#sheith Beauty and the Beast AU. No idea what rating yet.
Well... mostly normal blacksmith. Some might say he’s odd just by virtue of who his son is — Keith Kogane.
Not that Keith cares. He’s got his dad, and that’s all he needs.
“What sort of discount are you doing for me today?” James asks, breezing into the Koganes’ shop with the air of bravado and false charm Keith hates so much.
“Yeah well, most of them are too dumb to see through your nice-guy schtick,” Keith retorts.
“Griffin, get out. I’m closing.”
“Why? Don’t like doing business when daddy’s not home?”
“Only if you agree to go on a date with me,” Griffin says stubbornly.
As the hard packed dirt of the village streets gives way to the moss-covered ground of the forest, Keith feels something in him relax.
Keith’s first thought is /boar/, and he begins looking for a tree to scale; his knife and bow are no match for the tough hide of an angry boar.
And not just any horse. It’s Red, his father’s horse, wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth.
“Dad?” He calls out as soon as he enters, but there’s really no need; the building is as cold and lifeless as when he left, none of the warmth his father always brings home with him.
Maybe Keith’s panicking over nothing. Tomorrow morning, he tells himself. That gives Red time to rest and recover, and his father a chance to make it home if he’s nearby.
He takes a deep breath, packs some provisions, and lays down on his bed; he should at least /try/ to get some rest.
Two hours before dawn, he gives up on sleeping, saddles Red, and heads out.
“What happened, girl?” he asks softly as they travel through the deep shadows of early morning. “How did you even get free of the cart?”
Eventually, Red pauses in her gentle trot, nostrils flaring for a moment, before she veers off to the right, taking a smaller path Keith hadn’t even noticed.
The trail winds for a while, long enough that Keith almost makes Red turn around, but then the trees suddenly part.
The only thing between him and the gate? His father’s cart.
There’s blood on the seat, splattered over the backrest and looking like it had dripped onto the floor.
He goes quiet, listening for any response, any pained noises, even just *breathing*.
Keith steps forward and knocks.
“Hello? I’m um... I’m looking for my father? Is anyone here?”
“Dad? Is that you?”
A shadow shifts somewhere in the next room.
“Dad!” It sounds as if it’s coming from below him, and Keith takes off running, opening doors until he finds a staircase going down. “Dad?”
“I’m here! But Keith, be careful, there’s-“
A firm hand closes around Keith’s arm.
“My father,” Keith manages after a moment. He darts a glance down the stairs. “I heard him down there. I just want to take him home.”
“Follow me.” With that, he sweeps down the stairs, the hem of his black cloak trailing behind him.
“Dad!” Keith rushes forward, pulling him into a tight hug, then immediately pulls back at the pained sound that produces. “You’re hurt.”
“Thieves,” he explains grimly. “Took all the stock I didn’t sell. They’d have killed me, but...” He glances over Keith’s shoulder. “This... gentleman came to my aid.”
“You have my thanks, sir. Is there something we can do to repay you?”
The man jerks back from Keith’s hand with a hiss, and the light in the room flickers.
Keith sucks in a breath and takes a stumbling step back.
He’s... he’s not human.
“Keith,” his father says again, more firmly. “He brought me here and patched me up. I don’t think he means us any harm.”
Ken nods. “Thank you.” He puts his good hand on Keith’s arm, obviously expecting to leave together, but the beast lets out a low growl at that.
Ken draws himself up to his full height, meager though it seems before the beast, as Keith scowls.
“Like hell I am,” he says bluntly. “Why would I stay?”
“Magic?” Keith repeats, skeptical.
“/Silence/,” he demands, as Keith turns around to see who spoke, only to see...
The candlestick, staring at him with wide eyes.
“What the fuck?” Keith says, voice faint.
“But you know it isn’t-“
“I said /silence/,” the beast snaps.
“There are strange magics here,” Ken says to Keith quietly. “I was trying to warn you, but...” His eyes flicker back to the beast.
That’s as far as he gets before he’s interrupted by a harsh laugh.
“/Money/?” The beast says incredulously. “I told you, boy, it’s the magic. No /coin/ can appease the powers here.”
“How long do I have to stay?” he demands, attempting to cover his fear with bravado. He’s not entirely sure it works.
Keith hears his father suck in a breath, feels the fingers on his arm tighten. “Keith, get out of here.”
“No chance,” Keith responds instantly. “You need to see a healer for your arm.”
Besides, his father is needed— he’s the only blacksmith in town. What has ever Keith ever been, other than the town outcast?
“Hey, that’s rude,” says a new voice. “He has a name, you know.” Keith can only stare when he sees it’s the clock sitting by the candle speaking this time.
Kind of beautiful, in a terrifying way.
"One of you leaves now," he repeats, stepping forward menacingly.
"No," Keith says firmly. He looks over at the beast. "I'm staying. Get him out of here. You can do that, can't you?"
"Keith, don't do this! I'm your /father/, let me stay, let me-"
The beast pauses in the doorway, shifting Ken's weight to his left arm grasp the door handle. He meets Keith's eyes briefly, and Keith tips his chin up stubbornly.
"We can't just-"
"Well, no, but give him a little bit, he just lost his father. He needs-"
"Yeah," the clock says, shaking itself enough that the cogs inside make a chattering noise. "He's Lance. I'm Hunk. You're Keith, right? Nice to meet you."
The candlestick /bristles/, and Keith is honestly impressed that it's able to convey that despite being, you know, a candlestick. "What's /that/ supposed to mean?" Lance demands.
Keith goes still, and looks over at the door. "Really?"
"I don't think that door even has a lock," Hunk offers. "And the big guy won't care, as long as you don't leave the manor."
Lance and Hunk exchange a Look. "We're sure," Lance says firmly. "Stay out of the West wing -- none of us are allowed there -- but otherwise it should be fine."
It's bigger than his father's whole house.
He meets a rather excitable piano named Coran, who greets Keith with a flourish of notes.
He'd been left to his own devices, with a warning to not wander around /too/ much.
"Needs more thyme," Pidge announces.
"What? No way. Just a little more salt and it's perfect," Matt claims.
He's never been very good at doing what he's told.
Unlike the rest of the house, which the staff cleaned up in short order after Keith’s arrival, the West wing is a mess.
Windows are busted out, furniture is smashed, and there are claw marks in the plaster of the walls.
Every other door is hanging open, or has holes busted in it, or has been ripped off its hinges, but this door is in immaculate condition, carefully closed off from the hallway.
The only thing in the room is a wooden stand, on top of which sits a glass display stand holding the most beautiful flower Keith’s ever seen.
Close enough to see the purple-black veins winding through the base of the petals.
Close enough to feel the /wrongness/ emanating from it.
“Don’t touch that!” The words are snarled and frantic, jerking Keith out of his reverie.
“What are you doing here?” he demands, stalking around Keith to put himself between him and the flower. “You’re not allowed here. I know they told yo-“
“What is it?” Keith asks, recovering that step toward him once more.
The beast’s laugh is harsh, almost grating. “You know nothing, boy. You shouldn’t be here. Leave, now, before you get hurt.” There’s a veiled threat in the words, but Keith is used to those.
“Don’t touch me,” the beast snarls. “You shouldn’t /be/ here. Leave, now!”
"So why would you care if I'm in pain?" the beast retorts.
It's a valid question; Keith doesn't /know/ why, only knows that seeing the creature suffering tugs at something in him, makes him want to fix it.
Keith hesitates, brow furrowed. There's something almost familiar in that voice, something that makes him want to step closer.
He lays awake in his too-large canopy bed in his luxurious room for the rest of the night, listening to distant, pained howls.
“What?” he rumbles. “Can’t come to breakfast in my own home?”
The beast scowls, and despite that, Keith can’t help but be shocked at how different he looks in the light of day.
He seems almost sheepish as he takes a seat at the head of the table.
"You're more.... human than I thought," Keith replies, never one to beat around the bush. The room goes completely still at that, as if the cups and candlesticks and clocks were only that and nothing more.
"You really have no fear, do you?" the beast finally says.
For a moment, Keith almost says yes.
"No," he says quietly, looking up to meet the beast's eyes. "I don't think you're as scary as you think you are."
"You're right about him, you know."
"Hm?" Keith turns to face her. "Who?"
"What's his name?" Keith asks, frowning. He feels silly that it hasn't occurred to him to ask before.
"You should ask him," she replies simply, then hops off toward the stove.
The next morning, the beast shows up for breakfast once more, walking in and taking his seat as if he's done so every morning.
"Of course I have a name," he grumbles. "Why wouldn't I have a name?"
The beast opens his mouth to answer, then hesitates. "Kuro," he finally answers. Keith sees Lance and Allura exchange a glance, and wonders if he so rarely gives his name out that they're surprised by it.
They eat in silence, but somehow it feels almost friendly.
It's so odd, so unexpected, that Keith merely stares across at him for a long minute before answering honestly.
"With what?" Kuron asks. His curiosity sounds genuine, which is oddly endearing.
The next morning, Keith presents Kuro with a small pot of ointment.
"Possibly nothing useful," Keith says. "It's an ointment I used to make my dad for burns he got while working. Numbs the skin. I know your problem is different, but it might help."
"Um. Thank you," Kuro says when he turns back to Keith.
"Wait!" The voice sounds authoritative, commanding, so Keith stops on instinct, but he turns around with a frown. "I mean. Please," Kuro adds, as if the word is foreign on his tongue.
Keith's brow furrows; so far Kuro has shown no interest in Keith outside of eating across from him at meals, but it's not like he's in any position to refuse. Besides, like he said, he's bored.
"Ok," he agrees, shrugging.
“Come on,” he says, voice gruff. “I thought you /liked/ the outside.”
“Yeah,” Keith says quietly, squinting in the early morning sunlight. “I do.”
It’s an armory, with beautiful weapons on racks all along the walls of the room.
“These are beautiful,” he says quietly, awe-struck by the quality of the weapons before him. He turns to see Kuro watching him, looking almost nervous.
Keith pulls one of the swords off the wall, shifting it in his hand, hefting it a bit to feel its balance. He frowns then, and looks over at Kuro.
“You’re not as subtle as you think,” Kuro replies, his lips twisted into a wry smile that makes something in Keith suddenly want to reach out to him, the impulse so strong and unexpected he nearly gasps aloud.
“Oh, I’m counting on it,” Kuro says, with a surprising grin that shows off all of his sharp teeth. “It’s been ages since I’ve had someone to spar with.”
Kuro didn’t request training blades, so neither did Keith.
There’s a brief moment where their eyes meet, but oddly Keith never fears Kuro will hurt him.
“Good fight,” Kuro says, his voice low and rumbling. He doesn’t meet Keith’s eyes as he speaks.
“My father made this,” he says, tracing the mark with trembling fingers.
“Then he must be very good,” Kuro says gruffly. “My father only bought from the best.”
“Your father?” Keith repeats, eyes narrowing.
Kuro also starts losing clothes.
Kuro's hanging back a bit, as if watching for Keith's reaction. Keith takes a breath and meets Kuro's eyes evenly.
"Well, naturally," Kuro responds. "I've already been fully /disarmed/." As soon as he says it, his eyes go wide for a second, as if surprised at himself for the joke.
"Nevermind," Kuro says quickly. He turns away, pacing toward the other end of the courtyard. "Let's start."
Once he'd noticed, it's hard /not/ to notice. It's distracting, frankly, the way Kuro's muscles shift under his skin when he hefts the sword and comes at Keith.
The first time Keith uses a longsword, Kuro raises a curious eyebrow. Keith shrugs. "May as well, right?"
"You have to account for the weight distribution differently," Kuro explains, his fingers gentle on Keith's, so very, very careful of his claws.
Keith's flushed, all too aware of how close they're standing.
Keith's growl as he charges is answer enough.
It's almost enough to distract him from what's becoming an all-too-familiar wave of déjà vu every time he sees Kuro smile.
"Is he okay?" he finds himself asking Hunk, who is studiously avoiding meeting Keith's eyes.
"He's fine," Matt sighs. "Just... something came up."
"Just because he never leaves doesn't mean no one else never shows up," Lance says, looking at Keith pointedly.
Keith feels the blood drain from his face. "Dad."
"A few hours," Hunk says when no one else speaks up.
"Allura!" Lance hisses. She promptly smothers his protests in fluffy white feathers.
"Go on," she encourages.
"Which way did he go?" he asks Matt.
Keith frowns -- that's the same direction as his village. "Got it," he says, and heads out.
He pauses at the front gate, then steps through, waiting for some magic backlash to strike out at him.
He's so focused on following the road that he almost misses the sound of harsh breathing coming from his left.
"Kuro!" The beast is curled in on himself, arms wrapped protectively around his middle.
"Stop," Keith snaps. "Kuro, it's me. It's Keith."
Keith's voice finally seems to break through to him and Kuro relaxes a little -- enough for Keith to see the blood.
"Come on," he says, the words sounding shaky to his own ears. "Get up. We have to get you home."
"Don't be stupid," Keith says, already pulling at his arm. "I'm not leaving you here. I'll help you walk."
"You can't," Kuro protests. "I'm too big."
It's a long, slow walk, and Kuro sometimes growls with pain, but Keith never once lets go.
"Where's his room?" Keith demands.
Kuro's room is... homey. Keith isn't sure why that surprises him. There's a large canopy bed against one wall, and the table beside it is stacked high with books.
"You saved me," Kuro breathes, head lolling on the pillow to look in Keith's direction.
"Yeah, I dragged you back here," Keith agrees. "Where are you hurt?" he repeats.
"Kuro, I already did. You're home, you're safe. Just tell me what hurts," Keith insists.
"Home," Kuro agrees with a soft smile Keith's never seen on him, before passing out.
That's fine, Keith thinks. This is fine. He can handle this.
Hunk and Allura return with supplies just as Keith finishes cutting Kuro's pants off.
It's no wonder Kuro had trouble walking back, Keith thinks grimly.
"What are you doing?"
Keith glances up, raising an eyebrow. "What does it look like? Patching you up. What did this, anyway?"
Keith goes still, frowning. "But it wasn't my dad."
"I don't understand, though," Keith says, frowning. "No one else cares about me. No one else would try to come after me."
"What did he say? What did he look like?"
Kuro sucks in a breath as Keith goes back to work, wiping at a cut on his left side.
"So you do know him," Kuro says, frowning.
"More's the pity," Keith says to confirm. "He's an asshole. Thinks he deserves the world just for existing. Used to come onto me whenever my dad wasn't around. Didn't like taking no for an answer."
"You should have woken me to help," Keith says as he moves on to the last cut, just under Kuro's collarbone on the side opposite Keith.
Kuro is quiet for a long moment, face tilted down to watch him. "You'd have helped?"
"Because I'm a monster." Kuro says it so matter-of-factly that it take Keith aback for a moment. He hasn't thought of Kuro that way in a long time, and the thought that he thinks of /himself/ that way is sobering.
Keith swallows hard as he smooths the bandage over the cut. "You're not," he says quietly, glancing up to meet Kuro's eyes.
Kuro smiles sadly. "Keith, you don't know-"
"I don't need to know," Keith replies. Kuro had tried to tell him his past, once. The curse on him had strangled the words in his throat. "I know /you/, and you are good."
Keith doesn't /plan/ to cut him off, but his lips find Kuro's and he's struck by how perfectly they fit together. He's holding himself carefully over the bed, but he can't make himself pull away, especially not when Kuro makes a soft, needy noise against his lips.
“Um, sorry?” he says quietly.
“Are you?” Kuro replies, and Keith can tell the question is earnest.
“I don’t think so,” Keith admits. “Not unless you didn’t want it.”
"So, he seemed to be running back to the village?" Keith asks, frowning into his soup spoon.
"That sounds like Griffin," Keith grumbles. "What kind of threats?"
Keith scoffs. "As if he has access to any sort of..." He trails off, frowning.
"You're the only one who thinks that," Keith assures him. "Seriously, I doubt we'll see him again. He won't want anyone in town to know he got his ass kicked."
The next day, Keith scowls down at reopened wounds from Kuro's writhing in the night. "The balm you made does help," Kuro says sheepishly. "But it can only do so much."
"It taints me," Kuro insists. "It could- /I/ could hurt you."
"You wouldn't," Keith says firmly. "You'd never hurt me."
Kuro's eyes are sad as he looks up at Keith. "You don't know who I am."
Kuro heals slowly, thanks to the fact that the pain the curse causes him at night makes it hard for him to stay still, often resulting in reopened wounds.
They trade more kisses and a few soft touches that send Keith's heart racing. Kuro seems hesitant, but not out of lack of desire.
"I have no choice but to be here," Keith points out. "And I like touching you. I like /you/. I trust you."
"You should be at home with your father," Kuro says, mumbling, as if he's speaking to himself. "Not trapped in this house."
"I want to rest. Leave me," he repeats, his tone firm.
Kuro doesn't come to breakfast in the morning, and doesn't let Keith in when he tries to bring some to his room.
"You need to at least let me in to tend to your wounds," Keith calls through the door, frustrated.
The yelling-sitting-waiting routine repeats itself for three more days before Keith returns the fourth morning to the door ajar. Kuro isn't inside.
"You're not healed enough to spar, yet," Keith says, arms crossed as he leans in the doorway.
Keith presses his lips into a thin line, his fingers tightening on his arms. "If you don't want me, all you had to do was say as much. I wouldn't have pressed."
Kuro goes very still.
Keith steps forward, scowling. "No, you don't get to do that. You kissed me back," he points out. "You can't just push me away without actually rejecting me. I can handle it, just... just don't leave me in-between like this."
"What was always going to happen to me," Kuro responds waspishly, returning to his work, the ring of stone on metal filling the small room. "The flower can only take so much."
"Keith..." Kuro's voice is a warning Keith doesn't heed as he turns and runs for the West wing. He can hear Kuro moving behind him, giving chase, calling his name-- but Keith is fast, and Kuro is injured.
The flower, it's...
There is power there. He can feel it.
Then Kuro's hauling him back by his shoulders, dragging him away from the pedestal the flower sits on.
"It's... it's powerful," Keith replies, that /something/ in him straining for that power. "It could save you."
"Kuro, I can-"
Keith recoils at that. "You can't! The magic-"
"I lied." His smile is a sword's edge, sharp and unkind. "I told you that you shouldn't trust me."
"I panicked," Kuro says, his distant expression slipping a little. "I didn't want you to leave. I thought I needed some companionship." He pauses. "I see now that I was wrong."
"You weren't wrong," Keith says, stubbornly.
"I'm sending you home. You can tell your village of the monster in the forest, that they may avoid unwanted encounters," he continues.
Keith nods numbly, stepping around Kuro toward the door. He makes it out to the hallway before Kuro's voice stops him.
"Take this. I... I wouldn't have you come to harm on the road."
"Keith?" It's Hunk who speaks from his position on the banister, the hands on the face of the clock twitching nervously. "What's happening?"
He realizes as he says them that the words feel like a lie. He misses his father, yes, but home... somewhere along the way, /this/ place had become home.
"You can't!" he exclaims. "If you go, we-" He's cut off with the choked noises Keith has grown used to when they try to speak of the curse. Hunk groans in frustration, then tries again. "Kuro needs you!"
Keith slips into the outskirts of the village as the sun sinks behind the trees. He is careful to avoid prying eyes, instead heading straight home.
Seeing his father again had been the one bright spot in all of this, and coming home to a cold hearth with no sign of his father being around saps the last of Keith’s strength. He sinks to the floor by the fireplace, exhausted.
At first he’s not sure what it was. A sound? A movement? It’s pitch-dark in the small room, without so much as a candle lit, but there is a sliver of moonlight coming in through the window—enough to reveal eyes gleaming in the darkness.
“Who are you?” he demands. “What do you want?”
Keith frowns. “This knife was my father’s.”
“And you never wondered why the one blade he valued above all others, the one he bade you never, ever lose, was one he didn’t make?”
“Who are you?” Keith repeats. He’s not in the mood for guessing games.
The woman sighs. “My name is Krolia.”
“And Ken never let you lose that knife because it is enchanted, and I am your mother.”
Keith recoils at that, eyes going wide in shock.
His father had always told him that his mother had loved him, that she’d only left to keep him safe. As he’d grown, Keith had come to think that a kind lie.
“What about horns and claws?” Keith asks, thinking of Kuro. “Sharp teeth?”
That gets Keith’s attention. “What? In chains?”
"I was able to sneak close to the window to see him, but couldn't get in. He seems to be uninjured, but we need to get him out."
"We don't even have a sheriff," Keith says, bewildered. "Who would jail him?"
The plan is simple enough-- just before dawn, Keith strides into the center of town, heading for the small prison.
"Keith!" It's Iverson, one of the de facto leaders of the village. "It's good to see you safe."
"No crime," Iverson says holding out his hands in a placating manner. "He's... he's ill, Keith. I'm sorry."
"And you locked him up rather than call a healer?" Keith demands.
"What do you mean?"
"The creature," he repeats. "You saw, then."
"Yes," Griffin says, face darkening. "I did. How did you escape?"
"Let you go?" Griffin says with an incredulous laugh. He looks around the crowd, eyes skittering among those gathered who seem to be looking to him for answers. "Well... of course!"
"I /hoped/ it was mindless," Griffin replies quickly. "This is /worse/, don't you see?"
"Worse, that he released me?" Keith asks, raising his eyebrows.
"He didn't follow me," Keith says, knowing even as he does so that it's a mistake.
"Of course not," he says, hoping it sounds more sincere to the others than to his own ears. "I'm sure it was brutal."
Keith backs away slowly, taking advantage of everyone's focus being on Griffin. As soon as he can, he turns and dashes into the trees.
"I know, son," Ken says, smiling softly. "I wasn't sure if I'd see you again. How did you escape?"
"I didn't," Keith says, his smile faltering. "He sent me away."
"Yeah," Keith says uneasily, his hand finding the sword at his hip. The movement catches Ken's eye, and he goes very still.
"Keith, where did you get that sword?"
Keith frowns as he looks up. "Kuro gave it to me. It's one of yours, right?"
"You made swords for the king?" Keith says, eyebrows raised. "You never told me that."
"Shiro," Keith says faintly. "His name was Shiro."
He'd giving it some thought now, though, because he's slowly beginning to suspect that the prince isn't dead.
That's what Kuro had said, only days ago. A near-perfect echo of young Shiro. Keith's hands shake as he pulls the sword free, its freshly sharpened edge catching the light of the small fire.
"You work magic," he says. "Is there magic that could turn someone... not human? Something that could turn a boy into a beast, perhaps in the course of healing an illness?"
Keith nods. "Yeah. Except I don't think he's a creature. I think he's Shiro."
Keith nods. "He had this," he says, holding up the sword. "And... he said some things. I thought he looked familiar at times, but I could never figure out why."
Keith is already halfway out the mouth of the cave when a hand clamps firmly around his arm.
"They're going to /kill/ him," Keith snaps. "I /have/ no bigger worries than that."
Keith hesitates. He hadn't told her any of that.
He leaves out how they'd been inching toward more, but he's pretty sure they know anyway.
"Haggar," she says quietly, anger plain in her voice. "She always wanted more power, and now she's found a way to get it, at the cost of the prince's life."
"Keith, sweetheart," Krolia says gently. "If the black had already begun to cover his face, I fear it may be too late. I'm not sure the bond of magic between them can be broken."
"I don't know if it's possible," Krolia says, "but I don't think either of us can stop you from trying."
"I wish I could go with you," Krolia adds, "more than anything, but I need to find Haggar and bring her down before she comes into the full power she seeks to control, or else she may destroy the country."
"Yeah, alright. I can do that. We only have the two horses you and I rode out here, though. Someone will have to go without."
"I have one last favor to ask before we go," Krolia tells Keith. "I can track Haggar through her magic, and you have touched it recently. May I take that magic from you into myself?"
"It won't hurt," she promises. "Just... be still and don't fight it." As he watches, her eyes begin to glow a bright white. Some of the white seems to coalesce in her fingertip, which she reaches out to Keith, touching his chest gently.
"I've got it," she says quietly.
"It's called quintessence," she explains. "Controlling it is how magic works. It's white in it's natural state, but when corrupted, like what Haggar has done..." She holds up her finger. "It goes dark."
"He's being used as a conduit," Krolia explains. "Quintessence comes from living things, so it requires a living thing as a focus. Most of us use a plant."
"The rose," Keith says.
"Not as himself," Krolia confirms. "He'd be a sort of... zombie. Catatonic. It's not a life I'd wish on anyone."
"We have to go /now/," Keith growls.
"Take this," he says, holding out the hilt of his dagger to his mom.
Keith nods. "Yeah. I got this," he says, resting his hand on the pommel of the sword. "Besides, you can get it back to me later, right?"
She smiles as she accepts it. "Of course. Be careful, Keith. Please."
"Attackers are on the way here," he repeats breathlessly. "A mob."
Keith's eyes flick to the stairs behind Lance, then to the doors.
Keith's heart stutters at the thought of /losing him/, and he nods, turning to take the stairs two at a time.
Then he hears the howl.
It's a howl Keith recognizes, one that spurs him into action as he turns right.
Keith falls to his knees by Shiro's side, hands hovering over his skin, afraid touching him might hurt him worse.
"Whoa," Keith says, pulling his hands back but not backing away. "It's okay, it's me. It's Keith." Shiro pauses, eyes searching Keith's.
"I'm here to help," Keith adds gently. For a moment, Shiro's face relaxes, considering.
Then the arrow sinks into Shiro's shoulder.
"Step away from that thing, Keith," Griffin says, another arrow already nocked. "I've got this."
An expression of surprise crosses Griffin's face, then he breaks out into a laugh, harsh and jarring.
Griffin seems to consider, then suddenly releases the arrow. Keith barely has enough time to knock it away with his blade, but he manages to divert it from himself and Shiro.
Keith is momentarily taken aback by Griffin's skill with the sword, but he snarls and presses in anyway.
That is, until Shiro's howl of pain breaks his concentration.
Griffin raises his sword, pointing it at Keith's throat. "Should have stuck with us humans, Keith."
“I’ll have your head mounted on my wall, beast,” he snarls as he struggles to catch up.
"It's a beast, Keith!" Griffin yells back. "It's unnatural, and I'll be the one to be famous for bringing it down!"
There's an ominous click, and Keith realizes he's not close enough to dive at Griffin.
It's too late.
No. No, he's getting a better angle for a finishing shot.
The realization makes his blood run cold.
He's too far away. Too far for any human to make it.
He feels power surge through him and thinks of his mother, and remembers, /I'm not human/.
He opens his eyes as Keith lands, though, his lips curling up into a small smile. The purple glow has left his eyes, but the black and purple tendrils reach his hairline.
"You called my name," he says quietly. His features twist in pain as it's followed by a wet cough.
"No," he says, raising a hand to touch Keith's cheek. "You said /my name/. My real name."
"I don't think I get much of a choice, baby," he says. He has to pause twice to take a gasping breath.
With a cry of pure anguish, Keith reaches out to the closest source of power -- the flower, that beautiful, damned thing that connected him to the witch that had started all of this.
He grasps at that power and /pulls/.
"You can't have him," Keith says, his voice utterly calm. "And neither can death."
He looks down at Shiro, leans in, and kisses him.
And he can feel the moment when Shiro /stops/ that and redirects that power.
Far away, Krolia feels a surge of energy as the wounds she's gained in her fight with Honerva close.
"Oh, Shiro," he breathes. "I'm sorry."
Keith shakes his head, and reaches up to brush his fingers over the base of a horn. Shiro's eyes flutter closed at the sensation.
"I tried to fix you," he says sadly. "But there wasn't enough."
"Before you left," he says slowly, "you'd begun looking at me as if I was beautiful."
Keith's head snaps up. "Because you /are/," he replies instantly. "Shiro, I think you're perfect, but you can't be king like this."
"Why not?" Keith asks, confused. "It's your birthright."
Keith gapes down at him for a long moment.
"Yes," he says breathlessly when they part. "If you'll have me, of course I'll stay, Shiro."
"You'll get used to it," he promises. "We've got time."
holy SHIT I finished the Thing! I hope you all enjoyed it, and thank you SO much for sticking with this beast (HAH) of a thread for so long. Stay tuned for an AO3 version, possibly with a porny monsterfucking sequel? Who knooooows!