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Flare and Flow

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Lance practically vibrated with energy as he led his friends through the Northern Water Tribe city. He couldn’t help but preen as Keith, Allura, and Coran stared around in wonder. Lance was probably biased, but if you asked him, the architecture was unparalleled. The city was huge and multi-tiered, built right out of the giant icy cliffs that loomed overhead, and the whole thing glimmered when the sun hit it just right.

The other half of their party seemed less impressed with its beauty, too distracted by the cold.

“I knew we were going to the North Pole, but that somehow didn’t prepare me for how cold it is,” Pidge muttered through chattering teeth. She shot the Airbenders a pleading look. “Are you absolutely sure you can’t bend the air around us too?”

“I’m afraid not,” Allura said apologetically. “We warm ourselves using proper breathing techniques, but I don’t think that can extend to other people.”

Pidge groaned and Lance noticed Keith hide a smirk. The Avatar had demanded Allura teach him that trick as soon as they started getting into colder environments and picked it up incredibly fast.

“Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it,” Lance assured them. “And it’ll be warmer once we get inside.”

Pidge and Hunk sidled closer to Shiro, who smiled and graciously made the small flame in the palm of his hand a bit larger.

Lance rolled his eyes, but perked up as he came to a stop in front of a large estate.

“We’re here,” he announced with a grin.

The others gaped.

“This is your house?” Keith asked incredulously.

“Well, yeah,” Lance said as he banged a large knocker on the front door. “Our monarchy might not be as uppity as the Fire Nation’s or Earth Kingdom’s, so I don’t have a title or anything, but my family is still technically nobility.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Lance saw Shiro mutter something to Keith who blushed and shoved at his brother with a scowl.

The Waterbender’s attention returned when one of the large doors swung open and a familiar face peeked out. The little girl’s eyes widened and Lance braced himself.

“Uncle Lance!” Nadia shouted joyously as she leapt into his waiting arms. Laughing, Lance lifted her up and twirled around in a circle.

Nadia’s yell must have caught the other inhabitants’ attention because he could hear a sudden commotion from inside.

“Did she say Lance?”

“That does sound like his laugh.”

“Mamá, come quick! Lance is back!”

As Lance set his niece back down, the rest of his family rushed outside to meet him.

“Lance!” his mother cried, sweeping him into her arms. “I missed you so much.”

Lance clung to her tighter than he would admit.

“I’m home, Mamá. Oh, and I’ve brought some friends I’d like you all to meet!”

He was pleased to see that all his immediate family was there: his parents, Lucia and Hector, his siblings, Marco, Luis, Veronica, and Rachel, and his niece and nephew, Nadia and Sylvio. He went around and introduced them all to everyone.

“Allura, Coran, Pidge, Shiro, and you already know Hunk.” When it was Keith’s turn to step forward, Lance cleared his throat a bit and grinned, a slight blush painting his cheeks. “And this is Keith, my boyfriend.”

Keith froze and he glanced between Lance and his family with wide eyes, like he wasn’t quite sure what to do. Oops, maybe they should have talked about this beforehand.

Luckily, Lance’s mother was a literal saint and immediately moved to put Keith at ease.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Keith,” Lucia grasped his hand with a warm smile. “Thank you for taking care of our Lance.”

“Oh, um, the pleasure is all mine,” Keith returned the smile with a somewhat overwhelmed one of his own.

“Not that we’re not happy to see you, Lance,” Veronica interrupted in a wry drawl, “but why are you here? Your trip wasn’t scheduled to end for another two months. I’d ask if you ran out of money, but that doesn’t explain all your guests.”

“Excuse you,” Lance sniffed haughtily, “I still have plenty left, and that’s after we got even more people to feed and house.”

“Okay, so why are you here?” she asked again.

“Well, this visit is actually more of a temporary stop,” he admitted. “Keith wanted to meet the Blue Lion, so I’m taking him to Uncle Baku tomorrow.”

They could have just gone straight to the palace, but Lance missed his family and the others were nice enough to agree to the visit.

Speaking of his family, they were all looking at Lance like he had started breathing fire.

“You’re going to what?!” Veronica demanded. “Uncle doesn’t even let us see the Blue Lion, what makes you think he would let your boyfriend?”

“Oh, didn’t I mention,” Lance asked with faux nonchalance as he pretended to examine his nails and slung his other arm over the smaller boy’s shoulders. “Keith is the Avatar.”

Lance’s friends rolled their eyes at his theatrics as his family stared. Keith buried his blushing face in his hands. Cute.

“I think,” Lucia said faintly, “we should continue this discussion inside.”

-----

“Hey.”

Lance looked up as Veronica joined him sitting on the steps of their back porch.

After the commotion had died down, everyone went inside to gather in the living room. Over piping hot cups of tea, Lance and his friends had regaled his family with their adventures. He had been particularly smug about how impressed they had all been by his dashing rescue of the Avatar, but his favorite moment had come right after, when his brothers started ribbing Keith about his relationship with Lance.

“Tell us the truth,” Marco grinned. “Lance paid you to pretend to be his boyfriend, right?”

He grabbed Lance in a playful chokehold and ruffled his hair, expertly avoiding his little brother’s long, flailing limbs.

Keith laughed.

“Honestly? I didn’t even know Lance had money until today.”

“Well, best of luck to you,” Marco finally released Lance, who stomped away to sit next to Keith and fix his hair with an exaggerated pout. “You’re gonna need it. He can be quite the handful.”

“Oh, believe me, I know,” Keith’s smile turned soft and Lance’s breath hitched slightly. “And I wouldn’t have him any other way.”

His siblings snickered and cooed at his bashful expression, but Lance didn’t notice, too distracted by those gorgeous eyes.

“Well, Lance always said he was gonna marry someone way out of his league,” Veronica smirked. “I guess this is a start.”

Keith blinked.

“What?”

“You don’t know the half of it,” Lance said smugly. “Keith turned down the crown prince of the Fire Nation for me.”

That had set everyone off again and soon they were back to explaining about Lotor and the more recent parts of their journey. They talked for hours.

Now it was dusk and everyone was scattered around the large courtyard behind the house. Allura and Pidge were admiring the ice sculptures, Hunk and Shiro were chatting with Lance’s parents, and Coran seemed to be having an enthusiastic conversation with a somewhat baffled Luis.

As for Keith...Lance turned back to where he had been looking before Veronica joined him. Keith was a little ways away with Nadia and Sylvio. When the two children had first approached the Avatar asking to play with his pet wolf, he had been at a complete loss. You’d think he had never interacted with kids before. Then again, from what Lance had gathered of Keith’s childhood, that might have been close to the truth.

Keith adjusted surprisingly quickly though. As far as Lance could tell, Keith decided to just talk to them like they were adults. It was kind of hilarious, but Nadia and Sylvio seemed to appreciate not being patronized for once. Now they were watching with rapt attention as Keith juggled small pieces of the different elements around them, a disgruntled Kosmo still trapped in Nadia’s arms. The whole thing was way more endearing than it had any right to be.

“Uh oh,” Veronica smirked. “I know that look.”

“What look,” Lance frowned, though he had a feeling he knew where this was going.

“You’ve got it bad.”

Instead of getting defensive or flustered like in the past, Lance just turned back to gaze at Keith with a dopey smile.

“Yeah,” he sighed happily. “I think...I think he might be the one, Veronica.”

Veronica’s eyebrows rose and her mirth transformed into something more genuine.

“Then I’m happy you found each other.”

Her eyes regained their mischievous glint, identical to the one Lance often got when he had a terrible idea.

“You know, we all had bets on what kind of person you would bring back with you,” she said.

Lance’s head whipped around.

“You what?!”

“Yeah,” she counted off her fingers gleefully. “Luis thought you’d meet some boy or girl with a dark past but a heart of gold, Rachel thought you’d rescue and subsequently fall for a foreign prince or princess, and Marco thought you’d get tricked by a con artist who was after the family fortune and we’d have to bail you out.”

Lance squinted at his sister, not sure whether to be amused or insulted.

“And what did you think?”

Veronica shrugged.

“I said you’d accidently get mixed up in some kind of big conspiracy and meet your soulmate while saving the world. Or you would just die.” She tapped her bottom lip thoughtfully. “Huh, I guess we were all kinda right. Except for Marco.”

“Did any of you consider I might not meet someone at all?” Lance asked with a small pout.

He tried not to feel too offended by her snort.

“Please. You may have fooled mom and dad with your talk of exploring the world and learning about other cultures, but we know you better than that.”

“I did want to do those things,” he protested.

“But,” he added when she shot him a look, “I won’t deny a part of me was hoping to find love too.”

“You’ve always been a romantic, Lance,” she smiled, “and that’s not a bad thing. I know we like to tease, but all of us are really proud of you.”

Lance swallowed the sudden lump in his throat as warmth burst in his chest.

“Thanks, Ronnie. That means a lot.”

Veronica ruffled his hair fondly.

“We’re here for you, Lance. It sounds like you’ve been in some pretty dangerous situations and probably have more yet to come, so just know that if you ever need our help, all you have to do is ask. But hey, despite the near-death experiences,” she nodded at Keith, “I guess it all worked out.”

As if sensing their stares, Keith glanced up and gave them a little wave. Lance felt that dopey grin return.

“Yeah, it did.”

-----

No matter how much Keith tossed and turned, he couldn’t seem to get comfortable. The bed itself was fine, one of the best Keith had ever been in even, but he just couldn’t relax.

Not only was he somewhat nervous about meeting the Chief in the morning, but Keith had gotten used to sleeping with others these past few months. Kosmo’s presence helped, but it still felt too quiet. Not to mention, he and Lance had shared a bedroll every night since the incident with the Balmera. It always resulted in teasing from their friends, but it was worth it because Keith found he never slept better than when he was in Lance’s arms.

As if summoned by his thoughts, Keith heard a soft knock at his door. Exchanging a curious glance with Kosmo, Keith padded over to open it.

Lance’s charming grin greeted him.

“Hey,” he said in a low whisper. “Can I come in? I, uh, couldn’t sleep.”

Keith quirked an eyebrow.

“Somehow I don’t think your mother would approve of you sneaking into your boyfriend’s room in the middle of the night.”

Despite his words, Keith opened the door further so Lance could enter and quietly shut it behind him. Kosmo wagged his tail in greeting from where he was curled up at the foot of the bed, earning a scratch behind the ears.

“What Mamá doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Besides, if anyone asks, I’ll just say you were cold and I was doing my civic duty to make sure the Avatar doesn’t die of hypothermia.”

Without further ado, Lance flopped down on Keith’s bed like he owned it. Which, in a way, he kind of did. Once he’d made himself comfortable, Lance lifted the corner of the blanket expectantly.

Keith rolled his eyes but obligingly slid under the covers and snuggled in close.

Looping an arm across Lance’s waist, Keith rested his head on the other boy’s chest. Lance brought his own arm up to bury his fingers in Keith’s hair as their legs tangled together.

Keith let out a soft sigh as blunt nails gently scraped down his scalp. He had to admit, between Lance at his side and Kosmo curled at their feet, it was pleasantly warm.

Keith fell asleep to the comforting sound of Lance’s heartbeat.

-----

The next morning, Keith and his friends made their way to the palace.

Lance’s mother had insisted they send word of their arrival last night since the Chief of the Northern Water Tribe might not be quite as lenient about a surprise visit as the rest of his family, so when they arrived at the gates there was a large entourage already waiting.

At the front of the group stood a tall, lean man with dark skin and the blue eyes that seemed to run in Lance’s family. He radiated an energy that belied his age.

“Lance, my boy!” the Chief bellowed as he slapped his nephew on the back a touch too enthusiastically. “It’s been too long!”

“It’s good to see you, Uncle,” Lance replied, visibly trying to hide a wince. “Guys, I’d like you all to meet my great-uncle, Chief Baku.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Baku went around and shook everyone’s hand. When he got to Keith, his eyes lit up. “And you must be Avatar Keith.”

Keith nodded, feeling a bit awkward. He was still getting used to people addressing him by the title.

“It’s an honor to have you here,” the Chief whirled around and led the way into the enormous palace. “Come, come! The servants will show you all to your rooms and then we can discuss things over lunch! It was on short notice, but we’ve prepared a magnificent feast to celebrate your arrival!”

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the older man’s energy, Keith looked at Lance. The taller boy shrugged with a grin and followed his uncle.

After dropping their things off in their new rooms, everyone reconvened in the biggest dining hall Keith had ever been in. The table alone was longer than any of the rooms in the Fire Nation palace, at least as far as Keith had seen.

There weren’t that many people, just Keith and his companions, Chief Baku, and the Chief’s children and grandchildren, Lance’s cousins. They all sat around one end of the table with Chief Baku at the head.

“Fascinating,” said Crown Princess Luxia as Keith finished detailing their journey. She was a beautiful woman around Shiro’s age and was expected to take the throne in the near future. “I can’t believe Prince Lotor would go to such drastic measures. We’d heard news that he was looking for his missing fiance, but the rumors suggested you had been kidnapped, not that you ran away of your own volition.”

Keith opened his mouth to respond, but Chief Baku interrupted with a loud scoff.

“It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest,” he declared. “Fire Lord Zarkon is no stranger to underhanded tactics. Clearly the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”

“But everyone says Lotor is not like his father,” Luxia shot Keith a questioning glance.

Keith hesitated, uncomfortable with all the eyes on him, but nodded.

“In terms of leadership and ethics, Lotor opposes many of Zarkon’s beliefs,” Keith agreed. “On a more personal level, though, I couldn’t say. I only met the Fire Lord once, and very briefly.”

Lotor had introduced Keith to his parents shortly after their Agni Kai. It wasn’t an experience Keith wanted to repeat, though he knew that as the Avatar, it was unlikely he’d be able to avoid ever meeting with the royal family again.

“Well, I’ve met Zarkon plenty of times,” Baku said. “And trust me when I say you made the right decision to not get involved with that family.”

Keith tilted his head. “Queen Sanda wasn’t too keen on him either. She thought he wanted to steal the Green Lion.”

Baku paused for a fraction of a second, so quick Keith would have missed it if he wasn’t watching so closely, before taking a sip of wine.

“Sanda is paranoid,” Baku flapped a hand dismissively. “I don’t care for Zarkon, it’s true, but the Earth Queen takes it too far. The Lions are some of the most powerful spirits in existence, and to suggest someone could steal one is ludicrous.”

Keith’s eyes flicked over to Allura. The Airbender’s charming smile had faded and she gazed at the chief with cool eyes.

Baku continued speaking, oblivious to the rapidly souring atmosphere.

“I’m sure the White Lion will return on her own in due time. Perhaps she’ll feel more at ease once the Air Nation has a new leader.”

Allura’s eyes flashed and she started to stand up, drawing everyone’s gaze, but Keith hastily regained Baku’s attention.

“Actually, that’s why we’re here,” he said. “We’re trying to find out what happened to the White Lion and were hoping the Blue Lion might be able to help us.”

Baku blinked as he glanced between Allura, who slowly sat back down, and Keith, who did his best to look polite despite his anger on behalf of his friend.

“We do not usually allow outsiders to visit the Blue Lion,” the chief said hesitantly, “but you are the Avatar, so I suppose we could make an exception.”

Keith let out a breath of relief.

“Thank you.”

Baku nodded.

“I’m afraid she has already retired for the day, but perhaps tomorrow.”

Keith frowned but decided it was best not to push the issue.

Once lunch was over, Chief Baku excused himself to attend to his duties and Princess Luxia offered them a tour around the palace.

It really was impressive. The building was situated on top of the highest tier of the city, and could be seen for miles. The sheer size of it could probably give the Earth Kingdom’s palace a run for its money.

After showing them the collection of giant ice sculptures scattered around the grounds outside, the princess led Keith and his friends to another building with large open windows.

“This is our temple,” she explained. “Those doors in the back lead to the Inner Sanctum, the Blue Lion’s den. Unfortunately, we cannot open it right now, but I’m sure my father will bring you back here tomorrow.”

Luxia beckoned the group toward their next destination. Keith gave the heavy doors one last glance. As he studied the swirling patterns embedded in the stone, Keith tried to reach out with his senses to see if he could feel the Blue Lion’s presence.

Before he could really do anything, however, the touch of a hand jolted him out of his concentration. He turned to find Lance smiling apologetically.

“Sorry,” Lance said. “But everyone’s going to the next location now. Wouldn’t want you to get left behind.”

Keith frowned and looked back at the doors to the Inner Sanctum. Lance sighed and grabbed the Avatar’s hand.

“Come on, I want to show you the hot springs. You’ll love it, the combination of hot water and cold air feels great. And it’s good for your skin!”

Keith smiled at Lance’s enthusiasm and allowed the Waterbender to lace their fingers together. As Lance tugged him out of the temple, Keith shot one last glance behind him.

Tomorrow.

-----

Keith did end up loving the hot springs. Soaking in the steamy water beneath a blanket of stars, Keith had never felt more relaxed in his life. According to Lance, the water was connected to the Spirit Oasis, and offered natural healing power on top of “making your face glow,” whatever that meant.

Unfortunately, any stress Keith shed in the hot springs gradually returned over the next few days as one thing became increasingly obvious.

Chief Baku was avoiding him.

At first Keith was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Baku was the leader of the Northern Water Tribe, and Lance’s uncle, so when Keith brought up visiting the Blue Lion their second day in the palace and Baku stated very apologetically that he was too busy to take Keith to her that day, Keith reluctantly agreed to wait.

He had returned the following morning only to be told that the Chief was locked in an important council meeting and couldn’t be disturbed.

On the third day, Keith discovered Chief Baku wasn’t even in the palace, but had travelled to one of the smaller villages on the outskirts of the city to resolve an issue.

The next few days passed in a similar vein, and the rare times where Keith was able to track the chief down, Baku assured him that tomorrow he’d get to see the Blue Lion.

Keith had to restrain himself from doing something that would probably get him kicked out of the palace. And he wasn’t the only one. Keith could tell all of the his friends were starting to get ansty. Even Lance, who at first had insisted that Baku was simply a busy man with no dark ulterior motives, frowned when he heard the chief’s latest excuse.

But if Keith was irritated, Allura was outright livid, and she and Lance got into an argument when he tried to justify Baku’s behavior. The others mediated and they eventually made up, but dinner was still tense, Allura’s usual cheerful smile replaced by a scowl.

Therefore, Keith really shouldn’t have been surprised when she asked to speak with him privately after they finished eating. Keith followed Allura back to her room, ignoring Lance’s dubious gaze.

“We need to do something,” she declared without preamble as soon as the door shut behind them. “It’s been a week since we got here, and we’ve made no progress whatsoever.”

“I agree,” Keith replied. “But what can we do? I’ve tried everything except threaten Baku, and I doubt we’ll be able to see the Lion if we’re banned from the North Pole.”

“I don’t think violence is the answer,” she agreed. “However, neither is cooperation. Chief Baku has made it clear that he isn’t going to take us to the Lion. So we will have to go ourselves.”

Keith’s eyebrows rose.

“I never thought you’d resort to subterfuge. You’ve always preached open and honest diplomacy.”

Allura’s eyes darkened.

“Sometimes drastic times call for drastic measures.”

-----

For the third time in his life, Keith snuck out of his bedroom in the dead of night.

First though, he had to escape Lance’s grasp. Lance’s arms were wrapped around Keith’s middle with his nose nuzzled against the back of Keith’s neck. Every time Keith tried to gingerly pull away, Lance seemed to hold on tighter, tugging the Avatar close so that his back was firmly pressed against Lance’s chest. Under normal circumstances, Keith would melt into the embrace, but right now he had somewhere he needed to be.

Kosmo watched Keith’s struggle with a nonplussed expression, but thankfully made no noise, and after a few more attempts, Keith finally extricated himself from Lance’s hold. He quickly slipped on a dark blue tunic and black trousers.

The Waterbender shifted in his sleep and Keith froze. He watched with wide eyes as Lance hugged Keith’s abandoned pillow and let out a soft snore. With a breath of relief, Keith finished getting dressed.

He bent down to pat Kosmo’s head and the wolf pup nuzzled into his palm.

“Stay here, alright?” Keith whispered. “I’ll be back soon.”

Double checking that his mother’s knife was sheathed at the small of his back, Keith threw on his cloak and surreptitiously peeked out his door.

The coast was clear. Throwing one last apologetic glance at Lance, Keith gently shut the door behind him.

He didn’t see the bright blue eyes that opened a second later.

Keith quickly but silently made his way through the winding corridors. After a few moments, he caught sight of Allura and hurried over. The Airbender had also donned Water Tribe clothes and hid her hair under a hood to be less conspicuous.

“You’re late,” she whispered.

“Sorry,” Keith said. “Lance is like an octopus shark when he sleeps.”

“Well, no matter. You’re here now, so let’s go.”

“Where are we going?” chirped a third voice.

Keith and Allura jumped and whirled around to find an unimpressed Lance.

“Off for a midnight stroll under the moonlight?” he asked blithely, arms crossed. ”If I didn’t know you both better, I’d be pretty jealous right about now.”

“It’s not—” Keith blinked rapidly. “How did you—”

Lance rolled his eyes.

“Keith. Babe. My Moon and Stars. I know you’re like, a cool ninja assassin when you fight, but when it comes to keeping your own secrets, you are not that subtle. And Allura is a terrible liar. It was pretty obvious you two were up to something.”

Keith and Allura exchanged looks.

“So,” Lance said, “what are you up to?”

Keith glanced at Allura who nodded.

“We’re going to the Inner Sanctum to see the Blue Lion,” he told Lance.

The Waterbender pursed his lips.

“Okay, but why the subterfuge? My uncle told you he’d let you see her tomorrow.”

“He’s said that every day since we got here, Lance,” Keith scowled. “I know you think a lot of him, but he’s hiding something and we’re going to find out what.”

Lance regarded them with cool eyes for a moment before he un-crossed his arms with a sigh.

“You may have a point,” he conceded, to their surprise. “I want to believe the best in him, but I can’t deny he’s been acting...weird lately. So,” he turned his determined eyes on them, “I want to help.”

After some time spent avoiding the guards the three arrived at the temple and Lance ushered them through the large doors. Throwing the entrance a considering look, Lance raised a thick barrier of ice just inside, blocking the doors.

There were no torches burning this late at night, but beams of pale moonlight shone through the tall windows. Lance led his companions toward a second set of doors in the back of the cavernous room and Allura eyed the intricate patterns with open curiosity.

“I wasn’t able to get a good look earlier,” she breathed. “They’re quite beautiful.”

“They’re not just for design,” Lance brushed his fingers over the markings. “See these veins? There’s liquid inside them and you have to Waterbend them in a very specific pattern or the door won’t open. Only members of the royal family know how.” Lance shot them a grin. “Good thing I tagged along, huh?”

“Good thing,” Keith agreed with a smile.

Lance widened his stance and raised his arms. Before he could begin, however, Keith caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye.

Keith’s body moved automatically. Without thought, he threw himself in front of Lance and blocked the descending blade of the naginata with his knife.

The attacker leapt back as Lance and Allura quickly moved into their own battle stances. They were tall and lithe, adorned in Water Tribe clothes a shade of blue so dark it was almost black. Two dark eyes gazed intently over the large scarf that obscured most of their face.

“Who are you,” demanded Lance, as he took in their appearance. “You’re not with the palace guard.”

Instead of answering, the figure readjusted their grip on their long spear-like weapon and lunged once again.

Keith wasn’t one to brag, but it was an undisputed fact that he was one of the best swordsmen in the Fire Nation, a Master Firebender, and, oh yeah, the Avatar. Allura was an Airbending prodigy in her own right, having earned her tattoos at a young age. And Lance was one to brag, but more than had the skills to back it up.

Yet all three of them working together struggled to keep this new enemy at bay. Granted, Keith was sticking to using fire since this was still a secret mission and they wanted to hide their identities if they could help it, but this guy wasn’t even bending any elements!

It felt like no matter what they did, their opponent was always three steps ahead. Keith charged at them but they effortlessly ducked away at the last second to reveal Allura trying to attack from behind them. With a pained yelp, Keith and Allura crashed into each other in a tangle of limbs. Embarrassingly, that was not the sole time that occured.

Keith got the distinct feeling they were being toyed with.

“How is this happening?” Lance yelped as he ducked the naginata’s razor sharp edge.

He immediately retaliated with his water whip but the figure expertly flipped out of the way and in one fluid movement thrust their weapon toward where Allura had been trying to flank them.

“Allura, watch out!”

The Airbender wasn’t able to get out of the way fast enough and the blade sliced a large gash across her arm. With a cry, she fell to the ground.

“Allura!” Lance shouted.

“Go help her,“ Keith ordered. “I’ll hold them off.”

Lance nodded and hurried to their fallen friend. The figure tried to go after him, but Keith distracted them with another stream of flames. Planting himself firmly in front of the others, Keith reengaged the fight, peripherally aware of Lance using Waterbending to heal Allura’s wound. With renewed determination, he fought more offensively than ever, ducking blows and shooting fire to push the assailant back.

Up until now, Keith hadn’t been able to make out much detail in the pale light, but as a large plume of flame passed between them, he finally caught a good look at the attacker’s eyes.

They were the same eyes he saw every time he looked in a mirror.

In his shock, Keith almost didn’t dodge in time to avoid getting decapitated.

“Wait!”

Keith fumbled with the cloth that covered the hilt of his knife as he continued to evade the naginata’s blade. Unable to unravel it quickly enough, he just burned it to ash with a burst of fire. Heart in his throat, Keith held up the insignia for them to see.

“Do you recognize this symbol?”

The figure froze for a moment. Without warning, they burst back into action, and before Keith knew it he was lying face down on the temple’s cold floor, one arm twisted uncomfortably behind his back and his knife in the figure’s hand.

“Where did you get this?” a gruff yet feminine voice demanded.

“Keith!” Lance leapt up from where he had been attending to Allura and started running towards them.

Keith heard a sharp inhale above him as the grip on his arm loosened.

“Keith?” the woman repeated as she stood up and took a step back, her eyes wide with disbelief.

Keeping a wary eye on the woman, Lance helped Keith back to his feet. Giving the Waterbender’s hand a thankful squeeze, Keith turned to her.

They regarded each other for a long moment. Finally, the woman reached up and pulled the scarf down around her neck.

“Is it really you?” she asked in barely more than a whisper.

A low, soothing voice, and scars on both cheeks.

-----

Lance was very confused.

One minute they were battling this insanely good warrior—like, seriously, he thought Keith was a badass, but this was like, an actual ninja assassin—and then Allura got hurt so Lance went to try to heal her as best and quickly as he could, because even Keith would have a hard time fighting that guy alone, and then Lance looked up to see Keith on the ground and his heart had stopped. He leapt up to rush to the Avatar’s aid, ready to raze the temple to the ground if he had to, but then the assailant retreated.

And now they were all just...staring at each other.

More specifically, Lance and Keith stared at the mysterious woman, but her attention was solely on Keith. Countless emotions raced across her face, too fast for Lance to catch.

“What are you doing here?” she looked like she was still struggling to comprehend what was going on.

Lance could relate.

“I could ask you the same question.” Keith still had a death grip on Lance’s hand.

“What’s going on?” Allura asked, slowly walking over to them. The cut on her arm was deep but not as bad as it had looked at the time. Luckily, Lance had been able to heal her enough that the bleeding had stopped. Her arm would probably ache for a while though.

“We’re here to see the Blue Lion,” Keith said, his unwavering gaze on the woman.

At his words, she drew herself up and planted the bottom of her naginata on the ground firmly.

“I’m afraid I can’t allow you to do that. The Blue Lion is under my protection.”

“On whose authority?” Lance cut in. “You’re not a royal guard. I’d be surprised if you were Water Tribe at all.”

“That is none of your concern,” she replied. The stern look on her face was somehow familiar.

Keith scowled and let go of Lance’s hand to step closer to the woman. “Look—”

Bang!

All four of them turned to the front entrance. Another bang accompanied by shouting sounded from outside.

“Speaking of the royal guard,” Lance muttered.

They shouldn’t have been surprised, really. That fight hadn’t exactly been silent.

It looked like they were having trouble opening the doors thanks to the blockade Lance had erected earlier, but it wouldn’t hold them for long. He turned back to Keith.

“If we’re gonna do this, we’d better do it now,” he warned. Once they were caught, he doubted his uncle would allow them to see the Lion willingly.

“Open it,” Keith nodded.

Lance moved toward the inner doors but the woman barred his way with the long pole of her weapon.

“I said you’re not allowed,” she growled. “I’m under strict orders not to let anyone in except the Chief of the Northern Water Tribe or the Avatar.”

At their incredulous stares, she raised an eyebrow. “...What?”

Lance’s ice barrier shattered and the front doors burst open, a handful of guards streaming through followed by his furious uncle.

“Lance!” Baku shouted. “What is the meaning of this?!”

Wordlessly, Keith turned and with graceful movements, swiftly raised another wall of ice between them, even thicker than the one before, that spanned the entire room from wall to wall and up to the ceiling. On the other side, the soldiers’ faces ranged from awed to outraged. Even with all of them, bending that big of an obstacle would take several minutes.

The woman looked similarly stunned, staring at Keith with wide eyes.

“Well?” he snapped. “Can we go in now?”

She hastily picked her jaw up off the floor and glanced over at Lance’s uncle yelling muffled obscenities behind the translucent wall. Turning back to Keith, she nodded tightly and withdrew her blade.

Lance hurried over to the doors and started bending the liquid in the intricate pattern he had been taught as a child, all too aware of the other tribesmen working their way through Keith’s barrier. He let out a triumphant shout when the doors began to slide open.

He gestured for Keith to lead the way and followed the Avatar inside only to bump into the smaller boy’s back.

“Keith, what,” Lance leaned over Keith’s shoulder and saw what had brought the Avatar to a sudden halt.

He sucked in a sharp breath as his stomach plummeted to the ground.

The chamber was empty.