It had been a close match. Too close for Shiro's liking. He stumbled across the sand, listening to the cheers of the excited crowd. Blood dripped down his arm and he realised he was still clutching the dagger they'd given him in one tight fist, he gasped, forcing his fingers open so the bloodied blade fell to the sand with a thud. Shiro stumbled, dizziness overcoming him as the crowd roared and heavy boots thudded towards him. Darkness converged on his vision, blurring it as rough hands grabbed at him and hauled him to his feet. He closed his eyes and let unconsciousness take him.
Shiro woke slowly, hearing muttered voices and the sound of a door opening and closing. His entire body ached fiercely, he tried to move his arms but they were heavy as if made of lead. He listened as soft footsteps drew closer, something metal clanged nearby and Shiro heard a soft sigh. Then gentle fingers touched his brow, trailing over his biceps. Shiro twitched, one of his arms moving without thought, he reached out and grabbed at whoever was touching him, he heard a strangled yelp and something metal clattering to the floor. Shiro's eyes snapped open, he growled, tightening his fingers around the throat he had in his grasp.
It took his mind too long to catch up but when it did his eyes widened in surprise. It was a boy. A human boy, face twisted in pain and fingers scrabbling at Shiro's metal wrist. Shiro released him, causing him to drop to the floor with a thud, he heard the boy retch and cough, desperately trying to regain his breath, “Sorry...I'm-here...is there anything-”
When Shiro reached for him the boy slapped his hand away, “Don't.” He gasped, remaining on all fours beside Shiro's prison bed. He rubbed at his throat, wincing and looking up through a fall of pitch black hair, “I'm fine. I'm just here to...tend to your wounds...” He rasped.
“Oh...Oh I'm sorry.” Shiro moved back as the boy got to his knees, he noted he was dressed in crimson silk as dark as blood. It rustled as he moved, robes falling open slightly to reveal a thin chest.
“His imperial majesty ordered me personally to take care of you, Champion.” The boy finally got to his feet, fixing Shiro with a sullen sort of glare, “Just...let me do job, ok?”
“Who...who are you?”
The boy eyed him suspiciously, distrust obvious in his scowl, “They call me Yorak.”
“But...Yorak's a Galran name,” Shiro frowned, “And you're-”
“I am Galra!” Yorak hissed, hands clenching into fists, “Enough with the questions,” He bent and picked up a silver tray and then all the medical equipment on it.
“Why'd the Emperor send someone personally to see to me? Usually I get stuck with Haggar's priests.”
Yorak winced, as if mentioning those names scared him, “I dunno. Take it up with him, Champion.” He dropped to his knees and picked up a cotton ball soaked in some sort of antiseptic.
Shiro watched him, curiosity burning in his gaze as Yorak cleaned his wounds, he was young and skinny and very pretty. Shiro hadn't seen a human since he'd saved Matt's life, he hadn't realised just how much he'd missed his own race. He winced when Yorak pressed a little too hard on a nasty cut above his eye, “Stop staring, it's creeping me out.” He muttered, frowning while he worked.
“How old are you, Yorak?”
The boy gave him a flat look, “What's it to you?”
“Well, since I'm pretty beat up I thought it'd be nice to have someone to talk to.”
“Talk to the wall.”
Shiro smiled, “My name's Takashi Shirogane, not Champion.”
Yorak rolled his eyes but didn't deign to respond. He worked in silence until he picked up some bandages and started to wrap the wounds, “Where...where are you from? What quadrant?” He asked finally, looking up into Shiro's face. His fingers stilled on the bandage.
“I don't know. I'm from a planet in the Milky Way galaxy called Earth.”
“Terran?” Yorak's weird purple eyes glistened, “I...”
“Hey, finish up in there!”
Yorak flinched like he'd been smacked before swallowing back his questions and tying off the bandage, he rose steadily and bowed his head, “My father called me Keith,” He whispered under his breath, before he turned on his heel and knocked firmly on the door.
Shiro watched him go, mouthing the name; Keith.
Shiro didn't see Keith again until weeks later. It was another hard fight but this time Shiro had come away with less wounds, the fighting was getting easier and he wasn't sure he liked that. He sat on his bed, rolling his shoulders with a wince when the door suddenly opened and the boy in red was pushed through. He fell to his knees and sat there, hands on the floor as a guard loomed up behind him. Shiro frowned, uncertain what this was about.
“Tend to his wounds, Half-breed.”
“Yes sir,” Keith replied, keeping his head low as the guard looked in Shiro's direction.
“The Emperor is doing you a great honour in giving you his personal slave, treat him well, Champion.”
Shiro blinked when the doors closed, leaving him alone with Keith, “Keith?”
The boy looked up at him, revealing his pretty, amethyst eyes, “You shouldn't call me that. I told you; I'm Yorak.” He insisted quietly, slowly rising, “I'm here to treat your wounds again, Champion.”
“And I told you not to call me that,” Shiro replied, smiling.
“Fine. Takashi Shirogane.”
“Just...just Shiro's fine.” Shiro assured him as he moved closer.
“Ok. Shiro.” Keith rolled the name around his tongue, a small smile flirting at the corners of his mouth, “It's nice.”
“Thanks,” Shiro looked at him, noticing for the first time that he wore jewellery. A gold chain dangled from his neck, a tiny tear-drop pendant flashing in the low light of the cell. Thin bangles tinkled as he moved his hands to inspect Shiro's latest wounds, “So...what is it you actually do for the emperor?”
Keith shrugged, “There's a lot he needs me to attend to. Mostly it's just grunt work, I carry messages, I carry his wine at dinner and warm his bed. The usual stuff.”
“You...” Shiro's voice died in his throat as he looked at Keith, he wasn't entirely sure he'd heard that right, “You warm...his bed? Zarkon's bed?”
Keith frowned, “What, you think I'm too soft?! I can take more punishment than most of the others! I'm his favourite!” He drew himself up as if being a royal whore was something to be proud of.
“Yorak.” Keith snapped, “Now hold still, this cut looks nasty,”
Shiro held still, feeling how soft Keith's finger tips were. No callouses, he'd never so much as held a sword in his life. He was no warrior, despite the fact that he had the pride of one, “I'm...sorry if I offended you. You see, where I'm from there are no slaves...it takes a lot to get used to.”
Keith paused, staring at the wound on Shiro's shoulder, “Is it...is it really that way? On earth I mean. I...I don't remember. I was taken so young.” He paused, hesitating, “They killed my dad.” He whispered, frowning, “My mother, she was Galra. They followed her trail after she left me with dad and found us instead. They killed dad and took me with them.”
“How...how old were you?” Shiro asked, his voice equally as soft as Keith looked up and met his eyes.
“Five, I think. I've been here ever since. They trained me, gave me clothes and food. I owe Emperor Zarkon everything, he was merciful.”
Shiro winced but managed to pass it off as pain as Keith finally finished patching him up. He watched the boy stand and gather up his things, “Thanks...” He said, watching Keith turn and frown at him in confusion.
“You don't thank a slave, idiot.” He flashed Shiro a tiny smile before knocking on the door again.
“Yorak, take this missive to Sendak.”
Keith knelt at the Emperor's feet, head bowed but when he was addressed he lifted his head and took the tiny electronic file from Zarkon's hand, “Yes, your majesty,” He said and rose, turning to the door. He felt the emperor's empty eyes on his back as he went, ignoring the crawling sensation that stole across his flesh. He clutched the item in his hand and strode purposefully down the corridor from Zarkon's private quarters, most other personnel ignored him. They were used to seeing Zarkon's little red-clad slave running around and knew that when he was out of Zarkon's quarters he was following orders. It took him very little time to reach Sendak's quarters, he reached out and knocked several times on the solid metal door. He paused and waited, when no one answered he frowned and pressed his ear to the door. He thought he heard a slap and a grunt before footsteps drew closer, Keith jerked back as they opened to reveal the massive form of Sendak.
“What are you doing, disturbing me?”
Keith bowed his head, lifting the tiny chip with one hand, “Zarkon wishes you to look through this. It's information his spies have gathered on the whereabouts of the blue lion.”
Sendak paused before sighing heavily, he snatched up the chip and stepped aside, “You may come in and wait for me to respond.”
Keith bowed before stepping inside, the rooms were sparse with a single hard bed and desk and little else. Sendak was a military man through and through, his dedication to the Empire and Zarkon was unparalleled. Keith let his eyes roam until he finally spotted a figure tied to the wall, it took him a moment to recognise the bruised face of the Champion. Sendak went to his desk and brought up a holographic display, Keith ignored him in favour of moving to the chained man. He knelt and peered up into his bloodied face.
“Leave him. He is of no concern to you, slave.”
“Yes sir,” Keith agreed, “But he's hurt. Zarkon won't want his favourite champion being rendered useless in his next match.”
Sendak turned to him with a fierce, yellow glare, “He belongs to me, slave. I do with him what I will.”
“Of course, sir,” Keith bowed lower, hands pressed against the floor, “I was just concerned for his majesty's mood. The arena is his favoured hobby, after all.”
“Fine. Tend to his wounds while you wait, I will send for Haggar's minions.”
Keith nodded and turned his attention back to Shiro, he was pale, arms limp above his head. Behind him Sendak read the missive from one the Galra's fleets stationed on the very edge of the empire. He put a hand on Shiro's face, turning his head to the light, “Shiro?” He whispered, causing the man's eyes to crinkle and flicker before he forced them open.
“Yorak,” Keith reminded him, “You're in pretty bad shape,”
“Yeah,” Shiro smiled, revealing blood stained teeth, “What...what're you doing here?”
“I was sent to Sendak with a message from Zarkon,” Keith assured him, “Let's get you fixed up before Hagar's priests get here.”
Shiro coughed, wincing as hot pain flared down his side, “Reckon he broke some ribs,” He gasped.
“Hm,” Keith eyed him for a while, taking in his strong jaw and broad shoulders, “You know, it'd hurt less if you didn't fight it.” He whispered under his breath, moving closer so Shiro could hear him, “The more you fight the more pleasure Sendak gets from it.”
Shiro blinked slowly at him, shivering a little in the cool air, Keith's body was close enough he could feel his heat, “I'd never just give in,” He whispered back, feeling Keith look at him, “If I did...it'd mean i'd lost all hope of ever escaping.”
“Escape?” Keith snorted, untying his restraints with deft fingers, “That's a fools dream, Shiro,”
“Maybe...but if I just give up...I may as well die here...” Shiro panted, wincing as his arms were finally released.
Keith frowned as he inspected Shiro's cuts and bruises before he turned and looked around the room, “I don't have any medical supplies, I can't do much.”
“Just this is...enough...” Shiro smiled, a bloodied grimace that made something inside Keith's chest twist painfully.
Keith turned to Sendak who was watching them with a glare, “Yes sir?”
“Take this down to the men in Control, they'll know what to do.”
Keith bowed, “Vrepit sa.”
Sendak nodded and watched as Keith rose and moved to the door, Keith glanced back to see Sendak rise and stand over Shiro's trembling form. His shadow engulfed him and Keith had to force his gaze away and leave quickly.
Shiro lay on the poor excuse for a bed they'd given him, his body aching, his mind scrambled by drugs and pain. His lungs burned from lack of air and his throat felt torn from his own screams. His entire right side throbbed. He groaned, turning his head to look and what he saw made him sick. His stomach churned as flashes of memory sent his mind reeling. The last fight had been hard, he'd almost been killed but somehow he'd dragged up the strength to win. He closed his eyes and lifted his hand to rub at his aching eyes. He could remember the gush of blood pouring over his hands, the desperate scream of his opponent who had only fought because he was too scared to die. Shiro shuddered, his stomach curling unpleasantly. Bile rose up his throat, burning a path as it went. He rolled onto his left side and vomited over the side of the bed. When he could breathe again he gasped, falling back as sweat slid down the side of his face. He stared across the empty room, wondering what new tortures they'd think of next.
A while later the doors opened to reveal Sendak, Shiro forced himself upright as the huge creature stepped into the room. Behind him came Zarkon's small slave. Keith's eyes flicked over him, a small frown creasing his brows before Sendak grabbed Shiro's face in one viciously taloned hand. Shiro was forced to look up at him but he fixed a defiant glare on his face, “You earned me a lot of GAC today, slave,” Sendak smirked, “The Emperor has summoned you,” Shiro was released and Sendak turned to Keith, “Make sure he's well enough to walk,”
“Yes sir,” Keith bowed as Sendak walked away, leaving them alone, “Your fight-” Keith cut himself off, eyes moving away and a small flush staining his cheeks, “I saw it. I was...in the Emperor's box. You were amazing.” He gave Shiro a wide-eyed look that resembled awe, “That weak little Puigian didn't stand a chance!” Keith moved closer, eyes sparkling eagerly, “If I was allowed to fight too I'd ask you to teach me.”
“What I did...that wasn't a fight. That was...murder...” Shiro winced, his voice coming out rough, it hurt to speak but he didn't like the bloodthirsty gleam in Keith's pretty eyes.
“You saved him a more painful fate at the hands of the witch,” Keith said, tilting his head and eyeing Shiro curiously, “Do you even know why he was in the arena?”
“No. It doesn't matter why, he didn't...didn't deserve that.”
Keith knelt at Shiro's side, looking up at him, “If I had your strength, maybe I wouldn't have to be where I am now. Maybe...maybe they'd all take me more seriously.”
“I don't know what they teach you here but on earth strength isn't everything. We're taught that all life is equal, that we're all deserving of respect. Back on earth, you could be or do anything you want.”
Keith's eyes lit up, “Even...even a pilot?” He whispered, almost breathless as he leaned closer. His look of desperation made a pit of something cold and heavy sit in Shiro's stomach, “I asked Zarkon once, if he'd let me fly a ship but he laughed at me. Said that I'm a half-breed and we don't make good warriors...but Lotor...that's Prince Lotor, he has all these half-breed generals. But...Zarkon sent him away after he defied him, so...I never got to ask.” Keith's eyes dropped to his hands as he clasped them in his lap.
“Hey,” Keith looked up and Shiro smiled weakly at him, “If I find a way to escape, I'll take you with me.”
Keith's eyes widened, he shook his head violently, “No! Don't talk like that, it's dangerous! If Sendak finds out what you just said he'll...well, I'd rather not find out. Shiro, there is no escape. We're stuck here for good...just...just accept your fate.” Keith rose slowly and reached inside his robes, “Here, drink this. It'll give you enough energy to meet with the Emperor.” He handed Shiro a small bottle of liquid, “It's a stimulant. It won't hurt you.”
Shiro unscrewed the bottle while Keith set up some cleaning fluid, he sniffed at the bottle and winced. It smelt strong.
“Don't you trust me?” Keith asked, halting his movements and arching an eyebrow.
“Well, you may be half human but you do work for Zarkon.”
Keith smiled, “Smart, guess you can't really trust me. But if you don't drink it you won't be able to stand for long enough to get to Zarkon's throne room,” Shiro sighed and downed the bottle, it tasted like rotting fish and he retched violently. Keith laughed, a soft little sound that made Shiro look up at him in wonder. He watched as Keith placed a stack of dark clothes on the bed, “They want you properly presented. You'll be meeting Zarkon's most trusted generals,”
“So, they're showing me off?”
Keith nodded, “Yeah. All you have to do is stand there and let them talk around you.”
Shiro let out a slow breath and reached for the ragged hem of his shirt, he stripped it off, wincing when pain lanced down his side. He dropped it to the side and revealed Keith who was eyeing his body with a strange, indecipherable expression. Shiro chose not to comment as Keith handed him a damp wash cloth and bowl of water. Shiro washed as much blood and dirt away as possible, stripping off his trousers. He looked over at Keith and saw him watching, a dark tinge to his cheeks and his lower lip caught between his teeth. Shiro almost laughed but didn't want to embarrass him. When Shiro was clean Keith helped him put on the plain black body suit all prisoners wore. It clung to him like a second skin, he could feel Keith's hands as he smoothed it down over his chest and arms. Shiro shuddered at the touch, it was hard not to ask him to keep doing it. Shiro hadn't had a kind touch in months, he didn't even know how long he'd been a prisoner. Keith was the first person to show him any sign of kindness and his body wanted more, he wanted to wrap Keith up in his arms and hold him close. Shiro banished those thoughts and focussed on putting on the simple shirt over the top of his suit.
Keith's fingers lingered for longer than usual as he smoothed the shirt down, his breathing was a little rapid but he managed to force his hands back down by sides and admire Shiro from a distance. He was tall and strong and everything Keith had always wanted to be, he swallowed hard and looked away, “They're expecting us,” He said hoarsely, moving to the door and knocking to be let out.
Sendak appeared once again, eyes landing on Shiro straight away. He smirked, “You're looking better, champion. Come, the emperor awaits.”
Sendak led them down a well-lit hallway littered with sentries, Shiro tried to keep track of where they were going but Sendak had his hands cuffed together and a chain held in his fist, occasionally he yanked and forced Shiro to stumble. Keith walked beside him, glancing at him occasionally but his eyes would quickly dart away again.
Finally, after a confusing trek through endless halls, they reached a massive door inscribed with the Galra insignia. Keith stepped forward and activated a panel with his hand, Shiro's eyes widened when he realised that Keith could use Galra tech. He hadn't had the chance to test if his own metal hand could but it was useful to know that if it didn't, someone could. Keith stepped through the doors and Shiro watched him walk to the centre of a huge hall-like room. He went to the red carpet and dropped to his knees, head bowed almost to the floor, “Your majesty, the champion awaits.”
“Bring him forth,” Came the ringing reply, the voice deep and commanding. Shiro's chain was pulled roughly and he was forced to follow Sendak into the throne room.