Keith was not looking forward to the Gala tonight. While he was a bit curious to put some of Prince Lance’s flirtatious rumors to the test to see how they held up, the thought of being surrounded by a bunch of nobles and, quite frankly, snobby aliens of various planets made Keith groan. On top of the fact that the security threat would be hire with the open doors, and that Keith was required to wear a more formal and restricting outfit left him in his bed, almost half past when he usually trained.
Keith was startled when he heard a knock upon his door and scrambled out of bed. Normally Shiro didn’t train with him until after the Prince and Princess went to bed, if they even had the energy, so he was surprised Shiro would even be bothering to get him up at this point.
And he was even more surprised to open the door to the Prince himself.
“Prince Lance!” Keith quickly dropped into a bow, or rather, attempted to, causing his and the Prince’s heads to collide, sending the Prince to fall on his rear.
“Your highness! I’m so sorry!” Keith quickly bent down to access the red spot on the Prince’s head, hopefully one which would fade quickly, ignoring the throbbing within his own head. Keith brushed the Prince’s hair out of the way so he could get a better assessment of the damage he caused, blushing and stammering out, “I think I have a first aid kit in my room. Please come in and sit on the bed.” Keith helped Lance up and to the bed, and was surprised when he began to hear laughter coming from his victim.
“I’m going to be honest - I didn’t expect my own guard to attack me when I came to give him a wake up call. But I’m fine, Keith, there’s really no need for you to play nurse. It’s a small bump at worst.”
“But tonight is the Harvest Gala! You cannot attend with a bruise on your forehead. Please.” Keith opened a few drawers before finding the first aid kit he was looking for. He took a cooling pack from the container and pressed a button to turn it on, before turning to Lance and applying it to his forehead. “I’m sorry again, for all this.”
“Keith, I already told you it was fine. Besides, I’ll take this as a formal reminder never to try to wake you up. And you should take it as a reminder to just quit bowing already.”
Keith took a few deep breaths, taking in Lance’s quirked lips and joking tone to help rid him of his anxiety, before he properly took in the fact that he sat the Prince of Altea on his bed. Keith tried not to blush at the thought.
“If I may ask, why did you come down to our quarters? I was expecting Shiro to be behind the door, not yourself, so I was a bit shocked.”
“That’s one way to put it,” Lance looked up to gesture towards his injury. “Like I said, I was coming to wake you up.”
“You usually aren’t up for… at least another hour if I’m not mistaken, My Prince.” Keith glanced at timekeeper in the corner of his room to make sure he hadn’t slept in more than he initially thought.
“Yes, but tonight’s the night of the Gala! I’m excited. I wanted to go to town before we had to start getting ready, so I thought we could go together. I mean, if you’d like to.” Lance fiddled with the icepack a little bit, lowering it from his head.
“You don’t have to invite me places - I am your bodyguard, you know. I go where you go.”
“Well, I mean, if you don’t want to I figured I could find someone else. But I wanted someone to hang out with, not just someone to keep me safe.” Lance looked up at Keith with the same eyes as his first night here, on the balcony under the sunset. Keith smiled softly, pushing Lance’s hand with the cold pack back to his head.
“Well, I’ll do both. When would you like to head out?”
“As soon as you are dressed, ideally. That way we don’t have to rush to be back in time to get ready.”
Keith’s eyes widened as he realized he hadn’t gotten ready at all today, and now he was standing in front of the Prince. He was thankful he slept in the undersuit of his armor, a habit that grew from the Blade’s mid night drills and his own paranoia, but still felt a bit exposed with how tight the piece clung to his skin.
Lance laughed at Keith’s reddening face. “Don’t be so embarrassed. Now we’re even. We’ve both seen each other half-dressed and with messy hair. I’ll wait for you in the kitchen, okay?” Lance got up from the bed, putting the cold pack down on Keith’s dresser as he left the room, closing the door behind him.
Instead of heading straight to the kitchen, Lance took a left towards the bath hall so he could take the opportunity to splash his face with some cold water. He didn’t expect to see Keith wearing something so… form-fitting. He felt shameful that his thoughts headed to a not-so-pure region of his brain, and tried to wash them off, before going to spend some time with Hunk, who was surely already cooking for tonight. The last thought that stuck with him before he rid Keith of his mind was how he could be the one to make Keith’s hair that messy, and how it would’ve been nice to be the one to fix it for him.
Keith took a quick shower, deciding to do a quick round of stretches while the water warmed, before getting dressed in his normal uniform, toweling his hair dry, and heading towards the kitchen. He hoped he could grab a snack before they headed out, unsure that he’d be able to get dinner while working at the Gala and not wanting to die from starvation of all things.
Keith walked into the kitchen to see Hunk, rolling out some dough out on the countertop, and surprisingly, Lance, sitting on the countertop, with his sleeves rolled up as he mixed a bowl full of something.
“Good morning, Hunk. Would you happen to have anything I could steal for a quick breakfast?”
Lance stopped stirring at this, raising an eyebrow at Keith. “You don’t eat breakfast.”
“Yeah, but I probably can’t eat dinner tonight. Not supposed to eat if I’m working.”
“Aren’t you technically working around the clock?” Hunk asked, smirking slightly as if Keith just outed himself.
“Yeah, but I mean, open-doors means a lot more risk. We’re going to be on alert tonight, which means no eating for me.”
Lance put the bowl down and jumped down from the counter. “What? That’s a tragedy. The food is going to be soooo good tonight. Hunk’s cooking is like, half the reason most people attend these things.” Lance leaned onto Hunk’s side slightly, the larger man never hesitating in his movements.
“Also, Shiro always sneaks things off the finger food plates, and I normally keep all the guards a few plates back here. I can add one more to the list. We won’t let you starve.” Hunk, seemingly content with his dough, tossed the roller into the sink and washed off his hands. “But like, you guys don’t actually expect an attack or anything right? Is you being on alert serious?”
“No, it just means since there are open doors, anyone could walk in. So we just need to be paying attention. Hence, none of your cooking, as we would surely all just be sitting and inhaling it for the whole gala.”
“Okay, okay, good. I know your job is to protect Lance, but if anything ever happens, please come back and get me too.”
Keith chuckled lightly before nodding. “Of course, Hunk.” Keith grabbed an grian off the counter before taking a bit out of the sweet fruit. “Ready?” Keith asked, turning his attention towards Lance.
“Yup! Sorry, Hunk. I’m done helping, but if I have time before I get whisked away into doll dress up time, I’ll be back.”
“I ‘preciate it, but also, don’t come back because I don’t want to get yelled at again if you end up having flour in your hair and it takes ‘an extra fifteen minutes to clean out,’” Hunk said, laughing a bit as he mocked some high-pitched tone towards the end of the sentence, causing Lance to join into the joy. Keith wasn’t exactly sure was he was watching, but was curious about what Lance has to go through before all these galas.
Just as Keith was about to take another bite of his grian, Lance grabbed his hand and pulled him out of the kitchen and out of the castle.
“Wait! Lance,” Keith called, forcing them to stop at the entrance of the Castle. He quickly took a few more bites of his fruit before throwing away the core, wiping his hands on his pants, and pulling his hood over his head. “We need to walk a little bit slower, okay? And stay close.” Keith grabbed the hilt of his knife in his hand, leaving it unactivated for now, but wanting to be prepared. As much as he wanted to enjoy this trip with Lance, he also knew what happened what happens when you let your guard down. Even if Shiro forgave him, Keith didn’t think he would ever forgive himself.
Lance nodded at Keith, slowing down his pace to stay next to him. “If you wanted me close to you, Keithy-boy, you could’ve just asked.”
Keith rolled his eyes as they continued further. “So what exactly are you looking for? Don’t you have like… handmaidens or something to get you dressed and all that for tonight.”
Lance groaned. “Yes, but they’re terrible. They always pull in different directions as they try to do different things, and I feel like they’re always pointing out flaws they ‘need to work around.’ It’s honestly really taxing and stressful. But, though I can’t choose my own outfit, they do let me choose accessories that don’t clash. So it has become a bit of a ritual for me to get something from the market before a gala or ball or whatever festival we are hosting that time.”
Keith frowned at the description of how Lance gets ‘taken care of,’ knowing that he would have to go through it tonight. He wanted to apologize to Lance, but knew that it wouldn’t make much of a difference. “Why do you get something from the market? I always assumed the castle had its own jewelers and tailor and all that. Isn’t the market a little…” Keith trailed off, not sure how to put the thought he wanted to end with. He was a little more on edge since Lance had mentioned that this was a ritual, meaning others may be expecting Lance to wander around, but he tried to keep that thought in the back of his mind as his hand tightened a little bit, and he kept his eyes scanning their environment.
“I find it easier to get things that fit the theme that feel cute. And I like having something a bit more understated. While I love dressing up, and don’t get me wrong, I love fashion, it just feels like it isn’t me. Like, take for example, they will never not dress me in blue and Allura in purple. It’s so dumb, but its like they decided it was the best colors for us, and even though blue is my favorite color, clothes stopped being a way to express myself. I mean, I guess your wardrobe doesn’t allow for that either, but I don’t know. I like the freedom that going to the market provides. Plus, I think the castle tailor is always just trying to push the most expensive cloth, and not actually the prettiest, which is annoying.
“I was hoping that today I could find something to really highlight the fact we are celebrating the Harvest tonight. And anything in the Castle will feel too separated from that. I’d rather buy something from someone who actually is affected by the Harvest. Someone who this is a spiritual event for, rather than just a reason to party, I guess.”
Keith honestly wasn’t expecting that kind of an answer from Lance, and was silent for a bit as he tried to process all of that. It was really admirable, and honestly, it felt like the more he talked to the Prince, he felt more and more for him. More sympathetic, but also more attached. It was hard not to want to just listen to him talk for hours.
“We never really celebrated any holidays with the Blade, but I can kind of understand what you mean. If I may ask, what is the spiritual significance of the Harvest Festival? Besides the value in a good harvest to help make it through the Cold.”
“Oh Keith! I forgot! This is your first Harvest Festival! So with many of the plants that we grow here on Altea, especially back in history, harvesting the fruit or whatever crop really meant killing the plant that grew it. So the holiday, which used to take place the day before harvesting began, but now that’s a bit wack because we’ve learned different crops have different ideal seasons, is both to thank for the harvest of the year, but also to thank the plants for their sacrifice if that makes sense. It really focuses on humbling us to our nature and what it provides to us.
“I guess that’s kind of what upsets me the most about the Gala. We don’t really take it as a humbling moment. I mean, I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault particularly. Like I do not assign any blame to my father for this or anything. I just think that we live too separate from nature for our own good in some ways, and I think that leads to the holiday feeling like a simple excuse to drink and socialize.
“Pidge, before they became the head of the research lab, used to always take this nature stroll the day after the festival, to communicate with the trees, and just be one with nature for the day. I was always so jealous of that. But I suppose it must be hard on Pidge now, given their Olkarion roots, but that being the head of the research efforts meaning they cannot take that day off anymore.”
Lance shrugged, seemingly off in thought and looking a bit upset. Keith really didn’t know what to say in response to Lance’s mini-confession of sorts. “Would there… would there potentially be a way for you to figure out where Pidge would take this walk? If we could secure the area… Pidge could potentially go tomorrow evening, which I know isn’t the same, but a few of the guards and myself could ensure everything is safe. Going after sunfall isn’t ideal, but if I talk to Shiro and the others, maybe we could figure something out?”
Lance shot Keith a huge grin, lighting up. “Oh my! Keith, that would be so amazing if we would be able to do that. I’ll ask Pidge once we get back. Thank you so much!” Lance threw his arms around Keith and hugged him tight. Keith tensed up at first, but couldn’t help to avoid the temptation to bury his nose slightly into Lance’s shoulder.
“Don’t get your hopes up just yet. The others would have to approve it first, and it depends on the location, but asking is the least I can do.”
Lance let go, taking a moment before resuming his stride. “I still appreciate it. But look, we’re almost here.” Lance quickly grabbed Keith’s hand before dragging him further into the market scene as Keith tried to stay aware of any unusual figures in the background. But everything seemed safe, with no suspicious figures, which helped Keith take a breath. While there were many people eager to point at and talk to the Prince, nobody meant any harm. Which meant that the shopping could commence.
They had spent a while going through various stalls, making small talk with some of the villagers (really that was all just Lance), and enjoying the displays set in front of them in honor of the Harvest Festival. Lance would put random scarves on Keith before trying on a small choker or bracelet himself, before handing the items back and moving on to the next stall.
Until he found it. The second Lance saw them, he knew that is what he came looking for. It was a pair of golden orange earrings (fool’s gold, not that Lance cared), which caught the light as if it was made for this sole purpose. It was comprised of two circles: the smaller a simple sun and the larger an ancient Altean calendar, rich with intricate carvings depicting the seasons, with the Harvest being at the top. Lance immediately picked up the earrings to put them on, practically in a trance as he looked for a mirror to see how they looked. They hung about an inch above his shoulders and looking so pretty Lance couldn’t seem to say no. He looked towards Keith to get his approval.
Keith was watching the scene in admiration, loving the way Lance seemed to have this kind of magnetic pull to the earrings, how delicately he held them and placed them on his ears. He was a bit surprised to learn that the Prince had gone through the old-fashioned style of piercing his ears when magnetic earrings were so common place among elite fashion, but he supposed it fit the Lance he has gotten to know, as opposed to the Prince Lance of Altea he had heard so much about before gaining his position. He smiled at Lance simply and nodded, more approving of the joy it brought to Lance than the earrings themselves.
“How much will these be?”
“Oh, Your Majesty, I’m afraid I couldn’t take your money. Please, being able to say you now wear my earrings is payment enough.”
Lance gave a small smile, but dug into his small pouch to take out a handful of gold coins and hand them to the merchant. “Please, it is the least I can do. Would you mind if we took a photo? Keith?” Lance reached his arm towards Keith, handing him a flat orange and glass capture device. At the merchant’s shy nod, Lance threw an arm around them and smiled, waiting for the click noise to confirm that the picture had been taken. “Thank you so much again. It was such a pleasure to meet you. Please, what is your name?”
“Laxp, Your Highness.”
“Laxp, it was such a pleasure to meet you. Your earrings will bring me so much joy to wear at the Gala tonight. I hope you are able to find a way to attend, if for nothing else than to enjoy the food.
“If it would not be too much trouble for you, Laxp, I was hoping to find something matching to this design for Keith. Maybe a bracelet or a small chain?”
“Lance, please, I don’t want -”
“Nope. It’s your first Harvest Festival on Altea, and I want you to get a token to remember it by. Keith, which would you prefer: a bracelet or a necklace?”
“A bracelet, if possible.” Keith ducked his head as he replied, knowing Lance was going to buy him something if he didn’t say anything, and knowing he wouldn’t be allowed to wear a loose necklace while on duty. Too much risk, he supposed.
“Well, your Highness, I do have a smaller bracelet of a similar design, though it is not the same.” Laxp presented the bracelet towards the two. It was a toned-down yellow compared to the earrings, a simple golden chain with two tiny suns and a larger Altean Calendar between the two. It was simple, but that seemed to fit Keith. Lance smiled widely.
“I think it’s perfect. Keith?”
Keith admired the bracelet. Now that he was inspecting the jewelry himself, he could see the level of detail and craftsmanship which must have gone into including all of the carvings in the symbol. Though he wasn’t sure what they meant, he had seen a few decorational stones of this symbol, and he assumed it related to the holiday, given Lance’s pull towards it. Keith carefully picked it from Laxp’s hand as he slid it on his right wrist as Lance clasped it for him. It fit well and it didn’t seem as if it would move to much during combat.
The look on Keith’s face was enough. “Thank you so much, Laxp. I wish you the best Harvest and the happiest celebrations.” Lance bowed his head slightly at the elder alien, before taking another handful of coins from his pocket and placing them on her stand. “I’m afraid we must go in order to finish preparing for the festivities, but I truly do hope to see you there!”
“Thank you, Your Highness! May the sun shine always above your head!” Laxp bowed with her hand to her heart as Lance walked away, Keith falling a step behind him, pulling his sleeve back down to cover the bracelet slightly. When thinking about the fact Lance had just bought him a bracelet, he felt his face turn a little pink with embarrassment.
“Prince Lance, I can pay you back once we reach the castle. I apologize I don’t have the funds on my person at the moment, as I don’t typically carry large sums, bu-”
“Keith. Have you never heard of a present? Please. Consider it a signing on bonus or whatever you must tell yourself in order to let it go. I wanted to give that to you more than you wanted it likely. But I like the idea of us matching.” Lance gave him a small smile and slowed down to make sure Keith was at his side, before continuing with their stroll back to the castle.