The sun had finally gone down, and not a moment too soon. Keith felt like he was about to shake apart with the sheer force of his hunger. He didn’t know why this always happened. He could feed on pigeons all the livelong day, but he would eventually, inevitably, end up in the same spot. Shaking, unable to hide the glowing eyes or the sharp teeth, insides twisting and writhing as though his guts were rotting inside his skin.
This was the point when he always gave in. He could push past it, he knew he could, but he was afraid of what came after.
The bloodlust. The haze. Adrenaline. No control.
He could never let it happen again.
So once the sun disappeared behind the derelict buildings he finally emerged onto the street, looking for someone he could drink from without it weighing on his soul too much. If he even still had one.
He kept his hood up to cover his face, letting his bangs fall over his eyes, hoping the glow wasn’t too noticeable.
Keith made his way toward 15th street, hands in his hoodie pockets and worn sneakers scraping on the pavement. Twilight was rapidly fading into full darkness. People would be scurrying home now, locking themselves in with their warmth and light and families, hiding away from things that dwelt in the shadows. Things like him. Though the things they were thinking of probably had a few less fangs.
As he came up on 13th, he caught sight of two forms leaning up against a building. One was big and brawny, making Keith immediately dismiss them as too much effort. The other, however, was rather lanky. Maybe if he could separate them…
Keith stepped into the shadows of an alleyway, barely poking his head out to listen to their conversation. If he heard something that painted them as douchebags, he’d go for it. If not, he’d move on.
“We haven’t found anything, Shiro,” huffed the lanky one. “They’ve probably moved on. If anyone was even here.”
“Someone was definitely here,” answered another male voice. He was talking much more quietly, too low for a human to hear at this distance. Good thing Keith wasn’t human anymore.
“We found a corpse two blocks from here barely a month ago with no blood in it. What else could it be?”
Keith froze. That had been him. He thought he’d hidden it well enough, but clearly he’d been wrong.
“This is my territory,” the other voice, assumedly Shiro, continued. “No one else is allowed here.”
“How do you know it was another vamp?” drawled the first voice. “Could’ve been a nut job human, or someone from the Blade.”
“It wasn’t a human,” Shiro insisted, “and if the Blade was sending someone else, Kolivan would have told me. That leaves two options. Either Zarkon is pressing into Blade territory, or it’s a rogue. Either way, I need to take them out.”
Keith stepped back. He had no idea who these guys were, but somehow they knew about him and they wanted to kill him. He had to get away.
Keeping his head down, Keith stepped out of the alleyway and headed back in the direction he’d come from. Then a voice rang out behind him.
Keith went stock still. If his heart still beat, it would have been drumming in his ears. As it was there were only footsteps, approaching and circling in front of him. He kept his head down, stubbornly staring at the two pairs of boots. The yellow light from the street lamp was completely blocked by the larger man, Shiro, drowning Keith in his shadow.
“Hi, sorry to bug you, but do you know the way to tenth street?”
Keith shook his head wordlessly. Then, suddenly, he was struck by something. Or, rather, something’s absence.
He couldn’t smell any blood. Usually if he got this close to a human the scent would be overwhelming. And there were no thrumming heartbeats coming from their chests.
Shit. He had to go, run, now. He’d never met another vampire (minus the one that did this to him) and based on what he’d just heard, he didn’t want to.
“Sorry,” he muttered, lisping slightly over the fangs that refused to retreat, and tried to push past the pair. A cold hand wrapped around his wrist, and before he could react he was being yanked back into the alley and shoved face first against the wall.
Keith let out an instinctive hiss, knowing his eyes were flaring an unholy red, and struggled against Shiro’s grip. He couldn’t break free, and that all but sealed the deal. They weren’t human.
A hand pulled his hood down, letting his black hair fall around his neck, and Keith glared over his shoulder, catching his first real glimpse at his adversaries.
The one holding him had short cut black hair, crowned by a tuft of white, and a pale scar across his nose. He was glaring right back, unfazed by Keith’s fighting and hissing. Standing behind him with a vaguely interested expression was a man with chin length tawny hair and a red line on his jaw.
“You’re sloppy,” snarled Shiro, pressing closer. Keith couldn’t help but wince when his shoulder was twisted. “Not even bothering to hide your eyes or your teeth.” Keith bared said teeth at him.
Shiro’s scowl slipped into a frown, grey eyes clearing as though an idea had occurred to him.
“How long ago were you turned?” he questioned, cork screwing Keith’s arm just a little bit more. Keith choked on a whimper. He felt hollow inside; awfully, terribly hollow. He needed to feed. If he answered their questions, maybe they’d let him go.
“Twenty years,” he ground out through a clenched jaw. Behind him there was a gasp, and Shiro mumbled a curse.
“Shiro, man, he’s just a baby,” murmured the other man. Keith was too hungry to be offended.
“You’re way too young to be hunting, even with supervision.” He said it like he was scolding someone, though Keith couldn’t tell who it was supposed to be directed to. He’d stopped twisting Keith’s arm, but he hadn’t let him go, either.
“Where’s your sire?”
Keith, not knowing what to say, didn’t answer.
“Speak up.” Shiro jostled him a little in unspoken threat, and Keith closed his eyes. If either of them had been human he would’ve been on them five minutes ago, morals be damned.
“I don’t know what that means,” he admitted.
He practically felt Shiro’s frown pressing into his back.
“The person who turned you. Where are they?”
“I don’t know.” Keith was practically choking now. “I never met him, never even saw him, he bit me and I woke up alone, now will you please let go of me.”
Shiro released him, and Keith spun around, only to find himself still hemmed in by the two men. He slumped against the wall, knees weak.
God he was so hungry.
“You think he’s one of Zarkon’s?” the other man murmured to Shiro, not taking his eyes off of Keith. His look was almost concerned.
“Must be,” Shiro answered. He was frowning still. “But usually we catch them within a few years. They have no self control. But this kid…”
“Please,” Keith said, hating himself for it but having no other choice. “Let me go. I’m hungry.”
Shiro crossed his arms, regarding Keith thoughtfully.
“No,” he said eventually, “this is my territory. You can’t hunt here.”
“I’ll go somewhere else,” Keith tried.
“No. What’s your name?”
“Keith.” He was starting to realize he wasn’t going to be getting out of this easily, but he gave it one last try. “Please let me go. I didn’t know this was your territory.”
“No,” said Shiro for the third time, then reached out to grab Keith by his bicep. “You’re coming with us.”
Well, I’m fucked.
Keith went limp, letting Shiro lead him out of the alley and back onto the street. The other man followed behind, flipping Keith’s hood back up as they went.
“Are you going to kill me?” he asked after several minutes of silent walking.
Shiro sighed.“No,” he answered, voice softer than before. “We’re going to help you.”
For half a second, Keith considered making a run for it. These two older vampires had no reason to tell him the truth. Besides, Shiro had already been talking about killing the person he found trespassing in his territory.
Shiro shot him a look and tightened his grip, as though he knew what Keith was thinking.
“Chill out,” advised their companion. “We won’t hurt you.”
“Why not?” Keith was unable to keep the suspicious growl out of his voice. “You seemed pretty adamant about killing me before.”
“That was before we understood the situation,” said Shiro, steering the three of them down a narrow alleyway.
“And what situation is that?”
Shiro let go of his arm, though casting him a look that said stay put, and moved towards the dead end of the alley. The other man answered his question.
“A sireless baby vampire roaming around on the edge of starvation.”
“I’m not starving,” Keith muttered, though it certainly felt that way. “I ate yesterday.” It had only been a pigeon, but still.
The other man quirked an eyebrow at him, but before he could say anything there was a series of metallic clangs, and Keith turned to see Shiro pulling down a ladder from a fire escape. This was when Keith decided to start digging his heels in.
“I’m not going up there,” he said, crossing his arms stubbornly. “Not until you tell me what you’re gonna do.”
Shiro let out a heavy sigh and pinched the bridge of his nose like an exasperated parent.
“Matt, go in and wake up your sister. Fill her in, get Lance and Hunk out of the way if they’re here already.”
“You got it,” Matt answered quietly, casting Keith only one more glance before climbing up the ladder. For a long moment after he left Keith and Shiro just looked at each other, staring each other down.
“Look,” Shiro said eventually, voice soft and quiet. Long gone was the aggressive man from the alley. “When was the last time you fed?”
“On a human.”
Keith shifted cagily on his feet. “A month ago.”
Shiro openly gaped at him. “A month a-- Jesus Keith, you can’t--”
“I was trying to hunt when you cornered me!” Keith spat at him. Shiro closed his eyes and took a breath, like he was physically restraining himself from getting worked up.
“Why did you go so long?”
Keith looked down at his shoes. “I was trying to wean myself off of it,” he admitted. He hated drinking human blood. He hated hurting people. More than that, he hated not knowing anything about what he’d become, what he’d been forced to be for the last two decades. Those years were strewn with suicide attempts, anything he could think of, but nothing had worked. Eventually he’d stopped trying.
Shiro’s eyes widened. “You can’t,” he said, keeping tight control over his tone. “Keith, vampires drink human blood for a reason. It has all the nutrients we need to stay alive. Animal blood can supplement it, help you go longer between feedings, but you can’t cut it out completely. You’ll die.”
“Why do you care?” Keith countered with narrowed eyes. “Why did you bring me here?”
“The first thing I’m going to do is feed you.”
Keith bit his lip, forgetting that the motion exposed his fangs. “I don’t want to hurt anybody,” he muttered.
“You won’t be, I promise,” Shiro reassured him. “I’m not trying to hurt you or anyone else.”
“Then what are you trying to do? I still don’t understand.”
Shiro gave him a smile so sad Keith felt it punch in his chest.
“How many vampires have you spoken to since you were turned?”
“Uh, besides you and your friend? None.”
“So you don’t know anything about what it means to be one.”
It wasn’t a question, but he answered anyway.
“No, I don’t.”
“That’s what I want to help you with. Keith, most vampires aren’t abandoned by their sires right after turning. A sire’s bond with their progeny is supposed to be like parent and child. They’re supposed to stay at their side, teach them, provide for them. Normally a new vampire wouldn’t be hunting until they’ve been turned for at least fifty years, and even then their sire goes with them for a couple of decades.”
Keith’s mouth twisted into a scowl. Of course his afterlife would follow the pattern of his actual life; the universe must have a sense of fucking humor.
“So, what, you wanna be my… sire, or whatever?”
Shiro’s expression became a little pained. “Unfortunately that’s not how it works. You can’t change your sire, just like how you can’t change your biological parents. But someone else could fulfill the responsibilities of that role. It doesn’t have to be me, there are other people I can introduce you to. Right now my main priority is getting you fed and off the streets.”
“But why? Why do you give a fuck? What are you going to get out of this?”
That sadlook returned, and Keith wanted to punch it off his face.
“Can’t you believe I just want to help?”
No. No one ever did. No one just wanted to help him, not when he was alive and certainly not after he grew fucking fangs. Keith wasn’t buying this, wasn’t buying any of it, but fuck he was so hungry and soon he wouldn’t be able to keep upright anymore. If he went back out on the street now there was no guarantee he would be able to control himself. So it was either this or risk hurting someone who didn’t deserve it.
“Fine,” he growled, glaring at the ground. “I’ll go.”
“Alright, follow me.”
Shiro turned back towards the fire escape ladder, and Keith followed him. Up the rungs, rust coming off on his hands, and following the fire escape to the fourth floor. There, Shiro slipped through an open window.
The moment Keith’s sneakers sunk into the stained carpet he just wanted to leave again. The whole place reeked of human; it was so overwhelming that he had to press a sleeve over his mouth just to keep from drooling. And catching sight of the two humans sitting on the sofa (the only piece of furniture in the small room) so did not help.
Shiro, apparently, agreed.
“Matt!” he yelled, and the man in question poked his head out of one of the three doors on the far wall.
“I’m pretty sure I told you to get Lance and Hunk out of here!”
“Aw, come on Shiro,” whined one of the humans as he got to his feet. “We just wanted to meet the new guy.”
The human was thin, barely taller than Keith, with tan skin and blue eyes that sparkled mischievously when he grinned in Shiro’s direction. He looked pretty young, probably not even 18 yet. Still, Keith took a step back, ramming up against the windowsill in the process.
The human noticed.
“Lance,” Shiro said in a warning tone, but the human just waved him off.
“Hi, I’m Lance,” he said, taking a few steps closer to get, blissfully ignorant to how close Keith was to ripping his throat out. He pressed himself up against the window.
“Don’t be scared of us,” Lance continued. “You could probably rip me in half.”
I just might.
“Not scared,” Keith hissed from behind his hand. He saw the other boy’s grin loosen a little when his eyes flared deeper red. “Hungry.” It was as much a warning as it was a threat.
“Oh,” the human squeaked before beating a hasty retreat back to the loveseat, where the other was eyeing Keith anxiously. He was bigger than Lance, with darker skin, darker eyes, darker hair. Darker everything really, though offset by his bright clothing and orange headband. He didn’t make any move to speak to Keith, and he was grateful for that.
“This is why I asked you not to be here,” Shiro said in exasperation. “You should know by now how dangerous a starving vampire is.”
“Sorry, Shiro,” said the bigger human. Lance didn’t look sorry at all.
Shiro just shook his head and sighed before gesturing for Keith to follow him as he crossed the room. Keith obeyed, though Shiro went for the leftmost door and that was just a little too close to the loveseat for comfort, but he got into the room without mauling either boy and Shiro closed the door behind them.
It was a pretty simple room. A queen bed against a wall, a mini-fridge in a corner, a dresser against the other wall. Judging by the door next to the dresser there was an attached bathroom, and blackout curtains covered the only window. Shiro started to reach for the lightswitch.
“Leave them off?” Keith asked. Shiro paused, but complied. Not like they needed light to see anyway.
“Go ahead and sit down,” said Shiro. Keith obeyed, but he still had some more questions for his host.
“You mentioned someone earlier,” he said, watching Shiro dig through the mini-fridge. “Zarkon. Is he my sire?”
“That’s… a possibility, yes.” He didn’t raise his head.
“Do you know him?”
“You could say that.” Shiro straightened up and knocked the fridge door shut with his heel. In his hands he held three bags of red liquid that looked like they’d just come from a hospital. Keith had no idea how he got those, but he got the feeling he didn’t want to know.
“Zarkon is the leader of the largest coven of vampires in North America,” he continued as he came over to sit next to Keith on the bed. He set the blood down and stripped off his jacket. “I was once part of that coven.”
“Was he your sire?”
“No, but my sire was one of his progenies. That’s how he runs the coven-- he has his progeny turn others so he can keep control of everyone.”
Keith felt a little sick.
“So… why do you think he’s mine?”
“He’s been doing this for centuries,” Shiro sighed. “Turning people against their will and leaving them, in hopes they go on a rampage. Most do without a sire to guide them.”
“Why would you do something like that?”
Shiro was busy fiddling with the blood bags and didn’t look up at him.
“He has some sort of a vendetta against humans. Thinks we’re superior.”
“So if he wanted to, he could control me?”
That got Shiro’s attention, and his gaze softened when he saw the apprehension on Keith’s face.
“A sire’s call is difficult to resist,” he said carefully. “But I don’t believe he’ll be calling for you. He created you specifically to leave you alone.”
Keith didn’t have anything to say to that, so he just looked down and picked at the black sheets on the bed.
“Here,” Shiro pressed one of the bags into his hands. “Eat first, and then I’ll answer more questions.”
Keith hesitated for just a moment longer before his insides twisted again and he couldn’t keep waiting. His fangs punctured the thin plastic with a pop, and the taste exploded over his tongue and rushed down his throat. He couldn’t help the whine that left him (it had been so fucking long) and he tilted his head back as far as he could. The drops were cold when they escaped the corners of his mouth and dripped down his chin, and he didn’t even care.
Next to him Shiro let out a chuckle, and he placed his hand on the back of Keith’s neck to keep him from falling over in his eagerness. The gesture was strangely familial, and it was only then he realized no one else had seen him feed before. And it wasn’t until the moment after that he realized how goddamn lonely he’d been since he’d been turned.
If Shiro felt the shudder that followed that thought, he didn’t say anything.
Keith drained the entire bag in a minute and a half, and didn’t even have to ask before Shiro was handing him the next one. He drank this one slower, savoring the taste and the feeling of what passed for life returning to him. The shaking stopped, the hollow feeling in his torso receded, and the chill pushed back as much as it ever did. Shiro kept his hand where it was and let him take his time. His touch wasn’t warm, and Keith hadn’t expected it to be, but it almost helped with the revulsion that always welled up when he fed.
“Do you want the third one?” Shiro asked after he’d finished the second. Keith eyed it for a moment and then shook his head. He felt sleepy and satisfied now, no need to keep going. Shiro smiled and got up to put the remaining bag away and to throw out the empty ones.
“Alright, what else do you want to know?” he asked when he returned, settling into a comfortable position on the bed.
“Everything,” Keith answered, and Shiro laughed again.
“Everything, huh? Alright.” He leaned back on his elbows. “My name is Takashi Shirogane. I was born in the year 1702 and turned by a man called Sendak when I was twenty five. He was one of Zarkon’s progeny, and I spent one hundred and twenty five years as a part of Zarkon’s coven.”
“Didn’t like it?” Keith guessed. This time, Shiro’s laugh was a little bitter.
“No, I didn’t. Both Sendak and Zarkon were cruel sires, and they treated humans even worse. So when I turned one fifty I killed Sendak.”
Keith’s eyes widened. “You killed your sire?”
“Yes,” said Shiro evenly, not looking at him. “And I don’t regret it.”
Keith said nothing else, so Shiro resumed his story.
“After that I drifted for a little while until I found a different coven. It’s called the Blade of Marmora. It’s mainly for people who also left or were exiled from Zarkon’s. It’s how I met Matt-- he and his sister were born vampires, not turned, so Zarkon has no control over them. He was never very kind to their family.”
“How old are they?”
“Matt is two hundred, and Pidge is one fifty seven.”
“Ok,” Keith said, humming a little. He turned, sitting cross legged on the bed and leaning his cheek into his hand. “What about the humans? Why are they here?” His eyes narrowed. “You aren’t--”
“No,” Shiro answered quickly. “They’re Pidge’s friends. She found them a few years back, being attacked by a couple of Zarkon’s men. She scared them off, and the two of them have stuck around ever since.”
“And they’re fine with the vampire stuff? Even after being attacked?”
“Yes. Well, mostly. Hunk gets a little squeamish around blood.”
Keith stared at him, astonished. “Why the hell is a squeamish human hanging out with a bunch of vampires?”
Shiro shrugged. “We don’t usually feed in front of them, so it’s not an issue.”
Keith took a moment to process all of this information, staring down at the duvet. It was still pitch black in the room, but vampire eyesight was a real gift.
“So… what are you going to do with me? I don’t suppose you’ll just let me go.”
Shiro shook his head a little regretfully. “No. I couldn’t morally make the choice to let someone as young as you wander around alone. There’s a reason most vampires stay with their sires for so long.” Upon seeing Keith frown, he changed tactics. “Besides, even if you were older, I couldn’t. Covens divide up territory amongst themselves, I was given this area by the Blade of Marmora. I can’t just let you go wherever. I’ll have to tell them about finding you, so they can adjust accordingly.”
“And what, don’t I get a say in what happens to me?”
“Of course you do. If you don’t want to join the Blade you’ll probably have to move, but be warned, there aren’t a lot of places left that aren’t claimed by some coven or another.”
Keith scowled at his lap. “Why? People can’t just be left alone?”
“We’re very hierarchical creatures, Keith,” Shiro said gently. “And contrary to popular belief, quite sociable. It’s why being abandoned by your sire is so cruel.”
Shiro had said it earlier: Zarkon had created him to be alone. And the more time passed, the more he was starting to think the universe had done exactly the same thing. He’d been alone since he was five, excepting one blissful year. And then he’d been turned and everything had fallen apart and he was alone again. For twenty years.
Cruel didn’t even begin to cover it.
“It’s not a big deal,” Keith heard himself saying. “He’s not the first one.”
That gave Shiro a pause. “Keith, how old were you when you were turned?”
Shiro sat up straight and ran a hand over his face, looking unspeakably tired and sad. “Just when I thought I couldn’t hate Zarkon more,” he said, forcing a wry chuckle. Keith looked away.
There was heavy silence for a long moment, one Keith didn’t have the energy to break. All he wanted to do was curl up under a blanket, be warm for freaking once, and stay there for as long as he could manage it.
Of course, none of that was going to happen.
For one thing, his body no longer gave off enough heat to be trapped by a blanket, so it wouldn’t work anyway. For another, he was in an apartment with five new people, which guaranteed he wouldn’t be able to relax. Long story short, he was a fanged ball of misery.
“Shit, I didn’t even think-- Do you have anything you need to get?”
It took Keith way too long to realize Shiro was speaking to him again.
“No. Nothing important,” he grumbled. Shiro picked up on his change in mood easily and lowered his voice again.
“Where were you staying?”
Keith shrugged. “Street. Sometimes I had money for a shitty apartment, but not very often.”
Shiro made an angry hissing sound between his teeth, like a pissed off cat. Keith understood he was angry for him, not at him, but his shoulders hunched inwards out of habit. Shiro got up-- Keith didn’t bother to look and see where he was going-- and he returned barely a minute later. He handed something to him, a towel, and Keith looked up at him with a furrowed brow.
“Remember how I said Hunk got squeamish?” Shiro said with a gentle smile. “You should probably get cleaned up before we introduce you to everyone properly. You can use my shower.”
A shower? As in, an actual shower, with warm water? Holy shit.
His excitement must have shown on his face, because Shiro laughed.
“Through that door. Take as long as you want.”
“Come on, Pidge, just tell us a little bit!” Lance whined, leaning heavily on the shorter girl’s shoulder. “I know Matt told you about him.”
Pidge just grumbled and shoved him off, reaching for her cup of coffee. She really wasn’t a morning person (or evening in her case) and usually Lance could respect that. But today was special. There was a new person, and Lance wanted to know everything about him, pronto.
“Lay off, Lance,” Hunk counseled from the loveseat where he was doing his homework like a dutiful student. Lance ignored him.
“Pleeeeeeeeeease,” he wheedled until Pidge hissed at him and bared her fangs, and only then did he relent, slinking from the kitchen back into the living room. He was about to go and annoy Hunk, but his friend was saved from it when Shiro’s bedroom door opened. Shiro emerged first, shooting him a warning glance before heading towards the kitchen himself. The new vampire tagged closely behind him, practically glued to his back.
The first thing Lance noticed were his eyes. They weren’t glowing red with hunger anymore, and it turned out they were a weird indigo-violet color. He’d apparently just gotten out of the shower as his hair was wet and sticking to his neck and cheekbones, and there wasn’t a drop of red anywhere on him (probably for Hunk’s benefit). He’ also changed out of his dark clothes from before and was now wearing a pair of Shiro’s sweatpants, the drawstring around the waist pulled all the way taut, along with a white tank top that was way too big for him.
Lance tried to give him a smile, but the vampire wouldn’t look up at any of them. His gaze was firmly focused on his feet, swamped in the legs of Shiro’s sweatpants, and followed the older man into the kitchen. Lance tried not to look too visibly disappointed.
“Leave him alone,” Hunk hissed from the sofa. “He looks pretty jumpy.”
“I’m just trying to be friendly,” Lance retorted, not taking his eyes off of him. He was hovering near Shiro while he prepared drinks at the counter. Shiro said something to Pidge and received a hiss for his trouble, making him laugh under his breath.
“Maybe he doesn’t want you to be friendly.”
Lance continued to ignore him, and Hunk rolled his eyes. Shiro picked up a mug and pressed it into the new vampire’s hands, nodding in the direction of the living room. The new vampire shook his head. Shiro gave him a look, and after a moment he relented. Unfortunately he swept right past Lance and dropped himself into a corner, drawing his knees up in front of his steaming mug as though he could hide from the other people in the room. Hunk dutifully didn’t pay him any attention. Lance would not be so easily deterred.
“Feeling less bitey?”
The vampire looked up at the human that had appeared in front of him, and his lips peeled back from his teeth.
“Keith!” Shiro called from the kitchen. “Play nicely.”
The vampire glared, but a little bit of tension left his shoulders nonetheless.
“So, Keith huh?” said Lance, plopping himself down cross legged in front of the other boy. He nodded very, very cautiously. Lance grinned.
Still, Keith looked incredibly uncomfortable. His eyes flicked everywhere, from Lance to the doors to the window, as though numbering off escape routes. His knuckles turned white around the mug he wasn’t drinking from. He just held it to his chest, like he was trying to absorb its heat. He didn’t say anything. And that was fine. Lance could talk enough for the both of them.
He started with how he met Pidge.
Then he moved on to Hunk.
Then Shiro and Matt.
Then he started talking about school, his family, anything that popped into his head. Over the course of his seventeen years on this Earth, he’d learned that a lot of shy people preferred to just listen and let the other person carry the conversation. So he did, especially since Keith wasn’t about to start providing personal information. He had no idea how long he’d been talking before Shiro interrupted.
“Lance,” he said, finally stepping out of the kitchen.
Lance glanced back at Keith, and was surprised to see him staring straight down into the mug he hadn’t taken a single sip from, avoiding Lance’s eyes as hard as he possibly could. A low sound was rippling out of the back of his throat that he couldn’t seem to help, and Lance was pretty sure it was a growl. Keith was growling at him.
He immediately scooted back several feet. He’d heard that sound before from Pidge-- the overwhelmed sound. Guilt twisted in his stomach.
“Sorry,” he said as genuinely as he could. “I get carried away.”
Keith didn’t look at him. He abandoned his now cold mug on the floor and bolted for Shiro’s room, a blur of grey and dark hair. As soon as the door shut behind him, Shiro let out a heavy sigh.
“Sorry,” Lance said again, this time to Shiro. “I just wanted to make friends.”
“I know,” Shiro answered, giving him a tired half smile. “But take it easy on him, ok? He’s been alone for a long time. He’s not used to being around people yet.”
Lance cast one last frown at the door, and then returned to the sofa to start his homework.
“-- I don’t know what’s happening--”
“-- help me, please help me--”
Keith jolted away, drenched in a cold sweat, trembling. The faint glow behind the curtains said the sun had come up, and Shiro slept away on the floor beside the bed.
He’d spent most of the previous night hiding in Shiro’s room, only drifting out a couple of times after the humans left. Pidge and Matt seemed nice enough, but Lance was just too much. One does not simply not have a single conversation for twenty years and then throw themselves into the deep end with the extrovert to end all extroverts. When bedtime had rolled around and Shiro offered him the bed, he hadn’t even argued. Ok, so it felt nice to sleep on a mattress for once, sue him.
But now he was regretting it, because deep sleep meant nightmares (daymares?) and he wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway.
He lay on his side and stared at the wall, trying to unwind the tension that had coiled in his gut, but it was a losing battle. There was a slight rustling of blankets, and then Shiro’s voice was coming from behind his back.
“Keith? You ok?”
He had no idea how Shiro knew. He didn’t make any noise, he knew that. He said nothing, hoping Shiro would go back to sleep, but instead he got up. The mattress sank on the far side when Shiro sat on the edge of it.
“Hey, talk to me.”
Keith huffed. “It’s nothing. Just dreams. About the night I turned.”
“Tell me about it.” It wasn’t a request. For a second Keith considered refusing, and then remembered how he’d demanded Shiro’s entire life story the night before, and figured it was only fair.
“I went to a concert.” Already he had to pause for breath. This was the first time he’d ever said any of it out loud. It was nerve wracking. Shiro put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.
“Some guy cornered me in the parking lot. Guess that was Zarkon, but I never saw his face. He shoved me down, bit me before I knew what was going on.” His fingers came up, lightly brushed the scars on the right side of his neck, and then snatched themselves away. “I screamed, but nobody came.”
“Do you remember the actual turning?” Shiro asked softly, moving his hand off of his shoulder. Keith curled up into a tighter ball, surprised to find that he actually missed the contact.
“No. I passed out. Why?”
“That’s good. It’s supposed to be painful.”
“It hurt when I woke up.”
“Everything. Blood was everywhere. I could hear everything for miles, smell everything, and I was so hungry. I had no idea what was happening, I thought he’d drugged me or something.”
“What did you do?”
“I tried to call my best friend, but it was in the middle of the night, and I wasn’t making any sense.”
“Keith? Keith, what’s wrong?” His voice was still thick from sleep. He yawned, and Keith flinched away from the phone. Something was drumming-- it was his heartbeat-- he could hear his heartbeat through the fucking phone what the fuck--
“Tanner, please, I don’t know what’s happening.” Keith’s voice was thick too, but with tears and pain rather than sleep. He was still on the ground where he’d been pushed and he could feel every little rock and bump pressing into him through his jacket and he was cold and there was blood and everything hurt and his stomach was all in knots and and and--
“What happened? Are you high?” Tanner was sounding more awake, and his heart was beating faster. Louder. Pounding in his head, beating all of his thoughts away until he couldn’t think of anything but the sound.
High. Was he high? Maybe. If he was, he didn’t like it. He wanted to come down.
“Please help me.” He hated how his voice came out in a whimper, but he couldn’t-- nothing-- god it just hurt.
Tanner’s heartbeat picked up even more, and Keith made some sort of a hissing sound.
“Ok, where are you?”
The heartbeat was too much. Too loud. Too fast. He couldn’t handle it. His fingers trembled when he hung up and made the sound finally stop. He left his phone on the ground when he forced himself up.
“So I went to his house instead.”
Shiro’s hand was back, pressing in between his shoulder blades. He knew how this story ended.
Had the doorbell always been this loud and shrill? He had no time to ponder that question, as the door was being yanked open before the bell had even finished echoing through the house.
“Keith?! Jesus Christ, you scared the shit out of me, what did you do--”
This has been a terrible idea.
There was so much noise, and the smell… what even was that? Whatever it was, it was overwhelming. It was awful-- thick and cloying-- made it hard to think.
Tanner grabbed his arm and every nerve ending he had lit up.
“I… I wound up killing him.”
Shiro’s hand pressed down. Keith kept talking.
“I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to. But I-- I couldn’t stop.” He curled tighter into his ball, and Shiro started rubbing his back.
“It’s alright,” he was murmuring. “You’re not the first vampire to accidentally hurt someone, and you won’t be the last.”
Keith huffed. Yeah, he’d had just about enough of this, thanks. He’d spent the last two decades trying to forget that he’d killed the only friend he’d ever had, and he’d like to go back to forgetting.
“What was his name?”
But Shiro wouldn’t let him forget.
Keith shuddered, and Shiro responded with a low rumbling sound. It was strange, almost like a purr, coming from deep within his chest. Keith felt something between his ribs loosen at the sound.
“What was that?” he asked quietly. Shiro shifted behind him.
“It’s something older vampires do for their progeny, meant to soothe. It’s not as effective if it doesn’t come from your sire, but all young vampires have an instinctive reaction to it regardless of where it comes from.”
“Are you a sire?”
Shiro chuckled a little. “No, I’m not. I’m old enough to be one, but I guess I never saw the appeal in it.”
Keith stared at the blackout curtains, eyeing the glow coming from around the edges. He missed the sun, being warm. He wasn’t ready to go back to sleep.
“Well, getting to know humans can be difficult. You can’t be sure you can trust them, that they can handle the information, and even then they might not want to be turned. And the way most vampires do it-- chasing someone down and turning them against their will-- I don’t like it. It forces them to be dependent on you. It’s like kidnapping. No thanks.”
“Hmmm.” Keith pondered that for a long moment. For some reason, knowing Shiro wouldn’t have done what Zarkon did made him feel better. “What about Lance or Hunk? If they asked, would you turn them?”
“No,” Shiro answered immediately, and then softened his words. “Not right away. I’d make them wait until they were at least thirty, make them live properly. Then if they still wanted it, I’d consider it.”
“Hm,” Keith said again.
“But they wouldn’t ask. They like Pidge, and they like me and Matt, but they have families that they love. They wouldn’t want to leave them.”
Wonder what that feels like.
Shiro took his hand away again, and it took Keith a long time to return to sleep.
It took three days for Keith to finally start warming up to the other vampires, but once he did the atmosphere in the apartment grew much livelier. He and Pidge got on like a forest fire, and at the moment they were wrestling on the living room carpet while Matt and Shiro made coffee.
It was fairly early for them to be awake, the sun hadn’t even gone all the way down yet, and they were all still in their pajamas with bedheads and lidded eyes. Normally Pidge would still be in bed, refusing to move until someone brought her caffeine, but it seemed Keith’s energy was infectious.
Matt leaned over to murmur quietly into Shiro’s ear. “Out of all of us, I never thought Pidge would be the one to start playing with the baby vampire first.”
Shiro just smiled and shook his head. “We both know she cares way more than she lets on.”
In the living room, Keith rolled and pinned Pidge beneath him, leaning down to barely brush his fangs against her throat to indicate he’d won. Then he sat up and crossed his arms.
“You’re going easy on me.”
Pidge sat up as well and shoved him off of her hips. “Uh, duh? Of course I am. I’ve still got thirteen decades on you, if I didn’t go easy you’d be squashed like a bug.”
Keith pouted, and Pidge lunged in retaliation, wrapping one arm around his neck and taking them both back to the floor.
The sound of them laughing filled the room, and Shiro felt… some kind of way. He wasn’t sure.
“Have you told Kolivan about him yet?” asked Matt, yanking him back to reality where the coffee maker was beeping obnoxiously.
“No,” Shiro answered as he busied himself pouring. “I’m going to call him today.”
“You sound worried.”
Shiro glanced back at the two younger vampires just as Pidge pinned Keith to the sofa and started tickling him mercilessly. Keith shrieked and batted at her hands, flashing his fangs, but Pidge was relentless.
“I am worried,” he admitted, keeping his voice low so the others wouldn’t hear. “Keith is different from most new vampires, and I don’t want him to end up with someone who’ll hurt him.”
“You could always ask Kolivan to let him stay here.”
“I could, but it’s also up to Keith.”
Shiro picked up the two mugs and left the kitchen before Matt could continue their conversation.
Keith had just managed to get away from Pidge, rolling both of them off the couch and onto the floor and then darting to his feet. He was making a run for it when he almost ran smack into Shiro’s chest. He looked up, and Shiro was very pleased to see how his eyes sparkled.
Then Pidge bit his ankle, and he practically threw her off with his kick.
“You little demon!” he half yelled, half laughed. Shiro smiled.
“Pidge, I brought your coffee.”
It was another week before he went near the humans, and thankfully for all of them, Lance seemed to have learned his lesson. He would offer a smile whenever Keith glanced his way, but didn’t make any more attempts to speak to him. But one evening, after several nudges from Shiro and a great deal of hovering, Keith finally approached them.
The two humans were sitting on the living room floor, textbooks and notes spread out between them. Pidge sat on the couch where she normally did, doing something or other on her laptop. She glanced up when Keith shuffled into the room, but only shot him a supportive smirk and went back to what she was doing.
“Hey. Um. What are you guys working on?”
Both of them looked at him with pleasantly surprised expressions. Lance bit his lip, probably trying to hold back his word vomit, while Hunk eyed him a little anxiously. Keith didn’t blame him; he admittedly hadn’t made the best first impression.
“Physics. Practicing measuring force.”
“Basically just solving practice problems,” Lance chimed in, though he kept his voice down. “Plugging different numbers into the formula.”
Keith hesitated for a moment, and then dropped to the floor beside them and peered curiously at Hunk’s notebook.
“I remember this,” he murmured. “I think. Force is mass times acceleration, right?”
Hunk gave him a tentative smile. “Yeah, that’s right.”
Lance was looking at him with an eyebrow raised, and Keith immediately shifted into defense mode.
“What? I went to school in the nineteen nineties, not the sixteen nineties.”
Both of the boys laughed, and another knot between his ribs came undone.
It got easier after that. Lance was surprised by how loud and snarky he was underneath the initial suspicion, but that shock didn’t last long. The two of them fell into a pattern of banter and bickering that gave Shiro headaches that he put up with for Keith’s sake. The word friend wasn’t quite accurate for them. Rivals, maybe, though what the rivalry was based on was anyone’s guess.
Hunk confused Keith. Sometimes he was almost as sarcastic as Pidge, sometimes he told awful puns that made even Lance groan. Sometimes he seemed almost afraid of Keith, and other times he wasn’t afraid to tease and poke and prod. Once he crushed him into a hug so tight he felt his bones creak, and the next day he was eyeing him like he might pounce at any moment.
Keith didn’t get it, but got along with him well enough.
It was two weeks after they found him in the alley that someone from the blade finally came to discuss the situation with Shiro. He came at midnight, after Lance and Hunk had gone home; an ancient vampire with laser blue eyes and thinning blonde hair. Shiro knew him-- smiled when he opened the door and invited him inside.
“This is him?” the vampire asked, glancing at where Keith sat on the couch next to Pidge. Keith looked him firmly in the eye and didn’t miss how they flickered red in response.
“Yes. Ulaz, this is Keith. Keith, Ulaz. He’s the one who recruited me to the Blade of Marmora.” Shiro seemed relaxed enough around him, but Keith still didn’t like how Ulaz was looking at him-- dominating, like he needed to take Keith down a peg.
Neither of them said anything.
Pidge elbowed him and Shiro cleared his throat, but Keith didn’t move. Ulaz turned to Shiro.
Shiro could feel the tension in the air and led Ulaz into the kitchen as he launched into the tale. As soon as they ducked behind the cupboards, Pidge grabbed Keith’s collar and yanked him down.
“What are you doing?” she hissed, though her eyes looked amused and her lips quirked upwards.
“What?” Keith snapped in return. “What did I do?”
“You’re not supposed to look leaders in the eye like that,” Pidge explained. “It’s disrespectful. Especially for a baby.”
“How am I supposed to act, then? It’s not like anyone taught me.”
Pidge sighed and released her hold on his shirt. “You’re supposed to be subservient. Don’t speak up, do what you’re told, let them decide.”
Keith scowled. “I don’t think so. That’s bullshit.”
“That’s what I thought you’d say,” Pidge responded with a chuckle. “Just hope they let you stay with Shiro. Any other foster sire would beat the shit out of you.”
Keith glanced at the kitchen, wearing a heavy frown. He couldn’t see their faces, and they were keeping their voices low enough that he couldn’t hear, but he still made a decision.
The Blade of Marmora could get fucked. Either he stayed here with Shiro or he ran. He had more than enough experience with foster families when he was alive, and he’d die for real before he dealt with that bullshit again.
“I don’t need a foster sire,” he grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. “I was doing fine on my own.”
“You were starving yourself.”
“I never asked for this,” he snarled with his eyes flaring red. “I never asked for any of this. I never wanted to be this way.”
“I know you didn’t,” Pidge murmured with a sympathetic frown. “Look, if it makes you feel better, Shiro wants you to stay. And he wouldn’t expect you to act that way.”
Shiro was sticking his head out of the kitchen, calling for him.
“Can you come in here please?”
Keith went. He looked up at Ulaz’s face, though didn’t quite meet his eyes, walking a fine line between respect and pride.
“We were just discussing your living situation,” said Shiro, watching their interaction carefully. “I wanted to ask your opinion.”
“I want to stay here,” was the immediate answer. Ulaz’s jaw twitched, but he just looked at Shiro and sighed.
“Very well. If you’re so set on it, you can keep the fledgling. Just don’t come crawling back to me when you get sick of his attitude.”
Shiro smiled, though it was strained, and thanked him before leading him to the door.
Keith wasn’t sorry to see him go.
Shiro bought him a bed.
It was a twin that he shoved into the opposite corner from his, the bottom jutting in front of the window. It was a necessary addition if he was going to be living with them, but for Keith it was one of the nicest things anyone had done for him.
It made Shiro sad.
One day he was sleeping restlessly, and awoke several times. One of these times he rolled over to find the curtains open. Keith was curled up in a ball at the foot of his bed, covered completely in a blanket to protect him from the light while he enjoyed the warmth from the sun beam.
A few days later Shiro presented him with an electric blanket, and Keith reacted as though he’d been given a diamond. He spent hours at a time coiled up beneath it, making happy purring sounds that made Lance tease him for sounding like a cat and caused Shiro’s chest to tighten.
As he’d told Keith, he wasn’t a sire. But he was starting to think this is how it felt to be one. That strange protectiveness that had welled up when Ulaze flashed his eyes at Keith in a sign of dominance. That tightness whenever he saw him happy. The sadness that wreathed his heart whenever Keith let slip some painful detail about his life before. The anger whenever he thought of how alone he’d been for so long.
Matt teased him about it, calling him “vampire dad” sometimes. The day he brought Shiro the book he thought it was just another one of Matt’s jokes, but his expression was full of genuine excitement rather than anticipation.
“It’s new,” he said of the tome as he plopped it down on the kitchen counter before Shiro. “Well, no, technically it’s old, really old, but it’s super rare. Dad just bought it along with a bunch of others from some hidden monastery in central Europe and--”
While Matt babbled on about the exact location of the monastery and how his father had acquired it, Shiro tuned him out and studied the book itself. It looked like many of the other books in the Holt family library. Thick pages of parchment, yellow and wrinkled with age. Wrapped in leather and bound with strong thread. The sunken-in scent of dust that would probably never vanish completely.
In lilting golden script, the title, pressed into the front cover, read The Bestiary of All Things Natural, Unnatural, Supernatural, Made of Man, etc.
“Is there anything you won’t read?” he asked dryly, probably interrupting but not really caring. Matt made a sound of mock offense.
“Listen, if you have everlasting life and you don’t take the opportunity to read every book in existence, you’re doing it wrong.”
“Alright, if you say so. What did you want to show me?”
“It’s about supernatural creatures,” Matt said, reaching over to gingerly open the book. “Or at least part of it is. And one section is about rituals that old covens used to practice. I found one that I thought was really interesting.”
Carefully, one by one, he turned the pages. Shiro wasn’t sure if he was just doing it to build the suspense, but decided the focused look on his face was sincere enough and didn’t say anything. Finally Matt found the page he’d been looking for and gestured to it.
Shiro raised his eyebrows.
On the left hand page was an illustration, clearly done with quill and ink. It was a depiction of a vampire, slightly messy but mostly realistic, down to a brownish-red color in the eyes and bared fangs. What was unusual was the image underneath it: another vampire, seemingly drinking from the first.
Shiro was baffled. Vampire’s blood didn’t sate other vampires’ thirst at all-- everyone knew that. If it did they would have left humans alone long ago. Looking to the other page gave him no clues, as the whole thing was covered in writing in a language he didn’t understand.
He huffed in frustration. “You know I don’t read Latin, Matt.”
“Which is why I have oh-so-graciously provided a translation.” With a flourish, he produced a piece of notebook paper covered in his messy handwriting, laying it flat over the parchment page.
With only a little reluctance Shiro began to read. He made it three sentences in before his jaw dropped.
In the case of one strigoi finding their sire undesirable or faulted in some way, perhaps overly cruel or exhaustively controlling, the strigoi may choose to undertake the ritual of changing. In this the strigoi must have another bite them as they would prey, though most importantly in the exact location where the former was initially transformed, and drink until the former is almost entirely exsanguinated. At this time, given the bond between the two remains greater than the bond with their former sire, the chosen individual will overtake the previous bond, and in all ways, overtake the powers and responsibilities as the sire of the given strigoi.
Matt, who had been watching eagerly for his reaction, cracked a grin.
“Pretty awesome, right?”
Shiro made a conscious effort to close his mouth and swallow, still trying to parse all the aged terminology. He’d lived during a similar time period, of course, but at the time he was speaking Japanese, not Latin translated into English. It was entirely possible he wasn’t understanding correctly.
“Matt… is this saying what I think it’s saying?”
“If you think it’s saying you can take over as Keith’s sire, then yeah, pretty much.” He tilted his head, his smile undimmed. “I figure you probably have a stronger bond with him now, don’t you?”
Shiro shook his head in dazed disbelief. “How-- how do we know this even works? It could be a bunch of nonsense. And taking that much, I mean, we’re sturdier than humans but it could still kill him, still hurt him, I can’t--”
“Woah, woah, Shiro.” Matt held up a hand, his coy expression shifting into a serious frown. “I didn’t mean to get you all worked up. You’re right, it’s risky and there’s no definite proof that it works. You don’t have to do it. I just figured it was something you should know about.”
Shiro took a deep breath, forcibly calming himself down. Matt had only meant well, and Shiro wasn’t even really Keith’s sire, not even his foster-sire, really, so he had no reason to be so high strung.
“No, I-- I know. I’m sorry.”
Matt said nothing for a moment, just watching him with concerned eyes before he asked, “Are you going to tell Keith?”
“I don’t know,” Shiro said hopelessly, shaking his head again. “He’d want to try it, but I don’t want to get his hopes up just to be disappointed.”
Carefully, Matt reached past him and closed the book, leaving the piece of paper pressed between the leaves. As he slid it off the counter Shiro watched it go with a certain amount of distress. Was he making the right decision? Should he tell Keith and let him decide, as he’d done for everything else until this point? But what if it didn’t work and Shiro wound up hurting him? It was just so risky.
“It’s alright, Shiro,” Matt said, patting him lightly on the shoulder. “Take some time to think it over. It’s not going anywhere, and neither is Keith.”
Shiro gnawed on the inside of his lip, and as he watched Matt walk away, tried not to feel guilty.
It was three months of living in the apartment when he felt it. At first he had no idea what it was, just a compulsion to go somewhere. Anywhere. Get out. But then it got more specific, narrowed into a pull out of the apartment, out of the city, and he realized what it was. He ran for Shiro.
He was in the kitchen, discussing something with Matt, and his laugh was ringing off the walls when Keith rushed in.
“Woah!” he exclaimed when Keith slammed into him, fastening his arms around him like a vice. “What’s up, buddy?” There was an apprehensive tang to his tone, and for good reason. Keith was never usually this touchy, with anyone.
“Don’t let go of me!” He demanded, and Shiro automatically wrapped his arms around Keith’s shoulders.
“Alright, alright, you’re alright. What’s going on?”
“I can feel him,” Keith choked out, arms tightening around Shiro. “He’s calling me.”
There was a moment of horrified silence, broken only when Keith shuddered.
“I don’t wanna go.”
“It’s ok, Keith, I won’t let you.” Shiro ran his fingers through his hair, trying to calm him. “Matt, I’m gonna take him to his room. Lock the door and don’t open it until I tell you to. Understand?”
Matt audibly gulped. “Yeah. Yeah I understand.”
Keith let Shiro lead him. He was beginning to tremble as he kept his fingers twisted into Shiro’s shirt. It was getting worse, this tugging in his chest, pulling, willing him to forget about everything else and just follow. But he wouldn’t.
Shiro sat them both down on his bed, allowing Keith to curl into his side and hang on for dear life. The door clicked shut behind them and the lock turned, and for a long moment everything was quiet.
Keith jumped violently at the new voice. Shiro tightened his grip.
“Keith? What’s wrong?”
You know who I am.
“What is it?”
Why do you resist?
“I can hear him.”
“What do you mean?”
Come to your sire.
“He’s talking to me. Oh god, Shiro--”
“Shhhh, it’s alright Keith, just hold onto me.”
You know it’s where you belong.
“No no no no no.”
“Shhhhhhhh, it’s ok, it’s alright, I promise I won’t let you go.”
He could feel tears welling up and pressed his face into Shiro’s shoulder in an effort to hide them. He didn’t want to go, he didn’t want to leave, he wanted to stay here with Shiro, who he knew by now wouldn’t hurt him.
Give in, you know you can’t keep me out forever.
“No, shut up, I won’t go. I won’t go I won’t go I won’t.”
Fine. We can do this the hard way.
Then his nerve endings lit up like a painful Christmas tree and Keith cried out, his fingers scrambling at Shiro’s shoulders.
“It hurts-- Shiro, it hurts-- f-fuck--”
Shiro swore low in his ear. “I didn’t think he could use that on you from so far away. Dammit.”
Keith bit his lip-- only realizing his fangs had emerged when they sliced the skin open-- and felt a couple of tears sneak out.
The pain was only getting worse.
Shiro was panicking. He was usually so calm and composed, but now he had no idea what to do. Keith was in pain, writhing and clinging to him with his fangs digging into his lip and his eyes glowing, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Well, not nothing, but…
Keith let out a scream that made him cringe, and Shiro could feel the breath required for speech puff against his neck as he finally gave in and sobbed.
“Fuck, why can he do this?” he asked, clinging to him so hard Shiro’s shirt threatened to rip. “Why can my sire hurt me?”
Shiro shushed him again and rubbed his back soothingly.
“Keith, I have something I can try, but it’ll hurt, and it might not work--”
“Do it,” Keith cried, “I don’t care, just make it stop.”
“Ok, ok, just breathe. Where did Zarkon bite you when he turned you?”
Keith reached up and tore his shirt away from his throat, exposing the scars on the right side of his neck, the ones Shiro had noticed him rubbing at sometimes. Shiro brushed shaky fingers over them, wondering if he was really willing to do this, until Keith smacked them away.
“Whatever you’re gonna do, do it!” he snapped, glaring at him with wet, red eyes. “It fucking hurts!”
Shiro, with one last mental wish that Keith would forgive him if he fucked up, swooped in and buried his fangs in right on top of the scars. Keith yelled in surprise, but Shiro didn’t let up.
Vampire blood didn’t taste nearly as nice as human, and it didn’t slake the thirst at all. But Shiro forced himself past it and kept going. He would have to take a lot for this to have even the slightest chance of working.
Gradually, as Shiro drank, Keith’s squirming began to slow. His breaths followed suit, and he slumped more and more into his arms until eventually he went completely limp. That’s when he finally detached himself from Keith’s throat, laying him back carefully on the bed. Thankfully he was still awake, but just barely, skin practically gray and eyes flickering pink.
“I can’t hear him anymore,” Keith whispered, and Shiro’s heart swelled in his chest. “What did you do?”
“I’ll explain in a second,” said Shiro in the quietest voice he could manage. “You need to eat something.” He got to his feet, moved away from the bed, and then Keith made a sound that froze him in his tracks.
It was high pitched and keening; sad, scared, longing. It was a very specific call, one that Shiro responded instinctively with the same grumbling purr he’d made the first day Keith at been with them. And this time, instead of just relaxing a little, Keith practically went boneless.
More than a bit dazed and shaken from the whole experience, with cool blood uncomfortably staining at the edges of his mouth, Shiro gathered a couple of bags from the mini-fridge before returning. Keith had melted into the mattress, and when Shiro levered him up to lean against his shoulder it felt like lifting a lifesize ragdoll.
“Here,” he said, lifting one of the bags to Keith’s lips, but Keith turned his head away, letting it loll onto Shiro’s shoulder.
With a frown, Shiro tried again. “Come on, Keith, you need to drink.” But again Keith turned away from it, this time letting out a plaintive whine that kicked up a whole whirl of emotions in Shiro’s gut that he didn’t have the time or the mental faculties to identify.
It took him a few seconds of frustrated thinking before it dawned on him. Bringing the bag to his own mouth, Shiro tore a hole in it with his fangs and quickly passed it back to Keith. Thankfully he went for it this time and only let a few red drops splatter onto his shirt.
Keith drank slowly. All of his previous panic seemed to have been drained away by Shiro’s sire call, but still Shiro held him close, as though Zarkon would come busting through the wall at any moment like a nocturnal Kool-Aid commercial. Already he could feel the changes happening-- he kept having to swallow down useless rage and banish thoughts of possession.
Shiro had been brought into a world where a fledgling was the property of their sire, with utter control of everything they did and, if the sire wished it, everything they were. But Keith wasn’t like that. Keith had managed on his own, he was independent, almost painfully so, and even if he let Shiro coddle him sometimes he wouldn’t tolerate control.
And, Shiro tried to remind himself as Keith neared the end of his meal, you don’t want that, either. You don’t want to hurt him. You don’t want to be like Sendak and Zarkon.
The thought made him shudder.
When Keith finished the bag he let his head fall back again, and Shiro gently laid him back down, about to get back up and do some tidying. He didn’t have many clear memories of his years with Sendak, but he did recall that his first day with his sire he’d slept like a rock, for more than a dozen hours. But before Shiro could take so much as a step away from the bed he saw Keith’s eyes open.
They had returned to their normal color. He blinked a few times before levering himself up on his elbows. The pallor of his skin had improved, and though he still moved slowly with exhaustion, he seemed far more alert than Shiro had been expecting.
“Shiro?” he mumbled, rubbing an eye with his fist. They were still a bit swollen from the tears of before. “Wha’s going on? What’d you do?”
He took a knee at Keith’s side, swallowing the bitter tang of vampire blood down with his apprehension. Under Keith’s gaze he was suddenly doubting his decision-- maybe Keith wouldn’t have wanted this. Maybe he should’ve been more specific about what he was signing up for, instead of taking advantage of the pain and confusion.
“I…” he began to say, only to trail off. How was he going to explain it? “Here, let me--” He turned and called over his shoulder towards the door. “Matt? You out there?”
There was a startled scrape against the door, then Matt’s voice floated through. “Yeah, I’m here. What’s happening?” He still sounded freaked out.
“It’s alright now, you can come in. Bring the book with you.”
Dimly he heard Matt mutter, “Oh shit,” followed by footsteps hustling away from the door. A few cabinets banged and clattered, then the footsteps returned, and finally the doorknob turned and Matt appeared in the doorway, pale faced and clutching the book to his chest.
His tense expression eased a bit when he saw Keith, a bit blood-spattered but otherwise unharmed, and he shuffled forward into the room.
“Here,” he said as he handed the tome to Shiro. “Hey, Keith, you feeling better?”
Keith nodded, though he still seemed dazed. “Wha’s with the book?”
With an awkward clearing of his throat, Shiro sat forward and opened the leather bound book over Keith’s knees. Luckily Matt had left his translation in, making it easy to open it to the correct page. Keith’s eyes darted over the words rapidly. There were a few moments of hushed silence before he looked back up at Shiro, eyes wide and his mouth in an O of shock. The words bubbled out of Shiro’s throat without his permission.
“I’m sorry Keith, I should’ve asked you first, I know this is a big deal and I shouldn’t have done it so quickly, but I didn’t know for sure if it would work at all and you were in so much pain—“
He hadn’t babbled so badly in at least half a century. Thankfully Keith stopped him; by lunging forward and throwing his arms around Shiro’s neck in a tight embrace.
Matt gasped a curse word and scrambled to catch the book as it toppled off of Keith’s lap. But Shiro didn’t really notice. He was too busy listening to Keith’s voice in his ear, which even so close was barely audible.
“Thank you, Shiro, thank you.”
Shiro slowly reciprocated. The new sire bond thrummed approvingly in his chest, and Keith melted a little more against him. God, is this what a sire bond was supposed to feel like? How could Sendak have treated him so badly if this was what he was feeling? How could Zarkon?
“So…” Keith pulled back, his eyes searching Shiro’s face. He seemed to be pulling back into his normal amount of vulnerability (here meaning none) but Shiro could still feel all the tangled emotions through the bond. “You’re my sire now? For real?”
Shiro nodded. “Yeah, I think so.”
Keith visibly relaxed, and Shiro’s new instincts thrummed with satisfaction. But then he tensed up again and suddenly he felt like he’d swallowed a swarm of butterflies.
“What?” Shiro asked anxiously. “What’s wrong?” He’d never spoken to Keith that way before, with so much desperation, and the difference made Matt’s jaw drop. It was already so different from before, all in the space of five minutes, and Shiro’s head was spinning. How did other sires do this? It was so overwhelming.
“You’re not going to make me be different now, are you?” Keith’s eyes were narrowed into suspicious slits, his knees pulled up for him to hide behind, and Shiro felt like he was choking. He couldn’t stand the distrust he could feel emanating from Keith.
“No, no, I won’t, I won’t do that to you, Keith. I never want to hurt you.”
The tightness around his heart loosened, just a bit. Still Shiro shuffled back, even though Keith was relaxing again.
“Shiro?” Matt murmured, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah,” he gasped unconvincingly. “Yeah, it’s just-- it’s a lot.”
The words were barely out before Keith was on the floor in front of him, eyes wide and worried.
He threw his arms around Shiro’s middle, pressing close, and Shiro froze. This was the most direct Keith had ever been with affection, with the sole exception of an hour or so earlier, when he’d come to him in fear.
And he was making that happy growl he did when he laid under his electric blanket, and the wildness Shiro had been feeling under his skin smoothed over.
If anything else astound happened that day, Shiro was just going to fall over dead, for real this time.
“Woah,” Matt breathed out. “I didn’t know that was a thing.”
“Me neither,” managed Shiro as he slowly reciprocated Keith’s embrace.
Something was different here, but now wasn’t the time to puzzle it out.
They could figure it out later.
It quickly became evident that the bond between Shiro and Keith was different from a normal sire bond.
Shiro’s bond with Sendak had felt like shackles. Complete and utter domination. Not a single thought passed through his head that Sendak didn’t approve of, and disapproval meant pain.
With Keith it was different. Shiro felt possessive, sure, but more in a protective way, not for the sheer desire to own someone. Keith’s distress made him distressed. Keith’s happiness made him happy. But the biggest difference was in the reciprocation.
All Shiro could remember feeling towards Sendak was hatred. But Keith could calm Shiro the same way Shiro could calm him. Their bond felt like a two way street instead of a chain, and the more days that went by with them settling into the bond, the less Shiro worried about it.
The fear of being like Sendak was fading. Keith trusted him, he could feel it, and Shiro trusted Keith. He fit into their little family jigsaw perfectly, filling a hole Shiro hadn’t even known was there.
Alright, he was getting sappy. But he couldn’t help it-- Keith was sitting next to him on the couch, feet pressed to the outside of Shiro’s thigh, covered in his warm blanket and purring. That sound always made him feel giddy.
It was early, for them at least, the sun still setting behind the horizon. Pidge would be pulling herself out of bed soon, Lance and Hunk would be arriving for their customary two-hour visit, and things were good. Safe and content.
A door creaked to their left and Pidge shuffled out, rumpled and only half conscious. Matt would be up soon as well (provided he got off of his phone in a timely fashion) so Shiro already had the coffee brewed and ready for them.
Pidge disappeared into the kitchen, there was some clinking of ceramic, and a moment later she reappeared with a mug in hand. She sat down on the floor beside Shiro’s feet and took a loud slurp.
“Good morning to you, too,” Shiro said, a tease laced through his words. Pidge stuck her tongue out at him.
About half an hour later Matt emerged as well, and Pidge got up to shower and get dressed. Keith’s purr had paused-- the tranquility of the bond telling Shiro he’d fallen back asleep without having to look at him.
“That’s adorable,” Matt mouthed to him over the edge of his mug, cheekily flashing his fangs. Shiro made a face in return, but he couldn’t deny the facts-- it was pretty damn cute.
A little bit later, at the same moment Shiro heard the familiar footsteps of Lance and Hunk on the stairs, Keith stirred and began to rouse.
Lance, as usual, didn’t bother knocking. He and Hunk just strolled in, plenty comfortable with waltzing into a vampire den.
A den of nice vampires, but still.
Keith sat up and rubbed his eyes with a wide yawn that revealed his fangs-- he looked like a disheveled, sleepy cat.
“Same, dude,” Lance said, and without missing a beat, dropped his backpack to the floor and followed it down. “Math is actually going to kill me, I swear.”
“It’s not that bad,” Hunk responded placidly as he sat beside him and began to open his own backpack. “Besides, you need to know math if you’re gonna be a pilot.”
Lance groaned piteously as Keith and Shiro exchanged an amused glance.
“Forget it, I give up. I’m gonna be a stripper instead.”
“You’d be pretty enough,” snarked Pidge as she emerged from her room.
“Hello to you, too.”
“Hey, Pidge.” Hunk had his textbook open over his lap, tapping a finger on one shiny page. “Do you know how to do these equations?”
Pidge knelt beside him and peered at the page. “Yeah, I do, but I do them differently in my head.”
Hunk looked relieved. “Great, cause this method really doesn’t make sense to me.”
For the next forty-five minutes or so they worked on their homework, with Lance’s reluctant participation. Matt sat at the breakfast bar with his coffee mug, reading another old book from his father’s library. Shiro played a silly app game Lance had gotten him hooked on, while Keith leaned on his shoulder, half dozing. Their bond was oozing warm feelings that lulled them both into a comfortable stupor-- the apartment was an oasis of calm as the shadows deepened outside.
“Alright,” Lance announced after an hour, slamming his book shut. “I can’t do this anymore. Who wants to go to Balmera?”
Hunk and Pidge sat straight up, attention finally wrested away from numbers.
“I’m in,” Pidge said, scrambling to her feet. “Let me get my shoes.”
“Great idea, Lance,” Hunk said with a thankful grin.
Shiro’s bond stirred with confusion.
“What’s Balmera?” asked Keith. His tone was soft, but Lance heard anyway and pounced.
“Only the best ice cream place in the city!” he exclaimed. “You gotta come with us man!”
“Yeah Keith,” Hunk chimed in. “You should get out for once.”
Shiro felt Keith’s hesitance through their bond and pressed back with gentle reassurance. It would be good for Keith to go; he hadn’t gone out much since coming to live with them. It would do him good.
“Alright, alright,” Keith muttered, “I’ll go. Jeez, dad.” But the bond said fond exasperation, not genuine irritation, so Shiro merely smiled as he sat up and stretched.
“Just be careful,” was all he said, turning back to his game. “Remember when Lance and Hunk need to be back.”
So it was that Keith put on his boots and his old hoodie and accompanied Pidge, Lance, and Hunk on their field trip to Balmera. Matt came to the loveseat and took Keith’s spot, still reading his book.
And for the moment, life (or rather, undeath) was good.
It took barely half an hour before Shiro got the creeping feeling that something was wrong. At first he squashed it down, assuming it was just overprotective sire instincts. Until, suddenly, he felt the dizzying sensation of not being able to breathe despite not actually needing to breathe anymore. His phone tumbled from his fingers and hit the carpet, drawing Matt’s eyes from his book.
“Shiro? What’s wrong?”
His bond was lighting up like a supernova of pure panic. Sirens were going off in his head, adrenaline was snaking through his veins.
“Something’s wrong,” he gasped out. He found himself on his feet, already heading for the door before Matt grabbed his arm.
“Something’s wrong with Keith!” he shouted, trying to pull away, but Matt held him fast.
“Ok, ok, I get that, but at least put your shoes on, ok?”
Shiro got his boots laced up faster than he ever had in his life (or unlife). Matt was barely keeping up as he rushed out of the apartment and headed towards Balmera. The dim echo of Kolivan’s voice telling him not to attract too much attention was the only thing keeping him from sprinting there.
They found Hunk, Lance, and Pidge two blocks from the apartment, sitting on the concrete stairs outside a store. They were scruffed up and dirty, but Shiro wasn’t seeing them. He was seeing what wasn’t there, the bond screaming with fear.
“Where’s Keith?” he demanded upon reaching them. Pidge winced, and only then did he notice the tears running down her cheeks and the blood drying around her lips.
“They took him,” Pidge said through tears. “We got jumped, and they took Keith.”
Shiro couldn’t speak, his throat was too tight, but Matt knelt at his sister’s side and spoke for him.
“Do you know who it was?”
“Vampires,” Hunk squeaked. He was crying too, though his tears seemed more like tears of terror, his entire body shaking like a leaf. “They had red eyes.”
“Probably Zarkon’s,” Pidge supplied with a bitter scowl.
“Are any of you hurt?” Matt asked, though his attention was mostly focused on Pidge. She shook her head.
“Lance scraped his knee, but that’s it. They weren’t interested in us. Just Keith.”
Shiro’s eyes darted to Lance. He was silent and trembling, but when he felt Shiro’s gaze, he met it. With fumbling fingers he pulled something out of his pocket-- a vial, like a syringe with the needle broken off.
“They dropped this,” he said in a shaken whisper.
Shiro plucked it from his fingers. Inside the bond had gone numb, and the reason why became clear as soon as he raised the vial to his nose.
“Dead man’s blood,” he spat as he recoiled.
“What does that do?” asked Hunk. “Is that bad?”
“It’s kind of like a sedative,” explained Matt. He was holding Pidge to his shoulder, stroking her hair. “Puts us into a fugue state. Not dead, just unconscious.”
Pidge made a choking sound, turning her head further into Matt’s neck. “It’s my fault. I was supposed to protect him. It’s my fault--”
“Shhhh,” Matt soothed, rocking them both a bit. “It’s ok, Katie, it’s not your fault.”
Shiro still couldn’t think straight. He felt like a father losing a toddler at the store, multiplied by a thousand.
“Which way did they go?” he asked of Lance, who pointed down the street in the opposite direction of the apartment.
“They were in a black van,” Lance said, a tad louder this time. “No windows. Very stranger danger.”
Shiro didn’t know what that meant, and he didn’t care. He turned in the direction Lance had indicated, the only thought in his head being to get Keith back, no matter what, before they could hurt him.
“Woah, woah, Shiro, hold on!” There were a few footsteps, then Matt’s hand landed on his shoulder, pulling until Shiro turned to face him.
“I gotta find him, Matt,” he said hoarsely.
“I know, I know this is hard for you, but you gotta stop and think.” Matt’s gaze was solemn and hard, which made Shiro pay attention despite the whirlwind in his head. When Matt looked like that, you knew you had to listen. “You can’t break into Zarkon’s compound alone. You know that. We have to call Kolivan, get help, make a plan. We have to be smart about this.”
Matt was right. It took a few seconds to work its way into Shiro’s head, but he knew Matt was right. Him charging in alone and getting killed or captured wouldn’t help Keith.
“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. Ok, we gotta call Kolivan.”
Matt gave him a strained smile.
“There ya go Shiro. It’ll be ok. Everything will be fine.”
Shiro wanted to believe him. But he knew Zarkon, and Matt didn’t.
He knew it wasn’t going to be ok.
Waking up was a slow, difficult, almost painful process. He was cold in a way he hadn’t been for months, not since he moved in with Shiro, and the room he opened his eyes to was dimly lit in a strange magenta glow.
He tried to sit up, but something was fastened around his throat. And his wrists, and his ankles.
That was when he remembered everything that had happened. The black van screeching up to them, figures emerging and launching into an attack. The puncture of a needle in his neck. Pidge screaming as everything went black.
Keith stared at the stone ceiling above him, petrified. He’d been taken. Someone had stolen him from his home. And Keith could guess who had stolen him.
Dimly he heard footsteps coming. His head swiveled in that direction. The room he was in was huge, massive, with iron cages ringing the whole perimeter. Within the circle of cages were several metal tables (where he was currently bound) and some scary looking scientific/medical equipment.
The footsteps were close now. To his right a large, ancient looking door swung open, and in slid an ancient looking woman. She was robed and hooded in purple, white hair spilling out from underneath the latter.
“Ah, so you are the fledgling,” she drawled. Her voice creaked worse than the hinges on the door. It made Keith shudder.
The woman approached, heels clicking ominously over the stone floors. She leaned over him, and if Keith’s heart still beat, it would’ve stopped right then.
Her skin was paper white, paler than a corpse. Her eyes glowed red so bright it hurt. He may be new to vampire society, but even he could tell how high up she must be in the hierarchy. She practically oozed dominance.
“The fledgling who rejected his sire,” she continued, sweeping her eyes over him analytically. “Fascinating. How did you do it, little one?”
Like he was going to make it that easy for them. He bared his teeth and let his eyes flash, a growl rolling out of his throat. But the woman merely laughed at him.
“Haggar,” said another voice, and it wasn’t until then Keith noticed there was another person in the room. This man was robed in black, but Keith couldn’t see into his hood. “We should begin the examination as soon as possible. Lord Zarkon--”
Haggar waved a dismissive, gnarled hand. “Yes, yes. I am more than aware of what Lord Zarkon wants.”
She paused and peered down at Keith. Frankly, he was terrified. All signs pointed to him becoming some sort of experiment, so that Zarkon could figure out how he’d changed his sire. It didn’t take a Pidge level genius to figure out why he’d want that information.
Still, he tried to hide it. He met Haggar’s eyes without flinching, which made her raise a pointed eyebrow.
“You’re quite a brazen one, aren’t you?” she hissed, eyes narrowing. “Your new sire hasn’t taught you manners.”
Keith snarled at her.
“Let us begin.” She straightened up, turning away from Keith’s face and down towards his body.
Her fingers were like ice. Keith struggled against his bindings, trying to twist his body away from her touch, but it didn’t dissuade Haggar or her assistant in the least. Keith didn’t even know what she was doing-- it felt like they were just poking him in various places, searching for something, he didn’t know what.
They started at the bottom and worked their way up. Eventually they reached his neck, and the assistant pinned his head down with freezing hands while Haggar dragged her fingertips over Keith’s throat.
She gave an interested hum, and Keith’s stomach dropped.
“His turning mark is different,” she said, poking at the scars and making Keith wince. “The scar tissue is thicker than expected.”
She stood up again, and her assistant finally let him go. For a moment they just stood there, looking at him.
“Could it really be that simple?” asked the assistant. “Merely repeating the turning?”
“Hm, we shall see,” answered Haggar in a considering tone. “Summon Thace and Prorok. Testing will begin on their arrival.”
Together the two of them glided from the room, leaving without further acknowledgement of Keith, leaving him bound to the table.
Keith consciously took a breath, trying to calm his nerves. He was going to be fine. Shiro was coming for him. He just needed to remember that.
Shiro was coming for him.
Keith was awake again. Their bond was singing, on fire with fear and anger, and Shiro couldn’t think. He sat half crumpled on the love seat, the grip he had on his hair the only thing keeping him from bolting to his feet and out the door.
In front of him was a tight circle of other vampires. Matt and Ulaz and Kolivan, listening as Pidge and Lance and Hunk explained what had happened. The Blade leaders listened impassively until they finished, whereupon Kolivan turned to Shiro. His expression was flat, but his eyes sparkled with curiosity.
“Is it true?” he asked. “Did you override Zarkon’s sire bond?”
Shiro gave a tired nod. Astonishment rippled through the other men, but Shiro couldn’t wait long enough for it to settle-- he had to know what they were going to do. Kolivan had always been extremely cautious, and he wasn’t sure if he could count on the Blade for assistance.
“So will you help us?”
“Of course,” Kolivan answered to Shiro’s surprise. “Such knowledge can not be allowed to fall into Zarkon’s hands.” He paused and turned to his comrade. “Ulaz, contact Thace and notify him of the situation. In the meantime I will return to base and collect the intel he’s sent us.”
Bowing his head in acquiescence, Ulaz hurried out of the apartment, moving with deadly intent. Kolivan looked like he was preparing to leave too, but Shiro stood and caught him by the shoulder.
Kolivan clenched his jaw. He was one of the older vampires Shiro had met, and though not the eldest by a long shot, the wear of time was pressed clearly into his face, his long braid of hair a snowy white. Stern, usually, demanding respect, always-- but sometimes Shiro could detect glimpses of something warmer underneath. Now was one of those times.
“He’s our double agent,” he explained as he shrugged on his coat. “He’s been operating within Zarkon’s coven for decades now, and he’s earned himself a high rank.”
“How could he get away with that?” Shiro asked in astonishment. “Without his sire knowing?”
“Easily,” said Kolivan. “His sire is dead. Report to base one hour after sunset tomorrow for the debriefing.”
And with that, he swept out into the night.
Keith wasn’t sure how many hours he was left strapped to the table. He could withstand it better than a human could, definitely, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t irritate him. Laying there for hours, unable to move, staring at a dungeon ceiling waiting for and dreading the moment where they return to begin the experiments, ears ringing from the silence, going half-crazy with a strange mixture of boredom and terror--
Ok, maybe irritating wasn’t the right word. Maybe the right word was scary.
Eventually he heard the sounds of distant footsteps, descending the same hallway as before. Instantly his stomach twisted up into knots, and despite the spots on his skin that were already rubbed raw from fighting the restraints, he gave struggling another try anyway.
Despite his inhuman strength the bonds didn’t loosen, and by the time the door opened Keith had given it up again. He kept his eyes resolutely on the ceiling, refusing to show fear, even as his jailors approached and leaned over him.
There were three of them this time. Haggar, her assistant, and another vampire Keith didn’t recognize. He was heavy set with thick, dark brown hair and impressively bushy eyebrows. He was glaring down at Keith like a disobedient puppy.
Keith bared his fangs and growled.
“Humph,” said the unknown vampire with a scowl. “Growl while you still can, fledgling. I’ll beat some respect into you.”
“Prorok.” The moment Haggar spoke he lost all of his belligerence. He straightened like a soldier standing at attention, all of his focus on her, and Keith felt a shudder run down his spine.
“We will begin the experiment. This one is merely to test the theory that repeating the turning will transfer the sire bond. You will bite precisely on the turning scars and drink until told to stop. Do you understand?”
“Yes, High Priestess,” Prorok murmured, and damn if that wasn’t a terrifying title for an already terrifying woman.
Prorok leaned down, but Keith jerked his head as far to the side as he could within the bindings.
“No!” he cried, shaking his head to make it harder for Prorok to bite. “Get the fuck away from me!”
“Macidus,” said Haggar in a bored tone, and the assistant moved forward. Keith flailed as best he could, letting his eyes shine and snapping his teeth, but all of his efforts were for nothing. Macidus still pressed his cold palm to his temple and turned his head to the side, pinning him flat with the right side of his neck exposed.
“No!” Keith shouted again. “No!”
It was useless. Prorok’s fangs slid into his flesh regardless of all of his thrashing and shouting, and it hurt exactly the same as it had twenty years before. He let out a yell that was probably some kind of a cuss word before Macidus slapped his other hand over Keith’s mouth and muffled the sound.
Prorok drank greedily. Keith knew vampires weren’t meant to drink blood from other vampires, but that didn’t seem to be hindering him a bit. Maybe it was the fear of Haggar that motivated him. Either way, it didn’t take long for Keith’s vision to go shadowed and staticky and for his struggling to abate as his muscles refused to obey him.
“Enough.” He barely heard Haggar speak over the high-pitched keening in his ears. He could feel his eyes flickering weakly, his fangs elongated, but the rest of him felt like lead.
The fangs in his flesh receded. A moment later the pressure of Prorok’s body lifted off of him. That should’ve been a good thing, Keith should’ve been breathing out a sigh of relief, but that wasn’t what his body decided to do. Instead it kick started panic in his brain, some kind of alarm blaring of don’t leave me don’t leave me don’t leave me, and a strained whimper escaped his throat without his permission.
“A sire call,” he dimly heard without understanding the words. “That’s a good sign.”
He whined again. He wanted… something. Shiro, maybe, and his reassuring rumble.
“Attempt to calm him.”
A different rumble reached his ears. This one wasn’t like Shiro’s, not gentle and loving but harsh, grating over his skin like gnawed off nails, and he didn’t melt into warm stupor the way he did when he heard Shiro’s. Instead it felt like being squeezed by a huge, cold hand, forcing his throat to tighten until the noise was trapped in his throat.
He hated it, it hurt, but he couldn’t make a sound.
“Good.” Frozen as he was, all Keith could do was stare at the ceiling and listen as Haggar talked about him like he wasn’t there. “How has the sire bond developed? Do you feel him?”
“Yes, High Priestess. He’s very… undisciplined.”
Haggar scoffed. “That’s to be expected, considering who he was consorting with. Macidus, alert Lord Zarkon at once-- he will want to know of our success.”
Shiro’s coming for me, Keith told himself, dizzily, as he tried to regain his footing through the haze of blood loss. He’s gonna get me out.
Suddenly he heard someone laugh-- Prorok, in his head, chuckling at his thoughts. Now whether Keith was shaking from blood loss, cold, or fear, he couldn’t tell.
Yes, he will come for you, Prorok said to him even as the three of them turned to leave the room again. He will come for you.
And he will die.
“Promise us,” said Hunk, watching the three vampires with wide, anxious eyes. “Promise us you’ll be careful. Don’t make us lose three more friends.”
“And call us!” Lance added vehemently. “Don’t leave us in the dark, tell us what’s happening or we’ll go crazy!”
Pidge stepped forward, still pulling on her jacket. It was late, the darkness outside lay in thick layers, and Lance and Hunk were definitely going to get an earful for missing curfew. But they seemed reluctant to leave.
“I’ll text you updates,” Pidge promised, reaching up to reassuringly pat Lance’s shoulder. “Promise. Now get home before your parents send out search parties.”
Both of the humans hugged her before finally forcing themselves to leave the apartment. A few minutes later the rest of them followed, dressed in black for concealment, heading for the Blade headquarters in another part of town.
A few hours before Shiro’s mood had gone from hysterical to borderline catatonic. The bond had been quiet for a while, with only the occasional spike of uncertainty. They must be holding him somewhere, but Shiro preferred that over what it was going to feel like when they started hurting Keith for real.
The walk was utterly silent. Pidge kept her shoulders hunched forward, bent under the weight of her guilt. Matt walked between the two of them, probably wanting to attempt comfort but knowing it wouldn’t help. Then Shiro, shuffling along in silence.
They made it to headquarters at the appointed time. The Blade like to keep on the down low, and that extended to the building-- it looked like nothing more than a couple of warehouses. But inside and underneath was a labyrinth of rooms and corridors, secured with cameras and motion detectors galore.
Some vampires got caught in history and frozen in time. Others learned to adapt. The Blade was certainly among the latter.
Ulaz was the one to greet them at the door. Well, greet was probably too warm of a term. He opened the door for them, in any case, and led them into the belly of the building.
The halls were deserted, but that didn’t surprise Shiro. The rest of the people who lived there would probably be gathered together for the brief.
And Shiro was right. The room Ulaz led them into was packed wall-to-wall with vampires, some that Shiro recognized and some that he didn’t. In the center of the room was a large table that Kolivan stood at, a single light bulb hanging over his head.
If it was one thing the Blade did well, it was looking intimidating.
“Good, you’re here,” Kolivan said when he spotted them walking in. “We’ve gotten all of Thace’s data together.”
They didn’t have to slither through the crowds to reach the table-- the crowd parted for them, clearing a path.
Spread across the table was a large map, seemingly combined with a floor plan. It had been a hundred or so years since he’d been there, but even now Shiro could recognize the layout of Zarkon’s compound.
A cold ball of fear solidified in his gut.
“Zarkon’s compound is located in Alberta, Canada, about twenty miles north of Calgary.” Kolivan spoke loudly, projecting his voice to fill the entire room. “Their security is low tech but still extensive. We have an outline of a plan formed.
Kolivan flicked his eyes to Shiro, who gave him a nod. But before Kolivan even opened his mouth, something exploded in Shiro’s chest.
Ow. Ow ow ow ow ow. Shiro couldn’t even process that the pain was coming from the bond, only that he was hurting, and scared. It felt like his very soul had been drenched in gasoline and set alight. He felt like he’d stepped out into the sun-- burning, blazing away into ash.
But what came after the fire was even worse. When the flames died away all he could feel was freezing, arctic cold, and there was an aching, ragged hole somewhere in him.
The bond. His bond to Keith.
It was gone.
Reality crashed down on him. There were voices and bodies everywhere, pressing all around where he knelt on the floor, apparently having collapsed at some point.
Matt and Pidge were before him, one hand each on one of Shiro’s shoulders. Kolivan loomed behind them, watching with sharp eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Pidge asked tersely.
“They figured it out,” said Shiro, gasping in horror. “They figured it out already. Our bond is gone.”
Horrified expressions rippled through the room, originating on Matt and Pidge’s faces.
But Kolivan, at least, was calm. He gave Shiro a long, searching look as Matt and Pidge helped him to his feet, then turned back to the map on the table.
“Seems our objective has changed,” he said impassively.
“What do you mean?” asked Ulaz. Shiro was having trouble paying attention; he was still reeling from having the bond torn out of him.
“This knowledge will make Zarkon incredibly powerful. We already know he uses sire bonds as a means of control. We cannot allow him to extend that control to others.”
“So what are we going to do?” Pidge demanded, voice strained. “It’s not like we can go back in time or make them forget what they’ve learned.”
“We will still attack the compound,” answered Kolivan. He leaned forward the brace his hands on the table, glowing eyes darting all over. “We will still endeavour to rescue the fledgling. But out primary objective will be to kill Zarkon.”
Hours later the trio of doom returned. Keith’s muscles ached from so much stillness, and the lightheaded weakness from before still lingered. They hadn’t fed him after the experiment; his gut was beginning to squirm.
Macidus was the one to open the restraints and haul him off of the table. He had long claws that dug into Keith’s arms, but that feeling was distant compared to the hunger and the suffocating presence of Prorok in his head.
He and Haggar watched near the doors as Macidus pulled Keith across the room. He spat and struggled, of course he did, but he knew they were vain efforts.
Macidus stopped right before the doors, but didn’t yet release him. Haggar gave a disturbing grin, exposing her fangs. Then, as if on cue, the huge doors swung open, the hinges creaking ominously.
The sight on the other side made his blood run cold. The man was huge and intimidating, his hands probably the size of Keith’s head, with a jagged scar over one eye. Keith didn’t need to listen to Haggar’s grand announcement-- he already knew who he was standing in front of.
Zarkon loomed over him, at least two feet taller, his gaze icy, calculating, and even more cruel than Haggar’s, which Keith hadn’t even thought was possible.
Macidus let him go. Keith swayed and almost collapsed, but somehow managed to keep upright.
“Kneel,” rumbled Zarkon. His tone was foreboding; terrifying, really, but if Keith was anything it was belligerent.
So he snarled, “Go to hell.”
Zarkon didn’t so much as blink. He didn’t even let his eyes glow, or turn his head-- Prorok already knew what he wanted.
Pain crashed down on him like a tidal wave. Keith’s vision went white, and a few seconds later, when Prorok let it abate, he found himself on his knees, shaking.
Zarkon made a pleased sound in the back of his throat. “The pain response is formed, then,” he said.
“Yes, my lord,” murmured Haggar.
“Prorok, give him a command.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Keith felt Prorok’s influence increase. He pushed back, trying to resist, but it was tinged with a hopelessness that made Prorok laugh at him in his mind.
It didn’t matter. No matter how hard he tried his spine began to curl, forcing him down, down, down until his forehead touched the cold stone of the floor. He could feel Prorok smirking while Keith’s mind helplessly flailed in his control.
“Well done,” said Zarkon. Then, in a harder tone, “Continue the testing. I want full confirmation of this ritual before I enact it. I want no chance of his escaping me again.”
Haggar responded with her favorite phrase: “Yes, my lord.” God, if he had to listen to that for the rest of eternity he would go completely insane.
He felt the vibrations at Zarkon’s heavy steps, listened as the door slammed shut. Even then, Prorok didn’t let him up.
Maybe he was just having too much fun with it.
“Send for Thace. I want to continue the experiments as soon as possible. Prorok, prepare him.”
Keith jerked clumsily to his feet. It felt like being a puppet on a string, but the string was barbed wire, and the puppet desperately wanted to be anywhere but there.
Prorok’s thick, cold hand grasped the back of his neck like a vice to pull him in the desired direction.
“Come along, fledgling,” he growled as he pulled, “Time to get some grub.”
Keith would easily admit it at this point. He was absolutely terrified of what was coming. Prorok could do anything, even force him to kill some hapless human prisoner, and Keith wouldn’t be able to resist.
Prorok laughed at him again. “As amusing as that would be, no. Only Lord Zarkon has access to the live feeders.”
Live feeders. The very idea sent chills down his spine.
Prorok hauled him to the far right corner of the room, where a large refrigerator was humming away, unaware of how out of place it looked amongst the medieval dungeon furnishings that surrounded it.
Still holding Keith by his neck, Prorok swung the door open and pulled out a blood pouch, not dissimilar to the ones the Blade gave to Shiro.
Keith intended to resist. He meant to seal his lips shut and turn his head away, just to make the experiments as difficult as possible for them. But when Prorok pulled him close, held the bag to his lips, and through their bond gave the order-- Drink-- Keith was helpless to do anything else.
Keith’s head spun as his body moved without him. All of these things Prorok could do, all the ways he could control him-- did Shiro know about all of this? Did he not use them as a conscious decision, or was he just ignorant about them? Which answer did Keith even want?
When the bag was empty Prorok yanked it away from him and tossed the bag carelessly to the floor. Keith felt a little better after feeding, but still a bit unsteady. Then again, that could’ve just been the fact that he was being held prisoner in a literal dungeon. It was a toss up.
Prorok was pulling him again. Keith dreaded the thought of being restrained to that table again, but he wasn’t taken there. Instead he was tossed into one of the cages, the door slammed and locked behind him.
“We’ll be back soon, fledgling,” Prorok said teasingly. He drummed his nails briefly against the metal, a sound like nails on a chalkboard, before giving a sharp smirk and sauntering away.
Keith wished he could say he was brave. That he stood and banged on the bars, screaming obscenities. That he pulled at the metal, or found something to pick the lock with.
But he didn’t. Instead he backed into a corner and huddled against the floor, trying not to shiver too hard. He knew Prorok could hear his thoughts, but all the same, he prayed. Maybe there was a sliver of the bond still left. Maybe Shiro could hear him still.
Please find me. Please please please find me.
Shiro couldn’t sleep. Kolivan had a plan and it was in motion-- a car would arrive for them at dusk, and they would join the force of Blades heading north towards the Canadian border. Then they would sneak up on Zarkon’s compound, and then… well, he wasn’t entirely clear on the next part. Kolivan hadn’t told him, and at the time he probably wouldn’t have retained the information, anyway.
Now it was two in the afternoon, and he was lying in his bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to ignore Keith’s empty bed under the window.
He kept feeling over the bond, over and over, the way a child would tongue at a hole left by a missing tooth. But no matter how many passes he made, the feeling was the same. Hollow and cold, except for a tiny spot of warmth that he still wasn’t sure he wasn’t imagining. Shiro scrubbed a hand over his face, and with a sigh, sat up. He could lay there for as long as he wanted-- sleep wouldn’t be coming anytime soon.
Unable to stand looking at the empty bed, Shiro stood up and shuffled out of his room. Matt and Pidge were still in theirs; or so he thought, until he caught sight of a small lump sitting on the living room floor. Pidge, with the electric blanket pulled around her shoulders. He drew closer, and that’s when he realized she was crying.
Shiro felt the jolt down to his bones.
Wordlessly he approached, and sat, and pulled her under his arm. She went without argument, tucking her head under his chin.
“I’m sorry.” Her voice was choked with tears. “I’m sorry I let him get taken.”
“It’s not your fault, Pidge.”
She was silent for a minute, sniffling, then she said, “Are they gonna kill him?”
“I…” Really, he didn’t know. Zarkon was impossible to predict. “I don’t think so. Keith is special. I think they’ll want to keep him.”
Pidge curled more tightly against his side. “Why do I feel like that’s even worse?”
Shiro swallowed down his words, thick like blood.
Because it probably is.
True to Prorok’s word, they did return soon. This time with another vampire in tow, this one with large black sideburns and a thin, kind face.
Kind. Yeah, right.
Keith glowered at the faces peering in at him through the bars. During his brief repose he’d regained some of his strength, and with it, his anger. And he was going to let it take him as far as it could.
Haggar was already talking, completely ignoring Keith’s existence as she briefed the newcomer.
“He is wild and undisciplined, but reacts to all control forms on the part of the sire. So far Prorok has detected no indication of the previous sire’s presence, so we assume the new bond completely overcomes the old, but that is what your trial will confirm.”
The newcomer watched Keith with sharply intrigued eyes. Keith glared back.
“You will also be testing whether the site of the first turning must always be the location used, or if a sire bond with transfer from a bite on other places on the body. Do you understand?”
He gave a solemn nod.
Prorok stepped forward, beckoning to Keith with his claws.
“Come forward, little one.”
There was no command or pain accompanying the words, so Keith merely snarled, pressing himself further into his corner. He probably looked like a rabid animal, but what did he care? They were all animals here.
Prorok let out a growl of displeasure, and he didn’t ask twice. He merely repeated himself through the bond instead, and Keith’s limbs betrayed him yet again, bringing him to the door of the cage against his will.
Macidus unlocked the door and swung it open, and the force of Prorok’s command brought Keith forward without a struggle.
He despised it. He despised them, and he despised himself, and his body, for giving in.
Macidus pulled him back to the steel tables, easily able to restrain Keith again while Prorok pressed his control ever harder on his mind. In the background Haggar was still talking, filling in the new man on all the things they’d already learned from him.
The new vampires must be Thace, Keith mused as the leather was tightened over his wrists and throat. Dimly, he wondered what kind of sire he would be. Nicer than Prorok, or more cruel?
The restraints were fastened, and finally Prorok let go of his command, letting Keith go lax against the table. The footsteps were loud against the stone as Thace and Haggar approached; Keith closed his eyes and tried to send his mind away, not wanting to experience the turning in full for the fourth time, but Prorok dragged him back to awareness.
“You will bite here,” Haggar said, sharply tapping the side of Keith’s throat with two fingers. “You will drink enough to turn, then we will test for a bond.”
Keith, feeling Thace’s gaze on him, opened his eyes again. He meant to glare, the last rebellion left to him, but the urge faded when he saw the expression on his face.
Thace didn’t look cruelly delighted like Prorok, or detached like Macidus, or coldly curious like Haggar. His eyes were searching, but there was something behind that. He wasn’t just obeying orders-- he was collecting information. But on what, and for whom, wasn’t discernible.
“Prorok, keep him from struggling.”
Standing somewhere behind Keith’s head, Prorok let out his falsely soothing rumble. Cold paralysis leaked into Keith’s body and he stiffened up, unable to move or make a sound, as before. But his eyes were still focused on Thace, watching him. Something was different about him… but what?
“Thace,” said Haggar, “begin.”
Thace’s fangs sank into his flesh. The bite was on the opposite side from his turning scar, and it actually hurt less without him having to push through the scar tissue. Thace drank more carefully than Prorok, and somehow more gently.
Or maybe Keith was just that desperate for a reprieve.
Whether he was gentler or not, it still drained him just as quickly as it had before. He didn’t fight it this time-- he let the lightheadedness and disorientation carry him away.
Eventually he heard the hum of Haggar’s voice and Thace’s fangs retreated. Keith was left freezing and trembling, but there was no spike of panic when Thace pulled away. He merely felt dizzy relief.
More voices spoke, criss crossing and floating over his head. He didn’t listen to them, but he still felt it when Prorok flicked the pain switch in his brain.
Keith’s body went tense. He felt a pained noise leave his throat, but it was silenced when Prorok repeated his rumble. Thankfully the pain wasn’t kept up for long, and Keith was allowed to go back to senseless floating. He knew that soon he would be forced upright again, forced to feed, and in a few hours the turning experiment would repeat.
But, for now, he was allowed to drift.
“Sire, I conducted the blood tests, as you wished.”
“And? What were the results?” Lord Zarkon was on his throne, staring rather broodingly into the shadows of the room; all of which Haggar observed with a certain scorn. He was still trapped so far in the past, unheeding of the things they could accomplish if he would embrace progress.
Ah, well. Someday soon, she would convince him. This new data was far more important.
“The boy is a dhampir.”
There was a dramatic pause in which Lord Zarkon stirred, just a little, an indication of his surprise.
“It explains how he survived so long without a sire to guide him, and his quick recovery between turnings. Were he fully human, we would be waiting days between experiments, not mere hours.”
Lord Zarkon took another moment to digest the information, and that was something Haggar couldn’t find fault in. Dhampirs were extremely rare, after all. Genetically fascinating.
“Do we know the identity of the vampire?”
“No sire. They were not a member of our coven.”
“Hm. How will this affect our experimentation on the bonds?”
“Very little, I believe. The vampire DNA in him previously allows him more rapid recovery from turnings and kept him sane without a sire, but it seems to have little influence on the function of the sire bond.”
“Good,” Lord Zarkon rumbled. His demeanor had changed from brooding to planning, plotting. “That is of the utmost importance.”
“Yes, my lord. When our experiments are concluded, may I have the fledgling transferred to my breeding experiments? Dhampir genetics are still so poorly understood.”
“Granted.” He slightly waved his hand. “Now back to work.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Haggar left the throne room with a smile.
It was quiet in the car, as it had been for the last several hours. Shiro stared out the window, watching the reflector strips on the signs flash by. Ulaz was in the driver’s seat, with Pidge and Matt in the back, discussing something in tones that bordered on whispers.
Ulaz turned his head, just enough to catch Shiro’s eyes. “You’ve been quiet,” he said. Shiro let out an affirmative grunt. He was still fixated on the tiny spot of warmth he could feel from the bond. He didn’t want to give himself the false hope of the bond still existing, but still he couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Ulaz was still eyeing him. “You are worried.”
“Mhm,” Shiro chewed his lip so that he wouldn’t snap of course I am! He liked Ulaz, he trusted Ulaz, he didn’t want to lash out just because he was worried.
Worried. More like terrified.
“You have grown very close to the fledgling.”
Shiro’s fangs came out and cut his lip. “His name is Keith,” he said, a hint of a growl in his voice that made Ulaz raise an eyebrow.
“Right. Keith.” Ulaz shifted in his seat, eyes briefly flickering to the rearview mirror. “We received a message from Thace. He saw Keith.”
Pidge and Matt stopped talking. Shiro’s hand tightened on the door handle so much the plastic cracked, but he didn’t notice-- Ulaz had his full attention.
“What did he say?” he choked out. “Is he alive? Is he ok?”
“He’s alive,” Ulaz confirmed calmly. The higher level Blades were all like that. Cool and collected. “Thace says he’s in decent condition, all things considered. But Haggar has been experimenting on him quite rigorously.”
Shiro shuddered. He didn’t want to think about it.
“He also said he has unusually quick recovery time after turning. Do you know anything about that?”
Another thing he didn’t want to think about-- the other turning. How many times was Keith going to be forced to go through that? Hopefully not too many more times.
“Yeah,” Shiro answered, not looking at Ulaz. “After I took the bond over, he didn’t go to sleep. Once he fed he was fine, like nothing had happened at all.”
Now it was Ulaz’s turn to hum in understanding. There was another few minutes of humming silence. Pidge and Matt were still quiet-- probably eavesdropping, as much as it could be considered eavesdropping when they were all in the same van. Then Ulaz asked another question.
“Is there anything of the bond left behind?”
He was curious, Shiro realized. What he and Keith had done was unheard of in current vampire society, of course he would wonder what it was like.
“I think-- maybe. I’m not sure, but there’s a little bit that might be it. I don’t know.”
“I wonder if Haggar has made any notes,” Ulaz mused, his attention no longer on Shiro. “The research she is doing could be invaluable.”
Shiro couldn’t help but bristle. He felt Matt’s hand, reaching from the backseat to land on his shoulder, but it did little to settle the protectiveness that had reared up in his chest.
“She’s torturing Keith!” snapped Shiro. Technically he was of lower rank than Ulaz, but when Ulaz looked at him in surprise he met his gaze without flinching.
Ulaz looked away first, back to the road. “I think your bond remains.”
It was a simple statement, carrying approximately a metric ton of meaning. Shiro couldn’t parse it all out-- he was too tangled up. Matt’s hand squeezed his shoulder.
Their journey continued in silence.
“Call him. Both of you.”
Keith pressed his palms to the stone beneath him. It was cold, but solid. It gave him something to hold onto through the post turning dizziness. The scar throbbed and ached from being reopened again, not yet healed, and he felt… lost. Alone. Floating in a void with nothing to hold him down.
It felt like before. Years and years ago, but without the ravenous hunger. The hunger was there, but muted. What was strong this time, like the last few times, was loneliness.
Noise. Two sounds, low and beckoning. They tangled together, making his stomach twist into a confused knot. He wanted to go to them, both of them, but part of him cringed back.
It’s not right, that part cried. Not them.
But the rest of him wanted comfort. Screamed out for it. He was lost and cold and needed someone. But who should he go to?
“Choose,” someone growled, and a knee drove into his spine. Keith whined, asking for help, but all it got him was another kick. “Choose!”
Biting back another upset noise, knowing it wouldn’t get him anywhere, he tried to listen more closely. He’d been blindfolded-- he couldn’t see who was calling him. His only choice was to listen.
One noise, the one from the left, seemed kinder. It asked for his attention rather than demanding it. A brief shudder went down his spine as he remembered how one of his sires-- there had been so many, it was all mixed up-- had sent pain coursing through him at every turn. Would he do so now if he chose incorrectly?
He got another kick, and that reminded him. The sires (which one was past and which one was present? Maybe they were both his sire, at the same time, pulling him in opposite directions until he tore) weren’t the only ones in the room. The watchers would hurt him if he didn’t choose.
So he decided on a direction and crawled forward. It was humiliating, but Keith barely had enough of his brain functioning to feel it. Right now everything ran on instinct, and his instincts obeyed his sire. No matter what.
After a few seconds of crawling his outstretched fingers met a shoe, and Keith went still. Whether he’d chosen correctly or not was about to be determined.
A hand descended into his hair. It didn’t pull and grip, only resting there, and there was no pain. He’d done well, then.
“Hm,” said a voice from behind him, a different one than had been prodding. Keith barely managed to connect a name to the voice-- Haggar. “Interesting. Prorok, does any of your bond with the subject remain?”
He might not be all there, but without the anxiety of choosing plaguing him, Keith recognized the lack of a proper name and scowled to himself. The man standing above him (something in his brain revolted at calling him his sire) pet his hair lightly, as though to soothe him.
“Some, Priestess. But it is fading.”
Keith shuddered. That was the voice that went with the pain, the one that still had a few clinging fingers around his mind.
“So this turning is taking time. Interesting.” That was her second favorite phrase after “yes, my lord.” Interesting. “Return him to the cage, Thace. Macidus, set up the next experiment.”
“Shall I let him feed, Priestess?” asked Thace. Keith’s stomach writhed in his abdomen.
“No, not yet. He’s much more co-operative this way.”
Keith felt Thace’s grip tighten, just a bit, before his hand withdrew completely. “As you wish.” Then his hands returned, grasping Keith by his biceps and raising him to his feet. He stumbled along as best he could as he was led back to the cages, but the blindfold hadn’t been removed. He had to trust Thace not to run him into things, and though his body may be biologically required to do just that, Keith’s brain wasn’t that far gone. Not yet.
There was a hideous squeak as the cage door opened before Thace nudged him inside. He expected to be released and abandoned, and in fact it was what Keith was hoping for, so that he’d have a few minutes to take the blindfold off and center himself again. But Thace didn’t let go.
“Fear not, little one,” he murmured, so quietly it was almost inaudible, even to Keith’s heightened senses. “They are coming for you.”
Then he was gone, the cage door slamming shut loud enough to make him jump, leaving him to try and decipher Thace’s words.
It took fourteen hours and thirty seven minutes for their van to arrive at the Blade’s base camp. There were four other vehicles there already, all black, nondescript vans, forming a ring. In the middle a tarp had been erected, underneath which was a gathering of Blades with Kolivan in the center, already distributing orders.
Shiro wasted no time in reporting to him, Pidge and Matt right on his heels.
Kolivan looked up at their approach, giving a grim nod when he saw who it was. “Good, we’re all here.”
A tiny bit of the tension in Shiro’s spine relaxed. They’d been driving all day, and he’d feared Kolivan was going to put off the attack until the next night, but on this occasion, at least, he was acting with urgency.
“There will be two teams,” Kolivan began, pitching his voice so that they could all hear. “Assault and infiltration. The assault team will launch an attack on the front gates to cause a diversion. Over the past day we were able to plant some explosives along the front fence-line, the detonation of which will signal the beginning of the attack.
“After the attack begins, Thace will meet the infiltration team at the back gate and get them inside. From there the infiltrators will split into two-- one group to rescue the fledgling, and one that will find Zarkon and eliminate him.”
Kolivan looked up again, briefly sweeping his gaze over the group. The snow fell softly around them, and for a moment there was a fragile sense of peace. Then Kolivan’s eyes found Shiro’s, and his jaw clenched.
“I will lead the infiltration team. Thace has sent us schematics of the buildings, and I’m told that the Holt’s will provide GPS devices, yes?”
Shiro turned to see Pidge and Matt nodding with solemn expressions. That must’ve been what they were working on in the car while Shiro brooded.
“Thace has informed us that Zarkon spends most of his time in a specific room. I will lead my half of the team there to eliminate him while the other goes to where the fledgling is being kept. We estimate that the assault team will be able to grant us approximately fifteen minutes in which to accomplish our tasks. Am I understood?”
All around heads bobbed in affirmation. Shiro’s fists clenched at his sides; he was already feeling the adrenaline, and he didn’t want to wait anymore.
“Report to Antok for your team assignments.”
Shiro already knew he was going to be assigned to the infiltration team. He was Keith’s sire, after all.
Ex-sire, hissed his inner pessimist, which Shiro quashed as quickly as possible. It didn’t matter what Zarkon and Haggar had done to him-- he was going to get Keith out, no matter what it cost him.
No matter what, he told himself, even as Matt dragged him over to the assignment line. No matter what.
It was 2:34 a.m., and the forest was quiet. Snow fell in an even blanket from the sky, thickening over the roofs and grounds of the compound, lining the tops of the spiked wooden fences. There were no spotlights to be seen, making it easy for the shadows to flit one by one from between the trees, blending seamlessly into the darkness beneath the fence.
If Shiro’s heart still beat it would’ve been pounding in his ears. But all he heard was the crunch of snow underfoot as his team got into position in the shadow of the southern wall. Everything was gray, as far as their vampiric eyes could see, and silent as a cathedral. If Shiro still needed to take breath, he would’ve been holding it.
“Three,” Matt murmured, barely stirring the air. Pidge slid her hand into Shiro’s, and he squeezed it hard. “Two. One.”
Right on cue the explosives detonated. A deep, throaty boom echoed through the woods, accompanied by infinitely quiet sounds of snow being knocked to the ground. When he looked up Shiro could just barely make out plumes of grey smoke against the clouds, and the compound came alive.
Footsteps pounded through the snow, voices shouted, and within a few seconds they were hearing guns going off. But Shiro sat tight and counted the seconds until the gate opened.
Eight… nine… ten…
There was the click of a padlock and part of the wall pulled away, revealing a stern, pale face on the other side that made Kolivan crack a tiny smile. That was all the confirmation Shiro needed that this was Thace.
“Quickly,” he hissed, and stood back from the gate. Their group of seven swooped in.
The moment Shiro stepped through that gate he felt a chill descend over him, one that had nothing to do with the weather. This was where he’d spent more than a century of his life, where he’d fought so vehemently to escape, and now he was going back in.
Pidge felt the shiver and squeezed his hand hard enough to make the knuckles pop.
“Who is going for the fledgling?” Thace asked once they were all inside. Without needing to be told the two Blades, Ilun and Vrek, stepped forward. Reluctantly releasing Pidge’s hand, Shiro followed. “He is being kept on the basement level; take the staircase directly to the left of the entrance.”
For some reason his eyes fell upon Shiro as he said this. Then he held out an old metal key for him to take.
“That is the key to his cage. Fetch him as quickly as you can, before they realize what you’ve come for.”
Shiro gave a tense nod, tucking the key into his vest pocket.
“Antok,” said Kolivan, “with me and Thace. Holts, stay behind and make sure the entrance stays clear.”
“Yes, sir,” Pidge answered with uncharacteristic solemnity. She dug one hand in her pocket and produced what looked like a smartphone, but had doubtless been modified to hell and back. “This has the schematics on it.”
He nodded in thanks before shifting his attention to the group. “Move out.”
Just before Shiro’s group split from the rest, Matt put a hand on his shoulder and pulled him close. His eyes glowed red in the darkness.
“Bring him home, Takashi.”
Throat tight, Shiro could only nod. Then they were gone, and Shiro turned back towards the building he swore he’d never step foot inside again.
With Ilun and Vrek at his sides, he moved forward.
Neither Lord Zarkon nor the High Priestess flinched when they heard the explosions. Haggar merely paused for a moment and fell silent, waiting for her lord’s order.
They knew who it would be. The escaped sire slayer, coming for his dhampir.
“Bring the boy to me,” said Lord Zarkon, barely stirring on his throne. “It’s time for the final test.”
Haggar went without a word.
Shiro was mostly fine… until they went down the staircase to the basement. Instantly they were enveloped in a damp, bone deep chill, the one he still felt in his nightmares. Painful, cracked memories began to seep in; memories of when he’d been held captive down here, when Haggar had run her experiments on him, for god only knows how long before he was able to join the rest of the coven as Sendak’s slave.
If you thought a century was long enough to get over trauma, you’d be wrong.
But Shiro steeled himself and kept going down the long, dark, terribly familiar stone hallway. He was doing this for Keith, he had to remember that. It was that thought alone that made it possible for him to make it to the end of the hall, to the ancient door that marked the boundary of Haggar’s territory.
Rust came off on his hands when he gripped the handles, covering his palms in dust. With a great creak of the hinges, he pulled the door open.
He had precisely three seconds to think of a curse word before a fist crashed into his face.
Shiro stumbled back into the wall, dazed. Ilun and Vrek where already locked into combat with the other guards, but it only took Shiro a moment to realize that they were outnumbered two to one, at least.
Zarkon knew they were coming for Keith.
A hand fisted into the front of Shiro’s vest and pulled him off the wall, only to slam him back again. The impact made his spine ache, but the adrenaline that had been filling his veins for hours reared in Shiro’s chest, and before his assailant could continue Shiro had grabbed two handfuls of his shirt and slammed their foreheads together.
The man gave a distant-sounding shout. Shiro’s head was spinning, but he pressed his attack, landing two hard kicks and a punch to the jaw that sent his enemy spinning to the floor before he dared to look around.
Zarkon’s guards were well equipped, he remembered. Guns for curious humans wandering where they shouldn’t, and short swords for vampires. With vampire strength it wasn’t difficult to sever a head with them.
Shiro registered the slight shine of one such sword the second before it cleaved through Ilun’s neck.
“No!” roared Vrek, but Shiro didn’t have time to keep looking. He managed to dodge the blade he saw coming his way-- his previous attacker had apparently gotten some sense and drawn his weapon, and from the corner of his eye he could see two more converging on him, Ilun’s body sprawled under their feet.
Shiro bared his fangs, goading the man attacking him to take a swing. Baring his teeth back, the man did exactly that, but Shiro ducked beneath the sweep of the blade and landed another hit to the man’s gut. Then he spun, barely keeping up with himself, and buried his teeth into the throat of one of the oncoming guards. With a quick twist, the guard’s throat tore open, a waterfall gush of tepid blood soaking Shiro’s chest.
Vrek was still screaming, roaring and growling unintelligibly. Someone latched onto Shiro’s wrist and pulled, forcing him away from the vampire he had his fangs dug into, and as he was swung face first into the wall he heard Vrek’s voice cut off with a wet gurgle.
Liquid rage filled his veins. Shiro managed to to take one more guard down with him before he was overpowered and forced to the floor, cheek flush with the damp stone. The guard holding him down twisted his arm up higher, this close to popping his shoulder out of its socket, and overhead someone laughed.
Shiro closed his eyes, bracing himself for the bite of metal through his throat, for one terrible moment ready and braced for death--
“Alright, boys, you heard the lord. Bring this one back to the throne room.”
Astonishingly, Shiro felt relieved as the remaining guards hauled him to his feet. As long as he was alive, he still had a chance to get to Keith. As long as he was alive, they still had a chance.
Then his eyes fell upon the bodies of Vrek and Ilun, headless, blood sprayed across the floor and the walls. He was pulled forward and over them, marched away down the hall by the gloating guards, but all the way he was seeing them.
He didn’t have a lot of time to spare for them, his partners on this doomed expedition, but for the short while he could, he remembered them.
The guards hauled him up, up, up. Three flights of stairs and more. Shiro already knew where they were going, but that didn’t stop sickly recognition from seeping into him as they passed halls and rooms that he knew so well. It was bizarre that they didn’t seem to have changed at all-- it was like looking through a window into the past. A terrible, terrible past that no one would ever want to look into.
That was the parlor where Shiro had knelt, obediently, for hours at Sendak’s side. There was the room where he’d watched Zarkon give Sendak the “gift” of a human boy, no older than thirteen and shaking with fear, and where he’d seen Sendak tear into him like an animal. This hall was where Sendak had caught him having a brief rebellious thought and ordered him to knock his head against the wall for three hours as punishment.
It was all flooding back, all the moments Shiro had been repressing, and it made him want to break. But he couldn’t. He had to stay strong and get Keith out. Whatever he did, he had to get Keith out.
Eventually they came to the dreaded destination. Zarkon’s throne room didn’t have a door-- it was the capstone at the end of the hallway, the entrance a carved stone archway, still flanked by the same red velvet curtains that it had been when Shiro left. Nothing had changed, and the feeling made Shiro feel as he had back then as he was dragged inside.
Small, and afraid, and desperate.
“Welcome home,” rumbled the man himself as Shiro was led in and forced to his knees. Zarkon was as unchanged as the room around him, just as domineering and intimidating as ever. But Shiro wouldn’t be cowed. Not this time.
“This isn’t my home,” Shiro growled back at him, baring his fangs and letting his eyes glow. Zarkon’s flashed scarlet in return, a sight which years ago would’ve had Shiro cringing to the floor. Old instincts were flaring, wanting him to go back to them. He resisted. With all his might, he resisted. “Where is Keith?”
“Ah, your little fledgling.” Zarkon let out a low chuckle. Shiro was tempted to try a lunge, but the swords gleaming right at his eye level, still dripping with his companions blood, kept him at bay. “The fledgling that isn’t yours any longer, I’m sure you’ve noticed.”
“He doesn’t belong to you. He doesn’t belong to anyone.”
A couple hundred years ago Shiro never would have dreamed of speaking to Zarkon this way. But anger made him brave, and he was only getting angrier as Zarkon laughed again.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Shirogane.” Zarkon lifted his hand. It barely moved an inch, but the cue was enough to be seen, and the curtains hanging behind his ridiculous throne twitched. Shiro, glaring balefully at him, only just realized what the dark stains at the corners of Zarkon’s lips were before someone was shoved through the curtains.
The person, thin and frail-looking, fell to the floor. All over their pale skin was smudged with dirt and dark blood stains, and their black hair was a wild mess-- Shiro knew before he looked up who it was, and the tiny flame in his chest flared.
Keith’s eyes were the size of dinner plates when they met Shiro’s. He looked so pale and gaunt, his irises barely able to flicker red and his fangs seeming too large for his mouth. So much like the day they’d met, it made him ache.
Then Shiro noticed the red smears running down his throat, and the closing wounds where his turning scar had been, angry and inflamed, and his heart dropped into his feet.
“Keith,” he gasped, and lurched forward, only for the guards to seize him and pull him back. Keith was still on his hands and knees, staring in utter disbelief. He saw his lips move, starting to form Shiro’s name.
Zarkon didn’t even have to speak. The only movement his mouth made was to smirk as Keith grimaced and jolted to his feet, his limbs moving on their own as they obeyed Zarkon’s silent command.
All Shiro could think was a desperate repetition of no no no.
When Keith reached the throne Zarkon didn’t bother commanding him to kneel. He merely slammed a giant hand on his shoulder and shoved him back to the floor hard enough to make Keith wince at the impact.
“Look, fledgling,” he said in a condescending tone, “it’s your old sire.”
Keith’s jaw tightened. If he was thinking rebellious thoughts, either Zarkon didn’t notice or just didn’t care enough to correct it. It was probably the latter.
“Isn’t it convenient that he showed up just in time for your final turning? Now you’ll have the opportunity to say goodbye.”
Where is Kolivan? Shiro thought. Thace and Antok and Kolivan were supposed to have come to this very room and killed Zarkon-- unless that was a trap too. Unless they were all dead, too, and no one was left but him and Keith. No one to get them out of this disaster.
Helplessly, Shiro took in the details. Keith’s throat kept moving, like he was trying to speak but couldn’t, probably Zarkon’s doing. Barely he could hear footsteps stirring behind the curtains, muffled by the plush red carpet Shiro knew was there. Probably his witch, watching and laughing to herself. There was a victorious gleam in Zarkon’s eyes.
Zarkon looked at him for a moment, tilting his head in consideration. Then, without taking his hand from Keith’s shoulder, he held out his other one.
“Prorok,” he said, “your sword.”
The lead guard, the one who had gotten into the fist fight with Shiro, obligingly drew his blade, placing it reverently in Zarkon’s hand. Shiro’s eyes latched onto it, unable to look away, a million worst case scenarios swirling in his head as the limb began to move. But what he did was worse than anything Shiro could’ve imagined.
He gave the sword to Keith.
“No!” Keith’s wail was horrible. It made every hair on Shiro’s body stand on end, his skin prickling with goosebumps. Keith’s eyes were already filling with tears, even as his fingers wrapped themselves around the hilt of the blade without his permission. He rose from his knees to his feet, screaming all the while. “No, no, I won’t! You can’t make me! You c-can’t--”
But he was. Keith was walking forward, blade at the ready in his trembling grip, screaming his heart out, and Zarkon just sat in the background, laughing at them.
Shiro ignored him and poured all of his attention onto Keith. Keith, the ragged street kid he’d opened his home and his heart to. Keith, who he’d come to love as a brother, as his progeny. Keith, who looked more scared than Shiro had ever seen him.
Keith, who was about to kill him.
“It’s ok,” he found himself saying. He didn’t know why, he just wanted to make that awful look on Keith’s face go away. “It’s alright, Keith.” He was standing before Shiro now, who felt it when a tear dropped from Keith’s chin and landed on him. “It’s ok, I know you don’t want to. I know.”
The guards around him were laughing. Zarkon was laughing. Maybe it was his imagination, but Shiro could’ve sworn he heard Haggar laughing, too. But he blocked them all out.
“It’s ok.” Slowly, he reached up. The guards didn’t try to restrain him as he reached for Keith’s hand, the one that wasn’t white-knuckle tight around the hilt of a blade. “Everything’s going to be ok.” He took Keith’s hand.
Sunshine exploded between them.
At least, that’s what it felt like. Warm afternoon rays of sunlight spilling out of them, warming the chill, eating away the darkness Zarkon had pushed inside of them both. The feeling of release, of freedom, of coming home, was so strong that Shiro almost didn’t notice when the sword fell from Keith’s grasp.
Then Keith fell into him, and neither of them knew anything for a long time.
If they’d been conscious they would’ve seen Antok emerge from behind the red curtain, holding Haggar’s head aloft triumphantly. They would’ve seen Kolivan battle Zarkon while the rest of the Blades converged on the throne room and eliminated his followers. They would’ve seen their coven finally achieve victory over the shadows that had haunted them for so long.
But they didn’t see any of this. Keith and Shiro knelt on the floor, senseless to what was happening around them. Aware only of each other, their embrace, and the bond reigniting in their chests.
Eventually the glow began to fade. Shiro was able to open his eyes. He didn’t see the carnage of blood and bodies around him; he only saw Keith. Still crying, but now from relief and joy.
At the back of his mind he remembered something, a dim scrap of words he’d barely paid attention to. Given the bond between the two remains greater.
A laugh bubbled out of him.
The rest of the world still felt muted. Shiro barely felt Kolivan’s touch when he helped he and Keith to their feet, barely registered the hum of excited voices around him. He went where Kolivan directed, but always kept an arm tightly around Keith, who clung to his side with equal ferocity. Not letting anything come between them.
The cold air of the forest woke him up a bit. The snow had stopped and stars now shone over their heads, along with the illumination of an almost full moon, casting light over the devastation wrought at the gates by the assault team. Bodies were everywhere, both friend and foe, and sometime later when the bond wasn’t screaming with joy Shiro would find time to mourn the dead properly. He promised himself that.
“Shiro!” It was Matt, yelling and waving his arms at them from the treeline. “Shiro! Shiro!”
Shiro changed their course and began to guide Keith over to them. Keith was shivering as they plowed through the snow, still in nothing more than his ragged jeans and t-shirt, but with how loud the happy growling in his throat was you wouldn’t have known it.
“Keith!” Pidge darted out in front of her brother and crashed into them. She wormed her skinny arms around Keith’s ribs and squeezed like a boa constrictor, and now Shiro and Keith weren’t the only ones crying. “Keith, Keith, oh my god, you’re alive, oh god.”
Matt was the next to join the party, and the moment he did, the bond settled in Shiro’s chest. It still glowed within him, bright and warm, but it wasn’t so urgent anymore. It was content, for now, and once they got home and could tell Lance and Hunk that they had succeeded, they could be together again.
As a family. Like they should be.
Pidge and Matt took turns driving. Shiro was sprawled out across the backseat, utterly disregarding the concept of seat belts as he held Keith to his chest, wrapping both his arms and his legs around him until he felt safety radiating through the bond.
Then, in quiet, breathless chunks, Keith told him everything that had happened.
Shiro expected to be angry, but the rage never came. Zarkon and Haggar were dead, after all, as were all the Galra. There was no one left to be angry at. Instead he just felt empathy and concern. The instinct to rumble and soothe kept rising in his throat, but Shiro forced himself to swallow it down, knowing that in this case, his sire instincts were wrong.
Keith had already told him how it made him feel. Like he was powerless, with no control over himself, and no way out. Shiro never wanted to make him feel that way.
As they drove on, the light mauve of dawn just barely beginning to brush over the horizon, the two of them leaned into each other and faded away into sleep.
The dawn was quiet, and their family was whole.