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I’ve been putting this off forever so lemme just dive in and see where it goes...

#sheith Beauty and the Beast AU. No idea what rating yet.
Garrison is a normal town. Disgustingly normal, even. It has a normal mayor, normal sheriff, norma baker, normal tailor, normal blacksmith.

Well... mostly normal blacksmith. Some might say he’s odd just by virtue of who his son is — Keith Kogane.
Keith is probably the one truly odd thing about Garrison. The thing is, no one can quite put their finger on /why/ he’s so odd. Sure, he’s a bit of a loner, but something has always set him apart as different.

Not that Keith cares. He’s got his dad, and that’s all he needs.
Keith doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about him — or at least, that’s what he tells himself. He helps his dad in the shop, trains with the weapons he helps create, and dreams of life out in the wide world beyond the borders of his small town.
Most of the town is content to let Keith do his own thing, odd though he may be. James Griffin is the exception.

“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.
Keith fights back the urge to snap at him. “Oh, I have a deal just for you,” he responds with a thin-lipped smile. “If you agree to leave immediately, I will offer you a 20% surcharge on the farming tool of your choice for the hardship of briefly enduring your presence.”
It takes Griffin a second to parse that, and then he’s scowling, leaning across the counter toward Keith. “You know, most people in this town are a lot nicer to me.”

“Yeah well, most of them are too dumb to see through your nice-guy schtick,” Keith retorts.
“I’m a perfectly nice guy, as long as everyone does what I want,” Griffin replies, smile oozing with charm, as if he sees nothing wrong with that statement. Keith merely rolls his eyes.

“Griffin, get out. I’m closing.”

“Why? Don’t like doing business when daddy’s not home?”
He somehow manages to make the statement sound like both a come-on and a threat. Keith bristles; it’s true that Griffin would never dare try anything in front of Ken Kogane, but he doesn’t care for the implication that he can’t take care of himself when his dad is out of town.
“I’ve been watching the shop while Dad’s at the market since I was ten,” Keith says pointedly. “And I’ve certainly handled far tougher customers than /you/.” He steps around the counter and over to the door, which he opens and gestures to.
“Except ‘customer’ implies buying something, which you never do,” Keith adds, unable to resist a final jab. He’s getting tired of Griffin always coming into the shop and following Keith around town, full of put-on airs and innuendos Keith wants no part in.
Griffin growls and stalks forward, grabbing Keith by the arm. “You may be pretty, but you’re also the town weirdo,” he says, voice low. “You should be flattered that someone like me is even interested in you.”
“I’m flattered,” Keith responds in a deadpan tone that says he certainly isn’t. “Now get out.”

“Only if you agree to go on a date with me,” Griffin says stubbornly.
Keith sighs, but pauses as if considering it. When Griffin blinks in shock, Keith takes advantage of the moment of distraction, shoving him out of the doorway and into the street before closing and locking the door behind him.
There’s an angry thump from Griffin’s side of the door, but Keith ignores it in favor of taking a deep breath and heading back through the shop and into the rooms he shares with his father. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s big enough for the two of them. It’s home.
Seeing the cluttered living room reminds Keith that his father should be home today. He smiles at the thought and grabs his hunting bow. He’s been mostly eating dried meat while he’s been on his own this week, but he likes the idea of his father returning to a warm meal.
It’s only early Autumn right now, so there should be plenty of game around; chances are good there’s a rabbit in one of Keith’s snares, but if not, with his bow he can snag them a rabbit or pheasant easily enough, or possibly even a deer if he’s lucky.
Keith takes a moment to bank the fire in the hearth, then slips out the back door, just in case Griffin’s still lingering out front.

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.
He’s always felt more at home in the wilderness than the village, and today is no exception. The air has a slight chill to it, but not enough to be uncomfortable. He checks his snares — all empty. That’s fine; he’s never minded hunting.
He readies his bow and instinctively steps quietly as he moves deeper into the forest, booted feet deftly avoiding the dry leaves and sticks that might otherwise snap or rustle to give away his position to potential prey.
It’s in this waiting quiet that Keith suddenly hears a loud noise, as if something large is crashing through the woods in a panic.

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.
Just as he spots a branch low enough that he could clamber up onto it, the creature bursts through the underbrush. He realizes to his surprise that it’s not a boar, though; it’s a horse.

And not just any horse. It’s Red, his father’s horse, wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth.
“Red!” The horse snorts, startled, scrambling backwards as Keith puts out a hand. “It’s okay, girl. Just me. C’mere. Good girl.” He speaks soothingly, stepping closer as Red eyes him warily. She huffs, then takes a hesitant step closer. “That’s it,” he says, encouraging.
It takes a few more minutes to calm her down, and she’s still trembling from exertion, but she’s finally willing to let Keith lead her. He pauses to let her drink briefly at a stream, then he leads her home, something like dread settling in the pit of his stomach.
He gets Red settled in the small stable behind the smithy, then heads inside.

“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.
His hands shake as he sits heavily in a wooden chair, which creaks ominously underneath 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.
But if he’s not back yet, he’ll head out at first light.

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.
He lets Red have her head, hoping she’ll return to where she last saw her master.

“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?”
When he’d looked at her tack the night before, what she hadn’t lost in her frantic gallop, it looked almost as if the ends had been burnt. That made no sense, though; his dad might /cut/ her free if something happened, but burn marks made no sense.
He sniffs for smoke occasionally as Red leads them down the path, but he never notices anything.

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 path is small and overgrown, twigs and cobwebs catching at Keith’s hair and clothes. He huddles down close to Red’s back and pulls his cloak close around him.

The trail winds for a while, long enough that Keith almost makes Red turn around, but then the trees suddenly part.
The opening in the trees is sudden, but what really startles Keith is the beautiful manor before him. Just seconds ago he couldn’t see anything of it, and now he’s practically at its gate.

The only thing between him and the gate? His father’s cart.
The cart seems to be in pretty good condition, but as he draws closer Keith sees something that makes him go very still on Red’s back.

There’s blood on the seat, splattered over the backrest and looking like it had dripped onto the floor.
“Dad?” Keith calls out, his voice gone high and thready with panic. “Dad, are you here?”

He goes quiet, listening for any response, any pained noises, even just *breathing*.

There’s nothing.
Keith slides off of Red and loops the reigns over the seat of the cart so he can make a thorough circuit of the surrounding area. When he sees there’s no sign of his father, he sighs and squares his shoulders as he turns to face the ornate gate of the manor.
The gate is wrought iron, twisted into an intricate pattern of trailing vines. It looks at once delicate and imposing, but it opens easily enough when Keith gives it a push. He grabs Red's reigns and clicks his tongue at her, only to scowl when she refuses to move.
"Red, come on. We have to find dad." He tugs at her reigns again, but she keeps herself firmly planted where she is. With a huff, he loops the reigns back around the cart. "Fine, stay here. I'll be back in a bit." She huffs, nosing at his hair, and he presses a kiss to her nose.
He heads down the cobbled path, and ignores the chill that runs down his spine when he hears Red's whinny coming from the fog behind him. The manor is large and imposing, a large central building with two wings jutting toward him on either end.
The exterior is red brick, the color muted by the fog lying low to the ground in the area. He passes what he guesses was once a fountain, though now it's run dry, the statuary rising in the center choked by vines so thoroughly as to be unrecognizable.
The stairs leading to the front door are wide, white marble veined in silvery grey under the scattered leaves and dirt marring their surface. The double doors look to be a heavy wood banded in iron, obviously strong and secure and... ajar.

Keith steps forward and knocks.
The door creaks farther open under the force of his knock, and he hears the sound of it echo back toward him from inside. He waits a moment, then leans his head into the opening.

“Hello? I’m um... I’m looking for my father? Is anyone here?”
There’s no answer, but there /is/ the sound of movement farther in, and... well, his father may be in there. The thought emboldens him, and he steps into the spacious foyer.

“Dad? Is that you?”

A shadow shifts somewhere in the next room.

Keith walks further into the house, squinting as he tries to see in what little of the early morning light is filtering in through the dirty windows. The house is a mess and looks almost abandoned, but there /are/ footprints in the dust on the ground.
When he gets to the end of the foyer, he could swear he sees movement again in the corner of his vision, but there’s no one there when he turns to look. Scowling in frustration, he raises his voice louder and bellows, “Dad?”
As the echo of his own voice dies away, he hears a distant reply.


“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-“
“Why are you in my house?” The voice is a low growl by Keith’s ear, and it sends a shiver down his spine. He whips his head around to see a cloaked figure standing by him, close enough to touch, and yet he somehow hadn’t heard him approach.
The man — at least he assumed it was a man, going by the voice — is tall, possibly taller than any Keith has ever seen. His cloak is pulled far enough forward that his face is buried in shadow, the hint of a nose and jaw barely visible.

A firm hand closes around Keith’s arm.
“I asked you a question,” the man says, frustration plain in his tone as his large hand tightens 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.”
Keith can’t see the man’s face, but he can certainly feel the weight of his gaze as he’s considered. After a moment, the man huffs, then releases Keith’s arm.

“Follow me.” With that, he sweeps down the stairs, the hem of his black cloak trailing behind him.
Keith follows after the man, one hand on the knife at his belt. He can’t help but notice how the man’s shoulders are broad enough to nearly brush both walls of the stairwell on either side, and swallows hard, knowing he likely can’t take him in a fight.
The stairs wind around to the right, and eventually deposit them in what appears to be a dank, dark basement. The cloaked man leads Keith to a door that he pushes open with a large hand, revealing a small room lit by a single tall candlestick.
Standing in the flickering light by the side of a small bed is Keith’s father.

“Dad!” Keith rushes forward, pulling him into a tight hug, then immediately pulls back at the pained sound that produces. “You’re hurt.”
Ken gestures to his left arm, bandages wrapped around the bicep.

“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.”
Keith turns to the cloaked man behind him, his bulk filling the doorway, and extends a hand to shake.

“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,” comes his dad’s voice from behind him, warning in his tone as the man pushes the hood of his cloak back.

Keith sucks in a breath and takes a stumbling step back.

He’s... he’s not human.
Black horns curl out of a tangled mass of black and white hair. Thick eyebrows are pulled down into an angry expression over intense gray eyes, lips curled up in a snarl to reveal unnaturally sharp teeth.
There’s a jagged scar slashed over his nose, and purple-black tendrils of color curl up around the sharp line of his jaw from his neck. In the flickering candlelight, Keith can also see what he missed when the man opened the door— fingers tipped in wickedly sharp black claws.
Keith steps instinctively in front of his father, hand going back to his knife.

“Keith,” his father says again, more firmly. “He brought me here and patched me up. I don’t think he means us any harm.”
“Harm?” The beast speaks, something like a sneer in his tone. “No, no harm.” He gestures to Ken. “You can go now. Go home.”

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.
“I said /you/ may go,” he snarls at Ken. “Not him. He stays.”

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?”
There’s a beat of silence before the beast responds. “The magic of this place demands it. One of you must stay. If you’d rather it be him,” he says, gesturing at Ken, “I suppose that is fine. One of you is leaving, though. Now.”

“Magic?” Keith repeats, skeptical.
“Shiro, please-“ A small voice pipes up from behind them, but is immediately silenced by a loud growl.

“/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.
Keith is trying to convince himself that isn’t possible when it speaks again.

“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.
Keith turns around, taking a deep breath. “Look, if you want money, I’m sure we can figure-“

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.”
Keith’s fingers flex on his knife, but he’s no fool; he and his father together couldn’t take on this creature.

“How long do I have to stay?” he demands, attempting to cover his fear with bravado. He’s not entirely sure it works.
The creature looks at him impassively. “Forever.”

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.”
His father’s injuries are bandaged well, but Keith can see the dark shadow of blood starting to seep through, making it obvious that stitches are needed.

Besides, his father is needed— he’s the only blacksmith in town. What has ever Keith ever been, other than the town outcast?
“Will you turn me into something like that?” Keith asks, a waver in his voice as he gestures back toward the candle.

“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.
"Only if you don't behave," the creature responds, something like amusement in his growly tone. Keith turns back to him, and for a moment there's something other than anger on the creature's face, and he's...

Kind of beautiful, in a terrifying way.
It's there and gone in a split second, replaced once again with a scowl.

"One of you leaves now," he repeats, stepping forward menacingly.
"Dad, go," Keith urges, giving him a small push. "Red's outside the gate. Just... just stay safe," he says, heart thudding as he suddenly realizes this might be the last time he ever sees him, if what the beast says is true.
Ken steps forward, wrapping his good arm around Keith in a fierce hug. "I'll come for you," he promises, his voice barely a whisper in Keith's ear. "I'll find help, and we'll come for you."
Keith swallows hard and presses his face into his father's shoulder. "I love you." He's never been good at expressing himself, but it's never been more important than this moment. "No matter what happens, Dad, I love you."
Ken pulls back, eyes wide, brows furrowed. "I can't leave you here," he says, his voice breaking. "I can't, Keith. Go home, go-"

"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?"
The beast gives him a long, searching look, then nods, ignoring Ken's protests. He wraps an arm around Ken's middle and hauls him backwards, so strong and solid that Ken's thrashing doesn't budge him.

"Keith, don't do this! I'm your /father/, let me stay, let me-"
"You've taken care of me my whole life," Keith replies, blinking back hot tears. "It's my turn now."

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.
That seems to make up the beast's mind, and he pulls the door shut with a solid /thunk/. Keith runs up to the door instantly, listening through the wood to his father's protests growing quieter as the distance between them grows.
Keith stands in silence for a while, leaning his head against the door. He's not sure how long he's been there when the quiet bickering behind him grows impossible to ignore.

"We can't just-"

"Well, no, but give him a little bit, he just lost his father. He needs-"
"Don't talk like he's dead," Keith says, frowning as he turns around. The candlestick and clock are leaning in close to each other where they had been whispering. They've frozen in place, staring across the small room at him. "What are your names?"
There's no response for a moment, and Keith frowns. "What?" He gestures at the clock. "You said he had a name, right?"

"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."
"Huh." Keith looks down at them, considering. "Those are.... relatively normal names."

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.
"I don't know!" Keith replies, scowling. "Thought you might have more.... magic-sounding names, or something!" He throws up his hands. "Look, you two might have been here a while, but I just found out I might never see the outside of this room again, so cut me a little slack."
Lance scoffs. "Stop being such a drama queen. You can leave the room right now, if you want."

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."
Keith hesitates. "You're sure? 'Cause I'm good in a fight, but I'm pretty sure he could beat the shit out of me."

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."
"Come on," Hunk encourages him, and Keith watches in amazement as the clock and candlestick somehow hop off the table and /walk/ across the floor. "We'll show you around."
An hour later, Keith's been given a basic tour, and has been set up in his new room.

It's bigger than his father's whole house.
At no point during the tour does he see his captor. He does meet some other... people? Things? He's not sure, because they deflect any time he tries to ask them more about themselves.

He meets a rather excitable piano named Coran, who greets Keith with a flourish of notes.
He also meets a couple of teacups, almost identical, named Matt and Pidge. They're brother and sister and they bicker like it, and Keith likes them instantly.
Allura is a featherduster with beautiful white feathers, which are somehow pristine despite the way she spins around in excitement when she meets Keith, then zooms off to clean his room. It is of course spotless by the time he arrives.
The room is luxurious, with a large canopied bed and a fireplace, draped in red and black. Keith looks out of the large windows and sighs when he sees no easy way down.

He'd been left to his own devices, with a warning to not wander around /too/ much.
He was assured that the master of the house wouldn't /hurt/ him ("probably," Lance had added under his breath), but that he did have a temper, so best not to risk it.
Keith had half a mind to leave the room just to be contrary, but he'd had a long day (and night), and caught himself drifting off the second he flopped back onto the bed.
When he wakes, it's the middle of the night. He's rested but starving, so this time he doesn't resist the urge to leave the room, knife still tucked in his belt, as if it would do him any good.
He follows his nose to the kitchen, where he finds Pidge and Matt directing various other kitchenware on the stovetop, working on some sort of food that smells amazing.

"Needs more thyme," Pidge announces.

"What? No way. Just a little more salt and it's perfect," Matt claims.
As soon as they see Keith, he gets roped into being a taste-tester -- not that he minds in the slightest; the food is far finer than any of the rustic fare he's used to cooking at home.
At some point Lance and Hunk show up and scold the siblings for making Keith eat in the kitchen. He finds himself ushered out to a dining room, where he's brought course after course of amazing food. At some point, Coran shows up and begins playing music to accompany the meal.
It's all very overwhelming, but Keith can't help but feel like the household staff are desperate to make a good impression on him. He can't imagine why; he's a prisoner here every just like they are. Regardless, they all seem nice enough, and he's grateful he won't be alone here.
Over the next few days, there's a lot more of the same. Keith is fed amazing food and brought fine clothes that are perfectly tailored to fit him. The previously dirty house is cleaned until it gleams. He is played music and given books and entertained until he's exhausted.
Not once, throughout all of this, does he see the beast. Sometimes at night, he hears strange noises coming from the West wing, but the staff all tell him, over and over, that he must never go there.

He's never been very good at doing what he's told.
(I've got to take a break for a bit to work on some other things, but thank you so much to everyone who's reading and commenting! Leaving this here because that's What We Do now, lol.)

Keith has been in the manor almost a week when he gives in to his curiosity. The novelty of talking household furnishings and fancy food had occupied him for a few days, but the last few days he’s been getting antsy, wondering about his captor.
That night, when he hears what sounds like a pained howl coming from the west wing, he slips out of his room and into the dark hallway.

Unlike the rest of the house, which the staff cleaned up in short order after Keith’s arrival, the West wing is a mess.
Actually, it’s not just a mess — not just the dust and dirt and grime that the rest of the house had been coated in. No, the west wing is /trashed/.

Windows are busted out, furniture is smashed, and there are claw marks in the plaster of the walls.
It’s almost enough to make Keith second-guess his exploring, but then he sees a closed door.

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.
He tests the knob and is surprised to find it unlocked. He’s even more surprised to find that the room inside, lit by the bright moonlight streaming in through the window, appears to be clean and orderly.
Granted, that’s mostly because it’s an almost empty room, but that’s still impressive in the wreckage of this wing.

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.
It’s a large rose, perfectly symmetrical with petals curling gently back from the bud. The flower is a deep, dark red, so deep it looks almost bruised purple. It is somehow suspended over the base of the display, and the way the moon backlights it makes it almost glow.
It’s beautiful, perfect in a way that draws Keith in closer, until he’s almost close enough to touch.

Close enough to see the purple-black veins winding through the base of the petals.

Close enough to feel the /wrongness/ emanating from it.
It’s enchanting, even in its wrongness, and Keith has a hand extended out to touch the glass when he feels a hand wrap around his arm and yank him back.

“Don’t touch that!” The words are snarled and frantic, jerking Keith out of his reverie.
Keith’s eyes are wide as he turns to face the beast, arm still caught up in his grip. He can feel the prick of sharp claws against his skin, and for a moment he fears they’ll tear straight through him, leave him bloody and as broken as this wing of the manor.
But the beast drops Keith’s arm as if he’s been burned, and the moment passes.

“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-“
The beast’s words cut off by his own strangled gasp, his body jerking as he reaches for his throat. It’s only then that Keith realizes the state of the beast’s clothes; his shirt is tattered, as if he has clawed at it, and stained with blood.
Keith takes a step back as the beast lets out a choked-off cry, claws scrabbling at his own skin as the black smoke-like patterns there seem to /writhe/, moving in hypnotically sinuous paths along his skin.

“What is it?” Keith asks, recovering that step toward him once more.
“Nothing,” the beast growls, flailing a hand out toward Keith as if to push him away. Keith sidesteps the swipe, drawn in by the way the black moves across pale skin like spilled ink. It’s beautiful, but it’s /wrong/.
“The flower,” Keith says suddenly. “Thats what’s doing this to you.”

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.
“It’s /hurting/ you,” he insists, stepping closer. “That’s what those noises are every night, aren’t they? You’re in pain.” He reaches out without thinking, and the beast flinches back from his fingers.

“Don’t touch me,” the beast snarls. “You shouldn’t /be/ here. Leave, now!”
"You're the one who's trapped me here to begin with," Keith snaps.

"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.
"Please," the beast says, quietly, something broken in his voice, in the way his head sags as he speaks. "Please, just leave me."

Keith hesitates, brow furrowed. There's something almost familiar in that voice, something that makes him want to step closer.
But there's nothing familiar here, only curled horns and sharp claws and something wicked and terrifying making its mark on pale skin.

Keith leaves.

He lays awake in his too-large canopy bed in his luxurious room for the rest of the night, listening to distant, pained howls.
The next morning, Keith is halfway through breakfast when Pidge and Lance’s bickering comes to a sudden stop, their eyes going wide as they look past Keith. Keith turns around to see the beast filling the doorway.

“What?” he rumbles. “Can’t come to breakfast in my own home?”
Never one to be cowed, Matt pipes up from his perch on the end of the table. “Well, sure, you /can/, you just usually /don’t/.”

The beast scowls, and despite that, Keith can’t help but be shocked at how different he looks in the light of day.
Without the deep shadows cast by candlelight, without darkness and a hood to hide under, he looks... well, certainly not normal, not with the horns and teeth and claws, but at least a little more human.

He seems almost sheepish as he takes a seat at the head of the table.
Sam, a serving cart who Keith had learned was Pidge and Matt's father, rushes in with food for the beast, and breakfast proceeds in utter silence. Keith can't help darting a glance up at the beast every few minutes, watching how carefully he handles the silverware in his claws.
"What?" the beast demands the third time he catches Keith looking.

"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.
The beast looks across at Keith, brow furrowed, and once again Keith is struck by a wave of familiarity, one that makes no sense in this foreign place surrounded by strange magic.

"You really have no fear, do you?" the beast finally says.
"Fear seems silly, at this point," Keith says, shrugging as he nudges a berry across his plate with a fork. "I'm already your prisoner. You could do whatever you wanted to me at any time. What good would fear do me now?"
"You live, still," the beast points out. "Do you not fear me? My anger?" He holds up a large hand, curling the fingers to draw attention to the claws at the tips.

For a moment, Keith almost says yes.
Then he thinks back to the night before, to how carefully those claws had been held against his skin to avoid drawing blood, even as the beast was angry and in pain.

"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."
The beast meets Keith's eyes for a long moment, his expression considering, before he turns back to his breakfast, carefully manipulating his fork with his clawed fingers.
Later that day, Keith's hanging out in the kitchen, watching the staff work, when Pidge pipes up from a nearby cabinet.

"You're right about him, you know."

"Hm?" Keith turns to face her. "Who?"
" 'The Beast', as you keep calling him -- which is ridiculous, by the way, he /does/ have a name. But you're right that he's not as scary as he'd like us all to think."

"What's his name?" Keith asks, frowning. He feels silly that it hasn't occurred to him to ask before.
It's odd, he thinks, that a teacup can shrug, but Pidge somehow manages it.

"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.
Keith speaks up as soon as he's seated. "You have a name." He realizes as soon as he says it that it sounds more like an accusation than a question. The beast doesn't look offended, though, merely confused.

"Of course I have a name," he grumbles. "Why wouldn't I have a name?"
Keith waits a beat, then presses. "What is it?"

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.
Keith nods. "Kuro," he repeats, inclining his head a bit. He starts to return to his breakfast, but stops when he sees Kuro struggling with his fork again. Slowly, deliberately, Keith sets his own fork aside and picks up a fruit chunk with his fingers instead.
He keeps his eyes on his own plate, but he can't help but smile a little when he sees movement in his peripheral vision-- Kuro setting down his fork to follow suit, easily pinching up a piece of fruit in his claws.

They eat in silence, but somehow it feels almost friendly.
That night Kuro joins Keith for dinner as well, and he can't help but notice the way Pidge glares at Kuro before he slowly, haltingly asks, "How was your day?"

It's so odd, so unexpected, that Keith merely stares across at him for a long minute before answering honestly.
"Boring," he admits with a shrug. "I mean, your place is nice, don't get me wrong, but there's nothing to /do/. I'm used to keeping busy.

"With what?" Kuron asks. His curiosity sounds genuine, which is oddly endearing.
"Lots of things," Keith says, shrugging. "My dad's a blacksmith, so I help him out in the smithy sometimes. I train with the weapons we make. I go hunting. I like the outdoors," he says, eyes drifting to the large windows that line the room. "I miss the fresh air."
Kuro frowns, following Keith's gaze to the window. He grunts, as if in acknowledgement, and then continues eating. The rest of dinner is silent.

The next morning, Keith presents Kuro with a small pot of ointment.
"What is this?" Kuro asks, frowning down at the small pot cradled in his large palm.

"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."
Kuro continues staring down at the small terracotta pot, looking baffled, then gives a little startled yelp. He whirls to look behind him at Hunk, who whispers something to Kuro, then gives him a meaningful look.

"Um. Thank you," Kuro says when he turns back to Keith.
When Keith's done eating, he turns to leave as usual, but he's stopped at the door.

"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.
"I have something I want to show you," Kuro says slowly.

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.
He follows behind Kuro, pausing at the back door that leads to the outside. Kuro turns when he realizes Keith isn’t following.

“Come on,” he says, voice gruff. “I thought you /liked/ the outside.”

“Yeah,” Keith says quietly, squinting in the early morning sunlight. “I do.”
Kuro leads him across a wide yard, dry leaves skittering across the ground between them. Before them is a low wooden building, which Kuro opens the door to, stepping into the dark doorway.
It takes a moment for Keith’s eyes to adjust to the darkness, and he realizes what he’s seeing as Kuro is kneeling before a fireplace on the opposite wall.

It’s an armory, with beautiful weapons on racks all along the walls of the room.
Keith steps forward as if enraptured, fingers tracing the intricate detailing on the hilt of a short sword.

“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.
“I thought you might like them,” Kuro says. “You said your father was a smith, so...” He shrugs, looking away.

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.
“Why show me this?” he demands. “Why would you want your prisoner knowing where weapons are? I could... I could fight back, I could kill you.” He holds the sword up, slipping into a defensive position instinctively, as if showing that he /does/ know how to fight.
“Possibly,” Kuro replies slowly, eyes narrowed at Keith. “But I don’t think you will hurt me.” He shrugs, the movement making it all too obvious how massive his shoulders are. “Besides, you’ve had your knife on you this whole time and haven’t tried anything,” he points out.
“You know about that?” Keith asks, surprised.

“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.
“I /could/ fight you,” Keith says stubbornly, to cover for that confusing moment.

“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.”
That’s how Keith ends up facing off against Kuro in the courtyard with the household staff watching from the windows. Kuro had selected a longsword, while Keith had a short sword in one hand and his dagger in the other.

Kuro didn’t request training blades, so neither did Keith.
The sharp edges of the blades flash in the morning sunlight, and Keith finds himself darting in and out of the longsword’s reach; in to take quick strikes that Kuron blocks, then back out before the heavy blade can come down on him.
(That should be Kuro not Kuron whoops MOVING ON)
Kuro is faster than Keith had expected, moving nimbly out of the way of the strikes he can’t block. He swings the large sword with enough force to rattle Keith’s teeth when he blocks it, and it’s only a few minutes before Keith has broken a sweat, blood pumping with adrenaline.
Before too long, Kuro finds an opportunity, sweeping a long leg out from under his billowing cloak to trip Keith, then bearing down on him to place his sword inches from Keith’s neck.

There’s a brief moment where their eyes meet, but oddly Keith never fears Kuro will hurt him.
“I yield,” Keith says quietly. Kuro seems briefly confused, but then backs away quickly, taking three long strides backwards to put some space between them.

“Good fight,” Kuro says, his voice low and rumbling. He doesn’t meet Keith’s eyes as he speaks.
“Likewise,” Keith replies after a beat. Kuro holds out a hand, and Keith passes over his sword, then sheaths his knife. Kuro takes it and leaves without a word.
It becomes their new normal. Kuro joins Keith for breakfast and dinner, and every day after breakfast they spar. Keith has been slowly making his way through the weapons in the armory, and about a week in, he picks up a dagger that feels... familiar.
When he spies the maker’s mark on the pommel, he gasps.

“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 goes very still, then scowls. “Never mind. Let’s go.” He selects a broadsword for himself. Their spar that day is brutal.
As time goes on, Kuro begins offering Keith tips during their fights, or complimenting some of his more impressive moves. It’s always brusque and gruff, but ringing with sincerity nonetheless.

Kuro also starts losing clothes.
Which isn’t as dramatic as it sounds, really — he just wears a lot of layers that must be difficult to fight in. Keith blinks in surprise the first time Kuro takes off his cape, but it certainly makes it easier to predict his movements when he can actually see his arms and legs.
It probably wouldn't have been a big deal if it had stopped there, but a few days later Kuro also sheds his long-sleeved blouse, revealing a sleeveless undershirt, and-

Keith is momentarily distracted by the color, by the way the purple-black swirls of color swallow up almost the entirety of the arm facing Keith.
The discoloration looks like wisps of smoke, or like flames licking up his arm, with the farthest tendrils disappearing under the strap of Kuro's shirt, only to reappear on the other side, extending up his neck to curl around his jaw.
Then he turns to face Keith, and he sees the other arm. It's black and shining in the sun, moving just as smoothly as the joints of the other arm.

Kuro's hanging back a bit, as if watching for Keith's reaction. Keith takes a breath and meets Kuro's eyes evenly.
"Well I guess that explains why none of my disarming attempts have worked," Keith settles on.

"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.
The laugh escapes Keith before he's ready for it, and he slaps a hand over his mouth in surprise. "You-"

"Nevermind," Kuro says quickly. He turns away, pacing toward the other end of the courtyard. "Let's start."
As Keith watches him go, he can't help but notice how /broad/ those shoulders are.

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.
Keith manages to defend himself, but it's certainly not his finest performance. If Kuro notices, he doesn't say, other than to offer quiet corrections when Keith stumbles.

The first time Keith uses a longsword, Kuro raises a curious eyebrow. Keith shrugs. "May as well, right?"
They've been doing this for about a month now, and have learned each other's moves well enough that when dual-wielding, Keith can fight his way to a stalemate about half the time. It seems like it's time for a new challenge.
What Keith hadn't counted on is the way Kuro frowns at the grip he has on the sword, the way he steps close to correct it.

"You have to account for the weight distribution differently," Kuro explains, his fingers gentle on Keith's, so very, very careful of his claws.
He repositions Keith's hands to where they should be, then lightly touches his elbow and shoulder. "You'll need to swing from here, and here, not your wrist like you're used to, or you'll hurt yourself."

Keith's flushed, all too aware of how close they're standing.
"I /have/ used a longsword before," he says defensively, desperate to think of anything but the warmth of Kuro against his side, or how gentle his fingers feel. "It's just been a while." And, well, that wasn't an /intentional/ double entendre, but it's too late to take it back.
Kuro's smile is almost teasing as he backs away to take up his own sword. "Shall we start slowly, then?"

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.
Keith doesn't realize how easily he's settled into this new routine until Kuro doesn't show up for breakfast one morning.

"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."
"Something came up," Keith repeats, deadpan. "In the middle of the forest on the grounds he never leaves."

"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."
Pidge sighs. "It wasn't your dad, Keith, calm down. Look, sometimes people hear about the monster in the woods and some big hero decides to try his luck. He'll be fine." Her words are confident, but Keith doesn't miss the way she glances at her brother as if for confirmation.
Keith frowns. "He never hurts anyone, though. Why would they come after him?" He realizes that's a bit rich, being that he is theoretically Kuro's prisoner, but that's because of the /magic/, not Kuro himself.
Allura's feathers droop sadly where she's perched next to Lance. "People only see that he appears monstrous. They don't bother to look past that; they fear what they do not understand."
Keith can't help but wonder when he'd stopped seeing the horns and sharp teeth as monstrous. They're just /Kuro/, who bares a blade against Keith every day and never once actually hurt him. Kuro, who's always so, so careful of his claws on the rare occasions they touch.
"Why didn't he wake me?" he demands. "I could have helped. He knows I can fight." He pushes his breakfast plate away, too irritated -- and worried, though he's not prepared to admit that -- to eat. "How long has he been out?"

"A few hours," Hunk says when no one else speaks up.
Keith huffs in frustration as he pushes away from the table. "I'm going after him." He pauses, than asks, "Will the magic let me leave, if I'm going the same direction as him? Am I tied to him or this place?"
Lance and Allura share a look. "I think you'll be alright," Allura says. "You should go."

"Allura!" Lance hisses. She promptly smothers his protests in fluffy white feathers.

"Go on," she encourages.
Keith darts up to his room to retrieve his knife, then heads out to the armory to retrieve his favorite short sword, one his own father made. He slides a sheath for it onto his belt, then heads back through the house to the front door.

"Which way did he go?" he asks Matt.
"I'm not positive," Matt says, "but I think the guy came from the west."

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.
Nothing happens. With a sigh of relief he presses on, concern roiling in his belly when he finds the fresh set of hoofprints on the mostly-untraveled road.

He's so focused on following the road that he almost misses the sound of harsh breathing coming from his left.
Keith veers off the path, hand on his dagger as he slips through the underbrush. Even though he's actively looking, he still nearly stumbles over Kuro's prone form.

"Kuro!" The beast is curled in on himself, arms wrapped protectively around his middle.
When Keith reaches out to touch him, he is greeted with a snarl and teeth snapping dangerously near his fingers.

"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.
He can't tell the full extent of the injuries, but Kuro is obviously hurt, and the thought of the wound being fatal makes Keith's breath stutter in his lungs.

"Come on," he says, the words sounding shaky to his own ears. "Get up. We have to get you home."
"Can't," Kuro replies, his voice a low growl. "I can't... don't think I can walk. You go."

"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."
"I'm stronger than I look," Keith insists, then proceeds to prove it, pulling Kuro's arm over his shoulders and straightening his legs, taking on a decent portion of Kuro's weight.

It's a long, slow walk, and Kuro sometimes growls with pain, but Keith never once lets go.
aaaaand I think that's it for tonight, folks, but things are Happening now and I'm excited for the rest of this to play out! Thanks so much for sticking with me so far -- I promise they'll smooch soon! Ko-fi below in case anyone feels so inclined ❤️

By the time they make it back to the manor, Keith is supporting most of Kuro's weight, and he's all too aware of how much blood has soaked into his shirt. The front doors open as they approach, and they stumble through.

"Where's his room?" Keith demands.
Lance leads the way while Allura and Hunk dash off to find first aid supplies.

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.
He gets Kuro into the bed and tries, briefly, to wrestle his shirt off before giving up and cutting it off with his knife. There are some slashes along his torso that will certainly need attention, but not enough to account for all the blood currently caked in his clothes.
"Kuro, where are you hurt?" Keith asks.

"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.
"You can't come after me," Kuro says, looking suddenly worried. "Then you'll /know/."

"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.
As he looks him over more thoroughly, it starts to become obvious that there must be a wound on his thigh.

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.
They share a look with each other that Keith purposefully ignores, instead focusing on the wound before him.

It's no wonder Kuro had trouble walking back, Keith thinks grimly.
The wound isn't long, but it's deep, positioned on Kuro's inner thigh a few inches above the knee, and still bleeding sluggishly. Keith glances up to confirm that Kuro's still asleep; this is the worst of the wounds, and Keith's definitely best off treating that while he's out.
Keith works quickly, cleaning the wound, then painstakingly suturing it closed. His stitches are uneven, but they do the job, and he places a bandage over the top. He's just started working on a slash low on Kuro's belly when he wakes up, hissing in pain as he jerks away.
"Calm down, it's just me," Keith says, scowling. Kuro goes very still as he looks down the length of his torso at Keith.

"What are you doing?"

Keith glances up, raising an eyebrow. "What does it look like? Patching you up. What did this, anyway?"
"Caught a man sneaking around last night," Kuro grumbles, pausing to hiss in pain as Keith dabs a wet rag at the wound. "Chased him away, but he put up a fight." He pauses, not meeting Keith's eyes. "He was looking for you."

Keith goes still, frowning. "But it wasn't my dad."
"No," Kuro replies quickly. "I wouldn't hurt your father. I /tried/ to not hurt this guy," he adds, grimacing.

"I don't understand, though," Keith says, frowning. "No one else cares about me. No one else would try to come after me."
Kuro growls briefly at that, which Keith finds a little odd since he isn't actively touching a wound at the moment. He shrugs it off and presses on.

"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.
"He demanded to know where you were, where I was keeping you. What I had done to you," he adds with a low growl. Keith frowns at that, but lets him continue. "He was... I don't know, maybe a little taller than you. Floppy brown hair. Cocky asshole."
"Griffin," Keith says with a scowl.

"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."
Kuro growls again at that. "I'm glad I chased him away, then," he says decisively.

"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.
Its position requires him to lean over Kuro's torso, and puts him very near his face. He hesitates just a moment, then leans in, keeping his eyes firmly on his work.

Kuro is quiet for a long moment, face tilted down to watch him. "You'd have helped?"
"Of course," Keith replies, frowning up at him. "Why wouldn't I?"

"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.
It's then that he realizes he hasn't given the purple-black marks on Kuro's skin a second thought while he's been working. It's just skin. It's just Kuro.

Keith swallows hard as he smooths the bandage over the cut. "You're not," he says quietly, glancing up to meet Kuro's eyes.
He's noticed it before, but now he's so close, and he can't look away -- Kuro's eyes are so gentle, at odds with his fierce appearance. They're also a little sad, but it's the gentleness that captures Keith's attention, because of how familiar it feels.
It's not the first time he's noticed it; sometimes he catches a glimpse of Kuro out of the corner of his eye and is overwhelmed by a feeling of familiarity, a sense that he should /recognize/ him. It's absurd, of course; as if Keith could forget a man with horns and claws.
"You're not a monster," he repeats, more firmly this time.

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.
Keith's whole world narrows down to the feel of Kuro's lips against his own, the way they part under the slightest pressure. He feels Kuro's hand slide into his hair as if to keep him close, his scalp prickling ever so slightly under the points of his claws.
When Keith pulls back, his eyes are wide as he realizes what he’s done. L

“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.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Kuro says quietly, hooking a hand behind Keith’s neck and gently tugging him in once more.
Keith insists Kuro rests most of that day, even going so far as to bring dinner to his bedside.

"So, he seemed to be running back to the village?" Keith asks, frowning into his soup spoon.
Kuro nods. "Yes. I hurt him a bit, unintentionally, in scaring him away, but he was able to walk fine. He had some choice threats to toss out, rather brazen for one defeated," he adds wryly.

"That sounds like Griffin," Keith grumbles. "What kind of threats?"
"Nonsense, mostly," Kuro says. "He seemed keen on gathering an 'army' to march on the manor," he says, scoffing.

Keith scoffs. "As if he has access to any sort of..." He trails off, frowning.

"I just... it's dumb. But people in town /really/ like him, for some reason. They listen to him. If he goes back and gets them riled up, he probably /could/ convince a fair number of them to do something stupid like that."
He pauses, then shakes his head. "He doesn't really have any reason to, though. I'm surprised he even made the trip out here. Like I said before, he doesn't actually /like/ me. I'm pretty sure he's just offended I don't worship him like everyone else does."
"You're pretty likable," Kuro points out, though it's in a grumpy grumbling tone that makes Keith laugh a little.

"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."
"If you're sure," Kuro says, though he doesn't look convinced.

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."
"I know the magic of this place stops you from saying much," Keith huffs in frustration, "but it's clear that this has to do with that flower. It seems all it does is hurt you. Can't we... I don't know, destroy it somehow?"
"No!" Kuro's reply is instant, almost violent. "No, you must /never/ touch that wicked thing," he says, growling. "You shouldn't even be touching /me/," he adds, looking at where Keith's hand rests on Kuro's arm, heedless of the purple-black stain of the skin under his fingers.
Keith tightens his fingers stubbornly. "No harm has come to me yet," he points out.

"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."
In that moment, Keith would do almost anything to wipe the sadness from Kuro's eyes. He leans in, kissing him again, this time making a point to deepen the kiss so that he can brush his tongue lightly over the pointed tips of Kuro's teeth.
"I know enough," he says quietly when he pulls back to meet Kuro's surprised, wide-eyed gaze.

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.
Keith spends his days in Kuro's bedchamber, trying to keep him entertained by reading him books and telling absurd stories from his childhood in the village. Some make Kuro laugh aloud, a sound Keith wants to never stop hearing.
Other stories make him go quiet, and Keith can never quite figure out why those bother him, but he does his best to move on from them quickly.

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'm dangerous, Keith," he says quietly, late into the night of the second day. "You shouldn't be here, shouldn't be touching me."

"I have no choice but to be here," Keith points out. "And I like touching you. I like /you/. I trust you."
Kuro's eyes fall closed at that. He looks wounded, and Keith doesn't understand why.

"You should be at home with your father," Kuro says, mumbling, as if he's speaking to himself. "Not trapped in this house."
"You say that as if /you/ deserve to be trapped here," Keith argues. "Or your... staff." None of them could say as much, but Keith had the feeling they'd once been human. "None of us /deserve/ this, but it's what we have."
He takes Kuro's hand in his own, maneuvering carefully around the sharp claws, and presses the back of it to his cheek. "Can't we try to have this? Aren't we allowed to /want/ things, or does the magic strip us of that, too?"
"Keith," Kuro says, sounding pained. "I can't have what I want. I never can, when it comes to you." He pulls his hand away suddenly, as Keith frowns, trying to understand what he means by that. "Leave me."


"I want to rest. Leave me," he repeats, his tone firm.
Keith leaves.

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.
There's no reply. Keith sits outside the door most of the day, ignoring the pitying looks the staff gives him.

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.
Scowling, Keith heads out to the armory, where he finds Kuro bent over a sword, sharpening its edge. He's wearing his cape once more, the hood pulled up over his head.

"You're not healed enough to spar, yet," Keith says, arms crossed as he leans in the doorway.
"I don't intend to spar," Kuro says quietly. He drags the whetstone over the blade once more.

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.
"It doesn't matter what I want," he finally says.

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."
Kuro looks up, and Keith gasps at what he sees under the hood. There are dark circles under Kuro's eyes, but that's not what's so shocking. The reach of the purple-black taint crawling up his body has extended, with tendrils of it now covering the bottom half of his face.
"Kuro," Keith breathes. "What's happening to you?"

"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's eyes narrow in suspicion as he starts to back out of the room.

"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.
He runs inside and up the stairs, taking them two and three at a time in his haste. Lance yips in shock as Keith passes him, but Keith pays him no mind -- he has a destination in mind.
When Keith finds the door this time, it's shut and locked -- a concession, he imagines, to the last time he stumbled into the room. Ordinarily it might have worked, but right now he's desperate, so he simply raises his leg and lashes out with a well-placed kick beside the handle.
The door gives way with a loud /crack/, and Keith pushes through to the room, chest heaving as he tries to catch his breath.

The flower, it's...
It's /sick/. It's the only word Keith can find to describe it. It's still beautiful, still full and plump, but where before it had seemed to glow with a dark light, it now /pulses/ with it, black and purple and sickly in a way that makes Keith's stomach turn.
He hears Kuro skid to a stop in the doorway behind him, but he doesn't turn to look. He can't look away from the flower, from the energy that seems to pulse from it. It calls to him in a way he can't explain; it's /wrong/, and he wants to /fix/ it.
"KEITH!" Keith snatches his hand back at the last second; he hadn't heard Kuro calling his name repeatedly, hadn't realized he'd been about to remove the glass cover until he'd felt it, cool and smooth, under his fingers.

There is power there. He can feel it.
Something in him /yearns/ for it; he doesn't need his hand to reach for it, he has something else, something better, he can use it, he can fix Kuro, save him, save them all-

Then Kuro's hauling him back by his shoulders, dragging him away from the pedestal the flower sits on.
"You can't touch it," Kuro says, his voice strained, as if he is near tears. His arm is an iron band around Keith's chest. "You can't, Keith. It will ruin you."

"It's... it's powerful," Keith replies, that /something/ in him straining for that power. "It could save you."
"It already has, and the cost was too high," Kuro replies. He releases Keith, then turns him to face him. "I won't let it have you, too."

"Kuro, I can-"
"No. You can't. I won't let you." Something in his face shutters as he speaks, and he's once again the distant Beast, not the Kuro he's come to care for, possibly even to love. "I'm sending you home."

Keith recoils at that. "You can't! The magic-"
"The magic doesn't keep you here." The words fall like leaden weights between them. Keith's eyes widen as their meaning sinks in.

"You mean-"

"I lied." His smile is a sword's edge, sharp and unkind. "I told you that you shouldn't trust me."
There's a long silence. "I don't understand," Keith says quietly. "Why would you lie about that?"

"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."
Keith's mind whirls with this new information; Kuro had taken him from his home, his /father/. But can he really blame him? Who knows how long he's been in this manor alone, kept company only by the staff who seems to half fear him.

"You weren't wrong," Keith says, stubbornly.
"I was," Kuro persists. He hesitates, and Keith watches as his expression hardens, as he becomes The Beast once more. "You told me not to leave you in between, didn't you? This is my answer." He straightens to his full height, towering over Keith. "I don't want you here, Keith."
The words hit Keith like a blow. He barely hears as Kuro continues.

"I'm sending you home. You can tell your village of the monster in the forest, that they may avoid unwanted encounters," he continues.
His eyes flick over to the wide window across the room. "You should leave now, so that you can make it home before nightfall."

Keith nods numbly, stepping around Kuro toward the door. He makes it out to the hallway before Kuro's voice stops him.

Keith turns to see Kuro holding out the sword he'd been sharpening in the armory.

"Take this. I... I wouldn't have you come to harm on the road."
It's a beautiful shortsword, one with black enamel patterns in swirls on the hilt and pommel. It was made by Keith's father and had been a favorite of his during their spars. Any other time, he might have protested or at least thanked Kuro, but today he simply accepts it quietly.
Keith nods, then walks to the end of the hall and down the stairs in something of a daze.

"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?"
"I'm leaving," Keith says. His voice is flat, a pale reflection of the roiling emotions inside. "I'm going home."

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.
"Back to my village," he clarifies. Hunk's expression is stricken.

"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's scoff echoes in the large foyer. "He doesn't need anyone, least of all me. He's the one sending me away, Hunk," he adds. Hunk's expression is heartbroken. "I'm sorry, Hunk," Keith adds quietly. "There's nothing I can do. There never was."
I thiiiiiink I'm done for the night, BUT as you can likely tell, things are ramping up and the end is in (semi-distant) sight! This'll be my main focus now til it's done, so keep an eye out for more rapid updates -- gotta whittle down that WIP list!

The walk back to Garrison is a long one. Kuro’s gifted sword feels heavy on Keith’s hip, slowing his steps and leaving him weary.

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.
There’s no one there.

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.
His legs are sore and his heart aches, and he’s only sure of one of those easing with time. Within minutes he’s fast asleep, leaning against the cool stones of the hearth as tear tracks dry on his face.
Something wakes him in the night.

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.
Keith’s hand is on his knife in an instant, pointing it with a steady hand at the unknown intruder. It’s only then that he realizes the eyes are /yellow/.

“Who are you?” he demands. “What do you want?”
“I’m the original owner of that knife.” The voice is low and almost melodic, and decidedly feminine.

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?”
And yes, of course Keith had wondered. He’d even asked his father about it a time or two, but Ken had always brushed it off as an important family heirloom.

“Who are you?” Keith repeats. He’s not in the mood for guessing games.

The woman sighs. “My name is Krolia.”
She shifts forward, more into the moonlight, and Keith’s knife wavers in the air as he sees the decidedly lavender cast to her skin.

“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.
“There is so much I wish to tell you,” she says quietly. “And I hope you’ll give me the opportunity to later. For now, I’ll have to give you the shortened version, because the kingdom is in danger— and more importantly, so is your father.”
An hour later, Keith’s head is spinning with new information as he sips at the tea the woman — /his mother/ — made.

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.
But it was true all along. Krolia is a witch, a magic user called a Galra whose magic manifests in physical ways like her lavender skin and yellow eyes. Some, she says, even have scales or fur.

“What about horns and claws?” Keith asks, thinking of Kuro. “Sharp teeth?”
“No horns or sharp teeth,” she says, frowning. “But claws, yes,” she adds, holding up her own hands to display the sharp tips.
“So why come back now?” Keith asks. He understands why she couldn’t stay before now that she’s explained; small towns are superstitious, and she hadn’t wanted public knowledge of Keith’s parentage to ostracize him, or worse, put him in danger.
“The knife,” she says, nodding to where it sits on the table between them. “Before I left, I enchanted it to alert me if it’s wielder used magic. This morning, the wards went off, alerting me to /dark/ magic. I was in the capital, but I rode hard all day to get here.”
She smiles ruefully. “You can imagine my confusion when I arrived to find my son, who has been touched by dark magic, sleeping peacefully, if uncomfortably, and my husband in chains.”

That gets Keith’s attention. “What? In chains?”
Krolia nods grimly, and for a moment Keith can see the resemblance.

"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?"
"I don't know," Krolia says. "What I /do/ know is that they've sent a messenger to the capital, and he's to be transported sometime soon. We need to act quickly."

The plan is simple enough-- just before dawn, Keith strides into the center of town, heading for the small prison.
"I demand to know who has imprisoned my father!" he bellows. As expected, the sleepy town comes to life quickly. After all, it's not like they get to see much excitement out here.

"Keith!" It's Iverson, one of the de facto leaders of the village. "It's good to see you safe."
"Safe, but missing a father," Keith grinds out. "Why has he been arrested? What crime has he committed?"

"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.
"It's not the sort of sick a healer can help with, Keith." Keith turns to face Griffin, whose face is twisted up into a mockery of pity. Keith seethes inside to see it, but he works to keep his calm.

"What do you mean?"
"He was talking nonsense," Griffin explains. "Living candlesticks and nervous clocks -- utter madness," Griffin says. "I even went out to investigate the claims myself, and... well, I can understand how the sight of that creature could have broken his mind," he says sadly.
It's all Keith can do to keep from yelling that it was all true, that his father wasn't mad, but he knew that wasn't what is needed. He needs to give Krolia more time.

"The creature," he repeats. "You saw, then."

"Yes," Griffin says, face darkening. "I did. How did you escape?"
"He let me go," Keith says, almost defensively. There's an immediate murmuring among the crowd.

"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!"
"You said it was a monster!" someone yells out. "A mindless beast!"

"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.
"Why do you think it did that, Keith?" Griffin asks, almost sneering as he leans in close to Keith's face. "Out of the goodness of its heart? No! It was too hurt after our fight to follow me back here," he says, animated.
"Now it has released you so it can track you to the village! It will come in the night to attack!" There are a series of gasps in the crowd as a thrill of panic fills the air.

"He didn't follow me," Keith says, knowing even as he does so that it's a mistake.
Griffin's eyes narrow. "Are you defending that beast?" he demands. He shrugs off the shoulder of his shirt, displaying a long, shallow cut. "The one that would have /gored/ me, had I not escaped when I did?"
Keith /burns/ with the need to fight back, to argue, but he hears the gentle call of the woodland sparrow from behind the jail, and he knows it's time to go.

"Of course not," he says, hoping it sounds more sincere to the others than to his own ears. "I'm sure it was brutal."
"It was," Griffin says, appeased as he turns back to the crowd. "Which is why what I was proposing last night is more important than ever, now."

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.
The directions Krolia gave to their meetup point were concise, but thankfully also precise, so about an hour later Keith spies the small opening to the cave she had described. He steps in warily, then sighs in relief at what he sees.

"Keith," he replies, a bit wearily, but with genuine joy in his expression. "I'm so glad you're safe, son." He stands and drags Keith into a hug. Keith hugs back tightly, and doesn't realize until they're pulling apart that he's /crying/.
"Sorry," he says, voice hoarse. "Just, I thought, I didn't know-"

"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."
"He let you go?" Ken says, surprised.

"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?"
"One I made, yes," Ken confirms, leaning in for a closer look. "It was the last one I made for the king before he disappeared."

"You made swords for the king?" Keith says, eyebrows raised. "You never told me that."
Ken's smile is a small, nostalgic thing. "He used to come out to the markets in town in disguise, so I never mentioned who he was, but you actually met him. He had a love for weapons and smithing and could spend hours discussing designs."
His gaze flicks up to Keith's face as he steps back again. "You used to play with the prince while we spoke, though you never knew he was royalty at the time. He gave you a nickname, I think... Shino, or Shur-"

"Shiro," Keith says faintly. "His name was Shiro."
Ken snaps his fingers. "Yes, Shiro, that was it. For the Shiroganes, of course." He gestures at the sword. "That was the last one I made him before he was killed, and Shiro... well, you know the story."
Keith did. Everyone did. The king had been assassinated, and his son had disappeared. As of now a regent ruled the country, but most assumed that the prince was also dead and the regent was, in everything but name, king.
Keith had never given it much thought, because he'd never realized the prince was his friend.

He'd giving it some thought now, though, because he's slowly beginning to suspect that the prince isn't dead.
"I don't get what I want," Shiro had said. It had been one of the last things Keith ever heard him say. "People think I do, but I don't. I just want to hang out here with you but..." He'd clenched his small fist. "I'm sick. I won't be back for a while."
"I can't have what I want. I never can, when it comes to you."

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.
Keith looks up to find Krolia -- his /mother/, he reminds himself -- watching him intently.

"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?"
"Only dark magic," she replies. "The sort of magic that you touched to set off the wards on the knife," she adds pointedly. "Is this about the creature who was holding you hostage?"

Keith nods. "Yeah. Except I don't think he's a creature. I think he's Shiro."
It's impossible to miss how Ken goes pale at that, even in the low light of the cave. "You think that beast is 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," his father says urgently. "Griffin is leading a raiding party out there tonight. They're going to kill the beast and burn the manor."

Keith is already halfway out the mouth of the cave when a hand clamps firmly around his arm.
"I need you to tell me everything you can about this Shiro, and the beast," his mother says firmly. "And do so quickly. I think we may have far bigger worries than a raiding party."

"They're going to /kill/ him," Keith snaps. "I /have/ no bigger worries than that."
"So you're not worried about the darkness swallowing him whole?" she challenges. "The thing in his home -- a plant of some sort, I'd wager -- that seems to steal the very life from him?"

Keith hesitates. He hadn't told her any of that.
"I can see you care about him," she adds, more gently. "But the magic I felt through the knife is dark and dangerous. We can't go charging in without a plan, or we may do more harm than good. Please," she says earnestly. "Sit. And tell me what you know."
Might be able to add more to this later tonight, but for now, a poll about Griffin/Gaston’s eventual fate:
Keith haltingly begins to tell his parents about his time at the manor, the creatures he met there, and how he spent his time. He tells them of how Kuro and how they slowly became friends.

He leaves out how they'd been inching toward more, but he's pretty sure they know anyway.
When he gets to the end, describes the flower and what he'd felt, his mother's eyes narrow.

"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."
"Well, then we have to stop her, whoever this Haggar is," Keith growls. "Right after we stop James."

"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."
"No," Keith says, his voice firm as he stands. "No, I just need to get to him in time. I can warn them about Griffin, and... and find a way to save Ku- Shiro."

"I don't know if it's possible," Krolia says, "but I don't think either of us can stop you from trying."
Ken nods his agreement, though he looks unhappy about it.

"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."
Keith feels a brief swell of anger that she'd be willing to leave him like this, so soon after finding him. It's only a moment, though, because he realizes that if the country falls into ruin, he'll be in even more danger then -- not to mention how everyone else will be affected.
"I understand," he says, though his throat is tight. "Stay safe, though, okay? I want to get to know my mom." Krolia's eyes widen briefly, then she presses her lips into a thin line as she nods before turning to Ken.
"Someone has to warn the capital about what's going on, in case we fail," she says grimly. He sighs, looking between them.

"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 can move faster cutting through the trees anyway," Keith says. "You two should take them."

"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?"
Keith nods his assent.

"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.
As soon as she makes contact, Keith feels a /tugging/ deep inside himself, as if she's reached in and hooked her finger around a rib. He breathes, relaxes through it, and watches as the light on her fingertip slowly takes on a purple hue.

"I've got it," she says quietly.
"What is that?" he asks. "The light, I mean. Just... magic?"

"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."
"How could she use Shiro to corrupt it, though?" Keith asks. "He's... he's not evil. I know it."

"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.
Krolia nods. "You mentioned an illness, so I imagine she convinced his father that she could heal him -- and she did, of course, but in doing so she bound him to her focus. She's spent years funneling power through him so that /he/ can eventually serve as her focus instead."
"And he won't survive that?" Keith asks, horrified.

"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.
Minutes later, Keith is enveloped in a hug between his mother and father. He clings to them tightly and tries to memorize the feeling; he isn't sure if he'll ever get this again.

"Take this," he says, holding out the hilt of his dagger to his mom.
She hesitates, looking down at it. "You're sure?"

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."
It takes several hours of hurrying through the forest before Keith draws near to the manor -- too long, he thinks, adrenaline pounding in his blood as he sees firelight in the distance. It took him too long, and now Shiro and the others will pay the price.
He's still ahead of the mob, though, if only by a little bit, and he hopes it might be enough to make a difference. He sprints down the cobblestone path, past the large wrought iron gate and the fountain choked with vines, and bursts through the front door, panting for breath.
"Attackers!" he bellows as soon as he's inside. Within seconds, Hunk, Lance, Allura, Pidge, and Matt are clattering into the room, with Sam clattering in behind and Coran peeking in from the parlor.

"Attackers are on the way here," he repeats breathlessly. "A mob."
Hunk's eyes go wide, but it's Allura who takes charge, directing the staff without hesitation to barricade the doors and take up defensive positions. In the midst of the flurry of action, Keith drags Lance aside.

"Where's... Kuro?"
Lance shakes his head sadly. "He hasn't left the West wing since you left, man. Pidge went to check on him this morning... she thinks he's sick or something, but he wouldn't let her close, so we can't be sure."

Keith's eyes flick to the stairs behind Lance, then to the doors.
"Go, Keith." It's Allura, her white feathers brushing along his arm. "We'll hold them here as long as we can, but none of it matters if we lose him."

Keith's heart stutters at the thought of /losing him/, and he nods, turning to take the stairs two at a time.
He almost turns left at the top of the stairs out of habit, left to his old room, to Kuro's room where he'd patched him up, where they'd kissed, as if he can turn back time just by turning left.

Then he hears the howl.
It's a howl of an anguish that cannot be put into words. It's the sound of a man whose humanity has been stripped by pain, revealing the beast underneath who can only scream and plead for it to stop.

It's a howl Keith recognizes, one that spurs him into action as he turns right.
He pounds down the hallway as he hears the doors burst open downstairs, the sounds of battle filtering up to him, adding to the urgency that pushes him onward.
He comes to the door that houses the flower; it's still swinging open on its hinges, the wood by the handle still splintered from where he'd kicked it open. He comes to a stop, catching himself in the doorway, and sees him -- Kuro, Shiro, the beast. The name doesn't matter.
All that matters is that he's here, and he's hurting, and he's, maybe, possibly, still himself enough for Keith to help.

Keith falls to his knees by Shiro's side, hands hovering over his skin, afraid touching him might hurt him worse.
It takes a moment for Shiro to register his presence, but when he does he snarls, snapping sharp teeth scant inches away from Keith's fingers.

"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.
There's not much to recognize in those eyes; the purple-black has almost completely overtaken his face, and his eyes glow a dull purple.

"I'm here to help," Keith adds gently. For a moment, Shiro's face relaxes, considering.

Then the arrow sinks into Shiro's shoulder.
Shiro's eyes flare into a vivid purple as he howls in pain. Keith whirls around, placing himself between Shiro and the threat in the doorway.


"Step away from that thing, Keith," Griffin says, another arrow already nocked. "I've got this."
"Like hell you do," Keith snarls, sinking into a defensive stance as he draws his sword. "Back off, Griffin."

An expression of surprise crosses Griffin's face, then he breaks out into a laugh, harsh and jarring.
"Oh, Keith," he says. "This is what you're going with? /This/ thing?" He steps into the room, circling around to the right. Keith shifts to keep himself between Griffin and Shiro. "You're telling me all this time all I had to do to win you over was kidnap you?"
"Griffin," Keith says, his voice low and carefully calm. "Get out of here. Last chance."

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.
Griffin takes that moment of distraction to pull his own sword. He steps forward just as Keith turns back to him, but Keith is done giving warnings; he lunges forward, determined to keep Griffin as far away from Shiro as possible.
The sound of the swords clanging together is loud in the stone room, blending with the sound of Shiro's labored breathing, his grunts and whines of pain.

Keith is momentarily taken aback by Griffin's skill with the sword, but he snarls and presses in anyway.
He does his best to lead him away from Shiro, guiding them around the pedestal holding the flower and over to the other side, closer to the window. Griffin is grinning fiercely, as if he's pressing an advantage, but Keith is holding his own; they're surprisingly evenly matched.
For a long, drawn-out moment, the only sounds in the room are Shiro's harsh breathing and the clash of swords, and the only thing Keith can see is Griffin's vicious grin and the flash of moonlight on silver blades.

That is, until Shiro's howl of pain breaks his concentration.
Shiro howls, and Keith instinctively turns to look, and the next thing he's aware of is blinding, searing pain up the side of his face. He cries out in pain and surprise, stumbling backward out onto the balcony. Griffin follows him, and it's all Keith can do to keep his sword up.
Blood slicks down his neck, warm and wet, dripping down his arm and cooling in a slippery mess on his fingers, threatening his grip on his sword. His face throbs with pain, but he can't lose focus now, not with Shiro's life at stake.
He raises his arm to deflect another blow, and manages to fend it off, but it's enough to knock his sword free; it clatters over the edge of the balcony and onto the roof below.

Griffin raises his sword, pointing it at Keith's throat. "Should have stuck with us humans, Keith."
Even in this moment, Keith isn't scared for himself; all he can think is that if Griffin kills him, there's nothing keeping him from turning around and doing the same to Shiro. His eyes flicker to the low barrier around the balcony, but that moment of hesitation is all it takes.
Griffin's arm twitches, the barest hint of what's to come, but he never gets the chance to follow through. There's another howl, this time of rage, then a blur of motion as Shiro tackles Griffin, taking them both over the edge of the balcony.
So uuuuuuh I realize this is a helluva cliffhanger but it's after 1am and bed is calling me. I think this should probably be finished tomorrow, though? Stay tuned for some death, magic, more smooching -- and maybe a surprise twist? Hmmm...

Keith can only stare in horror as Griffin and Shiro go tumbling over the railing together, crashing to the roof below. There’s a moment of awful stillness before a sudden flurry of movement, both of them scrabbling for purchase on the shattered ceramic roof tiles.
Keith frantically starts looking for a way down, ignoring the sting of the blows he’d taken as he swings his legs over the balcony. He manages to find enough of a handhold on the adjacent wall to swing his way down, but by the time he gets there they’re gone.
Shiro’s leaping from one rooftop to the next, clambering up onto higher levels, purposefully leading Griffin away from Keith. For his part, Griffin seems wholly focused on Shiro now.

“I’ll have your head mounted on my wall, beast,” he snarls as he struggles to catch up.
"Griffin!" Keith bellows, clambering along the wall as he tries to catch up. "Leave him be! He hasn't hurt anyone!"

"It's a beast, Keith!" Griffin yells back. "It's unnatural, and I'll be the one to be famous for bringing it down!"
Keith roars in frustration and hauls himself up onto the next ledge, just two away from Griffin. Shiro has circled back around to the original balcony by now, well ahead of Griffin, who seems to realize this around the same time he sees that Keith is catching up to him.
With a scowl, Griffin reaches behind his back and pulls out something Keith hadn't noticed during their duel -- a rifle. He whips it around, lifting the muzzle to point at Shiro.

There's an ominous click, and Keith realizes he's not close enough to dive at Griffin.
"Shiro!" Keith screams the name in warning, and Shiro turns immediately to look.

It's too late.
The shot rings out, a sharp crack that accompanies the bright flash of of gunpowder from the rifle's muzzle. Keith is momentarily blinded by the flash, long enough that by the time he blinks the stars out of his eyes, Shiro has crumpled to the floor of the balcony.
Griffin lets out a crow of victory as he loops the strap of the rifle over his shoulder and begins to climb again. Not toward Shiro, but up-- up toward the next level of roof.
Keith sprints for Shiro as he fights the panic clawing up his throat, but pauses when he sees Griffin climbing. Is he running away, or-

No. No, he's getting a better angle for a finishing shot.

The realization makes his blood run cold.
He's cold, frozen in horror, then suddenly he's hot all over, and a scream of rage tears its way out of his throat. Everything around him seems to /sharpen/, as if it's all coming into focus for the first time, as if the world around him is moving in slow motion.
He runs at the wall nearest to him; there are no visible handholds, but it doesn't matter. Claws have sprouted at the ends of his now lightly purple-tinted fingers, and he uses them to scrabble up the wall. He lands on the roof and immediately takes of running toward Griffin.
Griffin's lining up the shot, and all Keith can think is /no, not him, not now, not when I've just got him back/.

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 remembers how it felt when he'd reached for the power held in the flower before, and he does it again, reaching with everything he's worth and drawing on the power held there. He feels it coursing through him, and he directs it to his hands, and he /flings/ it.
A streak of white light shoots out of Keith's hands, striking Griffin in the back just as the sound of the second shot splits the air. Keith's sprinting forward before Griffin's even done falling, before he topples over the edge of the roof.
There's a dull thud, and Keith pauses just long enough at the edge of the roof to see Griffin lying limp and lifeless on the ground. He takes no time to feel bad about it-- especially considering that he can't tell from here if his second shot had landed or not.
Keith leaps over to the next roof, then swings down onto the balcony where Shiro lays, unnervingly still.

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.
There's blood running from the corner of his mouth and an alarming bloom of red on his shirt, but still he smiles for Keith.

"You called my name," he says quietly. His features twist in pain as it's followed by a wet cough.
"Not fast enough," Keith says, falling to his knees by Shiro's side. "It wasn't enough, god, Shiro, I'm so sorry." His voice is choked with tears, but Shiro's lips remain curved up.

"No," he says, raising a hand to touch Keith's cheek. "You said /my name/. My real name."
"Yeah, I did," Keith says. Shiro's breathing is a wet, labored thing, and the puddle of blood beneath him continues to grow. It's warm and tacky and terrifying under Keith's knees. "Shiro- Takashi, please, I'll say it as often as you want, just... you can't die now, okay?"
Shiro's smile turns a little sad, and Keith can feel the prick of his claws where his hand shakes with the effort of keeping it on Keith's cheek.

"I don't think I get much of a choice, baby," he says. He has to pause twice to take a gasping breath.
"No," Keith says stubbornly, his voice cracking over the word. "Please, Shiro. Please." He turns his head and presses a kiss to Shiro's palm. Shiro's eyes slide closed for one terrifying moment, but then he blinks them open almost sleepily to look at Keith again.
"Your skin..." he says quietly, his voice barely more than a breath. His finger brushes lightly over the newly purple blush of Keith's cheek. "You're beautiful." His eyes close again, and he breathes out a deceptively peaceful-sounding sigh. Then nothing.
Shiro's chest stops rising and falling, and Keith stops /thinking/.

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 reaches out a hand toward the flower, and the glass protecting it shatters. It flies into his hand and he grips its stem tight enough that the thorns bite into his skin. He can feel the line of power connecting it to Honerva, to Shiro.

He grasps at that power and /pulls/.
He pulls from the flower itself, from the buildup of quintessence that's been allowed to accumulate there for years on end. Once that's emptied, the bloom crumbled to ash in his hands, he pulls on the other end -- the end connected to Honerva.
Slowly, surely despite resistance on her end, he siphons her power out of her, draining her of her quintessence.

"You can't have him," Keith says, his voice utterly calm. "And neither can death."
He opens his eyes, and he knows they're glowing like his mother's had; he's full to the /brim/ with quintessence, the power and potential of it beating in his veins, demanding release.

He looks down at Shiro, leans in, and kisses him.
He pours all of the quintessence, it's power and energy and potential, all of it straight into Shiro, all with one intention driving it: /fix/. He can feel as Shiro's wounds begin to knit together, as his lungs are made whole once more and he takes a gasping breath.
He can feel as the power he pours into Shiro's body fights back the stain that the tainted quintessence caused, the purple-black colors starting to recede.

And he can feel the moment when Shiro /stops/ that and redirects that power.
They're so bound together by the quintessence flowing through them that Shiro can help direct its flow despite having no Galran blood, and Keith can tell in an instant what his intentions are so that he can help. As one, they turn their focus downstairs, to the staff.
One by one, household items revert to their original forms -- the people who had worked in the royal household, all loyal to and beloved by Shiro. All caught up in this curse with him, in Honerva's attempt to keep her secret.
Their combined drive powers the quintessence, all with the singular command: /fix/.

Far away, Krolia feels a surge of energy as the wounds she's gained in her fight with Honerva close.
Back at the manor, Shiro pushes the last drops of quintessence into Keith. It's not enough to heal the wound to his face completely, but it closes the wound and leaves behind a painless scar.
Keith finally pulls away from Shiro, just enough to look down at him. His skin is still stained purple and black from the shoulders down, and he still has his horns and sharp teeth and - he reaches to check - claw-tipped fingers.

"Oh, Shiro," he breathes. "I'm sorry."
Shiro huffs out a laugh, his eyes wide and happy. "Sorry for what? Saving my life?"

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."
There's a beat of silence before Shiro replies.

"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."
"Then it's a good thing I don't /want/ to be king, then, isn't it?" Shiro replies calmly.

"Why not?" Keith asks, confused. "It's your birthright."
"Because my uncle seems to be doing a perfectly fine job as regent," Shiro explains. "And because none of the archaic laws regarding who the king can marry include purple half-Galra commoners."

Keith gapes down at him for a long moment.
"Shiro," Keith says slowly, "I'm half-Galra -- Galra, like the one who /did/ this to you." He holds up his hand, the moonlight catching the lavender tint to his skin and the sharp claws that had erupted from his fingertips. "I don't know if I'll ever look human again."
Shiro shifts, then stands, pulling Keith up along with him. "You look like /you/," he says, reaching out to take Keith's hand, then bring it up to his lips. "And you're beautiful."
He pauses. "I won't try to keep you here if you want to go. I won't make that mistake again. You could still lead a normal life with the Galra, and I wouldn't fault you for wanting that. But I want you to know that I love you, and I want you to stay, if you're willing."
Shiro's barely able to finish his sentence before Keith's hauling him in and kissing him hard.

"Yes," he says breathlessly when they part. "If you'll have me, of course I'll stay, Shiro."
As he speaks, he tastes something coppery. He reaches up to touch his lips, and his fingers come away red. As he runs his tongue over his own now-sharpened teeth, he realizes he isn't even sure if he cut his lip on Shiro's teeth or his own.
Shiro laughs a little when he realizes what distracted Keith, and leans in to drop a kiss on his lips.

"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!

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