Lance had a secret. Okay, he had more than one--who didn’t? Lance had one really big secret. Well, Hunk knew, but he was Lance’s best friend and former roommate, so how could he not know? His family also knew for obvious reasons. Lance had one really big secret that almost nobody else knew: he wasn’t human.
Throughout his childhood, it wasn’t difficult for him to hide it. Maintaining a human form was almost effortless, and he never had any compulsion to assume his alternate form, so for all that he rarely did anything connected to it, he may as well have been an ordinary human.
There were many names for what he was, as many as there were peoples who told stories of them his mother had once told him, but his personal favorite was näkki. He loved the water, was an excellent swimmer, and he had a natural gift with music. Most of the time, it didn’t seem all that unusual.
He had done a little research at the local library once, after his mother kept telling him she would tell him more about it when he was older. Some of the stories were pretty dark.
“Do we really like drowning people?” he had demanded of his mother later.
She gave a long suffering sigh and took a walk with him out to a nearby stream. Water always helped to soothe and calm him.
“We are like any other group,” she had patiently explained. “A few are bad and do terrible things, but most don’t. A few are also very good and have done great things, but most don’t. People remember things that frighten them, so is it any wonder that the stories the humans have passed along are about the bad ones? You are responsible for the choices you make in your life. I can hope that you’ll make good ones, but it is you who must live them.”
During puberty, his abilities spiked and then settled out again at a stronger level than they had been before. Now he had to be more careful to intentionally sing worse than he was capable and he didn’t play instruments for an audience anymore--it would be too easy to accidentally put someone under his thrall.
At that point, he also developed two additional skills.
First, if someone near him was feeling anything particularly strongly, he could tell. Beautiful music would spring into his mind to fit that mood. He somehow just knew that if he played the music for them, it could amplify good emotions and soothe negative ones. Every once in awhile, if the emotions were especially unsettling, he would hum a little under his breath, just to take the edge off.
The second new talent helped him identify other supernatural beings. They weren’t very common, and it seemed like the majority of the time, they didn’t even seem to know about it, if several really awkward conversations with strangers were anything to go by. It worked a lot like the emotional sense, only it was like he could feel a pressure and power radiating off of the individuals. His hypothesis was that maybe they had diluted supernatural ancestry. It turned out to be correct, but he didn’t find that out until they met Allura.
If the power he had felt from others before was like a gentle push against his own abilities, Allura’s power was like being hit by a bus. He eventually realized it wasn’t just that she had a lot of power, and boy did she ever, but also that she didn’t have the best control of it.
Looking back he wondered if some of his infatuation with her was finding someone else who was different from most others in the same way. Maybe just a little. She had lots of things going for her. Unfortunately, one of those things did not appear to be the ability to recognize Lance’s own innate power.
When Lotor appeared on the scene, Lance could sense right away that he had some kind of latent power, so he was probably the only one who wasn’t surprised when “the Mark of the Chosen” appeared on the newly instated Emperor.
Lotor’s power wasn’t like anything he had ever felt before--more of a pull than a push. Lance couldn’t help but wonder if that wan’t part of what drew Allura to him, and it was a large part of the reason Lotor irritated him so much.
When the pair of royals had emerged from Oriande, it had also been obvious to Lance that it had affected both of them, no matter what Lotor claimed. Allura’s power had been amplified, but fortunately, she had also been granted greater understanding and control. Whatever Lotor had had been dialed up to eleven as well, and even if no one else seemed to be able to sense the change, Lance could tell the other man was aware now that he had some kind of ability, but he seemed almost afraid of it.
Lotor began to withdraw from everyone, especially Allura, speaking to them only when absolutely necessary and minimizing in person meetings. When they had to be in the same room, he always stood as far from everyone as possible, and it wasn’t subtle, which was very unlike what Lance had come to expect from him.
It was also affecting Lotor physically. The guy had always been lithe, but now he seemed to almost be wasting away right in front of them. Before, there was a light of intellectual curiosity and even a bit of mischief in his eyes that had become a dull, haunted shadow.
Lance was already trying to plan some way to broach to subject with Lotor when Allura had come to him with a surprising request.
“I know you are not fond of Lotor-” Allura had really been working on her diplomacy “-but I am becoming increasingly worried about him. Oriande changed him in some way, and I don’t think I’m going to be able to get him to talk to me about it.”
“Really? Aren’t you two, you know...together?”
Allura sighed, and smiled sadly. “No. I thought perhaps that might be where we were headed, but it’s clear to me now that Lotor has changed his mind. He’s still a dear friend to me, and our alliance, if only political, is still vital.”
“Well, what makes you think he’d talk to me? We’re not exactly friends, like you said.”
“Why, because you also have magical abilities.”
Lance was taken aback. She said it like it was really obvious, but Lance had convinced himself that she must be unaware that he was different.
“You also seem to have admirable control,” she continued, “and I’m still working on mine. I think he might be afraid that he’ll hurt someone. Perhaps you could help him?”
Lance had been thinking along the same lines. Both he and Allura had grown up knowing they had magic in them. Admittedly, Lance had never really had to struggle to control his, but he’d always known it was there. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like to suddenly be granted a strong power that he had no idea how to use.
“I’d be happy to try, but I’m not sure how to get him to listen.”
Allura smiled at him. “Oh, I’ve taken care of that. Well, mostly. Lotor is going to travel to speak to a planet we would like to bring into our alliance. I insisted that at least one Lion should accompany him, and Red is the logical choice, given the distance and necessity of speed.”
“Wait a minute, what would you have done if I said ‘no’?”
“I had a feeling you wouldn’t,” she answered with a wink. Then her expression became more serious. “I know you care about everyone’s well-being. It makes you a great team member and a true paladin. You’ll do everything in your power to help, and that’s all I really need to know.”
How could anybody turn down that?
The date of the diplomatic mission crept up faster than he would have liked, but he was totally a master of improvisation! He just had to wait for inspiration to strike. It still hadn’t struck before they left the castle ship in the Red Lion in heavy, awkward silence. He’d done some of his best school assignments the night before they were due, though. He had this--no sweat.
It was the longest trip he had ever taken because Lotor somehow avoided every single attempt at conversation, and Lance was great at talking, okay? Like, amazing even. He could have a conversation with thin air. There may have been a little mild sweating by the time they were getting ready to land on the planet.
Lance’s luck finally started to turn, however, when he spotted a small lake not far from where they would be staying. There was a small group of musicians at the welcoming ceremony, and one of them let him borrow an instrument that was close enough to an Earth guitar that he could make it work. A plan was coming together just like he knew it would all along.
The trickiest part was luring Lotor. Lance knew that in theory he could play a song that Lotor should find beautiful and irresistible, but he’d never actually tried calling someone to him with song before. In the past, he’d always just had a feeling the music in his mind and heart would be right, but he’d never actually tested it. He really needed this to work, and he was hoping that desire would be the little bit extra he might need for his first on-demand performance to succeed.
He probably didn’t have to be naked for it to work, but that was how many of the old stories went, and he figured it couldn’t hurt. He dug his bare feet into the cool, damp sand of the lakeshore and let the tiny lapping waves calm him down and set a natural rhythm for the song. He closed his eyes, opened his mouth, and let his voice join the strumming of the not-quite-a-guitar. It was a song full of the emotions he’d been picking up from Lotor: loneliness, unease, and a deep hunger for something unclear. He got really into it--so much so that Lotor’s voice just about gave him a heart attack.
“You’re quite talented.”
“Thanks,” he managed to stammer even though his mouth was suddenly as dry as a desert. “I wrote it for you.”
Lotor raised one snowy brow. “Why would you write something so lovely for someone you hate?”
“I don’t hate you.” Lotor laughed bitterly at that, and Lance reminded himself that getting into a fight was the opposite of what he was trying to do. “I don’t. I know I always give you a hard time, but...”
This was hard for Lance. He was going to have to lay bare some of his own insecurities to get Lotor to open up, and he was not looking forward to it.
“I was jealous, okay?” There. He said it. Lotor was just staring at him, so it looked like he was going to have to elaborate. “I like Allura, too, but she’s never seen me as anything more than a friend, a teammate. Then you came waltzing in, and how was I supposed to compete with a handsome but extremely suspicious prince with amazing hair?”
One of Lotor’s hands slipped up to grasp a lock of that hair that Lance might actually kill for the secrets behind. It was possible that he imagined it, but Lance was ninety-nine percent sure Lotor blushed a little and he definitely looked away. “Handsome?” he murmured under his breath.
“Well, yeah. I mean, you’re looking a little rough recently, but you can’t expect me to believe you don’t know you’re attractive.”
“That’s easy to say for someone who as far as I can discern meets all your species’ standards of beauty.”
Lance had to think about that for a minute for a couple of reasons. First off, whoa! Lotor thought he was good looking? The Galra man had only ever seemed interested in Allura, which was understandable because she was amazing, but maybe Lance just hadn’t noticed any interest cues toward himself because he’d been so determined to dislike Lotor. Second, he felt a little dumb for not considering human standards did not apply to all alien races.
“What, uh, if you don’t mind me asking, are Galra standards of beauty?”
“Size, strength, resilience. Obvious battle scars are quite in fashion.”
Lotor was quite a bit taller than himself, but Lance realized that he was shorter than most other Galra he’d seen him around. He wasn’t bulkily muscled, and he didn’t seem to have any readily visible scars. By all accounts, the closest thing to a genuine Galra hottie he’d come across was probably Sendak.
“As enjoyable as it has been discussing my shortcomings, I think I’ll leave you to your...music.”
This was not going according to plan.
“Wait! I used the song to call you here because I want to talk to you about something.”
Lotor looked genuinely confused by that statement. “You called me?”
“Yeah, it’s a thing I can do. I’m not a regular human. I’m a creature called a ‘näkki’.”
Lotor seemed to find this claim highly dubious. Lance carefully set his borrowed instrument down and changed to his other form. It looked like a beautiful, if kind of shaggy, white horse. Now Lotor appeared suitably impressed, so Lance changed back to his human form and pulled the instrument back into his lap. He was pretty sure Lotor hadn’t blinked for over thirty seconds, and the staring was making him a little self-conscious.
“Anyways, I can feel strong emotions from people around me, and I know you’re having a hard time after-”
“I do not wish to discuss my feelings.” Rude! Lotor just cut him off and turned away. Guess it was time to cut right to the heart of the matter.
“Oriande changed you.” Lotor visibly tensed, but he turned back around. “That’s another thing I can tell--when others have magical power, I mean. Something happened to you in there, and you’re letting it eat you alive instead of dealing with it. Everyone can see it, even if all of them don’t understand.”
Lotor’s eyes narrowed. “Did Allura send you?”
“I would have confronted you anyway, but yes, she’s worried about you, too.”
“You’re all safer far away from me, Allura especially.”
“Why? Because you feel like we’re safer? What about you? Are we all going to be safer if you die or self-destruct from this and we have to deal with whoever takes your place? I want to help you, but I need you to tell me about what’s going on with you. Maybe I can help you control it.”
Lotor sighed and took a seat on the shore. “If I tell you, you might no longer wish to help.”
“We won’t know until you do, so spill.”
“Oriande was supposed to be place of great alchemical knowledge. I never doubted that Allura would be welcomed, but I didn’t expect that I would be able to enter.” He absently brushed the fingertips of his right hand over one of the spots on his cheeks where the Mark had glowed. “There was a test. At least, I thought it was a test, and that I failed it. Oriande looked deep within me to determine my desire. I was certain all I wanted was knowledge of that part of my history kept from me, my Altean heritage. That isn’t what the guardian found, and it’s not what it awoke.”
Well, that sounded ominous... He was about to ask, but Lotor continued.
“I thought I had buried the part of myself that longed for affection and admiration. I told myself I could never truly have it. I started to believe it was possible again when Allura seemed to care for me, and that is what Oriande amplified. Whatever this thing it gave to me is, it hungers for the love and desire of others. I’m afraid it can’t be satisfied, that it would take and take until there was nothing left to give it, and that’s not what I want.”
“So that’s why you’ve been avoiding Allura. You’re afraid you’ll suck all the, uh, ‘love’ out of her?”
“Partly,” Lotor admitted with a shrug, “Allura is too tempting. Her power is too strong and pure. This beast inside me woke up starving, and I can’t trust myself to let it near her. It might take more than just emotional energy.”
“You have to give it something.” Lance wasn’t sure how he knew that, but he was certain. “The longer you starve it, the harder it’ll be to keep it from taking over. You’re making things worse by denying that part of yourself.”
“I’m fairly certain my ability requires intimate physical contact. Are you volunteering?”
Was that what he was doing? He had to admit, he wasn’t entirely opposed to the idea. In fact, behind the not-guitar, he was getting pretty interested. A little part of him wondered if Lotor’s ability wasn’t egging him on a little. He squashed that thought, though. It was unfair.
His opinion of Lotor had been slowly but steadily shifting since even before Oriande. He hated to admit it, but they’d been pretty hard on the guy, and he put up with it with patience Lance couldn’t even dream of having. He should really work on that...
“Yes.” Starting tomorrow maybe. “I trust you to do your best to control it. It’s always been a part of you, you know. It’s just stronger, now.”
Lotor scooted closer and moved the instrument out of Lance’s lap. His eyes raked up and down Lance’s naked form and he couldn’t help a little shiver. Lotor froze.
“I’m not afraid,” he insisted. “It’s just been awhile since, well, anybody but me.”
“You can still say no.” There was a wild gleam in Lotor’s eyes now, but Lance believed him. He could call this off right now, and Lotor would walk away. Walk away and keep suffering alone because he was too proud or scared or whatever to let somebody help him with this.
Lance didn’t say “no”.
He closed his eyes as Lotor’s hands began a slow and studious exploration of his entire body. He paused in any area where he got extra responsiveness. Probably making mental notes like the giant nerd he was.
Without visual stimuli, Lance could focus on the feel of the energy radiating off of Lotor in waves. Waves. Lotor’s power was like water. It swept over Lance, flowing into every nook and then receded, drawing a little energy with it. Now Lance definitely wasn’t afraid. Water had always been a friend to him.
When Lotor finally, finally took him gently in one hand, it was over embarrassingly quickly. It had been awhile, remember? Totally not his fault. Powers were involved and stuff.
He was suddenly very tired. Just before he nodded off, he could swear the Mark was glowing on Lotor’s face again, and so were his eyes.
Lance woke up clean and tucked into his bed in the rooms the planetary government had given them during their stay. He didn’t feel drained at all. In fact, he felt great! Lighter somehow. Until he thought about how Lotor probably had to drag his naked butt back here, hopefully unseen by all.
Lotor was much improved as well, as far as Lance could tell, anyway. Guy was pretty stoic. He didn’t look like he was going to keel over any minute at least. Mission accomplished. Oh, they also got the planet to agree to join the coalition. Double mission accomplished.
Everything should have been resolved, but Lotor kept shunning everybody. He came to meetings and that was it. It wasn’t like Lance expected him to arrange slumber parties or anything, but he thought Lotor understood his, “you don’t have to avoid everyone” message. Apparently, he was wrong.
Upon reflection, he wasn’t sure he’d actually said anything like that. He did imply Lotor shouldn’t let things get that bad again, though, and he seemed headed in that direction again, even if he still looked pretty healthy.
Lance confronted him after one of their meetings. He made sure everyone else had already left first. He could be tactful when he wanted.
“Have you been feeding the beast?” Direct was usually better, though.
“I haven’t felt the need.”
Lance could have cheerfully strangled him. “The point is not to wait until it’s a need, man! You want it to get out of control again?”
“It’s not like I have prospective partners beating down my door, you know.”
“You could ask me.”
“Really?” Lotor asked skeptically.
“Well, sure! I mean, I don’t know about you, but I had a pretty good time. No lasting side effects or anything, either.”
“You’d be willing?”
Geez, for a tactical genius, this guy could be extremely dense! “I was willing enough last time, wasn’t I?”
Lotor’s jaw clenched and he looked like he wanted to hit something. Why was he angry? Lance was extremely confused. Lotor closed his eyes and took a deep calming breath.
“Follow me.” He turned on his heel and took off toward the docking bay between the castle and his personal ship. When Lance didn’t take after him immediately he called back without even turning around, “Are you coming or not?”
That was a loaded question if Lance had ever heard one... He had to jog to catch up.
“Where are we going?”
He sure didn’t sound excited about it. Lance had to be missing something here, and he racked his brain for anything from their previous encounter that would have been upsetting. He decided it must be that he fell asleep right after. Lotor never even took off any of his armor, and he probably didn’t get anything out of it other than the emotional energy. Lance did not want a reputation as a selfish lover, even if it was only with one person who probably wasn’t going to say anything.
Lotor scanned open the door to his sleeping quarters and immediately began stripping off his armor.
“Listen, if this is about last time-”
“Of course, it’s about last time.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t return the favor, but I think the energy drain must have worn me out, and-”
Lotor snorted. “It wasn’t about that for me at the time. My only interest was in ‘feeding the beast’, as you so colorfully put it.”
“Then why are you so mad about it?” At least Lotor finally let him finish a sentence. Question. Whatever.
“If it weren’t your duty, if you didn’t have an obligation to preserve everyone’s safety, would you have ever considered a physical relationship with me?”
“I dunno... Maybe?”
“That’s not good enough for me.” Lotor had finished disrobing by this point and sprawled across the bed like some kind of big cat or something. “If you want me to believe that you’re more than just accepting an unfortunate task, you’ll have to prove it to me.”
“Um, okay. How?”
“I want no less than enthusiastic consent. If you truly find me desirable, get over here and take the initiative. Show me what you like. Our anatomy is similar enough. Unless you don’t really want this?”
Did Lotor just call him a chicken? Oh, it was on now! He began taking his own clothing off a little more recklessly than usual.
“Remember,” Lotor cautioned arrogantly, “enthusiastic. If you’re doing this purely as an answer to a challenge, I’m fairly certain I’ll be able to tell.”
“Seriously?” Now Lance was getting a little peeved himself. “You really think I would offer myself up as some kind of sex sacrifice? I may not have the greatest self-esteem ever, but I’m not that big of a martyr!”
Lotor’s face was deadpan.
“You want enthusiasm, buddy? Well, that’s what you’re gonna get!”
That’s what he said, but once he was standing at the foot of the bed, he paused to take in Lotor in all his glory.
“Has your bravado deserted you so soon?”
“No. Last time you got a real thorough look at me, and now it’s my turn, so shush.”
Lotor obligingly closed his mouth, even if it still wore an infuriatingly smug smirk.
The first thing to catch Lance’s eye was a virtual encyclopedia of scars normally hidden by Lotor’s armor. There were big ones, little ones, faded and almost invisible ones, a few that looked like burns of some sort, and even one that he was pretty sure was a bite mark. He supposed he shouldn’t be surprised; Lotor was a Galra warrior after all. He’d seen him in action both as a pilot and on his own against Zarkon. Off the field of battle, though, it was easy to forget. The young emperor acted far more like a scholar than a soldier.
His skin was covered in silky fuzz, and Lance wondered if it would feel as soft as it looked. It wasn’t time to touch yet, though. He was still looking his fill.
After a few more moments, he gently grasped one of Lotor’s ankles to move the other man’s legs apart so he could climb up onto the bed between them. As soon as his hand made contact, he heard Lotor gasp and felt his power pull at him gently. Had he done something wrong? He pulled his hand back and snapped his gaze up to Lotor’s face to find his pupils dilated and his expression one of surprise.
“You really are attracted to me...”
“Duh.” Hadn’t he already told Lotor he thought he was handsome? Then again, maybe this went deeper than just the purely physical. “Can you pick up on emotions with your power?”
“Only if we’re touching skin to skin. You- Affection? Why?”
It took a ridiculous amount of effort, but Lance kept himself from laughing. It wasn’t every day Mr. Suave over there was at a loss for words.
“It kinda took me by surprise, too. I really did try to hate you for a long time, but you care. About Allura, about the future, about changing the Empire into something better, about all of us, and that means a lot to me. I’m not going to lie, the fact that underneath all the front you put up there’s somebody who’s got some of the same insecurities as me also goes a long way.”
Lotor closed his eyes and let out a soft scoff. “Right. You said you can pick up on strong emotions.” When he opened his eyes again, the confrontational bluster was gone. He looked a lot younger when he allowed himself to be open like that. “Have I ruined the mood?”
“I’m game to keep going if you are.”
Lotor answered by voluntarily making room for Lance at the foot of the bed.
He knelt between Lotor’s knees and tried to decide where he wanted to start. He leaned forward and let his fingertips glide up along Lotor’s ribs. The other man flinched away slightly and snorted. Ticklish, huh? You’d better believe he was going to remember that for later. He’d also discovered that Lotor’s downy fur was just as soft as he could have possibly imagined.
He walked his hands along the bed closer to Lotor’s shoulders and lowered himself so their torsos were in full contact and it felt amazing. Lotor was warm, and the auras of their powers pressed and played against one another as well. Lance let his nose run along Lotor’s neck to the back of his jaw and just below his ear, planting an open mouthed kiss there. He could feel the other mans rapid pulse under his tongue.
Lotor moaned in approval, and Lance could feel it not only with his regular senses but his magic as well. Knowing Lotor could feel something similar from him, he focussed on sending just how much he was enjoying himself to the forefront of his mind. It was a feedback loop, and it was Lance’s new favorite thing ever.
Without any of the urgency of their first encounter, they simply rocked against one another, enjoying the contact and slow build.
Afterward, Lotor got up briefly to fetch a warm, damp cloth to clean them up. They lay side by side, staring at the ceiling in comfortable silence.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve, you know.” Lance couldn’t keep himself from bringing up the conversation from earlier, though. “Making me out to be a martyr when you were gonna let yourself waste away instead of just getting some. Jerk. Isn’t this way better?”
Lotor chuckled, and Lance could feel the vibration along the line where their bodies touched. “Indeed. It would seem we’re two of a kind.”
Lance could live with that.