Actions

Work Header

The Rules Were Made To Be Broken

Chapter Text

“This is my future we’re talking about here! I should get to choose!”

Lance slammed his hands down on the polished mahogany table, scattering loose reports left over from that morning. He stood up so fast his chair screeched backwards and wobbled precariously on its back legs, falling back to an upright position with a dull thunk.

He was furious. As Crown Prince of Illéa, Lance felt his entire life was mapped out in front of him, all his choices predetermined and all his options restricted. From the day he was born, he was raised to be perfect, to be the prince, to be the face of Illéa. He was taught decorum and manners from the day he took his first steps, he was taught how to draft proposals and laws from the day he first wrote his name, he attended budget meetings and war councils from the day he understood what they were all about. Well, the day he pretended to understand, some things still went right over his head.

He felt that there were rules for everything; where he could and couldn’t go, what he could and couldn’t say, even who he could and couldn’t love.

“Calm down Lance.” King Charles McClain of Illéa simply looked his son in the eyes, gaze stern but weary, silently telling him to sit back down.

Lance loved his father, he was a good king, he’d been through his fair share of hard times as well. The Southern rebels had been growing steadily in size and strength for years now, and even if the stats were hidden from him, Lance knew the situation was getting dire.

People were dying, a lot of people, and the rebels had an uncanny ability to slip through the cracks, avoiding capture. The Northerners were a lot calmer, a lot gentler with their destruction. Sure, their attacks came frequently enough that it was somewhat normal, but the Southerners? They sometimes came almost every week.

Looking at the bigger picture, this was the least of his problems. There had been a strange lull of attacks in the past few weeks, so the entire palace was on edge, expecting something catastrophic to be coming at any second.

But Lance wasn’t thinking about that now, he was just mad.

“No, I’m not going to calm down! Why should I calm down? You’re forcing me to do something I don’t want to and pretending it’s a choice! So fuck this, fuck the Selection!” Lance knew he’d get scolded for his language later, but his head wasn’t in the right space to care about that right now.

“Lance please,” the king closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. He was a naturally patient man; he had to be in this family, things could get a little ...chaotic. Such as that time Veronica managed to disconnect one of the safe rooms from the main defense system, locking a terrified maid inside until she was rescued two days later. Or the time when Lance was six and he ran off into the woods, and was found almost an hour later halfway up a tree, trying to converse with a bird.

But Lance could tell his father was struggling to hold it in, after all, they had been fighting for nearly an hour now, going nowhere but in continuous circles. “The letters have already been sent, you knew this was coming.”

Of course he did. The Selection was the one thing all princes did,the one thing all princes had to do. Well, all the princely heirs. If Lance had an older brother, he’d be fine, free as a bird, never to be king. But he didn’t, so he was stuck where he was, with this stupid contest to pick a wife. To pick a princess who would one day rule at his side. Every queen since Gregory Illéa’s wife had been chosen in this way, including his own mother.

Of course he knew the letters had already been sent, even if he had pretended not to see the stacks in the mail room, if he had pretended not to hear in the endless meetings he was required to attend. The Selection was not the sort of thing you could pretend wouldn’t happen, especially this close to the time.

Lance didn’t believe in fate or superstition or really even luck, but somehow, almost every Selection turned out the perfect match for whoever was hoping to be married.

It was clear Charles loved Inges, clear from the way he looked at her, from the way that even though she had everything a poor Five from Dominica with nothing but a beautiful voice to her name could ever dream of wanting, he gave her it all.

On the other hand, you couldn’t deny that Inges loved Charles. She was a quiet queen for the cameras, the perfect queen for the cameras, but behind the palace walls she had a sharp wit and could make even the King unable to suppress a smile.

“Yeah, but I never thought you’d actually make me do it. This is ridiculous! I’m supposed to find a fucking wife from a random group of 35 women? Why can’t I live a normal life?”

“36, actually.” It was the first thing the Queen had said the entire conversation. “Don’t forget Princess Allura, Queen Honerva made a very good offer, to which Prince Alfor agreed. We cannot let this opportunity go to waste.” Her face was emotionless, an unusual sight, given how much she loved her children. Lance could tell she didn’t want to do this to him, but no matter how hard even she protested, this was how the country worked. It was unchangeable.

As royals, duty always came first.

You couldn’t ask for a better mother than Inges McClain. Being queen never stopped her from caring for her three children like any other mother. Forgoing the use of nannies and tutors, she was the one to wake at midnight when the baby was wailing, she was the one to make paella for no reason at all other than she wanted to.

She was the one who was there for her kids at any time, for any reason. Whether it be because Lance had simply had a bad day, or if there had been another rebel attack and he was scared, he knew that she would hold him while he cried, that she would sing him the old spanish lullabies her own mother had sung, and that she would drop all her duties if he was in trouble.

“Stop talking about us as if we’re objects! I’m a person too! So’s Allura, we’re not fucking trade items!” Lance’s breathing was heavy, his fists clenched. “You sold Rachel to Sven, don’t think I haven’t forgotten that.”

That was the only time Lance had ever seen Rachel cry; when she had to leave her family. Of course they went to Swendway for the wedding, but they couldn’t stay any longer than a few days. At least Sven was kind, even if his English was broken and Rachel’s Finnish sketchy at best.

“Lance, you need to calm down.” Charles’ voice was stern, his gaze able to cut flesh if anyone got in the way. “We never have, nor ever will, sell anyone. You are our children, we care about you.”

“Yeah, then maybe you should care that this is the opposite of what I want!” Lance stormed from the room, ignoring the protests from his parents, ignoring the tears that prickled at his eyes.

His father was right, he knew this was coming. He’d known since he was old enough to understand that one day he’d be king. That didn’t make it any easier though. It had always been Lance’s dream to fall in love, but even that was ripped away from him in the simple act of, well, being born as who he was, really.

Without him really realising it, Lance’s feet took him to the one person he could count on to listen to him.

Veronica.

Despite her being a princess and all that, her room strongly indicated otherwise. She’d declined their father’s offer of having her own specialised lab, instead opting to keep all her equipment in her suite.

She said it was because a lab would make it feel too serious and official, but Lance was pretty sure it was because a) half her equipment was wired into the circuit or soldered to the furniture (Lance didn’t know if that was deliberate or not) and b) because he knew his sister, she was incredibly organized, but inordinately lazy, and absolutely could not be bothered to move everything and rearrange it to how she wanted it.

All the clutter - that was, all the frail end tables, delicate armchairs, and seemingly pointless cabinets - had either been discarded or shoved to the side, the parlour filled with microscopes, experiments-in-progress, and god knows how much technological equipment.

A figure in a well worn and slightly fraying lab coat was hunched over a laptop, her short brown hair falling forwards over her wire-rimmed glasses. If she was standing straight, she’d be tall - all McClains were - but despite being older by a few years, she was a good couple of inches shorter than Lance, something he’d teased her about mercilessly since he bypassed her.

Lance slammed the door, drawing his sister’s attention. Sort of. She didn’t look up, and barely even twitched, her fingers still flying furiously over the keyboard.

“Careful, there are dangerous chemicals in here, and I don’t care how mad you are, Dad’ll be madder if I melt a hole in the floor.”

That was one of the things Lance loved about his sister; she was blunt. She didn’t take any shit from him or anyone else, she said things exactly as they were, no matter how bad, how harsh, how hurtful. She was honest where others weren’t.

“I’m not mad.” Lance snapped, completely negating the point.

Veronica just stayed silent, and Lance could imagine her little smirk and raised brow that appeared whenever she knew she was right, but was just waiting for Lance to admit it.

“Ok fine.” Lance crossed his arms with a huff.  “I’m mad. But not just mad.” Lance threw a hand out, gesturing at nothing. “This is my life, why can’t I choose?”

Veronica stabbed the keys for a few more moments, then stood, closing the laptop she’d been working on suddenly.

“You do get to choose-”

“But-” Lance cut in, soon silenced when Veronica raised a hand, looking him in the eyes. “Sorry.”

“Let me finish. You do get to choose, even if it’s from an admittedly small group.” Removing her lab coat and slinging it somewhat haphazardly on its hook, Veronica sat on her bed, patting the spot next to her. “Talk.” It wasn’t a question.

Lance sat heavily, falling all the way back until he was staring at the ceiling.

“Like I get it,” He raised both arms skywards, gesticulating wildly more out of habit than anything. “I get why we do the whole Selection, I really do, I just wish it wasn’t me . Why do I have to be forced to pick a wife from 36 random women? What if I don’t like any of them? What happens if I want to make the one choice I’m allowed to make like a normal person?” Lance had pulled out all the stoppers, everything was coming out at once. “And why does it have to be only women anyway?” He admitted quietly. “Why do I have to do this damn thing in the first place?” Lance finished his rant, still glaring blindly upwards, dropping his hands to the blankets with a muffled thump.

“Lance, I understand.” Veronica rested one of her hands on his. It was surprisingly smooth for a scientist like her. Perhaps because she always wore gloves, even if she was dealing with even the least corrosive acids. “But hear me out; at least you get a choice of 36. We all know that one day I’ll be shipped of to marry some prince or duke I’ve never even met. And if I’m not lucky like Rachel, and the guy’s a dick, guess what I can do about it?” Veronica grimaced. “Nothing. I’m sure that you’ll find someone worth sticking with, and if you find you really, really can’t be with any of them, I’m sure dad’ll call it off ...for the time being.”

Lance considered her words. He’d never thought of it that way, in that both of his sisters were given to men they didn’t know, without any choice. Suddenly he felt bad for complaining, the Selection was by far the better option.

“Oh don’t go feeling all sorry for me.” Another thing Lance loved, Veronica knew him better than he knew himself. She hauled him to a sitting position. “At least I’ll have someone making the decision for me. I mean, can you imagine me trying to choose between 36 men?”

Lance locked eyes with her in the moment of silence that followed, before they both fell apart with laughter.

It was no secret to Lance that Veronica was lesbian, even if she hadn’t told the rest of their family yet.

“Shut up V, I’d love to see you try.” Lance gave her a (not so) gentle shove. “Ooh I should convince dad to make that happen instead of mine, maybe then I’d get a chance to finally meet some cute guys.”

While Veronica was still closeted to everyone but Lance, the latter had come out as bisexual to their parents when he was 17. It was the hardest moment of his life as yet, that simple act of standing up and saying two words. But once he’d done it, he felt freer, more sure of himself.

Of course, his parents - once fully accepting him, that took a few months - didn’t really mind, he still liked women, so therefore he would still marry a woman to become queen, and he’d carry on the royal line.

Because that was exactly what Lance wanted.

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮

 

Feeling slightly better, Lance made his way through the corridors back to his room. He had to value these next few weeks, since after the girls arrived, things would get a lot more hectic.

Where Veronica’s room was filled to the brim with her lab equipment, Lance’s suite was more open, his personal possessions dotted around.

An old guitar was propped up beside his bed where he last left it, the varnished wood dulling slightly with age, the strings at least the fourth generation. On that note, the A string should probably be replaced soon, it was getting harder and harder to tune correctly.

He decided he wanted to learn when he was eight, after a particularly memorable family visit where his abuelo sang all the children traditional songs from before even the Third World War. That was also the trip they raided the kitchens with Hunk, his older cousin Luis throwing up after eating too much sugar straight from the packet.

Lance smiled at the memory, kicking his shoes off and throwing his suit jacket onto the floor. He’d put it away later, or a maid would. Either worked.

Grabbing the guitar by the neck, he settled back into the pillows on his bed, absentmindedly strumming the opening bars of an old song; Lagrimas Negras. It was his abuelo’s favourite, he used to play the guitar while his wife sang. The lyrics were second nature to Lance, the spanish words sad but sweet.

His song was interrupted by a soft but insistent knocking, seeming to be coming from inside the walls. Grinning, he set the guitar back down, jogging across the room to the secret door.

“Hunk! Why can’t you open it yourself?” He flicked the latch, a section of the wall swinging away.

His question was soon answered, as Hunk walked into the room carrying a tray of steaming pastries.

“Heard what happened, I made you pastelitos.” Hunk set the tray on a table. “Don’t tell Gyrgan, he told me to save them for dessert tonight.”

Gyrgan was the head cook, a naturally peaceful man, much like Hunk himself. They both had a strong appreciation for everything culinary, and even looked like the same person, only with a thirty year delay.

Both were darker skinned, originating from what used to be the Pacific Islands, but was now just the Pacific Ocean. They were strongly built, and despite looking pretty intimidating, Hunk gave the best hugs. Lance wasn’t so sure about Gyrgan on that particular subject, he’d never hugged the head cook before.

“Thanks man, this was exactly what I needed.” Lance picked up a pastry, consuming the entire thing in two (rather large) bites. “Ugh, these are amazing, I love you.” He mumbled through a mouthful.

“Don’t let your mother hear that.” Hunk joked.

“Pfft, she knows her pastelitos are and always will be the best, you just make them for me more often.” Lance licked the sugar and crumbs off his fingers. “Not to say these aren’t delicious, but mamá, I dunno, there’s just something about her ones.”

Hunk shrugged. “Well, yeah. She grew up making them, it’s her family recipe. Stuff like that, you don’t learn it, you just know it.”

“You seem to know it pretty well.” Another pastry disappeared into Lance’s stomach. Then another soon after.

“Well, I did have the best teacher.” Hunk took one of the sweets for himself. “Your abuela may be strict, but she’s an amazing cook.”

“Very true.” Lance noted.

After a moment of quiet, filled with nothing but the crunch of crumbling puff-pastry, Lance broke the silence.

“So, how’d you hear? Were we really that loud?”

“Nah, word spreads pretty fast around here. The guards don’t like to admit it, but they gossip just as much as the maids.” Hunk sat on Lance’s bed, unusual for someone of his ranking, but they’d known each other since they were tiny, so neither gave the action a second thought.

Their meeting was gradual, some may say. Ignes liked to cook for her children, and Lance liked to ‘help’. Hunk’s mother worked in the kitchens too, and, instead of just pilfering ingredients and making quite a mess, Hunk actually had the skills and knowledge to offer useful aid.

“Oh I bet. What did you hear? Only good things I assume?” Lance sat himself next to Hunk, smirking.

“Mm sure. So I didn’t hear that you were yelling at your father, or that you tried to get him to call it off, and I certainly didn’t hear that you used some rather unsavoury words and slammed the door. Nope, definitely not, only good things.”

Lance laughed, shifting his weight to one hand so he could use the other to hit Hunk’s shoulder lightly. Not that he could have hurt him otherwise, the young man was built like a tank.

“Stop teasing! It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.” The prince rolled his eyes.

Hunk guffawed. “Stop teasing? Coming from you! And explain to me how it ‘wasn’t as bad as it sounds’.”

“It was worse.” Lance grinned at his own joke. “Dad looked like he wanted to murder me, and even mamá looked uncomfortable.” Although he was smiling, it was just a face, a lie so Hunk wouldn’t catch on as to just how much Lance was against this idea. Hunk was his best friend, and very, very empathetic. Lance just didn’t want him to get worked up on his behalf.

“Aw.” Hunk wrapped him in a bear hug, the only type of hugs he was able to give. “It’ll be ok, I’m sure you’ll find someone. And hey, it’s an adventure, you get to meet new people!”

That was the Hunk Lance loved, always an optimist, always there for hugs and pastry and just chatting. He was one of literally two friends Lance had ...if you counted the tiny, vicious gremlin more commonly known as Pidge.

The pair were interrupted by a knock, this time instead of coming from the secret passageway that led to the depths of the castle, came from the door.

“Go go go!” Lance shoved the tray of leftover pastries into Hunk’s hands, and then shoved Hunk out the way he’d come. “Coming!” He yelled to whoever was at the door.

The incessant knocking ceased as Lance slid to a halt as best he could whilst wearing socks on carpet. As in, not very well.

“Hi.” He managed to breathe as he opened the door.

“Sir, you are required on sub-level 1 post haste.” The guard looked ahead blankly.

“Why?” Lance thought for a second.

There was no way he would be needed in the movie theatre, perhaps Gyrgan wanted to talk to him? Unlikely but possible. He ran through the rooms he knew were down there, servants’ quarters, the safe room, the studio where they filmed the Report…

Wait. The Report.

“Oh shit, it’s Friday.”

Shit shit shit he was late, the report started in twenty minutes, and he hadn’t even had his makeup done.

“Thanks!” Lance grabbed his jacket and shoes, blazing past the guard and down the stairs. Why did his rooms have to be on the third floor? It made it so much harder to get all the way down to the recording studio in times like this.

The stairs were slippery in socks, as it was, Lance almost fell down a flight, the only reason he didn’t because he grabbed the arm of a passing maid and made her drop all the neatly folded towels she’d been carrying. He picked up a handful, shoving them messily back into her arms, before taking off once again. If her position had allowed her to, Lance knew she would have yelled after him as he left, but she remained silent, instead opting to murder him with dirty looks.

“I’m sorry!” He yelled up from the bottom of the stairs, wincing under her gaze.

Geez, some of those sixes really had the knack of making anyone in a higher caste feel bad about it. He’d have to find her and make it up to her later, if he had any time.

Shrugging his rumpled jacket on and stuffing his feet into his shoes, Lance stumbled into the studio, apologising profusely. It seemed to be all he was doing this evening.

“It’s fine, cielo, you’re here now.” Inges smoothed her only son’s jacket as best she could. “¿Por qué hay azúcar en tu camisa?” She hissed vigorously brushing Lance’s chest. “¡Y pastelería! ¡Ay ay ay!”

“¡Lo siento mamá! It’s not that big of a deal!” Lance batted her hands away. ¿Por qué the Spanish?”

“You either use Spanish or you you use English, you do not mix them in that way.” The queen snapped gently. “Es porque tu padre no necesita otra cosa para preocuparse.”

“But he knows Spanish!” Lance made a face as his mother started rubbing at his cheek.

“He did not grow up speaking it like you or I. He cannot be as sure of what we are saying as we are. Now where are the makeup ladies, you need foundation, I don’t want you looking like a bauble tonight.”

Ignes pecked Lance on the cheek, before making her way to the set, greeting her husband with a quick kiss as he rifled through papers.

“Why hello there!” A tall and somewhat extravagantly dressed man with vibrant orange hair - both on his head and in the form of a rather magnificent mustache - sidled up to Lance. “Looks like the star of the show decided to turn up after all. You need makeup. Makeup person! Over here immediately!” He called across the room “You look like a chandelier from the old palaces of France, that is to say, very shiny and somewhat grimy.”

“Gee, thanks Coran.” Lance let the makeup girl brush a coat of powder over his face, apologising when she scolded him for moving too much. “That was exactly the look I was going for, old light fixture, now you’ve gone and ruined it.”

Coran laughed, his head tilted back, the sound hearty. “Oh Lance! You should take over from me, you’re just too hilarious!”

Lance just shook his head, chuckling softly. Coran was certainly a character, with his enormous orange mustache and ...unique sense of humor. He’d been Master of Events for years before Lance was born, and the country loved him. Despite not being required at the palace for another week, Coran had turned up early, to help with preparations, or so he said. Lance thought he just liked the food and attention.

“Now, you’re ready for the big announcement, I assume? Excited? Nervous? Happy? Sad? That feeling you get when you’ve got a really itchy toe but no matter what you do it won’t go away?” Coran twirled the end of his mustache between his fingers, pulling it out and letting it fall back into place.

“Uh, yeah, I guess. Kinda nervous, it’s gonna be very different.” Lance shrugged, catching the eye of his father. He gave him a once-over, and nodded from across the room, deeming him appropriate to be seen on camera.

“But you know the feeling I mean, it’s like fire in your very being, but made of thousands of tiny spiders. No! Thousands of tiny internal spiders on fire!”

Lance laughed at that one, heading over to his seat on the stage. “Sure Coran, internal flaming spiders.”

“What’s this about spiders?” Charles handed his documents to a stagehand, finally seating himself in his chair with a sigh.

“Ask Coran, I have no idea what he was talking about.” Tucking a stray strand of hair back into place, Lance sat, the glaring lights darkening the rest of the room. “Where’s Veronica?” He indicated to the empty seat next to him.

“Bathroom.” The king rubbed his temple slowly, leaning back in his seat. “You’ve seen the script, I assume?”

Lance blinked. “I, ah, about that…” He’d seen the outline, but the script? He hadn’t even known there was one. “I’ll go find a copy now, sorry dad.”

“No, no, it’s fine.” Charles pulled Lance back down. “You’re good with words, you’ll handle it. Besides, we start at any second.”

“Final call! Cameras rolling in a minute!” The stage manager confirmed Charles’ statement. “Princess Veronica you are needed on set immediately!”

A figure in a seafoam green dress barrelled into the room, somehow managing not to trip over the mess of wires that covered the floor in her heels.

“Lo siento, lo siento, I’m sorry, sorry, I’m here now.” Veronica sat next to Lance, smoothing her skirt and adjusting the brown belt at her waist. “Being a woman sucks sometimes, you’re lucky you don’t have to deal with that .”

Ignes scolded her daughter quietly as the studio lights dimmed backstage and the king prepared to open the Report for the night.

“Going live on camera #4 in twenty seconds!”

Lance took a breath, it wasn’t his turn yet, but once this started, there was no backing out.

“Ten seconds!”

Charles straightened his already straight tie.

“Five!”

Lance glanced up at the monitor, the Illéan Royal Crest filling the small screen.

“Four!”

Ignes ran her hands along her skirt.

“Three!”

The last bars of the national anthem faded.

“Two!”

Veronica took Lance’s hand in her own.

“We are live!”

Chapter Text

“Good evening Illéa!”

Coran bounded onto the stage, grin bright enough to blind the entire province.

“What an honour it is to be back in the palace, and may I say, you’re looking as fine as ever, your Majesty.” Shaking King Charles’ hand vigorously, Coran took his place in the spotlight with a wink.

“Thank you, Coran.” King Charles tried unsuccessfully to remove his hand from the Master of Events’ vice-like grip, the handshake continuing for much longer than anyone except Coran found comfortable.

“I’ll let you take it from here, so, people of Illéa, I give you, Coran Smythe, Master of Events!”

Just as Coran began to walk to his spot at centre stage, the King held up a hand.

“I do apologise,” He began, inclining his head, a faint smile playing over his lips. It was hard to keep a straight face with Coran around.

“Illéa; Coran Hieronymus Wimbleton Smythe!” He announced, again, voice not quite as enthusiastic as it had been previously, but still nonetheless amused. Lance noticed his father surreptitiously massaging his palm as he retreated to his seat while the man in question took a rather elaborate bow.

Suppressing a chuckle, Lance rolled his eyes at the exchange, for, several years ago, Coran had insisted he be announced by his full name, to honour all his ancestors for who he was named. It had almost become a sort of private joke between the announcer and the royals.

“Thank you! Thank you! I’m sure I’m just as happy to see you as you are to see me!” Coran bent over almost completely one last time, and slicked his hair back as he stood.

“I think we all know why I’m here, but for those who it may have slipped their mind, I shall announce it.” Twirling his mustache between his fingers, he took a deep breath, before launching into an enthusiastic explanation.

At least there was one person in the castle excited for Lance’s Selection.

“As I’m sure every eligible girl in the country knows, almost exactly a week ago, the letters were sent out. That’s right, the letters, containing the application forms to enter this generation’s Selection!” Coran paused for emphasis, the sprinklings of applause from the crowd fading quickly.

“We have already received thousands of submissions, why, the mail room was practically bursting at the seams when I took a look the other day! If we get even a handful more I’m sure they’ll be spilling out from the crack under the door!

“Alas, however, we still have to wait another full week before we can discover the 35 hopeful highnesses that shall be headed here to this honourable home.

“Although, might I add,” Coran put his hand against the corner of his mouth, leaning into the camera as if telling it a secret. “Just between you and me, I don’t think we really need that extra week, it seems that all the applications are in already!” With a wink, he straightened up, adjusting the lapels on his jacket. “But customs are customs, and we shall do our utmost to honour our ancestors!”

The small audience in the studio was a smattering of half bemused laughter, half warm applause, all of which Coran drank in eagerly.

“Now it’s time to speak to the man of the moment! Prince Lance, would you be so kind as to come over here?”

With a deep breath, Lance stood, making his way to center stage. A stagehand handed him a microphone, since he hadn’t been equipped with one as he wasn’t supposed to be talking for the most part of the show. That wasn’t to say that he didn’t talk, although mostly to Veronica, and mostly things that perhaps weren’t camera worthy.

Such as that one guy from the army, Lance thought. Was his name Blaze? Blaytz? Something like that. Well, he could not stop flirting with the stage manager, and the poor guy had to rush away because he couldn’t focus.

Plus, Pidge was looking foul that night.

She was the child of Sam holt, one of the Palace’s lead researchers, and younger sister of Matt. Despite being a three, despite spending most of her time amongst royalty, and despite technically being female, Lance was certain he’d never seen her in a dress before. She prefered trousers, and button down shirts much like those of her brother and father. And boots. Lance couldn’t forget the boots. She always, always wore boots, no matter the outfit.

Unlike her male relations, Pidge never sat on stage, instead sticking to the audience. Unless she was in the front row, it could sometimes be difficult to spot her, since she was so… vertically challenged. She hated being called short. However, her unusually short and rather fluffy copper coloured hair, and enormous round glasses acted as suitable homing beacons lest Lance be unable to locate her. He wondered what was making her so grumpy this evening.

But now wasn’t the time for pondering over such things, there was an interview to be had.

As the cameras cut, two chairs were rushed onto the stage, in which Lance and Coran sat. Almost like a nervous tic - which it was, in a way - Lance smoothed his suit jacket for the umpteenth time.

“It is such a pleasure to be in your presence once again, young Mr McClain.”

Lance chuckled, somewhat anxiously, but continued all the same. “And the same to you, Coran. It’s certainly been… quieter without you around.”

“Why yes, I would say it has been. Now, since we spoke last week, have your feelings towards your upcoming Selection changed in any way? I can’t recall exactly what you said, but I do remember something about flaming arachnids?”

Coran waited patiently, the slightest hint of a cheeky smile directed towards Lance, something he didn’t think the cameras would quite pick up.

“No Coran, I’m still pretty nervous. It’s… It’s going to be a lot. Thirty si- I mean, 35 new, beautiful, women coming to live in my house? Like, yeah, okay, it’s a pretty big house, but still.”

The audience tittered, and even Pidge’s scowl softened momentarily. The knowledge that there would be a special thirty sixth competitor this year was not widely known, and Lance was under strict orders to not let it slip. That little stumble alone had earned him a cautionary glance from his father.

“Mmm, I can imagine. Well, I don’t need to, do I? I was here last time! And speaking of last time,” Coran turned towards the King and Queen. “Has our stunning sovereign supplied any stellar suggestions on how to snag a suitable spouse?”

Snorting into the microphone, Lance glanced at his father. “No, not really. Dad always says that mamá stormed into his life that first day, and just never left. He says he’s been trying to keep up ever since. I can’t say I’ll be lucky enough for that to happen for me.”

Coran nodded enthusiastically in agreement. “Yes, our beautiful Queen has quite a presence. I do not mean to be rude in the slightest, it’s perfect, your majesty.”

“Thank you Coran, I’m sure you mean well.” Inges called across the stage, just loud enough for the camera mounted microphones to pick up her words.

Coran practically tipped his chair over as he twisted to face the Lance’s mother. “Oh I mean more than well, my Queen! You are a fine ruler, and a fine mother, the best in my opinion!”

That made Inges blush, thought the red tint didn’t show up as much as it did on her honey skin as it might someone paler.

“All compliments aside, we’re unfortunately running out of time here, and I still have five more questions left. Wait just a moment while I choose one.”

Coran shuffled the cards in his hands, reading and re-reading what they said, eyes scanning from left to right with lightning speed. Finally he settled on one of the last cards, taping the stack against the palm of his hand.

“I know! So, Prince Lance, I’m sure every girl out there wouldn’t hesitate to say yes if you offered your hand, but we all know we have a type. So, what are you looking for?”

Wow, okay, that question made Lance think. What was he looking for? Did he even know?

“Heh, wow Coran, really throwing me the hard ones here.” Lance reach a hand up and rubbed the back of his neck while he thought. “Well, uh, I guess I want someone who’s their own person y’know? Someone with their own opinions, someone who isn’t afraid to speak up for themselves. And of course someone who loves me, and someone who I love, but that’s a given, really.”

“My, Lance, that’s really rather sweet, I do hope you find someone like that. Anyway! We’re about to go over time, so, goodnight Illéa, and be sure to tune in next week for the announcement of the Selected!”

Coran waved as the camera panned out, and the crest faded into view on the monitors.

“Aaand… that is a wrap!” The stage manager called. “Good job, everyone.”

There was an audible sigh around the room as shoulders slumped, posture was abandoned, and knuckles cracked. Everyone onstage vacated their seats while the technical crew powered down the cameras and tidied up.

Ignoring both Coran and his father trying to get his attention, Lance handed the microphone he’d been holding off to someone he thought looked like they would know what to do with it and wove his way through the small crowd to the door.

“Hey Pidge!” He called, running down the hall to catch up with his friend. “Pidge wait up!”

At the sound of her name, the bespeckled figure stopped, turning in the middle of the corridor junction.

“What do you want, Lance?” She grumbled, still looking rather foul.

“To say hi? I haven’t seen you in like, two weeks.”

“Yeah, well,” Pidge crossed her arms. “I was hoping not to break that streak. Goodbye.” She turned on her heel, once again storming off down a corridor.

She was fast, Lance had to give her that.

“Come on Pidge! You’re like, my only friend! Except Hunk, but he’s not the one looking like someone just kicked their hamster,”

“Oh if only Matt kicked my imaginary hamster!” Pidge threw her arms in the air, still plowing through the palace.

Ah, right. It was a Matt Issue.

There had been a few ‘ Matt Issues ’ over the years Lance had known Pidge, some worse than others.

When she was 12, Pidge became Pidge, instead of Katie. She not only changed her name, but now switched between using she/her and they/them. She didn’t really care which was used when, and Lance was able to alternate between them pretty easily depending on her mood. It took Matt, however, a while to break old habits. And a while to stop making jokes. Then, two years ago, Pidge had tried to rig a new and improved surveillance system in Lance’s suite, as that was the only place she could get away with doing so. She’d asked Matt for help with a particularly difficult piece of code, and he’d practically taken over the project.

But Matt wasn’t a bad brother, at least, not most of the time. Once he had got the hang of Pidge’s new name and pronouns, he would tear anyone who dared disrespect his little sibling to pieces. Him and Pidge had very similar, very… unique senses of humor that went over literally everyone else’s heads.

“What did he do this time?” Lance managed to get a hand on Pidge’s shoulder to slow her down, and even though she basically ripped it off, she did stop in their place.

“It’s not just him, but it was his idea.” Pidge wouldn’t meet Lance’s eyes, the harshness in her voice now gone, replaced with a very dejected tone.

“Aw Pidge, what happened?”

“He… they want me to… to…” Pidge hid her face in their hands. “They want me to put my name in the ballot.”

Oh.

“Pidge, I, I don’t know what to say, that’s… god.” Lance ran a hand through his hair in that way he did whenever he was stressed or uncomfortable. “I’m so sorry. It’s my fault. I mean, it’s my Selection , and they want you to enter? Why?”

Pidge murmured something incomprehensible.

“Pardon?”

“We need the money.” She snapped, but she didn’t run off.

Lance’s brow furrowed. “But you’re Threes, and the Palace pays for, uh, stuff.” Why would the Holts need the compensation money? They’d never struggled, not that Lance was aware.

“We’re Threes who can barely pay rent, amongst everything else. The Palace only really funds dad and Matt’s ‘Crown Sanctioned’ research, and not even all of that. Mum’s working non-stop and now they think this is a good idea.”

“But you’re saying no, right? Because I know you and I’m like 80% sure this is the last thing you’d want. I’m sure if your parents ask we can give you guys more money.” Lance was racking his brains for any other solution. Because, truth was… he didn’t really want to have to date Pidge either. It would be weird. Too weird.

“Well apparently I’m still ‘mostly a girl’.” The phrase was completed with rather aggressive air quotes and the biggest eye roll Lance had seen in his life.

“And in being mostly a girl’, I can enter, and mum and dad seem to think that I’ll get chosen and we’ll get paid and everything will turn out just swimmingly. Okay yeah, I am mostly a girl but that’s not the point.” Pidge admitted the last part rather begrudgingly, re-crossing her arms.

“You’re the least female female I’ve ever met, although that’s not saying much. I can only compare you to like… mamá and my sisters. Anyways, Pidge, I’m sure we can find a different solution, I can run back and ask dad about it right now, if you want.” Lance turned slightly on the spot, gesturing vaguely back in the direction they’d come.

“No!” Arms flying out then re-crossing yet again with jerky movements, Pidge’s mouth thinned into a tight-lipped line. “Sorry, just, no, please. This is our problem. I don’t… we don’t need your help. Thanks though. For offering.”

“O-of course. I wasn’t trying to insult you, I just wanna help.” Rubbing the back of his neck, Lance cast his gaze downwards, somewhat sheepishly.

Pidge and her family had always been very independent, they liked to take care of themselves, they liked to operate alone, in the general scheme of things. Matt and Sam only worked with a very small, hand-picked team, Colleen Holt practically managed an entire business on her own, and the only people Pidge would ever agree to work with were her brother, father, and Hunk.

“Yeah, I get that.” Pidge shrugged, taking a deep breath, as if she were trying to calm herself. “I guess… I guess if it came down to entering, it wouldn’t be too bad. I mean, there’s thousands of other girls in the province, I’d never get picked.”

“And even if you did,” Lance added, hand on Pidge’s shoulder. “You know I wouldn’t properly date you. It’d just be like it always is, except with more people around.”

“You’d better not properly date me, or I’d send myself home on the spot.”

Pidge’s gentle punches had never really been gentle at all, and her bony knuckles didn’t help the situation at all.

“You know that’s against the rules, you couldn’t leave until I let you.” Lance retorted, the beginnings of a grin turning the corners of his mouth up.

“Mhm. And who would stop me if I just walked out? Certainly not you, you’re too chicken.”

Well… Lance couldn’t deny that. Pidge could be scary, with all her five feet and zero inches of height.

“So… looking forward to it?” The silence was filled rather awkwardly, the topic change abrupt and unnatural, especially for pidge.

“Really Pidge?” Lance deadpanned. “I thought you were better than that. I thought you were supposed to be asking the hard questions.”

Aha, there it was. The tiniest smirk graced the glowering girl’s face. Success.

“Fine then, here’s one. How ready are you to face the front lines? The manipulation? The war between all the girls? What’s your plan? How’re going to keep everyone calm?”

Pidge’s gaze was nothing if not confronting, and, despite her height and seemingly innocent round face, Lance knew that she’d steal his kneecaps and run off with them first chance she got if he disrespected her.

“The front lines? Manipulation? War? Pidge are you sure you don’t have like, a weird piece of coding messing your brain up or something?”

If Pidge’s gaze was nothing if not confronting, then Lance’s was nothing if not confused. Truth was, despite how much he bragged that he was ‘good with the ladies’, he’d never spent much time around groups of them before. He didn’t understand what went on when he wasn’t looking, he didn’t understand to what lengths some would go to …eliminate the competition.

“O-o-oh dear. Well, good luck. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Lance was still as befuddled as ever as Pidge patted him reassuringly on the shoulder, and sauntered past knowingly.

“Wait! Oh come on, don’t just walk away! Pidge!” But no amount of whinging and whining would make her turn around, Lance knew that, so he still tried anyway. That’s what friends were for.

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮

 

35 provinces.

35 large glass bowls, that, to be honest, reminded Lance of fishbowls.

35 names to be drawn from the countless that had been entered in the past nine days.

Why nine days? Nine was such an ugly number. Why not a week, or two, or even 10 days?

Why not never?

Lance shook the thoughts from his head, smoothing his suit again. Like anything even slightly out-of-the-ordinary in the Palace, today would be broadcasted. At least it wouldn’t be live though, any mess ups could be edited out.

All he had to do was stick his hand into the bowls, and pull an envelope from each one. No big deal, nothing to stress over. Nope. This was totally fine. Totally.

Okay yeah this was totally not fine.

Lance’s stomach was writhing, and so were his hands. If he continued as he was doing, at this rate, he’d run his hands down his jacket so much that it would wear away.

It didn’t feel like there were enough people in the room for such a momentous occasion. Just Lance, his parents, a camera-person, and a maid with a tray to hold the chosen entries.

It didn’t feel like there were enough people in the room to witness the choices that would determine who Lance would marry .

“Alright, your Highness, whenever you’re ready.” The camerawoman - for it was a young woman behind the device - gave him a thumbs up.

When Lance glanced over for conformation, his father nodded, and his mother smiled encouragingly.

It was now or never.

With a quick indication to the camerawoman, Lance stepped over to the first bowl.

Allens.

This really shouldn’t be as hard as it felt. All he had to do was reach in and pull out an envelope. All he had to do was choose a possible future wife. No big deal. None at all.

Realising he’d been stalling for much too long, Lance plunged a hand down into the letters, pulling one out from the very bottom.

Well, whoever it was was was going to be very, very happy.

Handing the first entry form over to the maid behind him, Lance continued onto the next bowl.

Angeles.

His home.

An irregularity in the sea of sharp white rectangles caught his eye. One of the envelopes was crumpled on one side, the corner folded and edge torn slightly.

Well, why not choose that one? It was still an entry, right?

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮

 

The crumpled envelope was soon thoroughly buried, crisp white ones hiding it from view on the bottom of the silver platter.

Only one province remained now, and that was Zuni.

After a while, the nervousness had worn off. He no longer feared the task of selecting the girls, only the implications, and what would follow. But if his entire life as a brother had taught him anything, it was how to ignore something or something.

For right now, the envelopes were just envelopes, nothing more, nothing less.

Sometimes he picked one right off the top, internally playing pick-up-sticks with himself. If he could remove an envelope without moving any of the others, he could keep it. If he couldn’t he had to try again, with a different one this time.

Sometimes he fished around at the bottom, almost up to his elbow in letters. About seven provinces ago, in Sota’s batch, he’d accidentally sliced a finger on the paper, and had rather embarrassingly dripped blood over quite a lot of letters. They’d had to halt the procedure while someone cleaned him up.

Now freshly bandaged, Lance looked at the last bowl. The last contestant. Well, that he’d be choosing. Her Highness Princess Allura Altea of France would be competing no matter what she or Lance wanted.

Rather tired of this whole ordeal, Lance took no time in grabbing an envelope addressed in a very neat, orderly handwriting, dumping onto the top of the pile.

It was over.

For now.

Once the camera had been switched off and properly taken care of, a very light applause filled the room.

Ignes came over and hugged her son tightly, pulling back to survey him from arm’s length.

“Mijo, I am so proud of you, I know how much this means, I know how you feel about it all, and yet you still did it, you still chose the girls. Estoy tan orgullosa.”

“Gracias mamá. I… yeah.” Lance shook his head lightly. “I’m just… not sure I’m ready, really. I don’t know what I’m doing, and, and this is such a big choice, it’s gonna change my life , and I’m… mamá, I’m scared.”

His voice cracked in that last line. It was not something he ever liked to admit, not even to himself.

Lance had a lot to live up to, a lot of standards he had to meet, whether he wanted to or not. He tended to ignore his feelings, push them aside and put on a smiling face, crack a bad joke or two when the time was right, because that was his role. The jokester.

He was all smiles, all finger guns, all puns, and all flirting with anything with two legs, even if they were way out of his league. Especially if they were way out of his league.

Then there was the prince side. He had to be perfect, to make just decisions, to be impartial at all times and to learn to lead a country. That was no small feat, especially in his father’s shadow.

King Charles McClain was perhaps the most acclaimed ruler that Illéa had ever seen, including the man the country had been named after.

For Lance knew what Gregory had done, and if he knew one thing about how he would lead, it was that he would never, never be like Gregory.

Charles had made the same vows, Lance assumed, and while he couldn’t completely unravel the entire country’s system, he did the best he could.

The war with New Asia was almost at an end, new alliances had been formed, and, on a much smaller scale, but nonetheless just as important, pay and working conditions for the lower castes had been improved drastically.

The draft was still going, in fact, a new set of guards at the palace were due any week now. It was taking less boys than it used to, but Lance knew the effects it could have on families.

Because Matt had been drafted.

Five years ago, the Holts had received the letter. Not the selection letter, but the drafting letter. Now Lance knew why they hadn’t paid their way out, like most Threes.

After months of training, he’d been assigned his role.

Soldier.

He, and almost too many others to count, were shipped off to New Asia, to serve their country. It was the worst possible assignment an newly drafted young man could receive. Many never made it home again.

And Matt was almost one of those many.

He and one of the commanders, a highly acclaimed soldier - despite being only a year older than Matt - named Takashi Shirogane, were captured by the enemy troops, and taken prisoner.

They were both MIA presumed dead for a year, until Matt escaped, rescued by his own side.

Shiro hadn’t been so lucky.

Only weeks before, he’d been transferred to a different location from where he was being kept with Matt, and it had taken another six months for him to free himself, losing an arm in the process.

Both men were back at the palace, and had been for a year now. Matt, although technically a two, had joined the research team with his father, and surprisingly, Shiro had stayed with the military, despite spending months in rehab and getting a new prosthetic arm, courtesy of Sam, with help from Veronica.

In the year Matt had been missing, Pidge had changed. Drastically.

That was when she’d changed her name, when she’d changed her pronouns and when she cut her hair.

That was when she stole Matt’s glasses, the ones she still used now, when she refused to answer to anything other than the nickname he’d given her, when she started to hack into the military databases.

Time and time again, she was banned from the files, from the computers, even from the entire headquarters, but time and time again, she ignored all warnings, all commands, and even laws.

Nothing could stop Pidge when she didn’t want it to.

Not even the 11 thousand kilometers between Illéa and New Asia.

She managed to intercept New Asian signals, scouring through anything and everything, refusing to believe that Matt may no longer live.

She had been the one to decipher the encrypted messages that appeared every night, she had been the one to pinpoint Matt’s location, the one to save him.

Now Matt was really, really not returning the favour.

Although it did seem Pidge had come around to the idea, as in, she didn’t despise it with her entire being any more. Perhaps one day Matt would properly repay her, instead of trying to force her to put her name in the Selection ballot.

At least she hadn’t agreed, so Lance wouldn’t have to date her. So she wouldn’t have to feel like she had to date Lance.

Because Lance didn’t want to have to put anyone under that sort of pressure. Even though the competition hadn’t even started, he was still so, so scared.

“Oh, mijo, ¿por qué? Come on, we’ll talk somewhere else.” Ignes’ hand was gentle but firm as she guided her son from the room into a nearby parlour, shutting the door with a soft click behind her.

“Let it all out, it’s okay, I’m here for you. We all are.”

How his mother always knew exactly what needed to be said at any given point in time was a mystery to Lance. He assumed it was her motherly instincts. That or mind reading. He really hoped it was the former.

“I just… mamá I don’t know what to do.” Curling up on the sofa, Lance brought his knees to his chin, hugging his legs to his chest. He really, really didn’t like feeling vulnerable.

“I’ve never gone out with anyone, I’ve never even had a proper crush, mamá, how am I supposed to find a wife in a few months? I’m going to mess up, I just know it. I’m gonna make a mistake and I’m gonna hurt someone. I can’t do this, but I can’t back out now can I? I have to do it, and I’m going to fail, mamá, I’m so scared I’m going to fail and hurt people and-” A sob interrupted his words, and he didn’t try to continue.

“Cielo, te entiendo. I had not dated before your father either, although that isn’t unusual, given there was an upcoming Selection. Why risk falling in love when you could have the chance to be the princess? I know my situation was very different, but I can still understand your concerns.”

Ignes sat beside her son, as close as she could get without pulling him onto her lap, and hugged him warmly.

“But mamá, I’m going to hurt 35 women, I just know it. How can I not? I’ll have to send them home and break their hearts and I don’t want to do that.”

“Lance, mijo, that’s not true. You won’t break all their hearts, I know for sure. One or two, maybe, but not 35, eso es imposible. My best friend then, you won’t remember her, the last time she saw you, you were only a toddler, well, she always thought she would love your father, she even tried so hard to love him, but it never happened. They parted as friends, and have been ever since. You cannot break all their hearts, no matter how hard you try.

“You care too much, Lance, that’s your problem. You care for everyone, even if you don’t know them. If you could solve everyone’s problems, I know you would do it in a heartbeat, even if it killed you. Do not be ashamed of this, mijo, be proud. You are going to be the greatest ruler this country has ever seen.” She pressed a soft kiss to the crown of Lance’s head, letting her son fall against her side.

All Lance could do was cry, though the tears were few and far between, making his eyes sting.

His mother had just told him what he’d been needing to hear practically his entire life. Of course he’d been told he’d be a good king before, but it had never really stuck with him.

Lance had always pushed down his feelings to make way for other people, he’d always seen his empathy as a weakness, if he’d ever seen it at all. Now he was being told he should be proud of something that he’d always tried to hide from others? That he would not only be accepted for it but that he would excel because it? That he would become more than the person he ever thought he could be?

Well, Lance didn’t really know what to think.

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮

 

When the sniffles had finally stopped, when his eyes were dry and his breaths even, Lance sat up, blinking and sighing.

“Thank you, mamá, I… I really needed that.”

“I could tell, cielo. Now, I really must go and get changed for the report, I know this dress wasn’t as wrinkled earlier.” With a final hug and a quick kiss, Ignes pulled her son to his feet and departed the room.

Lance looked down at himself. A little rumpled, but otherwise fine. A change of shirt was all he really needed. Or was it? Tonight was the big night, the announcement. Everyone and their grandmothers’ grandmothers would be watching, so he had to be at his absolute best.

Okay, yeah, he was going to go change real quick.

Chapter Text

A tie in each hand, Lance stood before the full length mirror in his room. Should he wear the navy blue one or the lighter blue one?

Navy or light, navy or light?

With a huff, the threw the navy tie onto a chair and looped the lighter one around his neck. He really couldn’t afford to be late today of all days.

Soon, he was making his way down the stairs, down into the sublevels, down to the recording room, steadying his nerves all the way.

In a whir of soft brushes and skin-toned powder, his still slightly puffy eyes were hidden, the tear tracks removed, and his face made camera ready once again.

“How are you feeling, mijo?”

Two gentle hands on his shoulders and the ghost of a kiss announced the presence of Ignes once again, looking stunning in a deep green gown.

“Bien, mamá, I think. Better than before, at least. Gracias.”

“De nada, really, you are my son, it is my duty as your mother to be there for you, and only I wish I could do more.” She departed with a reassuring squeeze, dress swishing around her ankles as she climbed the few steps to the podium.

Lance cast his gaze around the room, eyes catching on faces in the crowds of people. Coran and his father were talking off to one side of the stage, the former repeatedly fanning out his cue cards and pushing them back to a stack as he listened.

Veronica was peering over the shoulder of one of the camera operators, who seemed to be giving her a lesson in how the camera worked. She adjusted her glasses and leant forwards even more pointing a finger at something Lance couldn’t see.

Once again, Pidge would be in the audience, and Lance spotted her cross-legged on a seat with her laptop. Wait. Them, their. He could never exactly pinpoint what it was, but after spending so much time with Pidge, he found himself able to pick up on the subtle changes which meant they had changed pronouns.

For lack of anything better to do, Lance made his way over, plopping down into a seat beside his friend.

“They/them, right?” He asked, just for conformation. He knew Pidge would forgive him if he made the occasional mistake, but he still felt awful every time he got it wrong.

“Yep.” They didn’t look up, the fast scrolling jumble of letters and numbers on their screen reflected in their huge glasses.

“Geez, Pidge, how do you even read that? It’s going so fast.” If Lance focused, he could make out the occasional string of text, but it still made no sense.

5egdpz8, Akxedpbk c1taod, what did they even mean?

“I don’t. At least, not yet.” A very characteristic Pidge answer, short, to the point, and offering no more information than they deemed necessary.

“Then… what are you doing?”

“Decoding it.”

“And it refers to…?’

“Top secret military communications.”

“What the fuck? Pidge! I thought you were banned!” Lance physically recoiled, staring at them in disbelief.

“And since when has that stopped me?” Pidge drew their eyes from the screen, raising a brow at Lance and smirking mischievously. They made a very good point.

“Pidge, seriously, this is a jailable offence. A huge fine at the least. What if you get caught?” Sure, it was a little amusing, but this was serious as well, and Lance did not want Pidge to get in that much trouble, especially with what she’d told him just a week ago.

“You forget I was the one to save Matt and Shiro, you forget the military owes me more than I could ever owe them, whether they like it or not. I like to keep an eye on things, so I know what’s going on, and not just with the military. I know everything about this country, pretty much. I can even track rebel movements, but no-one ever asks me for help, all they do is tell me off, so why should I tell them? Like, obviously if I thought we were in serious danger, then I’d speak up, but I really don’t think a group of fifteen in southern Clermont matters that much yet.” Pidge shrugged, their smirk falling to a shadow of a scowl, and Lance could tell they were withdrawing in on themselves.

“So, did you get your family to stop harassing you about the form?” He asked quickly to change the subject.

Pidge saw what he was doing, and they turned to him the shadow of a scowl flipping to become a shadow of a smile.

“Yeah, I told them that they could enter me, if they could find the form, which I swore I hadn’t disposed of. Just… hidden. Really well. They still haven’t found it. That was our compromise.”

“Pidge, have I ever told you you are an evil genius?” Lance laughed, shaking his head and leaning back in his seat.

“You flatter me, and yes, I know I am.” Flashing a grin, Pidge returned to their work as Lance was beckoned up on stage.

“Now, my boy, you know how tonight will be happening, yes?” Coran raised a brow, tapping his stack of cards on his palm.

Yes, Lance knew, of course he did, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t nervous.

“We start with the normal announcements, any news on the war or the rebels or whatever, then onto the names. Right?”

Coran nodded, smiling gently beneath his moustache.

“And remember, there will be a camera on you at all times, so no picking your nose unless you want the entire country to see it. I know you’re nervous, why, the look on your face tells all, but Lance, never fear, I just know you’ll find someone.”

“Thanks, Coran. I.. yeah. I’m nervous.”

It wasn’t the first time Lance had realised it, but he was reminded yet again of how Coran had always been like some sort of mad uncle who only showed up for important events. He was practically family by now, and he knew it.

“I would say good luck, but this isn’t really the time for luck, so, Lance, remember, your life will only get better from here on, trust me.”

With that said, Coran pulled Lance into a hug, practically picking him up and shaking him from side to side. The events master was a lot stronger than he looked.

“Now! Off you pop, we both have some preparing to do.”

 

As Lance ascended the stage, he noticed two of the remaining three Holts, Sam and Matt, already seated. Matt was looking somewhat scruffy, as per usual. He’d grown his hair out recently, his sandy-blonde ponytail had more than a few stray strands, and he never tucked his shirt in. There was a scar on his cheek from his time in New Asia, and a wicked glint in his eye whenever he glanced over at Pidge.

Yeah, fine, maybe Lance thought he was hot, but not like, hot as in he wanted to date him. Ew no, that was just… no . He was just… aesthetically very good looking, in Lance’s opinion.

A shooting pain flared in Lance’s calf.

“Maybe watch where you’re going next time, hermanito.” Veronica chuckled from her seat.

“Hey, I’m taller than you by like, two inches, hermanita .” Lance raised his brows, grinning as he teased his sister and straightened the elegant throne-like chair he’d crashed into, before settling into his own, beside Veronica.

“And I’m older than you by, like, two years. Give up Lance, you’ll always be the baby of the family.” She leant over to ruffle his hair.

If it had been anyone else, he would’ve probably yelled at them, or at least shoved them off, but it was just Veronica, so he only squirmed and laughed.

“Stooop! You’ll muss my hair up!” He protested, but he knew it was pointless.

They were both laughing now, Veronica really getting into it and reaching over her second hand while Lance flapped in her direction, occasionally landing a hit.

When she did finally cease, Lance’s hands immediately replaced those of his sister’s.

“Aw come on, now I look like I’ve just got out of bed!” He complained.

“And with the way you usually do your hair, I’d say it’s an improvement.”

“Hey! At least I don’t have a mullet. I swear I saw a guard like, yesterday or something who had one.”

Lance combed his fingers through his hair, attempting to tame his curls without a hairbrush. Much to his surprise, when he turned to Veronica, instead of messing it up yet again, she took care of the few strands he’d missed.

He thanked her, and by the time he settled back, his parents were joining them in onstage.

“Lance, really, what did you do to your hair?” Ignes now fussed over him, though she couldn’t change much with just her hands.

“Mamá! It’s not my fault, Veronica did it, leave my hair alone.”

She relented, tutting and taking her own seat.

“Just do not blame her when not one of the girls falls for you.” But her smile softened the words, and Veronica chuckled.

“Yeah, that’s gonna be entirely your own fault, Lance.”

“Can you just like, shut up?”

Lance knew it was just teasing, he knew it was all in good nature, but he couldn’t deny the fact that his mother and sister were voicing his fears.

This was what would make or break Lance as the future King of Illéa, this was not just a simple competition to determine a wife - and even if it was, that was a pretty big task in itself - but this would test his decision making, his compassion, his empathy. It would broadcast almost every decision he made to the country, whether it was a good one or not.

If none of the girls had any interest in him… that would not only break his heart, but it would make everything so much harder.

“Going live in one minute!” Came the call from somewhere in the room. “Places!”

All the present members of various committees filed in, joining Matt and Sam. The audience rows filled up, more so than usual, tonight was going to be big. King Charles took his place in centre stage, while on the monitors, the Illéan crest came into view and Lance could imagine the national anthem playing.

He watched it fade, exhaling at the same time, concentrating on a random spot on the floor. This time next week, the competition would be underway, 36 young women would be settled in to the palace and 35 of them would leave.

Lance didn’t notice the countdown to going on air, his only indication being a gentle elbow in the side; Veronica telling him to sit up straight, to put his Report face on.

The budget announcements and war updates went quickly, far too quickly in Lance’s opinion. Soon enough, Coran was bounding onstage, waving to the cameras, smile a mile wide.

“Gooooooood evening Illéa!”

After letting the applause die down a little, he continued.

“If you thought the Report two weeks ago was an exciting announcement, well then you’re in luck, for this is ten times more so! Only this afternoon, 35 beautiful young women were hand-picked by none other than our perfect Prince himself, Prince Lance. Of course, this was a blind draw, and no-one but I and the King know the identities of the Selected… until now! For in only a few moments, the 35 Daughters of Illéa shall be revealed, and the Selection can begin!

“But first, our dear Queen, our quiet Queen, our quintessential Queen, what wise words do you have for those soon to be selected?”

Coran had made his way over to the royals, and held his microphone out towards Inges.

“Whether you stay for a day, a week, a month, or forever, your life will never be the same from the moment you are selected. But that does not mean you have to change. It is old advice but it is good advice, be no-one but yourself.”

“Those truly were wise words, my Queen, and good advice. Thank you.”

Coran traversed back to centre stage, his grin growing ever wider.

“Now, it is time! A huge congratulations a good luck to the following 35 dazzling Daughters of Illéa!”

The crowd applauded and Lance could see the little red light atop the camera facing him blink into action.

“To start, we have the stunning Miss Shay Balmera of Ottaro, Four!”

Lance was watching the monitor closely, and he saw the face smiling face of a dark-skinned, dark haired girl pop up. She looked nice enough.

“And next we have the radiant Miss Romelle Polluxian of Woverly, Four!”

Romelle’s photo replaced Shay’s. She was a fair as the latter had been dark, light skin and dirty blonde hair.

“Then is the noble Miss Nyma Pivox of Dakota, Two!”

Despite her round face, small features, and big violet eyes - they must be contacts, Lance decided, no-one had eyes that colour naturally - the glint that showed through the camera was certainly mischievous, though it looked to be something darker than pure trouble making.

Lance barely had time to take in any of her other features, bar smooth skin and tresses of golden hair before the picture changed.

“We can’t forget the amazing Miss Acxa Aiphos of Paloma, Three!”

As it was with Nyma, her gaze portrayed even through the camera. Lance could almost feel it, the quiet power, the weight that emanated from her sharp eyes. He knew this was not someone he wanted to cross. Ever.

Her face was framed by short indigo hair, or rather, hair so black it looked indigo. She was beautiful, Lance decided, but she brought power to that beauty.

“Next up is the knockout Miss Katie H-”

A rather loud shriek prevented Coran from finishing his sentence.

“WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?” Pidge was standing, their eyes burning with anger.

Immediately after some call that Lance had almost missed, the cameras swivelled around, pointing at his friend.

Trying to salvage what he could of the situation, Coran held his hands out towards them, trying to calm Pidge down.

“Now, I’m sure there’s-” But once again, his words were lost.

“MATT!”

Lance looked in the direction of the accused.

Sure enough, Matt was shaking in his seat from silenced laughter.

“YOU THINK THIS IS FUNNY?” All sense of decorum having been thrown out the window long ago, Pidge stormed up onto the stage, pointing a rather threatening finger at their brother.

Matt was still laughing.

And honestly, Lance was finding it hard to keep from snorting out himself, even his father couldn’t wrangle his smile to a straight face. After all, this was well within Pidge’s compromise, Matt had obviously found the letter containing the form, had filled it out and sent it away. Pidge could blame their brother all they wanted, but Lance suspected even they knew he wasn’t in the wrong.

“YOU THINK THIS IS FUCKING FUNNY? WELL IT’S NOT!” Pidge was still yelling at the top of their lungs, and once they were in range, they threw themselves at Matt.

The combined weight and speed at which Pidge had been going was too much for the little chair, which toppled over backwards, taking the pair with it. Sharp joints and knuckles rained down on Matt’s forearms until two guards managed to pry the raging soon-to-be contestant off their brother.

“Let go of me!” Pidge was squirming like some sort of eel, but the guards held tight.

Sure enough, the fairer-skinned of the two had what Lance deemed a mullet, though it wasn’t actually particularly short at the front, especially since he had to keep brushing his bangs from his eyes and Pidge writhed.

“Ah, well, I do apologise for that ...interruption, per say.” Coran apologised to the camera while Pide was escorted offstage.

“It seems we have a rather ...reluctant contestant.” He chuckled, and Pidge glowered from their position.

“So, to reiterate, the knockout Miss Katie Holt of Angeles, Three!”

“It’s Pidge!”

Coran ignored them and continued, though Lance could see it was difficult.

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮

 

“And to finish, the incredible Miss Ina Leifsdottir of Whites, Three!”

Ina had a thin face, freckles standing out against her fair skin. She had a no-nonsense look about her, with sandy hair cut above her ears and her mouth a thin line. It looked like she and Pidge would get along well.

“Now, I know I’ve already announced the 35 delightful Daughters of Illéa, and I know that traditionally this is the final amount of Selected to compete, however, as you have probably guessed, we have a thirty-sixth contestant! Yes, Her Highness, the alluring Princess Allura of France, shall be arriving here, in Angeles to compete alongside the 35 other contestants for Prince Lance’s hand!”

Allura’s face popped up on the screen.

It wasn’t like Lance had never met the Princess of France before, but they hadn’t seen each other in a long time, especially since their respective countries didn’t have the strongest of relationships.

She was the epitome of beauty. It wasn’t Lance’s opinion, but simply a fact. Her hair, naturally creamy white, fell in thick waves to her waist, two locks twisted around themselves, sitting on the crown of her head, framing her thin golden tiara.

Lance had seen blue eyes a thousand times before, but never eyes as blue as Allura’s. They stood out against her coffee coloured skin like someone had chipped off a piece of the summer sky and replaced her irises.

She was kind, calm, just and compassionate, strong and determined, everything Lance wished he could be. She would make the perfect queen, it was a pity she wasn’t in line for the French throne.

Her cousin Lotor, however, was.

Lance didn’t really know Lotor, but he had always got the impression he wasn’t quite the leader Allura was.

“We are honoured to be strengthening our ties with the fantastic country of France, and look forward to the day where our alliance is cemented! And on that note, goodnight, and be sure to tune next Tuesday for a special broadcast all about the girls! Goodnight Illéa!”

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮

 

The streets were packed, and this was only for one girl. However, she was already royalty.

Lance had his chin propped up on his hand, staring absentmindedly out of the tinted windows as the crows sped past.

It was no secret that many were in uproar over Allura’s inclusion in the Selection. They argued that she had an unfair advantage, she was royalty, she came from the same background, she knew Lance.

It was funny though, how no-one argued that last point for Pidge.

She knew Lance better than most other people, she’d grown up with him, she was one of his two closest friends.

Perhaps it was her outbreak on the report that culled any complaints directed her way.

Allura on the other hand… Lance hadn’t seen her in years, and whenever he had, it was always under very strict rules. They couldn’t step out of line, they couldn’t be disruptive, they couldn’t do anything to disturb the diplomatic meetings going on between their parents.

Prince Alfor - Queen Honerva’s younger brother - and his wife, Princess Melanor acted somewhat as diplomats, going from country to country to meet with the respective leaders and form - or, in the rare case, break - alliances.

“Hey, aren’t you excited? You’re meeting the first contestant today, I’d expect you to be bouncing up and down.” Veronica nudged his shoulder with her own, her voice a worried whisper.

“Hm?” Lance blinked, bringing his mind back to the present. “Oh, yeah, right. I’m just kinda… nervous.”

It seemed Lance had been nothing but nervous for the past few weeks. But rightly so, he thought. His life was about to change, hopefully for the better. There were a lot of people to please, a lot of people’s thoughts and he had to take into account, let alone his own.

Contrary to what the public probably thought, Lance knew that whatever choices were made would not be purely because of feelings.

Some would stay because the crowd adored them, and pleasing his subjects was something Lance always put at the top of his list of priorities.

Some would stay because they were influential, some because they had important or useful ties.

Some, though, would stay because of feelings.

“You’ll be fine,” Veronica rested a hand on his shoulder. “You’re Lance, you’re always fine.”

 

The car rolled up to the airport, and out got Lance, Veronica, and their parents, all making their way to the runway.

The plane had only just arrived, taxing over to the edge of the tarmac, before a long truck with a staircase attached sped over, maneuvering itself into place.

Lance smiled. When he was little, he’d found the ‘stair cars’ hilarious, for whatever reason. Probably for their shape, or just because he was five and anything vaguely out of the ordinary made him giggle.

He remembered seeing a hare near the forest one day, and following it deeper and deeper into the trees, until he lost it. He spent the next who-knows-how-long looking for either it or its burrow, and when he did finally find a hole at the foot of a tree - which he now knew was just a hole, nothing more - he started talking to the hare he was convinced was inside, and tried to peer down into it, to see what a hare’s home was like.

He came back to the palace covered in dirt with twigs in his hair, but the biggest smile on his face.

Veronica nudged his side suddenly, and he looked up to see the aircraft doors opening, a figure stepping out.

Yup, Allura was just as beautiful, if not more so, than her photo had shown. The late summer sun made her entire being shine, and the breeze carried up her ivory curls. Honestly, she looked like she was glowing.

Her dress too, was beautiful. Simple, but stunning.

It had a deep blue bodice, edged with golden yellow, and an ankle-length white skirt was hemmed with soft pink, matching the inside of the navy shoulder cape draped over her, well, shoulders.

A sky blue swath of material billowed at the front of her skirt as she descended the stairs, matching her long sleeves. Her tiara glinted in the sun, a simple band of gold, a shining, triangular blue diamond in the centre.

“Bonjour, Your Highness.” Lance stepped forwards to greet her as she reached the foot of the stairs. Once she was in reach, he took her hand in his own, placing a light kiss to the knuckles.

“Lance, there’s no need for that, a hug is fine.”

Even though she was French, Allura sported an incredibly English accent. Most of the time, Lance’s name sounded more like ‘Lonce’ to him.

She said it was because her mother was English, and her various tutors were too. Or, at least, the ones who spoke English were.

 

After hugs had been given all round, the luggage collected and packed into the car, seats taken and seatbelts strung across hips, the journey back to the palace begun.

Lance, previously occupying the left-hand window seat, opposite his mother, had been shunted across into the middle. Although there was certainly plenty of room, there was still somewhat limited space between Veronica on one side, and Allura on the other.

“So, Allura,” King Charles began, his and his wife’s seat facing the three younger royals’. “How are things back in France? How’s your father doing?”

“My father is well, thank you for asking.” Allura’s tone wasn’t in the least bit patronising, and in no time at all, conversation had struck up between her and the King, Lance, Veronica, and Ignes chiming in occasionally when they had something to say.

“We hear about the rebels you have here, of course we do. France is a much… freer country, one can say. The castes… they are not a system we view as effective for our country, we don’t wish to divide our people as the castes do. I mean no disrespect in the slightest, I am intrigued to see this governing system in all its glory, I want to know how it works, if it works.

“My cousin, Lotor, he too was captivated by this structure, though I don’t believe he was particularly fond of it. He values freedom, he values justice and equality, but many don’t see that in him, because of how he acts. Yes, he seems very self-centered, but he wants nothing more than for his country to flourish. He certainly has …interesting methods to achieve his results, but they work. Oh, I do apologise, I’ve completely gone off topic.” Allura shook her head lightly, smiling.

“No, no, it’s fine, you are one incredibly mature young woman, Princess Allura.”

Lance had to agree with his father. Allura was not just beautiful, but knowledgeable and insightful beyond her mere 18 years.

“Please, call me Allura, there’s no need for titles, I’m not here as a Princess, I’m here as a contestant.”

A contestant, not a Princess. A symbol, not a girl. An object, not a person.

For Allura had become just that, an item that could be traded between countries. Essentially, Lance had too. He was a prize, a title, a symbol of his land, put up for auction.

Though he, unlike Allura, had a choice. Limited, but still a choice. He could choose from the 36 women available, Allura could not choose her suitor.

They were trapped. It was an elegant cage, but a cage nonetheless.

Chapter Text

The third floor of the palace was home to all the royals’ private suites. Lance’s rooms, then the princess’ suite connected to his. Veronica was down the hall, Rachel’s old room was around the corner, and the amount of rooms between both his parents could almost be considered a separate wing. 

And yet Lance still felt confined. 

The selected had arrived, or, most of them had. The ones from the east-most side of the country were still en route, but they’d be here soon. 

The only problem with this was that Lance wasn’t allowed to meet any of the girls until tomorrow morning. 

Currently, he presumed, they were in the women’s room, getting their traditional makeovers. That meant the halls were free, but was he allowed downstairs? No, it was apparently ‘too much hassle’. 

Already a little bored, Lance was lying spread-eagled on the floor, staring at the ceiling, the envelopes containing the girls’ information strewn around him. He’d taken a brief look over, but he really wasn’t in the mood for memorising names and faces.

Footsteps in the corridor weren’t out of place, given the amount of family Lance had, and the wait staff that catered to their every need and want. What was out of place, however, was the fact there was no warning knock before whoever it was barged into his room, making Lance sit up rather suddenly. 

“Kill me now.” Pidge flopped face-first onto Lance’s bed. 

Of course, Lance should’ve known from the anger in the footsteps, there was only one person so small who could hold so much …personality. 

“If I have to have one more person try to force hair straighteners or makeup on me then I am actually going to steal someone’s kneecaps.” Their voice was muffled in Lance’s bedding, but he got the idea. The aggressive finger stabbing the air above Pidge’s head illustrated their point.

“Oh and before you ask, no, I’m not a girl, so don’t ask why I’m wearing a dress.”

They had rolled over now, mimicking Lance’s previous position on his bed, and yes, indeed, the skirt of an apple green dress was already rumpled and hitched up around Pidge’s knees.

“Wait… Pidge, are they what I think they are?” Lance grinned, standing up and moving closer to the figure sprawled on his bed. “Do you… have ankles? Are you sure you’re the same Pidge I know?”

“Oh shut up!” Pidge kicked him as best they could from the distance, their lace flats not dealing nearly as much damage as their hard boots did, but despite their annoyance, they were smiling. “They didn’t let me wear my boots. I don’t know why it matters, I literally don’t care how I look and I have no need to impress you.”

“Well that’s probably a good thing, since that would have been the worst first impression ever.” Lance, avoiding the sharp joints, sat himself next to his friend, looking down at their scowling face. “Hey, if it makes you feel any better, I can kick you out of the competition the moment it starts, then you’ll be free of all this.”

Pidge sighed, turning their head away, glasses askew. “I wish I could say yes.” Their voice was heavy, a sharp contrast from mere moments ago. “Like, I really wish I could. But… I can’t.”

The conversation in the hallway a week or so ago came back to Lance. The brutal reality he’d been sheltered from inside the palace.

Sure enough, Pidge confirmed his suspicions.

“We need the money. Mum cried when my name was called. She was on a long shift at work, they just had the audio on, but she still cried. I can’t throw away the opportunity. You probably don’t understand, being a prince and all, but… life isn’t all rainbows and ponies. Stuff costs money. Stuff like food and housing. Do you know how expensive it is to live as close to the palace as we do? I swear, if we lived anywhere else, we’d be in a mansion.”

Lance only nodded, letting Pidge talk for as long as they needed to. 

“As much as I hate dresses and jewelry and makeup and everything else, this is easy money, and maybe by the time you do kick me out, we won’t be living off baked beans and stale toast.” 

“Well, stay as long as you need to, I guess. I’m not gonna kick you out, unless you want me to.” Lance rested a hand on Pidge’s shoulder, and they looked at him, meeting his eyes with a thankful gaze.

But the moment didn’t last much longer, as were most things with Pidge.

They were a fast paced person, always moving, always looking ahead and connecting the dots most never even realised existed. 

“Right.” They stood abruptly. “While I have you, I have three major complaints.”

“What, only three?” Lance chuckled, leaning back on his arms.

The look Pidge gave him was dry and so very Pidge like. It was a look that could make anyone feel inferior and somewhat stupid, if you didn’t know them well.

“Shut up.” The quip was short and to the point. “First, why are there no pockets in these dresses, second, let me wear pants - that’s not a question it’s a demand - third, tell whoever made these badges to get my fucking name right.”

A silver pin fell into Lance’s lap, and, sure enough, ‘Katie’ was engraved in elegant letters. 

Lance turned the brooch over in his hand. “Oh geez, I’ll tell dad right away. And sure about the pants thing, tell Trigel I said you could.”

He’d read and re-read Pidge’s form a lot since the names were announced, even though he knew basically everything there was to know about them. He didn’t know where the picture came from though, but it was a nice one.

Pidge was smiling, at who or what, Lance didn’t know, since they were off camera. Their glasses were on the crown of their forehead and they looked happy, really happy.

Lance had also read the note Matt had written and highlighted, the one that said that although their birth name was Katie, they are known as Pidge, and aren’t always female. 

Really, whoever made the pins should have known, there was no excuse for it. 

“Trigel’s gonna kill me if I wear pants, you know that right?” Pidge pulled over a chair and plopped down in it. 

“Nah she won’t, she’s always had a soft spot for you, I think you remind her of herself or something. Plus, you have my permission, and even if you didn’t, you and I both know you’d do it anyway.”

Harrumphing, Pidge agreed. “Still, you know how she is about looks and being presentable. I don’t want to get on her bad side.”

“You’d have to like, muder someone to get on her bad side, honestly Pidge, she’s so sweet on you.”

“She is not! She’s always so strict and nit-picky, I swear.” 

Chuckling, Lance retorted. “If you think she’s ‘strict and nit-picky’ then imagine how it is for everyone else. You can get away with anything, and you know it.”

Pidge did, and once again, they reluctantly agreed. 

And then, seemingly just to emphasize Lance’s point, a knock on the door announced someone’s presence, and none other than Trigel stepped inside.

She wasn’t a particularly tall woman, but she was by no means short. Her New Asian heritage showed through in the elegant slant of her eyes and her olive skin tone, and her dark hair - almost the same colour as mahogany - hung down past her shoulder blades in two thick plaits. You’d think it’d make her look childish, but instead it only made her look youthful, intelligent and business-like. 

Her neat, pale green blouse was tucked in at her waist and the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, revealing a skin-tight white undershirt. A neat white and gold shawl was clasped below her left shoulder, the deep forest greens of its other side showing through where it hung behind her. She wore knee length brown boots, and-

“See Pidge, pants!” Lance gestured to a slightly confused Trigel’s simple black leggings.

“I, ah, yes… these are pants, your highness.” Trigel blinked a few times before composing herself. “I am so sorry to intrude, but Pidge, I mean, Lady Pidge- no, because you’re not… never mind. Pidge, you still haven’t done your makeover interview, and we need to begin the tour.”

Trigel shifted her weight while Pidge did absolutely nothing except frown.

“My makeover consisted of me refusing everything and having a dress forced upon me, and I already know the palace like my own home, so thanks but no thanks.”

Trigel sighed, looking at the small figure in the chair. “Pidge, this isn’t an option, if you don’t come now we’ll miss the last possible interview spot.” 

“C’mon Pidge,” Lance chipped in, “Think of how much you can annoy the other girls, and hey, you might even make a new friend!”

“Thank you, your highness.” Trigel turned a grateful gaze towards Lance. “Although may I ask, Pidge, that you don’t annoy the other girls too much.”

Pidge crossed their arms. “Still a big ‘no thanks’ from me. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to parade about in front of a bunch of cameras like all the rest of the stuck up and shallow girls here.”

Trigel looked to be at somewhat of a loss, but after a moment, she deflated a little and stepped over to the chair Pidge was in.

“Look, I can cut the interview, we’re already running a little late, but please, you need to be there for the tour, I can’t change that.” She extended a hand, and, to Lance’s surprise, Pidge took it and hauled themselves up. 

“Fine. I’ll come, but I can’t promise anything about not being annoying.” They said with a barely-concealed smirk.

Trigel didn’t respond, only rolled her eyes a little, smiling. She gave Pidge a once-over, doing her best to smooth the wrinkles in her dress, tutting softly.

“Pidge, where’s your name badge?” She asked, straightening up.

“Oh, it’s here.” Lance grabbed it off his bed. “But it’s got the wrong name, I was going to report it to dad so he can get it fixed.”

Trigel took the badge, examining it. “Don’t bother your father with this, it’s not his problem. I’ll take care of it. You can go without it for the moment, Pidge.”

Pidge looked very relieved as the two departed, giving Lance a little wave as they left the room. Trigel paused before closing the door behind them, looking to Lance.

“Once again, I’m sorry for intruding, your highness.”

“Don’t worry Trigel, I’m sorry for keeping Pidge when I shouldn’t have been.” Although technically it wasn’t his fault, it was the least Lance could do to take the blame.

Trigel smiled, closing the door softly, leaving Lance alone once again. 

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º⋆:⁺✮

 

Dinner that night was... different. Quiet.

Everyone around the table knew that this would be the last of its kind, for come tomorrow, there would always be at least one more head seated at the table. 

“So,” Veronica began, pausing to finish her mouthful after a look from her mother. “Looking forward to meeting them all? I’ve said hi to a couple already, they seem nice enough.”

While Lance had been confined to the third floor all day while the Selected were given a tour, the rest of his family were permitted to roam freely.

Lance pushed his food around in his plate while he thought for a moment. “Yeah. I am actually. I haven’t met anyone new for a long while. It should be fun.”

“Acxa seems pretty cool.” Veronica shrugged, looking into her food.

“Which one is she?” Lance recognised the name, but he couldn’t quite put a face to it.

“Kinda tall, pale, blue-ish hair…”

“Wait, blue hair?” Lance couldn’t remember anyone with blue hair, and since that was a pretty prominent trait he didn’t think he’d have forgotten it.

His sister looked up, gesturing with her fork. “Yeah, kinda blueish-blackish-purplish. Like… indigo, I guess. Yeah, dark indigo.”

Blinking, Lance thought back to the entry forms he’d been pretending to look at most of the morning. “Yeah, nah, don’t remember her.” He shook his head.

“Oh well, you’ll get to know her, and the others too.” Veronica added the last part somewhat hastily. “When do you think you’ll do your first elimination?”

“Veronica, let him eat dinner, you can ask questions later.” Charles looked up from his position beside Lance, eyeing his daughter across the table.

“Sorry dad.”

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º⋆:⁺✮

 

Okay. Okay, right, he could do this. 

Lance rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet reaching out a hand for the door handle.

This was fine, it was just a bunch of girls, nothing scary about that right?

Nope he couldn’t do this.

“Excuse me but do you need a hand opening the door?” One of the guards at the door asked. It was the mulleted one again, he seemed to be popping up everywhere recently.

His words in themselves weren’t harsh or offensive, but his tone was just too cold to be helpful.

“No, no, I’m fine.” Well, it was now or never, really. Lance pushed the door open, the quiet buzz in the room falling dead silent. 

All the girls had swiveled towards him, all seated at their own little table with a set of cutlery around them. Ah, yes, etiquette training.

“Heh, sorry Trigel, I should’ve knocked.”

“You better have brought food! I’m starving.” A voice called from the back of the room. 

Lance laughed, even though he couldn’t see the person who had yelled. “No, I haven’t Pidge, but I shouldn’t think you’ll be waiting too much longer. Anyways, I’m just here to introduce myself to everyone, if that’s okay.”

Trigel nodded, adjusting her shawl. “Of course, Your Highness.”

“Right. Well then, uh, I suppose I’ll just call you lovely ladies over one at a time.” Lance shrugged, heading for the table closest to his position. “Oh and sorry if I’m a bit slow on names, I’m not the best at remembering things like that.”

A few of the girls tittered at that.

“Shall we?” Lance held his arm out to the caramel skinned young woman now beside him, leading her over to the couches on the other side of the room.

“And you are…?” He inquired as he sat down.

“Nadia. Nadia Rizavi.” She gestured to her glittering name badge.

“Oh, right, sorry.” Lance chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. 

“It’s okay,” Nadia was laughing a little too, olive eyes glinting behind thin wire rimmed glasses. “What did you want to know about me?”

“Well, to be honest, I hadn’t actually thought this far. So I guess just tell me about yourself? Who you are, what you like, that sort of stuff. I-if that’s okay with you, that is.”

“Of course it’s okay! After all, we’ll be getting to know each other a lot more in the coming weeks, right?” Nadia tucked a stray lock of black hair behind her ear, the rest tied up in a subtly artful ponytail and tamed with a teal headband, matching her dress.

“So, I’m Nadia, I’m 18, from Clermont, Three. My parents are both doctors, and they wanted me to be one too, but that’s honestly so boring, I need more excitement. I’m a pretty adventurous person, mum calls me an adrenaline junkie.” She chuckled a little, clasping her restless hands in her lap.

“I, yeah, If I don’t win I don’t know what I’ll do. Job wise, that is. I’m not like, star-strikingly in love with you or anything. I-I mean, you’re cute and I totally wouldn’t mind being your princess, but I’m not, like, gonna get depression if you don’t pick me.”

Where Lance presumed most girls would be feeling pretty awkward and embarrassed right about now, Nadia just shrugged, looking him in the eyes.

“Mum and dad’ll try and get me to be a doctor for sure if I get eliminated, but as I said, it’s so boring, all the Three’s jobs are. I know how ridiculous this is gonna sound, but I wish I could be in the army. It just… yeah, it’s always been a semi-secret dream for me.”

“That’s certainly… not what I was expecting, to be entirely honest.” Lance admitted. “Don’t worry, it wasn’t bad or anything, just… different. Good different. It was nice talking to you Nadia.” He rose, bowing to her as she curtsied. “Would you mind sending the next girl over? I feel if I go back and forth too much I’ll wear a trench in the floor.”

“No problem.” Nadia departed with a bright smile. 

Lance hadn’t lied when he said he enjoyed talking with her. She was bright and bubbly, not afraid to be herself, however unconventional that was. 

Standing up to greet the next young lady, Lance made sure to check her name badge. 

“Z-Zethrid? Am I saying that right?”

She was a large person, not fat at all, and certainly not short either. Her corkscrew hair was short and stuck out around her ears, almost hiding her vibrant pink earrings.

“You are.” She sat rather heavily.

Well, not a woman of many words then.

“So, Zethrid, tell me about yourself. What do you like doing, who are you?” Lance sat facing her. He wasn’t going to lie, she was very intimidating, especially with a large scar over one eye.

“Well… my families are miners, hence the last name. I’ve been down in the copper mines in Honduragua for ten years, since I was about ten. I was working well before that though, we need the money.”

“Oh, wow, that’s… that’s kinda impressive. What do you do in like, your free time?”

“I don’t have free time.” The answer was short and to the point.

“Well... oookay. It was, uh, nice to get to know you, Zethrid. You brought to light things I probably should have known about my own country. If it’s not too much hassle, could you please tell the next person to come over?” 

Lance rose, offering a hand to help Zethrid up. She took it, and instead of curtsying she shook it firmly, departing without another word. 

Sitting down again, Lance waited for the next girl, still somewhat reeling from such a dramatic personality difference between Nadia and Zethrid. He couldn’t expect anything from these women, it seemed.

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º⋆:⁺✮

 

“Ezor, I’m so sorry to have to interrupt, but I do need to talk to everyone here, as much as I’m enjoying this conversation.” Lance smiled apologetically at the sharp-witted redhead. 

“Oh no that’s fine! Just remember my offer okay? I really wanna dance with you someday.” Ezor stood, dropping into a rather elaborate curtsy, probably just to show off.

She’d told Lance that her family were all very reputable dancers, gaining the sort of attention one wouldn’t expect from Fives, but even now, he could see why. She moved with grace, a spring in her step as if she was about to launch off any moment.

“I’ll grab Narti for you, she’s quiet, but sweet, don’t be offended if she doesn’t say much.”

With that said, Ezor practically skipped off, not even letting Lance bow to her.

Nadia had been lively, but Ezor seemed more… chaotic.

What surprised Lance most about Narti, as Ezor had called her, was not her sudden, silent appearance - though that did startle him - nor the dark hijab - though that did draw his eye - but the appearance of a second woman beside her.

Narti was elegant, Lance noted. Elegant and beautiful.

Her hair, assuming she had any, was hidden beneath the midnight blue of her head covering, the colour setting off her eyes, which looked strangely unfocused.

Despite the summer Angeles heat, her dress’ sleeves came down to her wrists, and her skirt was long. 

The person beside her was more modestly dressed, a simple blue day dress, long ebony hair reaching down her back, adorned by only a silver flower, or was that a star? She had no glittering name badge, so therefore wasn’t a contestant.

“Hello, you must be Narti.” Lance stood, holding his hand out for her to take.

“Indeed I am.” She made no move towards him or the couch.

“If you’re comfortable with it, we can sit.” Lance offered, withdrawing his hand after it remained empty.

“Of course, I do apologise.” Narti ever so slightly reached out towards the woman behind her, who took her arm and guided her down to a seating position.

“If it’s not too intrusive, may I ask who you are?” Lance turned to the black haired girl.

“My name is Kova, I’m sorry for not introducing myself earlier. I am Narti’s aide.” Kova dropped into a small curtsy, before resuming her place a few feet back from the sofa.

“Once again, if it’s not too intrusive, may I ask why you need an aide?” Narti wouldn’t meet Lance’s eyes, for some reason.

“I am blind.” Like Zethrid, her answer was short, but unlike the larger of the two, Lance got the impression that instead of not wanting to share, there was simply nothing more to share.

“Oh.” Lance said, somewhat pathetically. “Right, I-I hope the palace is accessible for you, if you need anything, I can make it happen.”

“There is no need. I appreciate your concern, but I have Kova, and she is all I require. We have been working together since I was very young, I trust her completely.”

Narti’s voice was quiet, and Lance wondered if that was how she always was.

“That’s very nice to hear, to have such a close friend is an opportunity I never had. Make sure you realise that, and that I’m jealous.” Lance chuckled, but it was true. “So Narti, tell me something about yourself, something you think is interesting.”

She was silent for a while, seemingly collecting her thoughts. “I have always liked cats. I know it’s inconsequential but it’s true. Them and the colour cyan, even though I have been blind all my life. Cyan just… sounds as if it would be beautiful.”

“I can assure you it is. Have you ever been to the ocean?” 

“Often, yes. I live in Dominica, we are surrounded by ocean.” Narti nodded, a tiny smile forming on her lips.

“Oh, Dominica? That’s where my mamá is from! Do you speak any Spanish?” Lance was grinning leaning forwards to talk to Narti, but being careful not to startle her by being too close.

“I am afraid I do not, bar the simplicities of hello and goodbye.”

“That’s okay, it’s all most people can say really. Anyways, what was I trying to say? Right, cyan. It’s the colour the ocean is when it’s warm outside, and the sky is clear. It’s one of my favourite colours too.”

Once more, Narti was silent and still. Once more, her smile grew.

“Thank you, Prince Lance. This makes me very happy to know. I am very fond of my home and of the ocean, it is nice to be able to put a feeling to a colour and vice versa.”

“Well, you’re welcome. Look, I hate to cut this short, but I still have a bunch more girls to talk to, and I don’t know about you but I’m starving and would really like to have breakfast. Would you like me to escort you back to your seat?”

Lance stood as Kova slipped beside Narti, whispering in her ear. Narti and Kova curtsied to him, before the latter hooked her arm through Narti’s elbow, ready to guide her away.

“Thank you for your offer, but Kova knows what she’s doing. It was nice to talk to you, Your Highness, I hope we can again someday.”

“I hope we can too.”

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º⋆:⁺✮

 

Lance was silent over breakfast, staring blankly into his food and tapping his knife against the table. At least the cameras were gone.

He knew that there was nothing between him and a handful of the girls here. He’d known from about halfway through their little talks. Now, he just had to decide what to do.

For some of them, dismissing them so soon would shatter their hearts, but he knew they’d rebuild themselves pretty quickly. For others, they’d be disappointed, but not so much it affected them in any way. 

Then there were those who he was unsure about, like Zethrid. There was nothing between them. Like, nothing at all. Zilch, zip, nada. He didn’t even think they’d ever really be friends, so why not just dismiss her and send her back to her home?

But there was one line that stuck in his head. ‘I was working well before that though, we need the money’. 

There were children working for barely pennies, teenagers in the mines, families who went without food or clean water, and Zethrid was from one of those families. He couldn’t send her home, not yet, not when her family was being paid probably more than they’d ever received by simply having her here.

The rest of them… Lance wanted them to have at least a day in the palace, he’d dismiss them that evening, and would hopefully live to survive. 

Lance was pretty sure he visibly winced at the thought.

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º⋆:⁺✮

 

Well, dinner had been… an event.

The numbers had dropped from 36 to 27, nine girls having been sent home. 

Nine girls, three of which had broken down into tears, two who had tried to convince Lance otherwise, and one who tried to slap him, until the guards intervened. 

At least he hadn’t done it publicly, instead taking the small group to an empty parlour to tell them the news, then retreating upstairs for half an hour until things had cooled down. 

Now, he was on his way to the kitchens, hungry after not being able to eat much through the nerves at dinnertime. 

Lance ran a weary hand through his hair, sighing. He was glad none of the girls were allowed down in the servant’s areas, lest they were able to see him looking such a mess. Well, in his opinion at least.

Barefoot, tie-less, a rumpled shirt coming untucked from his creased pants, this was not a look he wanted to parade around the palace.

Walking blindly around a corner, Lance almost collided with someone.

“Sorry! Sorry, I didn’t see you.” Lance stepped back, taking a look at whoever he’d run into.

A dark mulleted boy in the red guard’s uniform stared back at him. Lance presumed he’d previously been holding his jacket, as it was now in a heap on the floor. It was almost comical, how they both bent down at exactly the same moment to retrieve it, whacking foreheads in the process. 

The guard grumbled, and Lance scooped up the jacket, brushing it off and holding it out.

“Once again, I really am sorry, I hope I didn’t hurt you, uh, Officer Kog-kogain.” Lance stumbled over the name on the badge.

With a withering look in his eye, the guard snatched his jacket out of Lance’s hands rather forcefully.

“Who’re you?” It was more a demand than a question.

If Lance had been wearing shoes, or if the guard had been out of his boots, Lance suspected they’d be almost exactly the same height. He looked the same age too, maybe a year or two older, perhaps 20 or so.

His hair wasn’t actually a mullet, upon closer examination, but really, it was close enough to be one. His eyes were intriguing too, despite their threatening gaze. They looked almost purple in this light, and Lance thought that if he looked just a fraction closer, he’d be able to see stars like the ones that adorned the night sky.

“Hello?” The officer snarled.

Lance snapped back to the present, taking a moment to remember the question and formulate a reply. 

“Who am I? Do you really not recognise me or something?” Lance was taken aback, his dislike for the guy growing steadily, especially since the guard just stared, as if dissecting him.

“I’m La-”

“Oh I know you,” The guard cut in, voice still frigid but not as utterly frostbite inducing as it had been previously. “You’re like an advisor or something.”

If Lance had resented the officer before, he despised him now.

“Excuse me? Excuse me? ” Lance took a step towards the guard, staring him down. “I’m Lance, Lance McClain. As in, the Prince Leandro Álvarez Serrano McClain of Illéa. Do you remember me now?” His voice too was cold, but where the officer’s was like an icy knife, his was more a slow frost, freezing thoroughly but subtly, the victim unaware until it was too late.

Officer whatever-it-was obviously realised his mistake, made clear by the brief flash of near panic that crossed his face before it was hidden back under the stony mask of indifference. He swallowed once, eyes focused somewhere beyond Lance, as if he were waiting for some sort of punishment, or harsh retaliation.

It never came, Lance would never hurt someone over such an inconsequential mistake, not verbally or physically. While yes, he was pretty pissed now, in ten minutes what would it matter? The guard had learnt, and Lance was fine, bar a slight throb from where they slammed foreheads earlier, and a mild annoyance at the guy.

“I am very sorry, Your Majesty.” The words and their delivery were carefully calculated, meaningful enough to be polite, but said without any hint of apology, and yet they weren’t dripping in sarcasm either. A tiny wince followed after, almost too small to see.

Well then. Any hopes of giving the guard a second chance manners-wise flew out the window. Lance squared up, pulling himself to his full height, gaze stony. Time to see if he could give the officer a taste of his own medicine.

“It’s Highness, Kogain. I’m not the King.” As he pushed past to get to the kitchen, Lance swore he heard him mumble something under his breath, but he didn’t rise to the bait, that would only make what was barely a civil conversation as it was spiral into a brawl, given enough time.

Whatever it was would have to wait.

Chapter Text

As usual, the kitchen wasn’t empty when Lance pushed open the door. There was always work to be done, preparing bits and pieces for the next day’s breakfast, cleaning up and whatnot, and now with 27 extra mouths to feed, there was almost seven times the amount of work to do.

Seven times as many croissants, seven times as much toast, seven times the amount of porridge. It sure was a lot.

And, it seemed, the kitchen would be requiring more snacks, if the green-clad figure currently demolishing a packet of raisins from their perch atop one of the work-benches was anything to go by.

“She/her, no, these are my raisins, get your own.” Pidge said by way of introduction.

“I tried to get her to put them back or at least share, but she’s got pointy elbows and they hurt.” Hunk patted the stool beside him. “At least I got her to eat them instead of chocolate chips.”

“My comment still stands; fuck you.” Pidge kicked Hunk lightly in the ribs, just as Lance was going to sit down, catching him with her heel on the return.

“So, how was day one?” Lance asked, a teasing edge to his voice. “Made any new friends?”

If you asked Lance what Pidge’s greatest skill was, he wouldn’t reply with robotics, or hacking, or even being astronomically annoying. No, her greatest skill was dry, piercing stares. 

“Oh of course!” She put on an incredibly bad attempt at a posh Engilsh accent. “Why just this morning I was cavorting with a lovely young lady, we had the most wonderful conversation about corsets and how much we love doing housework!” A dramatic pause, then, back in her normal voice, “no of course not, who the fuck do you think I am? Hunk?”

It was true, Hunk was able to make friends with incredible ease, but Pidge… she both didn’t try and didn’t care, which made it rather difficult to get close to her. 

“If we’re done with the theatre, the special should be starting soon.” Hunk nodded his head towards the tv in the corner of the room, half the reason why the trio was there in the first place.

Despite it being a monday, and the report not happening for another four days, the cameras had been wandering the palace for the best part of the day, taking snapshots and filming the girls for the Selected Special that would air any moment now.

Speak of the devil.

Just as Hunk clicked onto the right channel, the anthem faded and Coran came into view.

“Gooood evening Illéa! I know, I know, it’s all very exciting, for the Selection started today! We’ve had the camera crew here since the weekend, documenting every step for your enjoyment!” 

“For their enjoyment. I certainly didn’t enjoy having a camera shoved in my face every day.” Pidge grumbled from beside Lance.

“Just because you don’t like being the centre of attention doesn’t mean everyone else hates it.” Lance shrugged, thinking of many of the other girls who would probably have enjoyed the whole ordeal almost too much.

“Well they should, it would make everything a damn sight better for me.”

“Yes because everything should be built around your specific needs and wants.” Lance chuckled. 

“Exactly!”

“Guys shut up, I’m trying to watch!” Hunk gave Lance a tap on the knee, presumably not risking doing the same to Pidge in fear of retaliation.

Looking back to the television, Lance saw the screen had changed, instead of Coran in the studio, they were watching one of the contestants departing her hometown. Lance recognised her as Ina Leifsdottir, of Whites. 

Sure enough, Coran's voiceover confirmed her identity a moment later.

"Up in the north we had the elegant Miss Ina Leifsdottir departing rather gracefully from her home in Whites." 

True to Coran's word, Ina was very demure in her goodbyes. She stood on the stage, not particularly tall, looking out into the crowd. 

"To contrast Miss Leifsdottir, we have the empathetic Miss Shay Balmera of Ottaro. She proved herself to be a very caring young woman, and not just for her family or friends, but here we see her hugging strangers as she leaves her home, and again once she arrives at the airport."

Hunk was looking up at the screen very intently, nothing like he had been for the footage of Ina. It didn't escape Pidge's notice, and she nudged Lance, pointing it out. 

The departures and arrivals lasted a short while, but soon the focus switched to the makeover interviews. 

First up was Axca, the one Veronica had been telling Lance about, he remembered. Her before picture was similar to her entry picture, bar the fact she'd grown her hair out a little longer. But her after picture... well, If Lance thought she was intimidating before, he was wrong. 

Her hair was now indigo, just as Veronica had said it was. An unusual choice, but a unique one. The makeup around her eyes made them stand out even more, and her hair complemented the colour perfectly. 

So this was the girl Veronica had gone so far as to point out to him. Huh, interesting. Perhaps there was… something more than an interesting hair colour to it. Something a little closer to Veronica’s heart.

Her interview wasn't particularly personal, but really none of them were, since they were all about what had happened during the makeover. The only time she really seemed to become herself was when she was talking about her hair, saying how the maids had been advising her against it, but she couldn't back down. It was the only way she felt he had left to express herself, and she wasn't going to pass it up because someone else didn't like it. 

Next was Romelle, who, though not coming in all to scruffy, got cleaned up impressively well. 

Her sandy hair was brushed and cleaned, trimmed and styled so it hung down her back in two tails, and she looked perfectly at home in her pink-and-white dress and small blue blazer. 

Her interview was bright, a little nervous, but that was to be expected. This had, after all, been her first day.

Allura seemed to be the only one who didn't change for her makeover, but that was to be expected. She had been treated like a princess all her life, this was no different for her. 

Nyma too didn't change much, going from incredibly made up to... incredibly made up, just more professionally. 

She still had her violet contacts, her smooth skin, her golden hair, but it all looked a tad better done than it had before.

Next was footage of before breakfast, and yes, a few close-ups on Lance speaking with the girls. 

The cameras seemed to linger on him when Allura was beside him, sitting slightly closer than any of the others had been sitting, but only because they knew each other well already.

It annoyed Lance, and he made a mental note to tell his father before it spiraled out of control.

Although yes, he did enjoy seeing the events of the days from the girls’ perspectives, Lance was getting a little bored, given that he’d already been through most of this.

He spent most of the rest of the special tracing absent minded patterns onto the wood of the countertop and thinking about the past day, the girls, and just what the heck he was going to do.

“Hey buddy, you okay? You barely watched, like, half the show.” Hunk had turned the tv off without Lance noticing, and now both his friends were looking at him.

“Wha-? No, no, I’m fine, just… thinking. About stuff. And I’m kinda tired.”

“Then why’d you come down? We’d’ve been fine without you.”

“Pidge!” Hunk looked at her, aghast. “Don’t be rude, just because you’re getting to see Lance every day for the next few months doesn’t mean I am! Lance, we love you, don’t let Pidge ever tell you otherwise.”

Lance smiled, looking up at Hunk. “Heh, thanks. I love you guys too. It’s… it’s been a while since it was just the three of us. I kinda miss it.”

“So do I, but hey, you’re the Prince, and I’m just a lowly cook, I can’t expect it to be like it was when we were kids. What about you Pidge? Surely you miss the old days too.”

Pidge mumbled something incoherent.

“Aw, c’mon, you know you love us.” Lance teased playfully.

“Shut up.” 

“I love you too.”

That earned him a whack, but both he and Hunk were laughing.

“As much as I’ve loved hanging out with you guys again, I should probably get back to my room before my father calls a nation-wide search for me. See you tomorrow Pidge, and hopefully we can catch up soon Hunk.”

With a hug to each, Lance stood and left, his only intent to head back to his room and sleep.

That was, until he heard the shouting.

Well, raised voices would be a better way to put it.

Or maybe just raised voice.

Since he couldn’t quite hear what was being said, Lance - with a quick glance down all oncoming corridors - crept closer to the source of the noise.

What could he say? As a third child and prince, it was in his nature to be curious.

“-never wrote! Never even tried to contact me, or him! We thought you were dead!

“Keith, I’m sorry, I tried, but it didn’t work.”

“Well obviously! How long have you been back? Six months? Eight? That’s plenty of time, don’t you think?”

Whoever this ‘Keith’ was, they were beyond angry. Lance could hear the hurt in his voice, the emotion, and something that sounded all too much like betrayal. 

“A year.” The second voice was quiet, so quiet Lance almost missed it. “I’ve been back for just over a year.”

Silence. So heavy and charged Lance could feel it through the walls and door.

“A year.” Keith echoed, just as quiet as the other person. “You’ve been back a year, and you didn’t do anything? No letters, no calls, nothing! Nothing to tell us you were still alive! They told us you were dead , Shiro, and everyone moved on, but I didn’t. They were lying and I knew it, you knew it, and then you come back and what? Adam didn’t give up, even though everyone was telling him to just forget you. Never took off the ring you know, never lost hope in you, and all for what? For you to give up on us ?”

Something in there had hit a nerve, because once again, only silence followed. Silence in which Lance realised the person subject to all this was Shiro, Takashi Shirogane, the war hero. Who could get away with talking to him like this?

“Keith, I’m sorry . You don’t know how hard I tried. Do you think I was okay with the fact you thought I was dead? Do you think I didn’t try everything I could to reach you? I was quarantined for the first six months. Well, quarantined and recovering. They took my arm, Keith, that doesn’t heal overnight. I tried, so hard, but they wouldn’t put my letters through. Then… then you got drafted, and I… I tried even harder. But you know how it works, you don’t get contact with anyone but family during training, and it’s not like I can send a letter to someone who isn’t supposed to exist, is it? Keith, I’m so, so sorry.”

Even Lance was tearing up hearing this conversation, and he barely knew what it was about.

“Why is everyone fucking sorry? Why doesn’t anyone ever do anything about it? You left me, and when you came back you obviously didn’t try hard enough because this is the first time I knew you were alive. You left, like everyone else did, even when you promised. You promised Shiro! You promised you’d never leave!”

Lance could hear the tears in his eyes, he could hear the pain in his face, the clenched fists, the whirling thoughts. Keith’s voice was cracking, and he could only imagine what he was going through.

A soft “I’m sorry” from Shiro preceded footsteps, and Lance took that as his cue to escape.

His bare feet were a blessing in the moment, meaning he could run down the hallway silently, only stopping when he reached the crossroads to see Shiro quietly closing the door, resting his forehead and hand against the wood. 

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º⋆:⁺✮

 

The image of Shiro so defeated haunted Lance for the rest of the evening, and well into the night. 

Lying awake in his bed, Lance ran through everything he’d heard again and again, trying to piece it all together. 

He hadn’t known General Shirogane had any family, and, come to think of it, this Keith wasn’t family either. Shiro had said that the soldier training only let people have contact with family, and it was pretty clear Keith hadn’t got any. 

He wondered who Keith was to Shiro, that he could get away with speaking to him like that, shouting at him, disrespecting him to his face. 

Knowing what to say to get at him.

That brought up another question. Who was Adam? Who was he to Shiro, that the simple mention of his name could silence the battle-worn soldier? And that one comment… the one about sending a letter to someone who isn’t supposed to exist, what did it mean?

Somewhat frustrated, Lance turned over, trying to clear his mind and fall asleep. This was all so confusing, he wanted answers, but he knew he should never had heard the conversation in the first place.

Whoever Keith was, whatever he had been going through, Lance felt for him. He hoped it would get better, and his last thought before he finally succumbed to the darkness of sleep, was that he hoped Keith was okay.

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º⋆:⁺✮

 

“So, Nyma, what sort of movies do you like?” On somewhat of an impulse, Lance had asked Nyma to be his first date, so now here they were, seated in the palace’s cinema, trying to decide on something to watch.

“Oh, that’s a good question. I’m assuming you mean to watch, not to act in, after all, this is a cinema, not a set.” A bright laugh followed. “I’m a more action girl, but I do love romance as well. Something like…” Using the keypad in the arm of her chair, Nyma quickly navigated the enormous screen, landing on something Lance didn’t recognise. “...this. Shall we?”

“Whatever you think is best. I’m sure you have far more expertise in this area than I do.”

She giggled, which made something in Lance’s chest loosen just a little. “Oh you give me too much credit, but you’re awfully sweet, Your Highness.”

“Please, Nyma, just Lance is fine.”

Another giggle. “Okay then, just Lance.” 

They were both laughing as she played the movie and the lights dimmed.

 

✮⁺:⋆º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º:⁺✮⁺:º⋅༚.✧.༚⋅º⋆:⁺✮

 

The movie was over, and in all honesty, Lance couldn’t really remember a thing about it. Sure, it had the general handsome protagonist who saved the world and didn’t look as he walked away from huge explosions, it had an overly-feminised love interest, and a run-of-the-mill antagonist. It wasn’t really anything special in Lance’s opinion. But Nyma seemed to have enjoyed it, so Lance would try to play along.

“What did you think of it? Was it everything you’d hoped it would be?” He turned to his date once the lights had come up.

Well, turned his body, at least. He’d been looking mostly at Nyma for the past hour and a half. Admiring how the photos didn’t do her justice, how her lilac eyes sparkled, her slim figure, her almost child-like face. She really was very attractive, and she knew it.

“It was amazing! That part where he saved her from the burning helicopter? It was one of the best things I’ve ever seen. How about you?”

“Yeah, yeah I loved that part too, it was incredible. And, uh, the flashback, it-”

“Oh the flashback! It was so sad, I’m certain I was crying. To lose both his mother and father like that? It’s tragic.”

Lance breathed an internal sigh of relief, he hadn’t given it away that he hadn’t retained anything whatsoever from the movie Nyma seemed so passionate about.

“Tragic, yeah, I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone to actually go through that.” Lance shook his head, hoping Nyma couldn’t see through his act. After all, she hadn’t failed to mention several times that she was an up-and-coming actress.

“Neither can I…” Nyma’s voice was soft, thoughtful. “Anyways,” Her tone changed dramatically, back to the more exuberant, enticing voice Lance associated with her normally. “Enough about what I like, how about you? What movie would you be watching if I wasn’t here?”

“Uh- I… I’m not entirely sure, actually. I do like action and romance too-”

“That’s perfect! We have the same taste, oh this is almost too good to be true!”

Lance swallowed the rest of his answer, the bit about how he preferred fantasy, how he would prefer if the love story was more genuine, the part about the sappy movies where the dog always dies and he always cries. The part about the old movies, from before even the third world war. The animated ones, with the songs he found himself singing alone in his room, with the colours and the characters and the scenery that just… didn’t happen anywhere else.

If it meant getting closer to Nyma, then he’d learn to love the same sorts of things as her, but movies really weren’t that important in the long run.

“I should probably be getting back to my room before my maids throw a fit.” A soft laugh bubbled up in Nyma’s throat, and she looked at her lap as she smoothed her skirt.

“Right, yeah, that does sound like a good idea.” Lance waited for her to stand and leave, but Nyma remained seated next to him for an awkwardly long time.

“I’ll just get one of the guards to walk me to my room, there was a really cute looking one in the corridor earlier, maybe he’ll take me.” She stood a little abruptly, flipping her hair over her shoulder and hesitating before she set off.

“No, it’s fine, I can walk you!” Lance stood even faster than Nyma had, offering out his arm for her to take.

“You’re so kind, really, you don’t have to.” But she took his arm anyway, and almost dragged him out of the cinema.

Although it may have looked like he was leading her, or they were walking together, it was Nyma running the show. She walked with confidence, purpose, as if the palace was her home already, despite her only having been there for just over two days.

If only Lance could have that much courage in himself when he was in public. It was one of the things he admired most about Nyma, so far. She believed in herself, she had goals and she tried her hardest to achieve them. She was determined, persistent, smart, and yeah, okay, absolutely stunning as well.

“I had a really fun time tonight.” Nyma said once they reached her door, taking Lance’s hands into her own. Or, more accurately, putting her own hands into Lance’s. 

“Yeah, me too actually.” Lance shrugged a bit, looking at her.

“Thanks for having me as your first date, it means a lot.” She’d suddenly gone rather bashful, a light blush on her otherwise pale skin, and she seemed unable to look Lance directly in the eyes. 

“You’re welcome, it was… yeah, I really enjoyed it, spending time with you. Thank you for saying yes.”

“I hope we can do this again one day soon, I really want to get to know you better.”

“So do I.”

The silence between them was warm and carried a little something that Lance couldn’t quite recognise.

After a moment or two, Nyma leant in, placing a lingering peck on Lance’s cheek. It made him feel kinda fuzzy inside, and he stood there for about a minute after Nyma bade him goodnight and retreated into her room.

Yep, she was definitely staying for a while.