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Pick Your Poison

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Cold water rushes out from the open tap, the perfectly clear water turning a dull grey the second it hits Keith's hands. He flinches but rubs at his split knuckles anyway, the burning sensation quickly melting into the numbness he's so used to. The water swirls down into the drain, creating whirlpools of blood and soot as Keith continues to desperately scrub his palms. He's only making things worse, but he can't seem to stop. His fingernails are chipped and broken, only drawing more blood with each swipe over his hand. 

He turns off the tap, finally leaving his battered hands alone. The bleeding comes to a slow stop, his blood clotting as scabs start to form around the edges of his broken skin. He wipes the excess blood on his pants, not caring much or appearances. It's not like it's a noticeable amount anyway. He places his hands on either side of the sink and sighs deeply, looking at himself in the fogged mirror.

He stares into his bloodshot eyes, massive bags hanging under his eyelids. He'd like to say he remembers a time where his violet eyes were vibrant and full of life, but he can't. He's looked worse, that's for sure... but, that doesn't mean he looks great. Not by a long shot. With a final sigh he turns away from the mirror, not able to stare at the amalgamation of himself for a second longer. 

He steps out into his room, his eyes trailing over Lance's mess of a bed as he passes it. He drops to his knees by his bed, pain rocketing through him as he does so. He doesn't even flinch this time. The area under his bed is damp and dusty, each and every object shrouded in shadows. He reaches under his bed, pulling out the small box at the very back. He places it on his lap and takes one more look around the room out of pure habit. He slowly opens it, exhaling slowly when the familiar purple glow slips through the cracks of the box. Inside is a small square of fabric, stained with ink and littered with messy writing, the corners stained a dull maroon that was once a vibrant blood red.

His hand lightly grazes over the leather wrapped handle, the stitching unraveling in the corners from extensive use. The metal itself is spotless, not a single scratch present on its surface. A small purple gem is in the center of the knife. It produces a dull glow that coats the box in a purple light, coating part of the room in a faded light as it glows. Keith glances at the fabric lying on his palm again, single pieces of string starting to fray off at the edges.

You have four months. If you don’t do this, someone else will. Do not screw this up, you know the consequences.

The Galra has never been one for subtlety, the dried bloodstains that marked the fabric being a clear indication of that fact. Keith sighs and slowly wraps the blade back up, placing it back into the box with a soft thud. Keith shifts the objects under his bed around, making sure to hide the box as far back as he can as he slides the box back into it's hiding place.

“Keith? You in here?” There’s a small knock at the door as Lance walks into the room, a smile picking up on the corners of his lips when he sees Keith kneeling by his bed. Keith still doesn’t understand why Lance always knocks before entering. It’s not like this is Keith’s room; him and Lance share after all. The second Lance enters the room, it's like a switch is flipped and Keith slips into his persona.

“Oh, hey,” Keith says, pushing himself up off the ground, smiling at his 'friend'.

“Princess Allura wants us,” Lance says as he gestures behind him, pointing his thumb as he throws his hand over his shoulder. “We’ve got to finish cleaning the ballroom.” Right, servant duties.

“Okay… just, give me a sec.” Keith bends down, taking out his worn out and tattered shoes. He should probably send a request in for a new pair sometime soon. He pulls them over his feet, ignoring the sting of pain that shoots through him as the fabric pulls on the scratches and scabs on the back on his ankle as it awkwardly rubs against them with each step.

Keith walks through the halls, idly talking with Lance as he takes in the sights around him. He probably won’t ever get used to how lavish the castle was, how much luxury the princess lives in. The walls are simplistic: polished wood with banners displaying the royal family crest hanging from them. Long stained-glass windows reach from the ground to the ceiling, the intricate patterns causing rainbows of light to shine through, making the whole castle glow in a multitude of colors from dusk till dawn. Each hallway is lined with red rugs, trimmed with a golden silk that’s also embroidered into patterns on the rug, overlapping as they intermingle, swirling and twisting as they collide. The ceiling curve into massive arches, expensive (and excessive) chandeliers hanging from the peak of each arch, the diamonds that hang reflecting the light from the windows around the room. God, the castle is the most magnificent thing he has ever seen in his life.

Keith has a job to do, one that isn’t cleaning ballrooms, tending to the horses and administering to the princess’s needs. He wishes it was, but that isn’t his life, it never will be. Keith is an assassin, someone under the control of the Galra Kingdom sent to kill Princess Allura. This is his first big job, if he can pull this off… the Galra may finally let him live in peace. A life without daily beatings and starvation sounds like paradise. If some blood has to be shed to get there, so be it.

The Galra kingdom is the closest neighboring kingdom. They’ve always been in a feud with Altea, which only got worse when King Alfor was killed in battle by none other than Emperor Zarkon, someone who he was once a close ally. And now, the princess is the Galra's next target, the current ruler of the kingdom of Altea. She’s unmarried and doesn’t have an heir as of yet, meaning if she were to have a fatal accident, the kingdom would be left without a ruler and would be ripe for the taking. It’s easier said than done.

Keith’s goal was to sneak into the castle, kill the princess in her sleep and slip back out under the cover of darkness… emphasis on was . You see, Keith didn’t even get remotely close to sneaking into the castle on his first try, not because he was busted, no. He was invited into the castle.

As a lowly servant to Zarkon, Keith wasn’t given the luxuries such as clean clothing, regular bathing periods and even sufficient food. Keith was stick thin back then. His ribs had poked out from under his skin, his legs were frail and he was always drowsy. His skin used to be tight and thin, the veins underneath clear whenever you looked at him, and the pale flesh tinted a permanent grey from his malnutrition and the dirt that covered him at all times. They were dark days for him, times when he wasn’t sure if he’d wake up the next day. Honestly, sometimes he didn’t want to.

By some miracle the princess stumbled upon his campsite on one of her daily strolls, Keith would have killed her then and there if it wasn’t for the royal guard watching him from a few metres away, ready to attack at a moment’s notice. “You poor thing.” Keith remembers her saying to him as she bent down to meet his eyes, it was almost patronising, the idea that he was something to be pitied. “You must come back with me to the castle. You shall work under my command and be given a place to stay, food to eat, water to drink and safety.” It wasn’t even a question now that he thinks back to it. She never actually asked if he wanted to go back with her, simply saying that he would.

Keith has never been one to count his blessings, but not only was he getting a suspicion-free way into the castle. No, the princess would have her guard lowered around him AND he’d be getting pampered in a castle? It was perfect in every way he could imagine. Keith had quickly put his weight back on, his body going back to a healthy level of muscle and fat, his bones no longer popping out from under his skin, and his skin went back to his usual pinkish colour, not the dead grey he had grown used to.

He was given new clothes and shown to the common area where he slept for the first few nights, five to six red velvet couches all circled around a table which was directly in front of a large fireplace. Keith remembers running his hand along the fabric of the couch. It was softer and more expensive than anything Keith had ever even seen in his life, let alone been permitted to sleep on. In the dead of the night when he was sure all sounds of activity around the castle had ceased, he got up and walked down the hall, then down a flight of stairs into something that reminded him of a dungeon. It was clear it hadn’t been used in years and had fallen into a state of disrepair. The stone bricks were cracked and crumbling, spiderwebs littering every nook and cranny, and the only sound he could hear was the quiet clacking of his shoes as he walked along the stone path, along with an occasional squeak of a mouse.

It was pitch black in the catacombs, the only light being the occasionally flickering torch that was hung up on the wall. He studied a map before setting off at his journey. His plan was to take a left turn at the fork coming up, walking up a flight of stairs which led him to the hall outside of Princess Allura’s room. It was an indirect way to her, so it should have been the quietest. It should have been

Keith heard a set of footsteps behind him, and spun around to see nothing but the black hall behind him. A small white mouse scampered past his feet and into the a hole in the wall next to him. Keith grabbed the torch off the adjacent wall and continued on his way. As he was swinging the torch around to light up the area in front of him, embers fell from the wood and drifted down to his feet. Keith sighed and continued on his way pulling his hood up further with his free hand and tried to shake off the bad vibe this area was giving him.

Suddenly there was a hand on his back, a stone grip on his hood as he was yanked backwards. His entire body fell back towards the stranger as he slammed into someone’s chest, which knocked the air out of his lungs.

He was spun around by his shoulders, the force causing his hood to fall from his head. He looked into the stranger’s eyes as he stared back, the both of them taking in each other’s features as they did nothing but stare. The boy was objectively attractive, his skin was tan and blemish free, his short brown hair tousled around his face, framing his features perfectly. His shoulders were broad, his legs long and arms clearly muscular, even under the baggy shirt he wore. However, the stranger’s appearance wasn’t Keith’s priority, not by a long shot. No, he was too busy worrying about how much trouble he was in, how he was likely to be beheaded.. His worries were only pilling up when he heard the stranger whisper out a small “I knew it.”

In hindsight Keith should've know that he wasn’t in fact busted, but he didn’t know anything about Lance back then, and he couldn’t help but think about all of the horrific things that the stranger was going to do to him. Was he going to turn him in? Beat him within an inch of his life? Somehow let him off with a warning? Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit and SHIT. He was so utterly busted.

“You really think I didn’t notice something was off about you when you walked in?” the stranger whispered again, snapping Keith out of his spiral. “You think that hood was going to stop me from finding out?”

“What are you talking about?” Keith managed to keep his voice reasonably calm throughout the conversation, which was a rather big achievement considering how much he was internally freaking out within that moment.

The stranger shot his arm out, pointing at Keith with a satisfied look on his face. “You have a mullet!” he declared. That was the first time he met Lance. It wasn’t how Keith imagined it would have gone, though, it’s not like he could picture Lance catching him in the dungeons going any differently. It’s not exactly your everyday scenario.

Within a week of moving into the castle, Keith was transferred into the west wing servant dorm, which Lance just so happened to be staying in.

Keith quickly grew closer to Lance, he wouldn’t call it friendship… more of a mutual respect between acquaintances. Yeah, that’s what they are. Regardless, Keith learnt a few key things about Lance.

  1. He’s extremely close to the princess - Note:  Possible way to get to her?
  2. He’s a goofball who lets his guard down pretty often.
  3. He’s a servant just like Keith, but he’s a servant by choice. Apparently he likes the castle and is more of a friend to Allura if anything.

While what he learnt in his first few weeks at the castle wasn’t what he was looking for ideally, he could work with it. After all, any information can be helpful information - that’s Galra 101.

And well, that brings him to where he is today, walking down the hall as Lance jokes around about anything that comes to mind.

When Keith pushes open the ballroom doors, he’s greeted with the sight of mice scuttling around on the floor - the very mice Allura refuses to let Keith remove from the castle. Apparently they’re peaceful creatures that she enjoys the company off… whatever that means. Keith sighs loudly when he notices the thick layers of dust covering the chandeliers and the grime on the windows. The mice scurry into holes all around the castle, disappearing from sight the second the massive ballroom doors swing open.

“Let’s get to work!” Lance exclaims as he steps into the room, clearly unfazed by the mess. 

Keith can't decided what's worse, cleaning this mess, or clearing it with lance. Keith hasn’t been able to escape Lance from day one in this castle, and it doesn’t seem like his luck is going to change anytime soon. “Yeah, okay. I’m coming," Keith says, walking into the room after Lance.