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Lance sighs, content as he sinks into the plush upholstery of a lounge chair, too lazy - and full from the breakfast buffet - to bother to take off his shoes even though they’re back in the condo. He’s on vacation after all.

The Retreats at Noeuna-4 offer everything one could hope for in terms of luxury and recreation. Massive buildings contain their own climate control system, and over the past few days Lance has hiked, skied, and surfed in five different ecosystems. Between physical fun, he’s dined in high end restaurants and lazed about in several of the elaborately designed swimming pools scattered across the grounds, all advertised to host a million guests in comfort.

The rooms reflect the opulence of the common areas, complete with all the snacks and drink a couple may need. A gigantic monitor hangs on the wall, overtly labeled to make video calls or control various room functions, as well as play video games or watch television.

The technology is childishly simple for two former Voltron Paladins, but Lance is thankful to not have to think at all. That’s what vacations are for.

He reaches over to an end table, surface of polished grey stone, and picks a creamy, laminated card on top of a stack of them. He grins as he reads the contents. “Hey, Pidge. Check out this one from Veronica!” Lance clutches his chest, overwhelmed with warm fuzzies from his sister’s thoughtfulness. “She drew a tiny me as Cupid, shooting a tiny you through the heart. Awww…”

Pidge plops down across from him on the king-sized bed, small compared to the rest of their honeymoon suite. She raises an eyebrow, looking less than impressed. “Only if your ‘Cupid’s laser’,” she says, air quotes to accompany, “hit a building, bounced around an alleyway, ricocheted off a lamppost and stuck to me.”

“And it worked.” He smirks, firing finger guns at her. “This is only the beginning, Pidge. We may be married now, but I will woo you every day. I have years to make up for.”

Pidge simmers, her upper body slumping in annoyance. She selects a card from the top of a separate pile on the bed stand. “I can’t believe I signed up for this.” Despite the words, she smiles. “How did we end up like this? It feels like a dream.”

The how doesn’t matter at this point, nor that they’ve been together romantically in some capacity for years now. Not for the first time, Lance just looks at Pidge, filled with affection for his wife .

Her sundress billows across the bed’s disheveled sheets, legs crossed comfortably - something Lance only knows thanks to a hundred mornings just like this. Her hair is still damp from the bath they shared earlier in the morning and he can still feel the thick clumps of her shampooed locks in his hands. It’s as if she glows and Lance falls in love all over again.

“Are you okay?” she asks, her adorable nose wrinkled as she analyzes him. “You’ve got that lovestruck look on your face.”

Lance leans an elbow on the armrest, cheek on his fist. “Hard not to when I get to look at your face every morning.”

Pidge flushes pink, despite their intimacy the night before (even that hadn’t been the first), and she stammers for a comeback. His heart flutters - he’s thrilled to get any sort of reaction from her.

“You’re insufferable,” she says, opening the card.

Strung along by whim and a desire to be next to his wife, Lance rises from his lonely chair and slides onto the bed behind Pidge. He rests his arms on the sides her waist and plants a gentle kiss on the back of her neck. Pidge curls into him, cutting off that side of her neck. “Lance, that tickles.”

“I know,” he teases, and places a kiss on the now exposed side.

Pidge giggles (and snorts) and twists on her knees to face him, locking her soft lips with his and preventing him from kissing her neck again. She presses her hand down on his shoulder, rising over top of him. Lance buckles back onto the piles of pillows at the head of the bed, body warming and anticipation rising.

She sticks the card in his face as she pulls away, blocking his lips from reaching her. Kissing the card is better than kissing a mouse at least. “This one’s from Hunk. We should read it together.”

Lance groans. “You’re a tease,” he complains as he takes the card. He steals a kiss from her forehead. “I love you so much. I’m the luckiest guy to be married to you.”

Pidge grins and leans back into him as he opens the card for both of them to see. “Luck is one of your best traits. Like, you’re lucky my mom didn’t find out we eloped. We’d both be grounded.”

Lance scans the writing on Hunk’s card and lets out a sharp laugh. “Looks like we didn’t fool everyone.”

“‘You lying liars,’” Pidge recites, not bothering to contain her own laughter. “‘I know you eloped, like, a year ago and you only had the wedding to con gifts out of us. Joke’s on you. I got you an off-brand blender so your milkshakes will never be as smooth as you like them! ...I love you guys. Congratulations. Come over often and I’ll make you proper milkshakes.’”

“I don’t know how we’ll survive without him,” Lance laughs. “Maybe we should move into the attic of his Earth-based restaurant. Then we’ll never have to do any cooking ever.”

Pidge plucks Hunk’s card from his fingers and sets it off to the side. “Tempting, but you start school in a few months and I’m still testing the limits of the Defenders vehicles.” She hums, tapping a finger on her chin. "I wonder what would happen if Shiro interacted with them," she says with increasing awe before breaking out into a wide grin. "Maybe the vehicles will combine into a Voltron like the Lions! Lance! Remind me to check the dynotherm connectors when we get back - no, wait, I'm gonna call Matt right now and make him do it." She scrambles off the bed, intent on making her video call.

Lance wraps his arms around her waist, stopping her from going any further, nose pressed up against her lower back. The scent of the local perfume fills his senses and, despite leaning forward awkwardly, he wants to stay like this all day. "I love it when you talk science," he says breathlessly, "but It's our honeymoon. Your brother can wait, tell me all about it."

Small hands hold tightly onto his larger ones, resting on her abdomen. She rolls her thumb over his skin and Lance melts at the soft touches. Heat rises in his belly once more, wanting nothing more than to pull her back to the bed and lie beside her, recreating the morning’s peaceful afterglow.

"Speaking of… talking..” Pidge says instead, “did you remember to make the reservation for the Hilt tonight?"

His eyes snap open and out of his blissful daydream. The Hilt is the premier restaurant of the resort, one that has Hunk's rare seal of approval. Pidge has been wanting to eat there for a few days now.

He forgot to make the reservation again.

Lance breaks away, jumps off the bed, and makes a beeline for the video phone. "Maybe my luck will get us a free spot tonight,” he says as he reaches the video phone, turning to face her with a weak grin. “If not, I'll make a reservation for sometime this week, I promise," he assures her, clasping his hands together as if it will prove his words true.

Pidge fidgets with the hem of her dress. "Okay, sure. The soonest opening you can get, okay? It doesn't have to be the best table or anything."

"Only the best for the best," Lance insists. Though he compliments her, Pidge gives no reaction, her enthusiasm for the Defenders project so distant compared to her current fidgety mood. He runs the top of his teeth along his bottom lip, heart twisting with guilt; she really wants this. He’s a failure if he can’t read her intentions after not only dating, but also having been linked mentally through sentient robots.

But they are in the condo now, surrounded by lush alien jungle and a mile from their nearest neighbor - with nothing to distract them but each other - so Lance is determined to make it up to Pidge and finally get the reservations. It will be a romantic evening like no other - just him and his wife, candle-lit dinner and all, he swears it - he isn’t called loverboy Lance without reason.

He presses the comm button that will connect him with the hotel lobby, but instead of their pink-skinned alien hosts, static greets him.

"That's weird," he muses. "It was working fine last night when we ordered room service."

Pidge bends down and pops open the plate that hides the wiring behind the wall. She examines the bundle, fingering the wires as musician to a harp. "Everything looks normal.” Her brows furrow. “It must be on the lobby's end."

Lance groans. So much for any after-breakfast snuggling today. "Let's go then. We might as well take our swimsuits for the water park since we can just head there after stopping at the lobby."

Pidge smiles up at him, instantly lifting his mood. "I hope you brought the right swim trunks." She smirks. "I heard the Galaxy Whirl can rip them right off of you."

He matches her grin, raising his eyebrows suggestively. "You'd like that wouldn't you?"

She stands, closing the gap between them, teasingly twisting the fabric of his shirt between her fingers. "Maybe we should do a quick test run in the shower to make sure they stay on."

The lights go out.

Lance blinks to acclimate his eyes as quickly as he can, his other senses on high alert. First the comm unit and now the power? Instinct makes him reach for his bayard... which he hasn't had since the Lions departed. Perhaps the years as a Paladin have made him too paranoid. It’s probably just a malfunction.

"Who's there?" Pidge demands. Lance places a hand on her shoulder - she's just as tense as he is.

A high-pitched zing is the only warning Lance has before his shins slam together, tied snug by weighted cord. He flails his arms, seeking balance, yelping until the floor greets his face with a disorientating thud. “Owww…” He inhales through his nose and coughs wetly. Probably a nosebleed, but with his legs wound tightly together that’s the least of his concerns.

“Lance - AH!” Pidge yells.

Lance kneels. His heart catches in his throat as her head makes solid contact with the stone table lamp, her arms pinned snug against her sides. She falls onto the bed with a soft thump.

“Pidge!” He props his arms on foot of the bed, pulling himself up to be closer to her. She’s not moving. Maybe the fall wasn’t that bad, he tells himself, though his racing heart betrays his growing anxiety. He needs to make sure Pidge is okay, then find their attacker. “Talk to m-mhhhmmm!”

A clawed and scaly hand as big as his face cuts his words short. “Shhh,” the voice says softly, presumably belonging to their assailant. Quiznak, this isn’t supposed to be happening. They hadn’t been Paladins in years - they were so out of practice and so complacent… “We may be alone, but you’ll excite Kharl with your panicked squeals. Trust me, you don’t want that.” The voice - she, if Lance has to guess - chuckles at her own private joke. “Not yet anyway.”

A threatening hiss makes Lance jump, but the hand keeps him firmly in place. In the shadows, movement from the wall above the bed makes his skin scrawl. He's reminded of a lizard, and this would be a much larger one than he's used to on Earth.

His assailant removes her hand from his face and binds his wrists with magenta cuffs.

“We’re Paladins of Voltron,” Lance declares, filling his voice with as much confidence as he can muster, mind buzzing for a plan - a counterattack, anything. He’s picked up, and he grunts as he’s unceremoniously thrown onto the bed near Pidge. He rolls onto an elbow, making himself as big as he can. “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

"I know who you are." Flashing yellow eyes seem to float above the edge of the bed, disembodied in the darkness. Lance’s stomach ties into a knot, terrified as the terms ‘bounty hunter’, ‘Zarkon loyalist’, and ‘pirate’ roll across his mind. He worms his way between Pidge and their attacker. Though they have no physical weapons, Lance isn’t defenseless. Pidge is small, but she’s far from frail. He can distract for as long as it takes for Pidge to come to and sneak a distress call out.

"Oh." Lance swallows, tasting the blood trickling down his throat. Execution is easier said than done, but if anyone is equal to the task, it’s him. He forces a weary smile. "I don’t suppose you’re just looking for autographs then?"

The eyes glow in amusement. "Of sorts. I am a great fan of your work, Paladin Lance. Your aim and situational awareness are something of legend in certain circles, although you seem to be out of practice.”

They’ve been tracked - hunted , Lance realizes, urgency growing in time with each heartbeat. "You’ve got us at a disadvantage," he says, and chuckles, lifting his cuffed hands. "Literally. But we don't know a thing about you."

Pidge groans softly from behind him and Lance wants nothing more than to turn around and see to her injuries, but he can’t, not when their lives may depend on it.

The eyes rise to near the ceiling, and a thump - probably large feet - reverberates across the floor. "Paladin Pidge,” the voice addresses and Lance growls at his failure, “technology and stealth expert. I am Rizak Ix and I have been looking forward to hunting you and your fellow Paladins."

Despite the direness of the situation, his mouth seems to have a mind of its own. “There’s only five of us,” he says though his heart pounds in his chest and through his ears. “I suppose our autographs are a precious commodity.”

It sounds so stupid when it leaves his mouth, but when the whites of Rizak’s teeth glint against the darkness to form a grin, Lance lets himself feel a bit better. He can work with an enemy with a sense of humor.

“I prefer a token of flesh and blood,” she says, “although I am woefully disappointed with your performance today, your capture was far too easy. I’ve waited years for the feared Voltron Paladins to become unneeded, I expected more of a challenge.”

“Then let us go,” Pidge insists. Her voice is groggy, but it lets Lance know she’s aware, and relief floods over him.

He leans over his shoulder, catching the shadows of her face. “Is your head okay?”

“...not great,” she admits. “I’ll deal with it once we’re out of this.”

The telltale whine of a laser gun powering up snaps Lance’s attention back to their bounty hunter. She’s easier to see as she stalks around the bed towards them, her head towering to near the top of the vaulted ceiling. A forked tongue wiggles from her delighted smile. A loaded pistol sits in her large hand, with dark pink streaks lining the outside of the weapon illuminating her dark grey scales.

“Allow me to assist,” Rizak says. Lance freezes in fear as she presses the barrel into the side of his neck. It taints the memory of the soft kisses Pidge planted there in what already seems like a lifetime ago. “I’ll have you both out of here shortly.”

“Don’t hurt him!” Pidge screams desperately. “Stop!”

The gun fires and Lance knows no more.

~~~~~

Lance wakes. He wishes the tranquilizer had been stronger when he takes in the stale, rotten air.

His vision is slow to come into focus, but it's clear the place is reminiscent of Galra prison cells: rectangular, grey, and metal-looking, although instead of any discernible door, there’s a skylight, barred in magenta. It looks too small to fit through, but the low hum of a ship’s engine distracts him from pondering further. They’re no longer at the resort.

Lance coughs, a poor attempt to relieve himself of the rotting stench in the air. Whatever had been kept in this prison before them hadn’t made it out alive. He refuses to think on what that might mean for them and the cold metal digging into his chin distracts him enough.

His chest tightens, not wanting to acknowledge that its a collar. Questions flood into his thoughts anyway. Shock? Aesthetic? What does this bounty hunter want with them? Probable bounty hunter anyway. What all does the universe have left to throw at them?

No wonder his neck hurts. His bum is sore on top of it, which means he’s been sitting up for a long while. At least his hands and feet are free again and his nose isn’t bleeding anymore.

A smaller body shifts against his side.

“Pidge?” he asks. She’s hurt, he remembers. He needs to make sure she is all right.

“I’m here,” she responds groggily, making no attempt to move from his side. Lance wants it no other way. Her touch means she’s here, and they’re together, not only creating warmth for their bodies, but also in his heart. He desperately needs that thread of security now.

But guilt twists in his stomach. “Sorry, Pidge. Go back to sleep. We’re going to need your brain to get out of this one.”

It isn’t fair. They did their time and saved the universe. Why does a happy ending still elude them?

“My head is killing me,” Pidge complains. “I don’t think I can.”

Lance shifts to face her, careful to make sure she doesn’t fall to the floor. A ring of clunky metal around her neck stares back at him, a dot of green light alone in a sea of dark grey, and he’s positive it’s a mirror of what he wears himself.

Pidge diverts his focus from their dreadful situation before it can overwhelm him. Though the movement isn’t much, she gasps and heaves, vomit spilling out before them. He holds her upright and gently rubs her back in silence. Finished, she shivers, and stares at the wall across from them as if in a daze.

“Okay, well, you really should,” he says. “I don’t remember that much from health class, but I’m pretty sure you have a concussion. You look just like Keith after he came back from that ice planet.”

“I feel like crap,” Pidge moans. “This wasn’t supposed to happen yet.”

“This wasn’t supposed to happen ever,” Lance corrects, annoyed. He’s more alert now that he’s aware that he needs to take charge of the situation while Pidge recovers. “Look, we’re famous. Someone is bound to recognize us if this lady tries to sell us off. It might give us a fighting chance for escape too.” His words taste false as soon as he says them. The way the bounty hunter praised them, eager for a fight - Lance isn’t sure there’s a third party at all.

A quick, sharp buzz makes Lance jump. His heart freezes at the sight of several long, needle-like teeth grinding at the bars across the skylight. Translucent green slobber drips down to the floor as the creature gnaws, as if desperate to get in.

“Up, Kharl!” The teeth vanish from view at the bounty hunter’s words, the creature - Kharl - whining and panting as it skitters away across the top of the prison.

Lance decides he does not want to meet Kharl if he can help it.

The bars retract and a large bowl descends slowly, attached to a thick cord via a metal hook. Clear liquid, water probably, spills over the top as it jerks downward. Seeing an opportunity, Lance sets Pidge against the wall and rushes the cord, grabbing hold as it unhooks from the bowl and lifts back into the air.

He’s hit with an electric shock far worse than simple static cling, lighting his nerves on fire. He cries out as his back makes contact with the hard floor and slides backwards until Pidge catches his shoulders.

Hidden from view, Rizak laughs. The hook disappears through the opening. “Careful, Paladins, the wires are live. I wouldn’t recommend touching it twice. You’ll need your sprightliness, as well as the water, for later.”

“You won’t get away with this,” Pidge threatens. She tightens her grip on his shirt, a comfort as he comes out of his daze. “We have allies everywhere.”

“You'll find no friend in this part of the universe,” she advises. A bulging sack plummets from the skylight and it lands with a thud beside the bowl. “The water is fresh and the sack is full of rations. Eat your fill; you won’t die while on this ship.”

Lance seethes, face twisting in displeasure. He can’t stand to be patronized by their captor.

But the gesture of food and water both throw him for a loop and set his stomach into further unease. What - or who - did she need them alive for?

“Then get Pidge something for her nausea! She can’t eat if she’s sick,” he demands. His feelings don’t matter if Pidge is ill.

“Rizak the Patient,” Pidge says before the bounty hunter can respond. “I remember your name from the black market channels. Kind of an odd nickname for a bounty hunter.”

A deep chuckle reverberates through the air. “I have been watching your actions as Paladins since the early days of the Voltron Coalition,” she explains. “And the more I learned about each one of you, the greater my desire to test my skills against the defenders of the universe. I am willing to take my time to get results.”

A crash and thud from just the other side of the wall startle Lance while Pidge jumps away from the point of origin.

“Kharl, however, is not so patient.”

Claws scrape at the wall and the beast breathes deep, sniffing incessantly.

Lance catches on fast, inhaling sharply in fear. Rizak is a hunter and Kharl is her hunting dog.

He and Pidge are the prey.

The magenta bars snap back into place between the skylight. “Now that the universe no longer needs the Paladins or Voltron for its safekeeping, I will take this opportunity to hunt the both of you. I am positive you will all make excellent trophies.”

Lance swallows hard. The implication behind ‘trophies’ makes his stomach churn. He imagines those long, sharp teeth sinking into his chest, green slobber the last thing he sees in life - a life cut far too short for what they fought to preserve.

It isn’t fair.

But the thought of that fate for Pidge ignites his anger. There are plenty of flight instructors at the Garrison to guide the next generation of pilots, but there’s only one Pidge who knows the workings of the Defenders’ vehicles better than the back of her hand, no one else who possesses both the experience piloting a sentient machine with the intimate knowledge of how they work.

The universe can’t lose Pidge. Lance refuses to lose yet another loved one, not when he can do something about it. He stands, intent on giving this bounty hunter a piece of his mind.

“Some great hunter you are,” Pidge jeers, beating him to the punch. Quiznak, this is why he loves her. The sharp tongue and defiance in the face of danger are weapons in themselves. “You captured us completely unarmed and unprepared.”

He takes her hand in solidarity and offers an encouraging smile, emboldened by her snark to offer some of his own, “Must be a side job. The day one must be boring.”

Pidge returns the smile, but it isn’t full or bright, merely thankful. Her resilience is only skin deep. She’s just as terrified as he is.

“Of sorts” Rizak says, taking Lance by surprise as he snaps his head upwards, “which is why the hunt will continue elsewhere. You will have all the resources of an uninhabited planet at your disposal. Simply survive and I will test my tracking skills.”

What? ” Lance squeaks, incredulous he’s hearing this.

“How is that even fair?” Pidge protests. “You can’t - you have tracking devices on us!” She points to the collar around her neck.

Of course that’s what they are! What’s to stop them from carrying electricity if the wires are charged?

A single click echoes in the air. Lance yelps as a red glow surrounds him and spreads down to his toes before disappearing.

Red Paladin Lance ,” an electronic voice says. “ Heart rate: elevated. Minor bruising. Broken nasal cavity; ninety percent healed. Dehydration . Suggested Course of Action: Rest, fluids.”

The red glow in his periphery turns green.

“That particular feature is turned off. The devices you wear exist to measure your vitals only,” the bounty hunter explains.

Lance stills in fear - she’d healed his broken nose? What else had she done to them? - rage building as he balls his hands into fists. “And we’re supposed to take your word on this? After you’ve kidnapped us?”

“On my honor as a Xunalmani, you will have ample opportunity to kill me once the hunt begins. I have placed your weapons of choice across the planet so that you will not be defenseless. And… I do not intend to let you die unless it is by my hand.”

A million questions race through Lance’s mind, and Pidge’s concerned expression mirrors his thoughts. If this is actually happening - it still seems surreal despite the accommodations - then they need to be prepared. What is the wildlife like? What is safe to eat? To drink?

His hands grow clammy, becoming more terrified by the second. Less about the threat of death, he’s used to that, but how she’s prepared the hunting ground like it’s a game.

“The resourcefulness of the Paladins is legendary,” she says in awe. “You had precious little to work with in your early days and still managed to not only survive, but thrive and take down the Galra empire. I am looking forward to seeing that resourcefulness in action.”

“We’re flattered,” Pidge drones. Her hand shakes in his.

His heart breaks. He would like nothing more than to have Pidge by his side to thwart this sick sideshow… but he also wants to keep her out of danger however he can.

“You don’t need both of us!” Lance growls desperately, staring intensely as if it could somehow break apart their cell. “Shouldn’t one former Paladin be enough for you? Let Pidge go!”

“Lance!” Pidge cries. “No! Don’t you dare !”

“I appreciate the enthusiasm to go first, Paladin Lance,” Rizak says. “I will oblige, since I want all three of you.”

Pidge freezes, but Lance pays it no mind as he mentally does the math. Who else does she have? Hunk and Shiro travel with the Atlas, and there’s no way a bounty hunter could get through that kind of security. But Keith… Keith is sometimes isolated during his humanitarian missions. Caught unaware, even the best fighter among them can fall.

“What have you done with Keith?" Lance demands.

“Lance…” Pidge says so quietly, he almost doesn’t hear.

“You’re screwed if you let him loose,” he continues instead. “Give him a stick and he’ll find a way to kill you with it.”

“Lance, it's not Keith she’s talking about,” Pidge says, her voice trembling.

It’s the voice she uses so sparingly, only in the most dire of situations, when she’s exhausted of all her rage and options. So he finally turns from the skylight to his wife. She grips his hand so tightly and clenches a fistful of floral fabric near her abdomen in the other.

Her eyes lock onto his like a finely tuned guidance system. She opens her mouth, “I’m -- “

“A child of two Paladins could be the challenge of a lifetime,” Rizak interrupts. “With proper training, I will have an apprentice for years and a one of a kind trophy.”

Pidge snaps her head towards the skylight. “Over my dead body!”

“That will be easily arranged once the child is born.”

Lance barely registers his own breathing, his mouth already growing dry as it hangs open, struggling to digest the new information.

Pidge is pregnant.

Pidge is pregnant with their child and they’re imprisoned on a quiznaking ship by a quiznaking bounty hunter.

Pidge takes pity on his slow comprehension, face softening despite her hurried breaths. “I wanted to tell you at dinner, to make it extra special,” she explains. Tears threaten to break out from her eyes. “I would’ve told you earlier if I’d known all this was going to happen.”

“It’s no fun hunting prey that isn’t in peak condition,” Rizak says. “Paladin Pidge will remain on the ship until the child is born.”

“Hold on, that’s almost nine months,” Pidge squeaks, eyes narrowing again in rage. “I am not staying that long, let alone giving birth here.”

Lance steps forward, “And there’s no way I’m letting you take our baby either.” The words are foreign to his lips, and any other day he might say it over and over, just to get used to how wonderful they sound. All he can do right now is use them for bluster.

He knows as things stand, he doesn’t have much choice in the matter.

Rizak bursts out a hearty laugh. “I look forward to the challenge from both of you.” A muted beep sounds in the distance. “We’ve arrived. You have five doboshes while I take the ship into the atmosphere and release Paladin Lance for the hunt. Say what you need.”

The clunk of boots are heavy on the roof of the prison, including the jump down to ground level.

They are literally in an animal crate.

Pidge pounds on the wall. “Get back here and let us go! I’ll show you a fight!” Her threat falls short of intimidating as she swallows hard and fails to hold back her sobs. “You got lucky! You’d never have caught us if we knew you were coming!’ She kicks the wall and bows her head against it, weakly slapping it with her palm.

Lance is drawn in as she cries, wrapping his arms around her, begging whatever is left of the Paladin bond to let him take all of her sorrow. He rests his head on hers. Never mind the fact he is about to be dropped onto an unknown planet, they’re about to be separated, and he won’t be able to protect her. He already tastes the failure and it scares him.

“This is actually happening,” Pidge chokes. She twists around and wraps her arms around his neck, but instead of familiar teasing kisses she buries her face in his chest.

Before he can blink Lance is on his knees and hugging Pidge as if his life depends on it, dragging her to the floor with him. “I love you,” he says, not bothering to whisper. “I love you and our kid. I’ll find a way off the planet and I’ll get you both out of here.”

“I’ll find a way to get a distress call out,” Pidge says as she tightens her grip on him. “She’s bound to let her guard down eventually.”

“I don’t want to leave you, either of you,” he says. His heart beats so fast it feels as if it can burst from his body. He tries to focus on Pidge, commit all of her to memory - the smell of her tropical perfume, the feel of her thick hair, the look of her face (if he can only find a way to make her smile right now) - because he honestly does not know when he will next see her. And that terrifies him more than whatever fate awaits him on this planet.

Pidge sniffs. “I don’t want you to leave. I want you with me and the baby, where you belong.”

“M-maybe there’s a secret door somewhere,” he jokes. She’d teased him the last time he suggested that at least. “We aren’t separated yet, Pidge. She has to take you out first. We can jump her.”

They have to; with no weapons it will be their one shot to get out of this nightmare before it gets much worse.

Pidge leans back and wipes the snot away from her face. “Yeah, okay. We’d better get ready.”

Lance nods in agreement and stands. He's so numb. Between their capture, imminent future, and the knowledge he will be a father… his emotions are in turmoil. He exhales, rolling his shoulders forward. One thing at a time. Get out of this first. Lift spirits.

He forces himself to grin, feigning confidence as he says, “Kiss for good luck?”

It works. His heart soars with joy when she stands and smiles at him, though her eyes still shine with tears. “You would. I should withhold it for when we’re safely back at the resort.”

“When we’re safe,” he says as he takes both of her hands, “I’ll be the one giving you a kiss. Promise.”

Her smile fades almost as quickly as it had appeared. Her eyes peer into his soul. “There’s a decent chance this won’t work, Lance. We might not even have the advantage of surprise if she’s expecting us to try something. So… if - if we are separated, you stay alive. That’s all. Just stay alive. Promise me that.”

The reminder of exactly how dire their situation is overcomes him and he drops to one knee. “I already made a promise to be by your side through everything.” He rubs the smooth silver band around her finger, the one he had inlaid with diamonds around the circumference before their engagement, the ring he had the honor of slipping onto her finger twice now. “I don’t intend to let death part us that easily. Trust me.”

Pidge nods and bites her quivering lip. “I do. I brought my dad and Matt back, so you can bet I’m coming to collect your quiznaking butt off that planet.” She takes a deep breath and glares, though he knows she’s not angry with him. “I am not raising this baby without you, understand?”

Despite everything going on, her words soothe him. He’s seen firsthand what Pidge will do for her family. “I do,” he says as he rises, cupping her cheek and wiping away her residual tears with his thumb. ”I believe it.”

She leans in, bracing her hand around the back of his neck. “Then I guess I can give you this.”

He meets her lips with his. The firm and easy press lets him easily take them away from here, back to the resort and then to their home on Garrison grounds. He imagines the two of them painting the guest bedroom in soft blues and greens in preparation for their first child, and a chorus of congratulations from friends and allies alike.

Heavy footsteps break him from his blissful daydream and Pidge from him. It’s time. They have to take a post on opposite walls.

He doesn’t want to let go - he can see it in Pidge’s eyes she doesn’t either - especially if it may be their last.

Like fingernails on a chalkboard, Kharl gnaws on the other side of the wall nearest to where they stand, stopping only to inhale their scent. They both jump, and Pidge uses the distraction to slip out of his hands. Lance opens his mouth to protest, but a hydraulic hiss forces his attention to his right.

Lance pins his back to the wall and waits as the hidden door slides down. He sets a foot against the wall, ignoring Kharl’s continuous sniffing, readying to launch himself at their captor.

Rizak walks up a ramp empty-handed. It’s the first clear view he’s had of her at all. She’s more lizard-like than he imagined, with a long tail and pointed teeth inside an elongated snout.

Pidge gasps, and her eyes widen with renewed fear. A heartbeat later, she’s clenching her teeth in the same rabid determination she displayed in the search for her family, hands balled up into fists. She charges and Lance follows her lead with a battle cry.

He collides with the force field before he runs into the bounty hunter, bouncing back onto the hard floor.

His heart catches in this throat when he sees Pidge on the other side, the bounty hunter’s thick arms around her neck, leaving Pidge’s legs flailing and hands scrabbling to get free.

A soft, red glow emanates off the grey scales. Lance places his own trembling hand near his collar, and a green light shines off his skin.

His blood boils. Rizak had planned for their counterattack and used it against them.

Then guilt sets in. It was his idea.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Rizak teases, squeezing Pidge closer to herself. “Could it be you’ve seen my kind before?”

Lance snarls and leaps to his feet, ramming his fists against the force field. “Let her go!”

Needle-like teeth ram at the barrier, creating yellow sparks. Lance steps back on instinct as the jaws unhinge and gnaw on the force field, threatening to cut him clean in half. Kharl is long, black with thick red stripes on his snake-like body - one with thin legs and sharp claws that Lance is very sure can shred him to bits.

He’s more concerned for Pidge at the moment.

“He was hunting my brother!” she shouts. “And I’d do the same thing again!”

“We have something in common, Paladin Pidge. We would do anything for our families,” Rizak says, caressing Pidge’s terrified face in a way that makes Lance quake with rage. “You took my brother from me, so I will take pleasure in taking you from your mate.”

Pidge pales. “No, don’t! If your beef is with me - “

“And after I hunt Paladin Lance, I will take your child, hunt you down, and finish my brother’s job.” She hisses. “Down, Kharl. Not yet.”

The creature backs down and slinks off into the shadows, but its eager, red eyes remain locked on Lance.

“You have twenty varga to prepare, Paladin Lance. Keep me entertained and you will live for another hunt,” Rizak instructs.

Lance swallows, keeping his heart from leaping into his throat. He’s still trembling and he hates showing how scared he is in front of their captor. “Just don’t hurt Pidge,” he manages.

“I take my investments seriously.” Rizak grins evilly. “She will be well cared for, and”--she holds Pidge painfully closer--“will have plenty of work to do.”

They are words Lance can’t bring himself to trust, but as the gears turn and the door begins to close and cut him off from Pidge, he forces himself to hang onto them. “Pidge!” he cries desperately, pounding on the force field - standing on his toes to keep her within his sights. “Katie!”

“Lance!” Pidge screams as the door locks shut, sobs intruding in her voice as she follows with, “I love you!”

So he, with all the wisdom of a man in his 20s who’s gone through war, saved the universe, is captured, and just wants to make his wife feel better, responds, “I know!”

Quiznak, his last words to Pidge ever might be a Star Wars reference. “I lo -- "

Lance doesn’t get a chance to change his words. The prison tilts and Lance is pulled back, striking the far wall and stuck there as if he’s a cadet in the Garrison’s centrifuge machine again. His heart threatens to rip out of his body and his stomach tightens. It feels like an eternity as the force refuses to let him even move his arms or yell in alarm to relieve the fear he finally feels for himself. He’s perceptive enough to realize he’s just been airdropped. Is he even going to survive this fall?

Finally the crate slams against solid ground, throwing Lance against the - wall-floor-ceiling? - metal. A crack and sharp pain jolts through his wrist and he screams in pain. He’ll have to start off this stupid game with a probable broken hand.

As he holds his wrist gingerly, the door swings open, hitting the ground with a slam and pillowing cloud of dust. Hot, humid air rushes over his skin. Lance takes a deep, trembling breath. “No problem. Just like home. You’ve got this, Lance.”

He takes his time walking down the ramp. Dozens of large metal crates litter the area between giant trees - it chills him that he isn’t the first to face this fate, nor the last if he and Pidge can’t do anything about it. The trunks are wider than any he knows on Earth, upended roots among the thick undergrowth large enough to fit a small house under.

It's a jungle paradise, just like the resort, only on a massive scale. He now knows what an ant must feel like.

Just the thought of what he’s been taken from pulls him to his knees, chest rising and falling hard. It wasn’t that long ago he and Pidge were safe, celebrating their time together. He wants to cry, but the tears don’t come. The air is wet enough as it is. Beads of sweat dot his forehead and slip down his temple and into his eyes.

The calls of the native birds sound mournful, appropriate for his mood. He’s not even come to terms, not completely, with the fact that he is going to be a father. How can he when the mother of the child is held captive by a bounty hunter who seems to have personal history with her?

Lance falls to his hands and knees. He rips some undergrowth from the ground and screams in frustration. There’s nothing he can do.

At least not yet. Rizak said she was coming in twenty varga, and if he can believe her, there’s a gun out here somewhere for him to make it a fair fight.

Lance stands and heads back into his former prison, filled with renewed determination. The fall spilled the water, but the ration packets and the bag will be indispensable.

He has a promise to keep, so for now he plays the game - aiming to win.

~~~~~

His heart sinks when he hears the shuttle descend into the atmosphere. Rizak is early.

Lance tears apart his enclosure as his heart thumps in panic over the break of routine, tossing the limbs and leaves of his former roof into the nearby stream. He douses the fire, throwing all he can into the water, and scatters the mud that made his walls. The more he makes it seem like he was never here, the better. A shame, this had been one of the nicer areas.

It’s been a long time, so long even his time as a Paladin seems like a fever dream. Rizak never divulges outside information, and he can’t keep track of the days for fear he’ll leave evidence of his stay in any given spot. He has no other contact with living beings and if he makes it out of here alive he’ll never eat another berry again.

Lance is tired, not just physically, and his heart feels as if it’s made of lead. He kneels beside a stream and washes his face and hands - his wrist healed, a mercy given to him after the first time she caught up to him. He needs to focus. Stubble and aged wrinkles stare back at him, along with the unnatural metal necklace he still wears, light blinking its usual green. He reaches out to the surface, touching his reflection. He hardly looks like himself.

Perhaps she’s finally bored of him. She’s captured him more often than not lately. Killing Kharl must have been the last great feat he’s allowed to accomplish.

“Pidge has it under control,” he tells himself. He misses her fiercely; there is no one Lance would rather have on his side in that ship.

He collects his two possessions: the promised rifle that took him way too long to find and the sack once filled with rations. He forces his legs to move. Best to put as much distance between himself and Rizak as possible. If he’s lucky he won’t even see her. Or maybe...maybe today will be the day he can snipe her, steal her ship, and rescue Pidge and their baby.

Their baby… he wonders what Pidge looks like with her belly swollen. She has to be showing by now.

He pounds his fist against the nearest tree. Not for the first time he thinks about how lonely she is, becoming increasingly vulnerable at the hands of their captor. He should be there for her, doting on her every need, kissing her belly, feeling their child kick against her skin, and taking her to proper doctor appointments. He wants to tell the baby of epic adventures - both real and fantasy - as Pidge fights a fond smile and rolls her eyes at him.

Lance needs to be doing all of those things, not spending time in this quiznaking jungle planet fighting for his life.

But he promised Pidge he would survive so that he would have those moments with his family in the future.

So he trudges on.

He also never loses sight of the shuttle. It’s typically landed by now, but today it heads right for him.

Lance picks up speed, sure to look over his shoulder as often as he can spare. His heart pounds through his ears as it gains on him. He changes direction, zig zags, shields himself with the towering trees. None of it matters as the shuttle follows him everywhere.

He runs into another section of the winding stream and plows in, water up to his knees soaking into his tattered clothes and resisting him with every step. It takes too much energy, but there’s higher ground on the other side where he can hide for a possible shot.

He catches a glimpse of red on the water’s surface. This must be the end. Lance can’t think of any other reason why the bounty hunter has turned on the tracking function.

He swallows a sob as he reaches the opposite bank. At least it’ll be quick if he fails.

Air drier and hotter than the ambient atmosphere washes over him, and the sun disappears as the shuttle overtakes his path, landing before him.

Lance stops and brings the rifle to a firing position, intent on making a literal last stand. The scope is long since broken, so he has to rely on his own sight for this shot. He’ll only get one. But his arms ache, and feel like noodles. He will miss if they don’t stop shaking.

The shuttle’s bay doors open, spitting in the middle and spreading out. The bottom half rests on the forest floor, creating a ramp.

A figure moves in the shadows and Lance shoots. He can’t afford to wait, not when his ticket to freedom and freeing Pidge is right there with only a bounty hunter in his way.

The shot ricochets off the door and onto a tree. His fingers shake, but he readies the next shot, teeth clenched in concentration.

“Lance, stop!”

He lowers the rifle. Is he already dead?

“Pidge?” he rasps, unbelieving.

But it is Pidge who emerges from the shuttle, resting a hand against the side, smiling at him with tears poking at her eyes in clear relief. She wears a tattered Galra prison uniform around her familiar slender form, but she’s never looked more beautiful to his strained eyes.

“You’re okay. You’re okay,” she repeats breathlessly. Her legs stumble forward. Lance drops his rifle and it bounces harmlessly among the fallen leaves. He easily finds strength from deep within himself to run to her.

She falls into his arms at the end of the ramp and they sink to their knees. Just having her body next to his again heals his aching and tired limbs. Pidge drapes her arms over his shoulders, and he wraps his tightly around her. She’s crying. “It's all over, Lance. She’s dead. We’re free.”

Relief washes over him like a flood. They aren’t endangered anymore. No more running for his life. He can finally put that behind him. “Pidge. Pidge,” he says. He can’t say her name too many times. “Katie, I missed you so much.”

“I was so worried about you. Every single day. I tried to ask her about you, but she wouldn’t tell me anything. I finally broke out of my room. I got a message to Keith. He was in the next galaxy over he…” Pidge rambles. “Lance, if I hadn’t gotten his frequency he would have never known we were here. They never stopped looking for us.”

How long had it been? Wasn’t Pidge pregnant? Why isn’t she showing? “Pidge... “ He breaks away, almost scared to ask. “The baby?”

But Pidge grins and it makes his chest light. “Your daughter is spending some time with her uncle Keith.” She cocks her head to the side. “I’ve told her all I can about you, but it’s better if she sees for herself. Not that she can actually remember since she’s only a few days old but - “

Lance breaks her string of ponderings with a kiss, unable to hold himself back any further. He’s missed her so much, and he just wants to know she isn’t an illusion.

Pidge relaxes, and returns it. How good it is to feel something something other than the thick air and sour berries on his lips. He takes care to moisten the cracks in hers, chapped from the dry spaceship systems.

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t there,” he says as they part. Lance knows it isn’t his fault, but his heart goes out to her all the same. “I didn’t know what she was going to do to you.”

Pidge hesitates. “She has a trophy room. It’s best if you don’t see it. Keith is working to find their home planets… to give them proper burials.”

It goes unsaid, but Lance understands. Either of them could have become part of the macabre collection sooner or later.

“it won’t happen to anyone else,” he assures her. “You're so brave, Pidge. I love you.”

Pidge leans her tired head into his chest. “I want to go home. I want you to see your daughter and I want the three of us together.”

Chest filled with warmth at the prospect, Lance presses a kiss on top of her head, holding her close. “I’ll go wherever you want.”

Together they rise and enter the shuttle. Lance doesn’t even look back as the bay doors close. He’s pleased that his pilot instincts remain as he prepares them for takeoff.

Pidge laughs at him from the copilot seat. “I’ll take it from here, Tailor. You look like you’re going to pass out.”

It was true he hasn’t slept well for - he pauses to take in the date on the dashboard - the past eight months. Silent tears reach his mouth, but he’s too numb to really take it in. The time he’s missed.... It's almost too much to bear. Perhaps a short nap is in order.

Lance smiles, chest light in contentment. He won’t need to wait long to see the subject of his dreams. And all things considered, he decides not to be too angry at Keith for getting to hold his daughter before him.

It’s finally over. When he wakes, he’ll be busier than ever. Forget the honeymoon he and Pidge never finished, it’s time to get to work making sure things like this don’t happen to anyone else, defending the universe by training the next generation.

He also has dozens of kisses for a tiny head that are far overdue, and he doesn’t expect to tire from it.