“We’re not going to get anything out of him,” Keith says, and after hours of interrogations, they all know he’s right; Lotor isn’t giving them anything.
“Too bad we can’t—you know,” Lance makes a nebulous shape with his hands, “honeypot him.” At the dead silence, Lance glances around, like he’s the one that’s offended. “You know? From Earth, With Love . He just wants someone to tell him he’s pretty.”
That’s Lance projecting, but nothing else has come close to cracking Lotor’s shell. They’re taking a breather before they jump back in—through the observation window, Lotor looks lazy and pleased, like he could do this for days.
“I’d do it, but—”
“No,” Shiro cuts him off. “He has to give us something eventually.”
Lotor’s given them plenty, and every word of it a lie.
The next round of questioning goes as well as the first.
“Why did you fire on the cruiser?” Kolivan asks, toneless, the exact same way he’s been asking for the last ten minutes.
Lotor smiles and picks an errant hair off his arm. He doesn't say a word. If Kolivan is willpower incarnate, Lotor has a whim to match. Keith knows exactly how this is going to go.
Too bad we can't honeypot him , Lance said.
“I’m sure I don't know what you're talking about,” Lotor says, smiling indulgently. But there are cracks around his edges. He's tired, hurt, trying hard to hide it—push right, and he'll break. All they need is a foothold, something—
His eyes fall on Keith again, like they have been since he walked in the room as a plus one to Kolivan’s previous entourage. He's still got his hood up and mask on—at Kolivan’s insistence, though he doesn't see what difference it would make. “When did you pick up a new member, Kolivan? And one so small.” Lotor asks, not looking away from Keith.
Kolivan sees where Lotor’s looking and goes very still. “Answer the question.”
But Lotor doesn't look at him.
This is it, Keith realizes. This is their foothold.
Keith lets his mask fade and pulls his hood down. Everyone at the table goes tense and Shiro mutters a cut off, “Keith—" but it's Lotor he's focused on.
Honesty for honesty, Keith thinks. “You saved our lives.” He looks Lotor in the eye while he says it, not wavering, and Lotor—
Lotor’s gaze is fixed on him, mouth open enough to reveal a bit of fang. There's color in his cheeks.
Keith can't begin to interpret what that means, but he knows Lotor isn't faking it anymore.
Everyone at the table is watching intently, and he can feel Kolivan’s glare burning into the side of his head, can hear Shiro’s intake of breath before he tries to step in again, but no—this is working. Good cop, bad cop, they need someone Lotor can relate too.
“You're an incredible pilot,” Keith continues, pressing his advantage. “I've never seen anyone fly like you.” It's more words than he's strung together in weeks.
Lotor’s mouth falls open further, his hair falling forward into his face. Lance's words come back to him, like a plague. He just wants someone to call him pretty.
Inaccurate. Lotor wears his skin the same way Keith does—as a convenience. He'd cut off his hair in second if it got in his way, let a blade mark his face if it meant an advantage in a fight. But he's holding himself together by sheer will, and sometimes all it takes is a tap to shake the whole thing apart.
“You're the most beautiful person I've ever seen,” Keith finishes on a whisper, because it's another thing that might shake Lotor off balance—another thing he can say that’s not a lie.
Lotor's mouth falls open to gaping, the skin high on his cheeks going dark, and then he frowns. “That’s— Flattery is a cheap tactic,” he mutters, but there’s no heat in his words. His gaze glances off of Keith’s face, like he can’t make himself meet Keith’s eyes. “Really, that’s unnecessary.” He reaches up to tuck a stray lock of hair back behind his ear, in a gesture that almost nervous.
Shiro kicks Keith’s leg and there’s the electronic whoosh of a mask retracting—Kolivan, trying to get a better glare in, but it’s working.
Keith ignores his own blush and leans forward into Lotor’s space—the table isn’t wide—and asks softly, “Why did you save me?”
He sees the exact moment Lotor crumbles. His mouth closes, and when it opens again, it’s drawn—he is exhausted, and he finally looks it. “It was my only option.”
There’s a collective intake of breath. When Keith looks up, Kolivan is staring between them, and Keith wasn’t aware his face could make an expression other than vague disapproval but he looks shocked. He nods, finally, and Keith takes it as permission to keep going.
The entire story spills out of Lotor in fits and starts. None of it is a lie, as far as Keith can tell. There are parts he glosses over or leaves out, like how he knew Narti betrayed him, how he got out of his restraints, and his brush with the surface of a star—his exhaustion makes sense, with context.
Every few minutes he glances up at Keith, a little curious, a little confused.
Midway through, Keith scoots close enough to take his hand where Lotor has it splayed on the metal surface of the table. Lotor doesn’t pull away, but his gaze fixates on where Keith has Lotor’s massive hand gathered in his own.
It takes hours, but by the end they have as much as they’re going to get. All they have to do is decide what they’re going to do with him.
When they step outside of the room, the other Paladins and Coran and Matt are standing outside the door with identical looks of shock.
“Did you… Did you seduce the enemy?” Lance asks. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”
Keith frowns. “I didn’t seduce him.”
Silence descends and it’s one of those moments when he’s not in on the joke, because everyone is sharing looks.
“I didn’t,” Keith repeats.
Everyone has their own opinion on what should be done with him—but Keith can’t draw his eyes from the window, where Lotor is hunched over the table, hair obscuring his face. Under torture, he would never crack, but under kindness he might.
“He should be locked up,” Kolivan says. “We can’t trust him, even if he is—” Kolivan looks at Keith and then away as fast as possible, shaking his head.
Lance rolls his eyes and mutters, “Only if you’re going to lock Keith up with him. I can’t believe you actually went for the seduction. I can’t believe it worked .” Between he and Pidge and Hunk, it’s a toss up who looks more disturbed.
But it wasn’t a trick.
Keith ignores them and steps toward Kolivan. “Let me watch him.”
They’re all tired, and the subliminal terror that’s been plaguing him since he almost died is dogging his heels now that he doesn’t have something to focus on. Lotor is something to pour his energy into.
Kolivan frowns down at him. “Why would I let him near you after that?”
Keith doesn’t know what he means, but Lotor is their biggest threat after Zarkon—their only threat, after Zarkon, and more dangerous in different ways. If Zarkon is back, they need him as an ally, and Keith’s tactic worked at least. Of everyone there, Keith is the least valuable and most capable at hand-to-hand barring Shiro.
“Locking him up is what he expects. We need to keep him off balance.” Lotor is an animal that would chew off its own leg to escape a trap. “Let me watch him,” he tries again, tacking on an, “I promise I’ll be careful,” because that seems to be what Kolivan is hung up on for some reason.
Weaponless and handcuffed, Lotor follows Keith back to his old room without complaint, like there’s a rope tying them together.
When they get inside, Keith uncuffs him without a word and gestures for him to sit on the bed, keying a code into the pad by the door, locking them both in. Lotor won’t be able to make it out, even if he gets Keith’s knife—and there’s a guard posted outside.
Lotor stands there staring at his unrestrained hands, stalk-still, stunned. “Are you stupid?” he asks without venom.
But Keith’s done the math on this. Lotor is unarmed, and there’s no guarantee Lotor would win in a hand to hand fight, and even if he did—what? He’d have Keith killed or as a captive, and there’s no value in someone whose life was already forfeit. In the end, Lotor shakes his head and takes the seat, rubbing his wrists where the cuffs chafed.
Keith stays quiet, waiting for Lotor to speak first.
“You’re an odd one,” Lotor says to himself, finally, thoughtful.
It’s not the first time he’s heard that. “The bathroom’s there,” Keith says, gesturing to the hidden door on the back wall. “I don’t think I have clothes that fit you, but the Blades might.”
Lotor doesn’t move, staring at Keith. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because we need you,” Keith says, settling into his space against the wall. And because Lotor saved his life. Because that means something, despite everything, no matter why he did it.
There’s no response to that evidently. Lotor excuses himself to the bathroom and comes out a half hour later with a towel around his waist, wet hair coiled on his head. When he turns to hang his armor up, there are bruises around his shoulders. He’s been through the ringer, and Keith knows how it feels.
Lotor turns enough to glance at him, flushed from the shower. “You should take one. You smell like fear-sweat.”
Keith doesn’t move. He’s tired in the kind of way that’ll chase him down if he lets himself relax. If he closes his eyes, he’s going to see the barrier again—
“You were in that fighter. That’s what you meant when you said I’d saved you.” Lotor sits down on the bed. “You were going to kill yourself. But they care about you.”
Keith doesn’t respond. They do, but he cares about them too, and he’s always been the pragmatist of the group.
“...And they don’t know,” Lotor says softly, figuring it out for himself. This isn’t something they need to know.
In the morning he wakes up in bed, Lotor on the floor beside it, dead asleep.
It sets a precedent.
When Lotor balks at answering questions, Keith takes his hand and says, “Your eyes are beautiful.” And Lotor scoffs and quips—and answers.
When Lotor dances around a discussion of Galra battle tactics, Keith smiles and says, “I’ve never seen anyone fly like you.” Lotor’s eyes light up and an hour later Keith has a more detailed description of fleet organization than he thought possible.
Keith doesn’t understand it, but it works. It’s enough to tip Lotor off balance, every time.
Lance calls him the Lotor Whisperer at breakfast the next morning. Lotor is in full flourish after a night’s rest—he smiles, and sets a bowl in front of Keith, and doesn’t deem Lance worthy of response.
So it goes.
A week in—when they’re starting to run out of things to ask and the chill of fear has settled out of Keith’s skin—Shiro pulls him aside in the observation room, after meetings, when it's just the two of them. Lotor is left leaning on the wall outside.
“You don't need to do this,” Shiro says quietly, his hand on Keith's shoulder, understanding. “We can get him to talk without you lying to him."
“I'm not lying to him,” Keith replies. He’s never lied to Lotor.
Shiro jerks back in surprise, but his eyes go soft.
They end up attached at the hip, because Lotor isn’t allowed out of his sight, and because his patience and compliance start and end with Keith.
They train together and eat together, and at night Lotor sleeps feet away on a palate by Keith’s bed. They match each other's rhythms. Keith tries not to fool himself that it's more than temporary.
Keith finds himself avoiding the others. Weeks and months away from the team haven’t fixed anything between them—and Lotor is the only one that knows what he tried to do, aside from Matt and Coran. It’s odd to be grounded again, unable to fly or fight while they regroup and reorganize, waiting for intel to come in.
“Who are you to them?” Lotor asks one night, when they're both on the edge of sleep.
There's no reason to tell him the truth, but there's no reason to lie. “I was a Paladin.”
Lotor sits up enough to look at him over the edge of the bed. “A Blade and a Paladin.”
Keith nods where he's lying on his back. “I flew against you.”
There's dead silence for a long moment, and then the shuffling of cloth as Lotor moves closer, and the dip of the bed where he's resting his arms and head on the edge. Keith can just see him out of the corner of his eye.
“You were the Black Paladin,” Lotor says, a little breathless, almost hopeful.
“No,” corrects Keith, “but I flew the Black Lion.”
Lotor smiles. Even in the dark, his grin is visible. “You destroyed my teludav.”
He doesn't sound mad. This close, Keith can almost feel Lotor's breath on his skin.
It takes two weeks for everyone to collectively decide that Lotor isn’t so much an immediate threat as a mild annoyance with a trump card.
“No weapons, no ship. And Keith will look after you while you're with us,” Kolivan tells him.
Lotor grins, but he's only got eyes for Keith. “Fine.“
“And we want to see your ship,” Shiro adds.
Lotor picks at his nails.
“Keith, could you please ask Lotor if he would like to show us his ship?” Shiro asks, looking like he’s trying very hard to not roll his eyes.
Keith turns to Lotor, raising an eyebrow.
“I would love to show you my ship,” Lotor says in a voice that’s meant solely to piss off everyone else at the table. It works.
Lance gestures at Lotor, glaring, like he’s a heap of something distasteful. “He’s going to steal Keith,” he says, looking around the table. No one argues, though Allura and Shiro look like they’d like to object on principle.
Lotor ignores him, though the expression on his face is suspicious at best. It’s almost enough to make Keith blush, but not quite. He isn’t stupid. This is Lotor biding his time. His affection is a front as much as it’s genuine. It’s not that Lotor’s deliberately being deceptive, but the moment he has his chance to make off with something he can use as a bargaining chip to get back in the Empire’s good graces, he’ll be gone. But until then—
“Thank you.” Keith smiles and means it. Lotor nods, looking away.
“I can’t believe this,” Lance mutters to himself.
“Well, I think it’s sweet,” says Matt.
He’s wrong, as it turns out.
The Blades are stretched thin, and Keith can't be grounded on guard duty when so much is on the line. Missions come in and he can’t babysit forever—it’s easy enough to keep Lotor locked to quarters while he’s gone.
He makes it five missions before it all goes to hell.
He gets sloppy and gets made. The Galra know he’s in the base—it becomes a game of cat and mouse that has him exhausted by the end of the first day, but he doesn’t consider giving himself up.
The wound in his side is what undoes him.
He’s making a break for the hangar and an escape ship when he gets spotted, which shouldn’t happen because he’s spent the last two days memorizing the patrol schedule. He doesn’t figure out they’ve doubled patrols until it’s too late, and the Blades’ armor was made for agility; it was never meant to take a blaster hit in close quarters. He makes it out, but there’s no route to the hangar left for him. His chances of making it off base vanish before his eyes. And that’s before he notices the blood running down his leg, before the pain hits like a physical weight.
He makes himself look, and regrets it immediately; he knows what fatal looks like. By the time he hears footsteps, he’s lost so much blood he’s starting to blackout.
At first he thinks he’s hallucinating the white hair, but then Lotor kneels next to him and Keith knows the cadence of his breath from a dozen nights spent sleeping feet apart.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Keith says, and tastes blood. His lips are numb; talking feels like chewing gum.
Lotor kneels next to him and pulls aside the rent in his armor, with a low, growling sound. He doesn’t say anything—and he doesn’t leave. There’s already delirium testing the edge of hi vision and logic. This close, the line of Lotor’s jaw is on full display and Keith’s slowing mind catches on it. Lotor leans closer, and his eyes are wide and bright and scared.
“I meant it,” Keith says, because it seems important, against all logic—because if Lotor is the last person he’s going to see, he should know.
Lotor gathers the cloth over his side and presses down tight, which doesn’t make sense—he shouldn’t be there at all, and Keith is far past saving. “Stop talking.”
“No—” Keith tugs on his sleeve with one hand, “—I meant it.”
“Meant what? ” Lotor snaps.
“You really are the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen,” Keith says, high and tight with pain, stars dancing in front of his eyes.
When he blinks the haze out of his vision, Lotor is staring down at him in horror. His mouth works for a moment, no sound coming out, and then he bends over Keith’s face, hair falling like a curtain, obscuring everything but him.
“Same to you,” he says softly.
The last thing Keith registers is the brush of lips over his.
He wakes up, which is the first surprise.
Lotor is the first thing he sees, and that’s the second.
When the pod opens, Lotor catches him, and it takes a moment to notice the rest of the team in the room, because Lotor doesn’t let go.
“You saved me,” Keith says, still uncomprehending.
Lotor laughs, but it’s not genuine, and there’s worry in the tensing of his arms around Keith’s waist like he’s trying to stop himself from putting too much pressure. None of it makes sense. That was his chance to get away—but he
“You were the only thing keeping me here,” Lotor says, so quiet that Keith is sure it’s not meant for anyone else. Though maybe they get it. Maybe it's implied when someone breaks out, steals intel, and steals a ship to save someone. “I thought you knew.”
He didn’t, but then Lotor pulls him up enough to brush his lips over Keith’s forehead, and he’s starting to get it.