The good news comes to him before the bad news finished echoing in the still air of his throne chamber.
They've lost a warship and six dozens of fighters. Two hundred twenty five trained officers and who knows how many scores of advanced drones. It wouldn't mean anything, a fullcycle or two ago, he’s had enough ships to spare - a loss of one is something his officers wouldn't even bother him with. Death or Victory, nothing else mattered. Vrepit sa. But not anymore.
Now, the lost ships are a precious resource in the war against Voltron.
It isn’t a good feeling, ten thousand years of uncontested rule brough short and threatened by a group of Earthling pups and a child Queen of Altea.
His empire is not threatened, not yet, but his conquest has been stopped and that is a frustrating thing. After a certain amount of time one gets used to the way things work and any hitch in the cogs is nearly painful to witness.
But, ten thousand years of life comes with its own boon - one learns to learn . From their mistakes, from their enemies, their own conceit. One learns patience, oh, so, so well.
He’s been too sure of himself, too focused on one focal point. He needs to change that, swap the mindset of the conqueror resting on his spoils back into the mindset of a fighter.
But no matter, the good news, for once, outweighs the bad.
In the chaos that is the skirmish on the deck of the warship, his soldiers have managed to apprehend one of the Paladins.
“Oh?” Zarkon looks at the messenger with interest. “And which one, pray tell?”
The Red? Fury incarnated, if still untrained, still undisciplined.
Black? His property returned to him - either the Lion or the Champion.
Both would be fine, both would please him. He did have such memorable interactions with both: one of them broken beyond repair and the other full of fire to bursting.
Maybe the Yellow - a memento of Alfor, his once friend...
“My Lord Zarkon, it’s the Blue Paladin,” the officer’s voice is full of wary pride, his eyes respectfully lowered. “He’s with the Druids ever since the capture, sir.”
Zarkon find himself standing before his brain fully dissects that information. Slipping out of his outer robe for mobility’s sake, stepping down from the dais with a wave to his attendants that he is not to be disturbed. They fall into a line of bows and quiet confirmations, well trained and ever so loyal.
Zarkon pays them no mind.
The Paladin isn’t much to look at, but he expected that. Earthlings rarely seem to be. No bigger than the kitlings of his own people, thin and bare at that. But, like with many races across the galaxies, their size doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.
Still, this one throws him off - just a bit, a speck of a second, he expected… more . Taller than his chest plate, at least. Longer limbs, longer hair, skin tinted white and frosted blue at the edges...
Ah, is he being sentimental?
The Paladin looks worse for wear with his face bruised, his armour lying in a dented heap in the corner of the cell, black undersuit in tatters, barely covering the expanse of dusky skin and trembling limbs. He has to be in pain, of course, with said limbs stretched wide on the rack - it’s tilted backwards, so the pull won’t dislocate joints just yet, but the restraints are tight and the skin underneath them is already torn.
The cell is dark, even for Galra eyes, because Druids don’t need light, and the Paladin blinks slowly, eyes wide, twisting his head around as much as the restrains and the position allow him. Can’t Earthlings see in the dark? Such curious eyes they have, though, with the white all round.
A shade of curiosity washes over Zarkon and he steps closer, watches the Earthling flinch at the sound of his steps, listening to its breath, harsh and loud in the enclosed space. He reaches out and pries one of the eyes open with his claws.
The Paladin stills, as if suddenly all his joints locked against his will. His skin is damp, there is a trail of dry blood running alongside his temple and cheek, another one around the ear.
The eyeball is glossy with wetness and soft looking. Twitching around frantically, a black spec of a pupil wide and bottomless. The longer he looks into it, the wetter it becomes, until water starts to drip down on the purple mark on the boy’s cheek and the sounds he is making grow more urgent. The other eye is closed tightly all the time.
The ring of colour around the pupil is pale and blue, and that stops Zarkon from putting a claw through it. At least this, then?
He takes back his hand and the eye closes shut, the lid over it almost thin enough to see through, shivering with the pressure put on it. What flimsy protection.
“Majesty.” Hagar melts away from the shadows and he doesn't miss the boy tilting his head towards her voice. “We have been interrogating the Paladin…”
Zarkon points his gaze at the Paladin’s lower face - or rather, the metal covering the lower part of his face. The sounds coming from under it are muffled and strained.
But that explains the blood dripping from the boy’s ears, at least.
“Lord Zarkon,” another shadow crawls closer. “Making this one talk is not hard, but it uses empty words to obscure its thoughts and distract the interrogators.”
So the gag is there, because the Earthling is getting on their nerves? Amusing.
Also, annoying in some minor way. They’ve already rooted through the Paladin’s mind - clawed at his brain and split his defenses, opened him up like a treasure chest, rough and careless, and starved for knowledge - with no order from him.
“And did you extract any useful information from it, yet?”
The answer is in the silence that falls around him. He could’ve told them this outcome if they’d asked beforehand.
“Majesty, this one is quite useless to us,” Haggar speaks up. “There’s nothing in its head that would guide your troops. It won’t disclose the location of the Blue Lion either.”
Zarkon allows himself to make a sound that in other life could be called a chuckle. “Of course it won’t,” his hand falls flat against the Earthling’s face. “It’s a Paladin of Voltron, witch, they do not betray one another. You can try to break it, but…”
He stops. The boy is pulling at the bindings, trapped limbs straining to free themselves. His eyes are open now, staring through the darkness towards them, sharp and fiery, and blue. Is he listening? Can he understand their words without the influence of the Castle or his Lion? That would mean that his Quintessence is fully awake now, that he can connect to the energies of the Universe…
And it shouldn't surprise him, should it? It is a Blue, after all, and the Blue ones are always ahead of the game when it came to this.
Zarkon looks to the Druids, seeing eagerness in the way their hands twist, fingers clenching on thin air. Useless, huh? They’d like him to believe so, certainly.
The breath against his palm is quick, hot and moist.
“That’s quite as well, Hagar,” he says simply, feeling their heartbeats jump at his indulgent tone. He will not be played by them. He is indulgent when it comes to astarenen , but they are there for him, not the other way around. “I’m willing to find use for him.” He let his hand fall down, claws tracing the pulsing rhythm on the boy’s neck, then across two thin collarbones, to clench at the black fabric covering his torso. “The former Paladin of Blue was quite… open, after all.”
He pulls. The Earthling follows for as long as the restraints allow it, then it makes a high-pitched noise when its bones start to creak - until the fabric gives. The suit tears down the front and Zarkon carelessly throws it aside. The expanse of uncovered skin is almost Altean-dusky, it raises and falls gently over the Earthling’s chest, gaining sharper angles around the flat stomach and narrow hips. It’s bruised over the ribs, a big dark splotch of red covers one protruding hipbone - but the rest is bare and smooth and almost pristine.
There is little hair on it, so different from his own species. So alike…
“Earthlings seem soft, don’t they?” He says to no one in particular and his thoughts stray to the Champion.
Was he so soft, too, before ending up on the Arena? Are they like Galra, split into casts, with the softest ones alike their kahrasz ? Is the Champion vereste , a fighter born and breed, thirsty for blood and glory?
“These ones can’t bear,” one of the Druids chimes in, as if following his thoughts on the matter. Or maybe just his hand that presses absentmindedly against the Earthling’s stomach. “There’s no organs on the inside that would support new life.”
“Hm?” Zarkon hums in thought. “That matters not.” He knows when he is being dissuaded.
The Paladin keeps making noise, louder the lower his hand travels, chest rising and falling in quick succession. Why would they want this one? Another monster? Some new experiment they didn't have the chance to perform on the Champion?
Blue eyes stare at him from the darkness and he considers briefly letting them - just to see what happens.
But, the Quintessence of Blue calls to him - clear now that he is touching that thin skin. Soothing and calm, just as he remembers, it crawls slowly up his forearm and into his chest. He imagines that he can just press harder, push his claws through that flimsy layer of flesh and reach for it somewhere in the warm cage of the Earthling’s ribs. But he doesn't, because he isn’t a spoiled child anymore.
He needs the Paladin alive, least the Blue Lion feels their connection broken and searches for a new pilot.
And there is another reason, more prosaic, carnal even.
The Paladin isn’t hard on the eyes, after all - as far as his species goes. The Champion and the Yellow one are closer to his personal tastes, true, but… the Blue of before was also slender and smooth. Taller, older, more self-assured, powerful in his own way. But still .
Zarkon lets his hand ghost over the boy’s chest, counts his ribs, brushes down his side; he weights one of his thighs and the swell of a buttock, finding both satisfactory. The Earthling is smooth all over, it would seem, and not as fragile as he expected. Even its lean muscles seem more pronounced and appealing the longer and harder it strains for freedom.
Intrigued, he reaches lower, forcing his hand between the thighs trembling to close, further in, fingers hooked lightly, searching for that warm, moist place he remembers so well… But it isn’t there. He maps the area with a thoughtful hum, tuning out the whimpers from behind the gag and the increased creaking of the rack.
No, nothing. Well - nothing he expected to find. At least not as he expected it.
The thing he finds instead is small and dry, and when he experimentally pushes a fingertip against it, it clenches tight enough to barr him entrance.
“Hm, so Earthlings are not equipped,” he muses, trying to keep his disappointment to himself. He presses once more and enjoys the shudder running up the slender frame.
“Even if they aren’t, Majesty,” a shadow answers, “it’s easy to fix.”
Ah yes, of course, sometimes he forgets how much power rests in his hands.
“Very well. See that the Blue Paladin becomes more accommodating .” The Druids bow as he leaves the cell and then still when he stalls in the doorway. “But take care he remains whole,” a warning. “I have no use for a mindless drone slobbering at my feet.”
The Quintessence is so easy to push into imbalance and that is the last thing he desires.
The worst part is that Lance can still hear them.
He doesn't know how - never questioned this a strange ability to understand the goddamn aliens’ words, but not their writing. Not until he got royally screwed by that small detail when he was on board of a rapidly disintegrating Galran warship and all the exit signs were written in their goddamn runes! That’s what got him lost, that got him caught, what got him… here .
Stretched out on a steel table, naked and shivering, and open to examinations.To having every inch of its skin touched and measured, and explored, as the Druids with cold, sharp fingers argue about their findings right over his head like he is not even there.
“The Earthlings have no orifice for childbearing, it seems. None of the sample size so far has had it.”
Sample size? Are they speaking - Kerberos? Are they speaking Shiro or do they have more humans… what are they fucking talking about?!
“Strange species. Well, we could give it one.”
Lance freezes, his brain trying to throw off the understanding of the words. It would be better to be deaf, to be stupid in that moment.
“The body is too small, it won't support it. Who knows what organs it needs to live?”
“Bones can be broken and restructured to make space.”
He feels sick to his stomach. If there’s anything left in it after… how long has it been since he ate anything?
He would throw up. He wants to throw up, because at least maybe that would break this conversation and maybe he would be able to faint or something, because this… this… oh god … this is even worse than when they were trying to crack his head open like an egg… when they tried to make him betray his team… when the Galran was touching him…
Where is the team? Why haven’t they saved him yet? It’s been so long now… the time starts to melt together the longer he stays tied to the table, thirsty and hungry, and in pain… his whole body hurts now, from the position and the forced immobility, and from being poked and prodded, and fucking electrocuted… his left wrist is probably dislocated by now, but the numbness replaces the pain and he can’t tell anymore…
“Maybe remake the front? It’s not going to breed anyone, so there’s no need to keep it.”
It takes him a moment to realise that the high-pitched noise he hears comes out of his own throat. A whine worthy of a scared animal, but that is kind of where he is heading mentally now… if he could talk, he would tell them all to go and fuck themselves - but that’s what got him the fucking thing on his face and he hates it…
He hates it the most. The thick slab of rubbery metal between his teeth, embracing his lower jaw, immobilising it completely. It’s hard to swallow with his lips pried open and very soon the inside of the mask grows wet from saliva and completely gross. But, most of all, talking always served as a distraction with him, it helped Lance think, focus, make light of the situation he was in, no matter how bad it was...
And now he can’t do it anymore, there’s nothing to distract himself with - it’s cold and dark, and every time someone touches him the sensation seems magnified. His brain catches every whisper around and amplifies it until it starts to echo between his ears… he can not escape this…
“It may not walk afterwards.”
“It won’t have to.”
It this. It that. It, it, it!
How is he an ‘it’ all of a sudden? God , his head hurts…
“It’s just too small! Even the frailest of kahrasz have ways of taking well endowed mates, while the Earthlings...!”
What did he just hear?
“Wait, maybe that’s… “ The voices came and went out of focus. “ Kahrasz have ways …”
What… ways to what ? How taking ? What mate ?!
“...can borrow some of them… Ah, the Paladin is restless again. Water it, so it stops making so much noise.”
A shadow detaches itself from the darkness around, a pair of bright yellow spots appears over his head. Voice at the same time pleased and detached whispers while a thin tube is being pushed into the corner of his mouth, past the gag and his teeth, down his throat. He chokes, but it doesn't stop. “Flesh can be trained, especially young flesh. Earthlings so far seem malleable . Look at the Champion, how he took our magic and grew strong with it.”
“The Champion grew disobedient.”
“This is the Blue one, it will shape to the mould. They always do.”
The waiting is always the hardest part, even for one as ancient as him - it’s worst when his target is so close, almost in his reach, but still only barely.
The Paladins haven’t been spotted since the warship fiasco, haven’t attacked his base yet, demanding their teammate back. But he knows they will at some point and soon, because he knows how it is to be a Paladin and in that he has one more advantage over them. He knows where to hit to weaken them. And he knows how to hit to make them shatter.
He is patient, he can wait for them to come.
Another kind of restlessness, however, is getting harder to ignore. It starts in his loins and crawls its way up to his chest until he can swear that he feels it on his tongue. The Quintessence of the Blue calls to him stronger with every day he allows himself to think of how close he has it, how easy it would be to just reach out and take it…
He’s being sentimental, probably, but there are things one learns to appreciate with every passing century. One of them is the fact that the Universe is full of useless, interchangeable beings that needs to be culled for their own good - there is so very little variety. At some point Eternity becomes quite joyless. There was a time in his life when it wasn't so, and every memory of that time is treasured.
The touch of the Earthling’s skin reminded him of that, the warm smoothness of its flesh, the calming waves of the Quintessence Zarkon always appreciated - even as he recognised it for the weakness it is. He is still the Black Paladin and it’s impossible to escape the pull of the force that binds Voltron together.
It never became easier, living without it, never in ten thousands years.
And now there is a chance to have it again, once more - once he retrieves the rest of the Lions and the children that pilot them, once he takes back his rightful place at the helm of the weapon.
But that requires patience - a resource that is slowly depleting as the Druids take their sweet time with the Blue Paladin. Their loyalty is unquestionable, but their thirst for knowledge is bottomless and they’re used to discarding their less successful ideas with no remorse, so the Emperor keeps an eye on his prize.
And what an educational experience it has been so far.
The Paladin tries to keep his composure at first, of course, and Zarkon isn’t about to refuse admitting him a degree of bravery. But he suspects that the boy’s mind is still weak from the interrogation, not to mention that a fledgeling this young lacks the will necessary to detach himself from reality of what is being done to him. That composure crumbles when the astarenen finally settle on the plan and start more invasive procedures with objects designed to measure and stimulate, to check how far they can push until the flesh gives - to stop just ahead of that point and see how it can be adjusted. This Paladin doesn't much like to have things in him , it seems. What a pity.
Zarkon never paid much attention to how mateless kahrasz dealt with their needs, but the process he witnesses is quite fascinating. Who would have thought that bored breeders are so creative in finding ways to make lonely nights bearable?
An array of inventions appears and disappears across the Paladin’s cell, some more worthwhile than the others. The Druids are invested in performing their task to the best of their abilities and the boy is left with nothing, but to bear their ministrations. Soon needles bite into his veins, watering tubes remain lodged in his throat and the devices pushed into him grow in diameter and fancy.
It becomes something of a habit, these last few cycles, whenever the Emperor’s need raises its head, to pull up a screen and look inside of the dark cell. To see what the wilful Earthling is experiencing now.
Only once the process halts - otherwise there is no rest, only short breaks for the tools to be swapped - and that’s when the Paladin somehow manages to pull his hands out of the cuffs for a brief moment before being subdued again. Both wrists are dislocated and bloody, and Zarkon is told that the daft thing broke bones in his palms to fit them through.
He orders for softer restraints and more care to be taken with the Earthling. The Paladin might have been just desperate enough to break his bones, but it also might have been a reaction to pain. Druids had long time mastered the art of keeping their experiments alive against all laws of nature, but never much cared for the quality of that existence. Zarkon isn’t in the habit of torturing his property like some Malrusian savage. He never had to deal with unwilling lovers and has no interest in an insane one now. Pain sours the taste of Blue Quintessence, makes it downright unpalatable. The whole affair is already traumatic enough for the poor creature, so why not make it a bit easier on it?
A new needle joins the others, this one fine and made of precious metal for the precious substance that fills it. Raw Quintessence slowly drips into the Paladin’s bloodstream, healing all the self-inflicted wounds, sustaining his body in place of nourishment, pulling the struggling mind into a new plane of awareness where pain and stress brought on by intrusions fades away.
The boy’s eyelids turn heavy, his eyes lose focus and he grows pliant in the restraints, resting limply on the padded surface with the machine working between his legs in shallow thrusting motions, rocking him gently back and forth to the rhythm of muffled moans. It’s strange to see a Paladin of Voltron in such disheveled state, but also quite exhilarating - to witness young flesh subdued so and made only to feel.
It’s been awhile since Zarkon felt his body reacting to an image alone. His thoughts keep going back to the little ting between the Paladin’s thighs, to the way it shied from his touch and tightened impossibly against his fingers - he imagines how it will feel around his cock and on some days it’s enough to make him impatient .
The day comes soon, but not soon enough.
The way to that particular bed chamber is one he almost forgot, to be honest, since he stopped keeping the harem some few thousands fullcycles ago. An idea that appealed to him once - when he was still young and drunk on power - slowly lost its pull when his lovers kept aging while he stayed the same. It is not a life for a virile young kahrasz to live, especially that he could not give them children and doesn't need anyone trying to push their way into his rule. He still had trysts and still took lovers from time to time, there are many beautiful creatures across the galaxies and not all of his conquests ends up in blood, but as the time passed, they became rarer and rarer.
This is the first time in almost a century when he’s eager to enter the lavish room at the end of his private quarters.
He could have done it in that cell, but this isn’t just some cheap khrrak to subdue.
The Blue of before liked their comforts, always surrounded with soft fabrics and airy fragrances, so gentle outside of battle that it was a wonder how ruthless they could be when it came to keeping the team safe. All four of their hands were gentle and tender, and Zarkon almost feels the ghosts of them resting on his shoulders as he steps through the door.
He can’t recreate that other room from memory, but it is just so, this is his kingdom, made for his comfort, the Paladin has to adjust - above what he’s already been made to, that is.
The light is scarce inside, barely a glow from the panels on the walls - for all his newfound power, his eyes are still organic and his people can’t stand the excessive brightness well.
Alfor used to call them all dour and depressing, the bright, caring fool that he was, but it is more for comfort. Their home planet is away from the nearest star, they never needed much light to go by.
The smell of the room is the first thing that signals change - filtered air carries a sweeter note, musk completely unlike anything he’s used to. The Emperor follows his nose all the way to the sleeping area, a raised section of the floor, comfortable with artistically strewn plush bedding. Let it not be said that he isn’t willing to provide utmost comfort for his mates.
He finds the Earthling in the centre of it, soft cushions surrounding it from all sides. Zarkon’s breath catches slightly when he recognises the way the body is arranged. Ah, it would seem that the Druids took more than one idea from kahrasz. He did order more considerate restraints, but didn’t exactly have this in mind - and a pity, that. Though where did they find a harness that small? Was it made to measure?
That thought, for reasons unknown, ignites a low flame in him and has warmth spreading through his veins. It almost feels like a mark on the Earthling - some primitive part of his mind finds pleasure in that notion. As if he’s an animal-brained vereste . As if the Paladin hasn’t already been marked in a way more invasive and permanent than a simple length of fabric and metal is able to accomplish.
However, he can admit freely that the Earthling looks rather appealing in the getup. It accents the slim built, the muscles of the shoulders, pushes the arms close to the sides, tucked neatly to the lean torso. The strap around the waist pulls in tighter to accommodate the wrists, creating an illusion of the hips being a bit wider than they are. Is it an intended effect to imitate kahrasz more closely? If so, the task has been accomplished. His own people are always the most attractive to him and so every common element with them makes the Paladin more desirable.
There’s nothing to be done about his small, ugly ears, though. Maybe adornments to mask their shape? Maybe a surgical procedure?
But that is a thought for another day. For now he allows his eyes to drink their fill, as the Paladin lies in front of him, pliant and unmoving. His eyes are half open and cloudy, his breathing slow and steady, the body inviting with the thighs falling open just so slightly, teasing with the shadows obscuring most of the view. The last dregs of the Quintessence in his bloodstream are slow to wash out, it seems, keeping him docile.
Zarkon takes his time removing his armour, there is no need to rush this, he already knows how this night will play out. He dips into the pool located in the other end of the chamber, allowing the warm liquid to loosen his muscles, slowly washing the dust of the day from his fur. Usually, there are attendants to do it for him, but he doesn't wish them to witness this sight - he feels secretive, almost, to have the young Paladin for his eyes only. Maybe later, when the Earthling settles down into being owned and he settles into ownership, maybe then he will be able to share the image with others.
Not just yet, though.
He returns to the bed relaxed and refreshed, skin prickling with sensation of the fur raising as it dries. The Paladin is just about starting to stir from his half-dream as the Emperor crawls across the mattresses to lean over him.
Once more he is hit with the notion of how small the Earthling is and how frail it looks - especially now, out of the armour, skin on display and nothing to hide.
The Champion is all muscle and barely concealed power, but this one is made more for running, for finding gaps in the enemy formations and slipping through them, quick and unnoticed. Are more of its people such? If so, that Earth is a planet Zarkon very much wishes to see for himself.
He brushes his hands down the Paladin’s chest first and watches the skin ripple with a shiver at the barely there touch - just fingertips, the claws safely hidden, - feeling the tiniest hair raising. Then, a harder touch, a bit of a press, skimming over the straps of the harness, feeling how the skin pulls over the muscle, how taut it stretches and how it bunches under his ministrations. He leans closer to look at the two dusky spots on the Earthling’s chest, flat and uninteresting at first, but firming curiously when his breath touched them.
They give him a brief pause. Is the Paladin a bearer? Is he kahrasz ? Is there a chance of him carrying young that he has to be equipped with the way to feed them? But the Druids assured that there is no organs inside that would make this so - and the scar in the centre of the flat stomach confirms that Earthlings are of the life-birthing stock.
And the thing between the Paladin’s things - soft flesh resting in a nest of dark curls, small and helpless, and are all of its species carrying their members out like that? Seems unseemly. Zarkon is intrigued.
He spreads the slender legs apart and settles between them, slow and careful, hands trailing up from the knees into the points where hips come together and the skin is thin as Altean silk, blood vessels right underneath it, close enough that he can feel the boy’s pulse.
He raises his eyes and meets the blue gaze head on.
There is fear in it, of course there is. Confusion, distaste, and fear so deep it threatens to suffocate everything else. But there is also anger, and that brings relief. So, the fight haven’t been purged from the Paladin’s veins just yet, good. Zarkon is not enticed by the thought of fucking a senseless doll, no matter how pretty.
“You’re awake, then,” he states simply, voice low, hands still resting in the crooks of the Paladin’s thighs. Hm, if he puts them a bit higher, he will be able to encircle the boy’s waist with his palms. “Good.”
The Paladin’s eyes widen in momentary confusion, blue of the irises deep in the low light - did he expect to be taunted? Most probably. Young ones are so predictable.
“You will have to excuse me any misstep, I have never had a lover less than enthusiastic to join me in my bed. However, I expect to see some enthusiasm from you by the time the cycle is over.”
The boy doesn't think so, apparently, if the way he erupts into a flurry of movement is any proof. Zarkon lets him struggle, sitting back on his haunches, holding thin knees from hitting him in the sides, but not much above that. The restraints are made for kahrasz , after all, able to withstand more power than one runt has to offer. The boy will tire out soon enough, in the meanwhile giving him an enticing show of tense muscles and youthful vigour, skin quickly turning damp with sweat and reddened across the neck, chest, and high on the cheekbones.
The gag is doing its work; the sounds that the Earthling directs at him are muffled and distorted, visibly frustrating it even more.
The Emperor wants to chuckle at the stilted attempts to curse him, but doesn't. He simply runs his hands up the heaving sides when the Paladin finally realises that the harness will hold - and, even more so, that the harder he pulls, the harder it pulls back.
“Are you quite done?” He inquires over the sounds of loud panting breaths and low growls. Mercifully, he adjusts the belts across Paladin’s ribs, loosening them in a few places when the boy’s face turns red from strain of simply trying to breathe. He leaves the one around his waist tight, though. “This is for unclaimed kahrasz , to keep them from hurting themselves and others in their madness.” He can’t stop feeling, touching, watching the Paladin squirm away from his hands. “It’s made to be soft, to keep them safe. You may want to start getting used to it.”
The glower he gets for his trouble is quite impressive, even if the boy is still panting and his pulse races.
“Were my Druids considerate while they’ve been working on your body?”
That hits something, because the Paladin flinches and his glare wavers. He pushes back into the bedding, trying to pull his knees together, fear replacing anger at the long last, head to the side, unintentionally baring the long line of a slender neck.
It is almost charming, how the Earthling thinks that this will be it. That Zarkon is someone to be endured .
“You can’t hide from me, little one.”
A twitch, narrowing of dark eyebrows.
“Here, it’s hardly necessary anymore.”
Blue eyes open wide, surprise written in their depths as the clasp on the back of the Paladin’s head snaps open and the gag is pulled out of his mouth. Zarkon is careful as he does it, taking notice of the way the lips underneath are reddened and swollen, the teeth white and small.
Before the Paladin has a chance to move his tongue, Zarkon pushes two fingers into his mouth and pries it open to see the teeth closer. Only four are in any sense useful, passably sharp, the rest is blunt and undersized. The tongue, however, when he presses a finger against it, is blessedly soft, slick, and nimble. Promising.
“Fuc- ghh! ”
He pushes the fingers down the tight throat until the Paladin chokes. When the teeth close over his digits, it is enough to push the thumb into the hollow of the joint to unlock the jaw.
Blue eyes are looking at him now, fixed on his face, narrowed in anger, but also - some sort of fearful expectation. Is he expecting pain?
“I can afford you some kindness, little one, if you wish for it.” Zarkon removes his fingers after a short while, wiping the slick saliva on the skin around the Paladin’s pert nipple. “There’s little point in hurting the things I own.”
The boy flinches, first at the false endearment, then at the casual admittance of power Zarkon has over him, then at the unexpected touch. Predictably, once nothing obstructs his speech, he uses that chance to reassert himself.
“You don't... own me!” The words out of the bruised mouth are raspy and slurred, but full of rage the likes of which the Emperor didn’t expect. The Blue spirit burns bright, even as it’s carrier’s breath shudders when a point of a claw toys with his nipple.
Good, nothing else would cut it.
“I have a different opinion,” Zarkon whispers back, calm and unimpressed, eyes never leaving the Paladin’s. “And soon enough you will come to share it, I think.”
He knows that game, knew it oh so well.
“You know what will happen, there hasn’t been a Blue Paladin born yet less than intelligent.”
The backhanded compliment startles the boy briefly, but very quick his lips twist in a somewhat shaky smirk. “Is this where you… tell me… I can make it easier on… myself if I… don’t struggle?”
Zarkon chuckles, surprised. “You came to the conclusion yourself, so I see no need to waste time on empty promises. But no, “ he pulls at he trapped nub, watching the boy clench his teeth in an attempt not to react, “this won’t be easy. Whatever you do, you will suffer, because you’re what you are. Not physically, of course,” a soft caress to soothe the pain, “that has been taken care of, little one.”
“Don’t… don’t call me…”
The Earthling pulls at the bindings trapping his wrists in place and the strap around his waist tightens even more, until his breath turns laboured again. Yet, he doesn't stop glaring, though now with his teeth bared.
It’s amusing, more than anything, to watch him struggle so. Somewhat charming, too. But, all in all, useless.
“But you are, fledgeling, all are young compared to me.”
“Maybe it’s high time… to shuffle off… this mortal coil…!”
Ah, so that’s the reason for the gag.
Unexpectedly, he rears back and falls forward, slamming his hands down on both sides of the Paladin’s head, a growl building up from the bottom of his chest, fur raised threateningly and the muscles of his shoulders tensing. All to make him bigger, more threatening, to hear that thin squeal out of his prey’s lips, see the terror finally shattering the flimsy shields behind their eyes. A primitive display he shouldn’t bother with - but oh, worth it for the sole reaction.
“I know you’re afraid,” his gravelly voice carries in the still air between them, the Paladin shrinking away from it like a frightened mouse, but with nowhere to go. “I know your Quintessence, child, I know it as if it is my own. You have nothing to hide from me, nothing at all .”
The boy opens his lips, but no voice comes through. His breath hitches slightly when clawed hand tangles in the dark wisps of hair, brushing them back, gripping tight.
“You hope that they will come for you and save you from my grasp. You have faith in your companion's, isn’t it so, Blue Paladin?” A beat, a moment to let the words sink in. “And you are right, they will come .”
He lowers his head down to the Earthling’s neck, breathes in the scent of skin, sweat and fear, a bit musky - a bit like the water falling from the sky he’s seen on some planets. A long lick along the trembling column has his mouth watering, the taste warm on his tongue, the skin soft and shivering.
“... stop… ”
“They will come for you, at least try to,” he whispers into the small hollow under the ridiculous ear, fingers tight on the Earthling’s hair to keep its head in place. “They won't be able not to, I know of the bond that ties you together, I know of its pull. I am counting on it.”
The realisation has the Paladin’s blood turning to ice.
“Voltron will return to its rightful owner and that Champion of yours will be back in my grasp.” He chuckles, the taste of victory and skin merging together on his tongue and why not, the Blue Paladin is his key to regaining all he’s lost. “Hm, maybe this time I will keep him closer than before.”
The double meaning is clear, and the boy isn’t stupid - the Paladins of Blue never are - and he gasps in denial. “No… Shiro… Shiro won’t…!” But it’s hard to protest when it’s hard to draw breath. And Zarkon doesn't make it easier by pushing his arm under the slim back and pulling up, bringing the Paladin closer, to feel his warmth against himself. The harness re-strings itself, pulls in different directions, and the Paladin’s legs fall apart wider.
“Shiro?” The Emperor muses, pleased with the way the boy shivers at the feel of coarse fur on his skin and tries to escape the sensation. “A plain name, but strangely fitting. Does it have a meaning on that planet of yours?” A thought occurs to him. “Do you have a name, little one?”
The Earthling clenches his jaws and turns away, ignoring the question, eyes only thin slits of helpless rage - painted darker blue and glossed over with emotion. “Shiro won’t… ever let you…!”
“Of course he will.” He lets the Paladin down before the harness suffocates him and only holds his hips up, presses into the cradle of warmth between his thighs. “He will beg to take your place, to spare you, won’t he?”
They all will, is the unspoken part. And they both know it. The Earthling growls some sort of a curse, but the claws holding his head pull and his neck bends back.
“He will be a prize, indeed.” It’s so easy to toy with the young ones, so easy to pull at the ties binding them together until they start to creak. “A change of pace after you get used to the treatment, I think.”
He gentles his touch on the boy’s head, more cradling it now than holding it down, leans in for another whiff of that alluring scent and something deep in his almost chest stirrs in recognition, almost purrs in delight. The Blue is always the same, he thinks, in every incarnation, the underlying feel of the soul tastes the same. And he will always find pleasure in it, of course he will, he is the head of Voltron, the will of the weapon, and his Quintessence is bound with the others - but never as strong as the Blue is. Blue is everywhere, always, a gentle current in the backs of their minds and a flavour of home under their tongues. Blue is pushing them forward when there is nothing else left.
That’s why he had to kill the Blue Paladin in the first place. With the hope gone, there was precious little to hold Voltron together.
And now fate smiles at him once more.
Gives him the power to soothe the darkness inside of him, locked in a soft, smooth vessel that opens under him like a moonflower.
“I will… not…” the voice shivers now, the lower he drags his tongue. The nipple in his mouth tastes like the skin around it and strangely, he expected it to taste of milk. But this is not kahrasz , of course, of course. “Over my… dead… body!”
“No, not at all,” he whispers into the space between the boy’s breasts, a perfect little dip to fit his nose in and scent him. “You will get used to it in time. With how soft you are no one will hurt you unnecessarily, and when I finally give you away it will be to a good master. Nothing, but pleasure awaits you from now on.”
A new scent hangs in the air, salt and water. Tears? So soon?
“I won’t…” The Paladin is stubborn, but it's all a show only. The pulse against Zarkon’s tongue tells a different story. “ Sonuva- stop it!”
“I’m not trying to scare you, this is just your future, nothing else,” he says reasonably, hoping his sincerity gets across. “You’ve been quite made for it.”
And finally, he lets the hand from around the Paladin’s waist slip free and brings it to front, between his legs, up into the place that enticed him so. The Paladin’s spine turns into a steel rod, his chest heaving once more, as clawed fingers slip under his sack and - oh, there it is. Still small, but now when he presses on, two of his fingers slip in with no trouble. The heat is immense on the inside and the slippery wetness eases the movement until his knuckles met skin.
“Here,“ Zarkon’s throat is tight form the sheer anticipation as he slowly fingers the modified opening, enjoying the way its walls tighten and ripple around his digits on every thrust. “It has been reshaped, altered to measure. You will take me with ease and many others after me.” He pushes in, sharply, and the Paladin arches back with a tearful whimper. “Always warm and wet, and eager. ”
“...stop it! Stop… motherf u-God, stop!! ”
“Hm, god? What a smart pet, I quite like it.”
“No, you bas ta-aah… !”
“You can see for yourself.”
The quickest way to end the stubborn protests is a living proof. This time without broken bones. Detaching one of the wrist cuffs from the rest of the harness, pulling the captive limb between the Paladin’s own legs, pressing thin fingers against the tight orifice. One finger going back in, accompanied by the trembling human one, and the Earthling gasps for breath, head shaking against the reality of the experience, face at once red and pale.
Just for that, another finger joins the two, and the strain is still non-existent. “So inviting, you will accomodate me splendidly.”
The next noise is a strangled mewl and the trembling hand moves slightly, seemingly against the owner’s will, tracing the changes with wary fingertips, terrified, but unable to stop.
And in that moment, he does look like a young kahrasz discovering themselves for the first time. The similarity is striking and Zarkon almost growls as his flesh fills out with blood, uncurling from the protective sheath. In the low light he can pretend it’s one of his own. He can pretend it’s the one form his memory. The Quintessence calls to him and he answers with a call of his own, thought neither as gentle nor as considerate.
Whatever the Paladin has to say about his modifications is lost in a shriek of startled pain as fangs close on his shoulder, tearing into his flesh. Blood swells in the punctures, surprisingly sweet, a bit metallic, much lighter than Zarkon is used to. He laps it up and his tongue tingles, as if from electric current, as the Earthling keeps forcefully steady - least thrashing makes the wounds bigger. One part that isn't still are the Paladin’s lips - he spews all kinds of insults and words that Zarkon assumes are intended to be insulting, and it’s vaguely amusing, especially when the boy seems to change languages between some of them, snapping the words at a rapid-fire speed until they all blend into one another.
Zarkon doesn’t stop fingering him for even a moment and that’s where the sparse breaks in the otherwise continuous monologue, the little hitches of breath, the unwilling shudders come from. He explores, tugging the boy’s hand along, pushes a third finger in, and finally, there is a slight resistance of the muscle.
Hic cock is well on its way to becoming a painful hindrance, dark purple with blood and twitching every time the Paladin gasps in that high-pitched way, every time his opening tightens. He draws back from the wound, watches it bleed sluggishly for a few moments, bestial satisfaction burning in his chest, only to disperse when he moves his attention to the boy’s face - and he stays there, enthralled almost by the red flush, skin glistening, open lips bruised and soft looking.
It he looks down from the right angle, it looks like the boy is pleasuring himself. His small member fills out nicely, grows in size - so they're not that different, after all - to lay limply against the slim hipbone. The Paladin whimpers when his fingers brush over a certain place inside of him, and so the Emperor does it again - the sound repeats.
“So you are equipped in some measure,” he muses, “or is it something that the Druids gave you?”
“Fuck… you!” The Earthling growls. “You son of a h! mangy bitch… Ngh!”
Zarkon raises his eyebrows at the latest insult and without a word reaches for the gag lying between the pillows by his hip. He’s only vaguely offended, after all what can words do to him? But the principle of things stands.
Also, the hopelessness looks good on the Paladin - even though he’s not keen on the idea. By the time he realises it, his teeth are already forced apart and the strap around his head clicks closed with an air of finality, and the blue eyes look at Zarkon with open panic. Panic that only grows when he moves back, sitting down between the slender spread legs and his cock is fully visible now. The boy shakes his head at the sight, Zarkon imagines that he calculates the sizes of their respective parts and comes to the conclusion that there’s no wait they can fit.
“Don’t worry,” he says, reaching up to hook his fingers under the straps on the Paladin’s chest, pulling him up. “As I said, you will take me.”
He pulls the boy up into a sitting position and then closer, maneuvers him into his knees and then closer still, slipping one hand to support his supple behind, spreading the cheeks so that the head of his cock can fit in between them. Right at the quivering opening, but not pressing in. Just there .
The Paladin whimpers and closes his eyes, expecting to be breached in a moment’s time, bracing for it until his shoulders shake with strain. But that doesn't happen for a while. Zarkon uses his other hand to grip the short strands of the back of the boy’s neck - dark and damp with sweat, and still much smoother than his own fur - to simply hold him in place.
“In your own time,” he murmurs into the small, flat ear.
He’s being cruel, he’s willing to admit, but anything that can prolong the inevitable is welcome. The boy’s thighs start to shake soon after, though he’s fighting gravitation with admirable dedication, his muscles lock and heat up with strain. He breaths fast, struggling to stay upright in an uncomfortable position, eyes closed and teeth tight on the gag, and Zarkon simply watches.
He’s patient, although the feeling of soft body shivering in his grasp and the heat nipping at the tip of his cock are almost enough to render him breathless. Then, finally, the quick gasps start to hitch at every inhale and the tears freely flow down the flushed cheeks, he pulls the boy’s head to his chest, resting his wet forehead just under his collarbone. It’s a calming gesture - and it unbalances the already precarious position the Earthling is in.
His own breath comes in quicker when the first slip happens. Not much, just enough for the head of his cock to break past the barrier of tense muscle, to feel the wetness inside.
The Paladin sobs against his chest, turning his head from side to side.
“I’m hardly forcing you down,” Zarkon answers the unspoken plea, voice calm and smooth, even though he wants for nothing more than to grasp those slim hips and slam them down, to push his way up until he can’t go any further.
Instead, he bows his head and licks at the bitemark, gathering the new blood. Paladin shivers at the pain and - his whole body starts to tremble as the head of the thick cock finally pops in.
“Why are you crying?” Zarkon asks when the sobs reach his ears and his fur grows damp with tears. “You are not in pain. You were made to take it.” He flattens his hand against the small of the Earthling's back and caresses it in slow, long strokes, fingers dipping briefly between the cheeks, teasing at the edge of the orifice hugging his flesh like a vice…
And that’s when the boy’s legs give out and with a strangled moan he goes down.
It’s quick - and seems to take forever. It forces the air out of both of their lungs, and by the time the Earthling sits on Zarkon’s lap, they’re both groaning.
The heat inside of the slim body is exquisite, the pressure bearing on his cock as the Paladin arches and shutters almost enough to drive him crazy. He grasps the bony hips to still them and the boy whimpers, almost folding in half, forehead slapping against the hard chest in front of him. Zarkon wants to stay like that - for as long as he can. Possibly for the rest of the cycle. He can feel their energies connect, clash, boil against one another. The Blue can’t resist, it’s not made to, and the Black pushes through it, enters the other’s bloodstream, and Zarkon knows that the boy can feel it as well as him. The Earthling moans against him, pulls at the bindings trapping it in blind panic - then comes.
Just from having him in - and isn't that a stroke to his ego? - the body made responsive enough to make it possible. Zarkon approves, because with the orgasm the muscles of the boy’s lower abdomen seize as he spills his seed between their stomachs, startlingly white.
He has to hold the Paladin up as he slumps against his chest, his fingers reflexively stroking the creature, gentling it down from the height, savouring the taste of the storm brewing over their heads and in the air between them. Yes, this, almost too good, almost enough to make him come on its own.
Almost, but not quite .
He chuckles over the Paladin’s head, a low breathy sound.
“I told you,” he whispers. “ Splendidly .”
He takes him freely after that, on his back first, just to make sure that the Paladin sees him and understands the situation he’s in. It’s important to make things clear from the get go when ownership is concerned. That mistake had cost him the Champion, he suspects.
He pushes into the wet heat, slick fluids dripping down the Earthling’s things and his sack, and the smell of musk and salty sweat thickens until he has to breath through his lips to keep his head. He doubts that, for all his newfound openness , the Paladin will be able to stand to be ravished in the manner Zarkon’s instincts try to push him towards.
When he comes for the first time, the Paladin whines and turns away from him, looks like he’d like to claw out of his skin, and it is pitiful of course, but there’s little time to think about it. The boy is hard, even though he doesn't want to acknowledge it, but when he’s flipped on his front, his hips tremble against the bedding - the wish to move, to rub against the soft fabrics has to be overwhelming, but the humiliation it would bring is even greater. Zarkon understands the general idea behind the notion, but finds it tedious all the same.
As if he would allow the Earthling to come any way other than on his cock.
Or his fingers.
He hoists the slim hips up and sheathes himself again, listening to the loud moans and the slick sound his flesh makes as it pushes through the liquids filling the pink orifice. He watches it stretch around him, swollen and a bit bruised, but still tight and welcoming, watches it hug every ridge on his cock as he slides in and out of it at a leisurely pace. The thing inside that provides the Earthling pleasure is easy to find after a few experimental thrusts and easy to exploit from there on - the boy comes around him with a startled whimper and he fucks him through it, steadily, until the poor creature is shaking and moaning, trapped hands clawing at the closest flesh - the boy’s own thighs, blunt nails leaving marks in their wake.
Zarkon, displeased with his property damaged in such callous way, decides to test waters. He detaches both of the wrists from the waist strap, leaving them free. The straps above the elbows still hold tight, but this much mobility is more than what the Paladin had been allowed in cycles. He doesn't hold the boy back, doesn’t stop moving, watches.
The awareness is slow to come, the Earthling moves its hands against the surface of the bed, pushes itself up on bent elbows, drowsily looks around. Zarkon uses the momentary consternation to thrust harder - the boy loses balance and falls back flat on his face with a prolonged groan. The long line of his back is enticing within its own right, but when the dusky skin covering it ripples with tension and shines with sweat, it’s a sight worth of the Emperor’s bed. He pushes in, presses close, leans down to cover the smaller figure with his body, to trap it underneath him but not too tight - leaving a chance for escape. Always leaving a chance.
But the Paladin doesn't take it. He strains against the flesh filling him up, moaning weakly into the pillows, face wet with tears and saliva, and pushes his hands between his legs - with a choked wail of a breaking will, he comes again.
Zarkon once more pushes him through it, soaking up the Quintessence that spills out of the Paladin’s every pore, cool and soothing the simmering lava filling his chest. Soaking up the wet, sobbing whimpers that turn out his own low growls.
He imagines briefly how it will be when he finally has the rest of the Paladins in his hands.
The Red, he will have first, it is decided. The untamed flame that burns bright in every incarnation of the Red needs to be tamed by a firm hand.
“I will have you both, yet,” he whispers to the gasping youth. “Red and Blue, as it should be.” He watches as the blue eyes clear, as the fear replaces confusion with no anger this time to buffer it. “He can also be adjusted until he’s as pliant and eager as you are.”
The blue fire raises, but only for a moment, exhaustion pulls the Paladin down, his flesh is overstimulated and every touch causes a shudder to go through it. He sobs and hides his face, and Zarkon knows that he’d won.
He comes once more before the boy collapses into a heap and stops reacting to being fucked. Poor thing is too exhausted to hold its head up, too exhausted to even make noise. The gag comes off once more, and this time the Paladin drools helplessly onto a pillow under his head, jaws too numb to close his lips. His thighs are twitching involuntarily, his abuse dopening spills seed and slick, completely loose now.
Zarkon once more loosens the straps of the harness and the Paladin almost starts sobbing again, this time in relief when his lungs fill out properly. He doesn't speak when a clawed hand brushes through his sweaty hair, when he’s being gathered and lifted, and then dropped into the warm water and rinsed off.
Zarkon can almost see the Quintessence bleeding from the slender body into the clear water - sees the way the boy almost melts with the sensation. It’s a small kindness he can afford to give him after everything he’s taken so far., the element of the Blue soothes him to some degree - and he wonders if the fledgeling even knows about it. Are these new Paladins aware of the extent of their powers? Of the ways they can make each other’s stronger? Doesn’t seem like it.
What a pity, really, to have them so untrained, fumbling their way through something that should be sacred and revered.
He can teach them, however, once they’re his. He can teach them as he just taught the Blue.
He gets into the water and sits down, pulling the unresisting body on his lap, back onto his cock, and listens to it moan and enjoys the warmth engulfing him, the small shivers that rub him gently, the way the Paladin’s head rests on his shoulder and his hot breath stirs the fur on the side of his throat. A kahrasz would bite him - sink their teeth into his throat and tear out a jawful of flesh. The Earthling just whines weakly when Zarkon pushes a hand against its navel - and he can almost feel it, if he presses in the right place. He can almost feel himself inside the boy and finds it impossibly arousing.
“Do you have a name, little one?” He repeats the question.
The Paladin hisses something in return, a soft sound disappearing in the thick purple fur - another plain, but strangely fitting name.
Yes, not bad at all.
OK, so this is just an interlude to the final Epilogue. I just needed to get Lance's POV out of the way and couldn't sit on it anymore:)
Because, as much as the Bad Ending was wildly popular, the Good one won :D So, Lance gets to be miserable in company, yey! ;D
All in all, have fun, guys, I hope this will tide you over until I get the last one out of the way!
He almost goes insane. Not exactly, not entirely, but it’s a close thing.
It doesn't take that long to forget how freedom feels like - and not in the poetic, metaphorical sense either. Simple physical freedom - the one where he can move the way he wants to - is taken from him and it’s the one he misses the most.
He can’t move.
It’s a nightmare, that’s what it is. To be trussed up like a pig on the spit, trapped in a position not of his choice and kept in it for someone else's amusement. It’s a torture, because Lance was never static, never still, he needs movement to live - to think! He would rather be hurt, he would rather go back on the rack to be tortured! At least there being restrained served a purpose and a reason, not this…
He can’t speak.
Well, he can, theoretically , but not like he wants to. As soon as he starts to ramble or scream, or curse - the gag comes back. He isn't allowed to complain and begging doesn’t seem to entice his captor at all. The jury is still out on crying and whimpering in fear - sometimes Zarkon allows it, sometimes he doesn’t. It keeps Lance on edge to the point where he tries to keep himself from making sounds at all, but it never lasts. All he can do is to try and keep them from turning into words and that seems to be alright with Zarkon.
The gag is always taken off when they’re - they’re in… when they’re in bed. Initially, that is, only until he grows too bold. Zarkon always does it as some sort of a reward, like a kindness, and very quickly Lance starts to treat it as such - and just as quickly he learns to be scared of that reaction.
He doesn’t want to be obedient, doesn’t want to consider obedience as any sort of leverage! Lance knows what lays that way, where that sort of mindset leads to, but he can’t do much to battle it.
Because that’s the only thing he seems to have now, he doesn't get a lot of chances to rebel as it is. He’s left with so little already that even such a small thing starts to seem precious.
He has thought that he was scared of their enemy before - and who wouldn’t be? An ageless, remorseless beast with a fanatic army at his back. Who wouldn’t be scared at the prospect of standing up to him?
But now... there is no words to describe the terror Lance feels in his presence.
Zarkon isn’t as he always imagined him to be - a monster under the bed he was thinking of these last two years as a part of Voltron. A bloodthirsty beast with a penchant for destroying everything that stands in its way. A cruel and demanding control freak that has no deeper layers than the ones necessary to soak up more blood and Quintessence from the worlds he’s enslaved.
No, it’s much worse.
Zarkon has a complete and total control - because he is just that powerful.
He doesn't demand obedience, doesn’t force it - he just has it. Somehow, in some incomprehensible way, he just has it .
How can he fight this creature if he’s barely allowed to blink? How can they dream of defeating him?
As the time goes on, Lance stops wishing for rescue - he starts hoping for the opposite, that the team doesn’t come for him! And it’s not because he gave up, nothing further from that, he doesn’t want the life Zarkon described to him on that first night. He will die before he succumbs to it!
But even more than, that he doesn’t want them there, close to that beast, he wants them as far away as possible from this veiled Hell! If that means the team has to leave him and carry on with someone else piloting Blue? Let’s be it! He can deal with it, he can find a way to snuff himself out, he can… He can’t even imagine what would happen to Shiro if he got caught again. To Keith… to Hunk.
His friends are strong and smart, but not enough to defeat Zarkon! They can’t…
Just as he can’t. Doesn't mean he doesn’t try, God, he does, he tries all the time, so very hard! But his every attempt at rebellion is taken with patience and a kind of eerie understanding that he can’t crack.
Who is he fighting in the end if the only enemy he can see is made of smoke?
And it’s Zarkon, ironically, who makes him aware of it.
“Fight, if you wish,” he rumbled over Lance’s head, the sound low and gravelly. He already had his cock out and Lance couldn’t even look at him, wild panic gripped him and he tried to break his bones against the harness. “Struggle and bite if you have to, I will not stop you, little one. The fight will desert you in the end, I can wait for the time when you welcome my touch.”
That was one of those rare instances when the gag was absent, there was nothing to stop the terror from bubbling up to his chest, burning his throat and spilling out of his lips. “Never! Only thing I will welcome will be your head on a pike!”
It might have earned him a point of respect in the monster’s gaze, but he had no chance to rejoice. Zarkon pushed into im in one strong thrust - a long and slow one, though, deliberately scraping over every little place that had sparks shooting across Lance’s nerves. His back arched, the straps of the harness grew tight around his chest and even though his lips were open, he couldn't pitch his voice any stronger than a thin whine of the air escaping his lungs.
They did this to him! They’ve made him like that!
(But this still wasn’t the worst yet. No, there was a worse thing…)
“Brave words,” Zarkon hummed when he was fully sheathed, clawed hands braced above Lance’s shoulders, his face, his sheer bulk being the only things he allowed the Paladin to see. “Do you expect punishment for them, I wonder? Something to help you fight your body and mind as they slowly succumb to reality?”
His lips were open, but no sound came out. The length inside of him was inhumanly long, thick and hot as coals, his body clung to it, involuntary spasms tightened the muscles and he couldn't make it stop. Then the first thrust came and his stomach concaved from the strain of holding in a moan that tried to escape him.
“Fear not, no punishment awaits you, I see no worth in having you broken. I’d much rather wait for you to settle down on your own.”
Another move, slow drag against his inner walls made sensitive beyond reason by the Druids when they kept him in that dark dungeon… he didn’t want to think about it! About the body made strange and horrific, not his anymore!
They made him into that shivering, wanton mess that wanted to moan like a bitch in heat every time something was pushed up his ass! No matter what Zarkon used, his fingers, toys or that monster of a cock - he should be dead from it, actually, the thing was simply too big for a human to take on, and yet… and yet he was taking it in with ease. Like he… like he was made… for this…
“You are smart, aren't you? You have to know that the only thing you’re fighting with is yourself.”
And he was right, back then, Lance hates to admit it, but he was right. He isn't fighting Zarkon, because Zarkon has already won in all the ways that count. And Lance is only human; he is scared and in pain, and made to… the only comfort he is given is from the very creature that had trapped him - a soft caress, a careful hand petting his head as the Galran pushes into him and Lance can’t seem to breathe, helpful hand loosening the harness when he’s nearing suffocation - and he knows how it went. Knows where this will end if he doesn't do anything!
To his shame and despair, he knows that he will succumb, because there’s only so much a human can stand before they fall resigned to their fate.
He hasn’t eaten in ages, he is only ever allowed water. He’s always cold. He isn’t allowed to move, to speak, all his attempts at rebellion are dismissed. He practically lives in that dark room, with no light, but the vague purple glow. There’s a window taking one of the walls, a dark expanse of space waits behind it, strewn with a handful of pale stars. It steals more light from the room than it gives out and for all of its openness brings Lance no comfort at all. He’d used to find the stars comforting, but these look cold and remote. It makes him feel small, accosted from all sides by the darkness, lost in the heartless vacuum.
Half of the time he is drugged and out of his mind, golden liquid pumping into his veins, rendering him useless when they take the harness off him to do maintenance of his body.
That’s how they call it, Maintenance. Watering him, massaging his stiff limbs, washing him inside and out - and he can’t help it, when his filters are down, he moans and whimpers when the droid servants push their thick metal fingers into him to wash the cold seed of their master out. He has never felt less like a human than in these moments. Zarkon at least looks at him and sees something to conquer, a prize - for them he is a non-being, an object at most. A toy their master plays with that has to be taken care of, treated with care, but without any sympathy or attention.
It hurts him somewhere deep that he can’t even name and soon, like a Pavlov’s fucking dog, tears fill his eyes whenever the needle enters his vein.
It’s a non-person time, where everyone, himself included, sees his future taking shape.
“Lord Zarkon seems to favour strangers as of late. That he would mate you before all of my best kahrasz...”
Lance comes out of the muddle slowly, his heartbeat pulsing in his ears, traces of the raw Quintessence washing out of his bloodstream so very slowly. But he tries to push through them, to open his eyes wider and roll them back from under his upper eyelids - to see the owner of the new voice.
He almost believes it to be an illusion, no one has spoken to him in so long, no one - apart from the monster, that is.
But no, it isn’t… it’s not a droid servant, either. It’s a Galran - he? She? Hard to say, his vision is swimming still and the Galran themselves are… strange.
Small, that’s first. Still a head over Shiro, but smaller than any other alien Lance has seen on this ship so far. And it’s not dressed in armor - soft robes hug their silhouette, at once layered and revealing way too much skin and fur that’s much darker than it’s customary.
But then, what does he really know about Galra?
“Such pathetic little thing,” the stranger says in a soft voice and moves closer to Lance, nose wrinkling slightly - is it scenting him? “How is he so set on you?”
Lance startles when hands rest on him - long-fingered and slender, covered with rings and bracelets; cold metal that makes him shiver and reaffirms that it’s not a dream.
It’s… strange, but Lance can swear that he can smell something familiar when the stranger leans in close, but he can’t pinpoint it. Up close the furred face is surprisingly sharp featured. The eyes he expected to be yellow are darker, a deep honeyed orange. These eyes look at him with cold intent as clawed hands skim over his shoulders - they stop briefly at the straps of the harness, follow them down his bound hands and back up again.
“Why are the Druids masquerading you for a kahrash, I wonder?”
They touch everywhere they can reach - face and neck, fingertips run over his ears and through his hair. The Galran inspects his chest next, pauses at the nipples, palming them slowly, pressing with the very tips of the claws, painting slow circles around the dusky aureoles. Lance, gobsmacked, squirms, the fur on the stranger’s skin is short and soft, it tickles his nubs, sending pleasant shivers down his spine - soon enough his nipples are hard and his dick sets out to follow suit.
The Galran presses gently over his pecs and underneath them, repeats the motion under his bellybutton. Lance noticed that this is a feature that both of their species share, although on the Galra the scar seems to be placed a bit higher. Nipples, however, aren’t. Zarkon doesn't have them.
This one does. They’re clearly visible where the robe splits along the stranger’s torso - they’re surprisingly dark, perched on top of small breasts that are not exactly breasts as Lance knows them.
A quieter question, however, brings him back to present in a snap. “Can you carry?”
He isn’t stupid nor muddled enough not to understand it. Not after having the Druids discuss the subject at great lengths over his head as they were reshaping him. Not after Zarkon had made allusions to it enough times while fucking him like a beast.
Just thinking of the meaning behind it makes him sick.
The Galran apparently expects an answer. “Can you be bred?” They clarify, as their hands slip lower, completely bypassing Lance’s half-hard member in favour of the soft skin on the inner joints of his hips.
Lance trashes briefly, because this used to be the most sensitive part of his body before . He turns his head away. He doesn't want it!
God, he is so cold, but the alien’s hands are warm and he almost - almost - wants to lean into their touch.
A puff of hot air hits his chest and Lance’s breaths stutters. The stranger is hovering above him, face less than two inches away from his chest, eyes trained on the perky nipples. “You have these,” they say with eyebrows raised in curiosity. “Can you be breed by your own people, then?”
Before Lance has a chance to shake his head fingers slip under his cock, going straight for his quivering hole that never seems not to be wet anymore. Two push straight in, past the fluttering opening, claws scraping against the walls in a purposeful manner. Lance feels strange tingling, feels the muscle tightening involuntarily, pushing more slick out and before he knows it, a high pitched keen escapes his throat. He can’t stop it, just as he can’t stop his hips from rising, from canting just that little bit, just to feel that scrape again.
What is happening to him? What…
The Galran indulges him without a word.
Their touch is different than Zarkon’s - much more gentle and… and knowing. They pull out briefly and Lance nearly protests, but then they push right back in, three fingers this time, and he can’t breathe. They pull one of his legs up and to the side, at once giving themselves better access and tilting Lance’s hips enough for all of the pleasurable spots to align somehow - so that the next thrust has him sobbing wetly, twisting in the bonds in panic mixed with sudden ecstasy.
Who are they? What… what is happening?!
He bucks, muscles seizing, blood filling his dick so fast it almost stings! The harness keeps him nice and packed tightly, stripes of leather cut into his skin and the gag seems to grow in his mouth, but he can’t stop…
“They did a good work on you. So sensitive, like an unclaimed child, aren’t you? Were you like that before, little thing?”
Lance shakes his head from side to side, and it’s not really in answer, but the sensations wrought on his body are so strong he can’ stop himself. He is drooling like a dog and his hips keep twitching, his cock jumping against his hip, untouched, straining for any sort of friction while the strange Galran keeps spinning some sort of magic… it has to be! It’s impossible to… he has been touched there so many times and it never felt like that …
What do you want? - he wants to ask.
Stop it! - he want’s to scream. Stop it, before I go crazy!
Don’t... stop - he wants to beg, because his body turns into one powerful conductor of pleasure and he can barely stand it. The alien presses their fingers into him with an obscene squelching sounds, twists them around, brushes against the wet walls either lightly enough to make him sob, or with sudden harshness that makes him scream out. It’s like they know all the secrets of his body, know exactly how to turn him into a blabbering mess. He is so impossibly wet he can feel it drenching the bed - he closes his eyes, too embarrassed to look the stranger in the eye.
“You don't want to be here, do you?”
He can’t… he can’t even… he’s close, so close… just one more push, one more thrust, he can come without touching his dick and it’s just one more...
A needle enters his vein before he can tumble down that hill. “A Paladin, huh? A pity you can't stay, I would really like to see you bred.”
This time the Quintessence in the syringe isn’t yellow. It’s dark and heavy and cold, and his heart stops beating.
When he wakes up next time, he’s behind the familiar shield of slightly tinted glass.
Surprisingly, he’s still breathing.
The last chapter is in! Lance is saved, yey!
But stay tuned, the actual healing will come separately, because the chapter would be 12k if I included everything=_=
They’ve saved Lance.
Shiro thanks all the gods he doesn't really believe in just this once - this is a special occasion, he thinks. He can allow himself sentimentality, because they’ve all been captured by the Galra at least once, but this… They’ve never been captives for more than a day, a few at most. Even when Keith allowed himself to be enslaved on that colony on Mefausies in order to save the Holts, it was different. They’ve all understood the risks, knew what they’re doing. They thought they knew what they were in for.
Pain, some torture, a threat of experimentation. All of it horrifying, but expected. Logical.
But not this. Never this.
It’s like some twisted miracle, there’s no other explanation to the way events unfold, to the way they get help from the most unexpected source.
They've been searching for Lance for weeks, a month, then going on two - no trace of him could be found. They've assumed, correctly, as it turned out, that he was taken to the enemy’s own castle, that a catch this precious Zarkon would like to want to keep close.
Once that knowledge settles in him, Shiro’s skin breaks out into goosebumps and his throat tightens. Because that’s where the Witch is, where the Druids performed their most twisted experiments - and maybe Lance was spared that fate, but Shiro’s brain doesn't want to drop the possibility that he wasn’t. It conjures the most horrifying images of Lance strung up on the torture rack, cut into and cut open, made into a monster…
Every time they’re encountering another beast, Shiro bites his lip bloody and tries to calm his heart, looks for a trace of their friend in the twisted creation set against them. He knows that the rest of the team shares his fear, even if none of them wants to believe it would happen.
Lance’s absence takes a toll on them that no one was really expecting. They stop smiling after the first week, as the tension grows, they stop congregating in the common room, they stop - talking, really. Each of them takes to their own corner of the Castle and stews in their own helplessness. Hunk is hit the worst, as expected, really, his kind nature takes a backseat to the burning desire to get his friend back and punish the Galra for taking him away in the first place.
It isn’t Keith anymore that Shiro has to stop from going on a rampage during the fight. Although, Keith is up there with Hunk, burning brighter than ever, leaving a path of thoughtless destruction in his wake. Shiro tries to reign them in, he tries his best, but without water to cool it down, fire goes unchecked. Without water to soften it, the soil becomes hard and lifeless, its jagged edges start to show. Without water, green things turn dry and frail.
Only then it becomes clear to Shiro how important the Blue Paladin is to the group - how each of them is an element of a bigger whole that only works properly with all others present.
That’s what Allura tried to make them understand, all that time, and when he finally realizes it, she knows, and she looks at him with such pity he can’t stand it. To become the perfect whole only after one piece of them is missing, what irony!
She pilots Blue for Lance - she makes it clear that it’s only a temporary solution, to calm their minds and keep their spirits up - and she is a splendid pilot. Their bond is easy to re-establish and they form Voltron easy as breathing.
But it isn’t the same. They all feel it, something's still missing.
And then, from the cloudless sky, a thunder strikes.
A message encoded so heavily it takes Pidge nearly two days to decipher it. A message for Shiro - the Champion. From who? An ally. Nothing more. But nothing else is needed apart from the part where it says that Lance is alive and can be freed.
If the Champion agrees to the terms set to him.
The initial message doesn't state the terms, but Shiro doesn't care. As long as it tells him where to meet their mysterious ‘ally’ that is all he cares about. Even as all the voices in his head scream trap at him, he is ready to go. They simply can’t afford him not to.
The ally turns out to be a Galra - which they kind of expected, but tried not to - and their conditions are simple. Well, one condition.
Meet on a deserted battlestation, alone. No witnesses.
Keith almost gets an aneurysm when the Galran states his desire to Shiro, his scream through the comlink almost deafening the Black Paladin - it would, if the thumping of his own blood in his ears didn’t buffer the sounds inside of his helmet.
“I don’t want much, only one favour,” the Galran states, calm and collected, as if they were talking about the weather. “There are others who wish to aid your case against Lord Zarkon. I have little interest in that, but we can help one another in the pursuit of our targets, Champion.”
Shiro stares, doesn't even flinch at the old nickname he never stopped detesting. The Galran doesn't use it with derision or pity - but with admiration almost. Somehow, it makes it even worse.
They are smaller than what he is used to, slender, with a face that’s more animalistic, but at the same time softer. Dark orange eyes roam over his own body top to bottom in an appreciative way that makes Shiro feel strangely self-conscious.
He knows... that. He saw someone like that, once, when he was the Champion. This other cast of Galra. Surrounded by guards when they walked amongst the slaves with their head held high and eyes surveying the crowd, treated with reverence by all other Galrans present.
Back then, he didn’t understand - now he is starting to. The Galran looks at him like they looked at the strongest warriors back them, with appreciative eyes and mouth curling up at the edges.
“What is the favour?” He asks, just to make sure, to prolong the inevitable that he will doubtlessly agree to. “What is your interest?”
The Galran narrows their eyes and their tongue slips out in a slow lick across the plump bottom lip. “Strong blood to share with my people.” They reach out, a clawed hand heavy with bracelets and rings, a move slow and telegraphed, and touch him. Gently run their fingertips down his human arm, then up again to rest on the chest plate over his pectoral. Their eyes take on a new shine, like liquid honey, pleased and eager. “Only the strongest will do,” they say in a voice that’s half purr.
There’s a chorus of voices in his head, and all sound like his team, but Shiro mutes them all out as the meaning of these words sinks in and makes home under his breastbone. Of what this Galran asks of him - demands of him, in exchange for one of their own.
“How can I know I can trust you to do your part?” His lips ask before he consciously wills them to, his lizard hindmind suddenly more careful than his human one.
“I am already risking my life by being here and asking for what I want,” they answer, stroking his chest absentmindedly. “I will continue to risk it while carrying that kit of yours, and I will be risking while giving it life. This is just blind hope that our species can breed together, nothing else. But since your little one can’t be bred by us, not that Lord Zarkon isn’t trying, it leaves me with little choice.”
That last bit takes a while to register, and when it does, Shiro’s blood turns to ice. He makes a step forward, not really knowing why, only that he can’t stay still. “What… bred?” He chokes out, because words come to him like shards of glass he has to push out of his throat. He can feel his grafted arm warming up inside of the suit’s sleeve.
Honey coloured eyes blink at him slowly. “It seems your species are incompatible with us in this way. And he is small, nothing for my cast to be interested in.” The eyes flash, “You, on the other hand…”
The grafted hand blazes with light as Shiro puts it between them, a threat and a limit - do not cross this line, it says. The Galran stops themselves from coming any closer to him, but there’s no fear on their face. Impatience, maybe. And that damn constant appraisal.
Shiro’s veins are chock full of fear. “What are you talking about?!” His own voice sounds strange to him, muted and thin. “What the fuck is happening to Lance?!”
There’s no answer for the longest while, while his heart thuds in his chest and he can feel sweat beading on his forehead. Scenarios rush through his mind, dozens of them, each one worse than the previous, tightening his stomach in a painful cramp around the void that awakens inside of it. It can’t be… that . Can’t be! Can’t!
“Oh,” the Galran says in the end and their expression softens. “He’s yours… ah.” They look to the side briefly, a first gesture of uncertainty they’ve shown. But then they blink back to him and the moment of softness passes to be replaced with a sharp, animalistic want . “Well, that’s only more of a reason for you to agree to my terms, isn’t it? The quicker we finish here, the quicker you will be able to retrieve your little one.”
He doesn't want to. He wants to leave, go, rush form here and storm Zarkon’s castle now! To rip the beast apart with his bare hands! To stop playing this goddamn game of cat and mouse and careful planning, and just go there, because this is his crew , this is Lance they’re talking about here, and he’s not about to leave him in their hands for even a moment longer!
“Lord Zarkon keeps his things under lock and key,” the Galran seems to read his mind, because their words pierce through Shiro’s rage and bring him back to the situation at hand. “In the most protected part of the ship. You will never be able to get him out of there, I can assure you. But,” they step closer and lower his hand for him, the glow going out under their soft touch, “I can make it so he will be moved to less guarded area. Easier, as long as you don’t mind taking a few Druids out on the way, that is.”
Shiro’s heart beats mile-a-minute, blood thunders in his ears. He looks into the honey coloured eyes of the Galran and nods his head once. They don’t need more, their lips stretch into a fanged smile and a moment later their claws open up his armour - and Shiro lets them. He did worse for his own survival and it’s not a secret that he will eschew even that for the survival of his crew.
Coran and Keith go to retrieve him - because both of them can shift their image to resemble Galra, because Coran is surprisingly good at improvising and because Keith has no qualms about killing everything standing between him and Lance. None of them will freeze at the sight of a Druid, like Shiro most probably will even years after his time as their experiment.
No, his task is to lead a diversion - even though Red doesn't really like him all that much, she’s able to overlook it this one time, because they have to make as much trouble for the Galra as they can and he is the only one, sans Keith, she is able to accept. Zarkon expects them to attack, of course he does, so they have to make it seem like they’re going in guns blazing, like they did in the past. Allura pilots Black for him, Blue is safely stored in the Castle on the other side of the galaxy - and all seems well. They take heavy fire, but also most of the attention of the Galran forces as Zarkon’s castle looms above them. Never before was it this threatening, at least for Shiro.
He hopes that Keith doesn't lose his head, that Coran knows what to do when they finally get Lance out. He wishes that he had the insight to ask their ‘ally’ how they’re going to move Lance from Zarkon’s grasp earlier - before they got a message it happened.
He wishes there was a way other than poisoning to do it!
But it’s already done, he gets what he’s paid for and now it’s all up to them to make it count.
And they do, because just as Shiro begins to lose hope, he hears Keith’s voice in the comm. A muted growl is full of rage, but the words he speaks explode across Shiro’s chest with relief.
“ We got him. We’re out. ”
When Shiro finally sees Keith in the Castle, Coran has already taken Lance to the infirmary. The Red Paladin stands in the gate of Red’s hangar, still dressed in the Galra armour, but thankfully back to his human skin.
He is covered with blood and the look in his eyes is hollow. Shiro takes his hands and tries to calm their shaking. “You did well,” he says what has to be said. “Keith, you did what you had to.”
It never became easier, it would seem, for the kid to discard his human form like that. Especially, when he has to use his other skin to blend in with the beings he despises. When, as he said, it makes killing so easy .
“We got him,” Keith whispers, voice shivering and thin. “It’s going to be alright now... right?”
“Yes,” Shiro whispers into his matted hair. “It’s going to be alright.”
Nothing is going to be alright.
Lance spends eight days in the healing pod. The team observes him through the glass nearly every hour of that time - at first they congregate in the Infirmary together, but one stern talking to from Allura later they set up a system of shifts. The Universe doesn’t put things on a hook just because its defenders are stretched thin and scared beyond reason that one of them won’t make it. No matter how many times Coran assures them that there’s no chance of Lance slipping away from their hands, the watches remain.
Lance looked horrid when they brought him. He lost a lot of weight and his body was crisscrossed with bruises arranged in shapes distinctive enough to boil blood in Shiro’s veins. That he was restrained was obvious, but the shape of the restraints was sickening.
Now, thanks to the miraculous Altean technology, the bruises have faded to nothing, Lance’s body is slowly being rebuilt under Coran’s watchful eye. But they’re still apprehensive. Hunk nearly sets up camp in the Infirmary and even Pidge’s workshop slowly migrates there one screw at a time.
It’s a rare occurrence to go there and not see any of them, but Shiro guesses even their two resident geniuses have to sleep sometimes.
He should do it, too, to be honest, his body needs sleep as much as any other - if only his mind happened to agree with that statement. Hell, his circadian rhythm is probably so out of tune already that it created its own discorded genre of music. He should get sleep, because he has to be on his best at any given moment.
But he can’t. Battle plans spin in circles inside of his head, worry and concern chase each other constantly and every time he closes his eyes there are memories waiting to pounce on him like starved wolves. And he can’t do much to battle these - sleeping pills are out of question as long as he has to be ready to fly at a moment’s notice. He can try to sleep with headphones on, but that usually leads to him waking up panicked, tangled in the wire. All he can come up with on his own is to try and walk the stress off.
And only incidentally one of his silent patrol routes leads him to the Infirmary.
“Good evening, Shiro, couldn’t sleep?” Coran greets him inside, bright eyed and bushy tailed as usual, and Shiro can’t shake off the feeling that he was expected. Who knows? The Castle has many secrets he can’t even attempt to crack.
“Yeah, you can say that.”
He stops in front of the only occupied pod and for the longest moment they both stare at Lance as he floats softly in the gentle blue glow. It almost looks like he’s submerged in water and Shiro hopes it feels like that. Lance always missed the sea, it would be a nice thing if he could experience something familiar when he needed comfort.
“He should be out in a day’s time,” Coran speaks without prompting, probably used to repeating these words every time one of the team wanders in. “If all goes well, he will be physically as good as new.”
That catches Shiro’s attention. “Is there a chance of complications?”
“He has been poisoned, that always carries a risk,” Coran says, voice unusually tight. There’s a cold flash in his eyes as he looks at the body suspended in the healing pod and Shiro knows it’s not simply the reflection of the controls. “That’s why it takes so long. His body was… I don't even know how to put it. It was fed raw Quintessence, from the looks of it, probably as means to sustain it? I honestly don’t know what madness made them do it.”
“Quintessence?” Shiro repeats. “But… isn’t it a healing agent? It shouldn’t hurt him.”
Coran shrugs. “In small doses? No. But then, in small doses even poisons have medical use, right? Quintessence in its raw state is a potent substance, it can do much of what we don’t even understand yet. It probably kept him alive.” Next words Shiro has to strain his ears to hear. “I don’t think they’ve been feeding him at all.”
Shiro only feels his hand growing hot when the warmth touches his thigh. He relaxes the fingers and turns the energy off with difficulty. “What else?” He asks.
Coran’s look says clearly, do you really want to know?
And Shiro doesn’t, but he is their leader and so he has to.
“There are some - changes - that the scanners detected. It was hard and I didn't get the readings at first, because they’re so subtle and -eh, non-invasive? Nothing like what happened to you, Shiro, more like modifications- ” The man casts for comparison, but after a moment simply gives up with a frustrated sigh. “Quiznak! I don’t have words to explain it! Here!”
A datapad is showed into his hands and Shiro looks at it, steeling himself for the worst.
But at first it doesn’t seem - drastic. It doesn’t seem to make much sense, really. It’s certainly strange and he wonders briefly why , but… But then the words of the strange Galran catch up to him - the words, the insinuation he had tried to push away with all his might - and suddenly everything falls together. Makes perfect sense.
Shiro calmly returns the data pad, rests his hands on his knees and breaths deeply, fighting the urge to scream.
He tells Keith. He has to, really; out of them all Keith has to hear it from him.
It still feels like violating Lance’s will - he should be the one to choose if he wants to breach this subject or not. But Keith is Shiro’s responsibility now, he’s so messed up by this whole thing.
And has been so ridiculously smitten with the Blue Paladin since this whole adventure started.
Shiro just wants to avoid a catastrophe, that’s all.
They had something there, something small and tentative, but growing steadily into something more than friendship - before Lance was taken, Keith had a chance. Now Shiro has to be the one to tell him that it may be lost forever. If what the Galran told him was true, and what the datapad suggested meant what he thought it did, pursuing a physical relationship with Lance may be impossible for a long time.
“They… they what ?”
Keith’s face crumbles and Shiro has to watch. He could do everything to turn back time. To make this moment not happen at all.
Hands pressed to his mouth as if to suffocate a scream that wants to get out, Keith wavers on his feet until his back hits the wall. Shiro slips down to the floor with him, softly goes to his knees and gathers the shaking bundle of fury and misery into his arms. He holds on tight as Keith rages and cries, swearing death to all Galra he will ever get his hands on.
He holds on and doesn't tell Keith to stop even when the skin under his hands turns purple and the nails biting into his shirt grow sharp. It’s really not his place right now.
When Lance falls out of the pod it’s not a long way to go before he lands in Hunk’s waiting arms. Disoriented and limp, as expected after such a long stint in the healing contraption, he blinks furiously, trying to dispel the mist from his sight. Shiro watches from the side, tense and ready to react to any sign of panic - but, of course, Hunk’s got this.
The Yellow Paladin holds back his usual effortless and exuberant strength, he embraces his friend carefully instead and simply holds him up and against himself. Careful, as if Lance is a freshly-hatched bird. It’s so different from their usual reactions when one of the team has to ‘sit it out’ in the pod - when customary hugs and back patting serve to reassure the rest that they haven’t lost anyone. No, this time they all stand back - close, but no touching, a wall of silent support, but no more. They’re waiting for Lance to make his way out of the fog, to return to them fully.
Hunk stands still as a statue made of soft plush, Pidge next to him, glasses in her pocket, because what use are they if her eyes are wet all the time anyway? Keith is pale and drawn, as if Death stood at his doorstep this morning and he turned it away with the power of his exhausted anger. Shiro rests a hand on his stiff shoulder and wishes he could pull him to his chest. But this will have to wait.
No one speaks, not even Coran who hangs out of the way, not even Allura, whose eyes glisten with worry.
Lance mumbles something, his face scrunches in fear-tainted confusion, before he finally breaths in deeply, before mumbling out a single, small and unsure, “...Hunk?”
To which Hunk’s hand shifts to rest on the thin, hunched back. “Right here, buddy. I got ya.”
They don’t know if the sound Lance is making is closer to laughter or weeping, but it’s not important, long tan arms reach out to bring them close and they go willingly.
Chapter 4: Something Black
This is the last chapter I have promised as the Good Ending of this whole angst-fest:)
I apologise it took so long, but I was falling out of the fandom slowly in the last year, because, let's face it, it turned into a freaking circus=.=
But now I got my second wind and the chapter is done:D
He comes back to himself slowly, but no one expected it to not be the case. At first eating is a problem, a frustrating one at that, because he wants to eat and the food Hunk makes for him is amazingly palatable, but… he can’t. His body can’t . He will lift the spoon to his lips and there it will freeze, his hand unable to go any further until he really pushes himself. He chews every bite fifty times, all the while forcing his throat to swallow and his stomach to take the food.
It’s almost like he has to work against himself, as if the Galra left some failsafe in his body that will make it wither away as soon as he leaves their clutches.
That’s why he fights against it with every ounce of his being - when he can finally fight, he uses every chance to rebel against them. Against the thing they’ve tried to turn him into.
It takes a week before his body starts to accept real solid food as its only means of sustenance. A week of wasted delicious meals lovingly prepared by Hunk and gross nutritional shakes Coran forces into him via threats of nuneville. Lance is grateful to both of them, more than he can express with words.
He can express very little, as it happens.
Well, not on the surface. The days after leaving the pod he can’t shut up - finally free to speak and using the chance to its utmost. He talks to everyone and about everything, and in between keeps singing and humming, just to keep the noise level constant. Surprisingly, the team doesn't begrudge him that, even when they look annoyed with his constant pestering. As if they understood - but they can’t. They can’t understand, they can’t know what the silence carries.
He’s been trapped in silence for days - weeks - seemed like ages. Silence of the sprawling chamber only disturbed by his own heavy breathing, rare clanking of the servants’ steps… his voice. Silence inside, without the presence of his Lion, his friends… both too far away to reach him.
Lance never dealt well with silence, so now it’s only more apparent, he thinks, justifies it. He’s loud and chattering, and all over the place.
He thinks sometimes that he should slow down, stop being so frantic. He was a victim of trauma, as Coran said, he should take a moment to deal with it. Like Shiro or Allura, when they requested time off from being leaders and royals, and simply locked themselves away in their own heads to deal with their loss. Sometimes, he thinks that he should sit down and cry a little, let it all out - like people do in the movies.
But whenever he’s alone, thoughts come to him, dark and disgusting, like black slugs that eat their way into his head to nest inside his brain. His skin grows cold no matter how high he turns the heating or how many shirts he puts on. He can feel the phantom sensation of the bindings across his chest and arms, and breathing becomes hard. When he’s alone, it all comes crashing back and Lance can feel his touch, can hear his words in the still air, can feel the… darkness that monster tired to fill him with.
Cold and black, and cruel - scraps of the tainted soul he kept pushing into Lance’s body every time they…
So Lance doesn’t stay alone. He looks for company, for something to do. At night he plasters himself to Hunk’s back, the man lovely enough to make space in his bunk to fit Lance’s long legs and pointy elbows. Hunk is hot like a furnace and soft like a teddy bear, and he snores like a freight train. Lance can just lay there, back to back, and stare into the soft gloom of his room, safe in the knowledge that he’s protected there, that the man next to him can benchpress a minivan. The nightmares stay away and he loves Hunk for it more than he’d ever think possible.
Sometimes, he will curl around Pidge as they nap on the small, ratty couch that somehow migrated into her hangar. She will try to explain to him how her newest toy worked and nod off halfway through, and Lance, ever the good friend, will follow suit. She is still tiny, even at seventeen - they're both thin and pointy, knees and elbows, and sharp chins. But now (it’s stupid, Lance knows) he thinks she has changed, she looks stronger, sturdier.
“Did you buff up on me, Pidgerson?” He asks once, poking at her pale, freckled arm sticking out of the cropped sleeve.
Pidge doesn't even look up from the piece she’s fiddling with, she just shrugs, “Nah, it’s you who buffed down.”
That… hits him somewhere, he isn't sure where. She seems to realise and looks at him momentarily with a nervous, unsure expression. Lance covers his reaction with a smile that somehow reaches his eyes. He ruffles her hair and flexes his arms to show off whatever muscle he has left. They laugh and the rest of the evening passes them on friendly squabbles.
It’s only in the evening, when he’s alone in the shower, that Lance looks into the mirror - really looks - and sees how right Pidge was. He’s still thin. Still… he catches himself not remembering how he really looked before. Were his ribs this visible? Were his hips this narrow?
Narrow enough for a pair of clawed hands to circle them with ease and lift him as if he weighed nothing...
He spends even more time with Blue, which at first seems impossible, because they used to be best pals. Now she’s his friend and his sanctuary. Inside of her is the safest place he knows. He will curl up in the pilot seat and she will purr at him gently, sending him waves of comforting warmth. The screen will blaze with light and she will show him alien worlds he’s never seen, constellations full of light, and he will cry at the beauty of them. Nothing can touch him there, with her, nothing can harm him. She holds on to him with a single minded, all-encompassing love that could be even scary if he only didn’t feel the same towards her.
If not for Hunk dragging him away to eat and the need for Allura to use Blue, he would stay in there forever.
But he can’t. He can’t hog the Lion, if he can’t fight in it, can he? And he can’t… fight.
They fly, sometimes, when the Castle’s walls close in on him and Lance has to get away, to feel free. But now he’s only a passenger, he only lends his hands and his will to his Lion and she is the one to take them places while he sits back and bites his fingers whenever her Quintessence brushes against him.
Not even a month in and his nails are bitten nearly to the beds, skin around them chewed off, replaced by dozens of tiny wounds that sting whenever he closes his fists.
Hunk tells him to stop it, making the habit look childish. Coran just shakes his head and puts plasters on Lance’s hands whenever blood wells up in his presence. Lance is grateful, because plasters are easier to chew on than his own skin. He can’t stop, no matter how annoying it is to have his skin open at a drop of a hat…
Because what else he can do whenever Blue is out there - all of them are out there - and he’s left in the Castle with Coran to watch his team - his family - fight the battles he’s supposed to fight with them? What else can he do other than stand there on the bridge like some fucking heroine that slowly wastes away waiting for her hero to return from the war?
God, he’s pathetic, isn’t he?
Afraid of his own shadow, unable to sleep at night unless someone is there with him and the lights are on, like he’s a child. Like the Boogeyman was just waiting to grab him and drag him back to that cold room illuminated with faint magenta glow.
He’s safe, he’s protected. He’s been rescued and healed, his body is… his body is…
He doesn't want to be like that! He doesn’t want to be useless !
He doesn't want the rest to worry about him and waste their time on hope that he will be able to rejoin them in battle, when the smallest mental brush sends him into panic.
He can’t join them, can’t form Voltron. Can’t even stand the thought of his mind opening up to them - something that used to be as easy and breathing, welcome like his mother’s hugs. He already can’t stand the look in Keith’s eyes whenever the Red Paladin looks at him and can’t imagine having to feel his thoughts as he pities Lance. And Shiro…
God, he can’t even look at Shiro.
There’s something wrong and it takes Shiro too long to notice it. To his defence, they’ve been running and fighting for weeks, and when not that, they’re trying to get used to this new Lance. The one that tries to fill any silence as soon as it appears, that bites his nails and still needs someone to help him stand up from a chair from time to time.
They knew that things won’t be easy. That the healing pod won’t fix the damage done to Lance’s psyche as readily as it healed his physical wounds.
None of them can even imagine what their Blue Paladin went through during these 3 months of captivity. They suspect - and it’s somehow even worse, because imaginations run wild and not once Shiro finds his teeth grinding painfully when his brain jumps the fence on him. As much trauma as he himself had experienced, it is somehow worse to think of it in terms of the team. That any of them would be so hurt on his watch - the guilt that thought evokes is crushing.
For a moment he expects Lance to come to him - there is two of them now, isn’t there? Two victims of the Galra, two slaves, both touched by the dark, dirty hands of the Druids. He thinks Lance will seek understanding from him in that sense and dreads the thought at the same time. He is a very poor emotional support, he barely carries his own weight as it is.
But time passes and Lance doesn't come. Which is also fine, but Shiro tries to keep an eye on him, anyway. Waiting for the moment to step in, trying to juggle his silent care with the myriad of other duties resting on his shoulders.
At least he sleeps better these days - probably because he isn't alone in his bed.
Keith sleeps next to him, because Shiro is usually the one who gathers him from standing vigil under Lance’s doors like someone may gather a stray cat. Wrestling the kid under the covers is an easy job, made easier when Shiro’s own exhaustion gets visible and guilts Keith into compliance. He should probably think about some healthier ways for them both to cope, but there’s simply no time… And they both seem to find the closeness of another person - of another Paladin - soothing in some sense, so there’s no real will in either of them to break that habit.
Anyway, Lance bunks with Hunk. No surprise there. Actually, it eases their minds - Hunk is like an impenetrable wall made of soft plush. He makes Shiro feel safe on occasion, there’s no better person to care for Lance at the moment.
But the moment stretches more and more, and soon it starts being concerning again that Lance is getting better - but at the same time, not better at all.
It takes Shiro a long time to notice. He blames it on the stress and the pressure of being the head, but when he does it's like a bucket of cold water has been spilled on him.
Lance doesn't look at him at all anymore. Lance doesn't stay in the room with him alone. Lance doesn't touch him.
But he does touch Hunk, he does talk to Pidge and Coran, and Allura. He spends every moment he can with Blue and at least looks Keith in the face when they’re practicing a few slow kata that the Red Paladin devised for the recovering body of his teammate.
It’s just Shiro that Lance is different with.
The conclusion comes, unwanted, but not less obvious for that.
It’s him that Lance is afraid of now.
The sessions with Coran are spaced between three to four days, to let his body recover and his cells to settle a bit before another procedure can be undertaken. While the nanomachines that the pods operate on are a miracle of medical technology, it isn’t magic and human tissue has limits. Lance tries to be patient. It’s hard. He isn't very good at it.
Hah , he almost laughs, a good one!
Because being patient isn’t the only thing that’s hard there and that’s the biggest problem.
The hours in the healing pod are kept a secret, he asked Coran to keep quiet about them and the Altean agreed readily. Because what’s the point in alerting the team when the ‘damage’ being healed is mostly, eh, cosmetic? Not life-threatening?
Shameful. That’s what it is, shame that keeps him quiet about it. If any of them knew, it would be impossible to stand. What the Druids did to him.
Zarkon told him, in great detail, what was done to him.
He only didn’t know how , before Coran explained. He was aware that his body was different and through the fog of drugs he remembered faintly things… words? Threatening and distressing, but nothing concrete, nothing, well, realistic .
Only then Coran explains how it was possible - and Lance throws up.
The readings from the pod’s diagnostics say it all. He’s been - adjusted - down there, indeed.
He throws up again. Then they get to work.
Water hits his back, warm and smelling faintly of ozone, and if Lance closes his eyes he can almost fool himself he’s standing in the rain on some silent sidewalk back in Varadero. The tile under his feet is warm, because it’s summer and all the people hid from the rain in the cafes and shops, under the countless open parasols lining the beach. If he concentrates hard enough, he can almost hear the sea murmuring gently to him.
If he stops thinking for a moment he can even tune out his own body and all these sick thoughts whispering in his head.
You will take me and many after me. Nothing, but pleasure awaits you. Your body...
Bruising his knuckles on the tiles is useless, so he tries not to do it. Water stings his torn cuticles enough as it is.
Blue purrs at him from across the Castle, but Lance shies away from her touching his mind now. It’s instinctive, to run whenever he feels anyone in there, poking at his shields, trying to bypass his weak defenses. It’s the fear of cold and darkness that is keeping him from fully returning to his companions, to his family… he can’t stand anyone in his head now and it hurts. It hurts that event his thing - something that was natural to him before - was taken from him.
And that wasn’t the only natural thing that was taken from him, either.
He is a young man, twenty two, curious and warm, and he wants to love. He wants to love and to be loved back, and he has all the hormones that come with having a healthy male body. And Keith is there. Right there .
They had a thing before he was taken, Lance thinks. He hopes it's not his imagination, that he isn't confused, because he can swear he remembers a few close encounters with the Red Paladin. A few quick half-kisses, a few stolen moments when it was just two of them and the quiet of the Universe, and discovering that their bodies were warm and their hearts beat in a similar rhythm. He thinks the remembers one rushed groping session after a particularly grueling battle, Keith hot and solid against him, his hands hard, but trembling as they marked paths across Lance’s body.
He thinks… he remembers. It wasn’t that long ago, was it? Just before he was…
He can ask Keith, Lance thinks, it would make everything so much easier. But then, how? When Keith isn’t touching him anymore? When Keith is trying to give him space and time, and friendship that doesn't put a toe out of line…
And he isn’t surprised, not really, even when it hurts. Keith may not know how the lines of damage run across his body, how deep they are, but he knows that Lance is broken and that is enough. It’s not really surprising that he doesn't want to take that weight on himself when he already has enough issues of his own.
And how amusing it is to think that before Lance was the one to support the Red Paladin! Trying to ease his mind after the discovery of the Galra genes in his blood. Lance was the one who thought himself solid and unmoved, and knew his place in the world. He thought that he was the one with a grip on his emotions. And now?
God, now? Now he can’t even get a grip on his traitorous body or his broken mind, can’t make them work together!
The water flows down his skin and the illusion of the past lasts only until warm droplets start to trickle down his groin and Lance can’t ignore the way his dick reacts.
And that’s the issue, his dick didn’t seem to learn anything during these months of captivity. It’s used to being tended to in the shower - the one place in the Castle where a chance of anyone barging in without knocking is the slimmest - and Hell or high water, it demands attention. As if nothing's changed. As if Lance wasn’t…
He didn’t touch himself since coming back. Not even once. And not because he didn't have a chance or felt the need to… He just can’t do it with this broken, shameless ruin of a body. The reactions are now different, have to be, he doesn't know what to expect anymore and it scares him. His mind is a tangle of snakes, he fears threading between them for the fear that he won't be able to get out.
But what wouldn't he give for a moment of mindlessness, of having his brain switch off so he can feel like himself for just a few minutes. With a forehead leaning on the wet wall, fingers struggling to find purchase on the smooth surface, he tries to ignore his dick and ‘other’ parts of his body. Trying to tune out everything once more…
Right until he’s torn out of the self implemented trance by a loud smack of a dropped bottle of soap and a gasp that’s much quieter, but still carries for longer.
Lance startles and turns around, hands going up in a defensive position - instead of down in a protective one, as they would go four months ago. But it’s just Keith…
Just Keith standing in the room, naked from waist up, hitched up shoulders covered in bruises.
Lance swallows, frozen in the spot.
Keith stares at him from the other side of the room, eyes wide, lips open for words that never leave them. Lance, equally as startled, still somehow registers the way Keith’s shoulders stretch further than they used to, pale skin taut over prominent muscles, shiny and damp with sweat. The way Keith’s nipples are hard from the cool air - or maybe some other reason? - and his cheeks start to flood with blood. Keith always flushed so easily, no matter the reason. But nakedness didn’t really embarrass him, because he was a wild thing raised in a human guise and had no shame.
So it’s startling that this time he lowers his eyes, turns his head, apologies slipping from between his bitten lips as he angles his body away from the shower stall. From Lance. From this naked, strange body.
And Lance can’t take it anymore. Something snaps in his head, in his chest, something snaps and he can’t stand it anymore!
Five steps later he’s crashing into Keith’s chest. They both go down, Keith’s back smacking into the tile, but Lance doesn't care. He straddles the narrow hips he had dreamed about since he was eighteen and, oh, that’s… he pushes in, bears down, gasps when his dick rubs against the rough fabric of Keith’s pants. Oh god, this… he wanted it for so long.
Then, miraculously, Keith doesn't ask questions or demands answers. Just moves his thighs apart and Lance’s dick slips snugly onto their cradle and there’s another gasp when the black fabric tents, signaling that he’s not the only one aroused.
They buck and rub, press into one another with abandon, hands scrambling for purchase on wet skin, legs slipping on tiles. Lance can feel his skin tightening around him. Air growing heavy in his lungs, reason clouding with need to - to break through this wall erected inside of his head. To prove that he’s still the same.
It takes embarrassingly few moments. He is almost there. Keith growls underneath him, reaches up, but Lance pushes his hands away. No. No touching, not now. It’s good like that, if he’s touched, the illusion will break, he will be back there… he needs to be in control, just for a moment, just…
Keith threads their fingers together instead - that perfect, amazing man, somehow understanding what Lance can’t say. He arches his back, naked feet planted on the floor, hips pushing up, almost dislodging Lance. Keith bites his lips as he comes, tightly shuts his eyes and a strangled moan is the only sound that escapes him. The look on his face is enough to push Lance over the edge - but then something happens.
He spasms - between his legs. His hole clenches and he can feel wetness and the sensation of - emptiness, wrongness. It rushes through him like a bolt of lightening, strange and yet not unknown.
He tears himself off and away before Keith has a chance to open his eyes. Escapes like a dog with its tail between the legs.
Keith comes after him, because of course, Keith is nothing if not tenacious and undaunted. He stands at Lance’s door at first, after knocking and being told to fuck off. Stands there for ten minutes, fifteen, until Lance almost believes he has left - before a fist connects with the pad on the side and the whole mechanism depowers. Lance swallows heavily and presses himself into the furthest corner of the bed as the crack appears in the doorsill, grows under a steady pressure of bruised fingertips and fills with the soft glow from the corridor. The dark room is flooded with light when the wing is finally forced to the side, framing Keith’s silhouette and hiding his face in the shadow.
When the door slides shut again, Lance closes his eyes.
“Lance, let me in,” Keith says.
He doesn't mention the fact that Keith is already in his room, because they both know what this is about.
“You can.” Keith sits on the bed. Waits. God, when did he grew so patient? “Is it because of… what they did to you?”
What! “You know?”
“...yeah. Shiro… Shiro thought it’s better for me to know. So I can...”
A laugh tears out of his throat, weak and shivering.
“I’d run if I were you.”
“What?” Keith gasps. It sounds angry. The hand that grips Lance's hand feels angry. “What are you talking about? I’m not running! I was trying to give you space. I have no idea how to help you now. I want it so much, but I’m…“ The hand retreats, fingers folding into a loose fist that rests on Keith’s thigh. It hides the hardened nails and the pale violet tinting the ends of Keith’s fingers perfectly. “I’m one of the monsters that hurt you, Lance, and I can’t change that.”
That pushes Lance out of his own darkness instantly. His head snaps up and he stares at the Red Paladin incredulously. Keith isn’t looking at him, all his attention seems to be directed at his clenched fists. His powerful figure is hunched, the shirt he hastily threw on is wet and inside out.
“You aren’t... God, why would you think that?” Lance rattles out, reaching for these hands, covering them with his own. ”You aren’t like them at all!”
He’s met with silence.
In the end Keith heaves a sigh that makes his whole figure shift; it sounds too much like admittance of defeat for Lance to be okay with.
But the clawed hands slowly unclench and turn, and now they’re palm to palm, the touch light and uncertain. “I will do anything to make it easier for you,” Keith says, “but I miss you. I just miss - us, I guess.”
Lance understands, he misses them too. But there’s a ravine spanning between them now, a gaping hole in his chest he can’t close no matter how much he tries.
“They did things to me, Keith.” His whisper is broken and the clawed fingers hook around his. “The Druids. Down there I’m… different now. Broken. It’s filthy.”
Just like Keith, brazen and bull-headed, rushing thoughtlessly into the fray in hopes that if he hits hard enough, the problem will crumble at his feet. Lance is jealous of that stupid courage.
“Show me.” The man insists, threading their fingers together once more. It’s stupidly touching and Lance feels ashamed that he finds it romantic in a moment like that. “We can make it less scary, together, but only if you let me help.”
That stupid, stubborn man and his stupid, stubborn eyes that shine in the dark with soft magenta, making Lance want to give in.
He’s at his weakest, so there’s no surprise when he does.
Keith doesn't touch him at first - for which Lance is grateful. Just sits patiently on the end of the bed and lets Lance chose a defensive position in the other end. Waits on him patiently - for Lance to get his bearings, to uncross his legs and stop shivering. To get his pants off and throw them away. In the dim light his eyes never leave Lance’s face and that’s also reassuring - the lack of staring and obvious interest in his… parts. It helps.
When he finally moves it’s slow and deliberate - no touching still, his hands stay down, supporting him as he leans towards Lance, not for a second breaking the eye contact. The kiss is telegraphed miles before it lands, but Lance is still surprised when dry lips touch his bitten ones. It starts as a small peck, innocent, really, because Keith, for all his battle prowess, isn’t a Casanova in any sense of the word - he may be a virgin, for all that Lance knows.
Heh, he should have asked Shiro. Shiro seems to know everything about the Red Paladin, he would surely share.
If Lance was speaking to Shiro, that is…
“Look at me,” Keith whispers to him after the kiss ends, dark violet eyes unmoving in their tenderness. “Only at me. See only me now, I am the only one touching you.”
The touch comes slowly, careful, but not hesitant. Calloused palms touching his knees, thumbs running small absentminded circles over protruding bones. They slide down, unhurried, and Lance shivers when the soft skin on his inner thighs is caressed.
Shit, he’s had sex before - before the capture, that is - and he was never a shy kinda guy, but this… This feels ten times more intimate than them getting each other off in the showers an hour ago felt - and his dick isn’t even half hard.
Every time Lance freezes, Keith follows suit and reminds unmoving until Lance’s body thaws and signals him it’s okay, it’s fine to carry on. It’s so strange to see him so focused and in control of himself outside of battle.
The panic and fear are still there, still on the edges of his mind, trying to claw their way back in and make him bolt, but Keith’s eyes keep them at bay, his soft gaze unwavering even when his fingers finally reach all the way down.
Lance throws his hands down, over Keith’s, holds them in place. Red Paladin freezes obediently, his eyes still patient, still not golden. There’s storm in Lance’s mind now, thoughts chasing and mixing, all he can hear his own pulse trying to deafen him. Keith is close enough that if he wanted, he could reach out and feel his mind, read his intentions as clear as they’re written in the magenta eyes. It’s tempting, but still too scary to risk. He’s already breathing through his mouth, already holding back tears.
Blue rumbles in the back of his mind, reassuring, protective. Vouching for Keith’s good intentions. Encouraging him to trust and take that last leap, he’s so close now, almost there, toeing the place where he doesn’t have to hate himself anymore for things that aren’t his fault.
The thing is, he knows that, he knows that he’s not to blame. It’s just - there’s just so many layers to that…
But Lance is anything if not foolhardy - a quality that’s saved his ass so many times before. He reminds himself that he has jumped from bigger heights into darker waters than this with no assurance that he’ll be able to swim back up. That for all intents and purposes water is his element.
So, he jumps.
Guides Keith’s hands the rest of the way, shifts his fingers just so until he can feel them slipping inside , until he can see Keith’s eyes widen a fraction at the lack of resistance and the slickness. There’s surprise in them, but no disgust, no shock. There’s a soft gasp and he’s not sure which one of them made it.
Look at me, Lance, keep looking.
Then, Keith takes a deep breath and - reckless and undaunted, - jumps right after him.
Shiro wakes up with a start, words on his lips he’s not sure the meaning of, hands going up in a defensive position that goes nowhere once his spare fuses fire up and the rest of the brain comes online.
It’s the dream, again. The one that keeps plaguing him ever since the rescue mission.
The smell of short fur, drenched with some sort of herbal perfume, messing up with his head, muting his thoughts; the softness of it, completely unlike the other Galrans he’d ever touched. The press of that body against his own, large, but surprisingly light, strong, but only enough to keep him on the cold metal floor as his hips are straddled by a pair of long legs… He wasn’t forced, that was probably the best and the worst part of the whole ordeal, and Shiro’s dreams always make sure to remind him of that. Never skip the moment where he was actively participating in the exchange of favours .
He only wanted it to end quicker. He only wanted to go back to the ship. He wanted to get Lance back. He only wanted...
He’s drenched in sweat and shivering all over, the cool filtered air not helping him any. The stiffness between his legs seems to be taunting him with the memory of the visions his brain provided. He doesn't know if he’s more turned on by them or terrified that his body is still responding to the mating call of the strange Galran.
Most of all, he’s cold.
Oh, right, he’s sleeping alone. Usually, Keith is enough to warm up the whole room with his body heat, but today the Red Paladin didn’t come to him.
That’s good. That should be good. Keith should spend more nights in his own bed, should clear his mind and maybe start talking to Lance about the important things. Should…
Shiro should take a shower, wash off the memory of the dream along with the sticky sweat drying between his shoulderblades, and try to sleep some more before the morning alarm blares across the ship.
The treck to the showers is a long one, dark corridors illuminated by scant safety lights leaving nothing to distract Shiro from the thoughts crowding inside of his head. Walking with an erection that stubbornly refuses to settle isn’t anything pleasant, either.
He can’t stop thinking about the Galran. About what he’s he’s done.
What he had to do.
You’ve sold yourself , an inner voice whispers to him. Whored yourself out to a Galra for a piece of information.
No, he whispers back. He did it for Lance. He would not even consider it otherwise, but where the team is concerned, Shiro is willing to throw away more than whatever is left of his dignity.
Still, the implication of the Galran’s words hangs over his head heavy and sour - they wanted to breed with him, they have wanted children out of that breeding. And were prepared to go through considerable risk to get them.
It’s a terrifying thought when he lets himself consider it. That there may be a child that’s half Shiro born on the other side of the barricade, that he may have a child that will be - what? Why did they need it for, exactly?
Another Keith - comes to mind. Another mixed blessing with mixed blood living a life of uncertainty and fear? Will they ever have to stand against a son or a daughter of his and fight them not knowing about it?
How long did it take for Galra to carry a child? How long did it take for them to grow up?
God, so many unknowns!
Shiro considers asking Coran - there has to be some sort of a database on the Ship that would explain to him what the hell he had participated in. What was the strange Galran and why were they so hell bent on birthing a child of half blood.
Not now, thought.
Now he needs a shower, a cup of tea and sleep - in that order.
...but no, before all that he needs to investigate the strange sounds coming out from behind Lance’s door.
How did he even end up in that corridor?
He’s worried when a closer inspection reveals that the panel on the side is smashed in and there’s scruff marks on the door that aren’t all that easy to make. Even more so that they’re roughly finger-shaped.
A moment of panic comes and goes, before the sounds from the inside push it away and understanding settles like a heavy weight on the bottom of Shiro’s stomach. He can hear Keith. And Lance. Not as much their voices, no, not words or anything advanced like that. Only - sounds, from the lack of a better word. Gasps. Breathing. Moans.
Shiro realises that he’s been standing in the empty corridor with his head leaning on the damaged door only when the foot he was putting his weight on falls asleep. Damn, how long did it take?
More importantly, was he just listening in on two of his teammates having sex?
He’d think he was too old to blush like a virgin, but here he is, inching away from the door as if someone on the other side would care to listen for footsteps. Hands raised in a useless gesture, mouth opening for apologies that would certainly give him away.
Once he’s safely out of earshot, Shiro almost races back to his own room, mind awhirl with panic and disbelief, and a strange kind of joyful pride - becuase, way to go, Keith! - that is so very much misplaced in their messed up situation, but he can’t stop it. Just as he can’t stop his erection from demanding attention, before diving under the covers of his bed, making him hiss in discomfort and shame.
He shouldn’t, but the sounds… and the dream before that… goddamnit, he’s a twisted man, is he? To get hard listening on to… to get aroused… oh god…
But as much as he tries to stave it off, his dick keeps getting harder and harder, and his body grows hot. It’s like a sudden onset of some strange fever, cutting his breath short, making his skin feel too small for his bones… It’s hot, but he can’t force himself to throw the blanket off, the thought of being exposed to an empty room is too much to stand. So he wiggles out of his short sleeved shirt and, after a momentary fight with his consciousness, pulls down his sleeping pants. His dick catches briefly on the hem and Shiro has to stuff his free hand into his mouth to stop a groan from escaping him.
God, he doesn't remember ever being this hard! This… this keyed up. And he’s not even thinking about anything arousing - quite on the contrary, he’s drowning in shame and guilt, and there’s nothing sexy about that! But it’s like someone has set fire to him, his body demands release with or without his consent.
His own hand is too cold and shaking when he finally admits defeat and reaches down to grasp himself. Shiro tightens it around his flesh, feeling how hot and hard it is, how it twitches in his palm and, god, his hips actually buck! The heat, impossibly, raises to the point where he’s sure that his breath is turning into mist and, try as he might, he can’t stop his hand from moving. Slow, heavy strokes that turn quicker and rougher the more precome crips down his fingers to smooth the way. Almost painful and absolutely too much to stand, and the hand he’s biting on has to be bleeding at this point, but he can’t taste blood. Instead his mouth is full of another taste, something new and strange, and unknown, but not really…
Like a mouthful of fresh, cold water, sweet enough to keep his teeth form tingling…
And, oh, there’s a presence unfolding in the back of his mind, Black’s awareness slipping in and settling down like an old guest. It’s not the first time the lion decided to join him like that, to feel his pleasure - to amplify it by reflecting it back at him, even - but this time it feels different. Black isn’t curious, isn’t… he feels - excited in a completely different way.
He detects Shiro’s fear, of course he does.
Calm . He says. Calm. Open up.
What? Shiro can barely form words, his mind awashed by the waves of pleasure he can’t stop. What?
Open up. Finally.
Black purrs at him, something like a chuckle, and just when Shiro has gathered enough braincells to question him the Lion stretches and pushes and Shiro chokes, because the connection is being forced open way beyond what he’s used to and, okay, he’s been a this game for a while, but this feels like he’s being torn apart in some way that’s not painful, but… his dick jerks, his hand spasms on it, and it’s painful and he can’t make it loosen up…
Open. Let it in. Black whispers, pushing at him even more and Shiro blacks out and tumbles down… down into the well where the cold water surrounds him from all sides and he can’t breathe...
Lance is flying.
That’s the first that comes to him when the orgasm finally breaks on the rocks and he can start breathing again. Then he panics slightly, because he’s in his room, in the bed, with Keith underneath him, buried deep in Lance’s body - but he also isn’t.
He’s somewhere else.
For an open minded guy, he really, really , hates the space magic mumbo-jumbo and the whole shebang about the planes of existence and goddamnit, sex with Keith was fantastic, but not nearly enough for an out of body experience!
A chuckle in the back of his head tells him that he may be wrong.
Blue is there, he can feel her - deeper than he felt her in ages, deeper than he could stand her after what happened to him.
But now he’s flying, high on the endorphins or the magic of post coitus, or hell, Keith’s taste and smell, and… he can’t quite find it in himself to be afraid.
But he was - not that long ago, he was. He was terrified when Keith had touched him there , when Keith kept touching him without looking disgusted, kept exploring Lance’s new body with a single-minded purpose of familiarising them both with its inner workings. And god, he was good at it. Surprisingly gentle and reactive, and unsurprisingly dedicated. He made Lance forget - for a second - that he was supposed to be ashamed and scared…
And now he can’t even remember how to feel those… where he is… where is he?
It’s high, that he knows, even if he can’t see well; it’s high and warm, and calm, but whenever he reaches out, he can feel something else…
The storm rages outside of his bubble of peace, the wall of wind impenetrable and cutting. It will destroy everything that comes close to him…
To his family, to the people he loves. Winds howl in a voice of unending, unrelenting squall meant to tear apart anything that’s danger to them.
And Lance isn’t afraid, nestled as he is within the eye of that storm, held gently by the warm breeze that brushes over his body and mind like he is something precious and beloved.
Oh , the thinks.
This is Shiro , he thinks. Of course this is Shiro .
Blue purrs in contentment, glad that he’s solved the puzzle and only a bit amused by his surprise.
Lance almost feels like crying, because this - he could have had this from the beginning. If only he wasn’t so afraid, if he didn’t cut himself off from them all, if he didn’t keep Shiro at an arm’s length, so very scared that the Black Paladin’s energy will remind him of Zarkon. It would shatter him, if Shiro felt the same as that monster; it would be too much to stand, to discover that the Black quintessence is and was and always will be dark and imposing, heavy enough to suffocate… because Shiro was a good person that Lance respected and loved, and if only he wasn’t such a coward, they’d have this sooner.
They could have shared this and basked in it, and felt the love and care Shiro had for them...
But it isn’t too late yet. Lance doesn't let himself despair, doesn't let himself fall apart.
Instead, he puts his hands together and calls the spark to appear between his palms. Small and wavering thing, but it grows when the breeze whispers between Lance’s fingers to feed it. It shoots up, a raging flame that engulfs Lance and joins the hurricane over their heads, and they both exhale loudly when Keith joins in.
“What… what is this?” The fire whispers, awed and not a bit cowed. It tries to pull away briefly, to escape their hold, but Lance doesn't let him, using his cool to quell the flames as Shiro herds them back into the eye . “What’s this?”
“Us,” Pidge answers for them.
Lance startles briefly, but only for a moment, because of course she’s there, winding around them and through them, shivering in her frail form, but sharp and curious.
“Am I the only one that thinks this is weird? Because it is, isn’t it?” The last voice/feeling/emotion joins in and Lance’s heart couldn’t possibly get any fuller. He’s steady now, no longer floating on the breeze - they all are - and it feels amazing, steady, warm.
For the first time since he had been taken, Lance feels warm.
“Yeah, Pidge, it’s us,” Lance whispers, because raising his voice above a whisper feels like blasphemy. “And yeah, Hunk, it’s weird.”
“But it feels good,” Keith’s voice is full of wonder. “It feels…”
“Nice,” Pidge - no, Katie - finishes for the Red Paladin when the emotion chokes him up.
“Yeah,” Hunk humms around them. God, he feels amazing. “Apart from the super awkward way we got here… anyone else felt the need to…”
The bickering is welcome, it feels normal - finally! He was willing to give up his arm to feel normal with them again and now finally he has it - weird planes of mindspace or not! Except…
Except Shiro is silent. And when Lance turns to him, he’s so very still.
And oh , he can see all the cracks in him, every little place that got chipped by pain and suffering, by fear and goddamn torture. It’s like looking into a mirror, Lance relizes, because even if his own cracks don’t align perfectly with Shiro’s, most of them tends to run in similar directions.
He wants to go there, he wants to fill these gaps with his own presence and heal them all up to the best of his abilities. He’s water, that’s what he does . But…
But there’s nothing to stop him now, is there? Other than the uncertain wavering of Shiro’s spirit that says that he knows he’s being watched and knows how his damage runs, and he’s so careful with them, isn’t he? So gentle, wary of hurting Lance even a little, so he stays in the background, like a good leader should.
I t’s not you , Lance sends out. It’s not Keith and it’s not you, Shiro. And maybe he sends the point across before he feels himself taking that storm and trying to make it feel welcome and as warm as he feels.
The other three - but they are not ‘other’ they are him, they’re here, he can feel them all under his breastbone - join him without prompting, all drawn to the Black, to their air.
And it’s air, it’s light and sure it can turn into a storm to protect them, but it’s so unlike the dark gloom that tortured Lance in that chamber, so unlike the burn of the quintessence scalding his veins. Shiro is pure and gentle, and they need him to breathe.
It’s hard to describe how good it feels to have them all around him, flowing through him, taking from him and giving back bits of themselves to fill out his cracks and breaks. He almost… they almost didn’t have this… and Lance almost understands how that lack can hurt - how it can turn someone cold and greedy, and cruel enough to… how much one can sacrifice to have this back… And even if there won’t ever be forgiveness in him, that shade of understanding makes it easier to stand. And easier to counter.
Zarkon is strong, but not all-powerful, because they have this now. They are one, connected, whole, while he is alone and yearning. Stranded.
No matter how much he tries, he will never have this wholeness again, because Lance will not let him. He will never lay his hands on Keit or Hunk, will never get his Champion back, because Lance will not let him.
He is their water now and he will fill out any cracks that appear in their souls - just as each of them will make sure to do their part. Hunk, to provide the steady support of an unbreakable moral conviction. Pidge, to poke and prod, and keep them on the right track, keep an eye on each of them. Keith, to warm them with his passion and push them forward, pull them behind him as he’s burning through the walls meant to hold them back. Shiro… Shiro, to make them fly, keep their spirits high.
And Lance will keep them together, pull them into one whole, make sure they never break.
No matter how many wounds he has to heal and how many nightmares he has to get over, how hard it may still be - at least now he has a place.
Blue purrs at him, glad, proud, overjoyed at his discovery and, goddamnit, as soon as they wake up, he will take her flying.