. “One day I’m going to kill you,” he said in a dark, low voice before turning on his heel and stalking out of the room.
At least he wasn’t leaving empty handed. Richard had given Keith a possible solution without even meaning to, one that might let him save Acxa and keep his soul at the same time. He would find an elemental witch and force them to undo the curse. Elemental witches were in hiding from Galra. And even though he wasn’t Galra they might refuse to help him, not only because of the threat of him snapping and killing them, but that they themselves had no protection from demon witches. Casting a spell to undo a demon witch’s curse was a sure way to anger her. But he would force the witch to help him. All he needed was a witch-and his dad had already given him all the information he needed to find one.
Lance McClain. Be ready witch, because you’re going to be helping me. Whether you like it or not.
Hunk shook his head and sighed as he watched one of his best friends literally worked himself to death. “Lance, my man, you shouldn’t be working right now. You look like you’re about to drop and you just buried your family for crying out loud! Did you even get a full night’s sleep last night?” the man asked, glaring at the dark circles under Lance’s eyes. This was not a common occurrence for the Cuban man, and the sight had Hunk worrying about his health. The man had always prided himself on his appearance, and baggy eyes was a big red flag.
“Hunk, I’m fine. I’d rather be working than mourning at home. You know I don’t like to be alone all day with nothing to do,” Lance said with a scowl. Why would he want to spend time at home? What would he do? Go through his collection of albums AGAIN? Tinker with the broken cabinet in his walk-in closet to just have it fucked up even more. Or worse, have a pity party for himself while he wasted away a perfect working day? No thank you. The distraction from his job offered him a peace that he knew his family wanted him to have. He thrived to work, to keep himself busy. “I’m going to see Adam later. That should help ease your mind some.”
Hunk smiled. “Great! Are you guys going out? Find some guys maybe?” he asked with a waggle of his eyes.
Lance nudged him with his shoulder. “No, perv. We’re gonna stay in, order some pizza, and scarf on that and wine,” he answered, though curious as to what Adam wanted to talk about. The man hadn’t called him again and had only sent a text earlier that morning reminding Lance of their plans for later. Lance was looking forward to it, but at the same time he wondered what they needed to talk about.
“When are you ever going to go out on a date again? It’s been over a year since I last saw you go out, and that last chick you went out with was a total loser for skipping out on you not ten minutes after meeting you. You’re always with me or Adam. Unless...are you guys are dating? Is there something going on between the two of you that I don’t know about? Do I need to make sure he is treating you right?”
“Oh mi pequeña amiga tonta!” Lance bellowed with laughter. The idea alone was enough to make his eyes water. He had to rub his stomach at the feeling of tightness. “Hunk, buddy, you know that’s not the case! Adam is just as much of a brother to me as you are!”
“Yeah, yeah. Laugh at me why don’t you,” he said with a roll of his eyes as Shay approached them.
“It’s closing time and I’m finished for the day,” Shay said to Lance, “but I wondered if I could talk to you.”
Lance raised his eyebrows slightly. “Sure,” he said, motioning her into the office that had been his brother’s. He sat down behind the desk and gestured to one of the chairs. “Sit. Make yourself comfortable.”
Shay settled into the chair and Lance noticed Hunk hovering in the doorway. When it came to Shay, Hunk always kept close. They had flirted a lot in high school but had never dated. Since Hunk was part owner, Lance decided he had the right to hear what Shay had to say as well. He watched Shay running her hands nervously up and down her thighs. “Is there something wrong, Shay? Are you okay?”
Shay licked her lips nervously. “No. Yes.” She sighed, sounding anxious. “It’s really complicated.”
Lance waited for her to continue. After a moment when she didn’t say anything, he gently asked, “Is there a problem? You’ve been an asset here at the shop, Shay. If something’s wrong, I promise you Hunk and I will have your back.” He meant that. Even though she and Hunk had been a part of the cool cheerleader/jock crowd in school, she had often stood up for him against others when they had bothered him. And the one time he had been in real trouble, it had been Shay that lead Hunk to him. Lance knew Hunk was listening intently to hear what she had to say.
Shay absently brushed her hair back and massaged one temple. “I need to tell you something. Something about my husband.”
Lance waited a moment before prompting her. “Your husband?” He had heard that she had gotten married but nothing about her husband or why he hadn’t come with her back to Lima. “Did you get divorced?”
Shay winced and raised both hands to her temples, closing her eyes. “No, I...” her voice trailed off and she winced again as though in pain.
Lance was concerned. “Are you sick?”
“A headache,” Shay said in a voice barely above a whisper, eyes still closed.
“Why don’t you go home and get some rest? We can talk about this tomorrow when you feel better,” Lance said. “Do you want me to drive you home?” he asked as she stood up.
Hunk stepped into the office. “I would be glad to take her home.”
Shay jumped as though she had forgotten Hunk was there and wasn’t expecting him. “Hunk.”
“I’ll take you home,” Hunk repeated, staring at her. “We can stop on the way and grab a bite to eat.”
Shay shook her head. “N-No, I’ll be fine. It’s only a headache, I can drive myself.” She hurried out of the office, stopping momentarily to grab her purse before walking quickly to her car.
Hunk made a motion to follow her but was stopped by Lance. “Hunk. Don’t push it man,” he said sharply.
Hunk spun back to look at Lance, his eyes worried and almost pleading. “She’s sick, Lance. She needs help.”
Lance watched Shay leave. “She’s scared. If you push her or crowd her, she’ll be even more afraid. Let her come to us on her own will.”
Hunk’s shoulders slumped. “What has she told you?”
Lance shook his head. “Nothing. But when she brushes against me I can, you know, feel it. It’s all jumbled and confusing, but there’s something she’s afraid of. I just don’t know what it is.”
“Or she’s afraid of someone,” Hunk muttered darkly.
“Hunk, don’t mistake the memory of a high school crush for something real. She’s not the same person. Neither of you are,” Lance said quietly. He didn’t want either of them hurt, and he didn’t want Hunk drug into a situation with Shay where either of them might be in danger.
Hunk stared at Lance. “Wow, Lance. This is the kind of shit that freaks out the guys you go out with. You see and know too much sometimes. Or feel it or whatever.”
Lance rolled his eyes. “Thanks doc. Now get going. I have some online orders to sort through and a couple of other things I need to handle before I head home. You go figure out your Shay crush. You don’t need me for that.”
Hunk shot him the easy-going grin that had been his trademark in high school. “Jerk. I’ll catch you in the morning. Be careful when you leave. I’m gonna lock you in, okay?”
Lance waved as he turned his attention to the papers in front of him. Smiling, he picked up his phone and placed his earbuds in his ears, turning his phone to shuffle. Whenever he was alone, the silence drove him insane and made the murmuring voices in his head unbearable. Music always seemed to calm him down and was part of the person he was today. His brother Marco had bought him his first record as a child while Luis had taken the time to teach him how to play the guitar. By the time he was thirteen, he could sing, play almost any instrument, and could even come up with dances for his favorite songs that brought him joy.
Party girls don’t get hurt
Can’t feel anything, when will I learn
I push it down, push it down
I’m the one “for a good time call”
Phone’s blowin’ up, they’re ringin’ my doorbell
I feel the love, feel the love
One, two, three, one, two, three, drink
One, two, three, one, two, three, drink
One, two, three, one, two, three, drink
Throw em back, till I lose count
I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
I’m gonna live like tomorrow doesn’t exist
Like it doesn’t exist
I’m gonna fly like a bird through the night, feel my tears as they dry
I’m gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
After a short time, the knife scar on his neck got his attention. It burned or itched on occasion, and he realized he had been scratching it while he worked. He pulled a small mirror out of his desk to look at it. It looked red from his scratching at it, so he grabbed a bottle of lotion to put some on. He rubbed a tiny amount onto the scar and noticed that he had a new email. He clicked the icon to check it, and his heartbeat stuttered before pounding hard in his chest. It was another email from himself, just like the night of his dad’s funeral. The subject line read WARNING, and the message read They’ve found you! Get out of there! Run!
Lance felt a shiver run down his spine. This was creepy as hell. Feeling like there was someone behind him, he yanked the earbuds out of his ears and whirled around. But there wasn’t anyone there.
Lance let out a disbelieving laugh. He was the only one here, just him and the cars in the garage. He ran a shaky hand over his face. Someone was trying to mess with him. But who? And why? He’d been the victim of a lot of pranks growing up, but not in the last few years.
As he was finishing up counting his drawer, his phone chimed with an incoming email notification. He pulled the earbuds from his ears and phished the phone out from his pocket, tapping on the screen until he reached the app and tapped the icon, his heartbeat ceasing as he noticed it was another email from his email address, just like the day of the funeral. Again, the subject line said WARNING and the message the followed was You’ve got to get out of there! The Galra have found you and are on their way! You will die if they get their hands on you!
A shiver ran down his spine. Now this is just getting plain creepy. Lance let out a breath of disbelief. He was the only one in his little shop. Just him and his collection of sellable records. He ran a shaky hand through his hair. Someone was just trying to get in his mind. But who and why? The time where he was a victim had long passed and he wasn’t going to tolerate it again.
He will not admit his screamed like a little girl when his business phone rang. Scowling, he grabbed the device off the counter and placed a hand over his erratic heart, taking a breath before answering. “Galaxy Records. This is Loverboy Lance speaking. How can I make your music dreams come true?” he stated, a little breathless.
The hairs on Lance’s arms stood up in goosebumps. The voice sounded flat and computer generated. “I beg your pardon? Who the hell is this?” He took a tentative step towards the office doorway. There didn’t appear to be anything threatening in the lobby.
“Run!” the voice repeated. “You have to get out of there! Please just trust me!”
Lance slammed the phone down. He didn’t know what the hell was going on, but he sure as fuck wasn’t staying there alone any longer. He grabbed up his iPod, wallet and keys, tossed his jacket over one arm, and headed for the door. His body was tight with tension as he stepped into the lobby. His eyes darted back and forth, looking for anything unusual but finding nothing. He unlocked the deadbolt on the door and opened it, stepping quickly outside. He shut the door behind him and quickly put his key in to lock it.
The night air had a coppery odor that made him want to gag. He covered his nose and breathed through his mouth to try to lessen it. He had never liked copper. Even as a child he had avoided pennies. Right now, he felt like his mouth was full of pennies, the taste and scent metallic and thick; it took everything in him not to cringe at the urge of gagging.
It smells like that man did at the funeral.
Lance’s head swam and he struggled to get the sudden fear enveloping him under control. Everything seemed normal. He took a deep breath to pull himself together and nearly gagged again.
Copper. Why did he smell copper? Unease was giving way to panic. He believed danger was near but had no idea why. He pulled his key loose and turned to hurry to his blue Ford Mustang but stopped dead in his tracks.
Two large men, both holding large knives, were blocking the walkway to the parking lot.
Lance stood frozen, muscles tight with fear. His heart pounded in his throat. They hadn’t been there a moment ago when he walked out. “What...can I, um, can I help you gentlemen this evening?” he asked them, fumbling with his cell phone to dial 911.
The guy on the right lunged at him, catching him by the throat and slamming him back into the wall. His phone, wallet and iPod hit the ground at his feet along with his jacket. His head spun and the heavy taste of copper filled his mouth. He felt a fear so deep the scar on his neck throbbed as though it were on fire.
Fight! his mind screamed at him.
The second guy moved in closer. The blades of their knives flashed in the moonlight. “Grab his keys. We’ll take him inside.”
Lance clutched his keys tighter and wedged his fist behind his back between him and the wall. But the first guy grabbed his arm by the wrist and squeezed. Lance gasped as his hand went numb and his keys fell from his unfeeling fingers. The guy grabbed the keys and hurried to the door.
Terror flooded Lance’s bloodstream. The voices inside his head screamed, suddenly becoming very clear. Fight back! Lance brought his hands together and thrust them up between the arms of the asshole holding his throat. His hold was broken, and Lance tried to run. Snarling, the guy caught his wrist and yanked him back, slamming him face first into the wall. Lance’s breath left him in a whoosh, and he felt his lip split as his face scraped the side of the building. He felt himself being pinned against the wall by the guy’s huge body, trapping him. “Hurry up with the fucking door!” the guy yelled at his cohort.
“It won’t open! He’s holding it closed with his witchcraft! Cut him!” the other guy screamed back.
Witchcraft? Lance’s stomach roiled with fear. What the hell were they talking about? His head pounded from fear and the endless buzz of voices in his head. The man holding him pushed him harder against the wall. Lance felt the cold, lethal edge of the knife pressing into the curve of his neck just above the shoulder. “Your powers won’t save you, witch,” the guy growled into his ear.
The scar on Lance’s neck burned fiery hot. Images flooded his mind, images of knives and blood. “Bastards! No! Get away from me!” he yelled as he struggled to get away.
He jolted in shock, a gasp leaving him as the knife sliced a trail of fire across his skin. The man leaned forward and hissed, “You smell that, witch? Your blood is mine.”
Lance’s mind swam as hot pain and terror filled him. Even the voices in his mind had fled. This was it, then. He was going to die. They were going to kill him…and he didn’t know why. He didn’t even really know what they looked like, except they were big with mean, vacant eyes. Blood ran hot down his back and the man holding him panted in excitement. Lance could feel his eagerness for the kill. For his blood.
“Finally,” grunted the guy at the door.
Lance heard the door open. He forced himself to think. He had to figure out a way to save himself. If he let them get him inside, they would kill him. Just as the guy holding him grabbed his wrist to drag him inside, there was a roar of an engine that broke the silence of the night. It grew closer and there was a sudden screech of tires. Lance’s face and body were still pressed into the wall and he couldn’t see a thing. But he could hear a frenzy behind him, flesh slamming into flesh, grunts, a horrifying wet sound and a clatter as a knife hit the ground. Then suddenly the man who held him imprisoned against the wall was gone, yanked away.
Lance sucked in a breath and spun around, leaning against the wall to keep him upright. In the headlights of a big truck he watched as a large silhouette stuck a knife into the chest of the guy who’d been holding him. He tossed the lifeless body over onto the body of the first guy that was lying motionless on the ground in the lights of the truck.
Lance was frozen in horror for a split second before he realized the door to the shop stood open with his keys in it. Get inside and lock the door! He lunged, trying to get to safety.
A powerful arm wrapped around his waist and lifted him right off his feet. He lost his grip on his keys, on the door and on his sanity. He flailed like a madman, struggling in the iron hold that had him captive and trying to kick the man carrying him towards the truck. He opened his mouth to scream for help, but a large hand clapped over his mouth.
“Damn it, do you want to die?” the man snarled as he tossed Lance into the passenger seat.
Lance bounced and hit the door. His body ached all over and he struggled against a wave of dizziness. His chest heaved as he tried to get his breathing under control. The interior of the truck smelled like leather. “Who are you?” he demanded as the guy got into the truck behind him and slammed the door.
“I’m the guy who just saved your ass. More Galra will be coming any minute now. They don’t leave a mess and they don’t leave witches alive. You ought to be glad I made it on time.” He put the truck into reverse and stomped on the gas.
Lance grabbed onto the seat to keep from flying into the windshield. As the guy shifted from reverse to drive, he saw his chance and lunged for the door handle. A brutal grip on his arm stopped him. When he looked back, he gasped at cold violet eyes and the knife in his left hand aimed in his direction.
“Don’t make me cut you. I don’t want to hurt you, but I will if you fight me,” he said in a frighteningly calm voice.
Lance felt his breath hitch in his chest. “Why are you doing this?”
The man’s gaze traveled to his bleeding mouth and his grip on Lance’s arm tightened. “I need a witch. You needed a hero. We have what we call here a win-win situation.”
Lance finally broke. “What are you even talking about? Why is everyone saying that? What do you mean, more Galra are coming? And why is everyone calling me a witch? Nothing makes any sense! You’re going to have to go ahead and kill me now. I’m not going anywhere with you!” he shrieked.
The man’s eyes flared with a heat that nearly knocked Lance back into the seat. Yanking him forward, the man leaned in until they were close enough that Lance could smell the scent of campfire mixed with sweat. “Do. Not. Test. Me. Witch. I. Will. Cut. You. With. No. Remorse,” the man grated out.
The back of Lance’s neck burned where the first man had cut him. The same man he’d seen this guy kill. No! screamed his mind, but the tendrils of fear choked him, and he couldn’t answer.
The man nodded and let him go. “There’s a first aid kit in the glove box,” he said as he laid his knife on a muscular thigh and drove away from the shop.
Lance reached for the first aid kit with trembling hands. He had to figure out a way to escape.
Next chapter will be part of chapter 5 of the last one + new content, so stay tuned.
Alright, here is the rest of what was uploaded + extra, so make sure to read what you haven't read yet! This is also the last day with back to back chapters as I get off my vacation tomorrow :(
Also, this chapter got a little lengthy, reaching the 10K mark. I'm sorry?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Keith drove the truck down the quiet road that led to the safe house. It was on a large private property a few miles away from the Sonora Desert to a nature reserve, deep in the middle of nature where it wouldn't attract much attention. It was built into a large hillside so that three sides were surrounded by the hill itself while the front faced a lake. Only the Paladins knew of this property that Shiro had created a few years ago. Shiro had long kept it stocked and furnished in case he or the others ever needed it. He knew full well Lotor had no issue about using their loved ones for leverage should they decide they really wanted something of him. But he had never dreamed he would be hiding a witch, much less a witch that was on the Galra's most wanted list.
Keith parked his truck in front of the house and sucked in a deep breath. He could smell the witch’s blood, and it was doing things to him that he had a hard time controlling. Tightening his grip on the steering wheel, he fought against the burning need. The wound on the witch’s neck was no longer bleeding, but the scent of fresh witch blood lingered tantalizingly, mockingly, offering cool relief and eternal damnation all at once. Let’s just get this over with. The sooner he is out of our lives, the better.
A soft click alerted Keith as the witch tried to squeeze the door handle to open it and run. Grabbing his knife, he quickly moved around the truck in time to catch the door as it swung open. He moved to block the way bodily. “Don’t run from me,” he gritted out. He was just barely in control of himself right now. If the witch ran, the predator side of him would surface.
A startled gasp escaped his captive, his face pale in the bit of light coming from the cab interior. “But you were...how did you...?” Fear turned his eyes stormy blue and heightened the prominence of the tilted shape of his witch’s eyes. His jaw was clenched and shoulders hunched with tension.
Keith gave him a humorless half smile. “Witch hunters are fast. We have to be to do what we do.”
“Witch hunters?” was the witch’s wary reply.
Keith’s gaze traveled downward, stopping momentarily to watch the flex of thigh muscle under the snug blue jeans the witch was wearing. A heated flash of lust caught him by surprise. Resolutely ignoring it, he stepped back and made a motion with his hand.
“Get out of my truck.”
The witch, Lance, slowly slid down out of the truck. He stood there uneasily, eyes darting back and forth.
Keith bit back a hiss. The back of Lance’s t-shirt was tacky and rust colored with dried blood. He could see the edge of the gauze bandage he’d fashioned over the wound. Lance had to be in incredible pain, but he hadn’t breathed a word of it. Fury seared through Keith at the memory of pulling into the tire shop and seeing two Galras on him. One of them pinning Lance to the wall while sliding a knife across his delicate skin.
Keith forced his mind back to the present. Lance was there for one reason; to break the death curse on Acxa. Then he would be gone. And when you release him, then what? He’ll be dead within hours. Keith told himself that if Lance cooperated, he would make sure to set him up somewhere that he’d be safe from Galras and the demon witch whose spell he would be breaking. He reached out and grabbed Lance’s arm.
Lance sucked in a harsh breath and pulled back, trying to get away.
Keith could smell his fear at his actions, but he didn’t care. “I won’t hurt you as long as you cooperate with me.”
Despite the scent of fear lacing him, Lance’s gaze was defiant. “Like I believe you. You did kidnap me.”
“Keep it up and I’ll drug you,” Keith threatened. He wouldn’t actually do it, but as a scare tactic it was effective.
“I’m allergic to drugs!” Lance protested, paling even more under that caramel skin.
Keith gave him a cool smile. Finally, Lance was catching on. “I know you are.” Witches were highly evolved and had the ability to heal by means of their craft and earth remedies. Synthetic medications made them extremely sick.
Lance flinched, then glared at Keith. “You’re a fucking asshole.”
Keith shrugged. ‘‘Guess it takes one to know one.”
He grabbed Lance's arm and guided him towards the door. The house looked unassuming from the outside, but only the top level was visible at ground level. There was a lower level completely hidden by the surrounding land. He unlocked and opened the door, then heard the infrared sensors come on. He took out his phone with his free hand and entered the code to have the alarm halt for ten seconds. When the faint hiss stopped, Keith steered Lance through the doorway. They stood in the living room and he could see Lance looking around. There was a large plush couch with matching end and coffee tables in a deep cherry wood. A huge recliner with heat and massage functions was in the corner. The stone fireplace had an enormous flat screen television hanging over it. It seemed an ordinary room. Nothing to indicate that there was another level below or that the place was wired with enough electronics to give any techie a wet dream, courtesy of Pidge and Matt.
“This way,” Keith said, walking down a hallway and pulling a reluctant Lance behind him. They went into the ultra-modern kitchen, complete with stainless steel appliances and marble countertops. Keith came to a stop when he saw Krolia sitting at the table holding Acxa in her lap. “Is she okay?”
Krolia looked pale. Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail and she wore a pair of sweatpants and an old t-shirt that belonged to Keith when he was younger. The dark circles under her eyes stood out against her pale complexion. “She has a fever,” she said in a low voice that was weighted down with worry.
Acxa lifted her head from her mother’s shoulder. She held her favorite stuffed Ariel doll that Pidge had gotten her for her 4th birthday last year. “Who’s that?” she asked as she held her arms out to Keith.
Keith reached out and gently picked her up. He could feel the heat coming off of her as she laid her head on his shoulder. “He won’t hurt you,” Keith promised as he rubbed her back gently. “You feel bad, space cadet?”
Acxa nodded listlessly against his shoulder. “Mommy gave me medicine to make me feel better.”
Keith tried to relax. He had brought a witch with him to save them both. He turned towards Lance and had to stop himself from flinching. Lance looked like hell. Keith hadn’t truly realized it until just now. Lance’s face was covered in angry red scrapes and his lip was split and swollen. He and the shirt he wore were covered in dried blood. And there were dark purpling finger marks on his neck that stood out against his fair skin. Keith didn’t really want Acxa to see any of this, but it couldn’t be helped. He would just try to get it over and done with as quickly as possible.
Acxa offered her stuffed toy to Lance. “Would you like to hold my Ariel? He makes me feel better.”
Lance stared at the toy for a moment before shifting his gaze between Keith and Krolia. “I don’t understand. Who are you people? What do you want? I don’t want to be here.”
Keith looked meaningfully at Lance. “Maybe she just needs some medicine.”
Lance narrowed his eyes at the threat and glared at him.
Keith knew he didn’t have time to regret not getting to Lance before the two Galras had hurt him. He had to focus on the important matter at hand. “We’re going to show him the mark on your forehead. He’s going to help you feel better.”
Acxa’s lip turned down and trembled slightly. “I don’t like it, Keith. It hurts. Make it go away.
Anger sizzled through Keith like electricity. The animal within raged just below the surface, wanting to cut and spill blood. His mother’s voice brought him back, forcing back the curse. “Show him the mark, Keith. Lance, I know you want to leave, and I promise you can, after you help Acxa.”
Acxa leaned forward towards Lance. She pushed back her bangs and exposed her forehead.
Keith watched as Lance’s eyes fixated on Acxa’s forehead. Blood drained from Lance’s face and his eyes widened, the pupils dilating in shock. He stumbled backwards, both hands covering his mouth.
“Oh, Dios mío! This can't be happening again!” he gasped as he took another step back before turning and running out of the kitchen, shocking the three occupants at his outburst.
Lance knew he was going to be sick. He tore open the door, ignoring the sound of the security system. He stumbled and fell to one knee and stayed there, panting loudly, sucking in the cool night air. His stomach roiled and he had broken out in a cold sweat that stung his injuries.
But he couldn't outrun the truth. He had seen that mark once before. His mind raced back to that horrible day.
He had been eight years old, at his mom’s flower shop, under the strict eye of his no good busybody neighbor as his mom worked the counter. He played quietly in the corner so as not to call attention to himself and no doubt get some sort of tongue lashing.
The bell on the door indicated a customer. Little Lance looked up from his toys and saw a sickly looking man at the counter talking to his neighbor. The man's cheeks were sunken in and his complexion was waxy under his limp brown curls.
“Enrique, you look terrible. You need to be home resting. We could have delivered your order if you were feeling this under the weather dear.”
Lance started to go back to his play when his eyes caught sight of the glowing purple makr on the man's neck. His head started spinning as the voices in his head grew louder in alarm. “Oh, no! That’s Zarkon’s mark! It's a death mark! Stay away from that man, Lance! It's demon witch magic! It is very dangerous!”
“No!” Lance had screamed, causing both women and the customer at the counter to turn to him in shock. His neighbor’s shocked expression quickly turned dark with anger and embarrassment. “Lance McClain!” she boomed warningly in her loud voice.
Lance had scrambled to his feet, eyes wide and frightened. He didn't want that purple mark on him if what the voices were saying was true! “But Zarkon’s mark, Miss Montgomery! He has a death mark on him! He’s going to die!”
His neighbor’s face grew even darker and an angry flush rose up her neck until even the tips of her ears were red. The man just stared at Lance in awkward confusion.
“It'll kill him! The mark will kill him!” Lance cried as tears streamed down his face, trying to make them understand. He yelped in pain as his neighbor surged forward and snatched him hard by the arm...
Lance shuddered as the vivid memory washed over him like ice water. That beautiful little girl inside was marked for death. He struggled to his feet and bent over with his hands on his knees, panting and trying to think. More than anything, he wanted to run. Get away from this place. But he couldn’t leave that poor child. Something within him would not let him; the same mysterious thing about him that recognized the death mark to begin with. What was he that such a thing was possible?
His mind flashed on another memory from just a few days after he had seen the man with the death mark...
Something yanked his arm and Lance woke up, crying out in pain and fear.
His grandfather drug him out of his bed and flung him into the corner. In the dim light of Lance’s nightlight and the moon streaming in his window, Lance could see his eyes were red. His clothes were all wrinkled and his breath smelled of whiskey when he leaned forward, pointing an accusing finger.
“I don’t know how you did it, but he’s dead. I’ll not be in the same house as the devil’s spawn!”
“Papá!” his father rushed into the room and pulled his father back, shoving him away from Lance. “What the hell is wrong with you? He’s just a little boy!”
Lance started to cry as the two men stood face to face, yelling at each other.
“There’s something wrong with that boy, Matías! He’s a freak!”
“My God, do you even hear yourself right now? You’re drunk! You stay away from my children or I swear to God I’ll call the cops. Go sleep it off.”
His grandfather had stormed out of the room as his dad wrapped his arms around him, making soothing noises and holding him tight...
A tug on his arm brought him back to the present. “You can’t escape, you know. You set off two alarms just running out the door. Shiro’s house is very secure.”
Lance stiffened and stood upright so quickly he got dizzy. He jerked his arm away from his kidnapper and took a stumbling step back. The cut at the back of his neck burned. After that horrible night, he no longer heard the voices in his head clearly. He had tried with every fiber of his being to not do anything weird or freaky, unless it was an accident. He just wanted to be normal so his grandfather would like him and it wouldn’t be so uncomfortable at home.
The man who had brought him here was still talking. “Not that I need electronics. A witch hunter can track you anywhere.”
Lance took a deep breath to calm and center himself. He had called himself a witch hunter earlier and had referred to the two men who’d attacked him as witch hunters as well. He remembered the emails he’d gotten warning him of hunters. And he had no idea what any of it meant. “Who are you? And what do you want of me?”
“Keith Kogane. I need you to do a spell to take the death curse off my sister.”
Lance studied Keith wordlessly for a moment. He stood a few feet away from him but still managed to loom in his presence. Long onyx colored hair fell in a mullet, which Lance would generally cringe at but found the man before him working it. Bright violet blue eyes glowed from under thick brows. His tight t-shirt clung to obvious well-defined muscles and abdomen. Everything about him was strong and threatening.
“And I suppose kidnapping me and scaring the living shit out of me is your way of asking nicely?” Lance snapped with a raised brow, turning to sarcasm as a shield like he always did. He didn’t like the fear he still felt pulsing through him. The fear that his grandfather had been right and that something was very wrong with him, something evil.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I was too busy saving your life to remember my manners,” Keith snapped back, sarcasm heavy in his own voice. “But even if I had asked, we both know what the answer would be. You witches could give a shit that a child’s going to die...” he trailed off, jaw tightening.
Lance shook his head. Just trying to keep up with this conversation made his head hurt. “What makes you think I can do anything to help you? Your sister needs a doctor, not a record shop owner.” Me a witch? How could that even be possible?
Keith stared at him levelly. “It’s early in the curse. You should be able to do it.”
Lance felt the panic rising all over again. “You're insane! Or drunk or something! I'm not a witch! In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a woman! I clearly don’t have a vagina between my legs my dude!”
Keith's gaze became a glare. “Playing dumb won't help you. Like some of the most powerful witches in history haven't been men. Do you think I'm an idiot? I can clearly see you are a male. You're going to do this spell.”
Lance’s wide eyes flicked quickly back and forth. Keith was blocking the only way off the deck. He could turn back and run through the house, but where would he go from here? He wasn’t even sure where here was. And then there was the little girl. Lance tilted his head, ignoring the burning pain that seared through him from his cut. “Playing dumb? You kidnap me and now you’re talking crazy things like witches and hunters and curses? I don’t know what you’re talking about or why you chose me, but I can’t help you.”
Keith stepped closer to Lance. “You’re telling me you don’t even know that you’re a witch?” he asked, his voice a mixture of incredulity and disbelief.
Lance didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t sure how stable Keith might or might not be or what he might do next. He had no idea what to do to extricate himself from the whole situation.
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you,” he said as he cautiously rubbed his hand along his split lip, wincing at the sharp stab of pain.
“I find that hard to believe,” Keith said mildly as he took another step closer to Lance. “And you made your lip bleed again.” His voice dropped to a low growl that swept over Lance’s skin, making it tingle.
Lance stepped back away from Keith, trying to put space between them but halting as his back hit the wall. His mind frantically tried to understand what was happening. Keith was just a step away now. His eyes glowed golden, looking hot and feverish. The scent of campfire was stronger and Lance felt it literally pulling at him. “Stop! Whatever it is you’re doing, just stop! I need to think and I can’t!”
“I can’t stop. God, I wish I could,” Keith said in a low growl. He inhaled deeply. “You smell like the ocean. But your blood smells spicy.”
Lance’s belly tightened as something fluttered deep and low inside him. He tried to process what Keith was saying but nothing was making any sense. All he knew was that the closer Keith got to him, the bigger the strange feeling inside of him, the need, grew. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Keith focused on Lance’s mouth, his eyes narrowing. “You’re bleeding.”
Lance shivered. “I know. You said that already.” He stood frozen by the intensity in Keith’s eyes, trapped as something he couldn’t explain wove itself around the two of them.
Keith continued to stare at his mouth. “Your blood calls to me.” He raised one hand and gently slid his thumb across Lance's lower lip, wiping the blood away.
Lance gasped as a shockwave raced through him when Keith came in contact with his blood. Deep inside, he felt the strangest swirling and tugging, as though there were parts of himself long closed off that wanted to open to Keith. He grabbed Keith's wrist to pull his hand off his face, but instead for some unfathomable reason found himself holding onto it like an anchor in a storm. Confusion welled up inside him as he struggled to make sense of what was happening. “How can I possibly be a witch?” he whispered brokenly, the words tearing themselves from his very soul.
Keith tore his gaze from Lance's mouth, moving up to lock onto his eyes, his own burning with intensity. “Even if you don’t believe it, you’re my witch now. I've touched your blood. You belong to me. You're mine,” he said, his voice rough and possessive.
Lance's heart pounded. Keith's eyes burned into him and suddenly changed, the violet turning mirror like. He could see his own blue eyes in the depths but felt something pulling him closer. Even though he held his wrist, Keith easily slid his thumb over his lower lip again before sliding it into his mouth. For the first time, the voices in his head calmed to low white noise. The taste of Keith's skin seared Lance's tongue and erotic images danced through his mind. Tears of recognition welled up as his eyes fluttered shut and he swayed forward, wanting, no-needing to be closer.
Keith pulled his thumb out of Lance's mouth to cup his chin as he leaned down to kiss him.
“Keith!” called a feminine voice from inside the house.
A low, threatening growl rumbled up from Keith's chest as he slid his hand around to gently cup Lance's head just above the neck. He traced Lance's lips with his tongue, the movement teasing and intimate. Lance relaxed and leaned into him more, needing contact.
“Keith!” The voice was closer.
Keith went still, looking like a predator about to attack. He looked at Lance with a deep, possessive hunger. Lance gasped as he was sure he saw the shadow of a lion, his red lion, in the reflection of Keith’s eyes. Keith jerked his hand away from Lance as his mother came outside. He looked at the thumb that had wiped the blood from Lance’s mouth. It was vanishing, disappearing into his skin.
Krolia stopped a few feet away, looking horrified. “Keith! You touched his blood! You have to go now! You have to get away from him, he’ll destroy you!”
“I can’t.” Keith kept his intense gaze on Lance.
Krolia hurried to Lance’s side. “Let me take him inside. He’s hurt, he needs-”
“Don’t get between us,” Keith said, his voice a near snarl.
Lance felt his confusion and fear grow. How could he destroy Keith, or anyone for that matter? It was far more likely Keith would destroy him. Already he was forcing him to acknowledge something about himself that he had fought against for so long. Even Keith’s mother recognized there was something wrong with him and thought he would somehow harm Keith.
“I’m not a witch!” he protested again.
His words were ignored as Keith and Krolia faced each other. “We need him to take the curse off of Acxa,” Krolia said.
“He’ll do it,” Keith answered as his possessive gaze raked over Lance again.
Lance felt frustration building up hot in his chest. Nothing he said was getting through to either of them. Remembering that he had a few skills of his own, he lowered his voice and said, “I'm of no use to you. Just let me go. I’m sure you will all find someone who can help you.”
Keith narrowed his eyes and let out a huff of humorless laughter. “Don’t try charming me with your voice. It isn’t going to work. The only chance you have to stay alive is to do exactly what I tell you.”
“Keith...” Krolia nervously broke in.
“Mom, go back inside. Now.” Keith cut her off, his voice harsh. She lowered her head and went back inside. Keith grabbed Lance by the arm and pulled.
“No! Don’t touch me!” Lance dug in his feet and pulled back, trying to put up what resistance he could. He cursed himself for not running while he had the chance. And it was so much harder to think when Keith touched him. He felt a flash of relief when Keith let him go, but it was short lived as Keith easily scooped him up and strode into the house. Wordlessly, he carried him down the hallway and turned into the huge master bedroom. Lance caught a quick glance of a large bed and some sort of computer equipment set up on one side before Keith went into the massive en suite bathroom. There was a huge glass-doored shower and a luxurious whirlpool tub in the corner.
Keith carried Lance into the large walk-in closet.
“What the hell are you doing?” Lance yelled, his voice a mixture of fear and confusion.
“Keeping you alive,” Keith answered shortly, his voice cold. He held his hand up against a mirror hung at the back of the closet. A sliding panel moved silently to the side, revealing a set of stairs. Keith walked through and as the panel slid closed behind them, low lighting automatically flickered to life, lighting the way as he descended the stairs.
Terror and panic raced through Lance like ice water in his bloodstream. Visions of torture and who-knew-what-else flashed through his mind. He struggled, trying to free himself from Keith’s iron hold. Keith tightened his grip, moving so that Lance’s hands were trapped between them. “Whoa, take it easy. I’m not going to hurt you. I need you too much.”
Lance was furious and scared. It had been a bitch of a day and he had been through hell. He thought of the two men who had attacked him and hurt him. He thought of Keith threatening him with his knife. The knife! He had seen Keith put it in the holster at his back. His pounding heart shot into his throat in terror. No. He was a McClain and damned if he would go down without a fight. Lance felt energy building up inside of him as he concentrated on the knife. The energy writhed and swirled into a ball in his chest before escaping outward.
Keith came to a dead halt in the hallway, a look of surprise on his face. His knife had slipped out of its holster and was circling around him. Lance watched the knife in shock, the hair on the back of his neck prickling with a strange sort of connection to the knife. He thought quickly. The hallway where they stood was small. Keith would have to drop him to avoid the knife. Then he could escape.
But Keith didn’t let go of him. He stayed utterly still, watching the knife with wary eyes that widened as it swung towards him. He ducked to avoid the blade, but the hilt glanced off his right cheek. He grunted at the slight impact.
A split second later, pain slammed into Lance’s right cheekbone, snapping his head back with the force of it. He squeezed his eyes shut as tears slid down his face. Pain radiated outward like a ripple in a pond and his ears buzzed as a wave of nausea threatened to overwhelm him.
“Fucking hell, what did you think would happen?” Keith shouted, his voice echoing in the hallway and causing Lance to flinch. Keith lifted Lance closer to him, almost as if he were cuddling him. “Breathe. Easy now. It’ll stop in a minute. Breathe through it,” he said quietly, his voice sounding almost gentle.
Lance struggled to do as he said. Breathe. In. Now out. Again. Finally the pain dulled and he could think again. What had just happened? Had he done that? Had he been the one to make the knife do that? But the knife hit Keith. So why did his face feel like he’d gone a round with his older brother? Slowly, he raised his eyes to look at Keith. There was a fading red mark on his right cheek that was disappearing even as he watched. The thought that Keith must heal fast flashed through Lance’s mind briefly before confusion set in. “What just happened?”
Keith breathed out, his irritation apparent. “You let your emotions get the better of you and flipped. You used your powers to try to stab me with my knife. Did you forget about witch karma? I barely felt that, but you’ve gone and given yourself a black eye!”
The pain was settling into a dull and steady throb. “What are you yelling at me for? I’m the one who just got bitch slapped by witch karma, whatever the fuck that is,” Lance snarled.
Keith stared at him for a second and a reluctant grin twitched on his lips. “Touché.” But then his expression hardened and he walked into a small room as though nothing had happened. He set Lance down to stand on the tile floor. Without a word, he strode out to the highway to pick his knife up from the floor and slide it back into his holster. He turned back to Lance.
“Get started. This used to be a wet bar that we’ve converted to a work area for you. Pidge stocked it with everything she could think you might possibly need, but if you need anything, we’ll get it,” Keith said from the doorway, his massive form filling it.
Lance’s eyes traveled along the granite counter, sink and cabinets. He was confused. What exactly were they expecting him to do? “I don’t understand. Start what?”
Keith grit his teeth. “Stop it. You just demonstrated your witch powers by trying to stab me with my own knife. We don’t have much time. The death curse will kill Acxa at the full moon. Get started.” He turned and left, closing the door behind him.
Lance looked around, right cheek throbbing, trying to take it all in. There were neatly labeled drawers containing such things as salt, incense, silver, and varied dried herbs. There were candles in different colors. A small scale stood next to a stack of measuring bowls. He noticed a small bed in one corner and took a deep shuddering breath.
This room was his prison, and he was in a lot of trouble.
Keith paced his bedroom like a caged animal. He had a vicious, raging hard on for the witch and no matter what he tried to think of to help, nothing worked.
None of it made sense. The curse made hunters crave the witch’s blood, however all Keith wanted to do was bend Lance over the closest available surface and fuck into him until the witch milked him for every last drop. The sex part of the curse was a highly increased sex drive, not this painful mixture of need and want and own. Needing a distraction, he went to his computer and keyed in, dialing up the one person who could get him the information he needed.
Shiro’s face appeared on the screen. “Keith? What’s up?”
“Please tell me you and Pidge dug up the information I asked for on Lance McClain?” Keith questioned. The Paladins had the kill sheet Richard had given Keith that told him where Lance lived, worked, shopped, banked, everything they might need to track him. But it failed to give him any information on just who Lance truly was.
Shiro frowned. “You still need it? I thought you had went and got him?”
Keith grunted the affirmative. “I did. He’s in the room now, but the funny thing is he claims he doesn’t know he’s a witch.” Keith had heard the desperation in Lance’s voice as he had repeatedly denied being a witch. He’d seen the abject shock and terror on Lance’s face when he’d seen Acxa’s mark. Hell, he’d felt all of it. And then Lance had used his powers to try to stab him with his own knife. Either he was incredibly stupid, or he honestly didn’t know about witch karma. But what witch didn’t know about that?
On the computer screen, Shiro raised an eyebrow. “You couldn’t feel his power?”
Oh, yeah. He’d felt it. He had smelled it in his blood, spicy because of the amount of power the witch held inside. He had felt the sizzle and surge of it when he touched his blood. He had seen it when he tried to stab him. But it was Keith’s own reaction that was so unusual. He hadn’t wanted to kill Lance. No. He wanted to fuck him. He wanted to strip him down and possess him. Even the pain Lance was in bothered him. “I felt it. He’s definitely a witch. But the question is: does he know it?”
He turned to look at the second monitor and sucked in a harsh breath as all the blood in his brain rushed south. Lance had taken off his shirt and stood at the counter with his back to the camera mounted in the corner. He’d removed the makeshift bandage and had a cloth in his hand, trying to clean all the blood off himself. His skin was a delicious caramel colored tone, stretched over his shoulder blades. His jeans were obviously opened and slung lower on his hips so that the top of his black boxers was exposed. He was reaching back, trying to dab at the oozing cut, muscles contracting in pain. But there were herbs in the room, things he could use to ease the pain. Why didn’t he just...fuck. Keith was starting believe what Lance had told him.
“Keith,” the hunter heard Shiro say, breaking him out of his trance.
Keith forced his gaze from watching Lance on the screen. He looked at Shiro on the other screen. “What’d you find?” he asked, swallowing the lump in his throat.
“Not a lot honestly. It says here he went to the hospital when he was thirteen due to a knife wound to his neck. He was admitted after the emergency room pumped him full of drugs and he had a severe allergic reaction. After that there is nothing regarding medical records. Now looking at his birth records...oh, shiiiiit,” Shiro swore, drawing out the word as he eyes widened on the screen.
And there it is. “Tell me. What is it?” he asked, though he already knew the answer.
“Well buddy, looks like Lance is adopted. Says here that the McClain family adopted Lance when he was just a few days old. The rest of the family have extensive medical records prior to their death, and there are no indications of them being allergic to any synthetic meds,” Shiro said as he read off his screen.
“I see. So, none of his family are witches then.” Keith’s gaze swung back to the monitor to stare at Lance. Lance had turned around towards the camera, cleaning frantically with the now bloody cloth. His desperate face was drawn with pain and fear. Keith saw the intricate silver necklace with some kind of pendant he couldn’t make out through the camera. His chest was toned with flesh colored nipples, and his stomach and hips were cut and defined. Keith felt the lust in him ramp up to ball squeezing need while at the same time his stomach dropped. He believed Lance. “He doesn’t know he’s a witch. He’s not gonna know how to remove a death curse. I am so totally fucked.”
“Don’t lose faith Keith. Even if he doesn’t know, we could still help him. He could still lift the curse,” Shiro said.
Keith shook his head. “I have to get him out of here,” he said, desperation and lust turning his voice hoarse.
Shiro’s voice was sharp. “If you do, he’s as good as dead. Pidge hacked into the Galra database, and he’s been moved to kill number one. They want this witch dead.”
Keith remembered the Galras that had found Lance. “What did he do to catch their attention? Why are they after him if he doesn’t even know he’s a witch?”
Shiro studied the screen he was working on. “I have no idea. All I see is that he registered for a birth parent search. I don’t get why something like that would catch the Galras’ attention. Something caught their eye, though, and they are determined to kill him.”
A strange protective feeling surged through Keith. All for a witch. He ignored it, unsure of what to make of it. “None of this solves my problem. I have a witch that hasn’t got a clue how to break a curse and seven days until the waxing gibbous moon.” An elemental witch could only spell against a curse up until that moon phase. After that, only killing the demon witch that cast the spell would break a curse. And once the true full moon hit, nothing would save Acxa if the curse hadn’t been broken.
Shiro leaned back and looked directly into the camera. “Can you control your compulsion around him long enough for him to learn a spell? Surely it can’t be that hard, not for a powerful male witch. And it will be safer than trying to find another witch, especially with the Galra on your back.”
Keith stared back at his friend, swallowing before he spoke. “No. I’ve touched his blood.”
Shiro’s brown eyes widened in surprise. “And he’s still alive?”
Keith absently brought his hand up to touch the hollow feeling place in his chest. He was trying with everything he had to keep his eyes on Shiro and not look to the monitor showing Lance. “Yes. But he’s in me now.” It was a losing battle. He looked at Lance again. Lance was trying to wash some of the blood off his shirt. Keith could see the wide shoulders that tapered to a narrow waist, muscles flexing as he moved. “I need him,” Keith said truthfully, voice deep in frustration.
Shiro pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Can you have sex with him and not kill him?”
Sweat ran down Keith’s back. “I don’t know.” Because he wanted his blood, too, he wanted all of Lance. But what if he lost his control during sex and cut him to get to his blood? Once it happened, he wouldn’t be able to stop until he was dead.
Shiro was typing quickly on his keyboard. “We are going to find out everything I can on how to break a death curse. The way I see it, you have a couple of options to choose from; you can send your mom in to deal with the witch and you stay away from him.”
Keith knew that wouldn’t happen. “Or?” he asked.
“We already know that sex with mortals helps us control the compulsion. Find out if the same rule applies with a witch,’’ Shiro said as he scrolled through the page he was looking at on his screen.
“Find out what you can. I’ll worry about keeping the witch alive. Oh, and talking about this with someone I think of as a brother is really uncomfortable,” Keith said, ending the connection with a cackling Shiro on the other end and standing up.
He prowled around his room restlessly. Lance was like a magnet, a steady pull that he couldn’t resist…that he didn’t want to resist. He went through the sliding panel in his closet down to the lower level. He had designed and built the safe house so his family and friends could hide on the bottom floor if they were ever attacked. There were furnished bedrooms, a small office, and an office he had set up for himself, as well as a hidden garage. There was also an arsenal of weapons, should it be needed.
He had set Lance up in the room across from his office. It had a specially designed lock that would engage a secondary lock should the first one be tripped, and an additional third one after that. Even then, it wasn’t completely witch proof, but it would definitely slow one down and give the hunters plenty of time to be able to retaliate. But Lance hadn’t even tried to open it. Keith held his hand up to the lock mechanism to disengage the lock and pushed the door open.
Lance whirled around, holding his wet shirt in front of his bare chest. He looked so vulnerable that Keith again felt that same protective feeling, combined with a surge of lust. This witch is mine. His sharp gaze focused on the scar on Lance’s neck. That had to be the one that sent him to the emergency room. He quickly closed the distance between them and tilted Lance’s chin back with his fingertips. Lance’s blue eyes flashed fearfully before he jerked his chin out of Keith’s grasp and stepped back to move away from him.
Keith didn’t step after him. He was determined to save Acxa, but he didn’t want to frighten Lance any more than he already had. And he most definitely didn’t want a repeat of the pain Lance had suffered from witch karma earlier.
“Take it easy, I only want to see your scar.” He pressed his thumb gently against it and was caught off guard when he felt the heat radiating from the raised skin. “When were you attacked by a witch hunter?”
Lance glared at him angrily. “Stop touching me,” he growled, slapping Keith’s hand away.
Before he realized what he was doing, Keith had wrapped his hand possessively around Lance’s arm and pulled the witch in closer. His blood was running hot just from being able to breathe in Lance’s scent. He wanted more. It took supreme effort to let go of Lance’s arm. He breathed in once more, needing to have the tantalizing scent teasing his senses.
“Please…just tell me what happened.”
Lance closed his eyes for a moment before he said anything. “I was thirteen. I was at my mom’s shop and was attacked by our neighbor.”
Keith could sense Lance backing away from the truth. There was something more to the story he wasn’t saying. “You were cut with witch karma. Like what happened today, you probably used your powers to stab the hunter with their own knife. When any intentional harm is done with magic, witch karma comes back on the witch times three.” He looked at Lance intently. “What happened? You know exactly what happened that day.”
Lance stepped back away from him and rubbed his hands up and down his arms before crossing them over his chest protectively, still holding his shirt in front of him. “Before that day, no one believed what I had been telling them. She was this older lady, always acting strange around me when she came to the shop. When my mom wasn’t looking, she would make nasty comments under her breath and ‘accidentally’ trip to where she would hit me.”
Keith tensed and the anger that filled him was strong. But Lance wasn’t finished with his story yet.
“That day thought she was pissed. That mark on your sister…I saw it once before on another customer my mom had. I didn’t know what I was saying, but I said what was running through my head. Of course they didn’t believe me…until he died a few days later. The day after he passed away, she came in the shop all fidgety and suspicious, but of course my mom didn’t notice. My mom had to go to the back of her shop for something, and when she was out of sight our neighbor pulled me outside and started yelling at me. At some point she brandished a knife from her purse and began swinging it at me. Somehow I was able to knock it onto the ground, but that wasn’t the only thing she brought. After she knocked me to the ground, she pulled a gun from her waistband and pointed it at me. I was scared…and I didn’t know what else to do. The energy just built up and poured out. It grabbed the knife and tried to jab her in the neck, but it grazed her instead when she moved at the last minute. And the next thing I know, I feel this weird tingle and then my neck just splits open. There was so much blood and it hurt so bad. I thought I was going to die.”
Keith was enraged. Lance had been thirteen! What the hell were his birth parents thinking, letting him be adopted by a mortal family? He had managed to survive a hunter, possibly a hunter who didn’t even know their true potential, and then nearly been killed by the hospital staff when they pumped him full of synthetic medicines for pain. “What happened with the hunter after that?”
“My brother Luis. It was his day to babysit us younger kids, so he swung by the shop to pick me up. He heard the commotion and swung around back to see her standing over me with the gun still pointed in my direction as I bled out. He knocked her out before coming to my aid,” Lance said.
“What did the hunter do after that?” asked Keith.
“It’s hard to really remember,” Lance said with a frown. “She actually seemed so horrified and shocked, almost like she’d snapped out of a trance.” He shivered as memories replayed the self in his mind, along with the frightening realization of a truth he had long tried to suppress.
“Bloodlust. She lost control, but she wasn’t a Galra, otherwise you would be dead,” Keith stated matter-of-factly.
“What do you mean, bloodlust?” Lance asked, his voice sounding small and vulnerable.
Keith felt the need to touch him strengthen with each breath he took. He looked way too sexy, even holding his wet bloodstained shirt in front of himself. Keith took a hold of his own shirt at the neck and pulled it over his head to take it off. He held it out to Lance.
“Here. Put this on and I’ll explain.”
Lance gave him a suspicious look and tossed his wet shirt onto the countertop before pulling Keith’s shirt over his head. Keith caught his breath. For a brief second, he saw Lance’s bare chest with only the silver necklace adorning his skin with a lion head charm, resting against the faint witch shimmer that no camera or mortal eye would pick up on. Many witches had a golden shimmer, but Lance’s was a pale blue. There was a light dusting of hair on his chest with a trail that ran from under his navel and disappeared into the waistline of his jeans. Nipples had hardened from the wet shirt and cool air. He was even more stunning in the flesh, making Keith’s mouth water and his cock jump to attention. He clenched his hands into fists to keep from touching him.
Acxa. The spell. Lance was there to do a spell. Keith had to remember that. It was easier said than done, especially given his state of sexual awareness.
Lance tried to ignore the more than pleasant warmth of the borrowed shirt he was wearing. “I can’t help you. Don’t you see that? I don’t know magic. I just want to go back to my life. My friends will be worried.” His lips tightened when Keith shook his head.
“Not possible. You’ll be dead within the day if I let you go. The men that attacked you tonight? Those were witch hunters.”
Lance raised an eyebrow. “You mean like you? You hunt witches?”
Keith needed to make him understand. “No, not like me. Not yet, anyway. Thanks to witches, hunters are cursed to crave witch blood. If we give in to that craving, we lose our soul. Turn Galra. Galras can’t stop killing witches for the power in their blood. It’s like an addiction, they have to have it. And now that they’ve found you, they aren’t going to stop.”
“But I didn’t even know I was a witch!” Lance protested.
“They know that. They found you and moved you to the top of their kill list. Those tonight were just the first. There will be more, and they’ll keep coming. They’ll kill anyone who gets in their way. Family, friends, it doesn’t matter. They want your blood,” Keith said, trying to get Lance to believe him and accept the seriousness of his situation. “I’m the only chance you have of staying alive. You work to help my sister and I’ll protect you from them.” He fought down a new wave of desire and lust. It was painful, the craving for Lance and the want for sex, his blood, the very essence of him.
Lance’s eyes were wary. “You’re one of them. What’s to stop you from killing me?”
Keith was at the very edge of his control. Lust had him literally by the balls and the compulsion screamed for blood. He broke out into a sweat that beaded and ran down his torso.
“Sex. As much as I want to kill you, I want even more to bend you over that counter behind you and fuck you until you pass out.” Keith knew he needed to get out of there before he lost control completely. Lance was injured, in pain, and he needed to heal. There was no way he could risk sex with him while there was any blood on him. The blood would inflame the compulsion until he killed him to get to the rest of it. Keith knew this, yet every one of his nerves screamed at him to take Lance now. To tear those tight jeans off him, bend him over the nearest surface and bury himself inside him. To hold him tight against him while he fucked into him again and again, filling him up and making him his and only his.
Lance’s face flushed red with fury. “That’s your solution? Let you fuck me and you won’t kill me? I am not having sex with you dude! I don’t believe in rape.”
Keith’s patience was running short. His cock was painfully hard and trapped in his jeans, and his balls fucking hurt. His skin burned like it was on fire.
“I have never forced a guy before, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have to force you. Would I, Lance?” He stepped close enough to Lance that he could feel the heat given off by his witch shimmer, but he didn’t dare touch him.
Lance sucked in a breath. “Why do I feel strange? What are you doing to me?”
“Pheromones. Hunters attract sexual partners with pheromones. But this is different. Maybe because I touched your blood.” Sweat caused by need and lust beaded on his skin, tickling as it rolled down.
Lance crossed his arms over his chest in a protective movement and looked away. “Or maybe you’re an arrogant ass who’s used to having guys fall at his feet.”
Keith blinked at him in surprise. No one had ever stood up to him like this, challenged him. It inflamed him, making his blood run even hotter, and he wanted Lance even more. It was time to get out of there. He turned and headed for the door, intent on making a quick exit before he did something rash.
Lance’s gasp stopped him in his tracks. “A lion. It’s a red lion.”
His tattoo. “Yes. What about it?” Keith stood where he was, telling himself to open the door and leave. He stiffened as Lance stepped closer to him, his soft voice pouring over him and caressing his skin. “He looks so real. Almost as though I could feel his fur if I touched him.”
Keith opened his mouth, but it was too late. He felt Lance’s fingers lightly touch his right shoulder where the lion’s head rested. The lion was etched into his skin like it was roaring, the head on his upper right shoulder and the body going down his back. The lion’s tail wrapped around just slightly along his left hip. Lance traced the body down to the waist of Keith’s jeans, the soft touch searing fire straight to his cock. Then suddenly the touch was gone. Keith missed it immediately.
“Skin. Not fur,” Lance whispered softly.
Keith turned back to face Lance. The sight of his shirt that had just recently been against his own skin now against Lance’s shimmering witch skin gave him a primal sense of satisfaction and made his hands positively itch to touch him and lay claim to him. Before he could think, one arm caught Lance about the waist and pulled him close so that their faces were nearly touching.
“Enjoy being a little tease?” he said, his voice coming out in a low growl.
“Let me go, or I’ll...” Lance began.
Keith kissed him, cutting off his threat and laying claim to his mouth, tracing his lips with his tongue. Static crackled in the room in small bursts of Lance’s undisciplined powers. The rush of it against Keith’s skin went straight to his cock, making it grow impossibly harder and twitch in painful arousal. He curled his hand behind Lance’s head to angle his mouth open and felt the warmth of his hands as they grasped his shoulders tightly when he parted his lips.
Keith slid his tongue against Lance’s and nearly groaned in pleasure. His mouth was so hot and tasted so good. He could feel the heat of his skin against his own even through the shirt. Lance’s body spoke to his. He could smell his desire, a heady spice that grew and surrounded them both. He slid his hand down Lance’s thigh and under his knee, pulling it up high over his hip and bringing their cocks close together. He pulled him into his hard on straining against the zipper of his jeans, grinding into him.
Keith could feel Lance hard and needy against him. Lance was as hot for him as he was for Lance. Whatever this was between them, it was powerful. He kissed him harder.
Lance’s flinch and startled gasp pierced through his raging lust. Keith tore his mouth away from Lance’s. He saw the blood welling up on his lip.
“Shit.” Keith cursed.
He had torn the new scab and Lance was bleeding again. The smell was intoxicating, but he felt sick. He had never hurt a guy he’d had sex with, ever. He was always careful. Abruptly, he let go of Lance, stepping back. His deep intake of breath was full of Lance’s sweetly spiced scent and fresh blood.
“I have to get out of here,” he whispered, turning to the door.
“Wait!” Lance called.
Keith couldn’t wait, he had to get out. He yanked open the door.
“I won’t be locked up!” The panic in Lance’s voice caused Keith to pause and yanked him around to look at him. It was a mistake. Lance looked vulnerable and vibrant at the same time.
Keith tried to keep his voice calm. “You’re perfectly safe here. I’m going to help you any way I can to break the curse on Acxa.”
Lance took a step towards the door. “Don’t lock me up. Please don’t lock me up again.”
Keith could smell the fear coming from Lance, a sickly-sweet scent that he didn’t like one bit coming from him. But for Lance’s safety, he had to get away from him. Resolutely ignoring the palpable fear, he said, “You’ll be fine.” He closed the door and engaged the lock.
There was a loud thud as something hit the door and shattered. “You hijo de puta!”
Lance had thrown the first thing he had gotten his hands on, a small pottery bowl, when Keith closed and locked the door. He walked over to the granite countertop and started searching through the drawers. He found more candles of all size and color. He found bowls and towels. There was a small mini fridge built in that was filled with bottled water and different oils. But there was nothing that would help him escape.
He walked to the door on the other side of the room and discovered a small bathroom. There were towels, soaps, shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a few other toiletries. But still nothing he could use.
Back in the room there was a small desk against the wall near the bed that had paper and pencils, but nothing else. Absolutely nothing he could use to escape or force them to let him out. But he had to get out. Adam would be frantic with worry, wondering what had happened to him. Hunk would be worried and angry. Lance wanted to help the girl, really he did, but he had never been able to control what it was inside of him. He had spent most of his life trying to contain it. Not that it had done him any good. People thought he was a freak. His grandfather never had accepted him. And now he was in a real mess.
But how could he leave that little girl? Acxa’s face was burned into his brain, horrible death mark and all. He rubbed his hand over his face and winced when he touched his sore cheek. Sore because of witch karma.
I’m really a witch. He had to face it, couldn’t hide from it or deny it anymore. Everything over the years added up. And when he had touched Keith’s lion, he had been able to feel what he was and what the curse had done to him.
But damn it, I’m not going to be locked up!
He studied the door. There was some sort of black pad in the center of a metal plate. Was it some sort of sensor or handprint lock? Maybe he could unlock it somehow. Anything was better than staying locked in the room. His breathing was starting to come in shorter breaths and he was starting to feel like the walls were closing in on him. He had to stay angry and hold on to that. But when he looked back at the door, he felt the familiar choking sensation squeezing his chest. The sensation of being closed in away from the world. He shivered, wrapping his arms around himself. Let me out! he thought desperately, feeling a wave of energy move through him.
Was that a click he heard? He ran to the door and tried to open it. But it was still locked. He was locked in a room. A dungeon below ground level. Panic started, increasing his breath more and causing his heart to pound. Memories of being locked in a small dark place overwhelmed him. He moaned softly, eyes darting back and forth with pupils dilated with fear. He grabbed a large metal stool from under the counter and raised it high above his head, bringing it down to crash against the lock. A loud clash echoed in the room. He tried the lock again, but it held fast. He was still locked in.
No fucking way.
He picked up the stool and hit the lock again and again until pain seared up his arms.
He dropped the stool, staring at the scratched but still engaged lock. He was panting and fighting against the choking claustrophobia. As a child, whenever he was this frightened, his lion had come to him and wrapped his body around him, making him feel safe. There was no lion here, no one to help him. The feeling of being closed in wrapped its icy fingers around his throat and chest and squeezed. Tears slid unheeded down his cheeks. He picked up the stool again. Forget the lock, he would bash the fucking door until it splintered and he could get out. He raised it over his head.
“Lance!” yelled a woman’s voice through the door. “Stop! Please stop. I’m opening the door, so please put the stool down.”
Lance stepped back but kept a tight hold on the stool. Could he maybe hit whoever it was and run?
The door swung open and there stood Krolia with Acxa behind her. Lance set the stool down. He couldn’t hit a woman, and sure as hell wouldn’t do it while her child watched. Nor would he risk hurting the child.
“Come out,” Krolia said. She held out her hand encouragingly. “There’s a kitchen down the hall. We’ll make some tea.”
Lance eyed her suspiciously. Was this some sort of trick? “Where is he?”
“Keith’s not here.” Krolia walked into the room and offered her hand again. She looked at his tear streaked face and took his hand. When she looked back up at him, her eyes were sincere with regret. “I saw you on the cameras, I’m sorry I didn’t get here in time. Your hand is swelling. Let’s get some ice on it.”
I had fun with this chapter. And we've got so much more to come ( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°)
I got off work early for the 4th, so I was able to finish another doozy of a chapter LOL. Enjoy!
The ice on Lance’s hand helped ease some of the pain. Krolia heated water for tea and poured milk to warm for Acxa. When Lance mentioned how he, too, enjoyed warm milk, she poured more into the pan to heat enough for them both.
Lance sat at the small table considering his options. Krolia said Keith wasn’t there, he could possibly get away from her and make a run for it. But he didn’t know where he was. Even though he had honestly tried to see where Keith took him, it was as though his memory was fogged. All he could remember was the dense forest around the house. And then there were the men who had tried to kill him. Were there truly more out there looking for him to finish the job?
“Do you like tea parties?” piped up Acxa. She was sitting across the table from Lance and seemed as though she was feeling better than she had been before. She watched Lance with huge eyes.
Lance felt himself that the tiniest bit. “I sure do! I loved playing tea party with my niece.”
Krolia placed a mug of warm milk in front of him and sat down with her tea. “Lance, I promise you we aren’t going to hurt you. We are desperate and we need you. Acxa shouldn’t have to suffer because of my ex-husband.”
He could see the worry etched plainly on the woman’s face. He found he could relate. “I understand. I just lost every single member of my family. If I could do something…if someone else could have done something to prevent the accident, I would have done the same thing.”
Krolia’s eyes filled with sympathy. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Lance shrugged. “Thank you. I still can’t believe it was only a couple of days ago.”
“Keith’s mad when I’m sick. The spot on my forehead makes him really mad,” Acxa said as she lifted her mug of milk. “He plays tea party with me lots. Sometimes Pidge does too, when she isn’t busy working on her computer.”
Lance felt the corners of his mouth twitch at the mental picture of the arrogant man playing tea party with his little sister.
Acxa kept up her chatter. “I wish I had my swing set here. When Keith pushes me, I can touch the clouds. Do you like to swing?”
Lance watched her as she took another sip of her milk. She was obviously a bright kid, and she adored her brother.
“Well? Do you?”
Lance realized Acxa was looking at him expectantly. “Do I what?”
Acxa frowned and looked at Lance like he might be a little slow. “Like to swing?”
For the first time he almost did smile. He couldn’t help it, the little girl was quite the charmer. “I love it. It feels like I’m flying. I loved that feeling as a kid.”
Acxa bounced in her chair. “Sometimes when Mom pushes me I jump out and Keith catches me.”
Krolia gave her daughter a mock stern look. “He also sneaks cookies and shares them with you when you two don’t think I’m looking,” she said. She reached across the table and took Lance’s uninjured hand. “I should have stopped Keith from locking you in. Please. I’ll do anything you want, but please help us. Help my little girl. Her and Keith are all I have left.”
Lance could feel Krolia’s powerful love and fear for Acxa sinking into his skin to touch his heart. If he did have the means to help this little girl, how could he possibly walk away?
Zarkon’s Mark – Day Three
The sound of footsteps jerked Lance awake. He bit his lip to keep from crying out in pain. His entire body hurt.
Keith walked in wearing a dark t-shirt and jeans. He had a steaming cup in one hand and a large bag in the other. He put the bag on the desk and walked towards him. “Here. Drink this. Mom made it to help with the soreness and to keep your hands busy so you leave my furniture alone.”
Lance sat up in the bed and gave him a sour look. “Oh the big bad hunter is concerned? How touching.” He glared at the mug Keith held out to him.
Keith raised an eyebrow. “It’s just tea with herbs. It will help calm your nerves.”
“As if I would trust you.” Lance was too sore and tired to fight. He wanted to go home. His right hand felt like he’d put it through a meat grinder. He flexed it, trying to work out the stiffness and tenderness.
Keith set the tea to one side and wrapped his fingers around his wrist, dropping to his haunches to look at his hand. Lance tried to snatch his hand back but Keith held him in a firm yet gentle grip. “It’s not broken, but you bruised the hell out of it,” Keith said, frowning.
“Yeah, well, I figured I’d give the whole witchcraft thing a go. The guys who attacked me last night swore I was holding the door closed with witchcraft, so I tried to summon that intensity to open the door. Needless to say, it didn’t work,” Lance huffed. It was a little insulting to be forced to acknowledge that he was something other than mortal, then fail at that when he needed it most.
Keith lifted his gaze. “The locks are a special design. Even if you tripped one lock with your powers, another would engage automatically. It will do the same thing with physical force, like smashing it with a stool. There is no way for you to escape.”
Lance stared at him. “I won’t be locked up.”
Keith stroked his wrist with his thumb. ‘‘I get that.”
Keith’s touch eased the pain in Lance’s wrist. It made him nervous that he responded to Keith unlike he had to any other man. “I want to go home.”
Keith kept up his stroking motion on his wrist. “You can’t. Make no mistake, the Galras are after you. I ran into two last night at your apartment. You’re safer here where I can protect you.”
“You went to my apartment?”
“I got you some clothes and some things you might need. You were safe. My mom is a crack shot if it comes down to it.” He was still stroking Lance’s wrist.
“I didn’t see a gun when she let me out last night,” Lance said. There hadn’t been anywhere in Krolia’s sweats that indicated she was carrying a gun.
“The gun is for protection, not to hurt you. We only want to save Acxa’s life. Mom was worried about you,” Keith answered. He reached down with his free hand and retrieved the hot tea. He held it where Lance could take it. “Drink.”
Lance took the tea. If Keith wanted him dead, he would wait until his sister was uncursed, so the tea was probably safe. “What about the Galras at my apartment?” he asked as he took a sip.
Keith’s mouth tightened. “They’re dead.”
Lance nearly choked on his tea. “What?”
Keith let go of his hand. “They attacked me, and I killed them.”
Lance stared at Keith. He was an mystery. He played with his baby sister, loved his mother, and killed that easily. Just who is this freaking guy?
“Drink your tea, then take a hot shower. My office is across the hall. I’ll wait for you there and we’ll figure out what to do next,” Keith said as he stood.
Lance glanced up at the mounted cameras in either corner. “Are there cameras in the bathroom?” he asked nervously.
Keith’s violet eyes flared for a second as he rose to his feet. “No. None of the bathrooms in the house have cameras. The rest of the house is wired with cameras and security devices.”
Lance wasn’t about to strip down for Keith’s viewing pleasure. “How do I know you’re telling me the truth?” he questioned.
Keith looked down at him. “I don’t need cameras if I want to spy on you, Lance.” He faded from view, causing Lance to gasp and nearly drop his mug, and then materialized again right before his very eyes.
“What did you just do?” demanded Lance.
“Witch hunters are predators. We can shield our presence and we can be deadly quiet,” Keith explained.
Lance’s skin prickled in memory. “That’s why I didn’t see those two men last night. I knew there was something there, but I couldn’t see anything. And then the next thing I know, they were just there.”
Keith’s voice pulsed with anger. “You saw them when they wanted you to. Terror drops adrenaline into your blood and gives them more power as they bleed you. Hunters can hide behind a shield and be invisible. And we’re fast.”
Lance shuddered. He opened his mouth to ask more questions when Keith cut him off. “You have complete privacy in the bathroom. Your clothes are in that bag.” He gestured towards the desk. “Get moving. We have less than a week for you to spell the curse off of Acxa. I’ll be across the hall waiting for you.” Keith turned and left.
The struggle in the air eased. Lance knew it came from Keith fighting the compulsion he’d told him about and struggling not become a Galra himself. He finished his tea and went to take his shower. Fifteen minutes later he walked across to Keith’s office wearing his own jeans, t-shirt, and a pair of black Converses. The idea of Keith going through his underwear drawer was vaguely unsettling, but it wasn’t creepy like the idea of Galras having been there was. He felt more like himself with his own clean clothes on, more in control of himself that he hadn’t felt since Keith had saved him.
Keith was sitting behind a large desk. When Lance entered the office, he turned to look at him. His violet eyes swept over him from his still damp hair down to his shoes. Lance looked back at him, taking in just how attractive Keith was. His t-shirt was stretched tight over muscle and emphasized his broad shoulders. He was holding a cup of tea in a mug and gulped as he noticed how pretty the man’s hands were, even if he knew the man had stained those hands with blood.
If Keith wanted his blood, truthfully, Lance was at his mercy. They were isolated, in the middle of nowhere. Having seen Keith’s disappearing act, Lance knew he had somehow shielded him from being able to track where they were. He didn’t trust him.
But he was drawn to him, and especially to the lion. When he had touched the lion on Keith’s skin, he had felt safe. And there had been more, as though there was something inside of him the lion could show him. Maybe he really was crazy.
Keith gestured to a thermos on his desk. “There’s more tea if you want. Or coffee over there,” he said, pointing to a coffeemaker on a table across the way. “My mom will bring breakfast for you soon.” He looked at Lance intently for a moment, then spoke again. “Don’t run, Lance. Don’t run from me,” he warned, his voice hard.
Lance had started to look down towards the kitchen but Keith’s last words caught his attention. “Yeah, I get it. You the big bad hunter that could take me down in an instant,” he quipped, mirroring Keith’s harsh tone.
Keith glared at him. “You look like hell; black eye, split lip, not much sleep...”
Annoyed, Lance strode into the room. “Thanks. It’s a new look I’m trying. Called ‘Taken and Sexually Harassed’. You should try it some time.”
He picked the thermos up from the desk and refilled his mug. Up until Keith opened his big mouth, he had been feeling pretty good. The tea and the shower had helped with the pain and swelling. He heard a snort of laughter that didn’t come from Keith.
“Where the hell did that come from? Who else is here?” he demanded, looking around and seeing a couch, several bookshelves and a flat screen TV. He remembered the way Keith had disappeared. Son of a…is there someone else hiding in here?
Keith put his coffee down and hit a button on his computer keyboard. “Look behind you.”
Lance glanced over his shoulder and nearly dropped his tea. “Santa mierda!” he yelped as the TV came to life and a face materialized on the screen; dark black hair with white bangs, dark eyes, hard jaw, scar across the bridge of his nose. He was huge. The image on the screen was so clear Lance could see the small black hoop in his pierced lip. “Who the hell is that? Where is he?”
Keith got up and walked around to sit on the edge of the desk not far from Lance. “He’s kinda like my brother. He’s video conferencing from our warehouse a few miles away. Shiro’s been looking for ways to link you to other witches. They won’t have anything to do with us, but they should respond to you.”
Lance tore his eyes from the screen to look at Keith. “Shiro? He’s…like you?”
“A witch hunter,” Keith supplied.
“Is he a Galra?” asked Lance.
The man chuckled. “Shiro, show him your palm,” Keith said.
The man on the screen held up his hand. Obviously he could see and hear them. Keith motioned to the screen. “See the lines on his hand?”
Lance nodded once. He did. “And?” he asked. What did that have to do with anything?
“A Galra has no lines on their palms. When they kill a witch and lose their soul, their lifelines vanish. When a Galra dies without his soul, he becomes a celestial with no form and no world, forced to forever roam the emptiness between the worlds,” Keith explained.
Shiro broke in. “See the screen? These are Galras.” The screen split and Shiro moved to the left. On the right was an image of two men. Like Keith and apparently Shiro, they were huge and muscular, but something wasn’t quite right. Their faces didn’t match their physique. Their faces looked almost feminine, with no beard shadow, almost as though they didn’t have to shave. Their skin appeared smooth and hairless…and a pale shade of purple.
“Why do Galras look almost female in some ways and very male in others? AND like Violet from Willy Wonka?” asked Lance.
“Witch blood is absorbed through the skin. Since most witches are female, we assume that’s the cause,” Shiro said. When Lance bristled slightly, he quickly added, “I did say most witches. We can clearly tell you’re a male Lance.”
Lance wasn’t quite mollified but went back to staring at the Galras onscreen. They looked like the two that had attacked him at the shop, but something else bothered him. “There was a man at the cemetery after my family’s funeral. He looked like the Galras you showed me. His eyes were golden blue and...”
Keith made a low noise in the back of his throat. “That sounds like Lotor. He assigned my father to kill you, who tried giving me the job. It was how I was able to find you.”
Lance blinked in surprise. “Your father? He’s a Galra?”
“Yeah. Lotor was most likely there to verify that you were a witch before giving the task over to my dear old dad. If he’d been there to kill you, believe me, you’d be dead,” Keith said.
What it must be like to know your father was a cold-blooded killer. Lance had an insane urge to touch Keith, to try and ease some of the hardness that lived inside him. But he contained himself. Keith had kidnapped him and he had already told him he could barely control his craving for his blood. He was fighting against becoming like his father. “How did the curse happen?” Lance asked instead, pushing away his thoughts.
“Years ago three demon witches captured three hunters. They planned to curse them with a spell that would bind their souls as familiars, but the curse caught up all of the elemental witches and witch hunters working together to stop it. It was one huge clusterfuck,” Keith replied.
“So back then, witches and hunters got along?” Lance asked him.
Keith nodded. “Hunters protected elemental witches and, in return, witches cast protection spells over their families so demon witches couldn’t use them as leverage. If something like a death curse got through, the witches would heal the victim, and the hunters would find the demon witch and kill her, then provide protection for the witch who broke the curse.”
That caught Lance’s attention. “The demon witch goes after the one who undoes a curse?” So he would have a demon witch coming after him. Great. How in the hell am I going to protect myself? Once Keith is done with me, I’m going to be on my own.
“Lance, you have to do this,” Shiro spoke from the screen. “We’ll figure out a way to protect you. The only other choice we have is for Keith to hunt down the witch and kill her.”
“And then he’ll go Galra,” Lance said softly, grasping the situation. What choice did he have? He couldn’t let the little girl die. He didn’t really want the responsibility for Keith’s soul on his shoulders, but he wouldn’t walk away. If he left, Galras were sure to find him. And they might kill others to get to him. He couldn’t endanger his employees, his friends, or even Adam and Hunk.
“Oh, God, Hunk and Adam,” he gasped. “I need to call them, just to let them know I’m okay.”
Keith shot off the desk. “Adam? Hunk? Who the hell are they?”
“Shit, Keith! Back off!” Shiro’s voice roared through the room.
Lance was startled. He didn’t know what had changed Keith. He’d been tense, but not like this.
Keith moved in closer. “Answer me, Lance. Who are they? Boyfriends?”
Lance looked up and saw Keith’s jaw was tight and his pupils enlarged. A surge of anger took place of his fear. He’d been attacked, kidnapped, locked up, and he was sick and tired of being pushed around. “Who I sleep with is none of your damn business estúpido! I have a life outside this mess you’ve wrangled me into and there is nothing you can do about it.”
Keith sucked in a breath. The air around them practically quivered with his fury. “You aren’t going to be going out to fuck someone while I try to save Acxa!” He turned around and stormed out of the room.
“Oh, my fucking...Hunk and Adam are practically my brothers! It’s nothing like that! Get your mind out of the gutter!” Lance yelled as he balled his fists at his sides, starting to tremble as his own temper rose. A slamming door was his answer. “Sí, culo, sólo vete! ¡Huir! ¿Tienes miedo de la bruja?” He shook his head angrily. Maybe he had gone insane, saying something like that, believing he was just that, a witch.
Except it wasn’t crazy. He knew it. Maybe some part of him had always known. He always had been different.
“You realize it’s the bloodlust making him jealous and unreasonable, right?” Shiro spoke from the screen.
Lance stomped around the desk and plopped down in Keith’s chair. He needed to calm down. “Does everyone bow down to him? I won’t be pushed around.”
Shiro sighed heavily. “You’re gonna drive him to kill you.”
Lance stared back at the screen. “Sorry, I don’t buy the whole ‘I’m the leader and you will follow everything I say or suffer the consequences’ excuse. I’m not the type to cower.”
“Noted,” Shiro answered dryly.
Lance looked around the office. There wasn’t any phone. He would find a way to contact Hunk and Adam, but it was starting to hit him that even if he survived this and cured Acxa, he could never go back home to his friends. The Galras would kill anyone to get him. And to top all of it, he was going to have to piss off a demon witch in the process. His grandfather had been right. He was a dangerous embarrassment. He had worked so hard to prove him wrong, show that he was worthy of acceptance and love. What a load of shit. He was a witch, a magical creature, and chased by an evil that would force him into hiding forever. How could he ever fall in love and subject a man to that? Lance sighed. One step at a time. First, find out how to be a witch.
Lance had been working for a couple of hours. The witch loops were rejecting him. All said the same thing, that these were dangerous times and he would need two sponsors who knew him and could swear he wasn’t a demon witch. Apparently Galras had at one point posed as witches and lured others to kill them. Feeling restless and frustrated he got up from the desk to pace the room.
“Keith says you used witchcraft to try to stab him with his knife. How did you do that?” Shiro asked from the screen.
Lance frowned, thinking it over. “Fear, I think,” he said after a few moments. “He was dragging me downstairs and I thought he might kill me. I felt hot energy from somewhere ball up in my chest then rush out.”
“Can you just summon that up?” Shiro asked, his voice laced in interest.
“I’m not sure. When I’m scared, I don’t think, I just react. How can I recreate that?” Lance rubbed at his temples.
“You’ve gotta try. Lives are at risk here. Yours and Acxa’s, not to mention Keith’s soul. Just try.”
Lance whirled around to glare at the image. “Damn it, don’t you think I am? I tried with everything I had to get out of that godforsaken room last night. I don’t know how or what the hell I’m doing! And you dare to tell me I need to try!”
He turned his back on the screen and stormed over to the laptop. He opened a blank email and typed in Hunk’s address.
“What are you doing?” Shiro’s voice came from behind him.
“I’m sending an email to Hunk, then Adam,” Lance retorted.
“No you won’t.”
Lance’s head snapped up and he turned to glare at Shiro. “I have been kidnapped, locked in a room, and pushed around enough. Hunk and Adam will be worried about me. I am going to tell them I’m okay and you’re going to let me.”
Shiro’s dark eyes narrowed. “It isn’t safe to contact anyone.”
“Oh, so just the witches, I guess?” Lance shot back.
“We need them,” Shiro answered in a cool voice.
Lance’s jaw tightened with anger. “Send this email, Shiro. Please.”
Shiro’s stare was imperturbable. “Calm down. You have to be reasonable. You can’t do magic if you lose control.”
Calm down? He wants me to calm down! Fury worked its way up from Lance’s belly and threatened to boil over. With a shaking hand, he hit the Send button repeatedly on the keyboard. “Just go, damn it!” he snarled in frustration when it just sat there taunting him. Then suddenly it faded away. Lance stared at the screen, unsure.
“You’re wasting your time. All emails go through me and Pidge. If you send that, we’ll just delete it,” Shiro said.
But didn’t the email just disappear, like it had been sent? Lance had to think. Had he somehow bypassed Shiro and sent the mail to Hunk? He couldn’t keep staring at the computer so he got up to pace so as not to make Shiro suspicious. Could he do magic? Send email with magic? What about the warning emails he had gotten from himself about the hunters?
Another male voice broke into his thoughts. “Lance, only you can hear me.”
Lance nearly jumped out of his skin. He swung around and caught his foot on the foot of the desk, throwing his balance off and dumping him on his ass. Sprawled on the floor, he looked up at the laptop. An avatar of Atlas, a statuesque man holding up the earth, stared back at him from the screen. A voice came from the screen. “Don’t let anyone know I’m talking to you, Lance.”
Lance blinked. Was this real? Who was he? What if he had moved from hearing voices in his head to seeing characters to go with the voices?
“What happened, Lance?” called Shiro from the TV screen.
“I tripped over this stupid desk,” Lance said as he climbed to his feet, keeping his gaze on the avatar. The voice was undeniably male but had a digitized quality to it…and sounded strangely familiar. When he moved, the eyes of the avatar followed him.
“Tell him you need a break. Take the computer where he can’t see you,” the voice instructed.
Lance tried to think. It wasn’t like he could grab the laptop and run. There were cameras in his room so he couldn’t go there. Or could he? “I need to take a break.”
“We don’t have time for breaks, Lance,” Shiro replied.
Lance turned to give Shiro a frosty look. “Too bad. I think I cut my leg when I fell. I’m going to go into the bathroom to clean it, then I’m going to get a glass of water. Or is that against the rules too?”
Shiro looked wary. “Okay. Go on then.”
Lance looked back to the laptop. How could he get Shiro to let him take it? He dropped his shoulders in a show of resignation. “Look, I’ll take the laptop into my room and work there. I need time to think.”
Shiro’s eyes were hard. “Fine. Remember any emails you send will go through my computer and I’ll see them.”
Lance snatched up the laptop. “Right. Big Bad Hunter Brother’s watching.” He made sure to sell the performance, walking with a slight limp and going into his room. His heart was beating so hard he could hear the blood rushing in his ears. Who was it in the laptop? Was it a witch? Maybe his mind had finally snapped. He thought of the emails from himself and the phone call to the shop before the Galras showed up. He glanced up at the two cameras mounted near the ceiling. His only hope was the bathroom. He walked into the small lavatory and closed the door, turning on the water for good measure. He sat on the edge of the tub and held the computer on his lap. “Who are you?”
The avatar looked at him warningly. “No one must hear you talking to me, Lance. They can’t hear you, can they?”
Lance shook his head. “Not so far as I know. Keith said the bathrooms don’t have surveillance equipment in them. Tell me who you are.”
“I’ll show you, but you have to make absolutely sure no one can see the screen.”
Lance believed Keith when he said there were no cameras in the bathroom. But to be sure, he twisted so his back was to the wall and angled the computer so no ceiling camera could see the screen. “Okay,” he said, feeling breathless with anticipation.
The picture on the screen pixelated, then rearranged themselves into a new face. One he recognized. “Adam? But how...”
“Shhh, don’t say my name. Call me Atlas when you talk to me.” The picture blurred again and sharpened back into Atlas. “I called Hunk about an hour after you didn’t show last night. You weren’t answering your cell phone and I had a really bad feeling, especially after you told me about the guy that spooked you at your family’s funeral. Hunk’s been looking for you. When he told me what he found at the shop, I knew you’d been taken by witch hunters. I can’t believe you’re still alive. Galras don’t wait to kill.”
Lance could hear the emotion in his voice. “Keith and his group aren’t Galra,” he said without thinking. His mind was swirling. Adam is a freaking witch too? Nothing was what it seemed. Did he actually know anything anymore? He didn’t even know his best friend like he thought. “You’re a witch? How are you contacting me? Shiro has the computer bugged or something.”
The avatar nodded, smiling gently. “I’m a witch. I knew you were a witch the first moment I met you. You didn’t know, and it didn’t seem like you wanted to know.”
Betrayal mixed in with Lance’s relief and confusion. “But why didn’t you say anything?”
“Lance, all of us witches are in hiding these days. Our powers have been weakened by the curse and we’re being slaughtered by the Galras. I figured you were safer for not knowing. I didn’t think you would get a Galra’s attention if you lived as a mortal.” Adam paused before continuing. “Let’s get you somewhere safe and you can be mad at me all you want.”
Lance swallowed. Despite everything, he felt less alone and scared. “How are you talking to me? Why didn’t Shiro hear you?”
“I went on the witch loops just hoping I might hear something about you. I saw your emails requesting to join.”
Lance interrupted. “My emails went through? I tried to mail Hunk, but I didn’t know if it worked.”
“It must have. I’m projecting my avatar with magic. The hunter didn’t hear me because I funneled my voice directly to your chakras so only you could hear.”
Lance felt stupid. “My what?”
“Your chakras. Seven levels of magical energy inside of you. Every witch has them.”
“I have so much to learn,” Lance said, feeling his head swim.
The avatar nodded again. “I’ll teach you enough to get out of there, and then you can learn all you want. Do you know where you are?”
“No. And I’m not leaving anyway.” Lance’s words surprised even him, but he realized he was telling the truth.
“You have to! It’s too dangerous!”
“There’s a little girl here. Her name’s Acxa and she’s got the death mark,” Lance said, trying to make him understand. “I have to help her, Ad-Atlas.”
Adam’s voice cracked with regret. “You can’t. It’s spell magic. Witches were there when the curse happened. It broke our bond with our familiars and weakened our magic. We can’t do that kind of magic without a familiar, and we can’t get familiars anymore.”
Lance closed his eyes, picturing that beautiful little girl with the death mark on her forehead. He opened them and looked around. He saw his moisturizers and his hair products that Keith had brought him. Little things, but they made him feel better. Keith had him at his mercy, but he had gone out of his way to get him things he thought he might want. He looked back at the computer screen.
“I have to try. Keith told me the Galras have me at the top of their kill list. Two of them caught me at the shop last night. They had already cut me once when Keith showed up, killed them, and took me. I’m safer here. He won’t kill me, at least not until I save his sister.”
The Atlas picture closed its eyes and its face crumpled in grief. “We’ll leave together. Go into hiding.”
“No. I can’t get away right now. I have to learn magic and you can help me. Please. I need you.” He turned off the water, sure he had been in the bathroom far longer than was a good idea. “I can’t stay in here much longer.”
“Okay. I’ll do what I can to help you.”
Keith and Krolia both tried to read to Acxa.
“I want Matt to read to me,” Acxa whined as she kicked her legs in protest.
Krolia put her arm around her. “Matt isn’t here. He can’t come here, honey, and it isn’t safe for you to leave.”
Tears welled in Acxa’s eyes and her lip trembled. “Matt doesn’t like me anymore because I’m sick.”
Keith pulled out his phone and dialed Pidge’s number, helpless rage and frustration coursing through him at his sister’s tears. When voicemail picked up, Keith ended the call with a frustrated growl. “Shit.”
“Shit,” agreed Acxa with a sob.
Keith was caught between laughing and throwing something. Instead he lifted Acxa into his lap. “You know that’s a bad word, Acxa,” he said as he tenderly wiped her tears.
“You said it,” Acxa argued weakly.
“I’m a grown up,” Keith said.
“So I can say it when I grow up?”
God, yes. Let her grow up and she can say it every damned day. “You bet. Why don’t I call Matt and you leave him a message?”
“Don’t wanna,” Acxa whispered as she laid her head on his shoulder. She was already getting sick. His happy, bubbly, chatterbox sister was turning into a fretful sickly child.
Krolia stood, fear showing raw on her face. “Let’s put her in her bed.”
Keith followed his mom to the room he’d had set up for her and Acxa. Matt and Shiro had brought a lot of Acxa’s things to help her feel more comfortable and secure while Pidge had worked on fixing up the room for Lance. But none of the preparations mattered if they didn’t figure out how to remove the death curse.
By the time he laid her in the bed, Acxa was fast asleep. Krolia tucked her stuffed Ariel in next to her and gently stroked her hair. Keith gave them both a last long look, then stalked into his bedroom, through the closet and downstairs.
Lance had better be making progress. He had fed Shiro some cock and bull story about a witch suddenly appearing on the laptop and agreeing to help him. Shiro said the other witch was using magic to hide behind an avatar and he couldn’t track them. They didn’t know where the witch calling himself Atlas was or why he popped up to talk to Lance when all the witch loops had rejected him. He was a witch if he was using magic, but what if it was a demon witch trying to cause trouble?
As he stepped off the last step and into the hallway, he heard Lance say excitedly, “I can feel it! It’s opening! I did it!”
What the hell is he getting excited about? Keith hurried down the short hall and turned into Lance’s room. Lance was sitting cross legged on the cold tile floor with his hands folded in his lap and staring at an orange candle that flickered gently with his slow and even breathing. An empty bowl was next to Lance’s knee.
Confused, Keith asked, “Feel what opening?”
“Keith!” Lance yelped in surprise, jerking and throwing his hands up. A thin stream of water flew from his hands and hit Keith in the chest.
Keith looked down at his now soaked shirt in astonishment. “What…the…hell?”
Lance’s blue eyes lit up and sparkled, filled with joy. “I got water! I did it! It’s water, I did water! The second chakra!” His face sobered. “Oh, um, you’re kind of wet. I was trying to get the water into the bowl.”
Keith wondered if he’d done it on purpose, so he leaned against the doorframe and crossed one ankle over the other, watching Lance and waiting to see what happened.
Lance raised an eyebrow at him. “What?”
“Oh, nothing, just waiting to see if you get drenched with witch karma,” Keith replied airily, gaze steady.
Lance leapt to his feet and waved a hand. “Oh, please, you big baby, it’s just a little water. You weren’t harmed. I’m pretty sure shit floats.”
“That’s too bad,” Keith said, eyeing the tight white t-shirt Lance wore. He definitely wouldn’t mind seeing it wet and clinging to his skin. A sudden flash of need ran through his veins, making him hot. He inhaled slowly and caught the sweet ocean and spicy scent of Lance, which only intensified his need. It had to be because he had touched his blood.
Lance narrowed his eyes at him. “The third chakra is fire,” he said, trying to ignore Keith’s heated gaze.
Keith quickly reined in his thoughts. He was there to check progress, after all. He pulled off his wet shirt and used it to wipe his chest.
“What are you doing?” Lance asked him, his voice a little higher pitched than normal.
“Drying off.” Or cooling off, I guess is the correct answer.
He was trying to cool off by running the cool wet cloth over his overheated skin. But the witch didn’t need to know that. He tossed his shirt onto Lance’s bed, then turned back to him. “This Atlas person is teaching you something then?” he asked.
Lance’s face dimmed. “Yes. But it’s going to be more complicated than I thought to heal Acxa. The curse affected witches too, and we can’t do spell magic.”
Keith forgot his lust as suspicion rose in him. What the hell has this Atlas been telling him? “You will do this, Lance.”
“I’m trying here man!” Lance protested. “But I have to learn low magic first, magic in my first four chakras. Then I will try to figure out high magic using the last three chakras...”
“Wait,” Keith interrupted. “Please explain chakras. I might be a hunter but I didn’t have quite the upbringing on how witches operate their magic.” He knew many things about witches. His dad had been sure to teach him how to cut them to disconnect them from their powers, for example. But he knew nothing of where exactly, other than the earth, their magic came from.
Lance was cleaning up his work area. “A witch has seven chakras. The first is at the base of the spine, called the earth chakra. It’s red and connects us with the earth. That’s why I was sitting on the floor, to try to be more connected to the earth and try to access my second chakra.” He blew out the candle before putting it on the counter.
Keith noticed the open laptop with its screensaver on the screen. Was Atlas behind that watching and listening to them? He looked back at Lance. “And water is the second chakra.”
Lance nodded. “It’s here.” He laid a hand flat on his pelvis.
Keith stared at Lance’s palm resting on the zipper of his jeans, wanting nothing more than to move his hand, unzip those snug jeans, and lay his own hand on that second chakra. “Go on,” he grunted, forcing himself to look back up at Lance’s face.
“I was just feeling that chakra open when you walked in,” Lance explained.
Fucking hell. Keith tried to push that thought out of his mind.
“By opening the chakras, I have access to the power,” Lance continued. “The fire chakra is third. It’s yellow and located here.” He ran his hand up his stomach to roughly where his solar plexus was. “The fourth chakra is air. It’s green.” He raised both hands to cover his chest. “Once I can open those chakras, I can pull the power of the elements through them. With practice, I will learn to control the magic. See where I’m going with this?”
Keith was trying hard not to see. Trying not to visualize each spot on Lance’s body where a chakra was. Trying not to imagine tracing each of those places with his fingers – or better yet, his tongue. Focus, damn it! “But those won’t help take the curse off Acxa?”
Lance shook his head. “No. That takes high magic. Spell magic comes through the higher chakras. Chakra five is blue. Here.” He put his hand on his throat. “Communication. Where we bring elemental and spell magic together. Plus we need a familiar, and that’s a problem.”
Lance sighed quietly. “We can’t get familiars. The curse broke our bond with our familiars. We were affected just as bad as the hunters.”
Keith closed his eyes briefly in frustration. Bad news and more bad news. Can’t we just catch a break? “You can’t do the spell without a familiar?” Hunters knew witches had been weakened, but not specific details. They weren’t exactly on the level of exchanging information.
Lance sat on one of the stools by the counter. He raised his eyes to meet Keith’s gaze. “I’m going to try. I need to get in control of at least six of my chakras. The sixth one is here,” he said, touching his forehead, “and it’s the third eye. The color is indigo and that’s where I’ll connect with the Alteans to ask them to help me. It seems that since the curse no one’s connected with the Alteans at all. The final chakra, the seventh, is violet and on the top of the head. It’s knowledge and spiritual connection. Barely any witch has been successful in connection with that final chakra point.”
Keith found himself impressed, assuming what Lance was saying was true. “So the problem is that you have to learn the chakras and how to control the powers, then find a way to get a familiar to be able to do a spell, right?”
“As far as I can tell,” replied Lance. “Atlas tells me there’s much more to learn, but this is where I have to start.”
After a pregnant pause, Keith asked, “Lance, who is Atlas?”
Lance’s eyes fell to Keith’s chest. “I don’t know. He just appeared when I was taking some time to catch my thoughts.”
Keith had a feeling Lance wasn’t telling him the truth. “Then how do you know you can trust him?” Lance looked down and tried to twist his stool away. Keith moved quickly to the stool, forcing his legs apart to stand between them and trapping him there. “Look at me. At my eyes, not my chest,” Keith said. “You’re keeping something from me witch.”
Lance’s witch shimmer darkened to a darker blue with hints of black. When Keith saw that, he knew Lance was physically reacting to him. But was he lying, too? Keeping Atlas’s identity a secret?
Lance looked up at him quickly. “Back off, Keith. I told you before I wasn’t a witch…well, I didn’t know I was a witch. I’m doing all I can.”
Is he? Or is he trying to gain his powers to escape? The idea sprouted deep in Keith’s belly. No. His witch. His. The blood curse was burning, trying to take over and bring out the animal in him. He fought it down, keeping his hands clenched into fists at his sides and concentrating on his breathing. As the moment stretched out, Lance grew tense and agitated. Like a tidal wave, the spicy scent of power slammed into Keith, igniting the burn under his skin and cramping in his gut. His brain fogged over. He could easily take what he wanted from Lance; his knife was in its holster in the small of his back...
The sound of rushing water exploded in the room, shocking his bloodlust back down to a simmer. Lance jerked back, nearly falling off the stool. Keith grabbed him and pulled him to his chest, his instinct now to protect and shield him. Looking into the bathroom, he could see the faucet at the sink, as well as the shower, running full blast. When he turned his head, the sink in the bar counter had turned on, too.
No threat to Lance. Had he sensed his bloodlust rising? Keith eased Lance back to the stool and looked at him, noticing his face was flushed. “Your power turned on the water?”
“I felt that chakra open, so I guess I did. It wasn’t a conscious decision.” Lance frowned at Keith. “You’re making me kinda nervous.”
Shit. He’d scared Lance. Keith tried to reassure himself that he would have controlled himself, that he wouldn’t have actually hurt Lance. Now that he was touching him, bloodlust had faded and sexual lust was pounding through him along with an almost suffocating need to protect. He held Lance with one hand behind his head and the other on his shoulder. He looked at the running water. “Can you turn it off with witchcraft?” he asked curiously.
Lance turned his head and looked at the streaming faucet nearest to them. It shut off. Keith felt a jolt run through him. Was it the curse reacting to Lance’s powers?
“I did it!” Lance looked back up at Keith, laughing triumphantly.
Keith focused on Lance’s face, on his excitement, his joy in discovering what he was capable of and his success. He focused on the masculine beauty he wanted to taste. Lance was Keith’s opposite, of what he was and what he could become. Keith longed to have more of it, more of Lance. He slowly lowered his head to touch his lips to Lance’s.
Lance exhaled into Keith’s mouth and it fired hot through his blood. Yes. That was what he wanted, what he needed; Lance’s very breath. Keith pressed harder until Lance opened his mouth wider, Lance’s entire body leaning into him and his skin growing hotter until the need and desire flowed off him like the water he could control with his power.
Keith wanted to drown in it, to drown in Lance. He plunged his tongue into Lance’s mouth, wanting to taste him down to all seven chakras. The feel of Lance’s hands caressing his arms and chest inflamed him, nearly driving him insane. He was hard to the point that he didn’t think he could pull back, and he didn’t want to. When Lance’s hand slid over his shoulder to touch his tattoo, Keith growled and slid his hands under Lance’s ass to lift him up against him, grinding their hard cocks together.
“Get away from him!” demanded a digitalized voice that blasted throughout the room.
Keith ripped his mouth away from Lance’s, his entire body on protective alert to find and destroy anything that dared interrupt them, or threaten Lance.
The screensaver was no longer on the laptop. Instead Atlas stared balefully at him from the screen.
“Atlas,” he growled. Damn the computer and damn the witch behind the picture. His head was pounding with lust and his longing for Lance was so intense he burned with it. Every inch of his skin craved him. Even his lion tattoo felt tight and hot in a way it hadn’t since he’d gone under Matt’s needle.
“Let go of me,” Lance said softly. When Keith let him go, he wrapped his arms around himself and moved back on the stool.
“Yes, I’m Atlas. Get a hold of yourself, hunter. If you kill Lance, your sister will die,” spat the avatar.
Keith nearly shook his head. He had wanted to strip Lance naked and possess him, not kill him. But for a moment, before the water came on and he actually touched him, he had nearly been swept up in bloodlust. He changed the subject. “Why are you hiding? How do I know you aren’t tricking Lance? Or if you’re a demon witch just trying to use us?”
The avatar scoffed, “You of all people should know that I’m forced to hide because of Galra hunters. I’m helping Lance. I’m not the one who kidnapped him.”
Lance met Keith’s gaze levelly. “The witch loops won’t help me. Atlas is teaching me what I need to know. Without him I won’t know what to do.”
“Lance wasn’t raised as a witch. He is having to learn magic from the beginning, things witches are normally taught from childhood. We haven’t been able to remove a death mark in years, either. You are demanding him to do the impossible,” Atlas added.
Keith felt a sinking sensation in his gut. If that was true, he would have no other option but to find the demon witch and kill her. “I won’t let Acxa die.”
Atlas’s face and voice softened a bit. “Then let Lance work, let him learn. Maybe we will find out a way to achieve the impossible. The best thing for you to do right now hunter is let me teach Lance what I can.”
Keith remembered all Lance had told him of chakras, spell magic and elemental magic. He hadn’t known to what extent the witches had been damaged by the curse. “None of you can talk to your Alteans?” Just like the hunters could no longer reach The Blade? For hunters it had been the lions that talked directly to The Blade. He had the lion tattoo now, but he didn’t know what it meant, especially since he still craved witch blood because of the curse.
Atlas spoke, cutting into his thoughts. “No. And we need the Alteans for spell magic, which is the only thing that can break the death mark.”
Lance leaned towards the computer. “What are the Alteans?”
“Witches evolved from special mortals who began to reincarnate when they died. Each lifetime, they gained in power and knowledge. In our death cycle we go to Oriande to rest, review, and go to the next life cycle. But some souls grew so evolved that they no longer wished to reincarnate. They stayed in Oriande as spirit guides. They assist in learning and in spell magic when we can call upon them. When the curse happened, elemental witches broke through the demon witch shield and entered the grove with the witch hunters. Witches souls were torn from them, just like the hunters. And the connection with our familiars and the Alteans was severed,” Atlas explained.
Lance nibbled his lower lip and looked as though he were deep in thought. “What?” Keith asked him.
Lance looked closely at the screen. “So before the curse, what was communication with the Alteans like? Was it just like having a normal conversation? With any witch?”
“Most witches have some form of communication with the Alteans when they open the sixth chakra, the third eye. They may hear voices, or receive a sign. But some witches, a very few...” Atlas’s voice trailed off as her eyes narrowed.
“A few witches what?” Lance asked as he concentrated on the screen.
“Can hear Altean voices without opening chakras. They may get a message in their dreams or even sometimes when they’re awake. I’ve heard they also hear the voices like a murmur in their head at any given time.”
Lance stared at the screen unblinkingly. “So they could contact a witch…by email?” His hands started fiddling with the hem of his t-shirt and his breathing picked up slightly.
Keith’s tension grew with Lance’s agitation. “What do you mean?”
Lance turned to him. “Do you remember me telling you about the man who scared me at the funeral, and you said it was that man named Lotor? And he’s a Galra hunter?” When Keith nodded, Lance continued, “That night I got an email warning me that hunters had found me. As if that wasn’t strange enough, it came from my own account, as though I’d sent it to myself. But how could I have done so? I didn’t know I was a witch, didn’t know anything about hunters or Galras. And before I got attacked at my shop, I got another email, plus a phone call with a computerized voice telling me to run. And when I got outside, those Galras were there.”
Keith’s tattoo was warm enough that he could feel the outline of the lion. “You didn’t send the emails to yourself, so you think the Alteans did?”
Lance’s gaze moved back and forth between Keith and Atlas and then settled back on Keith. “I hear voices. I always have. When I was really young, I used to talk to them, like they were my imaginary friends. But I stopped as I got older, and since then, I only hear a constant murmur. And a word or two once in a great while.” He frowned down at the granite countertop and fiddled with a candle. “But why? Why would they talk to me? I was raised as a mortal, I didn’t know I was a witch. What’s so special about me?”
Atlas said, “Maybe the fact that you were raised in a mortal household meant you needed the Alteans more than the rest of us. Or,” he emphasized when it appeared Lance was about to say something, “maybe you are special somehow. Maybe something about you made it possible for them to reach you. Remember Lance, has always been something unique about you.”
Keith stayed focused on his purpose. Acxa. “Then Lance could be the witch that can heal Acxa.”
Atlas’s eyes shifted to him. “This is even bigger than just one child’s life, hunter. Lance could be the breakthrough we need to reach our Alteans. He could be our saving grace.”
“Both of you stop it,” Lance said emphatically. “We’ll find a way. This is a child’s life we are talking about.” He crossed over to a drawer and pulled out two yellow candles and a candleholder.
“What’s that for?” Keith asked as he watched him.
“Fire, for my third chakra. I meditate on a candle that’s the same color of the chakra to help me connect and open it.” Lance put one candle into the holder and took the orange candle out of the other holder to replace it with the second yellow candle. He lit one candle with a match and left the other unlit. He carried both candles over to where he had been earlier and placed them side by side on the tile floor, then dropped down gracefully to sit with his legs crossed, crossing his hands in his lap. His back was to Keith.
The room was utterly quiet except for the low hum of the laptop. Keith leaned against the counter to watch. Lance sat with his back straight. Keith’s eyes followed the line of his spine down to his gently rounded ass. He could see his back expand with each breath he took. He realized that he was breathing with Lance, keeping rhythm with him on each breath he took. He couldn’t stop, couldn’t look away. Time was meaningless and he had no idea how long he stood there, fixated on Lance and breathing with him.
Then suddenly he felt it. A low sizzle started deep in his belly followed by an odd sensation, like a ripple of feathers in the wind under his skin. It was so quick he couldn’t be sure of exactly what it was. He could feel the low hum of the curse and its cramping need trying to rise, but it was overshadowed by a deep desire to touch Lance. To feel his power as he stripped him bare and laid him on the tile floor, to sink into him deep enough to feel each chakra.
There was a bright flare as the second candle lit, reaching at least four inches in height before it settled to a smaller steady flame. Keith felt sweat break out on his brow and his back. Blood ran hotly through him and gathered in his cock, engorging it to incredible hardness.
Lance had succeeded in opening his fire chakra, but why did Keith feel it? Why was the bloodlust getting lost under a tide of powerful sexual lust? What was happening?
What is Lance doing to me?
I'm not dead! Sorry for the delay everyone. Again we were hacked by my bestie's ex & I lost my access to this story, but guess what? The B**** is FINALLY out of our lives. She went too far & actually got freaking ARRESTED if you believe it!
Keith was restless and edgy. He wanted to fight, wanted to kill. The pulsing lights of the club, the throbbing beat of the music, and the fire flickering in the fire pits suited his deadly mood.
He needed sex to take the edge off. But all he could think of was Lance. It had been strangely hard leaving the house tonight, knowing he was down on the bottom floor. He had felt a pull in his gut to turn back, and every mile he drove felt as though he had run it instead. The skin on his thumb that had touched Lance’s blood burned. Where Lance’s hand had stroked his tattoo felt sensitive and empty, almost as though it craved more. The darker part of him wanted to feel the hot spill of Lance’s blood to cool the burning ache under his skin.
It had to be the curse fucking with his mind. He needed to get laid. He needed to help Lance remove the curse from Acxa so he could send him away.
He also needed to find out who the demon witch was, just in case Lance wasn’t able to remove the curse. Or maybe he could beat the information out of his dad. The idea cheered him slightly.
Matt moved up next to him quietly and offered him a cold beer. “There’s a couple of sets of Galras scouting the place. They’re twitchy as hell, too.”
Keith narrowed his gaze on them. There were two by one of the fire pits, whispering to each other like schoolgirls and glancing around nervously. Another set was at the bar doing the same thing.
Matt took a swallow of his own beer. “Your lion tat made them nervous enough. But now you’ve killed several Galras to protect a witch. They think you’re the enemy.”
Keith snorted in derision. “They’re following orders, they don’t think anything. Left to their own devices, they would just slaughter witches where they found them and leave the mess where it was. Lotor has them organized now. When a witch is murdered the body disappears forever.”
“Their number’s growing, too. More hunters are going Galra and at a faster pace. Your lion tattoo marks you as a leader of Blade Hunters. To them, you’re a real threat. I think we need to figure out exactly why,” Matt said.
Keith turned to look at his friend. “Meaning?”
“Meaning the direct threat to you started when word of your tattoo got out. It means something. Maybe we need to ask the witches. Maybe it’s time we figured out a way to work with them. We would have to avoid direct contact, like Skype or something. Although, you’ve been directly around a witch now and not been affected,” Matt answered, then drained his beer.
Keith took several swallows of his own beer, then huffed out a humorless laugh. “I’m affected every damn second of every damn day.” Lance was in him and he didn’t know if he would ever break free. One touch of his blood, just one touch, and it was as though they had formed a connection of some sort. Needing to change the subject, he nodded towards the Galras and said, “You can bet my dad’s behind this. He has guards at his house, like he’s some sort of fucking king.”
Matt pursed his lips thoughtfully. “He needs you to help him keep his throne. You’re good at planning and good at killing. I bet he thinks using you will show him favor with Lotor. Fat chance of that ever happening though. Lotor is only using him as much as he is using him.”
Keith knew that was the truth. His dad had started trying to turn him Galra when he was fourteen. And when that failed, his dad had seduced his mom in order to try to have another child, but it had been a girl and human. Acxa. Now Richard was back to trying to get Keith to turn and join him in killing witches and eventually ruling the Galras. It would never end. First he had to save Acxa. Then...he didn’t know what. His tattoo warming caught his attention. What was that about? A reminder? Maybe it was just his imagination. Or had Lance done something to him?
He drained his beer and handed the empty bottle to Matt. “Keep an eye on the Galras.” He headed for the dance floor, eyes on a tall guy with dark hair. He needed to get relief, then maybe he could concentrate enough to think. A long-buried memory bubbled up, one of his dad dragging his teenaged self into an abandoned building and seeing that witch tied down, terrified and already bleeding from multiple cuts. He had been horrified, and then shocked when bloodlust blasted through him, making him want dark and terrible things. He would never forget the screams of the witch as his father cut her. Or his father taking his hand and forcing it onto a bleeding wound...
A sharp male voice cut through the memory. He turned and sized up the man standing there. He was mortal, heavy built, confident and tightly muscled. Even in the pulsing lights Keith could see the intensity in his dark eyes. “Yeah?” he asked coolly.
The man’s jaw tightened. “I want to see Lance. He swears he’s fine, but I want to see him, see for myself.”
Keith felt jealous rage swirled around to chomp into his gut. He knew the man was a mortal, so he didn’t want Lance’s blood. Did Lance have a boyfriend? The idea of this man touching Lance had Keith clenching his fists to keep from grabbing his knife and killing the man on the spot. “Who are you?” he spat out harshly.
The man didn’t flinch or back down. “Hunk Garrett. Lance’s best friend.” Hunk spoke matter-of-factly and just loud enough to be heard over the music. That he had found Keith and connected him to Lance meant one thing; Lance had somehow contacted him. What a clever witch you are. Or maybe he had gotten Atlas to do it.
But now this was a problem. Keith had to get rid of Hunk and keep him out of the way. Fixing his eyes on Hunk, he mentally reached through the optic nerves to alter his short-term memory. “Lance went on a business trip. He’ll be back in a few weeks. Neither of you have ever heard of me.”
Hunk glared at him and stepped closer. “Cut the bullshit. I-”
A sudden scream tore through the club. Keith whipped around, knife in his hand, and searched the place. He saw Hunk held a gun in his hand. Not fast enough to be a threat to a hunter, but pretty damn fast for a human. Another scream came from the dance floor. Keith saw that two of the Galras had each grabbed a woman and held them with their blades at their throats. At the fire pit, two more stood with their blades to female throats.
Keith didn’t have to look to know his men were on the move. He was furious that the Galras were using his patrons to make this stand. They always deemed women easy pickings. The music came to a halt and the club was silent except for the sobbing of the terrified women.
A fifth Galra slid out of the dark shadows. Recognition hit Keith like a fist to the gut. Rolo.
Rolo stared at Keith and ordered, “Kill the first one.”
“Nooooooo...” the piercing scream turned into a wet gurgle. Around the club, a few women fainted as the rest of the captive women whimpered in fear.
Rage coursed through Keith. What had happened to the boy who had loved to play the hero? Now he was capable of killing an innocent woman to make a point.
And in his club.
Fuck it. Keith hated that it had come to this, but he wouldn’t let anyone, not his father and not a boyhood friend, murder in cold blood. His body tightened as Rolo strode towards him.
Smug satisfaction rolled off Rolo in waves, making his face ugly. He reveled in the moment, enjoying his perceived power. He stared at Keith for a moment before saying, “I want the wi-”
Before he could finish his sentence, Keith threw his knife, burying the blade deep in the center of Rolo’s heart. Because of their ability to heal quickly, the surest way to kill a hunter was a direct hit to the heart. Before Rolo’s body hit the floor, Keith had already yanked his blade free.
This is what they’d become. He had just killed a man he had once called a friend, one he had once secretly hoped could be more. Hot with rage, he looked around to assess the situation. The other Galras were just as dead as Rolo. Pidge, Matt and Shiro were all cleaning blood off their knives. Matt was kneeling by the woman who had been cut. He looked up at Keith, his brown eyes hard. “Dead.”
Fucking assholes. The woman’s shiny pink top was soaked with blood, her blue eyes staring blankly. She had died as a message to him.
A low rumble started as club patrons started to talk. Everyone had seen it. Keith had to get the situation under control. His men gathered around him, awaiting his orders.
“Pidge, you’re the best at shifting memories. Shift them to think what they saw was a jealous boyfriend cutting her throat. Shiro, talk to the hunters. Get them to cooperate or tell them to piss off. Matt, as soon as Pidge shifts the memories and gets rid of the dead Galras, call the cops.” He didn’t look at Rolo’s body. He had no time for regret or anything else as he dealt with the situation.
“Where do you want them?” Pidge asked.
Keith gave him a mirthless grin. “Dump them in front of my dad’s house.”
Rolo had been his dad’s man, so Richard was probably behind the whole stunt. The Galras could clean up their own mess. And it was a message from him. Don’t fuck with him or his.
“Got it,” Pidge grinned back and set to work.
“What have you done with Lance? Where is he?”
Shit, the human connected to Lance. Keith had forgotten about Hunk. He stood loose but alert, gun in his hand, eyes hard and determined. No sign or any fear, shock or horror. This was no average mortal.
Matt stood behind Hunk. “Bro, what do you want done with him?”
Keith considered his options. “What did Lance tell you?”
Hunk returned his gaze even and steadily. “He thinks he’s a witch.”
Keith nodded once. “He is, and he’s in danger. He’s under my protection and safe where I have him.”
Hunk’s eyes narrowed. ‘I have no reason to believe you. If he’s in danger, I’ll protect him.”
Keith figured he either had to kill Hunk or tell him the truth. “He’ll be dead within an hour if I let him go.” He gestured to the bodies of the dead Galras being dragged out. “They came here to find Lance.”
Hunk holstered his gun, folded his arms and planted his feet. “I don’t leave until I see Lance and talk to him.”
And the problems just kept on coming.
“How’d you do it?”
Lance jerked awake. The old panic engulfed him and his heart rate sped up as though he were running. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean...”
“You did, though,” Keith’s voice penetrated the panicked fog in Lance’s brain.
“Keith?” Lance asked as his mind tried to clear itself. He quickly realized that it wasn’t his grandfather dragging him out of bed for some new perceived evil. Everything came back to him and self-righteous anger drove away his childhood fears. “What are you bellowing about?”
“Who’s bellowing?” Keith asked, lifting one brow sardonically, and then without waiting for an answer continued on. “Your bestie came to the club tonight.”
“My bestie? Hunk? What club are you talking about?” Despite having caught up on the where and who, Lance was still trying to orient himself. He had only been asleep for a short time, having worked deep into the night to open all four of his lower chakras. He had succeeded, but control was another matter entirely. He had set off the fire alarm twice, accidentally spawned a mini tornado in his room, and melted some crystals trying to move them.
When Keith’s words finally sunk in, Lance threw back the covers and jumped out of the bed. “Hunk? He’s here?”
Keith grabbed his arm. “No, not here. At my club. How did you contact him?”
Lance studied Keith for a moment. He actually looked tired. His hair was messy and damp with sweat. There were dark shadows under his eyes. His hold on his arm was gentle even though his face was stern. “I used my powers to send him an email.”
Keith sighed. “You’re going to get him killed.”
Lance stiffened and his eyes hardened into a crystal glare.
“What did you do to him?” he said in a low, deadly tone. His first chakra opened with a swooping sensation, followed by the second in such quick succession that he was nearly dizzy with it. The lights flickered on and off while drawers shook, causing the things inside them to clatter noisily.
Keith glanced around quickly and looked back at Lance.
“Witch karma,” he warned.
“I could give a fuck about that shit!” Lance snarled. “If you killed Hunk-”
Keith cut him off. “He’s fine. I didn’t touch him. But he was at the club when some Galras showed up looking for you and decided to take hostages. They wanted me to trade you for the four women whose throats they were holding their knives to.”
Lance felt the room tilt and spin. His powers ran up and down his spine like an electric current. He remembered the terror of facing the two Galras at the shop, remembered the hot stinging flash of the sharp knife cutting into his skin while one whispered about wanting his blood. He was exhausted and his normally calm and rational mind jumped to wild conclusions. Fury washed over him in a hot tide and he tried to snatch his arm out of Keith’s grasp. “You’re giving me over to the Galras? You dragged me out of bed to give me up?”
Keith let go of his arm. “You know better than that. We killed the Galras. But you have to tell your friend to back off. If the Galras figure out who he is and what he means to you, do you have any clue what they’ll do to him? Just to get to you?”
Lance felt his anger begin to deflate slightly. If Keith was telling the truth, Hunk could get killed. “What club are you talking about?”
“Voltron,” said Keith. “It’s my nightclub; mostly hunters hang out there.” Keith walked over to his workstation and grabbed the laptop. “Open it,” he demanded as he handed it to Lance.
Lance swallowed back a sarcastic retort and did as he was told. He sat down and powered it on. Only seconds later, a video feed of a nightclub began to play. The place seemed dark and hellish–not the kind of place Lance would want to have anything to do with. The screen was split with one side showing Keith and Hunk talking on one side while the other showed two men, obviously Galras, each grab a woman and hold knives to their throats. Lance watched, horrified, as a man in a trench coat strode forward out of the shadows and gave the order to kill. He felt sick as one of the Galras pulled his blade across his hostage’s throat and her blood gushed out thick and red onto the dance floor.
Lance slapped a hand over his mouth. “You let them kill her!” he accused Keith.
“Keep watching,” Keith answered in a rough growl.
Lance didn’t want to. Who were these monsters? His eyes involuntarily returned to the screen as the man in the trench coat said, “I want the wi-”
He never finished the sentence. Keith threw his knife in a movement so fast Lance could barely see it. The man crumpled as death took him. Lance looked up at Keith. “You killed him?”
“Yes,” Keith replied.
Lance rubbed his arms as gooseflesh rose up to prickle his skin. He watched the rest of the scene play out, including Hunk leaving unharmed. His worry for his bestie satisfied, he allowed himself to think of Keith’s face when he killed the man in the coat. It had been hard and determined, yet there had been a flicker of something that resembled regret.
“Did you know him?”
“Yes.” Lance could hear the pained grief Keith was trying to repress. “Who was he?” he asked as he looked up, feeling a little as though he was drowning in the purple hue of Keith’s eyes.
Keith clenched his fists. “We were best friends when we were kids. Now I killed him. To protect you.”
Lance could feel the turmoil in Keith. He had hated what he had to do, but he’d done it. And he was still dealing with his own craving for witch blood. For his blood. “Why are they harassing you?”
“Their goal is to wipe out witches completely. Lotor will do what it takes to achieve it. They know I’m protecting you, and they want us both dead.” Keith swallowed heavily. “We’re running out of time.”
Lance felt his shoulders slump slightly. He’d been trying so hard! “It’s only been three days.”
“We’ve got five days to spell the curse off Acxa before the waxing gibbous moon. Once that moon passes, the only hope she has is killing the demon witch before the full moon. Already she’s tired, whiny, and feverish.” Keith turned and walked to the door, then turned back. “I don’t need Hunk getting in my way, Lance.”
Lance could feel the tension in Keith winding tighter. When he’d first been awakened, his instinctual fear had caused him to miss how close to the edge Keith was. But he could see it now. Was killing his friend the last straw? Would he give in to the curse and kill him? “I’m trying, really I am! But five days isn’t much time! I’m doing the best I can and learning as fast as I can, I swear.” His mind was racing. How can I help Acxa in five days?
Keith reached behind him. His knife holster was back there. Adrenaline exploded inside Lance as the voices in his head screamed one word; Run!
Lance jumped up from the bed, ignoring the crash of the laptop to the floor and racing for the open door. His head replayed the video he had watched of the woman’s throat getting cut. He has to get away from Keith and his knife. His powers crackled, but he was afraid of hurting himself with witch karma and making it easier for Keith to get him. The door was only another step away.
Suddenly, he slammed hard into a rock solid chest. Bouncing back from the impact, he nearly fell, but two hands grabbed his arms and kept him on his feet. He could feel someone touching him, but no one was there.
Keith suddenly materialized in front of him.
“Stop. Fucking hell to all, stop!” Keith yelled. He was panting and his entire body was vibrating as though he couldn’t hold all the force bubbling up inside him.
“Let me go!” Lance demanded. He was not about to stand there meekly while Keith killed him. His powers rushed out in a whoosh, exploding the lights in the hallway.
Keith reacted in a blur, grabbing Lance and easing him against the wall before slamming his body up behind him. Lance barely registered the wall cold against him as his senses filled with the warmth of Keith pressed against him to protect him. Shock rippled through him as he had the sense of powerful wings wrapping around him as though his lion was protecting him, as well as the man.
But that was crazy, this time Keith was the threat. “I swear to you, I won’t let you kill me without hurting you, too,” Lance vowed. As far as threats went, it was a rather ridiculous one. Keith had him immobile against the wall. And anything he did to Keith would hurt him three times worse.
“Won’t...hurt...you,” Keith panted out, each word taking tremendous effort.
Lance shivered, feeling Keith’s hot breath against his skin. “You were reaching for your knife!”
“No. Cell phone.” Keith’s voice was raspy.
“What?” Lance was confused. And damn it, he couldn’t move. Keith had him pinned completely. He could see one of Keith’s hands against the wall, fingers curled in and turning the knuckles white.
“Cell phone. For you,” Keith gritted out, and then groaned as if in pain. He pressed his entire body against Lance. The heat of his body reached for Lance and surrounded him. Lance could feel Keith’s thick erection pressed against him. The sensation of Keith’s earlier agitation was replaced with something else, something intimate and sensual.
“You’re giving me a cell phone?” Lance asked, trying to think straight. He wondered if he was crazy or if his mind had finally snapped under all the stress he had been enduring the last few days.
“Yes,” Keith whispered.
Lance was reeling. “I need you to move back and give me some space,” he managed to croak, mind numbed by the proximity and sensual press of Keith’s hard body.
Once Keith had backed away, giving him space for his mind to clear, Lance turned in the small space to face him and saw the iPhone in Keith’s hand. He hadn’t been lying.
“What the hell was that?” Lance exclaimed, anger pushing through his unbidden arousal.
Keith was still breathing hard. “You ran from me. I told you, running brings out the predator.” He held out the phone. “I told Hunk I’d have you call him. Let him know you’re safe. You can talk all you want, but tell him to ease up and stay out of the way.”
Lance took the phone, his fingers brushing Keith’s. Was he safe? Why had he imagined his lion around him?
“I thought you were going for your knife,” he said, wrapping his arms around himself and hating the uncertainty and tension that left him confused and frustrated.
“When I catch your smell, the scent of your power, I burn for your blood. But then I touch you and it becomes something else altogether... a burning need to protect you. You used your powers to blow those lights. Don’t you get it? You’d have been cut three times worse than anything I might have gotten, I can’t let you get hurt like that,” Keith said as he continued to breathe in heavy rasps.
Lance lifted his chin defiantly. “I will always fight back.”
Keith pinned him with his eyes. “I’ve fought this curse since I was fifteen, Lance. I live by self control every day. I won’t slip that easily, won’t cut you. But when you run, my hunter instincts react and I’m on you before I can even think.”
Lance ran his eyes over Keith, down the muscled chest and flat stomach to where his erection strained against the fabric of his jeans. That reaction was about sex, not his blood. He jerked his head to the side, feeling confused as his face flushed hot.
“Look at me,” Keith said as he caught Lance’s arm.
Chiding himself to have courage, Lance raised his eyes to Keith’s. “What?”
Keith’s other hand reached out to caress Lance’s face lightly. “I can smell your desire.”
Lance’s heart gave a hard thump in his chest. “You can not.”
Keith’s voice dropped, deeper and sexy. “Baby, your scent tells me everything about you. What shampoo you use, lotion and moisturizer, fabric softener on your clothes. What I can’t get the scent of is any sign of sex on you in a long time. Just need.”
Lance tightened his grip on the phone before tossing it on the rumpled bed. “Stop it,” he hissed.
Keith pulled him closer. “Stop what?”
Lance jerked himself out of Keith’s hold. “It was bad enough with mortal men. They didn’t know what I was, but during sex they sensed something, or maybe they felt something. I don’t know, but it scared them. It made me feel like a freak. That was bad enough. But it would be worse with you. You know what I am and you...” he trailed off and turned away.
“I what?” Keith prompted softly.
Lance whirled around to glare at him. “You hate what I am...and I would feel it. Emotions that release when a man comes-” He broke off and closed his eyes at the sheer weight of it. He didn’t want to feel that. Not from Keith. “I’d feel it,” he whispered.
He would not let himself open sexually to a man who hated what he was, hated that his blood and power could forever ruin him. Every time he had tried for a relationship, then felt the rejection after sex, a small part of him had died off. Hope; the hope that someone out there would love him and accept him for who he was. He couldn’t risk it. It would destroy him.
Keith’s face softened and for a brief moment Lance was positive he saw the flutter of wings in his violet eyes. “I don’t hate you, Lance. I don’t hate what you are.”
Lance frowned at Keith, unsure how to take this sudden change. “You do,” he stated emphatically.
Yet Keith’s warmth was drawing him closer –closer to something he couldn’t put a name to but wanted so very badly. It felt like something that, if he could just grasp it, he could somehow feel whole. He respected Keith’s fight against the curse and his love for his family, but he didn’t want to feel this. It scared the hell out of him.
Keith shook his head, keeping his eyes on Lance’s.
“Not you. Never you,” he said. “I hate the curse inside of me. And I hate those fucking cowards that hurt you. Do you know why they ran scared away from you?”
“Because they somehow sensed the witch in me,” Lance whispered his voice cracking. His grandfather had always said he was evil, that he brought bad things, like his dad’s heart troubles.
“They sensed your power. They know at some instinctive level that you are so much more powerful than them. Witches have always scared mortal men,” Keith said with a scoff.
He had Lance’s attention. “But not you?” Lance asked.
Keith’s mouth tilted at the corner in a small half smile. “I’m not afraid of you. I’m afraid of losing control of the curse that’s in me, but I’m not scared of you. I look at you and right now I see your witch shimmer making your skin glisten blue with sparks of red throughout. It doesn’t frighten me; it makes me want to touch you all the way down to the very depths of your powers. The power in you makes me want to see what you are truly capable of…what you could do when your inhibitions are released and you just let yourself feel.”
Lance’s eyes widened slightly. Was that true? What if sex with Keith was different? What if he didn’t find it abnormal or wrongfully strange to want wild, passionate sex with nothing held back? To need him so deeply in so many ways that he was overwhelmed?
Keith ran his hands lightly up and down Lance’s arms, his light touch raising gooseflesh. “It’s no different for me,” he confessed, “when I have sex with mortal men I have to hold back. I have to hide what I am.”
Lance felt the sheer truth in what Keith was saying. Keith’s emotional weight was even heavier than his own. The hot touch of Keith’s hands on his skin made it more bearable, made him feel strong and surer. The scent of campfire rushed through his senses and his heart thudded in his chest, making him breathless. Desire raced through him like wildfire, heating his skin and pooling low in his groin and making his cock start to harden. “Keith...”
Keith nuzzled lightly at his ear. “Your scent is incredible, tantalizing. Makes my mouth fucking water. God, I want to taste you.”
Lance closed his eyes as nearly unbearable pleasure rippled through him at Keith’s words and hot touch at his ear. Raw need rose to overshadow the weakening whisper of good sense. He could feel his chakras opening, not to draw the power of the earth, but to draw Keith into him somehow, as though he were somehow an essential part of him. Keith had him pressed up against the wall, surrounding him with his body, muscles tight with control. He turned his head to look into the glittering violet of Keith’s eyes. “Keith,” he gasped.
“Taste you,” Keith growled as he skimmed his mouth along Lance’s neck to his collarbone before capturing his mouth hungrily.
Lance couldn’t stop him. Nor did he want to. He turned into the kiss and returned it, hot and desperate.
Keith wrapped an arm around Lance to pull him away from the wall and closer to him. He put his hands on his waist possessively before sliding them down to cup his ass, his fingers digging into the firm flesh when Lance ground against him, wanting more. Keith encouraged Lance with his lips to open his mouth. His tongue slid in and Lance could taste him; pure Keith, hot and strong. Lance’s heart pounded and every part of his body that touched Keith’s burned, every part that didn’t touch him ached.
“Lance? Are you there?” called out a digitalized voice.
Keith jerked as though ice water had been thrown on him, quickly letting go of Lance. “I’ll kill that fucking cockblock. I swear to God, I will find out who Atlas is. I’ll find him and I’ll kill him,” he snarled in frustration. “Hang on. I’ll just close the laptop.”
Lance instantly missed the contact, missed the heat and the feel of Keith’s possessive hands holding him against his hard cock. But common sense stepped in finally, and Lance stopped him. “Wait, Keith. Let me talk to him. We only have a few days.”
Keith closed his eyes as he inhaled deeply. He nodded and stepped aside to let Lance by.
Lance crossed over to the bed and picked up the laptop from where it had crashed to the floor. The Atlas avatar looked back at him. Was he imagining it, or was there disapproval in his eyes? Did he know he and Keith had been making out?
“Are you okay, Lance?” Atlas asked.
“I’m fine. But we’re running out of time. Just a few days until the moon goes to waxing gibbous stage,” Lance answered him.
Atlas nodded. “Yes. I know.”
“What’s the difference between a demon witch and an elemental witch?” asked Lance, having had time to think on things and form questions.
“Well, all witches are born elemental witches. Our history shows that some witches discovered how to summon demons,” Atlas answered.
Lance frowned slightly. “Why would they want to do that?”
“The biggest reason is power. But they also figured out it gave them the ability to bypass witch karma. A demon’s powers don’t have witch karma attached to them. A few witches experimented with summoning demons and negotiating with them for harmful powers. Each time a witch summons a demon, witch karma is bypassed, but her soul gets marked. The more curses a witch uses, the more of her soul is marked, until eventually the demon owns the witch’s soul and she is a demon witch,” explained Atlas.
“Demons want witch souls? But what for?” Lance asked.
Atlas’s lips tightened. “Elemental witches have the power to banish demons. Or, at least, we did. Since the curse, it’s difficult and more dangerous to do it.”
“So, that’s the curse on hunters and witches, then. Getting us out of the way so demons have access to earth,” Lance surmised.
Atlas nodded again. “Yes. The demon witches who brought it on were doing what their demons wanted. They captured the hunters and managed to get one to renounce The Blade, which set up the loophole for the witches to cast the curse.”
Lance looked up at Keith. He had moved to stand nearby, close enough that he could feel the heat of his body. His violet eyes sparked with anger as he said, “Hunters knew the risk. We were given immortality and strength, a high tolerance to pain and a fast healing ability. In exchange, we were to serve The Blade and never renounce Him. Two hunters endured horrific torture but refused to renounce The Blade, and the demon finally killed them. But the third one did; renounced Him. The fucking coward.”
Atlas got Lance’s attention back, saying, “Do you understand now how dangerous demon witches are? The one that cursed Acxa is going to come after you. She will know when you undo her curse and will come after you.”
Lance didn’t look up, didn’t want Keith to see his fear of the demon witch. “I can’t worry about that right now,” he said. He knew now who he was and what his purpose was, and he wasn’t going to walk away from it.
Atlas practically seethed with fury. “Do you think Keith’s going to protect you? If, and I promise you it’s a very big if, you can heal his sister, he’s going to toss you out. He won’t hunt down and kill the witch to save his own sister’s life, why would your life be worth it?”
Lance swallowed hard and looked up at Keith, meeting his fiercely determined eyes. It was the truth. He was only there to heal Acxa. He was a threat to Keith, a threat to his soul.
“Don’t listen to him. I’ll figure something out,” Keith bit out harshly as he glared at the computer.
“Like what? Locking me away somewhere for the rest of my life?” Lance asked hollowly. He couldn’t listen to empty words. And he wouldn’t spend the rest of his life, however long it might be, shut away. He stared at Atlas. “First I heal Acxa. Then I’ll concentrate on surviving. We need to keep working.” He purposefully shut Keith out. He had to do it. He couldn’t be seduced into believing Keith really cared for him when he was only there because of Acxa.
“Lance, I’ll find a place for you,” Keith said, his voice harsh.
Lance nodded, but he didn’t look up at Keith again. “Fine. Go do that, then. I need to be working now.” He kept staring at the floor until he finally heard Keith’s footsteps retreating to signal his departure.
Adam sighed. “I’m afraid for you if you trust him. You know that, don’t you?”
Lance still didn’t look up. “Yeah.”
There was a long pause then Adam sighed again. “Will you be okay? I have some work to take care of. I’ll also talk to some other witches and see what I can find out about communicating with the Alteans. I’ll check in on you later.”
Lance nodded, and after a brief hesitation, Adam vanished.
Lance was alone. Again.
“I talked to some of the witches.”
Lance jumped and lost control of the books he was levitating in Keith’s office, causing them to fall to the floor with a thump. “Jesus, Ad-” Lance shut his mouth with a snap. Even though there wasn’t anyone on the screen and no one on the lower floor with him, that didn’t mean no one was listening. The big screen flickered and Atlas appeared on it. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!” Lance snapped. He was tired and edgy, his body ached, and he was about over being banished to the basement. Even being able to talk and text with Hunk hadn’t lessened his irritability.
Atlas ignored Lance’s mood.
“They all agree that it’s quite possible that the Alteans are trying to reach you.”
The murmur in Lance’s head rippled agreeably and he felt a sense of excitement bubble up in him. All his life he had been trying to belong somewhere, somehow, and it looked like he was finally going to.
“You mean they’ll let me on the witch loops?”
“It’s actually called a Circle, Lance,” corrected Atlas. “Elemental witches circle to strengthen each other where we can. And they won’t let you on yet, not while you’re living and working with a witch hunter.”
Lance fought back a wave of disappointment. He focused on one of the books on the floor and summoned power through his chakras, trying to lift it back onto the bookshelf. The book shot across the room, scattering papers on Keith’s desk and slamming into the wall. Lance winced when he saw the sizable dent in the wall and hoped that maybe Keith wouldn’t notice.
“You lost control,” observed Atlas. “Control takes mind, body and chakra connection. You can’t let your emotions break your connection. That’s how Galras control us. Enough cuts break our connection to our powers and cause our chakras to close down.”
Lance was in no mood for a lecture. “Blow me,” he snarled, glaring at the screen.
Atlas sighed heavily. “Lance, I’m sorry. It’s unfair that the Circle won’t let you in, but they are cautious for a good reason. You’re living with a witch hunter-”
“Do I really have to remind you that I’m a prisoner in his freaking basement?” Lance spat in frustration. No matter what Keith said about not being afraid of him, he was. Lance could feel it. And it was worse because every time Keith touched him, he felt lion wings–the wings that had always come to him in comfort when he was a child rejected him now.
Atlas’s voice sharpened. “Then don’t be a prisoner. Quit feeling sorry for yourself and use your powers.”
Lance felt a niggling sense of shame. He was taking his frustrations out on the one person who was trying to help him.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for being a bitch to you just now.” He took a deep breath and concentrated on the book that had flown across the room. It lifted off the floor and moved back to its place on the shelf. The other books soon followed it.
“He’s getting to you,” Atlas said.
“It’s the lion,” Lance said, not bothering to deny it. “I feel a connection to Keith’s lion tattoo. Maybe I’m just crazy. Not a witch, just certifiably nuts.”
Atlas was quiet for a moment. “I think I’d be crazy, too, if I were locked away from the earth elements. We need to be outside to feel the wind, the sun and the moon. It feeds our souls.”
“Outside,” Lance whispered. “You’re right. I need to find a way to get outside.” He sighed, then looked at the screen again. “So what else did the Circle say?”
“Two things. First, you should try to call a familiar. See what happens,” Atlas said.
Lance stared at the screen. “Wait, what? How exactly am I supposed to do that?”
“It’s not a formal ceremony. You go outside at night, under the moonlight, and ask the Alteans to send you a familiar,” Atlas explained.
“I can’t just pick an animal? Like a cat?” Lance asked.
“No, there’s a little more to it than that,” Atlas said with a small laugh. “I mean, it could be a cat, but you don’t know. The animal has to agree, and it will come to you. Then you take something silver and imprint its likeness on that silver, and you’ll wear that silver close to or on your body. That symbolizes a soul bond.”
“I think I know what I can use,” Lance said, reaching up to touch the silver lion’s head at his throat. He should be able to imprint something there.
“You have to open your fifth chakra to do it,” Atlas continued. “That’s where the magic to bond with your familiar comes from. The moon will help you, if it can be done.”
Lance felt his hope dim. “No witch has successfully called a familiar since the curse?”
Atlas’s face fell slightly. “No. Not that we are aware of. Many have tried, but they’ve all failed.”
“What about you? Have you tried?” Lance asked him.
“I tried once.” Atlas’s voice was introspective. “A long time ago. I can open my fifth chakra.”
Lance nodded and didn’t ask anything more about his attempt to call his familiar. “And the second thing?” he reminded him.
“In order to do the spell, you’ll need your witch book,” Atlas said.
Lance stared at the screen wordlessly for a moment. “I don’t have a witch book.”
Atlas’s face turned sympathetic. “It’s usually passed down from our mothers. You’re adopted, so that’s a problem.”
Lance ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “What am I going to do? I mean, Papi registered me with a parent search agency before he died, but I don’t have that kind of time!”
Atlas shook his head, then smiled mysteriously. “I think you probably have your witch book. Your mother would have known you’d need it one day. She would have left it with you when she gave you up for adoption. I know she did.”
Lance was confused. What was Atlas trying to tell him? What did he know that he didn’t? Something his mother had left him, something...
“Oh!” he gasped. Of course. Adam had seen it hundreds of times.
“We have to go to my apartment.”
Keith jumped out of bed on full alert, startled out of sleep. Lance stood in the doorway of his room.
“What are you doing up here?” he asked incredulously.
Lance put his hands on his hips. “I’m through being held prisoner in the basement. That isn’t the point here. The point is we got to go now.”
Keith ran a hand through his long hair. “No, that is the point. I had the door to the bottom floor locked.” He looked at the clock. He had slept two, maybe three hours at the most. He had gotten home late, and then had that conversation with Lance that ended on such a high note. After that, he’d spent a few hours trying to find a safe place for Lance and looking for demon witches. Lance’s voice cut into his scattered thoughts and got his attention.
“I unlocked them,” Lance said.
Keith watched as Lance’s silver witch shimmer brightened with pride. That brought him fully out of the sleep fog. “Shit, Lance, you can’t startle me awake like that. What if I’d smelled the power in your blood and lost control before I was fully awake?”
Lance waved a hand in dismissal. “Stop arguing with me. There’s something at my apartment that I need to get.”
Keith rubbed a tired hand over his face and stifled a groan. Obviously he wasn’t going back to sleep.
“Fine. Tell me what you need and I’ll go get it.”
“I’m going with you,” Lance said. He ran his eyes down the length of Keith’s body and added, “Put some clothes on.”
Keith had slept in his boxers. “You’re the one barging into my room, babe,” he said, smirking as he strode across his room to his dresser. He yanked out a pair of jeans and started pulling them on. “What is it you need from your apartment?”
“I need the tapestry my biological mother left with me when she gave me up. I think it’s her witch book,” Lance explained, trying not to stare.
Keith pulled a t-shirt over his head and turned back to Lance. “What’s a witch book?”
Lance quickly tore his fascinated gaze from Keith’s stomach. “Spells passed down from generations of witches.”
Keith was tugging on his heavy boots. “Okay. The one over the fireplace, right?” he asked, remembering seeing it when he went over there to get Lance’s things. Lance narrowed his eyes.
“I’m going with you, Keith.”
Keith stood up and stared hard back at Lance. “No, you’re not. It’s too dangerous. I’ve already killed Galras that were after you and killed a man who was once my best friend to keep you safe. There’s no way in hell I jeopardize your safety now.”
Lance crossed his arms. “I’m going and that’s final.”
Keith didn’t say anything. He wasn’t going to waste time arguing. He strapped on his knife holster and reached for his knife. The scent of Lance was in the air, ocean salt mixed with the dark underlying spice of his power.
The knife slid across the nightstand and onto the rumpled bed.
The spicy scent of Lance’s power grew stronger, more enticing. Keith felt the blood rushing hot under his skin. “Knock it off,” he warned as he reached for the knife again. The knife responded by sliding towards the bottom of the bed.
The witch was toying with him. Keith knew he could grab the knife and be on Lance before he could even think of his next move. But that didn’t scare Lance. Not his witch. Struggling between amusement and keeping the curse under control, Keith gave Lance a look.
“Stop screwing around.”
Lance raised an eyebrow at him then moved his gaze to the knife. He held out his hand and the knife flew up from the bed and across the room to land in it. “Looking for this?” he asked casually, twirling it easily in his hand.
Keith’s stomach clenched. If Lance hadn’t been accurate, that knife could have sliced through him. “You’re getting better with your powers.”
Lance’s pink lips parted into a wide smile.
Even with the curse chomping on his guts, Keith was struck by just how beautiful Lance was when he smiled like that–confident and glowing with power.
“You want your knife, you take me with you,” Lance insisted.
Keith knew he needed to leave the room, needed to get some distance from the sweet scent and the call of Lance’s power-laced blood. He told himself to walk out. Instead, he walked to Lance and reached out to touch his face. The feel of his soft, warm skin raced through his fingertips and blazed a trail of fire to his groin while cooling the burn of the curse.
“I won’t chance taking you,” he stated emphatically. “The Galras know where you live and they’ll be watching. I can slip by them and get the tapestry. But I won’t risk you, won’t let them get to you.”
Lance’s face fell and his joy dimmed. “It was worth a shot, I guess.”
Keith moved his hand away from Lance’s face and with a swift move, took the knife from him before he could react. “Hey!” Lance protested.
Keith grinned in response. “I could’ve gotten it at any time. But you were having such a good time ‘tormenting’ me. What a nice bonding moment.”
Even if it ignited the curse and was physically painful, he found Lance’s exhilaration in his newfound powers intoxicating.
We have no excuse. With the whole shabang going on last month, we lost our copies of EVERYTHING for this story. Life has been hard the past couple of weeks for us. But alas, we are BACK! And on an even better note, this story is pretty much written out. We are tweaking it more before we post the newer chapters, but look forward to about 50k+ more of this story :)
Keith wasn’t surprised to find Hunk Garrett waiting for him at Lance’s apartment. He had tried to follow him home last night, and Keith had finally had to get Matt and Pidge to run interference and cut him off. The man obviously had some skills, and Keith recognized a deep protectiveness of Lance in him. Like a brother. It was similar to how Keith felt for Shiro.
Lance had probably called Hunk and told him Keith would be at the apartment to get the tapestry. So, while Keith wasn’t surprised to see him there, he was surprised by the woman with him. A heavyset woman sat huddled on the couch, wrapped in a too large flannel shirt and nervously wringing her clasped hands together in her lap as she waited by Hunk’s side.
Keith heard a distinct groan from the lioness with a large paw on the silver box in the tapestry. He glanced quickly at the picture and, for the first time, noticed that the color of the lioness was a beautiful blue, almost identical to the color of Lance’s eyes. The threads shimmered with magic. How had he managed to miss that when he was here before? Neither Hunk nor the woman seemed to notice the noise, and for now, Keith ignored it. Closing the door behind him, he looked towards Hunk. “Lance told you I’d be here?”
Hunk nodded his head once, standing alert in the living room. “Yeah. Shay’s sick.”
Keith’s violet eyes swung to the blonde on the couch.
“Shay?” He could smell the sour mix of fear and illness coming from her.
To his surprise, she stood up. “I’m Shay Balmeran. Balmeran-Crystals, if we’re being technical. I need to know if my husband-” she broke off with a wince but gritted her teeth and closed her eyes. “If my husband is one of you,” she ground out after she struggled a few moments to get her thoughts in order.
Keith figured the shirt she wore was one of Hunk’s and not her husband’s. He looked steadily at her. What had Lance told them? “What is it you think I am?” he asked her.
Hunk moved to stand beside her protectively. “Listen man, she can’t say it. Something’s wrong with her, but whenever she tries to remember, she gets these wicked headaches and nausea. It’s like…something is blocking everything she thought she knew.”
Keith frowned. It sounded like a witch hunter had been shifting and manipulating her memories repeatedly. He moved towards the couch to study her. She was pale, too pale for her darker complexion, with dark circles under her eyes that testified to her state of exhaustion and worry. He stopped when her eyes widened and she took a step towards Hunk. He recognized the deep fear in her dark eyes. He had seen the signs before; confusion, desperation, paranoia, almost like an addict. But it wasn’t drugs. She was the victim of a Galra screwing with her head. Many women who had been mistreated like this committed suicide to escape the damage. But Shay was fighting back, harder than anyone Keith had ever seen before. He could tell she was a fighter.
“Shay, do you want to know?” he asked her gently, not wanting to frighten her more but knowing she wanted answers just like the rest of them.
Shay wrapped Hunk’s shirt around her more tightly, clearly taking comfort in it. “Yes,” she whispered. “I have to know. What do I need to do?”
Keith kept his voice gentle. “I’m going to come closer to you, and you’re going to look me in the eyes. I swear I won’t hurt you.”
To his surprise, Shay sucked in a harsh breath and took a step towards him instead. He stood still and let her come to him. Her courage was evident with each step she forced herself to take. Keith came to the unwelcome realization that it wasn’t just the witches suffering from the actions of the Galras. Mortals were being affected as well. He had tried for years not to get involved in any way, and while he and his men were knocking around his club and screwing mortals, people like Shay suffered. Shay had come to stand about a foot away from him.
She raised her gaze to his, her eyes fearful yet determined, and said, “Do it.”
Keith looked into her eyes and traced her optic nerves to her short-term memory. His stomach turned in disgust when he found scarring from repeated invasions by a hunter, an unskilled one at that. He could smell the lingering copper scent of a Galra left on her. Judging from the damage he found in her brain, he said, “He cut you. Often and repeatedly throughout your relationship.” It was a brutal way to fuck with someone’s mind. It created a pain-memory reaction, and every time Shay tried to remember what the Galra didn’t want her to, the pain he inflicted on her would flash through her mind.
Shay’s complexion lost all pretense of color as the blood drained from her face. “No,” she whispered as she backed away.
Keith felt rage simmering hot inside of him. This woman was broken because of a Galra hunter. He couldn’t even try to help her by softening the memories because of the extent of the damage. He looked over at Hunk. “I need to see the cuts.”
Hunk quickly moved to Shay’s side and put his hands on her shoulders protectively. He lowered his forehead to touch hers. “I’m here. I won’t let him hurt you, you know that, right? But we want to know. You need to know. Okay?”
After a long hesitation, Shay nodded and exhaled a shaky breath.
Hunk let go of her shoulders and eased his shirt off her thin shoulders. “The cuts are on her breasts and stomach. She thought she had inflicted them herself.”
Keith nodded. “Show me her stomach.”
He knew that if he did this, if he touched those cuts and felt the heat of a hunter blade that he would have to start making choices. He had only been trying to keep his soul and protect his mom and sister, something that was working out really shitty at the moment. Yet this woman was fighting to be strong despite serious damage that would destroy most mortals. Her courage was greater than his, and that shamed him.
Hunk gently took the edge of Shay’s shirt and raised it. Keith saw a flash of shock on his face that melted away to white hot fury when he saw the white scars striping the darker flesh of her belly. He focused on the straight cuts and moved slowly towards her.
“Shay, talk to me. Tell me something pleasant, anything,” he encouraged her, needing to provide a distraction.
Hunk jumped in. “Tell him about how cute you were in your cheerleader outfit back in high school.”
Shay swallowed twice before she spoke in a low voice, “Hunk was the quarterback. All the girls loved him. He was a big flirt. But he was so cute with his brown eyes and his smile. When I was younger, I was a lot thinner, but as the years went by you can see that isn’t the case. Not to I’m ashamed of my body! After I married my husband, I didn’t pay much attention to what I was gaining until it was too late. I’ve worked hard though, and I’m now somewhere comfortable with the way I look.”
While she talked, Keith reached out and laid his hand on the healed cuts on her stomach. When she flinched, Hunk put a hand on her shoulder. “You used to walk by me in the halls everyday in that short little cheer skirt. God, I wanted you. But you wouldn’t have me.”
“I was playing hard to get,” Shay said, her voice tight with tension. “Of course if you would have asked Lance outright he would have told you that. You were just too chicken to ask him.”
Keith could feel the distinctive heat of a hunter blade in the cuts. She had definitely been tortured. He ran a gentle hand over the slight curve of her belly thoughtfully and frowned.
Hunk smoothed her shirt back down when Keith removed his hand. “Lance always said I could keep chasing you. He tried telling me that you were playing hard to get,” he said softly.
Shay looked up at him, her eyes suspiciously bright. “He did? Even when I wasn’t there for him like I should have been?”
Keith stood up straight, feeling something fiercely protective ripple through him. “What do you mean?”
Shay’s eyes flickered towards him nervously. “Lance had it kind of rough in high school. People calling him cursed and whispering that he was a freak, and bisexual at that. We were friends, but I was the head cheerleader, you know? Back then, social position was everything. I was on top of the heap, but it could have been pulled out from under me like that, and there were others just waiting for it to happen so they could take my place. There were times that I could have stood up for him that I didn’t,” she said softly. “I just wish I had been there for him more…”
Keith’s chest ached thinking of Lance trying so hard to fit in, wanting to be accepted.
Hunk put his arm around Shay’s shoulders and said, “Tell us what you found when you touched her cuts.”
Keith looked directly at Shay. “You aren’t crazy, and you didn’t cut yourself. Your memory has been tampered with using a brutal method of cutting you repeatedly and simultaneously forcing commands into your brain so that every time you try to remember certain things, you feel extreme pain.”
“You mean like hypnosis?” Shay asked faintly. She looked as though only Hunk’s supporting arm was holding her up, and he led her to the couch to sit down.
Keith inclined his head. “Similar, but this is more powerful. Any hunter can alter memories. We literally travel your optic nerve to short term memory and superimpose a new memory over the old one. It may leave the person feeling disoriented and frustrated, but if only done once or twice, it’s pretty harmless.”
“And if it’s done over and over?” she whispered brokenly.
Keith sighed. “It can cause permanent brain damage,” he answered reluctantly.
Shay’s eyes again sparkled with unshed tears. “But why? Why would someone do something so horrible?”
“Most likely for control. You said you’re married?” Keith asked.
“I am. Or at least I was. I ran away. But I can’t remember...” her voice trailed off as her eyes closed tightly against the pain.
Keith had his answer. “Don’t try, you won’t be able to. You need to find a witch who can help you. A mortal doctor can’t fix this.”
“Maybe Lance can help her,” suggested Hunk.
“Lance’s just learning to use and control his powers. Something like this would take someone with much more experience with brain damage,” Keith said.
Hunk’s frustration burst out of him. “And where exactly do we find something like that? Not like we can just open the fucking yellow pages or look it up on Wikipedia or something.”
Keith walked over to the fireplace and reached for the tapestry.
“Lance is in contact with a witch that’s helping him, maybe he can...fuck!”
The lioness on the tapestry roared and spit as it dug its claws across the back of his hand. Keith snatched his hand back and looked at it in disbelief as blood welled up from the scratches.
Shay scrambled to a kneeling position on the couch. “What just...did that thing just move?” she shrieked.
Keith glared at the creature. The lioness glared right back and hissed again, its tail twitching menacingly.
“What the actual fuck?” Hunk demanded.
“It’s Lance’s from his birth mother. All her spells and witchcraft are stored in this tapestry. Lance needs it, so that’s why I’m here, to get it for him,” Keith answered.
Hunk stared at the tapestry in wonder. “It’s never done anything like that before.”
“His mom must have spelled it to protect it from hun-” Keith broke off, remembering Shay. “From people like me.”
He studied the tapestry. If he grabbed it by the frame, maybe the lioness couldn’t reach him. He grabbed the corners, and the lioness went ballistic, spitting and scratching in a frenzy.
Keith stepped back and looked at the rips clawed in his shirt. Blood was starting to well up and stain the tattered cloth. “I’m gonna fucking kill it,” he growled, glaring at the lioness.
The lioness growled deep in its throat. The threads along its neck and back stood up and its tail was fluffed to twice its size.
Hunk studied the tapestry. “Lance needs this?”
“Yes,” grunted Keith. And he would get it to him, even if it meant stabbing the fucking thing. Could he even kill a lioness made of magic and thread? Probably not, but he would be more than happy to give it his best try.
“Maybe I can get it-OW!” Hunk jerked his hand back as the lioness bit him. He wrapped his now bleeding thumb in his shirt and glared at the tapestry. “Why now? I helped Lance hang the damn thing, and it never so much as made a noise.”
“It’s reacting to me,” Keith said. “It’s probably charmed to protect the magic and go after people like me.”
Shay climbed warily off the couch. “Maybe I could try.”
“NO!” Both Hunk and Keith yelled at the same time.
Hunk studied the tapestry again for a moment. “Maybe if you put something over it, like a blanket or something.”
The lioness’s tail snapped again angrily as it hissed again.
Keith figured it was worth a try. He went into Lance’s bedroom and took the comforter off the bed. He hurried back to the living room at full speed, tossing the comforter over the tapestry and pulling it off the wall. The lioness fought against the comforter, slashing and spitting. Keith slammed the tapestry to the ground and trapped it with the comforter. The lioness howled in fury. It sounded like it was going through a shredder.
Hunk eyed it suspiciously. “How in the hell will you be able to drive with that thing thrashing around?”
“If I can get it off the frame, I can roll it up and lock it in the toolbox of the truck,” Keith said.
Shay tilted her head slightly. “It’s only going to let Lance touch it. Once you move that thing is going to tear you to shreds.”
Keith narrowed his eyes as he stared at the writhing tapestry. “I could hit it with a hammer. Or maybe run it over a few times with my truck. That might get it to stop.”
“No!” Shay was insistent. “It’s only trying to protect Lance.”
Keith wanted to bang his head on the floor in frustration. He was dripping blood on the comforter, and he needed to get the tapestry to Lance. If he tried to put it in the truck with him for the drive, one of them wouldn’t make it, he was positive.
“Go get Lance,” Hunk said. “He’ll be able to handle it.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Keith snapped. There had to be Galras watching this apartment. He was not going to let Galras get Lance. Ever.
Hunk threw his hands up in frustration. “What other choice do you have?”
Keith twisted to look at Hunk. “You seem to be believing all of this this pretty easily. Do you believe Lance’s a witch?”
Hunk stared back at him with determined brown eyes. “Dude, Lance’s my brother from another mother. I know him probably better than anyone. Do I believe it? Hell, yeah, I do. And it pisses me off to admit it, but I may not be the one who can protect him this time. That’s why I’ve decided to trust you…for the time being.”
Keith raised his eyebrows.
Hunk crossed his arms and said calmly, “But if you hurt him, nothing will stop me from finding you and killing you. I’m a trained killer and I make good on my promises.”
Keith rose to his feet, ignoring the hissing and howling coming from the tapestry. Hunk had been honest with him, so he would be honest in return. “I’m the only thing keeping Lance alive right now,” he stated. “If Galras get him, he’ll die slowly and painfully. I won’t let that happen.” No one was taking Lance from him.
“Lance’s convinced me that he’s safe with you. For now. And I’ll accept that. But you have no choice in this case,” Hunk said, gesturing towards the thrashing lump under the comforter. “How important is it that you get that to Lance in one piece?”
Acxa’s life depends on it.
Hunk continued, “I’ll stay here and keep a look out. If I see any trouble, I’ll call the cell phone you gave Lance.”
Keith nodded and strode out, thinking all along that with Lance, there was always trouble.
“Are you going to help me feel better today Mister Lance?”
Lance jumped, making a small sound of surprise and dropping the iPod he was holding. He had seen Keith’s iPod by his computers in the bedroom and had been scrolling through his music. He missed his own iPod terribly.
Acxa had caught him snooping. Lance set the iPod down and walked out into the hallway. Acxa stood there, looking smaller and paler than before. Lance knelt down in front of her. He gently brushed her bangs back and sucked in a quick breath. The mark on her forehead had turned red and was getting darker.
“Probably not today, sweetie. But soon, I promise you. Keith’s gone to get me something I need.”
Acxa hugged Ariel tighter to herself. “Maybe tomorrow, then?”
Lance shifted uncomfortably. What could he say to this child? “I hope so.”
Acxa stared at him with huge eyes. “Would you read to me?”
Lance blinked at her. “Um, well, I-”
Shiro’s voice cut him off. “Lance, Keith wouldn’t like you being on the main floor of the house.”
Lance looked back and saw Shiro on the computer screen. He frowned in annoyance. Had Shiro been spying on him? He hadn’t done anything wrong. He had only wanted to see what music Keith had.
“Keith’s not here,” he retorted, then waved his hand. The cord connecting the screen to the computer hard drive popped out, disconnecting them.
Acxa giggled. “Shiro’s gonna be mad. He’s the boss of all the computers.”
Lance smiled at her. “The computer boss, huh?”
Acxa nodded. “He told me he was.”
Lance tapped her gently on the nose. “Well, looks like I’m the boss of him, yeah?”
Acxa giggled again and took Lance’s hand. He felt his heart twist, feeling the small hand in his own. He followed her down the hallway and asked, “Where are we going?”
“I wanna show you my room. Do you like books? I do. I can’t read really good books yet, but Keith and mommy read to me a lot. I can write my name. And I can write Keith’s name, too. I can call him, I know what numbers to call him with. Do you have a phone?” Acxa chattered away.
Lance was smiling at how quickly the little girl’s mind worked, quickly moving from topic to topic. “Keith gave me a phone. I lost my other one.”
Acxa pulled him into a room at the end of the hallway. There was a full-sized bed with pink sheets on it. There was a small bookshelf filled with books and a toy box filled with toys. A small child sized table had a tea set laid out on it.
“Keith let me use his phone to call Matt. Matt is my bestest friend,” Acxa informed him.
Lance smiled at her. “He is?”
Acxa nodded. “Yeah, he’s Keith’s friend, too, but Keith can’t draw and color like me and Matt.” She leaned towards Lance and whispered, “Keith isn’t a very good artist, but don’t tell him. I don’t wanna hurt his feelings.”
Lance nodded solemnly. This child was irresistible. She loved her brother so much that she didn’t want his feelings hurt. And Keith loved her so much in return that he’d kidnapped a witch to heal her, putting himself at risk. And if Lance failed, Keith would sacrifice his soul to heal her. He cleared his throat before answering her.
“I won’t say a word. Pinky swear,” he promised, holding out his pinky.
Acxa wrapped her pinky around his with a giggle.
“Keith sings really good, though,” she said, catching Lance by surprise. “Doesn’t he, Mommy?”
Lance glanced over his shoulder to see Krolia standing in the doorway smiling at them.
“Yes, he does, sweetie. Did you ask Lance to come play with you, or did you drag him in here?”
“I found him by himself in Keith’s room, Mommy. I don’t want Lance to be alone,” Acxa said.
Lance’s throat ached. Krolia was raising an exceptional little girl. And he amended his thoughts to include Keith, who obviously spent a lot of time with his sister. He turned to face Krolia, noting how tired she looked. She didn’t look angry to see him with Acxa, but he didn’t want to add to her troubles.
“I’ll go back downstairs now,” he said rising from where he had been sitting.
Krolia shook her head. “No, it’s okay. Stay. I don’t like you being down there all by yourself either. It isn’t good for you. I’m going to start some dinner. Maybe you can keep Acxa entertained?”
Lance was touched by her kindness. While Krolia had been party to his kidnapping, her actions were borne of desperation.
“Well, I guess I can. But I should probably be practicing with my powers.”
“Show me some witchcraft, please!” Acxa squeezed Lance’s hand and held out her Ariel toy. “Can you make her dance?”
“We won’t know until I try. Why don’t you go get on your bed? You sit on the pillows and put Ariel in the middle of the floor, okay?” Lance gently nudged the girl towards her bed. He didn’t want her too close if he wasn’t able to control his powers.
Krolia watched her daughter arrange herself as asked, excitement bright on her little face. For the moment. “She’s feeling a little better, but it won’t last. Each episode lasts longer and gets worse.”
Lance nodded, feeling helpless. He wished Keith would hurry up with the tapestry. “I’ll figure something out, Krolia.”
She nodded at him. “I know you’re trying. I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.”
Lance turned to smile at Acxa. He then turned his thoughts inward, running through the colors of the first four chakras in his mind. Red. Orange. Yellow. Green. The swooping sensation rushed through him as all four chakras opened. It seemed to be getting easier each time. He concentrated on air, using it to push Ariel upright into a standing position.
Acxa beamed and clapped her hands.
“You’re doing it! She’s going to dance!”
Memories of his childhood flowed through him, of playing like this with the voices and how they would help him move his toys around. He hadn’t had true powers then, but the voices had filtered their massive powers through him. Shocked by the memory, Lance lost his concentration and his chakras closed, causing Ariel to collapse on the bed. He had been talking to the Alteans. Who else could it have been?
“Oh no! Ariel, get back up!” Acxa pleaded.
Lance shook his head and made himself focus. He had let the memory interfere with his magic just as Adam had warned him. He had to keep his emotions in control. He focused on the Ariel again, manipulating the air to lift him up and make her bounce and dance. While Acxa squealed and clapped, he let memories rush over him while maintaining his focus on the toy. Memories of the voices in his head playing with him and teaching him. Until his grandfather walked in and caught him.
Ariel stumbled as Lance remembered his grandfather’s horrible fury. The terrifying lonely darkness of the closet closing in on him. The fear that one day his dad, too, would stop loving him because there was something very wrong with him.
“You need more practice,” observed Acxa as Ariel listlessly swayed in one place.
Lance shoved the unpleasant memory away and instead thought of the lion that would come to him and keep him safe. His powers shifted back into his control and he had Ariel dancing again, and because he could, added a Raggedy Ann doll and a teddy bear into the mix.
A few minutes later, Lance and Acxa were both giggling. He would have never thought his powers would bring him happiness. He put the stuffed bear and rag doll down and bounced Ariel across the room to Acxa’s waiting arms. Her cheeks were flushed red from her laughter, but it only made the rest of her look paler.
“Tired, sweetie?” Lance asked her tenderly.
Acxa nodded. “Yeah,” she affirmed, nodding. “And my head hurts.”
“Want me to go get your mom?” Lance asked her as he stroked her hair softly.
Acxa scooted over to make room and patted her bed to show Lance she wanted him to sit next to her. He did, taking her small hand and giving it a squeeze.
Acxa snuggled up to Lance’s side. “Can I tell you something?” she whispered.
Lance tensed as he felt a dark slithering sensation low in the pit of his belly. He wondered if it was what Acxa was feeling. “Sure you can, sweetie,” he whispered back.
“The bad shadows come at night,” Acxa said in a tremulous voice.
Lance pulled her into his lap and wrapped his arms around her. This scared him shitless, so it had to be beyond terrifying for Acxa. “Oh, baby. It’s nightmares, bad dreams.”
Acxa wrapped shaky arms around him and shook her head. “They’re going to get me! They want to eat me!”
“No. I won’t let them,” Lance promised. He would fix this somehow, he vowed to himself. He was a witch, damn it. He had powers. He had to be able to do something.
“My head hurts,” Acxa whimpered again.
Lance put a cool hand on her forehead. This time, without even a thought, his chakras opened. He closed his eyes and concentrated. He wanted to narrow his focus to draw out pain and illness. He reached inward, looking for the dark slithery feeling he’d felt when Acxa asked to tell him something. He couldn’t break the curse without high magic, but he could try to ease the symptoms a bit with what he had.
He felt waves of feelings; Acxa’s love for her mother and Keith, and for the men and woman that were Keith’s friends, even her love for her Ariel. He could feel how much she liked to swing and have tea parties with Keith, Keith singing to her as he twirled her around, her favorite books, drawing, and there...
Something dark and painful.
Lance focused on the dark, separating it from everything else. He imagined it as a thread and slowly began tugging on it, pulling it out. He felt a vibration at the core of himself when Acxa squirmed and whispered, “Hot.”
He had to do more. So while he pulled the dark thread out, he sent back cool soothing energy. He could feel Acxa relaxing in his lap.
“Better, sweetie?” he whispered softly.
Keith’s voice broke into the quiet. “What are you doing?”
Lance’s eyes snapped open. He gasped as Keith strode into the room. Gently moving Acxa out of his lap, Lance jumped up.
Keith looked like he’d tangled with barbed wire. Scratches covered his arms and his shirt was tattered. There was an angry looking scratch on his face. “Fucking beast,” Keith muttered.
“Fucking beast,” echoed Acxa with a giggle, just as Krolia walked in.
“Acxa!” admonished Keith and Krolia at the same time.
Krolia picked Acxa up and looked Keith over. “Are you okay?” she asked her son.
“Fine,” answered Keith shortly.
She lingered for a moment, looking him over to be sure then walked out with Acxa.
Lance stared at Keith.
“What beast? Where in the hell did you go to run into a beast? You look like you’ve gone a couple of rounds with a panther.”
Keith wiped blood away from the cut on his face with the back of his hand and glared at it. “That lioness from the tapestry.”
Lance frowned. The tapestry had never done anything like that before. “It scratched you? Where is it?” He reached out to touch the deep scratches on Keith’s arm. “I can try to heal-”
“Forget about them,” Keith said as he took Lance’s arm to guide him out of Acxa’s room. “The tapestry is still at your place.”
Lance struggled to understand as Keith propelled him towards the front door. “You couldn’t get it? You’re taking me home? I get to go?” He felt excitement increase his heartbeat. He would get to go outside, breathe in the fresh air and feel the warmth of the sunshine. He would see his apartment. He’d be free for just a short time.
“I couldn’t get it without damaging it,” Keith grumbled as they walked out into the front yard.
Lance breathed in deeply. The air smelled wonderful and a rush of pleasure filled him. When they got to the passenger side of the truck, Keith turned to him.
“Your birth mom must’ve put a protection spell on the tapestry. It won’t let anyone else move it,” he said.
Lance felt his heart give a little lurch. His birth mom had cared enough for him to do that. Maybe there was somewhere in the world he belonged after all. Maybe after the tapestry healed Acxa it would lead him to his birth mother. Maybe the woman who had given birth to him wanted to see him. He realized Keith was still staring at him.
“What?” he asked.
Keith’s violet eyes hardened. “I’m taking you because I have no choice. You have to have that tapestry. It’s dangerous and Galras could be anywhere. If they shield their presence, I might smell them, or I might not until it’s too late.”
Lance could feel Keith’s anxiety. “Okay.”
“Don’t fuck with me, Lance. No funny witch games. No shit with your best friend either. He’s already there at your apartment, and I’ll explain on the way. But know this; if it comes down to it, I won’t hesitate to bring you back with me by force.” Keith spun on his heel and walked around to the driver’s side of the truck.
Lance bowed his head. He tried to swallow down the thickness that suddenly appeared in his throat. He had thought they were...what, friends? That he mattered somehow? If nothing else, he had thought Keith could trust him to do all he could for Acxa.
Lance spotted his best friend in his apartment and rushed through the door, not even giving a second thought to his comforter being on the ground in his living room rather than on his bed. His eyes stung with sudden tears as the sight of him brought forth all his emotions. But a few feet away from Hunk, he slowed to a stop. He was a witch. There was no denying now that he truly was different from everyone else. What if Hunk rejects me because of what I am?
“Hunk, I-” he began, voice cracking.
Hunk’s eyes flared with fierce emotion. He closed the distance between them and hauled Lance against his chest in a tight hug. “Jesus, Lance,” Hunk said, his own voice thick with emotion. “I’m your brother. With everyone gone, I’m all you got left. Don’t ever scare me like that ever again!”
Lance’s shaking arms were wrapped around Hunk’s waist. “Your bestie is a witch, it seems. That’s not going to bother you?” He couldn’t help it. All his life he’d wanted to fit in, to be normal enough to fit in. And he knew now that he never would.
Hunk leaned back and tilted Lance’s chin up to look at him. He grinned at him affectionately. “Dude. I’m proud of you. Always. I’m proud you’re different. It’s one of the best things about you!” His face turned serious. “I made sure to close up your shop and put a sign on the door you’ll be closed for a while so you can grieve. Many of your customers stopped by the bakery and told me to tell you they can’t wait to see you again.”
Sadness crept over Lance and he lowered his head again. “I don’t know that it will ever be safe for me to go back, Hunk. The paperwork is in my office and you are on all the accounts. My shop is yours and Shay’s if you want it.”
“Screw that,” Hunk argued. “We’re partners and we always will be. And it’s you I’m worried about here. We’ll find a way to keep you safe, I promise.”
Lance shook his head. “I can’t, Hunk. Don’t you see? All witches are in hiding. Galra witch hunters are trying to kill all of us.”
A soft moan made Lance step away from Hunk to look at Shay. She was sitting limply on the couch, hunched over and holding her head. Damn it, he’d almost forgotten. Keith had told him on their way over about Shay. It was yet another incredible thing to try to wrap his mind around; Shay had married a Galra hunter.
Lance walked over to her and put his hand on her shoulder. “Shay,” he said softly.
She looked up at him. “I came home because I was scared and I kept having blackouts. My husband tried to have me committed. He told everyone I was crazy,” she said in a rushed whisper.
Lance rubbed her shoulder comfortingly. “I may know someone who can help you. I’ll be sure to check,” he said. Adam treated brain-damage victims on the side. But the fact that he was a witch was Lance’s secret for now. He would have to talk to Adam first before saying anything.
Keith broke in. “We need to hurry. The tapestry is under the comforter, see if you can grab it.”
Despite his obvious tension, Keith had given him a few minutes with Hunk. He always seemed to zig when Lance expected him to zag. Lance gave Shay’s shoulder a final squeeze and walked towards the covered tapestry. Keith was already there waiting for him and yanked off the comforter.
Lance looked back towards Shay. “Shay, I promise you I’ll call you as soon as I-”
A loud hiss cut him off. Lance jumped and whipped back around to stare open mouthed at the tapestry. “Holy shit! What the fuck?” he gasped.
He cautiously stepped towards the edge of the tapestry, staring in wonder. The lioness that normally sat placidly on the silver box, the same one he had looked at a million times before, stood with its back arched and ready to attack. It glared hatefully at Keith.
“I’ve never seen it do anything before. It’s moving! It looks real!” At the sound of Lance’s voice, the lioness turned its head to look at him. “Umm…nice kitty?” he said tentatively, prepared to duck if needed.
The lioness sat down on the silver box and went back to being inanimate. The tapestry threads shimmered with magic. Lance looked closely at the familiar scene. Were the spells in the silver box the lioness always protected?
He breathed out a deep breath and looked at the other three in the room. “Okay, now what?”
“See if you can pick it up. Be careful, though,” Keith said, holding the comforter at the ready in case he needed to toss it over the tapestry again.
Lance knelt and took the tapestry by the edges of the frame. He stood and breathed a small sigh of relief when the lioness remained motionless. No hissing or scratching. The lioness was as it had always been. Now he needed to get it back to Keith’s so he could figure out how to get to the spells.
“Hunk, I’ll call you about Shay, okay?” he said as he walked towards Keith, who had moved to stand by the door.
Hunk quickly darted between Lance and the door to stop him. “Lance, tell me where you’re going. I have to know you’re safe.”
Lance hesitated. He knew Keith would lose it if he told Hunk where his house was, so he quickly answered without thinking, “I promise I’m safe, Hunk. He keeps me locked on a level below ground so no one will find me.” He winced when Hunk’s face turned red and his eyebrows snapped together in an angry scowl.
“You mean underground? Like a fucking dungeon or something? Damn it, Lance, you’re terrified of being locked up!” Hunk’s voice rose with each word and shook with his anger.
Keith glared at both of them. “We don’t have time for this!”
Hunk’s hands clenched into fists. “This is how you treat the man who’s trying to save your sister’s life?”
Keith’s expression was hard, but there was an underlying tiredness. “I’m trying to keep him alive, Garrett. Don’t get in my way.” He took Lance by the arm and propelled him out into the courtyard, ignoring Hunk’s outraged yell behind them. They both looked around quickly. Everything looked normal, but then Keith inhaled and tensed.
Lance caught the faint scent of copper just as two huge men with knives materialized in front of them. He stumbled backwards and Keith, reacting in hyper speed, caught him to keep him from falling. He turned Lance towards the apartment and gave him a shove.
“Grab him, Hunk!” Keith yelled as he unholstered his knife.
Lance flew forward, losing his grip on the tapestry and tripping over his own feet as he stumbled. Hunk caught him by the arms as he fell and yanked him into the apartment. Lance fell to his knees with the momentum.
Danger! Hunters! Get out! Run! The voices in his head erupted into screams.
Lance could see Shay huddled on the couch quaking in fear. Hunk had moved nearby and was standing guard with his gun drawn.
Lance looked back and felt his chest tighten with fear and rage. Keith stood between him and the two Galra hunters. But what caught Lance’s horrified attention the most was the knife sticking out of Keith’s back below the right shoulder. He swore he could hear Keith’s lion roar in fury in his mind. Blood was welling up and soaking the cotton of his t-shirt. Keith twisted slightly, and Lance could see he held his own knife at the ready.
When one of the Galras made motion to strike, Keith feinted one way before striking fast and sinking his blade into the man’s chest. The Galra’s dying scream was filled with pain and terror. Keith yanked his blade out quickly and went to turn towards the second hunter just as the Galra threw his knife.
“Keith!” screamed Lance, knowing there wasn’t enough time for him to evade the knife. Ohgodohgodohgod...
A gunshot exploded from the apartment and the Galra went down. Hunk.
Lance lurched to his feet and ran to Keith.
“Keith!” he gasped. Blood was pouring from a second wound on Keith’s shoulder where the second Galra’s knife had cut him as he turned. Lance swallowed back a wave of dizziness as Hunk ran to them.
Hunk quickly pulled his t-shirt over his head. “Here. Wrap his arm,” he ordered Lance.
Lance obeyed, wrapping it around the wound and tucking it securely. “His back, Hunk!”
“No time,” Keith said as he stepped back. “Hunk, drive. Lance, tapestry. “
Hunk gestured them away frantically. “Go on! I’ll cover!” He grabbed Shay by the hand.
Lance snatched up the tapestry in one hand and took Keith’s uninjured arm in the other and hurried the, towards Keith’s truck. “Keys!” he demanded. He was going to get them back to Keith’s and get Hunk and Shay somewhere safe.
“Pocket,” Keith grunted.
Lance shoved his hand into Keith’s pocket to retrieve the keys. He opened the truck, tossed the tapestry behind the seat and motioned Keith inside. Keith heaved himself in to sit sideways with the knife still sticking out of his back. Lance slammed the door behind him and raced around to the driver’s side.
“Hunk!” he yelled, “you and Shay get the hell away from here! Away from me!” He climbed into the truck and quickly adjusted the seat. He fumbled with the keys, swearing under his breath the entire time. His bloody hands were slippery making it difficult to get a good grasp. Keith’s blood, he thought, choking back tears. Finally getting the truck cranked, he slammed it into gear.
“Doctor? Hospital? Where?” he asked frantically as he peeled out of the parking lot.
“Lance, it’s okay. I’ll be fine. Get yourself together and drive home,” Keith grit out.
Fortunately, since Keith hadn’t shielded his vision this time, Lance knew where he was going. He kept the truck at the speed limit, not wanting to attract unwanted attention. His head was buzzing, but he couldn’t make out any words.
“Turn right here,” Keith directed.
Lance made the turn and followed the directions Keith continued to give him.
Finally Keith said, “The only one following us is Hunk.”
Lance was wound so tight he was sure just one jolt would cause him to fly to pieces altogether. “I’ll take you to the hospital...”
Keith interrupted him. “I’m fine. Just drive to the house.”
“You are not fine! You have a fucking knife sticking out of you!” argued Lance. Keith reached over his shoulder and Lance narrowed his eyes. “Oh no no no no no. Don’t you fucking da-” his protest was cut short as Keith tugged the knife out. The cab of the truck turned hot and sticky as blood poured from the wound. “Are you fucking crazy?” Lance yelled in a mix of frustration and horror.
He had to stop the bleeding. He turned into a strip mall and whipped around to the back area where deliveries were made. He slammed the truck into park and yanked his shirt over his head, then balled it up and pressed it against the wound.
Keith looked around to assess if they were being followed, then turned his attention to the now shirtless witch tending him. “Damn babe, niiiiice,” he said, raking his appreciative gaze over Lance’s bare chest.
“For the love of-now? Really?” Lance asked him incredulously. “¿Has perdido la cabeza?” He was pretty sure one of them had–and it wasn’t the one pouring out blood. He pressed his shaky hand harder against the wound to control the bleeding. He was shocked to realize that Keith’s pain was flowing into him, moving from his nerve endings to his own.
His chakras had opened without him making a conscious effort. In reaction to Keith getting hurt? Out of fear? He wasn’t sure why, but it didn’t matter. What mattered in that moment was Keith. Lance struggled not to fight Keith’s pain, closing his eyes and letting his body absorb it. He concentrated on making himself breathe and letting the pain in. He had to remain calm and centered in order to control the power flowing through his chakras. As pain traveled through him, he sent energy back in exchange–healing energy that would knit together and heal torn sinew and skin.
Lance shook his head as fiery pain slid up his arm and edged across his neck before slamming into his shoulder blade. He sucked in a harsh breath, losing his connection to his energy. He opened his eyes. Had he done enough?
“Let me look,” he said as he gently moved his bloody shirt off the wound. It was barely bleeding now and the edges were coming together. The healing had begun. “Keep this on it,” Lance said tightly as he draped his shirt on Keith’s shoulder. He turned and reached for the gearshift. He had to get Keith home.
Keith grabbed his hand. “What did you do?” he demanded. “You took my pain, didn’t you?”
Lance was nearly dizzy with the pain, but it was starting to recede. He should probably try to heal the wound on Keith’s shoulder, but he didn’t know if he would be able to drive if he did. The voices in his head were already fretful, making it difficult for him to focus. They had been roused to fever pitch by the Galras, and the earlier presence of the lion in his mind had them agitated. Lance couldn’t feel the lion now, but his earlier screech had been real and enraged.
“I just tried to close the wound a little,” he said, hating that his voice wasn’t as steady as he would have liked.
“Your hands are shaking,” Keith said, letting go of him. He reached behind the seat and grabbed a jacket. “Put this on,” he ordered.
It dawned on Lance that he was so rattled he had fully intended to drive home shirtless. It wasn’t just seeing Keith hurt that had him shaken up; it was the realization that Keith had intentionally turned his body to protect him and allowed himself to be stabbed instead. He was protecting him, just as he said he would. Lance took a deep, calming breath and stared at his hands on the wheel, but they were covered in Keith’s blood.
His vision swam for a moment, but he gave himself a sharp mental shake. He would not panic, he would not faint. He had to get Keith home. The pain mattered little.
“Give me your arm,” instructed Keith.
Lance lifted his right hand and let Keith slide the jacket on. Keith leaned over to hold the jacket for Lance’s other arm, close enough for Lance to smell him. Feel him. His warmth stopped Lance’s shaking, and his calm breathing soothed Lance’s shattered nerves.
“You have to stop moving,” Lance scolded. “The pain, the cuts...”
Keith snorted. “I heal extremely fast. But you, sweet witch, were very stupid to open yourself up to my pain. Now you’re suffering when you don’t need to be.”
Lance huffed and put the truck in gear. He pulled around the building and out of the parking lot. The sun was moving lower. He sighed quietly, wishing he could just sit outside somewhere and feel the warmth of the sun, or the light of the moon, on his skin. He could feel Keith’s gaze on him.
“I’m fine,” Lance said, realizing it was the truth. Somehow his body was breaking down the pain and getting rid of it.
“Like hell you are. Your shimmer is full of red splotches,” Keith said as he eased back into his seat. “You are brave, compassionate, and just too damn beautiful.”
Lance’s startled gaze flew to Keith. His voice had dropped to the low rich tone that always made his heart pound. Lance was feeling confused, though. Protecting him from the Galras, wrapping the jacket around him, angry over his pain, Lance couldn’t quite understand. He knew Keith needed him alive to help Acxa, but what about the rest?
“Are you bothered by being in the truck with me?” he asked.
Keith turned away from the side mirror he’d been staring into, his gaze locking onto blue. “It’s kind of like a buzzing that grows louder and more grating. But then you touched me, used your power to call out the pain from my shoulder, and I wanted to push you down on the seat, strip off your jeans, and fuck into you. That urge is harder to control than the bloodlust.”
Lance struggled to tear his gaze away and focus on the road in front of him. He spotted the turn off, one he’d never seen in all his years of living there and turned the truck onto it. He guided it on the road that would let them into the hills.
“I won’t hurt you,” Keith said softly.
Lance’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. His skin tingled, his nipples tightened and a slow burning need pooled into his groin, making his half hard cock twitch. The worst part was that Keith would hurt him. He would fuck him until he lost himself in orgasm, and Lance would be helpless against the truth of his feelings. He would feel exactly how much Keith hated lusting after a witch–one of those that had cursed his kind. Those feelings would penetrate him as easily as any knife and go mercilessly deeper than any blade. It would kill every last vestige of self-protection he had left. He couldn’t risk that.
Even when Keith had risked his own life for his?
Lance closed his eyes for a brief moment. What was he thinking? He didn’t owe Keith sex. They were both caught up in a situation. The best way to fix it was to solve the problem and get out fast.
“Hopefully the tapestry will help me cure Acxa. Then we’ll be free, both of us.”
Keith frowned, not liking what Lance was saying. “And where will you go?”
Lance didn’t know. He shrugged. “I’ll think of something,” he said. He wasn’t Keith’s problem. Maybe he could find his biological mother. And together they could...
Keith cut into Lance’s daydream. “Hunk is still following us. He followed us behind the strip mall and waited, and he’s behind us now.”
Lance glanced into the rear-view mirror and saw Hunk’s truck. “What do I need to do?” He bit his lip and gave Keith a pleading look. “Please. I don’t want him killed.”
“I’m not going to kill him, Lance,” Keith said evenly. “And obviously he isn’t going to back off, either. You’re his family. I get it. We’ll sort it out at home. Out here, you are too vulnerable.”