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Lance's moving castle

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His eyes snapped open. Keith rolled on his side, yawning and glancing at the clock of his night table before freezing with his mouth wide open; he had overslept. “Shit” he muttered as he flung his legs to the side of the bed.

Once fully dressed and with the brim of his top hat between his teeth, the young man locked the door of the Shirogane residence and stepped into the sidewalk. Placing the hat on its rightful place, Keith stared at the crowded street: people of all ages gathered to see the military parade, the fighter aircrafts waving Altea’s flag above them while the army marched under the anthem’s rhythm. The young man sighed, watching the exciting faces of the capital; he would never understand why the war with Galra Empire made them smile. The two neighboring countries had a long history of hostilities and it’d been almost a year since the warfare broke out. Whenever Keith heard people cheering, he started wondering if they realized the Capital could be bombed at anytime.

With the ongoing display of the country’s power on the main streets, he had no option but to take the side alleys and passageways if he wanted to get quickly to the shop. The Shirogane family had been taking care of him since he could remember and Keith had naturally helped and worked at their tailor shop in return as he grew up. Over the years he learned the job well enough to run it with his brother Takashi, ‘Shiro’ for him.

The steady thump of his feet as he jogged through the empty and narrow streets echoed in his ears. He loosened the tie around his neck as a bead of sweat rolled down his forehead. He hated being late, and having to take a longer route thanks to the parade only made it worse; he was already pretty moody.

But Keith’s inner bickering came to a stop as he turned right. Leaning against the wall, just a few inches away from him, there was a man and just by looking at him, Keith could tell his intentions.

“Whoa, someone’s in a rush” the man snickered as he took Keith in with a sweeping glance.

He clenched his fist; Shiro had instructed him to run off instantly in that kind of situation after Keith had fought with the first person who tried to rob him at knifepoint and had ended up with a few stitches. But his always serene brother didn’t understand that his blood boiled whenever adrenaline was pumped into his bloodstream and the need to beat up those little rats was strong on him.

With a sweeping glance of his own, Keith smiled at the stranger. The man arched an eyebrow. “What is it, boy, any funny idea?” with a crooked smirk, he glanced past Keith and nodded. “Good thing my friend is here too”

Before he could turn around, a large hand collided with the right side of his face. The surprise attack made Keith fall to the floor, stunned with a loud screeching in his ear.

A taller man joined the first one; they exchanged a look before glancing down at him as Keith narrowed his eyes at them. Both men burst into laughter. “Such a defiant glare” the man who had hit him said and the other one chuckled. Keith’s attempt to stand up only earned him a kick on the stomach. As he coughed, the smaller thief kneeled beside him. “We are truly thankful to the great parade and people hurrying through these streets” he smiled, and this time Keith could see the dirt of his teeth.

“That’s right, the spectacle is awesome!” a new voice beamed.

The three of them turned their heads to look at the man standing in the corner. His long brown hair was loosely tied over his shoulder. The whiteness of his suit contrasted with his dark olive skin, the blue shirt matching the color of his eyes. He shifted his gaze from Keith, still on the floor, to the two muggers, a wide grin plastered on his face. “It’s a wonderful show indeed, why don’t you go and have some fun?” he twirled his index finger.

“W-what?” the men muttered as their bodies started moving on their own accord, heading towards the main avenue. The brown haired guy waved a hand at them while they tried to glance back.

He looked down at Keith, who was staring at the two muggers walking away agape. He raised an eyebrow. “Still on the floor, pretty boy?” he asked, catching the attention of the other one. “Up, up” he snapped his fingers twice.

Keith glanced down as a rush of wind pulled him up on his feet. He patted his own clothes and noticed the dust was no longer attached to his black suit; he looked at the stranger with wide eyes. “H-how did you-”

The brown haired guy chuckled, folding his arms over his chest and raising a cocky eyebrow. “Never seen magic before?”

Keith barely shook his head. He had heard about little spells people bought from the so called wizards or witches, but he never believed in anything taken out of a fairy tale. Yet he couldn’t find any other explanation for the past few seconds of his life.

The guy seemed to be in his early twenties just like Keith. Slightly taller than him, the tight suit accentuated a slender body. When he glanced over his shoulder, Keith noticed his glittering blue pendants.

“How lucky of you I was running away from those gentlemen” he chirped, pointing behind him with his thumb.

Keith looked past him. Several meters away from them, two figures ran across the street in their direction. He was about to open his mouth when the young wizard yanked him by his hand. “Come on!” he cheered and darted off, dragging him along.

As they rushed through the streets, more men kept on popping out of nowhere, from the front, from the right or the left. After a few abrupt turns due to this, Keith realized he couldn’t really call them “men”. The things chasing after them were made out of a dark viscous substance: they tried to maintain a human form, but after clashing with each other in their hunt they were no longer distinguishable between them.

“What are those things?” he yelled, glancing back at the amorphous entities.

The guy with dark skin smirked over his shoulder. “Those are Haggar’s dummies!”

Keith narrowed his eyes at his answer: how was he supposed to know who Haggar was? He was about to remark this when the other male asked where he was going.

“To the Shirogane’s tailor shop” he said, looking around them. They were completely surrounded by the dark matter and they came to a halt for there was nowhere to run.

“Alright!” his savior mumbled, his left arm hugging Keith’s waist. “I will drop you off” he said, bending his knees and before Keith could muster a word of protest, they were several feet above the street. He was not proud of the shriek he let out at the top of his lungs on the way up.

“T-this isn’t r-real!” he stammered, his right arm instinctively circling around the wizard’s shoulders as his left hand fumbled and clenched the blue shirt. Keith couldn’t tear his eyes away from the ground in spite of the terrifying sight, the dark sea of creatures swirling beneath them and, the worst part of it: his feet kicking into thin air.

The other male laughed madly. “Of course it’s real!” his head tilted a little just to scrutinize Keith’s expression. “And you should be enjoying the flight” he whispered.

His words made him finally look up at his grin. “Now start walking normally” the brown haired guy instructed, and Keith glanced down at his feet. He hesitantly let go of his grip in the shirt and put down his arm.

Gravity seemed to ignore the two of them: they were walking in the air and the previous tight feeling of his chest was gone, his own laughter reverberating through it as his eyes scanned the ongoing parade beneath them. It was a breathtaking sight and Keith knew it was the most exciting moment of his life.

They started going down progressively, the shop’s roof coming into view along with the large sign which read ‘Shirogane’s’.

“I’m leaving you on the side street” the wizard informed and Keith nodded in response. A few seconds later, their feet touched the ground.

“That was incredible” was the first thing Keith could come up with.

The brown haired guy chuckled. “I thought you were going to pass out back then” he jeeringly said, putting his little finger on his left ear. “I can still hear your scream echoing in my head”

Keith frowned at his mocking tone. “Well, excuse me for not being used to fly” he hissed, folding his arms over his chest defensively.

The other male laughed again. “Oh, we forgot something” he pointed at Keith’s black mane. He smacked his hands together and when they came apart, the exact same top hat left behind on the alley was resting on one of them. “Don’t you have something to say?” he smirked mischievously, cramming the hat down over Keith’s eyes.

The black haired guy pushed it up with a scowl. “Thank you, I suppose, for the creepy creatures and a nice flight” his lips curled into a smile.

“For the creepy creatures and a nice flight” the wizard repeated with a nod and a grin. “See you later, pretty boy ” he winked at Keith, whose mouth opened a little at the nickname, before jumping into the air.

His purple eyes stared at him until he was out of sight. Keith slowly brought his hands up to his face and pressed his long fingers against his warm cheeks.

 

The bell on the door rang as Keith stepped in. From behind the counter at the end of the room, a black haired man straightened up. “Welcome to- oh, it’s you Keith” he smiled, dropping all formalities.

Keith put his hat on the hanger beside the door and took off his jacket. “Seriously, Shiro, why didn’t you wake me up before leaving?”

Shiro shrugged. “I tried, but you were really asleep” he explained, disappearing behind the counter again. “Besides, it’s not like we are going to have a lot of clients today”

Keith groaned. “It doesn’t matter, Shiro. I can’t be late to the shop” he folded up his sleeves as he stepped farther.

“Always worrying about this place” his brother’s muffled voice said. “No one is going to get mad because you showed up a few minutes later”

Keith shook his head, leaning on the table and peering at the kneeled man. “The least I can do for your family is respect the shop they worked so hard for. You already dropped the buttons?” he asked with arched eyebrows.

Shiro frowned at him. “It’s your family too, stop drawing a line between us. And yes, I was picking them up” he sighed, looking down at the scattered little disks.

The younger man chuckled. “I’ll give you a hand” he said, going around the table and getting down on his knees too.

“Say, Shiro” Keith said after a while. “Have you ever heard about magic?” he asked, the brown haired guy popping in his mind.

Shiro blinked at him. “Well, yes” his brother answered. “There’s old Jenkins in Clover street”

Keith shook his head. “I’m not talking about stupid little tricks from a swindler. I mean real magic”

The other man frowned as he thought. “There are certain rumors about wizards and witches going around. It’s said that they are even part of the war” he shrugged.

Keith’s eyebrows met in his brow. He thought about the sorcerer from earlier and couldn’t picture him participating on the armed conflict at all. “So, do we have a magician in Altea?”

“Hmm, people were fussing over a certain Lancelot these days” Shiro finally picked up the last button and they stood up. “Rumour has it he lives in a moving castle” he added, chuckling in disbelief. Keith smiled but couldn’t laugh along with him after the events of that morning. “Anyway, why are you suddenly asking about this?” Shiro asked curious.

“I just…” Keith trailed off, not being able to tell him about his first encounter with magic. He was struggling to find the words when the ring of the bell announced a new customer. They instantly looked at the door and smiled to the man. “Welcome to Shirogane’s”  



“Keith, do you mind closing? Mr Pikes asked me to deliver this since he couldn't come”

He looked up at Shiro putting on his jacket in a rush. “Of course not” he smiled at his brother who was already at the door. 

“Thanks, good night!” Shiro waved his hand already stepping outside.

Keith waved back until the door closed behind him. He swept the room with a glance, looking at the few things out of place he had to put away and stood up with a sigh.

When he heard the bell, he turned around with a frown: it was pretty late and quite obvious every shop was closed by then, but the weirdest thing was that Keith could swear he had already locked the entrance.

The woman standing on the door frame looked beyond suspicious. Her long white hair and the purple coat wrapped around her hump made him think she was an old lady, the yellow details of the fabric catching his attention. Her garments were not altean in the least, the obscure vibe they emanated contrasting greatly with the colourful nature of the country.The hood pulled up to her head covered her eyes completely and Keith couldn’t help the uneasiness taking over him. Nonetheless, he gulped and tried to pull out a smile. “I’m sorry madam, we are closed” he said, walking up to her.

“His magic still lingers over you” her croaky voice said, stepping closer to him. Keith could only blink as the stranger grasped his wrist. “What a foolish boy” she snickered.

Keith wouldn’t know how to describe what happened next. He was looking at her pointy teeth at one second and the next one he was staggering back, the feeling of a wave crashing on him speeding up his heartbeat. Something was coming out from her hold on him, and he remembered the time he flew with the wizard for he sensed the same foreign force washing over him: magic. The arm of the guy with dark olive skin made him feel lighter and able to fly, whereas the witch’s touch was poisonous; when she let go of his arm Keith fell on his knees, the heaviness in his head clouding his senses.

“My regards to Lancelot” were her last words as she turned around and left the shop, the door clicking behind her and silence filling the place.

Keith groaned still on all fours; he opened his eyes when the world stopped spinning around. As he had expected, there was no trace of her left behind except for himself. Taking a deep breath, he stood up and started looking at his body, searching for any sign of a curse; when he found none, he folded his arms over his chest. What was he supposed to do after such encounter with a witch?

Her words echoed in his mind. Apparently, the same wizard people were gossiping about in town was the same guy of the morning and the same Lancelot connected to that woman. Thinking back, meeting the brown haired guy only caused him trouble, weird creatures and an ugly witch popping out in his life; had he known all of this, Keith would have chosen the two muggers in the alley and a normal day, thank you very much.

He sighed deeply with no idea of what to do. In the end he opted to do what he was asked for and grabbed the keys on the counter. He went to the hanger and took his jacket; not until he tried to put on his hat did he noticed something off.

It wouldn’t go down properly, his ears seemed to be the problem. Which was really strange taking into account that the hat fitted him perfectly… it was at that moment that he patted them.

They were bigger, way bigger. And freakishly furred. Keith’s eyes widened; he stumbled through the room to the nearest full mirror and gaped at his reflection.

The Keith gaping back from the surface was completely normal except for the purple cat ears on his head. His arms quivered a bit as he brought his hands up to touch them once more; upon stroking the soft hair, he shrieked.

Chapter Text

Keith took a deep breath. “Calm down...” He muttered for the hundredth time while turning his head from side to side, inspecting the weird ears in his reflection.

Of all the things a witch could do with her magic, she chose to grant him this pathetic appearance: why? The curse didn’t seem to threaten his well being and that was a relief, but how was he supposed to live on with a pair of stupid purple-cat over-sized ears on his head? Even though he could think of many things worse than this, he needed to get rid of them, because he was not going to spend the rest of his days being gaped at by people as if he was a freak show at a circus.

There was only one thing to do, one person to ask for help: the wizard. After all, he was the reason the ominous witch had paid a visit to Keith, and he discovered that he was her target once she said “My regards to Lancelot”, clearly expecting him to seek the brown haired legend’s help. He was going to do exactly what she wanted, playing right into her plan, but he didn't have a choice, and really, the wizard was the only actual magician he believed in. Since looking for the same woman who had placed the spell on him probably wasn't the wisest move, Keith decided on looking for the other one.

Shiro had told him about a moving castle, so where was he supposed to go? He would have to gather some information at the city and the simple thought of going around asking for directions with his brand new hearing organs made him groan.

Speaking of his brother, should he tell him about his current situation, or leave without a word? If Shiro were to find out, he would tag along on the search and Keith didn't want to drag him on this magical mess. The two of them were too stubborn for their own good, and once they had set their mind on something, there was no turning back. Thus, he decided that leaving Shiro in the dark about his problem seemed to be the right thing to do.

He finally closed the shop and went back home, walking down the deserted streets (to his great relief) and making a mental list. Sneaking into his own house was no problem, since Mr. and Mrs. Shirogane were away on vacation and Shiro wasn’t back from his errands; he went up to his room with an old bag on his hand and started packing what he needed for what he hoped was a brief absence.

Dropping a cloak over his shoulders and concealing his weird features, Keith closed his door and made his way down to the kitchen to gather some bread, cheese, and water for the next day of his quest. Halting for a moment, he pondered about leaving a note and looked across the room for a piece of paper and a pen-- his handwriting was messier than usual, some cursive letters bigger than others while some sat on a slightly wavy line.

Standing in the doorway, he swept a last look over the room before gripping the doorknob and heaving a breath. Just how long was he going to be gone?

He had barely taken a step outside when he bumped into something and staggered back. With widened eyes he blinked up at Shiro-who was rubbing his nose in pain-already cursing inwardly; had it been for the note, he wouldn’t have run into this brother. Just how unlucky could he get in one day?

“Keith? What-” the older guy blinked down at him. “Where are you going?” He asked, looking at the cloak and the bag on his shoulder.

“S-shiro, I-” Keith stammered, still surprised by destiny’s mischief; he ended up smacking his forehead, exasperatedly groaning.

After almost twenty years of living together, Shiro was pretty good at seeing through each of Keith’s groans. He frowned at him when he recognized the this-didn’t-go-as-I-had-planned kind of moan, pushing his brother back inside and folding his arms over his chest once the door had closed behind him.

“So, where were you going without telling me?”

Keith sighed deeply; it was such a long story and he really didn’t want his brother to get involved. He couldn’t even find the words: starting from the very beginning of this whole mess, seemed like the most logical option, but if he wanted to leave as soon as possible, sitting down to explain everything was not the quickest way.

He looked up at Shiro.

“Listen, I need to do something important and I don’t want you to interfere...”

Shiro arched an eyebrow.

“I already noticed that” He deadpanned. “Too bad for you, you have to tell me now, that is, if you want to walk through that door” His thumb pointed back over his shoulder.

A few seconds went by in silence; Keith sighed again.  “Okay...” He mumbled, pulling down his hood. “A witch cursed me after you left and now I’m stuck with these.”

Shiro’s jaw dropped at the purple ears, his arms falling to his sides. Keith was a little amused by his reaction, his lips curling up a bit as his brother stuttered.

“H-How did-, a-are those real ?”

“Unfortunately, yes” He answered. “Remember that Lancelot you mentioned this morning? I need to find him.”

Shiro raised a hand.

“Wait... Why did she do this to you? Did you do something to her?”

“Of course not, Shiro. Until this day, I didn’t even know magic actually existed!” He grunted, rolling his eyes.

His brother shook his head.

“Neither did I...” he said, frowning a little. “But Keith, even if you want to find that wizard’s place right now, there’s not a single soul out there, no one to ask.” He pointed out.

Keith knew he was right but remained silent.

“Listen, this is what we are going to do: tomorrow, you will stay here while I go out and gather information about this guy. I know you hate when people look at you for too long even without those purple things, so we leave at night when no one can see them.” He finished with a smirk.

Keith scowled at his plan; not because he mentioned somewhat how awkward he felt around people, but because he was already including himself in the journey. “This is why I didn’t want to tell you. You are not coming, Shiro”

The taller guy folded his arms once more smiling at him. “Of course I am. Now let’s go up so you can tell me the whole story”



Next afternoon, Shiro took the stairs two at a time on his way to Keith’s door. He didn’t bother on knocking and stepped into the room, spotting his brother on the edge of the bed; the younger man turned around to look at him. “Keith! I talked with Mrs Walker, from the bakery close to Matt’s and she told me...” he trailed off when he noticed his brother’s blatant expression. “Hey, what’s wrong?”

Keith shook his head slowly. “Shiro...” he muttered. “It’s getting worse”

The black haired man on the door stepped closer with worry. “What do you mean?” he asked, the other one pointing at his feet in response. Shiro went around the bed instantly and both of them looked down.

“Oh God, Keith” Shiro mumbled as he stared at the nails on Keith’s feet, the purple standing out against the pale skin. He sat beside him without looking away from them.

Keith leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, the heels of his hands against his eyes. “Shiro, what’s happening to me? What am I turning into?” he asked, not really expecting an answer from his brother, just saying out loud what he had been wondering ever since he got dressed and discovered the change of color in his toenails.

“We are going to fix it” Shiro said without faltering, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “There’s a farmer on the outskirts of the capital; he’s the one who spread the word of the moving castle. I think the best thing to do is wait until dawn and look for him”

“I can’t wait, Shiro” Keith snapped at him. “Just look what I have gained with lying down!” he scowled down at his feet.

The older guy remained silent for a moment, staring at his frustrated brother. “Alright” he said, Keith looking up at him. “We are leaving tonight then”

And just like that, a few hours later, they were boarding the train to the farthest station of the capital with two bags on each one’s shoulders. It was a quiet trip, Keith’s most prominent features -hidden by the hood of his travelling cloak- going unnoticed by the few people on their bagon. When the city faded into green landscapes lighted by moonlight, they went down and started walking, hoping the instructions Shiro had been given by several people would lead them to the farm they were looking for.

“This must be it” Shiro said, glancing up from the paper in his hand to the house in front of them. Keith strode across the fields without losing a beat and his brother followed suit.

After a few minutes of knocking on the door, Shiro guessed the man was already asleep to which his brother groaned and pounded on the wood harder, arguing it was not that late.

“Who’s there?” a voice asked from the inside and Keith smirked at the other guy.

“Forgive us for the hour, sir” Shiro answered politely. “But we need your help, we are looking for a wizard called Lancelot and it’s said you know where to find him”

The door opened a little, just enough for the old man to peer at them; Shiro took off his hat as Keith bowed his head. “And why are you two looking for him at these hours?” the man asked cautiously.

They exchanged a look and the older guy nodded his head; Keith pulled down his hood. “To ask him a favor” he said.

The man stared at the strange ears but didn’t seem taken aback. “You do have some issues” he simply stated. He closed the door and they heard the tinkling noise of chains and keys turning before it opened again. “I would have been surprised by those haven’t it been for the damned moving castle I saw” he grunted, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Please, tell us everything you know” Shiro asked and the man nodded.

“I was crossing those meadows with the sheep when I saw it” he pointed at the tracks of grasslands stretching before higher lands. “A castle with four legs walking, just like that; it disappeared between those hills. There’s really no much more than that” he shrugged.

“How do you know it’s Lancelot’s castle?”

The man squinted at Keith. “Mankind have not yet created a building capable of moving on it’s own, and that wizard had made such a ruckus in the capital the news flew all the way here. So who else could be?”

“What news are you talking about, sir?” Shiro asked curious.

“The guy is a show off” the farmer groaned, a disapproving scowl set on his eyes. “He goes around making pranks on random people with his little magic tricks and when he’s not at it, he is doing some extravagant performance in the streets” he shook his head. “If you ask me, he should be doing something useful with those powers and help us win this war”

Keith couldn’t stand the old man’s scornful attitude for much longer; he nodded and said “Thank you sir, sorry for disturbing you” between gritted teeth, turning around and pulling Shiro by the arm.

“Wait, just one more thing” the man gripped the doorknob as the two guys stopped on their track. “Be careful; the guy flirts for a sport”

Keith frowned at him. “But we are men”

The man shook his head before closing the door. “That ain’t gonna save ya”



The hills didn’t seem to get any closer at first but a hour and a half later, they were finally reaching the narrow valley between them; it was long past midnight when they decided to take a break to eat some bread and rest a bit.

“I’m freezing” Keith mumbled, rubbing his arms frantically. They had no means to light up a fire and the cold air of the countryside wasn’t too friendly.

“That’s why I told you to wait until dawn; we would be walking under sunshine right now had you listened to me” Shiro sighed, munching his loan of bread.

His brother frowned at the ground; the older guy was right, Keith may not had thought about the possibility of walking out in the night cold but then again, it was he who had furry ears at the moment. “Next time, let’s try out how calm you are with purple toenails and cat ears” he snapped, still looking away from the other male.

Shiro sighed again; ever since being cursed, Keith had been on edge and it was pretty easy to get barked at by him. “Keith, calm down. We are almost there”.

The younger guy sighed deeply; he truly appreciated Shiro’s quiet nature and was grateful to the universe for making him his companion in the end. “Sorry, it’s just…” he ruffled his hair, casually brushing the ears. “What if the castle is not there?” he asked, glancing at the hills. “What if all of this has been for nothing and I just keep on turning into who knows what” he mumbled, looking down at his feet.

“Then we will find another wizard. Or a witch who won’t curse you this time” Shiro smiled and stood up. “Come on”

Keith nodded and did the same. “I really hope that guy is still near”

They resumed their walk and it took them around forty minutes to finally reach the path at the feet of the hills. As they made their way between the uplands, a huge building next to a river came into view; by the time they were standing in front ot it, Shiro and Keith gaped at the weird structure. The only way of describing it was several houses attached and piled up; walls and tiles of all colors, windows and balconies of different sizes and styles, several chimneys sticking out and just a single door, the only plain thing in all that mess. It was a wonder how this “castle” was standing and didn’t collapse in the middle of the valley.

Shiro whistled. “This sure says a lot about this guy”

Keith, who was looking around marvelled by the landscape, arched an eyebrow. “Like what?”

“Like how screwed up his mind is” the older brother chuckled. “So, shall we knock?” he said, stepping closer to the entrance and gripping the golden knocker with the form of a lion in the door.

They waited and Keith groaned when no one answered; he smacked the wood surface with his bare hands. “Come on, open up! Someone-” he grasped the doorknob and fell silent when it actually turned, the door opening a little and the moonlight rushing in into the darkness inside.

The two guys exchanged a surprised look; Shiro nodded and Keith nodded back before pushing the door further open. “Hello?”

From what they could see thanks to the moonlight coming in from the door and the windows, they were standing in a living room; a bunch of couches scattered around a fireplace, a large carpet with floral patterns at their feet and what seemed to be fancy furniture of dark wood gave the room a warm atmosphere, far too normal from what they had expected. They padded in looking at the several doors and hallways leading to other places such as a bathroom and a kitchen, a stunning stairway spiraling up in the middle of the room; pictures of different sizes on each wall, pots of exotic plants in every corner and the many chandeliers made out of glass were the final details of luxury.

“I thought chaos would be all over the place after that facade” Shiro whispered, still gaping around; Keith could simply nod in agreement.

“Hey, who the heck are you?!”

The two brothers looked at each other with widened eyes; they glanced around, looking for the person who had spoken.

“Down here, idiots!” the voice snapped at them, and Keith realized from where it was coming.

“Shiro, look at the fire!” he muttered, striding to the fireplace and kneeling in front of it. The older guy followed suit and they gazed at the flames agape.

A pair of eyes scowled at them from between the chirping fire. “Wow, you got a nasty curse right there” it whistled while staring at Keith. 

The two men blinked at each other; they’d been exchanging many looks in the past few hours, just making sure they were not hallucinating. The fire was talking and if that wasn’t enough, it seemed to have glasses .

When they glanced down, the face was smiling. “That’s it! I’ll help you with that malicious spell if you help me get free from mine!” it beamed, its eyes still set on Keith.

“And you are?” the guy asked, arching an eyebrow.

“I’m Pidge, a fire demon!” the flames burned higher. “I’m the heart of this place, it moves thanks to my magic”

“And what kind of curse is that?” Shiro asked.

“Well, it’s more of a contract than a curse” Pidge explained. “I’ve been moving and holding this place all together ever since Lance and I made the deal”.

Keith’s eyes widened at the mention of the name. “Wait. You mean Lancelot, the wizard?”

Pidge groaned and rolled his eyes. “Yes”

Keith grinned; it was really his house, the brown haired guy’s place. Shiro smiled at him, noticing his brother was feeling hopeful again.

“And why do you want to break the contract?” the younger guy asked to the fire. “I can’t trust your word if you are willing to betray a deal”

The flames chirped furiously. “Come on man, you’d want the same after moving the castle for ten damn years!” Pidge groaned, realizing things weren’t going as they had planned.

Keith shook his head with a crooked smirk. “Sorry, I’d better ask for a wizard’s help than a demon’s” he shrugged, and the eyes of the flames scowled at him. “Where is he?”

Pidge averted his flickering eyes from him. “Dunno” they mumbled between gritted teeth.

“Hey, don’t give us that attitude” Shiro chuckled. “What if I were to pour some water on you?” he asked, Pidge’s eyes widening for an instant before glaring up at him.

“Are you serious? Like I’ve said, I’m the heart; the place will go down if you do that!”

Keith took out his canteen. “Then you’d better start talking” he said, shaking the small container.

Pidge gaped at him. “Fine!” he blurted out when Keith started turning the cap. “He’s not here, okay? And I don’t know when he’s coming back NOW GET THAT OFF ME!” he bellowed when the male tilted the canteen a little.



When sunlight started bathing the living room, a brawny guy of round gentle eyes hummed all the way down the stairs. His dark brown hair was still messy from the bed, his lime green pajamas creased after a good night of sleep. He was scratching his belly absentmindedly when he approached the fireplace with the intention of feeding Pidge some fresh wood, but stopped on his track upon spotting two strangers on the couch.

“Uhm, Pidge?” he called, looking from one black haired guy to the other one. “Care to explain who are these gentlemen?”

“Hunk!” the fire yawned. “They are looking for Lance, and they refused to leave when I told them he wasn’t home! They even threatened me with water!”

The guy named Hunk opened his mouth but closed it instantly, noticing the big purple ears of the youngest one. “Why does he…” he trailed off, rubbing his chin and bending over Keith to have a better look.

“It’s a curse, Hunk, that’s why they came here. Now give me some wood, I’m starving!” Pidge demanded from the hearth.

The guy glanced at the weak fire. “Oh, right” he muttered, throwing some sticks into the demon’s mouth who started chowing at it, his flames getting bigger. Hunk looked back at the strangers and poked them in the cheek. “Hey, time to wake up ~” he chanted in a low voice. “Wait; this curse is not contagious, right?” he squeaked, staggering back and looking at his finger.

“It isn’t” Pidge reassured him.

The first to batter an eye open was Keith; after a couple of hours crooking his neck to the right, he winced in pain and got off Shiro’s shoulder, rubbing his eyes. They had collapsed in the couch and fell asleep in spite of Pidge’s bickering voice, waiting for the wizard’s return. He blinked up at Hunk, who smiled and waved his hand.

“Hey, welcome to the realm of the living” he greeted, nodding his head towards Shiro.

Keith looked at his brother whose head was resting on the back of the couch, his lips slightly parted and his arms folded over his chest. “Shiro” he called, shaking him by the shoulder.

The black haired guy groaned, scratching his sore neck. He glanced around the room confused, his eyes widening a little as memories flooded his mind. “Oh, are you Lancelot? Forgive us for trespassing last night” he bowed his head at Hunk, who laughed wildly along side Pidge.

“No, no, no, I’m just a friend!” the guy said, still giggling. “And who are you?” he asked, his hands on his hips as he looked from one sleepy face to the other.

The two brothers stood up, taking turns to shake hands with the kind man while introducing themselves. Then the three of them sat down on the couches and Keith started explaining the chain of events that had lead them to the castle.

“Okay, I can’t believe Haggar had actually cursed you. I mean, she’s ugly but those are just adorable ” Hunk grinned, pointing at the purple ears. “Do they lay flat when you get angry?” he asked excitedly.

Keith scowled at him, crossing his arms; he was not a cat and certainly hoped he wasn’t turning into one. But his response only made Hunk let out a squeak. “ Oh-my-god-they-do ” he blurted out in a breath against his fingertips.

What? ” Keith patted his ears and to his great dismay, the bigger guy wasn’t lying.

“Keith, your hands ” Shiro muttered, gazing at the purple nails of his brother.

The younger guy had already noticed them but wasn’t surprised; he had had the feeling it was going to happen at some point. “Yeah, I know” he sighed.

Hunk arched an eyebrow. “Huh, I thought that was some new trend of the capital” he commented with a shrug.   

Shiro shook his head. “His toenails are the same”

“A curse that progressively takes over you? That witch sure is evil” Pidge whistled from the hearth. “I like her!” they snickered.

Hunk frowned at them. “Pidge”

“What? Is brilliant!” they said defensively.

“So, when is he coming back?” Keith asked to Hunk.

The brown haired guy looked at him. “Lance? Dunno, man. He comes and goes as he pleases” he shrugged.

“Speaking of the devil...” Pidge mumbled. “He’s here”

All of them glanced at the door as it flung open; Lance swept a glance over the room from the doorframe. His countenance wasn’t lighted up with the smile Keith remembered, his eyebrows knitted together with angriness and the dark skin of his face stained with black, just like the red suit he was wearing. He scrunched up his nose, gazing at them, before stomping inside.

“You!” he bellowed, grabbing Keith by the collar and pulling him up on his feet. “You are the one who stinks like shit!” he jolted the male furiously.

“Huh?!” Keith clasped his hands with his own, scowling at him.

“Oh, that’s a wizard’s thing” Hunk explained to a gaping Shiro. “Apparently, they can smell each other’s magic” he tapped his own nose.

“That’s right” Lance pushed Keith back on the couch and stalked to the fireplace. “I recognized Haggar’s stench on the valley because of her henchmen, but didn’t expect to feel it when I came into my own damn castle. PIDGE!” he kneeled down to glare at the fire. “I thought you were supposed to let out any threat!”

The demon glowered at him. “AND I DID!” they shrieked back, the flames getting bigger. “Why do you think those creatures aren’t here, huh? Besides, those two are harmless, I can’t block out people with no malicious intention!”

Lance pointed a finger at Keith. “That one is cursed by her, Pidge. No wonder those things were able to find us!” he groaned.

“He has bloody cat ears, Lance, and the other is a mere human!”

“And you. How dare you come here like that?!” he turned around, sending daggers to the guy with purple features.

Keith blinked at him. The cheerful guy who had saved him two days before was nowhere to be seen behind the scornful blue eyes glaring at him. He couldn’t help getting pissed at him and his overreaction, truly fed up of witches and wizards screwing up his life. “It’s your fault I’m like this!” he yelled standing up.

“My fault?!” Lance shrieked back, stomping towards the guy with purple ears.

“Yeah, don’t you know who I am?!”

“Of course I do, I’d recognize that mullet anywhere!” the tanned guy say, bumping his forehead against Keith’s. “What I didn’t know was that helping out a pretty face would give me so much trouble!”

Shiro stood up in that moment, sick of so much bickering and shrieking; he pushed them apart with a hand on each chest. “Cut it out, you two” he frowned, looking from one guy to the other. “Listen, we had no one else to ask for help” he said, addressing the wizard.

Lance teared his eyes from Keith to Shiro, then blinked as if he hadn’t seen the black haired guy before. He folded his arms while going around him, scrutinizing every inch of the man from head to foot; he stopped to pat the broad shoulders and strong arms, his eyebrows meeting his hair line. “What a fine sample of manhood” he finally declared, still goggling Shiro and making him blush in awkwardness.

“Laaaance” Hunk said annoyed. “They didn’t come all the way from the capital for this” he reminded his friend.

The brown haired wizard groaned. “Right” he mumbled looking back at Keith, whose eyebrows were knitted together. “Alright gorgeous, let me take a look at that spell” he said, motioning him to get closer.

One of Keith’s eyebrow shot up; the guy was still calling him by weird nicknames and the voice of the farmer commenting on Lance’s flirting habits echoed in his mind. He had even checked out his brother. All in all, Keith wanted to get out of there as soon as possible, so he stepped forward.

The other guy put the fingertip of his index against the former one’s forehead. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, concentrating. Silence filled the room except for Pidge’s chirping noises as they waited.

When he blinked his eyes open, Lance shrugged. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do”

Keith slapped him across the face. Hard.

Chapter Text

“Hey!” Lance groaned, touching his throbbing cheek.

This time it was Keith grabbing him by the collar. “Listen to me, you good-for-nothing excuse of a person” the black haired guy hissed, lowering the wizard to his eye level. “You are going to fix this! You have to!”

Lance narrowed his eyes at him. “Why would I? They look great on you, if you ask me” he snickered.

Keith’s scowl deepened as he opened his mouth to retort but Shiro was faster, still trying to talk in a civilized way. “Could you please stop?” he said, taking a hold on his brother’s arm and pushing it down so he let go.

Hunk placed a hand on Lance’s shoulder. “Come on, man. Remember what we talked about helping people?”

The wizard looked at the bigger guy. “Yes” he mumbled, frowning back at the other two. “But I was telling the truth” he said, completely serious for the first time.

Keith felt his blood ran cold; it couldn’t be.

Lance was gazing at him, and spoke slowly as if testing the effect of his words on the other guy. “The Galra Empire’s magicians, or Druids as they call themselves, specialize on dark ancient magic. I’m afraid that’s not my field” he folded his arms over his chest.

Keith was too stunned to say a thing; he looked down at his hands with widened eyes. What was he going to do now? Walk into the other country looking for a druid?

Shiro noticed how shaken his brother was; he looked at the wizard. “There must be something you can do”

Lance snorted at this. “Excuse me?” he arched an eyebrow. “Like I’ve said, curses are not my thing. Besides, not my problem” he shrugged and started walking away, the matter settled for him.

“Actually: it is” Pidge spoke after a long time, surprising everyone.

Lance whipped around. “ What?

“Haggar knows he has been here with you. She may be thinking you’ve got some connection to him, or else, why would she curse him?” the fire demon said. “If she had cursed him the same day you two barely met, can you imagine what she would do to him know?” they wondered aloud.

The four humans blinked at the fire.

“What I mean is… you have pretty much ruined his life” Pidge beamed. “He would either end up cursed for the rest of his days, or get killed by her” they finished, glancing from one stunned face to the other.

“No way…” Shiro whispered with wide eyes. Keith on his right had long lost the ability to breath.

“Pidge is right, Lance” Hunk sighed, scratching one cheek. “The man can’t set a foot out from here”

Lance narrowed his eyes at him. “ No ” he said in a warning tone, already knowing what Hunk was getting at.

“He will have to stay with us-”

No

“-until you find a way to break the curse”

“No” the wizard shook his head vigorously.

“This is what happens-”

“Stop it-”

“-when you act carelessly” Hunk finished, smirking at his friend.

“FINE!” Lance exploded, throwing his arms in the air. “He can stay!” he shouted, turning around and stalking away towards the stairs.

“And you will find a cure!” Hunk reminded him raising his voice.

“Whatever!” the brown haired wizard rolled his eyes, already on his way up. “Pidge! Move the castle as far away as you can, and prepare the water for my bath!” he ordered before disappearing into the next floor.

“Aye, aye, captain” the fire mumbled with irony.

Shiro looked at Hunk. “My brother is in mortal danger ? Why? What did you mean with ‘acting carelessly’?”  

“Uhm, well…” Hunk took a moment to choose his words carefully. “Haggar has been after Lance for a couple of years already, his dummies always keeping an eye on him whenever he’s fooling around”.

Shiro noticed how awkward the big guy suddenly was; he frowned. “Why?”

“You know, evil witch stuff? Trying to corrupt his heart so she can turn him into her puppet?” Hunk wiggled his fingers in the air, imitating a puppeteer.

“And what does Keith have to do with this?” the black haired guy asked, still frowning.

“Haggar’s always on the look for a way to get to Lance” Hunk scratched his neck, glancing at the guy with purple features. “And since he has a thing for beauty…” he trailed off.

But Shiro didn’t let him beat around the bush. “Just say it already” he pressed on.

“You are really making me say it?” the brown haired guy groaned.

“Remember when I mentioned a ‘connection’?” Pidge suddenly butted in, coming to Hunk’s rescue. “Well, it is rather an interest

“What?” Shiro’s eyebrow met his hairline.

“Jesus Christ, man. Your brother is hot, okay? And Lance doesn’t go up in the sky with every good-looking man he comes across” Hunk rolled his eyes before glancing at the guy with purple features. “Uhm, just to be clear: I’m straight, got it? I already have my eyes on Shay, so don’t worry-” he started rambling, but Keith wasn’t listening anymore.

He was blatantly staring at his lips. Did he just...did he just say all of this shit was due to his looks ? What kind of stupid reason to die was that? What kind of stupid reason to live cursed till his perishing days was that?

And the only way out, if there was actually a cure, was to stay in a magical castle and live with the very same person who had dragged him into this living hell ? What kind of bad plotted story was that?

“Hey, I think that human just broke down”



The only good thing that had happened to him in the past 48 hours, was Shiro’s company: his brother did all the talking while Keith nodded or shook his head when necessary.

They had had breakfast with Hunk after that charming conversation with Lance, and they were currently on a tour around the castle, walking through uncountable and interminable hallways.

They had been shown to their rooms -big and well-decorated just like everything in that place-, where they left their small bags. They had even passed in front of the bathroom where the wizard was bathing, steam coming out of the thin slit between the door and the floor, Lance’s voice a lethal threat to the passing-by ear.

“Isn’t this place too big for just the two of you?” Shiro asked to Hunk, as they stepped into yet another recreative room.

The brown haired guy chuckled. “For him, is never enough” he shrugged, closing the door.

Keith looked at the end of the corridor: sunlight streamed through the panels of a double door, a tempting invitation to get closer. He glanced back at Hunk and Shiro walking down the other way and decided he needed some time on his own.

He was in one of the upper floors and the air current was stronger; once unlocked, the door was instantly flung open by the wind and Keith staggered back to avoid being smacked by it. His hair fluttered violently along with his clothes, the blowing wind stealing what felt like the first smile in ages; he staggered outside until he grasped the banister of the balcony.

Pidge had moved them several kilometers away from the previous location. The castle had stopped in a wasteland, mountains with white jagged peaks towering over them and the glittering surface of a large lake at their feet. The capital looked like a collection of dusk points barely noticeable in the distance.

Keith sighed deeply; it was a breathtaking sight. Born and raised in the city, he didn’t get to see nature’s beauty so up close; the vivid colors of the landscape were captivating, the silence of the place and the distant sounds carried by the wind the sweetest melody. He leaned on the railing with his elbows, enjoying the view with a smile plastered on his face.

He wouldn’t know how long it was, but his trance was suddenly broken and everything around him burst into flames the moment he heard his voice.

“Pretty, huh?”

Keith clenched his teeth; of course it had to be him the chosen one to destroy his peace.

“Why are you here?” he asked, full scowl set on his brow as he turned his head around to look at him.

Lance was leaning against the door frame with his hip, arms folded over his chest and his long hair flowing in the wind slightly. His lips were curled up in a way completely unexpected to Keith; it was the soft smile of a normal person, no trace of his usual smugness on it and the black haired boy actually blinked in surprise.

The wizard seemed to notice this; he ambled towards him. “Never been in the open like this?” he ventured, leaning on the bannister with his elbows and staring down at the lake.

Keith glanced at their shoulders casually touching; looking to the opposite side, he shook his head.

Lance chuckled. “I still remember it” he said, the other guy peering at him out of the corner of his eyes with curiosity. “The first time I saw what outside of the city looked like… it’s kind of magical, isn’t it?” he rested his cheek against the flat of his hand, his head tilting a little to look at Keith between lidded eyes.

Keith snorted somewhat amused at the mage using the word 'magical', but still nodded his head, knowing what he meant. “Up until now, the only green thing I had seen, was the weeds growing between the stone pavement in the streets” he looked at the vast extensions of land stretching before them. “And the largest mass of water, in my bathtub” he added with a shrug.

Upon hearing Lance’s giggle, he looked at him. The brown haired guy was staring at him intently, as if he was the most fascinating thing in the world.

Interest .

Keith felt his heart skipping a beat before speeding up; he averted his eyes from the guy in an attempt to regain control and escape the awkwardness of his gaze.

“I’m taking you to the beach next, then”

The black haired guy shook his head, still looking away from him. “I’m content with you breaking the spell of weird-purple things”

Lance straightened back from the bannister. “I will” he chirped, Keith arching an eyebrow at him; why the sudden change of thought? “You know what I have realized? I don’t even know your name. I’m Lance” he said, stretching a hand in front of him as the other went to his hip.

Keith frowned a little while parting from the railing too. It was true; what's more, this was the third time they talked yet the first time it was a normal conversation, no flights nor yelling match in the middle of it. “Thought it was Lancelot”

“Nah, that’s like my business name” the wizard shrugged, his hand still in the air.

The other guy looked down at it warily. “I’m Keith” he said, clasping the hand offered to him.

“Hum, now that’s thrilling” Lance hummed, yanking Keith by the hand and making him stumble closer, their chests bumping once. His head was tilted back thanks to the dark hand angling his jaw up, their faces barely separated by an inch. “Your name means ‘forest’ but all I can see, is fire in your eyes” Lance muttered amused, staring down at the widened eyes of the guy gaping at him.

Keith blinked; he knew this man could not be trusted. Clenching his teeth and well aware of his furred ears lying flat, he pushed the man with his right hand since the other one was still clasped between Lance’s. “Never heard of personal space before?” he growled, scowling at him and putting some distance between them.

“Hunk may have mentioned it before” Lance snickered, rubbing his chin pensively; he looked at Keith’s hand on his own and brought it closer to his face. “This is more like mauve, by the way” he added, scrutinizing the nails.

The black haired guy snapped back his hand. “I don’t care what shade of purple they are, I just want my normal body back!” he groaned.

Lance smirked. “I know, that’s why we are going to ask for an old friend’s help” he explained, turning around and heading to the door. “Come on, we gotta go for Hercule in his room”

Keith followed him through the many corridors of the castle. An old friend of Lance? He had no idea what kind of human being apart from Hunk could be patient and kind-hearted enough to befriend such a self-centered person like the brown haired wizard walking in front of him. “How do you know Shiro’s at his bedroom?”

Lance scoffed. “It’s my castle, how could I not know where everyone is at any given time between these walls?” he said, his arms going up in a wide motion.

Keith frowned. “Then that’s how you found me at the balcony?”

“Yep. I knew it just like I know Hunk is having his second breakfast in the kitchen” he shrugged.



“You are gonna LOVE this” Lance said, glancing back at Shiro and Keith with a cocky grin.

The two brothers arched an eyebrow; they were standing right in front of the door, the wizard gripping one of the two golden knobs.

Hunk folded his arms over his chest, smiling widely. “Oh, they’re going to see the bakery!” he said, eyes shining with excitement.

“The bakery?” Shiro repeated, frowning a little since he didn’t recall stepping into one of those during the house tour.

Lance turned the upper doorknob, a tinkling sound making Keith and his brother look up at the disk beside the door; divided in five, each part of it was colored with green, yellow, red, black and blue. It turned along with the handle, the golden needle previously pointing at the green portion marking the yellow one instead.

The brown haired wizard opened the door. Instead of the wasteland they had last seen, Shiro and Keith blinked at the pastry shop visible beyond the door frame.

“No way” Keith muttered, stepping into the foreign room. The counter and many shelves of the shop shimmered under the thin rays of sunlight getting through the shatters of a large window in the front.

“I know it’s small, but hey, it’s only me here” Hunk said, looking around pridefully.

Shiro smiled at him. “You run this on your own? That’s amazing”

The brawny guy grinned. “Well, yes, it is. I mean, I wake up really early to-”

“Bla bla bla” Lance interrupted, rolling his eyes from the doorframe. “I’m leaving you all here” he said, motioning them to get back to the castle’s living room.

Hunk glared at him. “Well, I’m staying here anyway” he mumbled, opening another door and stepping in without a second look at Lance.

The mage shrugged, nodding his head to Keith and Shiro; they glanced at the other door as it was shut close before going behind the brown haired boy.

With another twink and turn, the needle at the green portion again, the two brothers stared at the wastelands.

“This,” Lance started, pointing at the landscape past the doorframe, “is the castle’s real position, physically speaking. It is known that my house can walk, but what nobody knows is…” he turned the handle, choosing the red portion, “it’s simultaneously in other places too”.

He opened the door to reveal a different view: dark clear skies above the glittering surface of what Keith instantly realized was the ocean, large extensions of pale sand bathed by moonlight and the silence of the night only broken by the waves.

“The sea ?” Shiro breathed with widened eyes.

They went through the door, walking hesitatingly at first then breaking into a full sprint with a yell of joy. They clumsily ran across the shore and only came to a halt once in front of the water, chests heaving as they watched the white foam washing over the sand.

The oldest guy glanced at his brother. “Should we-”

“Heck yeah!” Keith interrupted him already reaching for his shoes, knowing exactly what was on his mind.

They sighed deeply with the water reaching their ankles, closing their eyes and smelling the salty air. Upon hearing Lance’s voice, they turned around to grin at him and noticed the door leading to that place was actually the front door of a shack.

“This is Veradera Beach, what you can easily mistake for paradise!” the brown haired guy shouted still on the door frame, hands cupping around his mouth.

“I must agree!” Keith yelled back, spinning around for a 360 view of the exotical beach with his arms wide open.

“Where are we, Lance?!” Shiro asked, raising his voice too.

“South of-”

“STOP TALKING LIKE THIS ALREADY!” Pidge roared from the hearth and even the two guys on the water could hear them.

Lance turned around to look at them. “Oh, hey, buddy” he smirked at the fire. “Already awake?”

Pidge’s sleepy eyes managed to scowl at him; after moving the castle for a couple of hours, the magical effort wearing them down, the fire demon had fallen asleep. “With you airheads yelling like that, it’s no wonder” they scoffed, closing their eyes once more.

Still staring at the fire, the brown haired wizard shouted “HEY, GUYS! COME HERE!” and snickered when he earned the desired reaction, Pidge snapping their eyes open and flames chirping furiously.

I swear to you little fuc-

“What’s wrong?” Shiro smiled, looking from the human to the demon; they were at the door with their shoes on their hands, wide grins still plastered on their faces and black hair slightly ruffled.

“Nothing, I just thought you were in a rush for that solution? ” Lance asked, folding his arms and smiling back at the male.

Shiro nodded, stepping into the living room. “Right”

Keith took a moment to look back at the sea before going in; as he passed beside Lance, the guy muttered under his breath so only he could hear his words.

“Told you”

The black haired boy stopped on his track and turned around; Lance closed the door and also turned, smug smile on place as he winked. Keith opened his mouth but was cut off by Lance.

“Okay, folks” the wizard clapped his hands. “This is pretty cool, I know, I know. But there’s only one thing you must remember” he said, holding his index up. He turned around and turned the knob until the needle landed on the blue portion; Shiro and Keith tried to peer over the edge as Lance opened the door slowly, but they only saw darkness before it was slammed closed by the dark hand of the wizard, the two of them jumping in surprise.

“You don’t open the blue door” Lance said, looking from one black haired guy to the other. Keith could swear the air was getting colder, a shiver going down his spine as he stared in the deep blue eyes of him, a murderous aura engulfing them all.

But it was gone just as fast as it came. “And now that you know that single rule, feel free to go as you please! ~” The brown haired guy was smiling again as if he hadn’t threatened them just then. “Well, not you pretty boy, unless you want to end up in Haggar’s hands” he said, thinking over his words.

Keith gulped and looked at his brother, who looked back at him with widened eyes; both of them were stunned by the swift change in demeanor of the other guy. “We’d better get going” Lance hummed, turning the knob and choosing the black door.

When he opened it, Shiro and Keith looked at the town beyond the door frame. Glancing warily at the brunet, they stepped outside into a large buzzing avenue with people hurrying down both ways.

“Shit” Keith muttered, remembering his weird features weren’t concealed and walked back inside. He felt a slight push on his back and the sudden weight of a cloak draped over his shoulders; glancing back at a smirking Lance, he nodded in gratitude.

The wizard closed the door as he pointed to his left. “Now, do you see that manor on the end of the street? That’s where we are going” he informed and started strolling down the road.

The other two followed him. “So, this friend of yours...” Shiro begun, walking on the right.

“He’s a mage like you?” his brother asked from the other side.

Lance chuckled between them. “It’s a she, actually. And yes, she’s a witch” he said, eyes trailing off after a pretty blonde with fluffy dress.

“She must be really famous if she lives on that mansion”

The brown haired guy nodded absent-mindedly, stopping in front of a window shop and looking at the navy blue suit on display. “Well, yeah” he mumbled, rubbing his chin. “It’s Allura after all”

Keith frowned a little as the name seemed to ring a bell in his head; he glanced at his brother to ask if he felt the same and was taken aback by Shiro’s widened eyes. “Wait, don’t tell me-, you don’t mean princess Allura, right?” the oldest guy asked to the wizard.

“Yep” Lance shrugged, resuming the stroll while the other two stayed right there.

“The princess of Altea is your old friend ?” Keith clasped his shoulder, the brunet turning around with a roll of his eyes.

“Uhm, yes? he arched an eyebrow at the astounded boys in front of him, shaking off the hand in his shoulder.

Keith stuttered, still not getting what kind of connection a guy like Lance could have with his country’s royalty. “H-how?”

The wizard scoffed, folding his arms over his chest. “Kind of childhood-friends, we learned magic together. What? Oh, I get it” he said, narrowing his eyes at them, “you think that I’m not a decent enough person to know her? Well, you are wrong” he fumed, pivoting on his heels and stalking away from them, heading back home.

They exchanged a look before following the mage. “Lance, come on, don’t get mad” Keith groaned but only earned a deeper frown from the other guy.

Shiro tried a smiley approach. “It’s a shock, Lance, I never thought I was going to get near royalty in my whole life” he sincerely said, tilting his head to examine his reaction.

His brother’s friendly nature did the trick; Lance’s pace slowed down as he glanced sideways to the oldest guy. “Is that so?”

“Yes” Shiro nodded without missing a beat. “But I thought the royal family lived in the capital” he smiled, waiting for an explanation which the brunet instantly provided.

“Actually, only King Alfor stays in the capital’s palace” he said, his usual smirk already tugging the corner of his lips. “You know, safety issues for Allura” he shrugged.

Shiro nodded and stopped on his track. “Would you introduce us to her?”

Lance stopped walking to scrutinize his face.

“Please?” the oldest guy smiled, nodding towards the mansion.

“Okay” the warlock finally said in defeat and started strolling down the right way again.

Keith couldn’t help but scoff at how fast the guy was back to normal. “Seriously, that's all it takes?”

Lance arched an eyebrow and pointed at Shiro. “Hey, he’s very persuasive”

Keith only scowled in response.

Chapter Text

“Umm, are you sure about this? Keith conveyed all the distrust he could muster into his words.

 

“Of course I am, Allura and I have known each other since we were tiny beans!”

 

“LANCE!” The voice of an older man echoed through the hallway. Shiro, Keith, and Lance winced at the loud shriek bouncing against the walls.

 

They were inside the mansion, the brunet insisting upon being always welcomed before walking through the front doors, opening every lock with a flick of a finger as if he was the owner of the place just coming back home. The two black haired guys knew that wasn’t the case -who would want a person, even if it was a lifelong friend, stepping in your house without warning-, but if Lance was going to do it anyway, waiting outside was really a waste of time; the harm was already done.

 

So when they whipped around to look at the orange haired man with an extravagant moustache stalking towards them, Keith and Shiro confirmed that in fact, Lance was trespassing.

 

“How many times do I have to tell you-”

 

“You have to announce your coming and wait by the fence." The wizard moved his hand as if it was the one actually talking while rolling his eyes. “Oh, Coran, good to see you. Can we skip this? I need your help with something.”

 

Coran, who was already a few meters away from them, came to a stop dramatically and scrunched up his nose.

 

“Oh, quiznak!" He pinched his nose, “Lance, is that a Galra’s stench?”

 

Keith folded his arms, foot impatiently drumming on the marble. “Is it really that bad?” He asked, feeling oddly self conscious.

 

The brunet chuckled and went to stand behind him. “You still got it, old man. Keith-y boy here was granted a rather interesting curse by Haggar,” He explained, pulling down the hood and exposing the purple ears of the boy. “Care to take a look?”

 

Coran freed his nose and shook his head once before stepping closer to Keith with caution. “And why did she do it?” He asked, examining the ears, even poking them.

 

“Lance?” A female voice was carried down the hallway just as a girl appeared by the end of it. She had long white hair and blue eyes with a pink glint in them, her dark skin contrasting greatly with the color of her mane.

 

“Allura!” Lance chirped, opening his arms as she jogged towards him.

 

In a swift motion, the girl wrapped her arms around Lance’s waist and spun him around. “Such a long time!”

 

The mage grimaced when the sheer force of her embrace made his spine snap by the middle. “C-cheerful as always, aren’t we?” He blurted out in a pained mumble.

 

A wide grin plastered to her face as she put the man down, then instantly frowned and smacked his arm. “You should come more oft-” She trailed off, sniffing the air, “What is that smell?” One of her thin eyebrows twitched up.

 

Keith threw his hands into the air in defeat as he claimed, “I’m done with this!” Shiro patted his back comfortingly, a small crooked smile stretching across his face.

 

Allura glanced at them and noticed the purple features, her beautiful eyes squinting at the ears with curiosity. “Oh, are those-” She was cut off by Keith’s scowl. “I’m sorry, I should have introduced myself first.” She offered a tender and genuine smile.

 

“Greek God over there is Shiro and the cat-ish human is Keith” Lance pointed at each of them respectively, earning a glare from both of them. He shrugged. “They know who you are so can we just go right into business, yes?”

 

Four pair of eyes scowled at him and he held up his hands. “What?” he arched an eyebrow.






“I’m sorry Keith, but I don’t know how to break that curse.” Allura looked at the black haired boy with an apologetic frown.

 

They were scattered on the couches in the livingroom. With Shiro’s help, Keith narrated the story to the princess and her guardian as they were served tea and some pastries; by the end of it, his cup was already cold and lay untouched.

 

“There’s not a single wizard or witch in this country who can help me?” Keith wondered out loud, his chest tight with worry as every attempt of finding help failed.

 

“Well, since the very nature of Altea’s and Galra’s magics oppose each other, I’m afraid not,” Coran said, holding up his hands, comparing the two magics, “The way we draw our force from the spirits of light whereas they use the spirits of darkness makes it-”

 

“Please, I don’t really care about magical theory,” Keith cut him off, well aware of his own rudeness and incapable of actually caring at this point, “What am I supposed to do now?” He asked, searching for Lance’s eyes across from him.

 

The tanned wizard was resting against the back of the couch, one of his long legs crossed over the other. “I was already expecting this answer,” He sighed in irritation, crossing his arms.

 

“Coran.” His blue eyes glanced at said man, “What about the library?”

 

Coran frowned. “The library?” He mumbled in confusion, then his eyes widened in realization. “Of course! There must be something in there!” He smacked his forehead before bolting out of the room.

 

Allura looked at the two brothers with a smile, “The Galra books we retrieved during this time of war may be of help," She kindly explained, “It may not be the quickest way, but it’s a start." Then she stood up and said, “Follow me.”

 

The princess lead the way through the intricate hallways, small talk going on between her and Shiro. Keith was close behind, staring curiously at the way his brother’s features changed as he gazed at Allura; he couldn’t remember the last time he had seen Shiro act this bashful before. Scratch that, he couldn’t remember it because there hadn’t been a time at all.

 

“Hmm." Keith glanced at the wizard humming thoughtfully by his side, “Allura is acting a little weird today,” Lance commented, folding his hands behind his head. He looked at Keith and flashed the smug smile Keith was growing used to but hated with all his might, “Maybe I’m not the only one who wants to jump those bones.” His eyebrows wiggled in the most disgusting way the Keith had ever seen.

 

He elbowed him in the ribs, not even sparing a glance to aim and Lance clutched his side with a moan. “Stop it," Keith hissed, digging his hands in his pockets and refusing to look in any other direction but forward.

 

Taking advantage of the small gap between Keith’s arm and his waist, Lance hooked his arm with his, matching his pace. “Don’t worry, Mullet-boy,” He snickered as he leaned to whisper in his ear, “I wanna jump you too”

 

Keith stopped in his tracks and whipped his head to finally glare at the insufferable guy. With the heel of his hand, he pushed Lance’s stupid face away from his own by the forehead. “Tell me you are the only aggressively bisexual warlock in Altea,” He said through gritted teeth, “ Please.

 

Lance burst into laughter, “Will you sleep safe and sound if I say yes?”

 

Keith scowled at him but didn’t get to answer as Allura spoke first. “It’s here,” She said as she stopped in front of a pair of great double doors, spiraling patterns carved in the wood and golden knobs. She pushed down the handle of both sides and opened the path.

 

They stepped into a large room whose walls were stacked with books from the floor to the very ceiling. Coran was already there, up on a ladder against one of the highest shelves. “I’m afraid that this is going to take a lot of time,” He yelled, glancing down at them, “The books in the Galra section aren't classified so everything is mixed up! Here we have…” He picked up two books and frowned, reading the covers. “ Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Children right next to Crafting Your Own Malify, a Quick Guide .” He shrugged, putting the books in a different place in the shelves.

 

“Fancy” Lance whistled, impressed, reaching for an elegant chair and straddling it. “Bet Haggar wrote the last one,” He grinned, shooting a playful look at Keith.

 

“Lance, don’t sit down now,” Allura reprimanded him as she flicked her wrist gracefully. The chair toppled to the floor and the wizard quickly jumped back so he wouldn’t fall with it. “You will help us look through all of these books until we find something useful.”

 

Keith blinked at her when she had said ‘us’. It suddenly occurred to him that she was actually willing to search alongside them, not only lend them the books.

 

He walked until he stood in front of what seemed to be the Galra section, just beside the ladder Coran was climbing down. “This is going to take a while,” Keith agreed, folding his arms, “We can't go through all of them in one day.”

 

Shiro approached him and looked up too, “That’s why Allura was telling me we can pick up a bunch to read them at home.”

 

“Or even stay here for the night,” She suggested, a gentle smile spreading across her lips, “It’s not like we get a lot of visitors, truth be told,” She added as she shrugged, praying for bitterness to not tint her voice.

 

Shiro shook his head. “I think it’d be better if we just take some books and come back when we are done with them, taking another bunch and so on. We can’t stay here all day and even at night, it’d be abusing your kindness,” He softly smiled at her, refusing to bother more than necessarily.

 

“Oh, no,” Allura seemed actually disappointed as her chance to have company evaporated, her gaze lowering to the floor.

 

Lance scratched his hair, sighing; letting down a lady, a beautiful one, especially a friend, was against his own beliefs. “If we stay here much longer, Haggar will be able to track down Keith and that’s something we can’t let happen; they could find out the princess of Altea’s whereabouts.” He crossed his arms, quirking his brow, “We gotta return to the castle quickly, so grab those books and let’s go back.” He glanced at Shiro and Keith, who nodded at him and turned around to start picking up as many books as they could carry.

 

“Lance,” Coran called, walking up to the boy, “It’s actually a good thing you came to us, I have a message from the King.” He lowered his voice, but the room easily amplified the sound.

 

Upon hearing those words, Keith glanced over his shoulder to the two men conversing, his hands lingering over the spine of a book.

 

“Old Alfor? Couldn’t he wait for the appointed session?” Lance scoffed, crossing his arms.

 

Coran tugged at the hair tickling his lips, the other hand behind his back, “No, he couldn’t. He actually needs a meet-up, with urgency.”

 

The tanned warlock studied the serious countenance of the other man for a moment before his lips finally stretched into a smirk, “Oh, that sounds promising,” He said with a sudden interest, a curious glint flickering in his eyes.

 

Keith watched him intently, frowning. There was something… quite unsettling in the way this man’s eyes lit up in the most unexpected moments; it reminded him of the blue door episode from earlier. A meet up with the King during these times could only mean one thing;  the rumors about mages taking part on the war may be true after all.

 

He glanced at his brother when he felt a slight push on his shoulder; Shiro was smiling at him, knowing what was dwelling in his mind. He nodded towards the bookshelves and Keith nodded back, resuming the task of picking up useful titles.

 

Several minutes later, they were all standing in the front door of the mansion, a large bag full of books under Keith’s and Shiro’s arms.

 

“Well, guess I’ll see you soon!” Allura smiled, glancing at the two of them, “I’ll be looking through books here, too. That’ll accelerate the search, hopefully.”

 

Keith couldn’t help but smile at her; the princess had such a kind soul, her eagerness to help still surprised him. “Thank you, princess,” He said with a curt nod, Shiro bowing his head beside him.

 

“Allura, my dear,” Lance stepped in front of her, grabbing her hands and flashing a flirtatious smirk. “Are you kissing me goodbye?” He asked, leaning forward, dangerously close to her face.

 

But the girl proved to be immune to his actions, a wide smile tugging her lips as she chuckled. “Oh no, I’m hugging you goodbye!” She chirped, this time wrapping her arms hard on purpose, the tanned guy circled by them clenching his teeth to stifle a groan.

 

Loosening the embrace but still clinging to his lower back, Allura took a step backwards to look at him in the eye. “Lance. Do be careful, please,” She sweetly pleaded.

 

Lance blinked for a second before giving her a toothy smile. “Of course, silly,” He winked, ruffling her hair before dissolving the hug completely, “Coran,” He looked at the oldest man.

 

“Take care, son,” Coran smiled fondly, folding his arms.

 

“We're off then!” Lance chirped, turning around with Shiro and Keith following close behind.

 

By the time they were making their way back to Lance’s castle it was already midday, the sun blinding and merciless to the people walking under its rays. The warmth irradiated by Keith’s body had no way out with all the garments he was wearing and the longer locks of hair sticking to his neck were driving him crazy with the urge to pull the hood down.

 

“So,” Keith started, trying to think on something else apart from the unbearable heat, “You truly are a pretty good friend of the princess”

 

Lance’s cockiness crept to his smirk, “Told you!”

 

“And how exactly did you meet her?” Keith asked, arching an eyebrow and adjusting the strap of the bag on his shoulder. “You are not part of the royal family, are you?”

 

The confident smile was swept away from Lance’s countenance, replaced by pursed lips and a frown, “No, I’m not, and thanks God that’s not the case. Royal business is far too boring.” He waved his hand, the simple thought of duties making him groan.

 

Still looking at the boy slightly confused, Keith asked, “Then how did you meet her if you are not related?”

 

“Memory issues, boy? I’ve already told you we learnt magic together," Lance huffed.

 

Keith narrowed his eyes at him, “Yes, but how did you end up learning with the princess of Altea of all the people?”

 

“Why do you care? Just be thankful I know her and she’s lent you those books,” He said, nodding at the bag under Keith’s arm.

 

“I would be more thankful if I haven’t met you,” He mumbled under his breath. “And now that you mention it, why did she practically beg you to be careful? Even Coran was praying for your well-being.”

 

Lance smiled mischievously. “Never heard about curiosity killing the cat, kid?” He said mockingly, glaring at him, “I don’t like being bombed with questions, thank you.” Lance shooed him away with his hands.

 

Keith stopped and grasped Lance's wrist, making him to turn around, “Okay, first of all, cut it out with the bloody cat jokes. Secondly, I don’t really get what an arrogant wizard like you has to do with the King and the princess of this country,” He snapped, and after a second added, “And a third one would be, stop treating me like a child.” He let go of his hold on Lance with a harsh push.

 

But Keith’s last remark was a mistake, for Lance’s next words easily riled him up and made him forget about what he really wanted to know about. “Why should I, boy ?” He jabbed his finger tip on Keith’s forehead, smiling crookedly before turning around and resuming his walk.

 

Standing in the middle of the buzzing street, people bumping into his frozen form and Shiro glancing from his brother to the tanned warlock strolling away from them, Keith clenched his fists and bit his lower lip to prevent himself from shrieking. Staring at his back intently, he stalked behind Lance.

 

“I’m pretty sure we are the same age, and if we are not, it’s only a couple of months difference.” He pointed out once beside him.

 

Lance snickered without looking at the black haired guy. “I’m taller than you,” he said, as if that explained it all.

 

“By what? Two inches?” Keith deadpanned, arching an eyebrow.

 

Smirking down at him, Lance patted one of the big ears concealed by the hood; the wizard found so much amusement in the other guy, especially in his fuming side. “If it makes you feel better, Keithy-boy”

 

Snapping the hand away, Keith glared up at him. “I’ve never hated someone in such a short span of time,” He groaned, lowering his eyes to the sidewalk.

 

The tanned boy laughed so loudly people glanced at him in surprise, “Oh, come on, don’t be mean. You don’t hate me!” Lance nudged him in the shoulder.

 

Still looking away from him, Keith heaved a breath, “I definitely do,” He mumbled, pushing the strap further up in his shoulder. A soft sided smile had crept to his face without his notice.

 

“That’s a lie and you know it!” The wizard chuckled and glanced at Shiro, “Right, Shiro?”

 

Keith turned around to look at his brother who had been walking behind them strangely quiet. Shiro’s bemused expression was pretty clear in spite of the curled hand over his mouth, “I think you get along just fine,” He said, playful eyes staring at Keith, who only frowned and shook his head in disbelief.

 

They arrived to the plain old door that lead to Lance’s house a few minutes later. Upon entering, Keith and Shiro spotted the unfamiliar light brown mane of a person sitting on a couch with the back towards them. They frowned, wondering who was this new acquaintance of Lance just as the stranger turned around, golden eyes glancing at them from behind round glasses, a piece of… wood between her lips.

 

“Oh, they're back,” The girl looking at them said with Pidge’s unmistakable voice, no chirping noises mingled with her words.

 

“Hunk!” She called louder, before burying her teeth on the stick, tugging it down with a hand so it splintered easily.

 

The sight of a human casually chomping on wood was rather disturbing, so the two brothers instantly glanced at Hunk stepping into the living room as they walked across the threshold, “Oh, hey guys! I was just wondering if you were going to have lunch with Allura,” He chirped happily, hands propped up on his hips, “I’d better start working if it’s going to be all of us,” Were his words before going back to kitchen.

 

Lance, who hadn’t moved from the entrance, sighed deeply. “Not for me, Hunkie,” He said, the back of his head hitting the door as he leaned against it, “Duty calls”

 

Rushed footsteps against the tiles were heard and Hunk’s face peered over the doorframe, “No way! It’s lunch time!” He indignantly cried as if skipping one meal was a sin.

 

The wizard chuckled at his friend’s distraught, “Don’t worry, I ate something at Allura’s” He said, grasping and turning the doorknob to the green portion.

 

“Okay,” Hunk sighed,  “But Lance...” He said to stop the brunet from going out and make him look at him, “Be careful.” He pointed at Lance with the knife in his hand, narrowing his eyes before disappearing again.

 

While Lance rolled his eyes, Keith arched an eyebrow at him. “What are you, a baby? A danger to your own self?” He teased, since people kept on worrying about the guy.

 

Rolling his eyes yet again, Lance groaned, “Fuck off,” before stepping out into the wastelands, Keith catching his smile as the brunet turned around.

 

Meanwhile, Shiro approached the girl sitting on the couch. “I’d have never imagined you could do that,” He smiled, taking a seat across from her.

 

Without the flickering flames around her face, Pidge’s smug grin and eyes were pretty clear. “You didn’t expect me to stay in the hearth, did you?” she chuckled, putting another stick between her lips.

 

“I didn’t expect a demon in human form, actually,” Shiro shrugged, looking at the teenage body of the other, “And I certainly didn’t know you were so young.”

 

Pidge stopped munching for a moment before bursting into a fit of laughter. “Oh, you think you are older than me ” She said between hitched breaths, “That’s cute, though”

 

Keith, having heard their conversation, sat down beside his brother, frowning at the demon with curiosity. “If you are older, why do you look like a 14 year old kid?”

 

“Because I’m pretty young-if we are talking about the life span of a demon. In human years I’d be like…” She scratched her chin thoughtfully, “436 years old,” She ended with a shrug.

 

Keith and Shiro exchanged an astounded look. “Oh, that’s…” Keith trailed off.

 

"Impressive," Shiro finished.

 

Pidge snickered at their expressions, “Been around for a long time,” She said, popping another piece of wood in her mouth.

 

Keith grimaced at the noise of wood being broken by teeth and the thought of splinters burying deep in flesh, “Uhm, so this is like your true form?” He asked, noticing for the first time the tiny flame hovering over the demon’s head.

 

Pidge shrugged again, “Not really, I just found this body rather convenient for things like movement, for example. Although, it’s pretty hard to keep it up: it makes me really hungry.” She pointed down at the assortment of sticks lying on her lap.

 

“I must say that…” Shiro trailed off, unsure of how to phrase his thoughts, “So demons can be short-sighted too?” He ended up saying.

 

The fire over Pidge’s head chirped furiously all of a sudden, the girl sending daggers at the man. “Yes, we can.” She seethed, biting harder on the wood.

 

“Can’t you use magic to… fix it?” Keith asked warily.

 

“Do you know how exhausting constantly changing the focal distance of your eye can be?” She spat at him, “Oh, no, you don’t. So glasses would have to do”

 

Magical glasses.” Keith pointed out with a smirk.

 

Hunk appeared just then. “So hey, an extra pair of hands would be awesome guys.” He motioned towards the kitchen with his head.

 

Shiro and Keith gladly stood up to leave the fuming demon on her own.




It was way past midnight when the front door opened. Everyone was already asleep in their bedrooms and the only one hearing the hinges was Pidge, who was back in the hearth to rest. The sound of wood cracking under heavy footfalls and the door flung closed were enough to stir the demon, “Took you longer than usual,” She yawned, glancing at the entrance where a large blue creature emerged from the darkness.

 

There was a guttural sound, a low, feline growl, and the footfalls became lighter. Lance stretched his arms over his head, his neck rolling over his shoulders with leisure, “Those druids are a pain in the ass.” He ambled towards the fireplace and dropped on the couch with a groan, his head resting on the back.

 

Pidge scrutinized the torn clothes of the boy, dust and ashes sticking to his suit. Staring at the black stains on his cheeks, she sighed, “You can’t go on like this for much longer, Lance. You know what’s going to happen.”

 

Lance’s head lifted up to look at the fire and he snickered, “What’s this? A demon worried about a human?” He hummed, amused at his friend.

 

Pidge rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’m worried about Hunk.” She grinned, and Lance’s smirk faltered at the mention of the name. Her own curled up lips pressed into a line a moment later, “He will never forgive you, you know?”

 

The brunet curled his fists tightly, staring blatantly at the fire. “Yeah…” He sighed, running his fingers through his hair. He stood up, not willing to have a serious talk right now, and headed for the stairs.

 

Pidge sighed, knowing the guy was running away from the confrontation, “Should I prepare a bath?”

 

Lance waved a hand climbing the steps. “Nah, I’m too tired even for my beauty bath. Tomorrow. Night, Pidgey.”

 

The fire demon closed her eyes again, “Goodnight, Lance.”

Chapter Text

Keith had to admit it; he had never slept so well in his 22 years of existence.

 

When he woke up next morning tangled in the fine silk sheets of the bed (he always rolled a lot in his sleep), every fiber of his muscles were relaxed and content. He patted the white bedclothes to prop himself up, eyes squinting at the window from which light streamed through thanks to the curtains he had forgotten to close. Looking around the unfamiliar room, the victorian tapestries of the walls and chairs, the translucent fabric hanging from the posts of the canopy bed, he couldn’t help but wonder the same thing as the night before: why the exuberant luxury in every damn thing.

 

Then again, it was Lance’s castle.

 

Heaving a sigh, he plopped back down onto the bed. He lifted his hands to contemplate the purple shade of his fingers which had extended over the night. They were completely purple by now. He curled them and they felt normal, the color tinting his skin the only unusual thing.

 

“Ridiculous,” He muttered with a frown.

 

After he changed into the spare set of clothes he had brought with him, he looked down at the wrinkled and dirty clothes in his hands. He and Shiro needed to find new ones if they were going to stay in this place for long, which they very well could. A full afternoon of reading those books with no success the day before had proved it was going to be a tedious and slow task, since looking through each page for the mention of a curse in which turning someone purple was the desired effect took a lot of time.

 

He made his way through the hallways and down the spiraling stairs, not bothering in looking for Shiro since he didn’t remember where his room was. Not that it really mattered, since when he stepped in the living room, Shiro was already there.

 

“Good morning,” He smiled up at him. Teacups, little plates, and cutlery were on the tray he was carrying.

 

“Morning,” Keith said, looking around the deserted room, “Where is everyone?”

 

Shiro arranged the china on the round table, clearly preparing it to have breakfast, “Kitchen,” He replied.

 

The sight that welcomed Keith as he stepped in the kitchen made him grin. Hunk was cooking some bacon on a frying pan as Pidge’s finger beneath it provided the fire needed as the human moved the spatula with the tip of his tongue between his lips, the demon watched him with her free hand tucked under her armpit.

 

“Good morning” Keith said, walking further in.

 

Hunk and Pidge glanced up at him. “Oh, hi Keith, just in time!” Hunk beamed at him, nodding towards the kettle on the nearest counter, “The kettle is already filled, can you boil the water?” He asked.

 

“Uhm, sure,” Keith said approaching them and grabbing the container. Turning to Pidge, she was already holding out her free hand with a finger engulfed in fire; he held the kettle over it. “Do you guys always cook like this?” He asked with a quirked eyebrow.

 

Pidge shrugged, “Only breakfast, it’s faster.”

 

“She’s an excellent burner,” Hunk nodded, putting the cooked bacon in plates. He started breaking eggs in the frying pan, feeding Pidge the eggshells who munched them with pleasure. Keith slightly gaped at this.

 

Shiro came in with the empty tray. “The table is set,” He said, smiling at the other three, “Is Lance joining us?” He asked Hunk, crossing his arms.

 

“Did he come back?” Keith asked. Last night by the time he had gone to bed Lance wasn’t back.

 

“He did. I think he's taking a bath right now?” Hunk arched an eyebrow at Pidge, who nodded.

 

They took everything to the living room and were sitting themselves around the table when a loud shriek from upstairs reverberated through the house, chandeliers swaying dangerously and paintings on the walls actually crooking thanks to it, even the table and the same chairs they had just sat on started moving from their original place. Keith and Shiro’s eyes widened while Hunk only sighed and Pidge pinched the bridge of her nose.

 

“Now what?” The fire demon groaned.

 

The answer, naturally, didn’t take too long to show up. They heard a door slammed open, followed by rapid stomps. Turning to look at the stairs, the four people waited for Lance to make his appearance.

 

And what an appearance it was. They didn’t know what to expect, but they certainly weren’t prepared for this. The first thing that struck them was Lance’s bare legs as he went down the stairway; he was actually completely naked except for the towel wrapped around his waist. They didn’t have the time to ask him to put some clothes on with a yell as they’d normally do because the furious green of his hair could leave anyone speechless. And on top of that his tanned skin was bizarrely red, the itching feeling contagious with just a glimpse.

 

He looked like a tomato. A thin, tall, and legged tomato.

 

“WHO WAS IT?!” He snarled, and it’d had been pretty intimidating if he wasn’t scratching his arms and chest frantically.

 

Hunk opened and closed his mouth several times, fumbling for words, “Lance- what the heck happened to you?” He asked, pushing his chair back to stand up.

 

“THAT’S WHAT I-” Lance balanced on his right feet so the left one could rub his calf, “WOULD LIKE TO KNOW!” He spat, narrowing his eyes at them.

 

Shiro stood up too. He approached him holding out his hands as if he was dealing with a wild animal and not a human being, “Lance, if you keep on scratching like this..." He said with a worried tone, staring at the irritated skin about to tear open.

 

Ignoring Shiro’s words, Lance scratched at his neck as the other hand reached his rear under the towel. “Someone has messed with my stuff in my bathroom!”

 

Pidge cringed at this, looking away from him, “Jeez, man, I don’t want to see your red ass so early in the morning”

 

“YOU SHOULD BE THANKFUL IS NOT MY GRO-”

 

“LANCE!” Shiro yelled before any unpleasant picture could pop out in their minds, “Calm down.”

 

“Who used my bathroom?” Lance glared at each one of them, his nails working on his thighs. He glanced at Hunk, who instantly shook his head.

 

“You know I use the one beside my door.”

 

“Pidge?” Lance glanced at her.

 

She scoffed, looking at him with disbelief. “Fire demon? Don’t even use the bathroom?” She reminded him.

 

“How do I know you didn’t do it for fun?” He questioned, crossing his arms to reach his sides.

 

Golden eyes rolled, “Had I known how to turn you into a fruit before, I would have done it a long time ago”

 

“Okay, first of all, tomatoes are vegetables. And you are mean,” Lance pointed out, before looking from Keith to Shiro. “So this leaves me with you two.”

 

“Yesterday, I used the bath of the first floor. The one with blue walls.” Shiro admitted with a shrug.

 

Hunk shook his head. “That’s the same one I use, so it wasn't you,” He explained.

 

They finally looked at Keith, who had been awfully quiet and was currently staring at his plate with far too much interest.

 

Keithy boy, ” Lance called with a sing song.

 

Keith actually jumped at his voice, refusing to meet his eyes. “I- It may have been me”

 

Forgetting to scratch himself to death for a moment, Lance approached him in a predatory way. “There are at least five bathrooms.” he said in a calm voice.

 

“Listen, it’s not my fault your house isn’t big enough to fit your ego, I was lost and needed to take a bath.” Keith said. To be honest, the one he had heard Lance bathing at the day before was the only one he actually remembered how to get at.

 

“But why did you play with the potions” Lance asked stopping just beside Keith.

 

“I-I didn’t play with them! I was looking for normal shampoo and there were only a dozen of colored pots and bottles,” he explained, ignoring the guy barely an inch away from him. It was the truth, he had grabbed and read each of them in desperate search only to put them back randomly.

 

Lance arched over him, placing his hands on the arms of the chair, “Those were highly concentrated magical potions,” he softly said, “You shouldn’t have moved them”

 

“You could have read the labels before pouring them on yourself,” Keith pointed out, still staring at the floor even though Lance’s arms was caging him against the chair and the brunet’s face was mere five inches from his own.

 

Keith, ” Lance grasped his chin so Keith finally met his gaze, purples eyes locking with blue. Lance leaned closer to whisper in his ear and send shivers down Keith’s spine, “This is not the only hair that is green.

 

And it was at that moment that Keith lost it, laughter reaping through him as it had never done before. He clutched his stomach and curled up, air refusing to fill his lungs as he convulsed, hot tears prickling his eyes.

 

“You can’t be serious. ” He struggled to breath out, staring up at the blatant expression of the other guy.

 

His laughter soon died at the lack of response, “Lance?” Keith called, frowning at the impassive face in front of him.

 

“You turned me into this hideous thing” Lance coldly said, doubling over himself and pressing the flat of his hands on his face, “My hair is ruined.

 

At Lance’s odd behaviour Hunk gasped horrified and even Pidge’s eyes had widened, “Hunk,” she called, shooting an alarming look at him.

 

Ugly,” The curled up wizard muttered.

 

Keith, get away from him!” Hunk yelled raising a hand.

 

Disgusting.

 

He didn’t need to be told twice; Keith knocked the chair down as he stumbled backwards, eyes fixed on the whining guy on the floor.

 

Foul.

 

“What is hap-” Shiro tried before chaos broke out in the room.

 

Lance, furiously tugging his magical tinted locks and rubbing his red face, kept on muttering adjectives as every pore of his body started secreting a green oil-like substance. It poured down on the floor and the mage was covered from head to foot with it, the dense liquid quickly forming a pool under his whimpering form.

 

Keith was thankful for Hunk’s warning; hadn't it been for him, Keith would have been swallowed by the magical outburst. Without taking his widened eyes from Lance, his back hit the wall.

 

“What is this ?” He glanced down at the floor and upon noticing the substance too close to his liking, he strode to the other side of the room.

 

Hunk smacked a hand on his forehead and let it run down his face, “A tantrum,” He sighed.

 

“I will get the bath going” Pidge stalked to the fireplace, turning back to his burning form as she stepped in the hearth.

 

Hunk heaved a breath and started folding up his sleeves, “Okay, guys, nasty job at hand,” He reached down to undo the laces of his shoes. He looked up at the frozen in place brothers. “What are you waiting for?”

 

“Oh, uhm, sure,” Shiro snapped back to reality, following Hunk’s example.

 

Keith was rolling up his cuffs absentmindedly, his eyes fixed on Lance: he had stopped whimpering-moving for that matter- and was lying on his stomach, as if he had literally melted along with the green thing. “How often does this happen?” He asked, glancing at Hunk who was about to step into the pool barefooted.

 

“It hasn’t happened in awhile,” He said, gingerly touching the liquid with his foot before fully placing it down. “Since Allura rejected him for the 100 time, I think”

 

“What?” Keith would have laughed at that hadn't it been for the still form of the mage. God, was he even breathing ?

 

Hunk chuckled at Keith’s incredulity, “The guy has a thick skull,” He shrugged, slowly walking over to Lance, “So, are you helping me getting him upstairs or what?” He pointed down at the guy at his feet.

 

Shiro and Keith made their way through the green substance trying to ignore the feeling on their feet. It was like walking on jelly, amusing but disgusting all the same. The older brother hooked his arm with one of Lance’s armpits, Hunk on the other shoulder as Keith grabbed the limp body by the ankles.

 

The way up was slightly difficult, their hold on the mage too slippery. They managed to reach the first floor and went to the nearest bathroom, Hunk pushing open the door with his shoulder. The humidity enclosed in the room thanks to the steaming water in the bathtub hit them as soon as they stepped in, almost suffocating.

 

“On my count: one, two…” Hunk said as they swayed Lance back and forth, “Three!”

 

They throw him into the water with a loud splash and flinched back to avoid getting soaked. As bubbles broke into the surface around him, Lance emerged from the water with a loud gasp and started coughing. With wild eyes he looked around and finally glared at the three men, “What is wrong with you?” He threw his arms in the air, little droplets flying to the floor.

 

“With us ? Who’s the one who turned into mucus?” Keith waved his green hands.

 

Before Lance could shoot a retort, Hunk pointed a menacing finger at him effectively shutting him up. “Okay, you are getting yourself nice and clean while you two help me mop the floor,” He said, looking at the brothers with a frown.

 

Lance sighed deeply while sliding down into the water, the back of his head in the edge of the bathtub. “Don’t think I can do that, Hunkie. I’m too drained,” He raised a quivering arm to make the point.

 

Hunk huffed, “You're right. Keith, help him. Shiro, you're with me,” He said, turning to the door.

 

What? Are you kidding?” Keith screeched in disbelief, glancing between a snickering Lance, a blinking Shiro, and the retreating back of Hunk.

 

Hunk turned around and rolled his eyes. “Of course I’m kidding. You’ll probably drown him in less than two minutes. Now move it! ” Then he left the room, with Shiro in tow.

 

An hour and a half later, they had finally finished washing the floor of the living room. While rubbing the mop, it occurred to Keith why Hunk was so out of himself: the green substance dried surprisingly fast, and it attached to the wooden planks and interstices with the stubbornness of a living thing -a scary thought to have. And doing the task with their empty stomachs growling more often than not was quite irritating.

 

That’s why after devouring breakfast, order seemed to fall on the house once more. Chatting with Hunk and Pidge was fun, the first meal of the day going by rather quickly and when Keith realised, he was already going back to the search on the books. Or that’s what he thought while stretching his arms and standing up from the table.

 

“I’m going to be late to the bakery, again, ” Hunk groaned, pushing back his chair. He propped up his hands on his hips. “So, who volunteers to take Lance’s tray to his room?”

 

“He’s not coming down?” Shiro asked, arching an eyebrow.

 

Pidge snorted. “He stays the rest of the day in his bedroom after a fit like that." She shook her head, leaning on the back legs of the chair.

 

Hunk had gone into the kitchen to retrieve the tray and was back in the living room. “I’m leaving this here, someone take it to him,” He said, heading for the front door. He turned the knob to pick the yellow color. “Later!” Waving a hand, he pulled the door open and disappeared into the bakery.

 

Pidge, Shiro, and Keith exchanged looks, waiting for one of them to say something.

 

“Oh, hell no,” The demon finally shook her head again, standing up. “I’ve been putting up with him for years now, I think you can take care of this one,” She sternly said, walking away from them.

 

They watched her jump back to the hearth before looking at each other. Shiro smiled when Keith started shaking his head vehemently.

 

“We know who’s the one granted patience here,” He pointed out, folding his arms.

 

The older brother crossed his arms too, eyebrows meeting his hairline. “We know who’s responsible for this mess,” He smirked.

 

Keith rolled his eyes. “Haven’t I already said it was an accident ?”

 

Shiro chuckled while standing up. “Still your fault. I’m going to start reading,” He said, and just like that, left Keith on his own.

 

He ran a hand through his hair, looking down at the tray; a beautiful teapot with floral patterns and the teacup matching it, bread and cheese and fresh fruit on a large plate. Well, it wasn’t actually that bothersome, right? He just had to deliver it and be gone.

 

His nose scrunched up. “Wait, which one is Lance’s room?” he said, realising he had no idea where to go (he could barely find his own room in the damned castle, after all).

 

“Next door to the bathroom of potions,” Pidge said from the fireplace and Keith could hear the smirk in her voice.





“Come in.”

 

Keith opened the door once Lance acknowledged his knocks. “Hey, I brought you br-”

 

Keith’s eyes widened as he froze in the doorway, one hand on the knob and the other effectively balancing the tray. It was not the majesty of the room that had rendered him speechless (even though the mix of gold and burgundy on the place was truly pleasant to the eye and the furniture on this particular room was exquisite ), but the person sitting in front of the dresser, currently looking at Keith in the mirror’s reflection.

 

He looked down at the long green locks of hair lying on the floor beneath Lance, who was holding up a pair of scissors to the side of his head. “Oh, breakfast!” he chirped, cutting the lock he had been tugging and turned around eagerly. “I'm starving!”

 

Now that he was facing him, Keith could fully appreciate the haircut Lance was giving himself. Keith didn't want to admit it, but it looked really good. His hair was a lot shorter, cut off to expose his neck; it was still messy, with locks sitting untamed in all directions. But, Keith thought that if was a definite improvement. Hell, a major improvement.

 

Lance arched an eyebrow at the gaping boy. “Something wrong?”

 

Keith snapped back to reality and pushed all the thoughts related to ‘ short hair actually suits him’ to the back of his mind, stepping further into the room. “No, here,” He said, placing the tray a bit harshly in the first free table he spotted.

 

“Hmm,” Lance hummed with mirth as he watched him. “Hey, wait!”

 

Stopping in his track, Keith glanced back at him. “What?” He asked with a quirked eyebrow.

 

Holding out the scissors, Lance motioned with his head for him to get closer. “Mind giving me a hand? Can’t cut the ones on the back.” He smirked.

 

Keith studied him for a moment; the hair in the back was badly cut indeed, some locks longer than others. Narrowing his eyes at him, suspicious of the mage just wanting to mess with him, he asked, “Can’t you use magic? Make the scissors intelligent or something?”

 

Lance chuckled at this. “Non-magic people think we use it for every little thing,” He shrugged and rested his cheek on his palm, his elbow on the dresser. “Truth be told, it is like that,” he said after a pause, thinking over his words with a frown. “But not when we are exhausted.” He smiled.

 

Leaning against the doorframe with his shoulder, Keith huffed. “You brought this upon yourself,” He pointed out, remembering how much the muscles of his arms hurt while washing the floor.

 

“You turned me into a freaking tomato. ” Lance deadpanned.

 

“It wasn’t on purpose!” Keith argued, the eventful morning replaying in his head.

 

“It is fucking green all the same,” Lance said, unamused, “Least you can do is help with this.” He tugged at the longer locks of the back.

 

Looking down at the scissors then back up at him, Keith sighed. “Fair enough.” He parted from the doorframe and walked over to him.

 

Lance seemed actually delighted by this; he turned around to face the mirror, grin plastered to his face. Keith stood behind him and looked at their reflections, meeting Lance’s eyes. The brunet smiled even wider and waved the scissors. Keith couldn’t help saying the most obvious thing as he hesitantly took the silver blades. “I’m not a hairdresser.” He started running his fingers across Lance’s scalp, combing the unsurprisingly soft locks.

 

With a roll of his eyes (Keith secretly hoped they would stare at their sockets forever, unable to go back to normal), Lance scoffed. “That much I could tell, with that mullet of yours- ouch. ” He moaned at the unexpected hard tug of hair.

 

“Sorry,” Keith said, his side smirk showing otherwise. He started cutting, trying to give the same length to the locks. “Why the drastic haircut?” He asked, glancing at Lance in the mirror after a moment.

 

“Tinting green my beautiful mane was not the only thing the potions did; it was terribly sticky, full of knots.” His brow furrowed at the memory and he shrugged, waving a hand. “Besides, I felt like a change.”

 

Silence fell over them, interrupted by the occasional snip of the scissors. Keith was frowning in concentration; he had never cut someone’s hair before, not even his own.

 

Lance started humming a song, fingers thrumming on his knees with the tip of his foot swaying along. Keith didn’t know the melody.

 

“Your skin is better.” he mentioned after a while; looking up close to the mage, he had noticed the tanned skin was no longer red and Lance hadn’t scratched it once.

 

“Aloe-vera, Keithy boy. And other unconventional ingredients as well”

 

Keith nodded, wondering if those ingredients were magical ones. Probably. “Why did you go all volcano back then, if a haircut and some cream was all you needed?” He asked with a last flick. He lowered the scissors and took a step back, contemplating his work. “I think you're done”

 

Moving his head from side to side to appreciate the cut, Lance chuckled. “Why are you asking? I looked horrendous! I had to let it out, you know?”

 

Keith arched an eyebrow and put the scissors on the dresser. “Let it out?” He repeated, ambling to a chair with golden tapestry next to the table.

 

With a last wink at the mirror, Lance turned around to look at the other guy. “Don’t you yell when you're really angry? Imagine doing just the same with magic.” He shrugged. Running his hands through his hair, he added. “Nice job, by the way.”

 

Keith glanced down at the forgotten tray next to him. “You should drink th-” he trailed off as he watched Lance ruffling his hair, his natural brown color spreading through the locks from their roots to the tips gradually.

 

“How do I look?” Lance stood up and spun around, his blue robe flowing slightly. He glanced at himself in the mirror before turning to Keith with a proud smirk.

 

“Why the twirl when you haven’t changed clothes?” He asked, arching an eyebrow.

 

“Cause I wanted to?” Lance squinted at him and pointed at his head. “What about the hair?”

 

“Oh, it’s… fine, I guess?” Keith shrugged, trying to look casual. Honestly, complementing the mage was not a real option, not at least he wanted to listen him rambling about his pretty looks. Which he didn’t… have.

 

“How mean!” Lance walked over to the tray, glaring daggers at him. “Get out! Gotta eat and sleep all day.” He snapped, pointing at the door.

 

Keith’s brow furrowed. What with the sudden change of demeanor? “... Okay” He mumbled, standing up. One last look at Lance’s contorted features as he closed the door behind him left him wondering what had pulled the trigger.

Chapter Text

“You know, druids never fail to amaze me. Check this one out: How to shuffle the functions of every hole in a person’s face ” Pidge read aloud, brow furrowed as her eyes trailed across the page.

 

“Creativity at its finest” she whistled.

 

Shiro grimaced at the mental image and even shook his head slightly. “That’s...” he trailed off, trying to decide on which word fitted his uneasiness the best, “disgusting” he finished, lowering his book to look down at Pidge.

 

She hummed for a moment. “I would have go with thrilling ” she snickered at him, “but yeah, it’s rather disturbing.” she agreed, flipping over the page to start reading the next spell.

 

Keith sighed and closed his book, hands reaching up to try rub the tiredness off his eyes: second reading marathon in the living room and he was already hating it. He glanced at Shiro, sharing the couch with him and then at Pidge, sitting up-side down in an armchair across from them; he smiled at the people willingly enduring this torture with him. “Break?” he asked, his sore neck rolling over his shoulders as he stood up.

 

With one swift motion, Pidge eagerly planted her feet on the floor, fingers pushing her glasses up in her nose. “Hell yeah” she chirped, wandering off to the piled up wood in a corner.

 

Shiro chuckled at the demon’s instant search for something to eat before looking at his brother. “What are we going to do about clothes?” he asked, tugging at his collar. The lack of  fresh laundered garments may be a foolish worry given their current situation, but these were boys who had grown up in a tailor shop: you could say the need for decent looks run in their blood.

 

“We could go home to grab some” Keith shrugged.

 

“You can’t leave this place, remember?” Shiro said and his brother clicked his tongue. Right . “I was just wondering whether I should buy new ones in Arus instead of going all the way back to the capital” Shiro further elaborated.

 

Keith tapped his chin thoughtfully: going to Arus, the town where Allura’s mansion stood, was certainly the quickest solution. “Sure” he nodded.

 

“You should talk to Lance, maybe he can do something about that” Pidge straightened up with a couple of sticks in her arms, going back to her armchair. “Just in case you don’t have the money” she shrugged, shoving the end of one of the sticks in her mouth, biting down on it.

 

Shiro and Keith instinctively cringed at the splintering sound; getting used to the demon chewing wood was taking some time. “What could he do?” Shiro asked her, since they actually didn’t have a lot of money.

 

Pidge gulped down and shrugged. “He could move the castle, near your house” she simply said, picking up another twig. She broke it in two and popped the pieces all at once.

 

Keith arched an eyebrow: how could this enormous fortress end up in the narrow streets of the capital, near his house? He wondered, but instantly glanced at the door and remembered the magic properties of the castle, smacking his forehead in his mind eye. “Well, that would actually help a lot” he said, looking at his brother. “You could even check up on the shop”

 

With a roll of his eyes, Shiro let him know the shop hadn’t even crossed his mind. “Yes.”

 

Glancing at Pidge and clearly ignoring his brother’s grunted answer, Keith folded his arms. “Do you think he will actually do it?” he asked to the demon.

 

She hummed, chewing in thought and finally gulped down. “He may not comply at first, but-” she took another stick and pointed at him with it, cracking a smile. “Luckily for you, I just happen to know the trick”

 

Keith gazed at her, noting the slightly longer canines in her smirk for the first time; years upon years of dealing- no, manipulating was probably more accurate-, humans were behind the sly sneer, in addition to the ten (if he remembered correctly) years she had been by Lance’s side. “And I get you are willing to share this knowledge?” he smirked. “What would be the price?”

 

Pidge giggled, shaking her head. “Oh no, this one’s on the house” she waved her hand, dismissing the idea. “Listen: whenever you want Lance doing something, you just have to convince him that he cannot do it. Especially when magic is involved.”

 

“Is he that simple minded?” Keith arched an eyebrow.

 

Pidge snorted. “Are we talking about the same angry tomato from this morning? Cause yes, Lance is that simple minded. You wanna know how many times he had been rejected by Allura since we bet on it?”

 

Shiro rubbed his chin. “Well, I recall Hunk mentioning a 100th time-”

 

“257 and still counting” she shrugged, grinning once her point had been clear enough.

 

Keith and Shiro blinked. “Oh, he sure doesn’t know how to give up” said Shiro.

 

“You guys bet on that? And 257? How? ” Keith asked in disbelief. Seriously, no one could be that thick headed, right?

 

Pidge held up a hand, her smile suddenly gone. “Don’t ask” she shook her head with a sense of finality. “Any way, just go and make sure to add a fair share of mock while on it: that’s the secret ingredient” the demon snickered, grabbing one stick and resuming her meal.

 

With a new objective in mind, Keith made his way up to knock on Lance’s door- Shiro’s arched eyebrow at him going unnoticed. No sound came from behind the wood no matter how much he called, so he figured he might as well just come in and wake up the heavy sleeper the mage turned out to be.

 

Just in case, he pushed the door slowly, barely peering inside before fully stepping into the darkness of the room; it took him a moment to adjust his vision with the thin ray of sinking sun coming in from between the curtains. He glanced at the form under the sheets and walked over to the bedside.

 

Even Lance’s boisterous nature was put off with the holy peace only slumber could provide. His chest heaved softly with each breath, the hand dropped over his stomach mimicking the up and down motion as each puff of air went through his parted lips. Keith was actually surprised, he had expected loud snores and drooling mouths like the ones he usually woke up to.

 

Shiro always said Keith was a master of denial, so while staring at Lance’s closed eyes he did what he was the best at: convincing himself the sleeping guy on the bed was not enticing to watch.

 

But it was.

 

He couldn’t tell when it had started: the lingering looks over broad shoulders and narrow hips, the slight trembling of his hands during the fitting of a goodlooking client, the awkward tightening of his chest upon being asked how come a fine gentleman like him hasn’t already asked for the hand of a lady. And many other things, little signs he always attributed to a transitive phase that never faded away.

 

Keith liked to think he was just ahead of his time, that some day, in the long distant future, people would not give a damn about what was clearly not their business. But since he was probably not living those days, he did the only thing he could: grab any funny thought or feeling and bottle it up . Grab the bloody thing and push it down, pressing the cork to seal everything away.

 

If it was just as simple as throwing the bottle into the sea...

 

Taking a deep breath and holding it for a moment, he pushed all the pointless thoughts to the place they rightfully belonged: the back of his mind. His eyes looked at the golden chain under Lance’s white undershirt, wondering what kind of pendant was attached to it, before trailing up to his face.

 

Keith frowned at the sight of pursed lips. “What the heck are you doing?”

 

Cracking an eye open, Lance grinned up at him. “What? You are not going to kiss me?”

 

Skepticism pulled Keith’s eyebrow all the way up to his hairline. “And why would I do that?”

 

Lance straightened up to a seating position, leaning back in his hands. “To wake me up, of course!” he chirped, running his fingers through his bed hair.

 

“As in the sleeping beauty?” Shaking his head and decidedly not up to deal with Lance’s babbling, Keith started pacing the room. “You have just woken up and you are already speaking nonsense. How charming” he snorted, looking at the various items on the dresser, mostly magic preparations.

 

“Excuse you, I’m a full-time charming person!” Keith rolled his eyes at Lance’s scoff, even when he couldn’t see it. “Besides, I was already awake”

 

Keith, whose hand was about to open what looked like a musical box and had frozen mid air, involuntarily whirled around. He was-

 

Lance’s knowing smile told him that yes, the guy had been awake while he silently stood beside him. Sure, Keith had actually lost himself in his thoughts and most of it had been blatant staring, but still…

 

His potentially lame excuse was cut off by Lance’s snicker. “After all those bangs on the door, you couldn’t expect me to be asleep” he grinned, folding his legs to his chest and circling the knees with his arms.

 

“Then why didn’t you say a thing?” Keith asked with a huff, leaning on the dresser.

 

“I wanted to know what you were gonna do. And let me tell you: I was expecting lot of things -mainly a kick- but alas” he shrugged, Keith already sick of his perpetually smug grin, “you just stared at me.”

 

“I was just thinking ” muttered Keith, jaw clenched and hands grasping the edge of the dresser a little tightly.

 

Lance hummed, amused by the visibly tense guy just in front of him. “Hm. And what exactly were you thinking?” his smirk widened even farther, if possible.

 

Their eyes locked for a moment, and Keith didn’t like it in the least. Lance seemed to know what was dwelling in his mind, and Keith wondered -feared- that telepathy may be another treat of magic. But that was impossible.

 

Right?

 

He gulped down too noisily for his liking and licked his lips. You pompous ass, your legs are stupidly long he thought, staring at Lance and waiting for a reaction.

 

When the tanned mage only arched an eyebrow at the stretching silence, Keith actually sighed with relief.

 

“I was expecting some kind of green mask on your face, even levitating objects around you. But alas, your sleeping hours are oddly normal” he smirked, folding his arms while his eyes nonchalantly glanced around the room.

 

Lance taking offense when compared to the average human being was not a surprise. “The softness and smoothness of my skin takes a lot of time and care, you know? I was just too tired to apply everything” he huffed, dropping back on the bed. “And why would things fly when I’m sleeping?” he asked, as if it was the stupidest idea.

 

“Thought it’d be funny” Keith simply shrugged, looking at the door that most likely lead to a dressing room. He didn’t even want to think about the measurements of it.

 

“Ha. Ha” Lance snorted. “Anyway, what do you want? It’d better be something important after harassing my door like that” he said, folding his arms behind his head and gazing up.

 

“Shiro and I need clothes. Can you move the castle to the capital? Connect the door to our house?” Keith asked, looking at him.

 

Lance’s head perked up abruptly, his eyes narrowing at Keith from across the bed. “ Connect the doors . Ha, you’ve got no idea. If only it was that simply” the mage plopped back down. “Even if you don’t do magic, it’s pretty intuitive that time-spacial spells are freaking hard.”

 

Keith ignored his twitching eyebrow and sighed. “So that’s a no?”

 

Lance shook his hand in the air, closing his eyes. “That’s a clear I’m not leaving my bed any time soon . Now, get out” he rolled on his side and hugged his pillow.

 

Press his buttons. Smiling, Keith made sure every word leaving his mouth was heavily coated in disappointment. “I knew it” he mumbled, but it was enough: Lance glanced at him instantly.

 

Blue eyes squinted at him. “And what exactly do you know?”

 

“I told my brother it was a waste of time.” Keith shrugged as indifferent as he could. “That you couldn’t move the castle. Too much energy, really hard as you already said” he couldn’t help the smirk creeping his face as Lance’s one scrunched up.

 

“I never said I couldn’t do it” the mage slowly said.

 

“Well, gonna break the news to him” turning around, Keith headed to the door without hesitation and only stopped when it was suddenly banged closed.

 

“I know what you are doing” Lance’s accusatory tone made him bite down his lip to stifle a laugh. “You are challenging me”

 

Glancing back at him, Keith tilted his head a little. “How so?”


With the most unamused expression he had yet seen the mage do, Lance stood up with a final groan. “Okay pretty boy, you are on

Chapter Text

Straightening up, Lance smiled down at his work while throwing the piece of chalk from his hand to a random spot of the living room. “Done. Ready, Pidge?” he propped his hands on his hips, glancing at the fire demon.

 

Stepping in the middle of the intricate white lines decorating the floor and forming the sigil, Pidge nodded. “Let’s do it”

 

“I still think this is a bad idea” sighed Hunk.

 

They were all in the living room, with Lance and Pidge just in front of the fireplace while Shiro, Keith and Hunk were scattered on the couches. The mage stretched out his arms with the palms of his hands towards the floor, the fire demon imitating his posture in the center of the seal. After a moment, they closed their eyes and started chanting in sync.

 

It wasn’t the fact that the words flowing out of their mouths were on a language completely foreign to Keith, or the sudden blue light the sigil shone with which turned brighter with each passing second. No, Hunk had prepared them for all that. He had explained about the seal that linked both, Lance and Pidge to the castle, and the need of saying an incantation out loud in order to perform such a large spell. He had mentioned the strange language being Latin and he had talked about Lance’s magical energy presenting itself as a cerulean glow at some other time.

 

No, what had Keith’s breath catching in his chest was how alive the castle seemed as everything around him pulsed with energy. Glimmering lines sprouted out of the sigil, twirling and stretching to cover the entire house, sliding across the floor and up the walls. The tinkling sound that signaled every time a door was chosen started repeating itself in a mad frenzy, making Keith glance back at the door and gape at the colored disk spinning furiously. The chandeliers were swaying a little thanks to the slight tremble of the mansion and he couldn’t suppress the excited smile stretching across his face. Magic was indeed wonderful, and not for the first time since arriving here, he wondered how he was supposed to go back to his old life after coming so close to a reality so different from his own -assuming he was ever coming back, free from any weird purple assets.

 

He looked back to the center of the room. Lance and Pidge’s brows were furrowed in concentration. Keith noticed Lance had started to struggle through the incantation, his once steady voice wavering and breath coming out shallow. His arms were shaking as if he could no longer lift an invisible weight, beads of sweat adorned his temples and the nape of his neck.

 

“I knew it, why doesn’t he listen to me?” Keith glanced at Hunk standing up from the comfortable couch with a series of squeaking noises. “He’s gonna black out anytime soon” Hunk said under his breath, stalking behind Lance.

 

As if on cue, Lance’s eyes fluttered open, unfocused. He staggered back, limp arms dropping to his sides, as he stepped right into the safety of Hunk’s embrace. The blue light went out progressively and even Pidge was rendered to her knees by the time it ceased to shine, both performers panting heavily with exertion.

 

“Goddamnit, Pidge. Why did you let him?” Hunk groaned, lowering Lance to the floor. “You knew he was exhausted from the last mission” he patted Lance’s cheek with no response whatsoever, the mage already unconscious.

 

Still trying to catch her breath, the fire demon took off her glasses to rub at her eye lids. “I-I needed,” she paused for a second to inhale deeply, “some energy from the pact” she finished with a rusty voice.

 

“Wait, you took more energy from him?”

 

“Yes.”

 

Hunk glared daggers at her. “Couldn’t you just wait?” he stood up, cradling the still body of Lance in his arms.

 

Pidge dared to snicker at him, shrugging. “He insisted on moving the castle, I figured he wouldn’t mind or notice for that matter”

 

Hunk silently stared at her for a moment, before shaking his head slightly, probably not even aware he was displaying all his obvious disappointment in that single gesture. He opened his mouth, and closed it instantly, debating in his mind. After a long sigh, he said “One would think after all this time you would actually care for us; but you are still the same”, narrowing his eyes at her. Pidge only stared back at him with a blatant expression, many things going unsaid in the exchange Shiro and Keith were witnessing.

 

Hunk scoffed and turned around. He headed for the stairs with the clear intention of carrying Lance to his room; when Keith could no longer see them, he looked down at Pidge who was still kneeling on the floor. He was surprised to see her blank expression had turned into a conflicted one.

 

“Pidge” Shiro hesitantly called, crouching down in front of her. “Are you okay?”

 

She stopped worrying her lips at this, looking up at him to instantly drop her eyes to the floor. “Yeah” she lied, trying to stand up with her quivering knees and taking the hand Shiro was offering in the end. He walked her to the hearth even when it was just a few steps away; she bowedher head as a show of gratefulness and without a second glance, turned into her burning form.

 

Shiro straightened up, turning around to look at his brother. Keith, who wasn’t even sure at which point he had stood up from the couch, could only look back at him uneasily. “What the heck did just happen?”

 

So many things had gone wrong in such a short span of time. First, Lance passing out, Keith feeling the sheer guilt of it. When Hunk had been back from the bakery and had found out Lance was about to relocate the castle, he was mad. Really mad. But the mage had shushed off all his worries, arguing it was going to be a piece of cake (no pun intended he assured, even though Hunk was still using his apron) and that he “needed to show kitty-boy here what a great wizard he was”. Keith had laughed at this, but after seeing Lance fall unconscious, drained and worn out, he only felt like an idiot.

 

Then there was Hunk’s snap at Pidge: the look he had shot at her was simply wrong . In the short time Keith had lived in this castle, he had come to the conclusion that Hunk was incapable of displaying such a cold expression.

 

And the fact that Pidge had fell awfully quiet after Hunk and Lance had banished from their sight was no better.

 

Shiro scratched the back of his head and sighed. ”I will go and see if Hunk needs help” he said before disappearing upstairs.

 

Standing all on his own (because Pidge was certainly going to keep on feigning he wasn’t there, what with her eyes being firmly closed) Keith took a deep breath and groaned. After this disaster he guessed that going back to his research was the only thing for him to do.

 

But… He glanced at the door. Had the spell worked, or this whole mess had been for nothing?

 

His hand clutched the doorknob and just when he was about to turn it, he halted. It wasn’t the first time curiosity swelled inside him, his eyes staring at the blue portion of the disk, temptation whispering in his ears. Just what was on the other side, why was it off limits? If only-

 

Don’t

 

His hand released the metal as if it had been red-hot. He whipped around to look at Pidge, who was staring at him with an unreadable expression; but she said no more, closing her eyes once again as Keith glanced back at the door.

 

He turned the knob without hesitation. Green was still the Wastelands and yellow the bakery. The black door was the one leading to Arus, so he wasn’t surprised while looking at a side street -most likely from the capital- after opening the red door.





It took Lance three whole days to recover: 72 hours that rolled torturously slow and were spent in miserable silence. Hunk and Pidge were avoiding each other with great efficiency, and taking into account the fire demon snickered out of any room just before Hunk waltzed right in, Keith was pretty sure she could tell where people in the castle were just like Lance.

 

His theory was further confirmed the morning Pidge bolted into the kitchen. “He’s up” she blurted out before darting off.

 

Hunk’s chair toppled over as he stood up to follow her, Shiro somehow managed to place the cup of tea nicely enough on the table without breaking it and Keith was surprised to see himself rushing out of the room with a piece of toast between his teeth.

 

When the four of them reached Lance’s hallway, they instantly spotted the tall stumbling figure of the mage. He was massaging his temple with a hand as the other used the tapestried wall for leverage, making his way in unstable steps.

 

“LANCE!” bellowed Hunk, the rest of them cringing at the echo of his voice.

 

Lance had barely turned around when Hunk swooped him in the air, arms circling around his arms and waist into a crushing hug. The mage yelped, head jerking back in pain the next second. “Hunk, could you-” Lance rasped out with the little breath he had, wildly flinging his hands at his sides.

 

“Let him go, Hunk, unless you wanna get wet” Pidge said, crossing her arms over her chest and smiling up at Lance. “Pretty sure he was going to the bathroom right now”

 

Still wrestling against firm arms that weren’t loosening, Lance managed to choke out “H-hate to admit it, but she’s right. Put me down, Hunk.”

 

Returning Lance back to his previous, precarious balance, Hunk bored his eyes on him, hands still on his shoulders. “I was so worried ” he whined, shaking his friend who in turn raised an eyebrow.

 

“I can’t die from magic exhaustion, Hunk, you know it”

 

“Yes, I-, well, I know that, but, if-, what if there was some kind of after effect, unpredictable collateral damage?” Hunk pressed on, shaking with more urgency as if trying to make him see the matter at hand.

 

Gripping Hunk’s forearms to lower them and free himself, Lance laughed. “Jeez, calm down, big guy. I’m gonna be at my 100% once I’ve gotten to pee” he chirped up. “And a good, long bath, for god’s sake” he added as an afterthought while scrunching up his nose.

 

Keith couldn’t fully suppress his own laugh, that came out as a short snort: Lance was always so conscious about body odour, bathing as many times the same day as he seemed fit, wrapping himself in the most obnoxiously exotic fabrics he could find, and always, always , wearing some kind of perfume or cologne. He had been asleep for three whole days after overdoing himself, and the first thing that occurred to him (after peeing, which was just a physiological need, really) was to take a bath. Not eating, not finding out anything about the time he was gone, but to actually submerge in water.

 

It was a little endearing.

 

Lance perked up at the noise, tilting his head over Hunk’s shoulder. He looked at Shiro and Keith, in the back, the first one smiling, the latter one covering his mouth. Blue eyes widened, and Lance was already in front of him by the time Keith realized it. “What-”

 

Without muttering a word, Lance braced his fingers under Keith’s chin, tilting his face up. He brought his other hand up to his forehead, brushing the raven locks aside, cool air hitting the skin usually confined by the bangs.

 

Keith would have loved to do something- be it pull away from him, kick his chin, snap his hand from him-, but he couldn’t. He simply couldn’t, swearing at everything and anything in his mind, for he hated when Lance did this. Whatever this was. When Lance approached him like that, unreadable gaze steady on him, he couldn’t do anything apart from tensing up and wait. Which was actually torturous, waiting for the spontaneous mage to do something while he stepped over his personal space unbidden.

 

But on this occasion, Keith knew what Lance was doing: blue orbs scanning his face, drinking in all the differences from the last time they have seen each other, assessing all the changes the curse had managed to make.

 

In the course of the last three days, purple patches had blossomed throughout Keith’s body, some of them little as a mole, others large and undefined and taking over a great extension of skin. But without a doubt, the most prominent change (even when his hands were already completely mauve at this point and his feet were down the same path), the reason he could no longer look at himself in the mirror without starting a little, was his left eye.

 

His freaking yellow left eye. The natural color of his iris long gone by now, as if it had always been strikingly yellow.

 

He could feel the heat spreading through his cheeks, down his neck and up his ears. He didn’t want to think how ridiculous he must have looked, red and purple battling for dominance at his collarbone, which was thankfully covered by his shirt. Unluckily, he knew his face had turned completely red with his blush, and even redder when he felt Hunk, Pidge and Shiro approaching them and Oh, God, just kill me already was all he could think.

 

But then Lance blinked owlishly, the studious look fading away as he cooed “Hoo, you are so pretty, Keith” as if he was stating a simple fact and his words had no effect whatsoever on Keith’s heartbeat, which immediately shoot up to alarming levels.

 

It must have been his own body in a self-preservation tactic that made him finally step back, putting some distance between them, because Keith had long lost control over his legs.

 

“Lance, you are gonna break him” Pidge helpfully snickered, Keith shooting her a look but Lance only glanced back at her thoughtfully.

 

“Break…” he muttered, before widening his eyes. “Shit!”

 

He bolted towards the bathroom, his body forgetting its sore muscles at the present emergency.

 

And just like that, the moment to feel embarrassed vanished and Keith could finally breath normally.

Chapter Text

“Come in.”

 

Keith blinked, lowering the hand which was about to knock on the door. If Lance was already up, there was no more delaying on his apology. With his stomach churning, Keith pushed open the door.

 

At first, the room looked empty, the soft fluttering of curtains from the open window the only movement his eyes caught. Then he noticed the open closet door, and he got closer to peer inside.

 

A very manly squeak escaped from his mouth when he was suddenly faced with Lance, who beamed at him. “Hey Keith!”

 

Keith staggered back. “H-hey,” He stuttered, eyes trained on the green stuff on Lance’s face. “What’s that?”

 

“Magic goo!” He chirped, going back inside the closet, “Wanna try some? Pretty sure your skin is begging for it.”

 

Keith snorted, following behind, “Maybe some other- Jesus Christ Lance!

 

He stopped in his track, very well aware of his slack jaw. Before him, rows and rows of hangers stretched with no visible end, thousands upon thousands of vivid and colorful fabrics dangling from them. Standing on the threshold, Keith felt as small as an ant.

 

“This is ridiculous,” He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He had imagined the closet to be absurdly big, but never this much.

 

Somewhere further in, Lance snickered. Keith looked up to realize the mage wasn’t in his sight. “Lance? Where are you?”

 

“Come and find me!” The giggle echoed.

 

Taking a hesitant step forward, Keith glanced around. To his left and right, there were too many hallways to choose from, separated by color. He headed to the blue one. “I need to talk to you.”

 

“What about?” The mage asked, and Keith was fairly certain that Lance was near the blue row.

 

“I want to apologise- do you really wear all of this?” Halting in his place, Keith stared at a random cerulean jacket on his left; the next hanger had the exact same one even to his expert eye.

 

Closer this time, a humming reached his ears. “Hmm, not yet. But you never know, right?” Lance said, and Keith could picture him shrugging perfectly. “What was that about apologizing?”

 

Keith opened his mouth, then closed it; he ran a hand through his hair. “I just… feel bad about what happened. Sorry.”

 

Wow, there, Keith. Smoothest apologise ever . He mentally berated himself.

 

Lance must have thought the same, judging by his distant laugh. “Oh, don’t sweat it, Keith. I actually would have done it eventually”

 

Keith frowned; he had reached an interjection between rows and had no idea where to go. “What do you mean?” He asked, glancing around.

 

“Red,” Lance helpfully said, and Keith started walking to his right. “Old Alfor had asked me to escort Allura to the royal castle, so joining Arus and the Capital through my house was the best option.”

 

It was Keith’s turn to hum. The fact that Lance had to connect those places even before Keith’s request was somewhat a relief, but still… “Even though, I’m sorry,” He said, entering the red hallway with no sight of Lance yet.

 

There was an exasperated sigh really close and the abrupt separation of hangers startled Keith. “Does anybody listen to me? There was no actual danger,” Lance scowled at him from between fancy shirts for a moment, before turning around and walking away.

 

Keith pushed apart those same shirts to reach the same row as him. “Is it true? Even Pidge seemed a little off about it.” He said.

 

Lance glanced at him out of the corner of his eye while inspecting a purple suit; he shook his head and put it back. “Quintessence is carefully threaded to the life force of the magician; you could say it shuts off if the person is not sensible enough while using magic.”

 

“You tend to black out a lot then?” Keith smirked.

 

Lance narrowed his eyes and picked up a jacket. “Oh look, a lovely mauve such as yours.” he said with a malicious quirk on his lips, holding the hanger to Keith’s shoulders.

 

They stared at each other with impassive semblances before breaking into chuckles. Lance put the clothes away and strolled down the row, Keith close behind. “I guess Quintessence is the energy you need for magic?” He asked.

 

“Correct. If you use too much, you just run out of it,” Lance answered, eyes examining the hangers and hand running absentmindedly over the fabrics, “Although, I’ve been told your life is actually in danger if it’s stolen from you.”

 

A crease on his brow, Keith remembered Hunk’s words from a long time ago. “Isn’t Haggar trying to… corrupt your heart or something?”

 

The sudden stillness of Lance surprised Keith, who had kept on walking before realizing the mage had stopped doing so. “Lance?” He called.

 

Lance smacked a hand over his mouth and started laughing, shoulders shaking uncontrollably. Keith arched an eyebrow. “What’s so funny?”

 

Shaking his head, Lance resumed his pace. “Sorry, sorry,” He said, waving a hand dismissively. “It’s just that Haggar isn’t aware that she can’t do that without killing me and in that case, she would retrieve the quintessence but wouldn’t be able to use it.”

 

Keith frowned. According to Pidge, Haggar was the most powerful magician of the Galra Empire, the one who lead the magical military forces also known as Druids. She being after Lance without knowing any of that seemed strange.

 

Lance, most likely picking on Keith’s doubtful expression, flicked him on the nose. “Listen, if you wanna know more about it, just ask Coran, okay? I’ve always hated magical theory after all,” He groaned.

 

Keith scowled at him, rubbing his own nose. “Coran is a mage too?”

 

Lance actually snorted and looked at him funny. “Of course he is. Who do you think taught Allura and I all we know? Or at least, most of it.”

 

“I… had no idea” Keith said, eyes widened by the news. He thought about the man with extravagant moustache as a teacher, explaining the basics to his young apprentices under a tree in Allura’s garden. He peered at Lance out of the corner of his eyes. “He taught you from an early age?” He asked, briefly wondering about round cheeks and chubby limbs on a younger Lance.

 

“Oh, yeah. Hunk and I travelled a lot and usually stayed at Allura’s” He chuckled, losing himself in memories while choosing a white suit. “We lived relatively close, but not enough to go back and forth between Arus and our town. We usually went on weekend; Hunk was pretty lucky for coming along with me to the lessons in that mansion, even though he buried his nose in whatever book he found while Allura and I learnt the cool stuff,”  He said, then added as an afterthought, “Maybe that’s when he picked a liking for baking.”

 

As Keith imagined Lance, Hunk and Allura as kids, in the company of a much younger Coran, they were back to the red row of clothes. Lance seemed to have made up his mind and picked up a red shirt with black buttons and golden embroidery in the neck and cuffs. “Uhm, you going anywhere?” Asked Keith, staring at the vibrant color of the fabric.

 

“Of course I am!” Exclaimed Lance, lips stretching into a wide smile. “Can’t you see I’m getting ready to kill it?”

 

At the wiggle of Lance’s thin eyebrows, it struck Keith as odd how long it’s been since the last time he has seen them doing the infuriating up and down motion. He arched his own eyebrows skeptically.

 

“I’m going to have some fun at Nyma’s! Wanna come?”

 

How exactly did Keith’s eyes manage to remain in their place without popping out of their sockets, he had no idea. If he had any doubt about the double meaning of Lance’s words, they were all cleared the moment he asked, “Nyma’s as in, the most famous brothel of the capital?” And Lance simply bobbed his head in response.

 

It would have been unintelligent of him to ask if that had been a serious invitation, because coming from Lance, who seemed to have been trying to figure out how to give him a heart attack lately, it probably was. So instead, Keith blinked at him in silence, thinking about all the poor decisions and bad luck that had led him to this moment. Embarrassment stirred in his stomach at the prospect of the activities that took place between those red walls he had only seen once or twice in his life while wandering through the city.

 

Mistaking the mortified countenance of his companion for worry or something similar, Lance patted his shoulder and walked past him. “Don’t worry about your looks, Keithy boy, they like exotic stuff. Besides, there won’t be a problem as long as we pay, and you have something to give or take, ” He chuckled.

 

At that, Keith snapped out of his astoundment and actually glared at him; his weird features haven’t even crossed his mind. If his skin was still flushed it was due to the rage boiling beneath it and not the previous shame he had felt. “What is wrong with you?” He spat, balling up his fists.

 

Lance stopped and turned to look back at him, eyebrows reaching his hairline, genuinely confused at Keith’s sudden aggressiveness. He sighed. “I should have known you would be a goody good shoes,” He scolded himself in a mutter, shaking his head. “What was I thinking?”

 

Keith huffed in disbelief at the dissapointment in Lance’s voice. “People sell their bodies in that place, Lance. No one should do that to eat -”  

 

“That’s right, Keith, not even good old Alfor can save everyone from starvation in these times,” Lance retorted. “But hey, I wasn’t asking to hear your apology about brothels. Sorry for asking, it won’t happen again!” He rolled his eyes, hands raised up in defeat.

 

Of all the times he had said it, Keith was sure he'd never felt it so much until now. “I hate you,” He mumbled. “Why must every conversation end up like this?” He asked, mostly to himself. Will there ever be a normal interaction, no sharps edges in the end, between them? Apparently, Lance was against it. Keith decidedly turned back.

 

“Oh, come on, don’t say that, Keith!” Lance called after him as Keith started walking away from him. “We may think differently, but that has been a bonding moment and you know it!”

 

Keith didn’t falter and kept striding forward; putting distance between them had always been the quickest way to cool down. He even ignored Lance’s “You are gonna get lost!”, which turned out to be another bad idea on his behalf.

 

When he realized there was no way of telling which was his current position in the maze, he set to find the nearest wall. It turned out fruitless as he couldn’t even spot one.

 

By the time the low rumbling of his stomach told him that he had been walking for a while now, Keith was pretty sure Lance must have distorted the place so he could not get out. And the moment this thought had rooted in his mind, a new wave of anger washed over him.

 

He glared to his right; with a jerk of his hand, he took a random hanger and threw it with all his force, rich silk of a soft lime color dropping unceremoniously to the floor. The next time,  he took hold of two and proceed in much the same way, janking off the hangers and flinging them to his feet.

 

Lance didn’t look like the kind of guy who would let someone rot on his dressing room, so Keith was going to get out at some time. He didn’t know if it would be sooner or later, but he would make sure to turn the place upside down while he waited.

 

Thankfully, his destructive impulse was cut off shortly, as the sudden grasp on his right wrist startled him into stillness. “Woah, woah, bad kitty!” Lance scoffed, pushing him aside to rearrange his clothes. He was fully dressed now, shiny leather shoes and stylish suit. It was all black as if he was wearing the night itself, except for the red shirt Keith had seen before.

 

Keith scowled at him, arms crossing over his chest defensively. “What were you playing at?” He asked, ears laying low close to his hair.  

 

“I warned you about getting lost” Lance mumbled, putting the past hanger back into its place. Keith lamented he hadn’t taken out more.

 

“I couldn’t find a damn wall, Lance. You trapped me here!” He flung his arms in the air, encompassing the room with a wide motion. “You know what? Just get me out of here already,”  He complained, deflated.

 

The result of Lance trying not to smile while keeping up a serious expression was a failure. Keith wanted to stab the part of his mind that thought it was cute. “What are you talking about, Keith? The exit has always been there!” He said, pointing at the end of the hallway.

 

Keith looked at the door comically labelled “Exit”. He narrowed his eyes at the mage, who was smiling back at him. “You...” He trailed off.

 

Lance couldn’t hold it back anymore, and burst into laugher. “Okay, I may have trapped you here for a little while. Every time you stopped and scratched your ears was priceless . It is permanently engraved in my memory!” He said, poking his temple.

 

Keith only resigned himself to sigh. “Wait, you were following me?”

 

“Yep. I was hovering over you the whole time” Lance nodded, index pointing up. Keith’s eyebrow twitch. “Well, let’s go!”

 

 

By the time they had descended to the common area, Shiro was already gone to Allura’s and Hunk was back for lunch. Keith guessed it was a good thing his brother wasn’t present when Lance announced his departure to the brothel: Shiro hadn’t even dared to take a look at the facade of the place that one single time.

 

Hunk huffed disapprovingly at the news while Pidge only glanced up for a second, promptly ignoring the situation; they were far too used to the antics of the mage to try to change his mind. And that’s how Lance, after stuffing himself briefly, went out.

 

But there was something he made sure of before leaving, and that was restoring the peace between the inhabitants of the house, without even meaning to. The previous tense atmosphere that had been surrounding Pidge and Hunk ever since moving the castle, was instantly dissipated as if Lance’s laughing were sun rays cutting right through a dense mist. He couldn’t have been aware of it -he had been unconscious those days after all-, but his easygoingness and cheerful nature were enough to make the other two forget about the little quarrel.

 

It was a particularly uneventful afternoon: with Shiro gone to retrieve new books from the princess (and suspiciously taking a lot of time), Hunk being back to his shop, and a certain mage enrolling on unspeakable activities, Pidge and Keith were left alone at the castle, the only people who couldn’t go out.

 

“Don’t you get bored, on your own?” He asked, looking at the hearth from his place on the couch. “Don’t you feel… trapped in here?” It had almost been a week since he hadn’t taken a step out of the house, and it was already doing things to his mind.

 

The fire cackled at that, amused. “I am trapped here, Keith,” She said, and it surprised him how unaffected by that she looked. “It’s like, what comes in between lines on the contract, you know?”

 

Keith couldn’t see anything apart from her eyes and mouth in the flames, but he was pretty sure she had just shrugged. He frowned. “How exactly do contracts work, anyway?”

 

Pidge snorted. “I can’t believe it has taken you this much to ask. You have been living with a demon, and the most annoying mage I have ever met in my four centuries of demonic activity,” She paused, probably intangibly shrugging again. “Oh, well, at least you get to eat Hunk’s cooking.”

 

Keith was about to shoot a look at the kitchen -he was pretty sure there were some muffins left, somewhere- but decided to stare at her. “Then why did you make a contract with him in the first place?” He asked, coaxing her back to the explanation.

 

“I had no way of telling he was such a pain in the ass” She sighed. “The only thing I knew was that he had power, and I was in need of it. Us demons need to link our own Quintessence with another living being in order to survive: we can go our own way for a while, but we always need to make a new contract.”

 

“Why? That doesn’t sound very efficient.” Keith scrunched up his face.

 

“It actually is, the link amplifies the magical force of both individuals. Magicians usually seek a demon’s help to fulfil something, and we, in turn, live in expanse of them.”

 

Keith couldn’t believe he had lived so much without knowing anything about magic, demons, and contracts. “How come I have never heard any of this before?”

 

Pidge lowered her gaze to the floor, and sighed deeply. “It’s because magic is going extinct, Keith. Not many are born with it nowadays. Even in the royal line, it has skipped a few generations, Allura being the only one left. In fact, I was about to go out when I first met Lance; it had been so long since the last time I had fed on a contract that I linked with him without a second to spare.”

 

Keith blinked at her: Pidge had been about to die, and Lance had saved her? “What was his wish?” He asked before he could stop himself.

 

“I don’t grant wishes, boy,” She automatically retorted. “I only provide energy, power, for the person to do whatever he or she wants. As to what that guy seeks, have you seen this place? Lance has power, and makes use of it,” She concluded.

 

Keith looked around the living room, the luxury ever present in everything. Yes, Lance made sure to live comfortably (the castle being capable of easily accommodating 20 people at least), and after that morning with him in the closet he could tell the guy had no problem expending his riches whatever way he found fit, be it on clothes or… a warm bed.

 

“As you can see, being the king’s battle horse does have its profits,” Pidge said, and the bitterness in her voice made his head jerk back to her.

 

The war. The meetings. The missions. Keith licked his dry lips. “So the money comes as a reward,” He prompted.

 

Pidge hummed in agreement, “Although Lance would gladly do it for free,” She muttered, voice so low Keith almost missed her words. He frowned and opened his mouth, but was cut off by her deep sigh, “Anyway, now you know why it’s so hard to find you help: there’s no one to ask, honestly. Well, there’s old Slav in the north, but you really don’t want to get near that man,” She groaned.

 

Keith missed the chance to ask who Slav was (and why the simple mention of his name made Pidge grimace) when the door was suddenly flung open. Shiro stepped inside, carrying two bags full of books. “The fun is back,” He smiled, closing the door with a light kick of his foot.

 

“It sure took its time,” Pidge pointed out from the hearth, and Shiro rapidly looked away from them, stepping further inside.

 

“Everything okay?” Keith asked, raising an eyebrow as his brother left the bags on the coffee table in front of him.

 

“Yeah,” Shiro said, running a hand through his hair and slightly tugging at his whitened fringe. “Yeah,” He repeated.

 

Recognizing the Shirogane signature gesture of distress, Keith pressed on, “What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

 

Shiro looked up at him, surprised, then smiled at the concern in Keith’s voice. “No, no,” he shook his head. “It’s just…”

 

“Allura’s ballroom?”

 

The two guys glanced to the fire, Keith still frowning in confusion while Shiro was progressively turning red. “What?” Asked Keith.

 

Eyes trained on the bashful brother, Pidge snickered. “Lance only moves the castle back to the capital for Allura’s birthday. So I’m guessing you two are expected in the party this year.”

 

Keith blinked, dumbfounded by the news. He gaped at Shiro, who nodded in return. “Allur- the princess, told me she would love to have us there-”

 

“But we barely met her the only day!” Keith instantly blurted out.

 

“I know, that’s what I told her, but she didn’t let me go until I promised we would think about it.”

 

Keith shook his head vehemently. “I’m not going,”

 

“Keith-”

 

“And you know it has nothing to do with this, ” He said, pointing at his left eye and furry ears.

 

They stared at each other for a moment. Shiro sighed. “I know, okay? I will tell her you are not coming.”

 

Keith let out a sigh too, and nodded, “Thanks,” He mumbled, fingers curling and uncurling at his sides.

 

Pidge glanced from one to the other. “Lance could actually do something with those, you know? In case you change your mind,” She said, and at Keith’s sharp look, snorted, “Or not, whatever. You do look like the kind of human who can’t move his feet to the beat of the music.”

 

Shiro smirked playfully. “Oh, you have no idea,” He laughed, taking a seat beside his brother.

 

Keith rolled his eyes, folding his arms over his chest. “Don’t care,” he grumbled, snuggling on the couch, “Then what about you, huh?” He pointedly asked.

 

“Yeah, Shiro, are you going?” Pidge smirked smugly.

 

Shiro’s smile was swept away as he sensed all canons ready to fire at him. He shrugged as nonchalantly as he could, which was not much, “Um, sure, why not?”

 

Pidge barked out a laugh as Keith scoffed, amused by the failed attempt of acting casual. “Come on, Shiro, you blushed while trying to tell me about it,” He pointed out.

 

“Are you too unable of coordinating your body?” The fire asked. “Or is it the fact that Allura was the one who invited you?”

 

Somehow, Shiro was taken aback and actually recoiled at her words. “W-what? I dance just fine, thank you. And yes, we were invited by none other than the princess of the realm, to her birthday party. I think I’m allowed to lose it a little, right?” He asked, which sounded awfully anxious coming from him.

 

They hadn’t been to a lot of balls, but out of the two of them, Shiro was the one who could do both, socialize and dance, and actually have a good time in those nights. While Keith… well, Keith always had the drinks and quiet corners or balconies to run to. “Relax, how is this any different from other times? I mean, sure, it’s being held at the royal palace. And of course, only people of well wealth are attending, which means you won’t know anyone. And-, oh, I may see the problem,” He snickered, because any chance to pick on Shiro must always be taken.

 

“It is not funny,” Shiro retorted, frowning.

 

“You can always turn down the offer and forget about it,” Pidge said, stepping out of the hearth in her human form.

 

Shiro fell silent. Keith arched an eyebrow at him, for if he was not mistaking it, Takashi Shirogane was actually pouting. “That’s not it,” Muttered Shiro, scowling at the floor.

 

Pidge plopped down on the couch across from them. “Stop sulking, you two. You are not the only ones who will have a hard time with this. Just imagine Hunk freaking out once he hears about it,” The demon cackled, delighted.

 

“He doesn’t like to dance either?” Keith asked.

 

“Oh no, he actually loves it. But since last year he chickened out and didn’t ask Shay to the party, Lance told him that next time he’d better do it unless he wants to deal with unthinkable consequences,” She explained, taking a book from the bag and opening it in her lap.

 

 

 

On that night, Keith tossed helplessly on his bed, miserably trying to surrender himself to the dreaming world and failing for what seemed like hours. They had bid their goodnights a long time ago, and everyone was most likely knocked out by now. Well, everyone except for Lance, who wasn’t back yet.

 

Still shaken by the prospect of Allura’s party, Keith shuddered as unpleasant memories blossomed vividly in his mind. Memories of catastrophic nights where he was forced to wear a certain mask, one that was easy to endure on his day to day but harder to do so while swinging around a girl with his hand on her waist.

 

He flung his legs over the edge of the bed, and scowled down at his feet. As bad as it may sound, Keith didn’t like to think a lot; he preferred to avoid the matter of his sexuality -and usually could-, but in the death of night and with nothing to distract himself with, it was complicated.

 

He would never forget the day he had asked Shiro to take a walk with him, and the guy had instantly blinked at him; it wasn’t like Keith to actually ask as if it was a favor, and not a simple invitation to enjoy a sunny day. He wouldn’t be able to forget it even if he wanted to -not with all the apprehension and anxiety that had twisted his guts any which way and the beads of sweat soaking his hands no matter how much he rubbed them on his thighs.

 

They ended up in a park, far away from the shop or their house, away from prying eyes and familiar faces. Not that it did much to calm him down: to Keith, even the trees with their whispering leaves above their head had eyes and ears, even the pigeons randomly pecking at their feet could sense his dread. And of course, Shiro could too.

 

Except for Shiro, people usually told Keith he was too stoic for his own good. Of this, Mrs Shirogane reminded him almost on a daily basis, always wondering which one of her two boys were gonna get married first and obviously betting on the first one. A girl he may have turned down rather harshly -hell, she was too insistent and thick headed, and this coming from Keith-, had gone as far as calling him dull. Which he was totally not okay with. The fact that a full toothy grin on his face was a seldom occurrence, or that his blank face tended to look a little scrunched up, or that he had always had an innate inclination to aloofness, didn’t mean he was… a living corpse, so to speak. He simply was as he had grown out to be, and even twenty three years later, he was still trying to understand why exactly were everyone against him on that.

 

No, Keith had never truly fit anywhere, and the fact that he was attracted to toned muscles and flat chests, instead of soft curves and wide hips, only made it worse. Adding to his already quiet nature and struggle with words, him liking the wrong gender meant a whole new level of weirdness, and the greatest dishonor to the Shirogane family, who had opened their doors to him.

 

Telling Shiro about his inner turmoil of the past years meant taking a step down a road there was no turning back from, so he took a deep breath and braced himself for the worst.

 

Keith wasn’t sure how he might have looked at that moment. But apparently, even his face managed to pass on how bad he felt, how about to collapse the ball of nervousness he had turned into was.

 

His brother was staring at him, a mixture of his feelings impeccably displayed in his dark eyes: worry and concern, curiosity and apprehension for whatever was troubling Keith. When their gazes met, Shiro smiled encouragingly. “Come on, just tell me. I can always get the shovel if you have gone that far.”

 

And it was at that moment that Keith mentally asked himself, what are you so afraid of? This was Shiro he was talking about, the same guy he had grown up with and had looked up to since he could remember. If there was someone out there who loved him, it was the man patiently waiting for him to spat out his guts on a park bench.

 

So he did. And it was a terrifying experience, so much so that the only thing he had forgotten about that day was how exactly he had phrased all of it between his stutters and long intakes of breath to go on. When he was done, his brother remained silent for a while as Keith’s chest heaved like he had just run across the whole country.

 

The erratic thumps of his heart were deafening. Keith looked at the sad eyes of Shiro, and panic started building inside of him. He could stand anything from anyone else, but if Shiro were to turn his back on him, he frankly didn’t know what he was going to do.

 

“I’m sorry, Keith,” Shiro’s voice snapped him out of his bubble. “I’m sorry it took you so long to trust me with this,” He smiled thinly, placing a hand on Keith’s shoulder and squeezing a little. “I would change the world for you, if only I could. But you have to trust me on this: there’s nothing wrong with you, and you are not the only one in pain. This doesn’t make you any less than others, no matter what people say.”

 

And needless to say, Keith had trusted him. Telling Shiro about it had relieved the constant tightness of his chest and made everything more endurable, but the question about what he was supposed to do with those feelings still remained; even if Keith were to accept and embrace them wholeheartedly, society would never do it. There was no happy ending for him just like any other homosexual.

 

He groaned, rubbing his tired eyes. If he couldn’t fall asleep he should at least distract himself with something, right? Anything would be better than dwelling in gloomy thoughts.

 

There was a particular place of the house that Keith was oddly fond of: the balcony of the last floor, with its breathtaking views and strong currents of air, offered the perfect atmosphere for a mind to go blank. So when he got up of the bed, there was no doubt as to where he was going.

 

With the darkness embracing the stairways and hallways, Keith didn’t notice the steps leading up were smeared with something until one of his feet landed on a puddle of it. His brow furrowed as he looked down: how could he have missed the several stains scattered everywhere? Kneeling to touch the substance with the tip of his fingers, he scrutinized at them in the dim moonlight bathing through the paneled window of the balcony.

 

He blinked as the hair of his arms stood on end. If the scarlet tinting his skin was anything to go by, Keith was pretty sure blood had dripped all across the staircase and into the corridor, the trail ending just in front of Lance’s door.

 

Glancing around, he bit down on his lip: apparently, this place still had many surprises reserved for him. And not all of them were good or pleasant.

 

Keith decided to follow the dark stains of the carpet. The most sensible thing to do would probably have been to cry for help, but he needed to find out who was bleeding. Or most precisely, find out if Lance was actually hurt.

 

His heart started beating faster the closer he got to the door, which was opened ajar. He peered inside, the darkness of the room forbidding him from discerning much at first until his eyes got used to the two spots of light disrupting it.

 

“-disgrace, that’s what a demon performing healing magic is-”

 

Keith gawked as he identified the source of light: Pidge was sitting on the large bed, her hands ablaze and pressing down. If that wasn’t strange enough, her fire was not the usual orangy candid one, but a much paler blue, gently flickering in the dark.

 

“-not doing this ever again-”

 

“Pidge?” He hesitantly called, pushing the door all the way open.

 

She gasped loudly, whipping her head around to look at him with wide eyes. “Keith,” She said in a harsh whisper. “You almost gave me a heart attack, you dumbass,” She cursed, visibly relaxing again.

 

Keith stepped further in quietly. “What are you doing?” He asked, and abruptly froze. The mattress squeaked as a heavy weight moved around, and what he had previously believed were cushions turned out to be a beast, its neck lifting up. Blue slitted eyes stared on Keith’s almost normal ones, knocking the breath out of him.

 

“Thank all circles of hell you are not Hunk,” Pidge murmured, not paying attention to the startled human and pressing back her hands to the creature.

 

The glowing eyes focused on him were mesmerizing, all possible questions dying on his mouth as he found himself attracted to them. Keith frowned a little, uncertain as to why he didn’t feel even slightly threatened by the lion prostrated on the bed, and resumed his approach without breaking eye contact.

 

“Lance?”

 

He only received a guttural sound as answer. Pidge glanced to him, then back at the lion. “I forgot you haven’t seen him like this,” The corner of her lips quirked up.

 

Keith stopped just a meter away from them. If it weren’t for the bloody sheets, the sight of the gigantic lion comfortably lying on his side on the bed would have been funny. “Wh-what happened?” He asked, cringing at the long gash in Lance’s belly where Pidge’s hands were held against, flesh torn apart coming back together.

 

The demon sighed, and shot a look at the lion when the tip of a tail tapped her on the cheek. “Nothing unusual, really,” She said, batting away the appendage in annoyance. “He’s a fool who lied and almost got himself killed.” Rolling its eyes, the lion groaned and dropped its head on a pillow. “Don’t give me that attitude after you showed up all bitten up and asked me to help your sorry ass,” Pidge scowled at the mage.

 

Taking in all the slashes and blood soaking fur here and there, chills went up and down Keith’s spine. “He didn’t go to a brothel, but to battle?” He asked, fixing his eyes on the largest wound again.

 

Pidge snorted. “Well, he did get fucked in a sense,” She mumbled, and her glasses went askew when a paw knocked the back of her head. “Hey!” She cried indignantly.

 

Keith looked at the lion as fangs flashed in the pale light. “He can’t talk?” He asked, and the lion stopped snickering instantly, its gleaming eyes clouding and turning dull alarmingly fast.

 

“He used to,” Pidge said carefully, glancing at the creature which had started shifting so they were now staring at its back. She sighed, “He has been unable to do so for a while.”

 

“Why?”

 

Pidge stood up beside him. “He always turns into a lion when he fights against Galra, even though I have repeatedly told him there will be one day he won’t be able to turn back into a human.” She looked up at him, the shadows on her face only adding to her seriousness. “Hunk knows nothing, Keith, and Lance wants him unaware of this. I will go and clean up the mess down there,” She said, the fire in her hands dying out.

 

It wasn’t hard to acknowledge when he was being brushed off, so Keith refrained from making even more questions in spite of his growing curiosity. “I will help you.”

 

In the weak moonlight, he could barely see her shaking her head. “No, you’d better stay with him. Lately, he’s been having trouble changing back: I think a familiar face will help his humanity win over,” She said, leaving no place for argument and turning away.

 

Left alone on a room with a lion -no, Lance- , Keith rubbed his face. Well, he had wanted to distract himself and he had just stumbled into something to do it: he was babysitting a lion for the night.

 

“Lance?” He called, looking at the blue lion. He took tentative steps closer to it.

 

Lance didn’t show any sign of having heard him, the slow sway of his tail the only movement Keith could catch.

 

“Lance!” He said, louder this time, still receiving no answer. He scoffed, and silently made his way around the bed.

 

Lance had his eyes closed, his ears flicking now and then. Keith touched his own absentmindedly; he could now see why Hunk squeaked in delight every time they moved. Furry ears did have something about them.

 

Keith leaned over slowly, the sudden urge of running a hand through Lance’s mane taking a hold on him. As his hand was reaching forward, the lion snapped open its eyes.

 

Letting out a surprised and muffled cry, Keith felt claws briefly digging on his skin as Lance’s paws snatched at him. He was swung over the lion and found himself lying on the bed, said creature securing a foreleg over his chest. “What the fuck, Lance?!” He exclaimed, fruitlessly pushing against the mage.

 

Looming over him, Lance growled, his paw pressing Keith down and putting an end to his thrashing. “Okay, no need for those” He said, scowling at the fangs unnecessarily close to his face.

 

Shading the fangs, Lance seemed to actually beam at him judging by the happy twirls of his tail. His eyes were shining again and Keith found himself staring at them once more, as the lion lowered its head and placed its chin on his chest.

 

Bare seconds had passed, and Keith could swear a half hug from a lion was as good as any blanket, if not better. He tipped his head back, reflecting on how warm the magic surrounding Lance’s body was, lulling him to sleep in spite of how awake he had felt before. The crazy thought of Lance actually inducing sleep in him crossed his mind, and he looked down at the slitted pupils.

 

Lance was staring up at him. Upon the shifting of Keith’s gaze, he started nuzzling at his arm with his nose.

 

Keith arched an eyebrow. “What?”

 

The lion went on with the motion until Keith realized what it wanted: he lifted his right arm, and Lance put his head on his chest again. When Keith lowered his arm, he had no choice but to drape it over Lance’s neck.

 

If he were to decidedly ignore many facts, Keith could say there was a gigantic cat currently plastering him to the bed, so he did the only thing that seemed fit and started scratching behind Lance’s ears, who in turn purred his contentment. “I… don’t know how to feel about this,” Sighed Keith, closing his eyes.

Chapter Text

Keith snapped his eyes open. It didn’t take him long to remember what had happened the night before and where he was, just a look across the room was enough.


Lance was standing in front of the dresser, still on the same clothes Keith had last seen him in. Unable to look at his face, Keith looked first at his broad back, before his eyes trailed down an arm and ended up on the hand carefully caressing a box. He recognized it from a few days ago, when he had entered Lance’s room from the very first time; at that moment, he had the impression that the wooden box wasn’t just a plain one, and the sweet melody currently drifting off from it confirmed his thoughts.


“Lance?”


He noticed the brief tension in the shoulders of the mage, who instantly closed the lid, cutting off the tune. “Well, well. Look who’s finally woken up!” Lance said, turning around with a smile. He started approaching the bed. “If I’m not mistaken, I was the injured one yesterday.”


Keith glanced at the torn clothes and the skin peering through several holes. It was mostly cured, except for the abdominal area where it was darker; it was probably going to leave a large scar later. “Why did you lie to us?”


“Hey, I did say I was getting ready to kill it!” Lance cheered, then blinked at Keith ignoring his comment. He sat down on the mattress, crossing his legs and circling them with his arms. “I had to; Pidge and Hunk wouldn’t have let me go otherwise” he said, avoiding eye contact.


It wasn’t particularly hard to notice the reluctance on his voice. Keith looked down at the dried blood on the bed sheets, briefly wondered how many times they had been that sickeningly brown color and how many more they would be. He still remembered his twelve year old self hearing about the war breakout at the shop from a usual client. He often thought that ten years were more than enough to learn about the horrors of war, but the kings of both nations didn’t seem to think the same, nor the smaller countries around the two powers.


He looked up at Lance. “You are always humming that song. Where is it from?” he asked, trying to change the atmosphere.


“Hmm, who knows” Lance smiled, amused by his own thoughts, apparently. With a flick of his finger, the musical box soared through the room and landed on Keith’s lap. “My mother’s. She used to brush her hair while listening to it.”


Keith let his fingers trail the carved floral pattern for a moment before closing them around the windup key. Lance only watched him, waiting for the first tunes.


He couldn’t tell if they were listening to a lullaby or not, but he could see it. He could picture a woman caressing her hair as gently as the melody flooding the air. Maybe in front of a mirror, maybe with a half sleep Lance on her skirt, maybe humming along as her son was doing now.


By the time the music came to a stop, Keith was still looking down at every blooming flower detailed in the dark wood. His first thought was that it didn’t seem the kind of object passed down from a parent to a son, not with the impeccable running of the spring motor or the absence of any dent caused by the casual knockout through the years. He looked up with an inquisitive brow, but Lance’s smile only widened as he took the box from his hands and put it down. He proceed with one of his scrutinizing gazes, eyes leisurely roaming over Keith’s face.


It was strange. All the previous times he had been submitted to one of these silent stares, Keith had clenched his fingers in awkwardness. He had no knowledge in the secrets of the mind, but he often thought that he had developed some kind of paranoia thanks to his true tendencies: constantly putting up a facade and living with the fear that someday, somebody would notice, drawing attention towards himself had always filled him with apprehension, so he always made sure to stay in the shadows so to speak.


But… this time, it was different. Sure, his guts were twisted any which way, and of course he could feel a blush about to flourish across his face, but they were not the same as always. This was a painful and pleasurable experience, if that made any sense, born of the expectation for whatever the volatile man in front of him was about to do. The tingling sensation all over his body was annoying, but fascinating all the same; the truth was, he wouldn’t like to feel any different at the moment. Not when, for the first time in his life, he was kind of enjoying it.


Not when, for the very first time in his life, he wanted to be looked at.


But that didn’t mean the warmth in his cheeks were not alarming to him. He took a deep breath, even closed his eyes, and tried to calm down his trembling insides. “Now what?” he asked.


Lance hummed pensively. Keith’s eyes shot open upon the brush of Lance’s fingers on his cheek; a lock of hair had been tucked behind his ear. “Say, Keith” Lance mumbled, his other hand taking another black lock and doing the same. “What happened with the furry ones?”


Keith could only blink in response. “Huh?”


“You know, the kitty ones” Lance said, wiggling his hands in each side of Keith’s head where the weird features used to be. “They are gone.”


Since Lance didn’t seem to be joking, Keith instantly reached up to feel his own human ears: his eyes widened at the touch of soft skin and the round shell. “What did you do?” he blurted out.


“Nothing, as much as I’d like to say it was me” Lance cackled. “I’ve already told you curses are not my thing.”


Still tugging at his long missed normal ears, Keith frowned. “Then what happened?”


Lance only shrugged. “Don’t know, man. Maybe the curse is evolving into something else, or it’s the other way around, the spell is wearing off.”


“But Haggar was the one who did it, do you think it will loose effect so soon?”


“Of course not, but as I’ve said, I have no idea” Lance shook his head. “Maybe Coran would come up with an explanation for this?” he pondered, standing up.


Keith looked down at his hands: his dark nails and purple fingers were the same. He rolled up his sleeves, exposing the blots decorating his arms. He reached for his feet (he had fallen asleep with his shoes on), and untied the laces.  “Everything else is the same” sighed Keith, flexing his freed toes.


Lance put the box back on its place. He turned around and leaned on the dresser, crossing his arms. “I must report to the king, so I can’t go with you to Allura’s house. I will ask Coran to come here and take a look at you, though.”


“Okay.” To be honest, Keith didn’t think that Coran would know any better than Lance. “Thanks” he said, putting back his shoes.


Lance pushed himself from the dresser and raised his arms over his head, stretching up. “No problem. Well, I’m going to get ready” he said, heading for the door.


Keith went still for a moment, debating on voicing-out his thoughts. “Wait, Lance” he called, doubting once again when the mage looked back at him with his hand on the knob; he had the strong feeling it wouldn’t turn out good. “You… shouldn’t have gone like that.”


“What do you mean?” Lance narrowed his eyes.


“Lying” Keith said, without hesitation this time. “Not telling anyone where you really were at. We all thought you were fooling around but it turns out you were actually fighting!”


“Oh, yes. Now that you mention this” Lance started, facing the door once again. “Let’s be clear about something: you just happened to come up here last night, Keith. That’s why, once you have walked out of here, I want you to make sure you have forgotten about everything that you saw.”


“Forgetting?” Keith asked with disbelief. “I followed your freaking blood trail, Lance. Then, I found a blue lion lying right here ,” he smacked the mattress for emphasis, “which turned out to be you, the one who was supposed to be somewhere else.”


“Yes, forget. I don’t want you to say unnecessary things.” Lance said, grasping the knob with the intention of leaving.


“Unnecessary as in, you were pretty beaten up?” Keith asked, crossing his arms.


“Exactly. It’s always been like this, Keith. I can’t tell Hunk everytime, you want me to kill the guy with worry?” Lance snorted, pulling the door open.


“You are not really thinking of him, you are just being selfish. What if something were to happen to you?”


Lance froze in front of the open door, still holding the knob. Keith arched an eyebrow at his sudden stiffness.


The mage closed the door carefully. “Nothing will happen” he murmured, Keith almost missing his words.


“How can you be so sure?”


“You are doubting my capabilities?”


“No, but you are not so mighty as you think. The proof is right there, in your abdomen.”


“Just a slip.”


“Which needed Pidge’s magic to heal. What if next time it’s not one, but two, or even more slips? What if next time you end up worse?”


“Shut up-”


“What if next time you don’t come back?”


“I WILL ALWAYS COME BACK!” roared Lance, whirling around. Keith raised his arms to protect his face from the sudden rush of wind, the curtains of the canopy bed fluttering with force. He could hear the sound of glass crashing on the floor and papers sent flying askew, the chair and table of the room toppling over. When he opened his eyes, he assessed the damage dealt in just a few seconds, remembering what Lance had told him about shouting with magic..


Lance was heavily breathing, shoulders going up and down with each income of air. His blue eyes were wide open, and even from that distance, Keith was pretty sure they had slitted pupils just like a lion’s.


He bite on his lip. “But what if, one day, you don’t?” he asked.

Lance seemed to snap out of a trance. He straightened up, blinking and looking around the room. Then he gulped noisily, finally catching his breath; his eyes were back to normal. “Crap” he sighed, rubbing them with the back of his hands.


Keith remained silent as Lance made his way to the bed, ungraciously plopping down on it. He covered his eyes with the crook of his elbow. “Why do you even care?”


Keith scratched the back of his neck just to do something. “I don’t really-” Lance shoot him a pointed look from under his arm, “I-I mean, you just-” Keith fell silent once more, Lance arching one of his thin eyebrows at him.


He took a moment to rearrange his thoughts. “I… have never met my parents” Keith finally said, looking down at his hands. It’s been so long since he had told somebody about it, he wasn’t surprised it still felt like ripping the truth out from his chest. The fact that he was telling Lance, from all people, was a rarity on itself. “I was left on the threshold of the Shirogane Residence when I was a baby.”


Lance propped up on his elbows, a crease on his brow. “Wait, you were adopted? I wouldn’t  have guessed, you and Shiro are pretty alike.”


Keith chuckled at this. “We always get away thanks to the black hair. Even though, I have always known about not being true brothers; maybe blood does call for its own, after all”.


“I’m sorry your parents were assholes” Lance said, lying down once again. His blunt words were strangely comforting with the lack of pity.


“Yeah” Keith echoed, glancing at the window. He used to see a little red at the thought, but he had stopped doing it long ago: as Shiro had told him during the time his heart was full of dejection, dealing with the past took you nowhere. At least, he was left in charge of a family who took him under their wing instead of leaving him in an orphanage. “I couldn’t give a damn about them, even if I tried, but I’ve always wondered the reason behind that first abandonment” he said, fisting the bed cover. “Was it because they were poor, because they wouldn’t be able to feed me? Or just because they didn’t love me, they didn’t want to take the responsibility? Or maybe, my mother was just a prostitute who needed to get rid of a burden left behind by one of his clients.”


He closed his eyes, focusing on breathing: some things marked you for life, without a doubt. It didn’t matter how many times he had thought he was over it, the same questions always assaulted his mind whenever he remembered.


“The point is, I don’t know, and will never know. They had never been a part of my life, apart from being my biological parents. I can only imagine, if I still think about what was of them despite everything: how does somebody who loses a loved one feel when that person suddenly disappears? When they are suddenly faced with a blank?” He looked down at Lance. “Just don’t do it to Hunk or Pidge.”


Keith hoped he had managed to convey his feelings well enough; Lance only stared at the ceiling, lost in his thoughts. Keith waited for some kind of response.


“Say something for God’s sake” he mumbled after a while, rubbing his face exasperatedly.


Lance rolled on his side, completely facing Keith, and propped up his head. “Sorry, I was just thinking that you might be right” he said, finally looking up at him. “Blood calls for its own; there might be some kind of tracking spell based on the usage of blood”.


Keith, who had been trying to say something important a mere minute ago, took his hand away from his face. “ What ?”


“You know, to find those bastards and make them pay” Lance shrugged, eyes glittering. “Or at least to ask whatever you want.”


Keith gaped at him; had he really been plainly ignored? “Did anything of what I’ve just said go through that thick skull of yours?”


The mage chuckled at the irritation on his voice, then smiled softly. “It actually did” he finally said. “I was just kidding, since you went all gloomy on me all of a sudden.”


Keith crossed his arms; he hadn’t planned to sound so depressive. He just wanted to make Lance realize that, were he not to come back from a battle, Hunk and Pidge will forever deal with the loss and the uncertainty of what had been of him.


“I… think I get it” Lance hesitantly said.


Keith glanced at him. Lance was frowning down at his hand; Keith wondered how he could look so confused.


“I made a promise, you know?” Lance smiled after a brief pause.


Keith tilted his head. “To who?”


“Hunk, you silly” Lance chuckled, reaching up to poke Keith in the nose. “Who else, really” the mage sighed, looking outside the window with fondness.


Keith stared at the beautiful day too, sunlight already dazzling. What time was it? How many hours had it been since he had fallen asleep with Lance? “What did you promise him?” he asked.


“To see the world” Lance said, eyes still fixed on the window. Keith wasn’t sure if the other guy was really talking to him or just way too lost on his own thoughts. “That’s where the idea of the moving castle actually came from; he had always wanted to learn from other cultures. Back when we were kids, he used to say that he would open a pastry shop in every country across the globe! I still remember how much he cried when Allura pointed out how difficult -and plain impossible- that would be!”.


Keith laid his back against the headboard; Lance had given his friend the closest thing to his childhood dream. “A shop that pops out wherever he wants” he said, and Lance only nodded, falling silent once more.


Keith’s eyebrows twitched; he couldn’t help but get upset yet again. “Would you stop doing that?” he fired, crossing his arms.


Lance look inquisitively at him; he had no idea or consideration for his company, apparently. “Doing what?” he asked.


“Losing yourself in that twisted mind of yours,” Keith grunned, “It’s annoying.”


Lance gaped at him for a second before bursting into a fit of laughter; Keith only tapped his fingers, waiting for the other guy to stop shaking.


”I like your aggressive straightforwardness, Keith” Lance managed to rasp out. “It reminds me of another honest person” he said, sitting up as his hand pull out the golden chain from under his ripped shirt.


Keith perked up at this, curiosity instantly replacing his previous angriness. He peered over Lance’s shoulder, who, fully aware of having Keith’s attention, turned around with a smirk.


The chain around Lance’s neck was longer that Keith had originally thought; it had a golden locket in the shape of an oval attached to it, slightly bigger than the regular ones. As Lance held the locket between his fingers, Keith wondered whose photo was inside. Was it Hunk’s? Or was it related to Pidge and their contract? Perhaps it was from the mother Lance had mentioned before. Or maybe it was a photo of Lance himself, coming from him.


But to Keith’s great surprise, once the locket had been opened, the left side held a picture of no other but Allura, and a mirror on the right one. He felt himself frowning at the younger princess shown in the photo. “Wow, you are really into her.”


“What? Oh, I see you have been told about the bet” Lance chuckled. “Truth be told, it’s our little act; she’s just a friend, as much a sister as Hunk is a brother to me” he shrugged, smiling down at her photo. “Besides,” Lance went on, placing a hand over the locket, “this is not a mere sentimental thing: it has a use.”


Before Keith could ask what use would that be, he felt the distinct thrive of magic in the air, something he was getting used to by now. He saw the pale blue glow characteristic of Lance’s magic coming from his hands, as the mage called “Allura? Allura, can you hear me?”


Keith blinked, for if he was not mistaken... “ Yes, Lance, I’m here ” came Allura’s clear voice, confirming his thoughts.


He glanced between Lance and Allura’s image on the surface of the small mirror, utterly fascinated by the object. He could tell his reaction was feeding Lance’s ego just by the grin on his face, but there wasn’t much he could do when he was seeing and hearing a person at the same time, for the first time.


Lance, are you alright? Father was told the battle at Naxzela went well, but a few soldiers confirmed you disappeared as soon as it was over”


Lance’s smile fell off as Keith arched an eyebrow at him. “Just a scratch, huh?” he mocked.


“Hey, the job was done,” Lance argued back, “there was no reason to stay any longer.”


Was that Keith? ” Allura said, catching their attention once again.


Lance tilted the locket so Keith could be seen from Allura’s end. “Hi, princess” Keith waved awkwardly.


Hi, Keith ” Allura smiled, before frowning a little. “ Wait, are you two in Lance’s room? And what happened to his ears, have you found a counter-spell, Lance?


Keith run a hand through what he was sure was a messy bedhead, looking away from the locket. He was still in Lance’s room, dear Lord, and had even fallen asleep between his (at that moment) front legs. He hadn’t given much thought before, but now that Allura had unawarely reminded him of last night's episode, his cheeks went as red as all the crimson surrounding them.


What? Has young Keith been cured?! ” came the unmistakingly voice of Coran, as the locket was snatched from Allura’s hands and a flash of orange moustache came into view, followed by an eye surrounded by wrinkles.


“Coran, you don’t need to be so up close” groaned Lance, “and no, only his ears are gone.”


Coran, give that back ” choked Allura.


Oh, right ” Coran said, handing back the locket. “ Sorry, princess.


When she came into picture, Allura was massaging her neck where the chain had indented with a scowl. “ Thanks ” she mumbled. “ So, Lance: what can we do for you?


“Well, I was hoping you could come and have an explanation for this ” Lance replied, pointing at Keith.


Allura’s eyebrows met in a doubtful expression. “ I don’t really think we could do much if you haven’t already. But of course we will go .”


“Great, I will go see your old man now. See you later.”


Goodbye, Lance, Keith ” said Allura, and Lance closed the locket.


“Well, now that that is settled,” he leaped off the bed, “I’ll better get going.”


Keith absentmindedly nodded, reaching up to feel his normal ears. They had no clue as to what have happened, but the disappearance of the flurry assets had given him a little hope once again.


To his great relief, once he had made himself presentable and went down the stairs, nobody seemed to have noticed he hadn’t spend the night in his own room. Hunk was already taking care of his bakery, while Shiro and Pidge were at the living room, going through the piles of books they had littered everywhere.


“It’s been a long while since you’ve last passed out like that” Shiro smiled at him.


“I… had some trouble falling asleep” Keith shrugged, hoping to sound convincing enough. He rapidly entered the kitchen to grab something to eat and get away from his brother, just in case.




“Hmmm”


Keith managed to stop himself from rolling his eyes as Coran gave what seemed to be the tenth turn around him. “And?” he asked, not entirely kind, patience long gone.


“I still don’t get it” the older man said, rubbing his beard and coming to a stop just in front of Keith.


“Get what?” asked Shiro from the couch, nearby Keith’s stool, who had started drumming his foot against one of its legs.


“The curse of your brother is a full-body thing, it is not something that affects only a certain part” Coran explained, glancing at Shiro then back down at Keith again. “I think this change is temporary.”


“We can still feel Haggar’s magic all over him,” said Allura, watching the flames on the hearth, a thoughtful frown on her brow. “Whatever caused the ears to disappear, hasn’t fully neutralized the curse.” She turned around to take a seat in the armchair.


Keith sighed; he shouldn’t have let himself feel hopeful after all. “So they might just grow back, that’s what you are trying to say?”


“Grow back or morph into whatever those cells want” shrugged Coran. “As long as black magic engulfs them, anything can happen.”


“Can’t you really think of anything you have done, or have happened to you in the past few hours?” asked Allura.


Keith felt his heart skip a beat before speeding up. Not this again he cursed inwardly, flashbacks of the very same morning coming to his mind. “No” he groaned. “I went to sleep normally and when I woke up this morning, they were gone.”


Everyone looked puzzled except for Pidge, who couldn’t hide her grin at him leaving out certain details, even when she herself had asked him to do so. Keith scowled at her, not sharing the fun.


“I’m completely disconcerted” sighed Allura, absentmindedly tugging at her necklace. “And terribly ashamed we are of no help” she added, sharing a look with Coran.


As Shiro assured her that was not the case, Keith couldn’t help but pick up on her movements: the golden chain between her slender fingers looked the same as Lance’s, now that he noticed. He remembered the teenage Allura shown in the locket and the arm draped over her shoulders, dragging the smiling princess into a half hug.


Keith couldn’t shake the feeling that the slim arm belonged to Lance.


He must had been staring far too much, for when Coran was suddenly looming over him, the rest of the group was gazing at him, too. “What exactly were you looking at, young man?” asked Coran, crossing his arms.


Keith blinked and glanced behind him to Allura. Coran stepped between them, blocking her from his line of vision, scowling down at him with what could only be defined as a fatherly-protectiveness.


If he had previously wanted to crawl down a hole and be buried alive, nothing compared to his strong desire for the most painful death at that moment. Anything as long as he didn’t have to endure Coran thinking he had been staring at the princess with lewd intentions.

“Oh my God” was the only thing he was capable of saying, covering his face with both hands.


Allura seemed to pick up on his horrified reaction, for she laughed wholeheartedly without a second to spare. “Coran, calm down” she said. “I’m pretty sure he was looking at this” she added, pulling the necklace completely out from under her dress.


Keith looked up at Coran, who looked back at the princess then back again at Keith, distrustful. He reluctantly stepped away, making a I’m-still-watching gesture.  


Looking once again at Allura, Keith sighed thankfully. “I’m sorry, I was just curious about...” he pointed at the locket held by her hands.


She smiled at him. “I know.” She fully opened her hands, as if freeing a butterfly, and the locket levitated towards Keith.


Shiro, unaware of what was so special about it, stood up from his seat to take a better look. Keith grasped the locket carefully, gazing at the crafted work, and once Shiro had been at his side, opened the case.


Just as Lance’s, Allura’s locket had a photo on the left, and a mirror on the right. Keith was not surprised at finding out that he had been right: Allura’s shoulder was barely visible, but it matched with the picture he saw in the other locket. In contrast with the princess, the Lance shown in the photo was a little younger than her, but just as tall, apparently. And his full toothy grin was nothing like the small, almost polite smile of hers.


“Did you make them?” Keith asked, looking up at her.


She shook her head. “Slav gave them to us when we first met him.”


Keith glanced at Pidge. “Yes, the same guy I told you about.”


“He might be a lunatic obsessed with magic that involves time and space, but he’s still a genius” Coran supplied.


“The lockets don’t need to be identical, but he thinks it helps” Allura said. “A picture of both individuals must be taken first, then broken in half. Each of them infuse their image with their own magic, and give it to the other.”


“The lockets will connect as long as only the owners try to communicate, their image appearing in the mirror” Coran finished.


“That’s...” Shiro looked just as bewildered as Keith had been in the morning. “Amazing.”


Keith frowned. “Why did he give you something so incredible?”


Allura seemed to be restraining herself from laughing when Coran started talking. “Ha, it was a low and foolish move of his behalf, if you ask me” he scornfully said. “Trying to steal my precious students just like that” he fummed.


“Coran, he was just testing his new invention.”


“I think not.”


“Besides, you were the one who called him to show off your precious students ” she said, making air quotes.


As Coran and Allura discussed whether or not Slav had tried to take Allura and Lance as his new apprentices, Keith looked down at the locket once again. “How did he end up learning with you two?” he asked, not giving it a second thought.


They paused mid sentence and exchanged a surprised look. “I’m the head sorcerer of the kingdom, so it’s my duty to regulate the magical activity as scarce as it may be” Coran said, pride clinging to his words. “So when the news about a young boy using his gift to steal came to me, I instantly requested his detention.”


Now Keith and Shiro were the ones sharing a look. “Stealing?”


“Nothing too serious” Allura rushed to say. “Just... pickpocketing” she shrugged, offering a nonchalant smile.


“But the guards sent to fetch him were smacked flush against a wall” Coran chuckled, amused at the memory. “And with that kind of resolution and disregard for authority, I was definitely intrigued” he combed his moustache with two fingers.


“I decided to tag along” Allura giggled at the memory. “I was young, and as much as I enjoyed my tutor’s company,” she sent a humorous look at Coran, “I was dying for a fellow companion.”


“She can be pretty insistent” Coran mumbled.


“So we went to the village and found out that it was actually a duo of little thieves!”


“Of course that Hunk was not that happy about taking part of it, but Lance...”


“Lance was a whole different matter” Allura sighed fondly. “He had always wanted to swallow the world, even from such a young age. He hated the life at the farm, and always said his dreams were far too big to be buried in such a small place.”


“Wow, princess. I didn’t know you liked running your mouth so much.” Pidge said dryly.


The words were like a slap in the face: the warm atmosphere was instantly lost as the rest of them stared at the demon.


“Pidge-” Shiro frowned.


“I’m just saying we shouldn’t talk about people not around here” she said, not even taking her eyes away from her book. “And Keith, next time you want to know something,” she sent him a cold look, “just ask directly”.


Keith felt something churning in his stomach, a dangerous mix of shame and anger; it had been low of him asking about Lance’s past when he had clearly been brushed off before, but he still felt like yelling at Pidge after such an unnecessary display of disdain.


Allura stood up. “She’s right, this story is not mine to tell” she gravely said. “I’m sure he will tell you if you ask him” she smiled apologetically at Keith.


He refrained from snorting at that.


“We’d better get going” she said to Coran. “It’s a pity we didn’t get to see Lance in person, but-”


The princess was cut off by the twink of the door, as if an angel had decided to step in the middle of the tense moment just then. But it was Hunk, which was pretty much the same.


Except for his blank look.


“Hunk?” Allura said.


He didn’t seem to register her voice, or even notice any of the other people in the living room. He blatantly made his way to his usual spot in the couch, and sat down as quietly as he could.


“Hunk?!” Pidge tossed the book away and kneeled in front of him. “Hunk, what’s wrong?!”


“Is he bewitched?” Shiro asked.


“I can’t feel anything coming off from him” Allura said.


“He is in shock” Keith said, looking at the widened eyes of their friend.


“I am.” Hunk slowly raised his arms to lay his hands on Pidge’s shoulders. “I can’t believe it.”


“Believe what?”


“I did it” he muttered.


“Hunk, spit it out already. What happened?” Pidge raised her voice, shaking him by the shoulders.


“I- I-”


Everyone was holding their breath.


“I asked Shay out to the party.”


Silence stretched for a moment.


“Are you shitting me?” Pidge screeched, slapping a hand on her forehead.


Coran and Shiro sighed with relief. Keith rubbed at his eyes, adrenaline going down.


“I should have guessed” Allura said, exasperated but relaxed at the false alarm.


“Why give us such a scare?!” Pidge grunted.


“Hey, had I simply said it, you wouldn’t have given it the attention it deserves!” Hunk said, going back to blinking as a normal person.


“Hunk, as glad as I am that you have finally asked what I get is your long time crush out, you shouldn’t have told us like this” Shiro disapprovingly said.


“You lot had all long faces when I came in, so I thought it will help to ease the air” Hunk shrugged, ignoring how everyone else looked away from him. “Wait, Keith, your human ears are back!”


Keith smiled tightly. “Yes, I will tell you about it later” he quickly said. “So, you got yourself a date, huh? Nice job” he tried to sound as amigable as possible.


Hunk opened his mouth, but Allura jumped in. “And what about you two?” she asked, glancing at Keith and Shiro. “Are you coming?”


“Ah-” Shiro looked at Keith, who shook his head instantly. “It’d be just me, princess.”


“Thank you for the invitation, it is a great honor” Keith said, remembering he was actually turning down royalty. “But I won’t feel comfortable with my appearance” he added, bowing his head.


Allura raised an eyebrow. “If it was such a honor, you would come” she dead-panned.


Keith could see Coran shaking his head with little subtlety. “Princess, I didn’t mean to-”


“Offend me? You did not” she assured him, smiling once again. “But if your looks are what is bothering you, we could just blend you in.” Her fingertips lighted up in a pink glow as she swept them over her eyes, materializing a turquoise mask with a single feather in the middle. “We could have a masquerade!”


“Uh,” Keith looked at Allura’s expectant eyes for a moment, before lowering his gaze to the floor. “I-I’m sorry, but I can’t” he mumbled.


Allura peeled the mask off her face, letting out her disappointment in a sigh. “I guess parties are not your thing. Neither are mine, to be honest. Wish I could miss it, too” she grunted in the end, crossing his arms.


“Princess, you can’t skip your own birthday party” Coran softly pointed out.


“I know” Allura sighed once again, sinking farther in her seat. “But seriously, throwing a party in these times?” she scoffed. “Stupid novelty with their stupid ways.”


Keith grinned at her words: it was good to know the next ruler of the realm had a head over her shoulders. It’s not like he was afraid of women, getting along with them had always been the problem. That’s why, when he found himself liking Allura, he was quite pleased.


“Anyway, we should get going” she said, standing up resolutely. “Come on, Hunk.”


“What?” he asked, confused.


She glanced back at him. “I won’t let you step on that poor girl’s feet while dancing” she solemnly declared. “We have to work on your waltz” was the last thing she said before opening the door to Arus, Coran following close behind.


Hunk’s face scrunched up with apprehension. “Oh, man.”

Chapter Text

Making his way up to his room, Keith pinched his stomach with a scowl. That was some new fat there, the result of Hunk’s culinary skills and a sedentary lifestyle, being stuck between those walls.

He stopped in the middle of his strole to take a look at the window, and the gray sky perched over the land. They were now surrounded by the Ancient Forest in the northern outskirts of the city, where the oldest trees and primal spirits of nature were said to live, and according to Pidge, an ocean of Quintessence.

How far had this moving fortress been? He didn’t know what exactly entailed bending time-space, but the possibilities seemed to be infinite. At least, he liked to think so, being able to be in one place for a moment, then in another one completely opposite with just a turn of a doorknob. Say, going from staring at the frozen peaks of great mountains, to walking under the burning sun of a merciceless desert. The simple thought of being anywhere awoke a thirst for new experiences he had paid no mind before, not with all the work to do in their little shop in the crowded capital.

Life at the castle was good. It’d been almost a month since Shiro and he had found their way to the place, and even though Keith was sick of reading dusty books retrieved from destroyed libraries with no apparent results, the new monotony of his life had nothing to do with the previous one. Each day he learned something new, be it from Pidge or one of the many rooms filled with strange objects from Lance’s collection. What had previously been a maze of intricate hallways and spiraling staircases, his mind had slowly drawn it into a map.

Even his curse had been as calm as him, the purple blots littering his skin getting wider with a quiet pace, not the striking changes from night to day he had once feared waking up to. He could almost forget it from time to time, his dark nails reminding him whenever he grabbed something.

He resumed his walk, staring at the treetops and trying to hear the occasional caw of the birds when he was suddenly yanked by the collar and dragged around a corner, an involuntary yelp escaping from his mouth.

“Jeez, what took you so long?”

He turned back and found the petit demon he hadn’t seen for the past few hours. “Pidge? I was just-”

Helping out in the kitchen , was what he tried to say, but she had already grasped his wrist and started pulling. “Forget it, just come with me” she said, leaving no place for argument.

“Where to?” he asked, staggering behind her. “Pidge!”

She stopped so abruptly he bumped against her. “I need your help with… something.”

Keith frowned. What could a mere human do for a four hundred year old fire demon? But with the urgency in her voice and the tightness of her grip, he fell silent and let himself be dragged through the castle.

The next time she stopped, they were standing outside Lance’s room. Keith had been told that Lance came and went as he pleased, and in the last few days the mage had rarely showed up to share a meal, so they had barely seen each other, let alone exchanged a word. Ever since the morning he woke up with him, Keith had the impression that Lance was avoiding him. Even when Lance seemed to be in a bad mood constantly and had little to no conversation with the inhabitants of the castle, if there had once been a certain playfulness at bothering or riling up Keith, now it was gone.

And the fact that Keith actually missed it, was something he tried to ignore.

“What are we doing here?” he mumbled, frowning at the door.

Pidge pushed it open. “Lance’s in trouble. Take a look yourself” she said, stepping to the side so he could go first.

Keith arched an eyebrow at her. “Okay.”

He crossed the threshold but didn’t go farther in. Couldn’t go farther in, not with his foot rooted in the spot at the sight that welcomed him.

The splendorous room he remembered was unrecognizable under the wreckage.

The first thing his eyes focused on was the great hole that had been the window. Wood and brick torn toward the inside, the shattered glass covering the floor a glittering carpet: something had crushed into the room without any of them noticing from the first floor.

Everything had been knocked out of place or torn apart, too. The tapestry on the walls had several gashes in the shape of claws, the splintered wood of the furniture was soaked in the magical potions smashed against the floor, the feathers that had once filled comfy pillows blowed in the freezing air.

A beast had been unleashed in Lance’s room.

And that beast was Lance himself.

The blue lion had its claws and jaw tearing and ripping the curtain of the canopy bed. When it glanced back at him, shining blue eyes the brightest thing in the cavernous room, Keith slammed the door closed.

He rounded on Pidge. “What the fuck was that?!”

“He can’t turn back into a human.”

“I know , but why all that destruction?!”

Pidge put her hand against the door. “He’s losing himself.”

Keith blinked, feeling cold all of sudden. “You mean, he’s no longer human?”

The demon shook her head. “No. His consciousness is snapping back and forth between that of a human and a wild animal” she explained. “It’s the first time he’s been like this for so long.”

Something heavy plummeted down Keith’s stomach.

“He is still there, Keith. Why else would he come flying through the window like he did? He has stayed in the room ever since, and he must be aware of the lapses he can’t control himself, choosing to destroy the place instead of leaving it.”

He knew what she was trying to say: in spite of the situation, Lance was still hiding his condition from Hunk. “What about Allura and Coran?”

Pidge shook her head again. “Lance is the only one who can activate the locket and call her. And since I can’t leave the castle, I have no means to tell her.”

“You want me to go for her?”

“No, you can’t leave either.” She tore her eyes from the door to look at him. “I need you to go in there.”

Keith was so bewildered he even pointed at himself. “ What?! Me? What could I possibly do?!”

Pidge flung her arms in the air. “I don’t know, you tell me! You were with him last time he was stuck in his lion form!”

“I didn’t do anything!”

The demon snarled, clenching a fist in the front of his shirt. “Listen. I’ve been here for the past few hours and Lance is still suffering in there. I don’t know what to do, but I do know that whatever you did last time had helped him and it has to help him now .”

Keith gaped at her for a moment. “But I’m telling the truth, I don’t know how he turned back, I was asleep!”

She opened the door. “Then go in there and fall asleep for all I care!” she grunted, dragging him inside.

His breath came out in a white cloud in front of him; he had thought the cold air was due to the large opening in the outer wall of the room, but he noticed something else upon entering. “Is that ice?” he asked, gazing at the chunks of ice randomly protruding from anywhere.

Pidge closed the door behind them. “Yes. Lance had always had an affinity for water magic” she said, eyes scrutinizing the place. “There.”

The lion was crouched down against the closet door, ragged breath coming out in great puffs, eyes unfocused and lowered to the ground.

Keith lunged forward but Pidge stopped him with an arm. “Wait. We can’t just rush to his side, unless we want our heads ripped off” she said.

He glanced at the beast, which hadn’t even noticed them, then nodded. She lowered her arm and they started padding forward. “Lance?” she called.

Lance’s ears flickered. He slowly looked up at her. “Lance, it’s me, Pidge” she said.

He seemed to recognize her, scrambling to stand up with trembling legs. Keith clenched a fist at the pitiful moan Lance made; he wasn’t badly hurt, mainly covered in dirt and a few lacerations. “Is he in pain?” he asked.

"Most certainly" Pidge answered.

Lance stilled for a moment, looking up once again. His gaze fell on Keith, and for one second, Keith could see the real him, the mage he stubbornly tried not to think of. “Lance” he whispered.

Then Lance screwed up his eyes, staggering to the side. “Lance!” Keith shouted, lurching forward with his arm extended.

The lion’s eyes snapped open, a feral growl escaping its mouth. Keith liked to think he had good reflexes, but those were not enough when a beast rounded on you. In a fraction of a second, he saw the fangs of the lion as it pounced on him, then it was Pidge’s back, who had pushed him out of the way and taken his place. The fire demon groaned in pain as the sharp teeth sinked in her forearm, taking a step back as recoil. “I told you not to rush, Goddamnit!” she hollered.

Keith could hardly hear her; he had just been about to die right there, his body frozen in the spot. Not even the shards of glass he had landed on could stop him from gaping at the lion and the demon.

“Tch, sorry pal” Pidge grunted. She took a quick breath and flung her arm to a side, the beast losing its grasp and smashing into the nearest wall.

At any other given time, the image of a teenager shaking off a lion would have made him laugh, but at that moment Keith could only feel grateful. Still, the action had taken its toll on Pidge, whose chest heaved rapidly and her arm had been covered in ice. “You. Are. An. Idiot.”

Keith swallowed the lump in his throat. “Are you alright?” he asked.

She turned her arm into fire, easily evaporating the coat of ice. “Yeah. We can’t really hurt each other-”

“Watch out!”

Pidge whirled around, but the lion was already on her: she barely got to cross her arms, receiving a direct headbutt that sent her flying across the room. Keith watched in horror as she hit and broke a post of the bed. “Pidge!”

A loud growl had him looking at the lion. Move , he thought, willing his limbs to react. Move .

The lion leaped again, but Keith was prepared; he rolled over his side, narrowly dodging the claws of the beast, and scrambled to his feet. He padded backwards, eyes fixed on the lion already pacing in front of him. “Lance, stop.”

As if answering to him, the lion bared his teeth, tail swinging from side to side.

“Lance!” Keith clenched his jaw. What was he supposed to do, if his voice couldn’t reach him?

A fireball hit the back of the lion; Pidge was once again on her feet, arms stretched out in front of her.

“We have to go!” she shouted, shooting once again. The beast jumped and dodged the attack. “I can’t stand this form much longer!”

Keith glanced back at the door; they were pretty far from it, and the lion was between them and the exit. “What about Lance?”

“This went to hell too quickly.” She fired once again, an ice beam coming out of the beast’s mouth: foam raised as fire and ice collided.

The lion snarled, preparing for another attack, but its front leg gave way under its weight; Lance crouched low, shaking his head and moaning.

Pidge lowered her arms. “He’s snapping. It’s our chance!” she said.

But Keith was still gazing at the trembling form on the floor. Lance had his eyes screwed up once again, struggling to catch his breath.

Did he have enough time?

Pidge sprinted past Lance. Upon noticing Keith hadn’t done the same, she turned around. “Keith!”

Could he make it?

He clenched his fists, making a decision.

Keith took a few steps with hesitation, before striding resolutely towards the mage. If his presence had somehow helped soothe Lance’s transformation before, then he was willing to repeat it.

“Keith, you are going to get yourself killed!”

Lance’s claws were fumbling and scratching the floor, head hanging low as a new wave of shivers went through him. “Lance” Keith said, stopping right in front of him; Lance peered up with one eye, growling softly. Steeling himself, Keith took a deep breath and slowly kneeled. “Lance, please” he muttered, his arms wrapping around the lion’s neck, fingers threading through its mane. He screwed up his eyes, praying: if this didn’t work, he was done for. “Come back to us.”

Come back to me.

There was a terrible moment of utter silence where even Lance had stopped shaking: Keith snuggled closer, taking it as a good sign.

When he felt Lance slowly slumping against him, Keith was more than happy to support all his weight as best as he could. He crawled backwards, Lance’s head resting on his legs as he let out a sigh of relief. “I got you” he said, and Lance groggily battered his eyes at him.

Pidge dropped to all fours. “Dear Satan, I thought I had lost two humans for a moment.”

As the tension drained out of his body, Keith found himself smiling a little. “What a pity, huh?”

“You have no idea” the demon shook her head, and started crawling to them.

A sudden jerk from Lance made them start. “Lance?” Keith asked, staring at the clenched jaw of the lion as its legs fumbled again.

Lance grunted, closing his eyes tightly. He tried to stand up with his shuddering limbs. Keith gaped at the cracking of bones as they shifted and changed, shrinking back into the size of a person’s, the fur coming together into plain skin and losing its shade of blue. Claws turned into nails, the wide mane retracted into short brown hair, and before Keith could have a naked human on his lap, clothes and even a pair of shoes took form and covered Lance. His blue eyes were the last thing to turn back into normal as his slitted pupils became rounded, blankly gazing before falling shut.

Keith looked at the guy perched on him: Lance was covered in dirt that clinged to his sweat-drenched skin, light wounds scattered here and there, but nothing too serious. He glanced at Pidge. “Now what?”

“I know where to take him.”

With her help, Lance was moved to Keith’s back, who wobbled as he stood up, unsurprisingly shaky after the whole episode, and they exited the chaotic room.

As they trudged through the hallway, Keith felt the shallow breath of Lance in his ear. “I think he has a fever” he said, adjusting his hold on the mage.

“It’s his quintessence, throbbing madly” she shrugged, grasping the doorknob on her left. “Just think about it as an engine overheating.”

They stepped into what Keith thought was the most indulgent room for a child. There was barely any space left to walk with the floor covered in toy soldiers, dolls with impressive dresses, and even little train tracks swirling around, among many things. Colorful posters decorated the walls, most of them announcing the performances of witches and warlocks, or a traveling circus. Piles of assorted candy raised in great pillars, a coat of forgotten wrappers lying nearby.

But what instantly caught Keith’s attention was the ceiling, and all the wind chimes and dream catchers that hung from it. Made out of different materials and colors, the slight breeze they let in upon opening the door was enough to create an orquestry of sweet pitches in their wake.

Pidge’s voice snapped him back to reality. “Let’s put him to bed” she said, her feet making a way through the scattered mess and Keith following her.

There were two beds against the right wall of the room, both of them perfectly done with a thin layer of dust on their covers. Pidge rolled up the cover of one and pushed it to the floor, before they tucked Lance under the sheets. “Just let him rest for now.”





Keith tugged at the bandage around his forearm; Pidge had been far too tired and had no energy left to heal his wound and was already sleeping in the hearth, having entrusted him with checking up on Lance. They had somehow managed not to make Hunk or Shiro suspicious, which was a miracle on itself taking into account there had been a lion going berserk in the last floor not too long ago.

Keith only hoped Pidge had actually taken out all the shards of glass before turning back in fire.

Finally looking up as he stepped into the hallway, he came to a stop. Hunk was standing just in front of Lance’s room, looking at the door longingly with his arm raised.

Keith pulled down his sleeve to cover the gauze, turning around hastily. He was not going to talk with Hunk when he had such a sad face, was what he was telling himself, just about to run away, but-

“Keith?”

The quiet calling of his name was enough to make him stop once again. He peered over his shoulder to confirm that yes, Hunk was in fact frowning at him curiously from his spot.

“Ehm, yes?” Keith muttered.

“What are you doing?”

“Just… walking around” he shrugged.

Hunk looked unimpressed by Keith’s lie. “Yeah, right” he mumbled, gazing at the door.

Keith was originally going for the room at the end of the hallway, the one Lance had been left in. It had been locked just in case, and the key buried in his pocket was currently burning against his thigh as Keith looked at the worry engraved in Hunk’s face.

“He’s alright, Hunk” Keith said. “He will be back soon.”

Hunk snorted. “Be back? Lance hasn’t been home since a long while now.”

Keith pressed his lips together. Judging by his tone, Hunk was not just referring to Lance’s errant behaviour of the past few days.

Hunk shook his head, confusion and pain contorting his face. “I-, I no longer know. I used to read him like a book, but now...” he trailed off, sighing. “I can’t say I don’t recognize him, I mean, he’s the same brat as always, but he’s never been so distant.”

Keith clenched his fist: Lance cherished Hunk above everything else, of that he was sure. And the fact that Hunk was worrying about his lifetime friend when Lance was lying in bed just a couple of meters away from him, made Keith mad. Really mad.

“I hope he can at least make it to Allura’s party tomorrow night.” Hunk said, turning away from the door and walking to Keith.

“Do you really think he will miss a chance to show off that easily?” Keith arched an eyebrow, offering a crooked smile.

Hunk chuckled. “Of course not” he said. He was about to walk past Keith, but stopped for a moment and placed a hand on his shoulder instead. “It’s good to know Lance still makes people care for him” he smiled.

Keith blinked at the retreating back of Hunk’s, completely lost for words. He was thankful that Hunk didn’t expect much comfort from him, making their conversation a mere exchange of sentences: Keith was not happy with hiding things from such a kind guy.

After being left alone, he made his way to the last room of the corridor. Still glancing behind him, he took out the key and opened the door, quickly getting inside.

Everything was just as he had last seen it. He stepped on a little wooden plane by accident and snatched a few fruit assorted candy on his way to Lance’s side, who had barely moved while sleeping.

Keith looked around the room, unwrapping one piece of candy; he hadn’t inspected much of the last floor, so this place was new to him. He had mostly avoided it because of Lance, only coming all the way up for the balcony, which had the greatest view.

He popped the sweet on his mouth only to spit it right back out: it tasted terrible. He glared down at it, wrapping it again and looking for a trash bin to throw it away. Instead of that, he gazed at the other bed, the dust placidly laying on it catching his attention.

He frowned, glancing from the expired candy to the dust-covered bed. He looked at the toys scattered around, bending his knees and picking up a miniature house: sure enough, his fingers came out gray at the touch of it.

A yawn escaped from him before he could seize it. His eyelids felt suddenly heavy and given the time, Keith considered he deserved some sleep after all he had endured.

So Pidge had asked him to keep an eye on Lance; Lance was currently sleeping, just as the demon, and Keith was probably the last man standing. Even the dusty bed seemed tempting and irresistibly inviting.

He rolled up the cover, sneezing at the particles of dust flying away, and plopped down on it. He glanced at Lance, who was giggling quietly at his own dreams, before turning the other way.

Keith swore he had barely closed his eyes when he heard something. He grunted as he realized he was being shaken and the thing he heard was his own name shout-whispered.

“Keith!”

He cracked an eye open, Lance’s wide blue eyes the first thing to come into view. Keith moaned, rolling away from the dazzling grin of the other. “Shouldn’t you be resting or something?”

“As much as beauty sleep is essential, sleeping too much is a waste of time!”

Keith said nothing, trying to cling to the sweet threads of sleep, but Lance walked around the bed. “Keith~” he whined, shaking Keith’s shoulder again. “Come on, you have to see this!”

He thought it was way too early to scowl, so Keith straightened up slowly. “What is it?” he said in a raspy voice.

Lance grinned, victorious, and clasped a hand around Keith’s wrist, who staggered behind the mage as he was dragged to the center of the room. Lance left a yawning Keith standing up as he sat down and crossed his long legs. “Look, here it comes!”

There was a rattling sound getting louder and it took Keith’s groggy brain a few seconds to realize what it was: the electric toy train with its small wheelset turning on the tracks. He watched as the toy laboriously swirled around the room, losing sight of it from time to time as it went under the beds or behind a pile of trinkets.

“I can’t believe it still works!” Lance said, genuinely astonished. He looked up at Keith, fidgeting in excitement. “Isn’t it awesome?”

“I... guess? I don’t really see the point of having one of these. Real trains are way cooler and actually useful” Keith said.

The corners of Lance’s lips went down. “Yeah, what a shame you can’t have one of those in your house” he retorted, gazing back at the moving train. His eyes lighted up. “Unless...”

Keith bent his knees slowly, curiously staring at Lance’s smiling face, who was probably pondering over a way of hijacking a train. Was this really the same guy that fought the Galra?

“Can I ask you a question?”

Lance arched an eyebrow at Keith, surprised. “You know, you never struck me as a person who asks for permission first, joy-killer” he snickered, then shrugged. “Sure, go ahead.”

“Why do you turn into a Lion?”

“Aaaand that’s a rather personal question I’m not answering” Lance mumbled, looking elsewhere.

“You said I could ask.”

“Never said I would answer.”

Keith narrowed his eyes. “Why would you let me ask if you don’t plan to answer me anyway?”

Lance rolled his eyes. “Just ask something else” he said, waving a hand.

“Fine” Keith grunted, crossing his arms. He thought for a moment, looking around them. “What exactly is this place?”

That question wasn’t off-limits and Lance instantly perked up, opening his arms to  encompass the room. “Isn’t it obvious? A playground!” he giggled, wide eyes going back and forth. “Hunk and I used to spend a lot of time here. It was actually one of the first rooms of the castle.”

Keith scrunched up his nose. “Why is it so messed up and dirty?”

Lance hummed pensively, his smile turning thinner and nostalgic, if Keith was not mistaking it. “Growing up and stuff, I guess” he shrugged. “We no longer come in here, so I kind of have forgotten about it” he frowned, gazing at the posters hanging on the wall.

Keith stayed silent since Lance seemed absorbed by his memories. He glanced back at the door, wondering if he should take his leave and leave the mage to himself, when Lance suddenly turned to him. “My turn!” he claimed, grinning.

“Huh?”

“Are you a cat person, or more of a dog person?” Lance went on, ignoring Keith’s astounded face.

Keith frowned in confusion. “What? Why?”

Lance sighed dramatically. “You asked me something, now I ask you something. So, cats or dogs?” he said, raising one hand then the other.

“Cats? I don’t know, we have never had a pet” Keith said, not getting what this had to do with anything.

Lance hummed. “Yeah, we neither. That’s why I was thinking it’s high time we get one! I like cats, too. They are great, like super cute and totally independent, but dogs do look way friendler and happy all the time. I don’t really know what to think, to be honest. Besides, I should have Hunk and Pidge in mind. Never asked the little devil what she would like, but Hunk would die of cuteness overdose if he were to hold either a kitten or puppy. Maybe I should get both and be done with it, or, or, get something more exotic , like-”

He wasn’t really listening to his rant, but as Lance mentioned the strangest creatures Keith had ever heard, he couldn’t stop the fondness feeling from curling up his lips into a smile.

Even Lance noticed he wasn’t being heard after a moment. “Why are you staring at me?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“You talk. A lot” Keith answered, not even trying to hide his amusement.

Lance blinked in surprise for a moment, but instantly recovered. “And that’s just one of my many traits” he purred, smug smirk stretching on his face, Keith rolling his eyes at him. Lance chuckled. “Your turn.”

It looked like Lance wanted this to turn into an asks and answers game, and that was fine by Keith. Gazing at the expectant face of the mage, Keith thought for a moment. “Well, the other day, Allura-”

“Please, don’t tell me this is about the mouse incident-”

“Mentioned that you-, wait, what? Mouse?” Keith’s eyebrow shot up. “What mouse?”

Lance let his head hang low, sighing in relief. “Thank God she didn’t tell you about that “ he muttered.

“I’m changing the question: what’s the mouse incident?”

“I’m not answering that, and you lose your turn as penalty for being nosy.”

What?

“You just heard me, mullet.” Lance said sharply. “Now. Are you right-handed, or left-handed?”

Keith shot him a look. “Is that really your question?” The other guy shrugged. “I’m ambidextrous.”

Lance whistled. “Cool. Can you do the thing?”

“What thing?”

“You know, writing in mirror?”

“Never tried before” Keith shrugged, because honestly, what kind of use could it have? When Lance announced he was going to look for a pen and paper, Keith rushed to ask something because, Jesus Christ, he had the span attention of a child. “How did you discover magic?”

Silence ensued. “I don’t know, can’t remember, actually” Lance hummed after a while, hugging his legs to his chest. Keith watched him, wondering if he was uttering lies, but the slight frown between Lance’s brows seemed to say otherwise. “Guess it’s always been there.”

Always been there, huh? If Keith had been told one month prior to that day that magic actually existed, and was not just an optical illusion or the quickness of a person’s hands working out a trick, he wouldn’t have believed it, not for a second.

“What do you do for a living?” Lance asked, face easing back into a smile.

It was Keith’s turn to pause; how little had he thought about his normal life, lately. Not once had he wished to be back to their tailor shop, Shiro’s parents his only worry from time to time, since they were most definitely back from vacation. They had gone to visit some relatives in the south, and came back to an empty house, after all. “I work at the shop of Shiro’s family, a tailor shop.”

Lance smirked, and Keith found it strange. Those lips were curved in a satisfactory way, as if they were dying to spill words and barely managed not to. “What?” Keith asked.

“Bet you prick your fingers a lot!” the other guy snickered, and Keith scoffed.

“I’ve been working there since I was a boy, so no , I no longer prick my fingers.”

Lance rested his cheek on top of his knees, blue eyes attentive and curious. “Are you close to them? You don’t sound like it” he said, softly.

Keith was about to say that it was his turn to ask something, but was caught off guard by the question. He opened and closed his mouth, then looked away. “You don’t answer to everything, why should I?” he mumbled, annoyed.

“Haaaa ~” Lance mused, and Keith glared at him. “Don’t be mad, it was just a hunch! Tell you what,” Lance said, fully facing Keith with a large grin and one slender index in the air. “If you answer this, I will answer one question truthfully.”

Keith looked at him warily. “Why would you do that?”

“Do you take the offer?”

He wanted to scream in frustration and actually smack the playful smile off Lance’s face.

Keith didn’t get him.  His prideful side wanted him to turn it down, to see the stupid smile falling off, while the curious one…

The curious one made him meet his stare. “Okay” Keith said, and Lance nodded encouragely.

Keith didn’t know what to do with his fingers (or any part of his body, for that matter), so he ended up joining his hands on his lap. “It’s… not that we aren’t close. Shiro’s parents, I love them, and they raised me, it’s just-” He had started drumming his heels, which was not a good sign, just like his eyes darting around the room. “They-”

They won’t accept my gay ass , was what he thought, bitterly, thinking of all the times they had shown their deep disapprovement of relationships between people from the same gender. The disdainful looks, the hateful comments and gossip, the way they would always pull at his hand whenever there was something they didn’t want him to see as a child. All the awful things they did and weren’t aware were cutting deep down on him while doing them.

“There’s a wall, between us” he finally said, thinking every little scar as a brick piling up in that wall, making it grow into the huge, looming barrier that separated him from them. “And, I don’t know how to break through it. Don’t think I could ever do, honestly.”

Keith bit his cheek. The pain of knowing the same people that had given him everything would never truly know him, had plunged him in despair more than once. And he had tried his best to change, to find girls pretty and alluring, to be seduced and attracted to them, but-

“And why do you want to break through it?”

Keith whipped his head to look at Lance.

Lance was pouting just a bit, the slightest frown between his brow. “The way I see it, if you have no idea of how to get to them, if you are convinced you won’t be able to, it’s their fault. They are the ones making it difficult.”

Keith could only gape at the soft smile that slowly made its way to Lance’s face. “Don’t rack your brain so much, Keith” Lance said, shrugging. “It’s usually not worth it. Just, stay true to yourself, and stop trying to break through the impenetrable.”

Every word was spoken so easily, as if they were carrying the simplest and most obvious truth of the world. And maybe it was that simple, and that obvious, and Keith wanted to laugh at Lance for being that simple, maybe a little envious of him, even.

“Thanks, but, why did you asked me that in the first place?” Keith asked.

“You told me that you have always known you were adopted, and you just said “Shiro’s family” in spite of them taking you in from a very young age” Lance said. “It was weird, I guess.”

Keith looked down at his hands. “I used to call them sir, or madam, when I was a boy. Then started calling them by their names, at some point. I have never called them mum or dad, not even once.”

“That’s just plain cold, man” Lance sighed. “But if your heart had never been into it” he shrugged, looking away.

Keith guessed that was the signal of them dropping the subject, which he very much appreciated. His eyes searched for the still moving train, and they fell in silence.

Keith wandered when exactly silence had become something comfortable enough for them, taking into account Lance hardly ever knew when to stop his ramblings.

He looked to Lance after a while, who was already staring at him. Waiting, apparently. And that’s when he remembered he still got to ask anything he wanted to him.

“Why have you been avoiding us?” Keith asked, a little surprised of himself. From all the things he could have asked, about his past, about his magic, Keith chose to know why the mage have suddenly disappeared from their day-to-day live, maybe in hope of a better understanding as to why Lance’s absence filled him with feelings he had never had before.

Lance was surprised by it too, if his parted lips were anything to go by. He smiled tightly, brow furrowing. “It’s not like I have been avoiding you, guys” he said, sincerely, before looking down at his linked hands. “The war is coming to an end. Or at least, that’s what it looks like.”

“Battles have turned from harsh to hellish lately” he explained, pinching at the creases in the fabric around his knees. “And both sides are still fighting relentlessly, but for how much longer, I don’t know.” He clenched his fists, glaring. “The Galra, with their ever thirst of power… they are the ones who started this, just because they wanted Altea to form part of their so called empire, with all their ‘Vrepit sa’ and ‘Victory or death’, ruining incontable lives,  ravaging every land on their reach-”

Upon noticing the shaking of his hands, Lance took a deep breath, grounding himself. “I just wish for their fall, even if I’m not there to witness it myself” he seethed, hate flaring in his eyes.

Something coiled deep inside Keith, something dreadful, as he remembered Pidge’s words. “Lance?” He tried to meet Lance’s eyes, but the mage would simply gaze down at the hands gripping his knees. “Lance” Keith said, clasping one hand on Lance’s shoulder to make him turn.

Blue eyes finally looked up at him, but they were as unreadable as the expressionless face in front of him. Even the resentment had faded away from Lance’s features, and Keith could already tell he was shutting him off.

But Lance glanced down at the hand connecting them, noticing the bandage peering from under Keith’s sleeve for the first time, and his eyes filled with something akin to sorrow. He took Keith’s hand away from his shoulder and lowered it between them, his other hand pushing the fabric away slowly, carefully, in a way Keith didn’t know Lance was able to with all his wild and feisty personality. “Did I-” he started, softly, but never finished the question.

“No!” Keith instantly reacted at the pang of his heart, looking down at where Lance’s hand gingerly touched his wrist, tanned skin against his own pale one. “It wasn’t you, I fell over glass.”

Lance’s lip barely quirked up. “I see. That’s good, well, not you getting hurt, but...” he trailed off, working on the bandage, Keith wincing a little at the tug of the dried blood as the wound was unwrapped. Lance scrutinized at the cuts, before putting his hand over them.

Keith pressed his lips together, a wary frown on his brow. He glanced up at Lance, who had the most serene smile on his face as his magic made Keith’s skin buzz, and gulped. The heat of his forearm extended all over his body, his lungs seemed to take in raw hot air, and Keith wondered if the sudden dizziness in his brain was due to the magic or to something else entirely.

Nothing had ever screamed intimate so much as this moment in his life.

And even when Keith, gazing at the light reflecting off Lance’s eyes, reliving the moment he decided boys were pretty in a way girls would never be... even when he was starting to allow himself to revel in the reason behind his frantic heart, there was another urging thought creeping up on him, threatening to close its fingers around his throat.

“Lance,” Keith said, voice barely above a whisper, and Lance looked up at him. “Pidge said that you are losing your humanity, but," he took in a shaky breath, flashes of blue slitted eyes and unsheathed claws flooding his mind. “When you-, what will happen to you when-,” he tried, unable to go on.

But Lance smiled, answering all the same.

“I will die.”






Chapter Text

A knock on the window.




Keith’s head snapped at the noise. There, floating in the air with his knuckles against the glass, was the embodiment of irritation.




He rolled over his side, showing his back to Lance and making clear he didn’t want to know anything. Not that it really made the difference: he heard the window opening the next second.




“Are you done sulking?”




It was the usual mockery, the one that always tried to ignite something in Keith. But Keith felt just like wet wood, unable to burn and pointlessly hissing. He glanced over his shoulder at Lance, who was smirking at him from the windowsill.




“What do you want, Lance?”




It’s funny how he said it as if he was being interrupted in the middle of something, when in reality, he had just been lying wide awake in bed, replaying their last conversation over and over again.  




“You will die?”




Lance´s inability to look up at him.




“Is that why you kept Hunk in the dark?”




More silence.




“Are you out of your fucking mind? You will just banish from one day to the other?”




The resigned smile stretching ever further.




“It’s better than letting him know I’ve been rotting beside him all this time.”




The Lance in front of him pouted, raising his shoulders. Even though they were the same age, he looked way younger. “You are so mean.”




Mean? Since when was Keith the mean one?




“You can’t be serious. You can’t let it happen!”




A retreating back.




“There must be another way. There’s always another way.”




The snatch of a wrist quickly shook off.




“I have killed thousands upon thousands of people, Keith. What makes you think I can’t do the same to myself?”




He had been the one left standing in an empty room with ominous words bouncing off its wall just a few minutes before, yet Keith was the mean one?




But the usual burst that would have proceeded such a thought never made it out of him. Keith could only stare at him, and when Lance realized he wasn’t getting anything else, he dropped his shoulders.




“I just wanted to show you something cool” he mumbled, pissed, eyes drifting away from Keith.




Keith remained silent, waiting for him to go away on his own as usual. But Lance only crossed his legs and folded his arms, fuming.




“It’s late.” Keith indicated as if sunrise happening in less than an hour didn’t make it already obvious.




It was enough. Lance perked up at the broken silence. “I know” he smiled. “Do you trust me?”




“No.”




Lance recoiled at the quickness of the answer. “Keith” he whined, offering his hand. “Do you trust me?”




“Are you trying to pull an Aladdin on me?” Keith dead-panned with a quirk of an eyebrow.




The mage snorted, amused. “Maybe. Are you going to miss this whole new world?”




The playfulness of the question made something squirm inside of him. Keith knew that up until that moment, taking Lance’s hand had never lead him to the best results. He even wanted to point out that he had already discovered ‘a whole new world’ the first time those long fingers had closed around his own, back in an alleyway what seemed forever ago.




He looked up at the eagerness in Lance’s face. A whole new world indeed.




But Keith could be childish too, so just for the sake of spitting Lance, he scoffed. “Okay, fine. Stop it with the puppy eyes already” he said, hiding his curiosity with a groan while standing up.




The fact that Lance’s smile only widened as if he could see right through it made him think that maybe, he was doing a poor job at concealing certain stuff. A slender hand took his own and the pull of both, Lance and his magic, was instant, taking Keith out the window with the gentlest touch.




Lance twirled them around, and just like they had done once upon a time, they walked on thin air, riding the chilly breeze of the night soon to be over. “I think you have a talent for this.”




Keith could only hum at the compliment, too busy taking all in. The cup of the trees from the Ancient Forest below them, the dark sky already spilling a lighter shade in the horizon. The thin cotton wrapping him wasn’t enough to forbid his skin from getting goosebumps at the cold from being so high.




They started losing altitude and their feet were grazing the first leaves. Lance made them land through spaced branches, never breaking his hold or his pull once they started walking through the thick trunks and occasional bushes.




“Almost there.”




Their final destination was a clearing, full of bright blue specks lazily gliding over the grass. Keith could feel his slacked jaw at the sight, barely registering the moment Lance dissolved his grip on him in favor of moving forward, right through the uncountable little dots of light.




There were so many. The pale blue they irradiated basked in the grass below, washing away the green and painting an ocean with Lance in the middle of it. He turned around, his own blue eyes reflecting the light and becoming the shiniest thing in the place, almost turning him into an ethereal being.




Scratch the almost.




“Come on.” Lance encouraged, smiling wide and asking Keith to jump with him.




Drown with him.




And the funny thing was, Keith had already done it. So it’s really easy for him to take the steps that separate him from Lance. Really easy for him to take the hand offered to him and sink down to his knees.




Keith gulped and tore his eyes away from him, looking around them. “What are these?” His first guess were blue fireflies, but the flecks of light never went off, never flickered.




“It’s Quintessence. Raw, pure, untamed Quintessence. The very life-force of the forest.”




Lance shifted and crossed his legs between them. He licked his lips, the steadiness of his look weaved a little, and his next words seemed to hurt himself to certain extent. “Coran took us here for my very first lesson. Allura had already been here by that time, but to me and Hunk stepping into the core of the forest was truly out of this world. Earlier, you asked me how I had discovered magic and I truly can’t remember it but, in some way or another, this is where everything began, and is the best answer I can offer you” he finished, a foreign shyness tugging his lips into a crooked smile.




As each other time Keith had get to learn a little something about Lance, he absorbed each word as an eager sponge. More, give me more. “What was it about?”




The gleaming eyes squinted, probably going way back in time. “Quintessence, precisely” Lance said, a finger prodding at a tiny ball of the matter. “It’s threaded with the life of every breathing thing and, sometimes, in the purest displays of nature such as this one, every animal and plant collectively unravel it from themselves. They are just as threaded to the land as the quintessence inside of them, therefore, they become its life-force.”




Keith gawked, because as much as all the explanation amazed him- “Wait, so there’s Quintessence inside of me too?”




Lance furrowed his eyebrow as if the idea of Keith not knowing this was funny. “Of course you have. What, you thought the electricity in your brain was the only thing keeping you alive?”




“Uhm, yes?”




“Well, no.”




“But what about magic then?”




“Magic is nothing else than the ability to manipulate that energy. Each incantation and spell are ways of drawing it out with an intended effect. Some people can, but most people can’t.”




“A lost gift.”




Lance sent him a curious look. “Yeah.”




Keith grasped one of the bolts and gave it a gentle squeeze. His skin buzzed; it was just like catching a butterfly and the tingling feeling of its fluttering wings.




“Can you use it? This free Quintessence?”




“It’s highly concentrated. Think of it as high voltage and how easy it could kill you, frying your nerves in a second.”




He unfolded his fingers, letting the blue dot drift away. “It’s really pretty, this place.”




“I know.”




Silence came in different flavors and lately, Keith had been indulging himself with the sweetness of a pleasant quietness shared with Lance. They gazed and marveled at the bright specks dancing to the soft sounds of the forest. There was warmth spreading through his body, a giddy happiness born of a simple moment Keith could enjoy after the bitterness their last conversation had left behind.




He wondered if breaking the silence was worth the risk. He glanced at Lance, who was placidly smiling at the view, and decided his expression was open enough. Maybe. It was always hard to tell with him.




“Tell me more” he said. Lance looked at him, puzzled. “What was the next lesson?”




Lance’s grin was just as blinding as the light on his eyes.




“-And what happened next?”




“Allura was mad, REALLY mad, like ‘I-will-butcher-you-when-Coran-is-not-looking’ mad.”




“I had a feeling she can be scary sometimes.”




“You have no idea-”




Laughter made the bright dots around them shake a little and maybe shine that much more. Or maybe it was just Keith's imagination.




“-And Shay came in, but the worst part was she hadn’t even been looking at him, yet Hunk managed to trip and the tray sailed through the air.”




“Did you stop it with magic?”




“Oh no, that cake was heading right for her.”




“Why do I get the feeling it was actually your doing?”




Keith spaced out a little as Lance rambled off, hearing but no really listening.




“-It was a pain, expanding the castle is actually difficult! At first, we had no idea of how to make it work, not even Pidge knew how to do it. We had to ask for Slav’s help-”



“And what about you?”




Keith blinked at the sudden silence and Lance’s expectant eyes. “What do you mean?”




Lance shrugged. “Tell me something about you.”




“There’s… really not much about me.”




Lance rolled his eyes. “Come on, there must be something! Tell me about the perks of living in the city, I visit only once in a while but never stay for too long.”




Keith stared at him. The perks of living in the city?




It was just ridiculous, full of people excited to win the bloodbath against the Galra when in reality, both nations were destroying each other. No one seemed to have the upper hand. It was the only thing you heard around and read about in papers. The insecurity was at its prime, only the hunger sweeping across a country dedicating all its resources to weapons beating the violence.




It was just sad. People dying in the streets, people dying in the battlefields, people dying at the loss of a loved one. The misery and despair was just breathable and palpable. There were simply no perks of living in the city.




It was hard to forget, even when he had been locked up in a magical fortress. It was easy to ignore though, as bad and dangerous as it sounded.




Keith looked down at his hands, at his folded knees brushing against Lance’s, the pleasant touch. He tried to think of a time he had been this happy just by talking to someone, tried to think of anyone apart from Shiro he had been this comfortable with before and came up empty handed. He thought of Pidge and her forced grumpiness, he thought of Hunk and his natural kindness, even Allura’s smile and Coran’s ginger mustache crossed his mind.




And then he thought about the same guy in front of him. The way they had met, the way they barked and snapped at each other, the way Lance could be ice-cold a moment and blazing fire the next one. The way Keith started gravitating towards him at some point, the thrill of an imminent clash terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.




He gulped, the candid warmth in his chest turning too hot as his heart swelled. His eyes looked at Lance, comically quirking an eyebrow at him, before gazing at his lips.




No, the city had no perks for him.




Here, he couldn’t even count them.




He leaned in, finally allowing the invisible pull to guide him, his last thought being that maybe, it shouldn’t had taken him so long to do this.



It wasn’t a good kiss, even Keith with his lack of experience could tell that. He had aimed to land it right in the middle of Lance’s mouth, but the blue eyes widening in surprise only added fuel to his nervousness so Keith had closed his own, missing his mark. His lips ended up against the corner of the other, and he kept pressing them for a few seconds, eyes scrunched up.




In spite of that, the mere feeling of another pair of lips against his own was enough for his heart rate to pike up.




Breaking apart was just like coming out of water, the first breath feeling like the first after a long absence of air. His chest heaved with difficulty and Keith couldn’t find the strength to open his eyes, frankly terrified of what had happened and its consequences. But there was silence, followed by the sound of a stifled laugh that shook him out of his reverie.




Keith snapped his eyes open. Lance was giggling with his head hanging low, shoulders shivering and the tip of his fingers against his lips.




Keith could only stare at the other guy trying to come down from his high; the high that Keith’s pathetic action had caused him. Shame and a crippling urge to run stirred inside of him.




Lance looked up at him, a sad smile perched on his face. Maybe if Keith hadn’t panicked, he would have recognized the lack of joy in his previous laugh. Lance took his fingers away from his mouth, slowly raising them to Keith’s and brushing his lower lip carefully.




“Oh, Keith. It’s a dangerous thing to like boys, especially a dying one.”




The whispered words sent a chill down his spine. Keith tried to read the impassible eyes, tried to ignore the scorching feeling of the touch, and definitely tried to defend his heart against the cruel curve of Lance’s smile, but it was all too much.




The fingers followed a trail from Keith’s lips to his temple, briefly tingling the skin of his cheekbones. Lance frowned, curiously peering at his face and ignoring the sound of something breaking right in his hand, pushing the dark locks of hair away from the yellow eye. “Keith, you-”




Keith smacked the hand away, the sound vibrating in the quietness. The storm of emotions blaring in his chest was deafening: a flash of pain, a lightning anger, a thunderous shame. The rush of stinging tears in his eyes was too foreign to him; he couldn't even remember the last time he had cried. “I want to go back” he growled, looking to a side.




“Wait, Keith-”




“Take me back to the castle.” If the situation wasn’t humiliating enough, the fact that he had no means to go back on his own made it even worse.




“Listen-’




“Just, don’t” Keith cut him off with a glare, “It was a stupid mistake, just forget it.”




He waited. He waited for something, anything, to contort the features in front of him.




Lance opened his mouth as if to say something, blue eyes scouting his face. Whatever he was looking for he must have found it, sighing in surrender. “Okay” he said, deflated.




Keith hated every second that followed. They stood up, a loud silence charged with apprehension and regret, stares purposely missing each other. When Lance timidly offered his hand, Keith snatched at it, desperate to put an end to his nightmare.




The previously wonder of flying was dimmed to its maximum. Keith could only glare at the dawn in the horizon, the first rays of sun mocking him, and the hand on his skin burning him down to the bone.




Lance didn’t leave him in his window: they had descended in front of the front door. Keith dissolved the contact as soon as he could land without breaking a foot. He stalked forward and yanked the door opened, the wood bouncing against the wall. Thankfully enough, Pidge feigned sleep in spite of the noise, quietly blazing in the hearth.




He heard the door closing and by the time he was about to set foot on the stairs, he heard the twinkling sound of the magical disk. He glanced over his shoulders, Lance’s lithe frame stepping into the darkness of the blue door and disappearing from his sight.




Keith clenched his jaw; he run all the way to his bedroom, slamming the door closed behind him and leaning against it, catching his breath after the sudden rush.




He let the back of his head hit the door, eyes scrunching up. But the images of the catastrophic night kept on popping in his mind, like the merciless nightmare they were. The knock in the window, the weightless feeling of flying, the forest, the clear, the specks of Quintessence shining off Lance’s eyes. Even after all that had transpired, Keith couldn’t deny it had been the most beautiful and painful thing he had seen.




It hurt. His own foolishness had caused him this pain. He had prayed, and hoped, and trusted for something good to happen for a change. It hurt too much-, the clench of his chest-, how was he even breathing through the tightness? It hurt, it hurt, it hurt.




He walked towards the bed, his muscles unable to keep him on his feet for much longer. Something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye.




He froze in front of the full-body mirror. His clothes were stained with green and nothing remotely close to the state they were in before leaving through the window, but it wasn’t that. What had made him stop in front of his reflection were the return of the cat-ears, furry and big as ever. But it wasn’t just that.




No, no, no, please.




His hand hesitantly touched the polished surface as if to make sure that yes, it was him and the reflection of nobody else staring back at him, this time with both eyes a piercing, bright yellow. His jaw fell opened and the points of slightly longer canines peered out of his mouth. When he clenched his fist, the sharp purple claws dig in his palm.




No, no, no, no-




He saw the creature crumpling in front of him. It sobbed, just like Keith, its eyes bright and wet just as he felt the first burning tears rolling down his cheeks.




He couldn’t take it anymore. In the solitude of his room, he screamed and smashed the mirror, the same hand Lance had cured not too long ago bleeding all over the broken crystals.




Not a heartbreak.




Smash.




Not a heartbreak.




Smash.




Not a heart-




He paused. No, it couldn’t be a heartbreak, he refused to believe so. Keith knew what living with a dead heart was like, he had been living with one his whole life after all. It had died the moment he realized he would never truly belong anywhere, and he had buried his secret along with it.  




But what else could it be then?




Maybe a broken heart didn’t equal a dead one. Maybe the pain was far greater, if the sobs tearing through his chest were anything to go by.






It took him a lot of time to have Shiro off his back.




Not that he could blame him. His brother had broken into the room after hearing his shouts and shattering glass, only to find a Keith beastly enough to stun Shiro in the threshold for a moment.




But after the brief pause and belated recognition, no words were needed. Not that Keith would have remembered them either: he had been too out of his own body to register anything.




Shiro had tended to him, murmuring sweet and little encouraging words trying to comfort him while bandaging his hand up. Keith couldn’t even look at him or move his fingers and if it hadn’t been for his brother, he would have probably fallen asleep on the floor with his bleeding hand after all the energy had been drained from him.




It was just a blank in his mind, a whole chunk of time in which he couldn’t remember ever ordering his body to move.




Shiro had put him to bed and maybe (he couldn’t tell if he had dreamed it or not) when Hunk’s voice had came from the door, Shiro had quietly left the room and Keith had plummeted to darkness without delay.




That’s why upon awakening, it took him a whole minute (and a mixed sensation between numbness and pain in his hand when he tried to move his fingers) to remember, to all his memories to come back like a lightening. Keith cringed at the images behind his eyelids, raised his hands to cover his face even though nobody was there to look at him.




His stomach churned. It’d been hours since the last time he had eaten but how do you expect food to get through the tightness you damn it was all he could grumble at the noise.




So he stayed in his room, indifferent to the passage of time, until late evening when Shiro dropped by.




“I’m not going” was his response when Keith asked why he wasn’t getting ready for Allura’s birthday.




Convincing his brother to just go to the party and let him brood in peace was hard to accomplish, but he managed. Shiro wasn’t actually aware Keith had been nurturing a broken heart since sunrise and he wanted it to stay that way. It was bad enough that Shiro knew about his mental crisis and thought it was all due to the curse getting worse, he didn’t need to know Keith had carelessly confided the delicate thing for the first time and managed to fuck up so grandly.




“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay?” his brother asked for the hundredth time and Keith wondered how come his ocular nerves hadn’t ripped in half after rolling his eyes that many times.




He rolled over his side.




“Okay, fine” Shiro said before leaving.




Keith did feel bad. But sometimes acting like a snappy brat was the only way of getting his message through.




No one bothered him after that. At one point he may have heard a commotion downstairs, some wolf-whistles and laughs, but he didn’t care or thought he was missing on something. He was just glad he didn’t had to put on a smile or say sorry to Allura for not going.




There was a suspicious, sudden silence in between the gleeful chat and Keith guessed his brother was breaking down the news about his curse and the new stage it had gotten to.




Thankfully enough, no one dared to go upstairs.




Time moved on. Eventually Pidge knocked on his door and didn’t wait for an answer before poking his head. “You can crawl out of your hole now, they are gone” she said, “all of them” she added. And since she was already used to Keith’s antics, left before he could bark something in response.




He could use a desolated castle and Pidge’s silent presence after all those long hours of remorse and self-criticism. He had shared enough peaceful afternoons over dusty books with the demon to know she wouldn’t pry about what had happened between him and Lance.




Lance. Keith was truly mad at himself. In spite of the way his feelings had been manhandled by the mage, he couldn’t stop thinking about him for more than 5 minutes before either remembering how he looked between the millions beads of Quintessence, or how much he had chuckled at the terrible kiss.




It wasn’t about the rejection, that had always been a plausible option and Keith knew it. But Keith hadn’t acted out of a whim (apparently he had, in the end), he had been certain there was something between them, the possibility of him not being the only one suffering from constant butterflies in his belly and the never-ending longing for seeing the other part. He couldn’t be mad at Lance for not reciprocating his feelings but Lance always acting like the sea, pulling Keith in just to spat him out later, just to find funny how Keith had fallen for him… he could easily be mad at that.




He made his way downstairs only to freeze at the end.




Because there was the door with the colorful magic disc.




A silent castle except for Pidge rummaging through the kitchen, scavenging for something to eat.




And then, as sudden as Keith’s impulse to close the distance between him and Lance with its catastrophic consequences, the thought was there.




The blue door. The damned blue door, the one out of boundaries, the one Lance disappeared through often enough one could thought it lead to another castle. The same damned blue door he had went through as soon as they were back.




He knew that he shouldn’t, that it was a bad, terrible idea, yet-




He was hurt. He was upset. He had always been curious. And the satisfaction of doing something that would get Lance mad, just because Keith was bitter and wanted to poke him and see him pissed in a sort of revenge for his-




Pidge probably sensed that Keith was running for his life out of the blue. Her first “Keith?” was tentative, as if she couldn’t figure out why he would break on a run like that.




And then she must had heard the twink of the door as Keith turned the disk, the golden needle pointing to the blue portion, because the next “Keith!” was a shout full of warning and bad omens.




Ignoring the yells of the demon, Keith slammed the door opened and threw himself into the darkness.




He ran and ran and ran for what could have been hours, heart raising thanks to exertion and sheer fear. There was something definitely wrong with the pitch black darkness around him, he couldn’t even tell if he was going in a straight line nor could he even look at his own hands. Panic started to clench and twirl his stomach, until light suddenly rushed to meet him.




He trudged and fell on his knees, trying to catch his breath, beads of sweat rolling from his forehead all the way to the tip of his nose. His eyes focused on his hands, fingers digging into dirt, as his ears finally caught something else apart from his own erratic breathing.




The relief of escaping the oppressive darkness was short lived, for Keith found himself in the worst possible scenario.




Screams of pain and moans, cries for help and yelling orders. People rushing from one place to the other. People limping and dragging themselves. People laying and dying. Corpses his mind provided through the deafening background, as his eyes settled on the tattered body closest to him.




A bombed town. Wreckage, raging fires and smoke everywhere. A place that could easily be mistaken for hell.




“Only Lance and I can be here, Keith” Pidge’s voice said from somewhere near him, and Keith whipped around to look at the demon drifting to his side. Her clean clothes and pristine form stood out ridiculously against the gray background. “You wouldn’t be able to leave on your own.”




Keith swept his eyes over the destruction and chaos once again. He felt his throat go dry. “What is this place?” he heard himself voice out, strangely alienated from his body.




Pidge didn’t answer him. Instead, she sighed deeply. “Lance’s is going to kill us anyway, so I might as well show you” she said, resuming her stroll. “Come on” she called over her shoulder, without making sure Keith was following.




He took a few more seconds to blink and gulp before staggering to his feet. They made their way down a street, stepping over some rubble that used to be the front of a house and passing by a crying infant claiming she couldn’t find her mother.




Keith stopped for a second, just about to crouch down in front of the girl, but Pidge’s voice stopped him. “Don’t even try, it’s pointless.”




He glanced back at the demon, who was patiently waiting for him just beside an unconscious man bleeding out from his splitted forehead. He frowned at her in confusion when she reached down to place her hand on the bloody face.




His jaw went slack as her hand went right through the man. He looked at the howling girl in front of him and tried touching her shoulder, only to clasp his hand around thin air.




“You can’t interact with them” she said. “This is just a memory.”




A memory, something of the past, something that have long come to an end. Reluctantly, Keith sidestepped the kid.




“A contract with a demon needs a physical form for the bond, usually a tattoo or some piece of jewelry, like a ring or necklace,” Pidge explained once Keith was next to her, “but Lance chose this: a memory sealed in an infinite loop, made up from his recollections and my own, so that he would never forget any detail of this day.”




They found themselves surrounded by little farms and their houses. Some of them had managed to survive the bombing, miraculously standing, with a burnt patch of land as casualty. Others, the unlucky ones, were completely destroyed, crops burnt to a crisp and a pile of collapsed wood and rock where the owners must had once lived.




They halted in front of one of the latter ones. “This is the moment Lance and I met, the moment he saved my life and the moment he gave up his own” Pidge said, motioning for Keith to look to his right.




His eyes widened at the two figures close to them. Two children; one of them curled up on the ground and the other one on his feet. Their skin was gray with ash plastered to it but they didn’t look hurt.




Hunk was whining loudly, the sound barely muffed by his face buried in his knees. One of his arms hugged his legs to his small, quivering chest as the other clung to the hem of Lance’s shirt: the fabric strangling the lanky boy didn’t seem to bother him, sharp collar bone peering through the stretched opening. His blue eyes were blank as he gazed to one of the burning fields in front of him, his tear streaked cheeks already dry.




“They had been at Allura’s mansion; the town was bombed on their way back. That night, they both lost their family, and were unlucky enough to be away from home.”




Keith’s heart thrummed even harder.




“Hey, boy.”




Pidge groaned as Keith snapped his head at the raspy voice. “I hate this part” she mumbled, covering her eyes.




The two boys were startled by the sound. Hunk sniffed and whipped his snot on his sleeve. “What was that?” he asked, quickly scrambling to his feet when Lance walked away from him. “Lance!”




The tall boy ignored the calling of his name, stopping right in front of what had been a barn. He looked down at the burnt debris, frowning deeply.




Keith stalked behind him as Hunk staggered to his side.




“Wanna make a deal?” a weak flame with its little arms clinging to a chunk of wood asked.




“Ugh, I will never get over how pathetic I looked” Pidge said, shaking her head at the sight of her past self.




“What is that? The fire- it’s talking- the fire has freaking eyes!” Hunk stressed out, his hand instinctively reaching for Lance’s arm, looking over the shoulder of his friend.




“You are a fire demon” Lance said, tilting his head. “But you are dying.”




The Pidge hanging off the wood cringed at the blunt words as much as the one beside Keith. “Yeah, well, I got a little carried away, been burning for a long while.”




Something snapped in the young mage’s face, the previous curious look replaced with a glare. “Then it’s time to say goodbye, isn’t it?” he spat out.




“It is, or at least, that’s what I thought” the fire demon barked out a laugh. “But it seems like my lucky day today, for you are here” she smirked, eyes darting over the two boys.




“Lance, I don’t like this” Hunk said, tugging at the other’s arm.




“You knew what I was right away" Pidge pointed out.




Still glaring at the demon, Lance shrugged. “Read it in a book.”




“Then you already know about the contracts.”




Pidge’s lips curled up even further at the silence of the boy and the way he didn’t deny it. “Tell me, Lance, what do you want? What is your deepest desire right now?”




She could see it, the way he was trying to scowl at her knowing it was a terrible idea to listen. But he was already tempted, already thinking the possibilities judging by the gleam on his eyes, for he was a boy that had lost everything and what else did he have to lose?




“No need to be ashamed, kid, just tell me” she sweetly said. “You know I can help you.”




“I want to watch them burn” Lance said without hesitation, eyes darkening. “Every last one of them.”




Hunk’s eyes widened in horror, unconsciously shaking his friend . “Don’t talk like that. Contracts? Don’t listen to this thing, Lance, whatever you are thinking-” he was cut off by Lance turning to him, the hardened look of someone ready to set the world on fire and dance over the ashes.




“I’m sorry, Hunk” he said, anger forgotten for a second, sadness flashing in his face.




“What-” the other started as Lance touched his cheek, mumbling incoherent words under his breath. “Don’t-” he tried one last time, heavy eyelids already fluttering uselessly.




Pidge whistled impressed as Lance delicately guided the body of his friend to the ground. “A sleeping spell? You are really good for someone your age.”




“Shut up” Lance snapped, still looking down at Hunk. “I don’t need you sweet-talking me. I have read everything about your class.”




Pidge scoffed. “A petulant and diligent student, I see. Then you already know how it works, right?”




Lance stood up and with a final look at Hunk’s relaxed face, turned around.




The boy kneeled in front of her, picking her up with both hands. He nibbled on his bottom lip with apprehension.




“Is it going to hurt?” he asked, for he was young and deep down scared in spite of his resolution.




Pidge smirked at him. “You told me not to sweet-talk you.”




Lance didn’t say anything, frown deepening. He let out a shaky breath and before any doubt could raise, opened his mouth and swallowed the fire.




Keith was astounded by the action, Pidge groaning at his side in disgust. “I take it back, this is the worst part.”




There was a blur, shapes and colors shifting. Only Pidge and Keith seemed unaffected, the center of the storm as everything changed around them. It was dizzying, the restart of the memory made his head hurt.




When it stopped, the two boys were back in front of their destroyed homes and the weak fire demon hadn’t yet called out to them.




Keith rounded on Pidge. “What was that, why did he swallow you?”




Her nose scrunched up. “It’s gross, but it’s the quickest way to the heart. Your esophagus is right behind it” she said. “It’s the way to seal a pact.”




Keith opened his mouth, but nothing came out of it, distracted by a distant “hey, boy”. “Why?” he asked.




Pidge stared at him for a moment, silent. Then she sighed, placing her hand against her chest, eyes lowered to it. She slowly peeled it off, an object the size of a stone materializing out of her.




Keith gaped at her hand. It was a piece of dark charcoal, except for the tiniest patch shining with a blinding blue light.




“This is Lance’s heart, or what used to be, at least. There’s nothing much left.” she said, sadly looking at it and cradling it almost fondly. “It was the brightest one I had come across. People who look for a demon’s help usually hold a dull one already, but Lance’s was nothing like theirs.”




“Then you already know about the contracts.”




Keith tried to process the memory and her words as he stared at what was supposed to be a heart.




“We function as amplifiers for magic” Pidge started.




“I’m sorry, Hunk”




“We link our Quintessence to that of the users, and slowly feed off their humanity. We eat away from their values, hopes and dreams, whatever good there’s in them, you name it. Greed, lust, laziness, wrath, envy, pride, gluttony: we only leave behind the ugliest things until a black heart. That’s why an already tainted one has not much to offer and the contracts end rather quickly. But the heart of a child-”




“Is it going to hurt?”




Pidge closed her eyes, pressed the invaluable thing against her chest. “I should have never touched it” she said, voice thick and full of regret. “I should have died that day and never put my hands on it.”




“Why? If he knew he was going to die after it, why did he make the deal?” Keith finally found his voice.




The memory started again.




“Allura wasn’t lying: Lance did hate living in a farm lost in a small town and it often caused him trouble” Pidge said, rubbing her eyes. “But the same life he had strongly rejected once was suddenly swept away, and maybe if he hadn’t been so fond on the idea of learning magic, running away whenever he could, he would have been here that day and met the same end as his family instead of being the only survivor.”




“Hey, boy.”




Keith closed his eyes, trying to ignore the footsteps of the kids. He felt overwhelmed, and it was tiresome to feel everything out of control again this soon after his last breakdown. The dizziness from the looped memory still made his head hurt and the pain that had made its home in his chest only squeezed harder.




Pidge’s eyes widened alarmingly fast. “Fuck, Keith-”




“You just had to stick your nose, huh?”




The unspoken threat in the voice makes him freeze all over, the hairs at his nape standing on edge. He’s jolted by a strong hand on his bicep forcing Keith to whirl around and meet blue slitted eyes.




There’s nothing humorous in Lance’s smile. “I told you not to come here” he growled low in his throat as the background started blurring.




“Lance, wait!” Keith heard Pidge yelling near them before a splitting headache made him close his eyes again.




He’s knocked off his feet and the next thing he knew, Keith was landing harshly on his back, the ricochet of his head against the floor blinding him for a moment. He tried to blink through the burst of colors in his vision, rolling over his side as the world tilted around him. He had been sent flying- Lance had sent him flying right through the door and into the living room of the castle.




He heard the slam of the door over the screeching noise in his ears. Through one squinted eye he looked at Lance leaning against the wood.




“You saw it” he said slowly, as if the thought was actually downing on him right then. His fists clenched and he pressed them against his eyes with shaking arms. “You saw it, you saw it, you saw it!




He screamed and the castle screamed with him. The windows flew opened and the glass shattered just like the lightbulbs. The walls seemed to shake as the furniture rattled, pictures hurtling towards the floor and chairs toppling over. Keith curled into himself at the chaos unfolded around him.




There’s a brief silence in which Keith ventured to peer over his shoulder. Lance was hunched over, shoulders quivering as he chuckled and Keith had a terrible flashback to that same morning.




Lance looked up at him and when he noticed Keith staring back at him, his laughter became louder. “It was fun, wasn’t it? Did you like it?” he asked exhilarated, eyes blown and manically expectant.




Keith gulped through the knot in his throat and a recondite corner of his mind registered the dryness there. He’s stunned and unable to do anything with his unresponsive muscles.




The silence and lack of reaction wasn’t appreciated. The quirk in Lance’s mouth vanished and was replaced by a foul grimace, the delirious glint of his eyes turning into something more dangerous. “It was disgusting, huh?”




He took a step forward, a storm ready to unleash its wrath upon everything on its pace. It kicked something inside of Keith, maybe a bare echo of a fight or flight instinct: with the help of shaking limbs, he dragged himself backwards, never breaking eye contact with the predator.




The gesture didn’t go unnoticed, and the gaze of the blue slitted eyes turned even more furious if possible. Lance stomped forward, Keith scrambling to his feet but swaying to his side and onto the floor due to his throbbing head; Lance chuckled darkly at his instability. “So tell me, Keith.”




He no longer spoke in a booming voice for the world to hear, switching to a lower and cruel tone intended to sting. Keith’s already erratic breathing was hard to keep up so it’s not actually a surprise when it stopped the moment Lance stood just in front of him.




“Tell me how it feels like to fall for a hollow shell.”




Keith stopped moving at the words, the intensity of the narrowed eyes looking down at him pinning him to the place. He stared at the same eyes of a lion he had once thought captivating but were now terrifying and merciless, hate and anger clashing endlessly on them.




He’s going to kill me he thought, not an ounce of doubt in the words and distantly wondering if Lance had glared at each Galra he had killed just like that. He’s going to kill me he repeated as Lance reached down with his hand and Keith simply let him. He had always thought of himself as a fighter but he was completely defenseless against the raging mage towering over him.




“Lance, stop!” Pidge finally burst through the door, freezing for a second at the sight.




It was not until the long fingers had fully closed around his throat and literally cut the income of air that Keith’s hands shot up. He’s effortlessly raised in the air, his own weight making the constriction around his neck even more painful. There’s the barest curve in Lance’s mouth as Keith squinted down at him, hands randomly scratching and tugging in panic.




“Bet I’m not so pretty anymore, huh?” Lance whispered with narrowed eyes as if he wasn’t casually strangulating a man.




Keith wished he could tell him how wrong he was, wished the hand around his throat would loose enough to let him speak the truth. He had always thought of Lance as this beautiful yet dangerous person, a tight knot his own fingers couldn’t wait to unravel.




There’s a gurgling noise in Keith’s throat as Pidge planted her hand on Lance’s arm, pushing it down. “You are going to regret this” she said.




If Keith was to live a “later”, he would probably think she was far too serene taking into account he was already feeling light-headed. Maybe demons weren’t acquainted with how little a human could go without air.




Keith stopped struggling. His vision was too blurry by then, but apart from the little force that was left in him, he felt defeated in a way that had nothing to do with his body giving up. He felt defeated by the pathetically tragic fate in which his life ended by the hand of the person he had grown so fond of, the same fate that had betrayed a child and ripped  his wings off without a care.




The same one probably laughing at the fallen angel killing him off without a mind or heart.




His hand slipped away, fell to his side, and Keith didn’t try to put it back up.




Lance’s eyes caught on the movement. When his gaze met Keith’s glazed over one, something shifted in his blue eyes even if Keith couldn’t place what exactly was.




Gravity didn’t wait for its pull when Lance let go of him. Keith crashed to the floor, the pain of the landing nothing compared to the burn of his lungs as they couldn’t seem to decide whether he needed to cough or breath for his life, his own hand on his neck. Lance rounded on Pidge, ready to direct his newly found anger.




“You let him see it!” he shouted right in her face. The shelves and cupboards in the room were yanked opened by an invisible force and smashed into the floor.




Keith cringed at the blasting noise, hands covering his ears and chest still heaving laboriously. His head was throbbing madly and opening his eyes only made him feel dizzier, but he looked up at Pidge’s blank face even when Lance clenched a fist in the front of her shirt, pulling her to his eye level.




“He deserved to know” she said, unfazed by the proximity in spite of their noses almost touching and Lance’s irregular breathing fanning on her face.




The look on Lance’s eyes only got wilder. “But you promised” he thundered, shaking her and Pidge’s head jolting along. “You promised! “




Keith staggered to his feet with difficulty, the other two too immersed in their world to notice. He’s insane his spinning mind provided. Lance had fully lost himself and if Keith didn’t got out of that place he was going to get killed.




So he didn’t hesitate given the opportunity. He had had a raging mage solely focused on tormenting him before, so he didn’t hesitate once he was no longer the focus of the threat.




He sprinted to the door, adrenaline pumping through his veins and ignoring the slight wobble of his feet. The sudden movement seemed to finally snap Pidge and Lance from their mind but he was already by the door. “Wait, Keith!” he heard Pidge’s yell over his ragged breath as he turned the magic disk, because he was no way in hell making the same mistake of entering the looped memory. He opened the door and flung himself into the street without looking back.




Pidge and Lance stared in silence at the empty doorway until the door clicked closed and even longer. In retrospective, Keith running away from there was the most logical outcome, but the reality of it happening still surprised them and left them speechless.




The fire demon was the first one to snap out of the stupor. “Lance, you have to go after him” she said urgently. Lance only kept gaping at the door as the fist around her clothes loosened. “Lance!”




“He’s gone” he unintelligibly mumbled, every trace of animosity gone. His blue eyes were no longer slitted by the time he dropped to his knees. “He’s gone” he said, louder, fully processing the fact.




He started hyperventilating, the uneven breathing a result of a building panic and not the previous burning rage. “He knows. He knows I’m heartless.” Lance looked up at her with wide eyes. “You promised, Pidge, you promised to never let anyone know. I just-, I didn’t-” his fingers threaded through his hair as the tears started flooding his eyes. “Oh God, what have I done?”




Pidge pressed her lips into a thin line at how betrayed Lance sounded. “He was heartbroken, Lance. He deserved to know the real reason” she bitterly said.




Lance choked on a sob, the heels of his palms against his streaming eyes. “He kissed me, Pidge. He kissed me this morning and I felt nothing” he admitted in a low voice, curling into himself. “I knew there was supposed to be something but I only thought of how pointless it was and how little I have left if not even Keith could spark anything in me.”




Pidge kneeled beside him, arms circling his trembling shoulders and pushing him into a tight hug. There was not much she could say: Lance had once thought he had lost everything and the crashing reality was he was about to do it again, this time willingly. Pidge felt her own eyes about to spill over her cheeks, something never heard of a demon before, as she embraced the man once the child who had asked her if losing his heart was going to hurt.




You told me not to sweet-talk you.




“I’m scared.” Lance’s fists clenched at her sides. “I don’t want to die.”




Pidge gently pushed his shoulders in order to look at his face and pry his hands away from his eyes. “I know” is the only thing she said, because she had never lied to him and she’s not about to do it at the end. She cupped his wet cheeks and forced him to look at her eyes. “But you have to listen to me. Keith is scared too, and his alone out there. You have to find him.”




Lance eyes widened. “Haggard” he mumbled, his head whipping towards the door.




He’s out in the street the next second. He’s about to jump into the air, look for Keith from a higher point, when his eyes spotted a piece of paper held against the floor with a knife.