Actions

Work Header

Mirror

Chapter Text

Why? Why was it that every time he felt like he was finally going to get a good night’s sleep after a particularly stressful movement, something had to wake him up?

He groaned and did his best to ignore the subtle tickle of his quintessence calling to him. But instead of lessening, it increased, growing more and more insistent until it was practically demanding his attention. Breathing out a soft whimper, he pulled away from the warm comfort of his mate’s embrace and flopped onto his other side so he lay facing his room.

He flailed out with his arm for his bedside table. He missed the first time but his fingers slapped the edge of the table on the second attempt. He blindly felt around for the small carnelian shard he typically kept in his vest pocket when he was up and about. He was not up and about right now nor did he plan to be up and about for another several vargas at least.

When he finally felt the smooth surface of the stone, he wrapped his fingers around it and pulled his arm back into the warmth of the blankets. Reluctantly, he yawned and pushed himself up so his back arched and his forearms rested on the bed. It wasn't the most polite position, but he didn't really care about politeness at the moment.

"I'm here," he said softly. "What is it?"

:Did I wake you?:

Lance blinked tiredly up at Nyma's spectral form that appeared a span away from the edge of the bed. He ran a hand through his hair and nodded. "Yes, but it's okay. You wouldn't have done it if it wasn't important," he said. "What do you need?"

Nyma frowned and looked over at someone or something nearby, probably Rolo, before returning her gaze to the prince's and speaking. :We received a message from the leader of the resistance,: she said without preamble. :They want us to spear head an alliance with Voltron.:

Lance nodded. "I'll tell Allura," he said. "But I doubt she'll refuse."

:There's more,: Nyma said, her lips set in a grim line. :We heard from a reliable source that the emperor has devoted most of his sources to look for the Sentinel.: Her lidless blue eyes focused on the prince. :Zarkon wants him alive and unharmed.:

Wearily, Lance breathed a deep sigh and rubbed his eyes. "I'm not surprised," he said.

:Care to explain?: she asked.

"Zarkon knows King Alfor bound the Lions of Voltron to the quintessence, or life force," he clarified, "of the Heir to keep it safe. In this case, the Heir is Allura."

:So that's why...: Nyma paused and licked her lips. :That's why he thinks she's dead,: she said astutely, :and why you don't want us to mention her. You're protecting her. Your mate told Rolo and me to keep her out of it.:

"If you can, I'd be grateful," Lance said.

:We're doing our best,: Nyma said with a nod. :Our leader wants to meet with you to form the alliance.:

Lance sat up, suddenly more awake. "When and where?" he asked.

:So you'll do it?: she asked.

"I'll ask my sister just to be sure," he said, "but I see no reason why she would refuse. We've already been discussing forming an alliance with the resistance."

Nyma nodded. :I'll inform our contact here of your agreement,: she said. :When do you think you'll get to Meserie?:

"Meserie?" Lance repeated with interest. "The trade post?" Nyma nodded and the prince thought for a tick. "If the planet's coordinates haven't changed much from what we have stored in the Castle's memory banks, then we could be there by later today."

:Good. Let me know when you arrive and I'll contact you when it's safe to land,: she said.

"Safe?"

:Lotor is here,: Nyma said, watching Lance carefully.

The prince let out a long, shaky breath. "I see," he said.

He hung his head as he considered this new information. If Lotor saw him, it could complicate things. It could make this whole thing too dangerous to pursue. He looked back at Keith sleeping soundly in the bed next to him and couldn't help but smile. So much had happen in so little time. Maybe it was time Team Voltron took this battle straight to the heart of the Galra. Politics were a nasty thing, after all.

"Your leader won't be on Meserie, correct?" he asked.

:No,: Nyma said. She frowned. :Why?:

"Just a thought," Lance said absently. He ran his fingers through Keith's dark hair, brushing his fingertips up one of the soft, fluffy ears. Keith would hate this idea of his. "And there aren't any Druids either?"

:No,: Nyma confirmed, narrowing her eyes in suspicion. :What are you planning?:

"I'm not sure yet," Lance said. He sighed and turned his gaze back to Nyma translucent form. "Let me know immediately if any of that changes," he said. "I don't want to take too big of a risk that doesn't involve just me or our team."

:Don't do anything stupid, Lance,: the trader warned him. :I'm starting to like you.:

Lance snickered. "So if you didn't like me, you wouldn't mind if I did something stupid, is that it?" he teased. Nyma shrugged nonchalantly which just made Lance's smile widen. "I can feel the love," he said wryly.

:I try,: she said with a lopsided smile. However, that smile quickly faded when she spoke again. :Tell Keith we have a way to get what he traded for,: she said. :It won't be easy but it's the best chance we've got.:

"I know he traded for the juniberry plant," Lance said.

:He told you then?:

The prince nodded. "Did he tell you why he wanted it?" he asked in curiosity.

:He wanted it because you asked for it,: she said. :Well, you and your sister.:

Lance blinked. "He didn't know its purpose?"

:No,: Nyma said. :He didn't even known it's considered a drug by most people.: She lifted her thin eyebrows and tilted her head in acknowledgement. :You have a good mate,: she said. :I'd take care of him, if I were you.:

"I will," Lance said, turning back to his still sleeping mate. "But you said it would be difficult to get the juniberry?"

:It will be,: she said seriously. :Not impossible, but difficult. The person who deals the plant in practically all its forms is a female. No one knows what planet she's from or what race she calls her own. She has no loyalty to any power: political, social, or religious. She answers only to herself, her morals, and the Trader’s Code.:

“The Trader’s Code?” Lance repeated.

Nyma nodded. :It’s the code of conduct and expectations each trader in the Universal Trader’s Guild pledges to uphold,: she said. :It’s what requires us to keep our ends of a bargain, see a fair deal through to the end, and protect our customers. Our reputation is as valuable to traders and our customers as currency.:

“I see,” Lance murmured. “So they decided to go through with it.” At the curious look on Nyma’s face, he clarified. “When I was… Before I was put under, there were talks of founding a Trader’s Guild but it hadn’t been put into practice yet.”

:Mm. Well, the juniberry trader’s name is Merla,: she said. :She’s been a member of the Guild for longer than Rolo and I have been. She values her integrity and reputation as a trader, so any deal she makes will be kept. But she’s also a total sneak. She’ll fulfill her end of the deal, no problem. But she very rarely comes out anything but on top.:

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Lance said seriously. “Other than that, how are you and Rolo doing?”

:We’re doing fine so far,: the trader said with a shrug. She tossed one of the appendages dangling from the side of her head over her shoulder with casual ease and glanced at something beside her. :Rolo’s cooking,: she said, :and he’d better not burn my kilish again or so help me I’ll burn his stash chewing sticks.:

She snorted then cackled at something Rolo must have said that Lance couldn’t hear bringing a smile to the prince’s face. The smile quickly became a yawn that was so huge it forced him to squeeze his eyes shut. He groaned and shook his head to clear away the sleep still clinging to his mind enough to continue talking.

“Alright,” he said. “Is there anything you need from me?” When Nyma tilted her head in confusion the prince explained. “You’ve given me information. What do you need in return? A trade is an equal exchange.”

Nyma nodded slowly and thought for a tick. :I’ll think about it and tell you when you get here, how about that?: she suggested.

“Nothing too serious now,” Lance said with a teasing grin. “I don’t have much.”

:You’re a prince,: she said, lifting an eyebrows playfully.

“A prince by name only,” he said. “Besides, we never ruled anything. Just handled interplanetary politics.”

Nyma hummed. :I’ve thought of a price you can pay,: she announced abruptly, startling the prince.

“So soon?” he asked with a smile.

:Buy me a drink and answer some of my questions about Altean culture,: she said.

Lance sat up in surprise. It took a few tries for him to find his words again. “Why?” he asked finally.

:Because it’s interesting,: she said. :You were there when the Galra Empire came to power. There may be something you remember happening that only turned out to be significant after you were put in stasis.:

Ah, that explained it. Information for information. Lance felt depression settle in his chest like a weight. He supposed the information on a long dead culture and people would be interesting. It was something no doubt any historian would be itching to learn about. To have a living, breathing Altean talk about his firsthand experiences would be a historian’s wet dream.

:Besides,: Nyma added, :I think you need it:

That… Lance looked up at her, a small flicker of hope in his chest.

:Sometimes you need to get a little drunk with someone you don’t know very well to talk about painful memories,: she said, her lidless blue gaze gentle.

It reminded Lance of the way Lauma used to look at him when he struggled with his desire to be a Master Pilot and the Druids’ desire for him to be a Master Ascender. It hurt, but not in a bad way. He managed a smile.

“I can do that,” he said.

:Of course, if you decide to follow through on that little proposition of yours from the other cycle, I wouldn’t be opposed to it,: she added with a straight face, followed by a sly grin and sultry wink that brought the prince to laughter.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said. “Although you’ll forgive me if someone else lays claim first.”

Nyma shrugged. :He’s welcome to join us. Just because I can’t literally have sex doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the act. Watching is almost as fun as participating. There’s a reason Rolo often uses me as a wingman when he goes hunting for a late night catch.:

That comment brought a blush to the prince’s face and laughter to his heart. “I’ll ask,” he said between gasping laughter.

:Mmhm, I’m sure you will,: she said. :Go slick up and get back in bed, boy. You’re mate’s awake.:

“Slick…?” Lance murmured, his lips quirking up in a confused smile.

Then the second half of what the trader said hit him and Lance spun around. Keith had woken sometime during Lance’s conversation with Nyma and was watching him with his violet and gold eyes. Keith’s eyes seemed to gleam in the darkness of the prince’s bedroom. They almost looked hungry.

Slick up and go to bed. Oh. Yes. Now it made sense.

:Try to get some sleep, lover boy,: Nyma said in a sing-song tone before Lance felt the connection sever.

“Keith?” Lance whispered. “How long were you awake?”

The sleepy red paladin shrugged. “A while,” he said. “Something tickled my ears.”

Lance flushed and rolled his lips in an effort to hold back his smile. So Keith had felt that. Keith caught the flush and guilty expression on Lance’s face and frowned.

“You did that?” he demanded.

Lance snorted. “You’re cute when you sleep,” he said.

Even in the darkness, the prince could see his mate’s face darken with a blush. “I am not cute,” he hissed.

“No?”

“No.”

“Then what are you?” Lance asked. Without moving his eyes from Keith’s face, he reached out to place the carnelian shard back on his bedside table by touch. “Purrr-fect?” he teased.

One of Keith’s ears twitched in mild annoyance which just served to make Lance snort. He quickly slapped a hand over his nose and mouth when Keith’s eyebrows furrowed and his ears began twitching more quickly.

“That was horrible,” Keith said flatly.

“I thought I was magnificent,” Lance said, his voice somewhat muffled by his hand. His eyes, however, sparkled with mischief from above his fingers.

Keith ignored Lance’s comment in favor of weaving his fingers through Lance’s hair and using his grip to push the prince’s head into the pillow. Lance blinked when his cheek sank into the pillow’s softness and watched the red paladin’s face change to one of curiosity.

“You were saying something?” Keith asked.

This time, it was Lance’s turn to be confused. “Mmph?”

His eyelids drifted closed as Keith’s fingers began massaging his scalp. It felt so good. Just the motions were soothing but the heat radiating from Keith’s hand made it that much better.

“Something about ‘slick?’” Keith drawled.

Instantly, the soothing feeling vanished replaced by shock. Lance’s eyes flew open and he stared dumbstruck at his mate with a growing sense of dread. He gulped.

“‘Slick’ what?” Keith pressed, leaning closer.

Lance’s eyes grew wider the closer Keith got to his face. “Nothing,” he said through his hand.

One of Keith’s ears flicked and he tilted his head slightly to the side as if listening intently. “I’m afraid you’ll have to say that again,” he said, “without your hand,” he leaned close enough for his and Lance’s noses to touch, “covering your mouth.”

Keith brushed his thumb over Lance’s left eye scale causing the prince to shiver and allow his hand to slip from his face. The red paladin seized the opportunity; diving forward and capturing his mate’s lips with his own in a kiss that wasn’t meant to be innocent. It was hot and demanding, burning Lance’s lips. Even though he was hyper aware of Keith’s higher body temperature, he always seemed to forget how hot Keith actually was now until this happened.

The Blue Lion purred through their bond deep in his mind sending with it a pulse of bone chilling cold that all but drove Lance into Keith’s embrace. He leaned close, pressing his body against his mate’s and sighing when he felt heat seep into his skin. He looped one leg around Keith’s, holding him in place while the hand not pinned between his body and the bed moved up the red paladin’s arm to rest on Keith’s bicep.

The hand still gripping Lance’s hair loosened its hold just enough to slid through the strands so it rested against the back of the prince’s head. There it stayed, holding Lance’s head in place so he couldn’t pull free from the kiss, not that he wanted to. The fingers tightened in his hair pulling a faint whimper of pain from his mouth which had Keith’s ears flicking forward in full alert.

Then his back was being pressed into the mattress with the red paladin draped on top of him like a fluffy, purple blanket. He laughed into the kiss at the thought. He reached up with his now free right hand to clutch at his mate’s hair before sliding down to press against the back of Keith’s neck. The hand the had been on Keith’s arm now slid up to Keith’s back, pressing flat between his mate’s shoulder blades. Every time Keith flexed his muscles, every time his shoulder blades lifted and pressed towards each other, every time Keith moved, Lance felt it.

Keith’s skin was warm like the rays of the Daystar on a summer’s day and Lance craved it. He tried shifting his body beneath his mate’s and felt hot fingers grip the back of his neck in a firm hold. Instantly, he fell still and let Keith do as he pleased. He did voice his complaint in the form of a breathless whine, however. Of course, Keith just chuckled and began moving slowly and sensually like a serpent over Lance’s skin.

When he finally broke the kiss, he lowered his mouth to the Mark at the juncture of Lance’s neck his left shoulder. He probably would be sleeping in a bit longer tomorrow than he’d originally planned. He didn’t feel sorry about that.


 

“That’s Meserie?” Pidge asked, staring at the planet filling the bridge view screens.

The planet was tidally locked as it orbited a red dwarf star. The side facing the star looked like a desert of bare rock, possibly even molten rock. The other side of the planet was a dark, frozen wasteland where temperatures were no doubt too low for humans to survive. Honestly, there was no way life could exist on this planet as Pidge understood it.

Yet nevertheless, several spaceships of varying size and shape orbited the planet, mostly near the poles, and many more smaller transport ships flew between the spaceships and the planet’s surface. They all flew to the same area: a narrow stretch of land situated in the sunset region that extended from pole to pole.

The Castleship was hovering in low orbit around a gas giant farther away from the star so it could observe the activity on Meserie from a safe distance. Although Pidge had misgivings about their current location, Coran had assured her that the particle barrier was powerful enough to protect them from the dangerous atmosphere of the planet. She had to agree with the fact that other ships would be hard pressed to spot them amidst all the clouds, gravity, and magnetic distortion in the gas giant’s vicinity.

“It is,” Coran said. “It’s changed since I last saw it, though. I suppose 10,000 decaphoebs of change would be noticeable on some scale.”

“So the trading post place is in that sunset region?” Hunk asked, pointing to the thin line of dark and shadow. “We’ve found a few exoplanets that have those characteristics in the Goldilocks regions around their parent stars. NASA’s been wanting to send probes to a few for a while now, but they’re all too far away to make it feasible at the moment.”

“Ah, yes, that’s right,” the advisor said, flashing a smile at the yellow paladin. “You did say that planet you had first contact with the Galra on was the farthest your people had ever gotten from your home planet.”

“Kerberos,” Shiro said, nodding. He leaned forward in his black and white pilot seat on the Castle’s bridge so his elbows rested on his thighs. “That’s the furthest we’ve ever sent Humans before this, yeah. But we did send one probe out beyond the planetary orbits of our solar system. It left the heliosphere and entered the heliosheath on 2012.”

“2012?” Lance asked curiously. “Is that a measurement of time on your world?”

The Humans all looked at each other in surprise before their shoulders drooped.

“It is, yes,” Shiro said. Turning his body so he could look at the prince.

Lance stood by his sister on the control pedestal in the center of the bridge, his gaze fixed on the planet in the view screen. “It’s busier than I remember it being,” the prince murmured.

“It is,” Allura agreed. “When Father and I visited last, it was still being established.”

“I remember,” Lance murmured.

After a minute or so, Shiro saw Lance take a deep breath and let it out slowly through his nose. This was the moment they had all been looking forward to and dreading. None of them wanted to separate, especially only a few quintants after Sendak’s memory and the warped quintessence almost succeeded in tearing their team apart and killing them. But this was necessary if they were going to get everything done quickly and efficiently.

The prince took Keith's hand and squeezed it. "We're ready," he said.

Chapter Text

“Lance, wait.”

The prince paused in his preparations for launch and looked up when his sister called him. Keith poked his head out of the pod door curiously before stepping back inside and taking a seat at the controls. Allura walked purposefully into the hangar with her long, white hair tight up in a severe bun, a small bag slung over her shoulder, and wearing her flight suit.

“I want to go with you,” she said in a voice that brooked no argument.

Before Lance had a chance to respond, Keith appeared at the pod door again and stared at Allura like she had suddenly grown a second head. “You what?” he gasped.

“I’m going to go with you,” she said firmly. Her eyes pinned Keith with a steely glare before settling on her brother.

Not happening.

“You can’t do that, Allura,” Lance said, turning back to the pod to continue its pre-flight check.

Lance had to inspect the outside of the pod for any flaws or damage that could impact their trek. The last thing they needed was an explosive decompression that shot them all into space. These pods were durable but old, 10,000 decaphoebs old to be exact. Every piece of technology had a designed lifespan and these pods were possibly nearing the end of theirs. They would have to invest in either upgrading to a new model or upgrading these pods.

“I wasn’t giving you a choice,” Allura said primly.

“Neither was I,” Lance replied.

“I’m going.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am.”

“No, you’re not, Allura.”

“Yes, I am, Lance.”

The prince sighed heavily and finally turned to face his sister. “No, you aren’t, Allura,” he said. “My job is protecting you. I can’t do that if you’re down there.”

“You can’t protect me while I’m up here either,” the princess said, crossing her arms.

“No,” Lance agreed. “But as long as you’re up here, I know you have Shiro and the other paladins to protect you and keep you out of trouble.”

“Keep me out of…” Allura stared at her brother in disbelief. “You’re one to talk.”

“I’m the one to talk,” Lance said, rolling his eyes dramatically. “That’s why I’m telling you not to go down there.”

“Well then it’s a good thing you can’t tell me what to do,” Allura said.

Lance blinked and whipped his head back to his sister. “I…” Quiznak it all, she was right. “I’m your Sentinel,” he said, trying another route. “Let me do my job.”

“And I’m the Heir,” Allura said, a smug grin growing on her face. “My word goes.”

Quiznak.

“Lotor is down there,” the prince said, trying his last card. “He’s probably looking for me. Sendak knows my face and I bet he sent an image of me to every high ranking Galra in the empire by now.”

“All the better for me to go,” Allura insisted. “He’ll be looking for you not me. Besides, we both know I’m the more experienced one when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.”

That was true. Quiznak.

“I…” Lance shut his mouth and tried desperately to come up with an argument of some kind.

“It’s fine by me,” Keith said, startling both royal siblings.

Allura was pleasantly surprised to have someone backing her. Lance, however, looked positively betrayed that his own mate would argue against him.

“If you can hold your own and handle the negotiations, we’ll handle the trading part,” the red paladin said easily. “Although, I think Shiro should go with you.”

The princess’s expression darkened. “Why?” she demanded. “I can protect myself just fine.”

Keith snorted. “Yeah, that’s what he said,” Keith said wryly, jutting his chin out at the prince who flushed bright red. “We all know how well that went, every single time.”

“Not every single time,” Lance groaned.

He shrank under the force of both Keith and Allura’s flat stare but refused to back down.

“Look,” Keith said eventually, “you can come with us, but take Shiro with you. That way Lance will be satisfied you have someone there to protect you just in case, and we can handle the trading without Lance worrying himself sick.”

“I don’t worry myself sick,” Lance grumbled.

The princess huffed but gave in. “Fine,” she muttered. “I’ll go get him.”

“You didn’t tell him you were going to come with us, did you,” Lance said. The faint flush on his sister’s cheek was answer enough. The blue paladin rolled his eyes. “Go tell him and get back here. We leave in five doboshes with or without you.”

Allura stayed long enough to shoot him a glare before setting her bag on the floor and rushing off to track down Shiro. The poor black paladin had no idea what was coming. Lance shook his head in pity as he picked up the princess’s bag and opened it. It was filled with small trinkets and items that Allura planned on using to trade with. Most of them were not personal items, but a few were.

Lance winced when he noticed a hairbrush made of hand carved lindenwood with stiff Stadig hair as its bristles and a necklace and bracelet set made of etched lin scales. Those were some of Allura’s more prized possessions. He glanced up to be sure his sister was gone before he plucked those particular items out of the bag and carrying everything into the pod. He quickly keyed in a code that made a door to a small compartment slide open and placed the hairbrush and the jewelry inside. They would be protected here, and unless Allura figured out Lance’s passcode, which he was fairly certain she wouldn’t, then her personal affects couldn’t be used to trade.

“You didn’t have to do that, you know,” Keith said gently, not looking up from the dashboard as he double checked the flight plan logged into the pod’s computer. “I doubt she would have actually traded them.”

The prince sighed and shook his head. “You don’t know my sister,” he said heavily, sliding the compartment door shut and locking it. “She’ll do whatever it takes to get what she wants. She’s ruthless.”

“Sounds like someone else I know,” the red paladin said with a teasing tone to his voice.

“I’m trying to decide whether to take that as an insult or not,” Lance said, striding up to the front of the pod’s cockpit and dropping unceremoniously into the copilot’s seat.

Keith shrugged. “I guess you’ll never know,” he said.

The hiss of the door to the hangar sliding open alerted the two paladins of Allura’s return. Keith’s ears flicked backwards when both he and Lance heard two sets of footfalls this time. The princess must have found Shiro.

“That was fast,” Keith said, mildly impressed.

“Yeah,” Lance said, humming thoughtfully. “Too bad they can’t move their smegs to bed together that fast.”

The red paladin snorted in amusement just in time for Shiro and Allura to arrive and step into the pod. The black paladin was wearing in Voltron flight suit armor and helmet. He nodded to the prince who returned the silent greeting. One of Keith’s ears followed the newly arrived couple’s movements while his eyes remained focused on the pod’s dashboard and view screens. After another couple doboshes, Keith let out a relieved sigh and adjusted his position to something more comfortable.

“Ready to go?” he asked.

“Yes,” Allura answered.

“Ready when you are,” Shiro said.

“I’ll be flying us down to Meserie’s atmosphere,” Lance said, reaching out to wrap his hands around the control column. “Then Keith will take over when Nyma contacts me. We’ll adopt a holding pattern in high orbit until she gives us the all clear to land.”

“Sounds good to me,” Shiro said.

“You won’t need your helmet, Shiro,” Lance said. “The atmosphere is breathable in the actual settlement beneath the particle barrier.”

Shiro nodded. “Good to know,” he said.

“Do you think Pidge’s modifications to our translators will work?” Allura asked, settling down in a comfortable position on the floor behind her brother’s pilot seat. She tapped the translator attached behind her left ear. “It would be nice to have the ability to communicate with the Castle without the need for our helmets.”

The black paladin grinned. “Knowing Pidge, I’d be surprised it if didn’t work. I’d be even more surprised if that’s all she added.” He smiled sheepishly. “She’s always had a knack for adding onto things until there’s no room for anything else.”

“That’s…” Keith hesitated, choosing his words wisely. “Comforting.”

Lance snorted. “Nice save,” he said under his breath. He tapped the communications button and said in a louder voice, “Coran, we’re ready to launch.”

“Very good, your highness,” the advisor said through the pod’s speakers. “Have you seen Allura, by any chance?”

Lance blinked and slowly turned around to give his sister the best disdainful stare he could manage. The princess met his gaze evenly and smiled, the picture of innocence. Shiro’s eyes were wide in surprise, darting between Lance, the comm unit, and Allura. Keith just snorted.

“She’s with us,” the red paladin said with a grin. “We have Shiro too, don’t worry.”

“She’s what?Coran cried.

“Don’t worry, Coran,” Lance said, turning back around to face the forward view screen. “They just plan to do some trading and handle the negotiations regarding our alliance with the resistance. Keith and I are going to handle the more dangerous side of things.” He shook his head. “With any luck, we’ll be back on board the Castle by quintant’s end with a juniberry plant or two, new items from the Market, and the details for meeting the resistance’s leader to solidify our alliance.”

“But what about Prince Lotor?” Coran said, sounding worried. “You said he was on the planet.”

“He is, last I heard,” Lance confirmed in a calm voice. “But Lotor has no knowledge of Allura. He doesn’t know what she looks like or anything. As far as he’s concerned, she’s long dead. I’m the one the Galra Empire wants. They’ll focus their attention on me. That should allow Allura to slip past them with ease.”

“And if that doesn’t work?” Coran asked. “We all know how well plans work out, after all.”

“Thanks for that vote of confidence there, Coran,” the prince said wryly, his shoulders slumping in a sulk. “Look, if anything happens to Allura, Shiro will be right there to protect her. And if that doesn’t work, then I’ll be nearby and so will Keith. You need to focus on going through the data we extracted from the remnants of Sendak’s memories.”

The advisor sighed. “Alright, if you insist,” he muttered. “Is Allura there with you right now?”

“I’m here, Coran,” Allura said, sitting up and scooting over so she could peek out between the two pilot seats in the cockpit. This way her voice could be picked up by the comm unit more clearly. “What is it?”

“Do you want us to inform you immediately if we find anything in Sendak’s memories?” he asked. “Or would you rather we wait until you return to the Castle?”

The princess considered her options thoughtfully for a few ticks before replying. “Wait until I return,” she said. “Unless it’s something urgent,” she amended quickly. “Then contact me immediately.”

“Yes, princess,” the advisor said. “Alright. Now that all that’s taken care of, you four ready to go?”

“Ready and waiting,” Keith said, taking a hold of his control column as well, matching his mate’s position.

“I’m opening the hangar door now.”

True to Coran’s word, the large hangar door to the pod bay lifted and the particle barrier designed to hold the air in the hangar and keep the vacuum of space out shimmered across the expanse. Anything could pass through this particle barrier except for air. Lance eased the pod off of the landing pad and into the air, gliding smoothly towards and through the particle barrier.

“We’ll contact you when we reach orbit,” he said. “Then again when we land. Afterwards, we’ll only communicate when we can. Don’t contact us unless it’s urgent.”

“Will do.”

“Hey, Coran,” Shiro said suddenly, sliding next to Allura so his voice could be heard by the comm unit as well. “Tell Hunk and Pidge to take it easy with the Castle’s computer systems.” He grinned. “They tend to get a bit carried away with technology.”

Coran chuckled. “I’ll do my best,” he said. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Shiro’s smile faded to a sheepish wince. “Don’t jinx it,” he pleaded. “Just trust me when I say Pidge loves tinkering and Hunk will probably follow her lead. He won’t let her blow anything up, I don’t think. But let’s make sure it doesn’t come to that in the first place.”

“I… I see,” Coran said. “I guess I’ll take this a bit more seriously.” The advisor’s deep breath was clearly audible through the pod’s speakers. “Well, have a safe flight. Be safe.”

Lance smiled. “That’s the plan,” he said.

He severed the connection and gripped the control column and pushed the pod forward, steadily picking up speed until they made the jump to slipstream. This was definitely going to be something. Whether good or bad, he couldn’t be sure yet. Better to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

With any luck, he could learn a bit more about the juniberry trader Merla before he met her in person. He didn’t like leaping into things without having at least some knowledge about the situation and the people. That was stupid. But he never bothered to plan everything out either. He preferred having a rough outline and improvising the rest. Enemies had a hard time predicting his next move if even he wasn’t sure what his next move would be until he did it.

Unfortunately, Lance got the feeling neither Keith nor Shiro were that way. Shiro’s entire demeanor screamed military. The military almost always had some sort of plan of action before doing anything. Keith was also military, but more importantly, he was a Galra. True, he was only half Galra, but he had been raised as a Galra, steeped in their culture, and trained as a soldier on a Galra battlecruiser.

The Galra were meticulous planners. If anything happened out of the boundaries of what they planned for, then their entire strategy tended to fall apart. This was one of the reasons why their little team of mismatched paladins had been able to make such headway with Voltron. The Galra never planned for Lance and Allura to reawaken and revive the Castle of Lions. They never planned for other paladins to appear, find, and recover the Lions. The also never planned for those paladins to successfully form Voltron and fight back with any chance of victory.

Yet that’s what they had done time and time again. Granted, they still had a very long way to go before their started making any serious progress in this war. But their little victories were beginning to create ripples in the universe.

They managed to form Voltron after knowing each other for a day or so and blown a fully operational Galra battlecruiser that was much more powerful than the ones Lance remembered fighting 10,000 decaphoebs ago clear out of the Arusian sky. They had befriended and subsequently hired two traders who worked for the resistance to act as spies for Team Voltron. Those traders had then tracked down the juniberry plant so the Alteans could recover the other half of their biological existence.

Then Team Voltron set off to save the Balmera from the Galra’s clutches, befriending the locals as they did so. The Balmera itself had acted of its own accord, saving their team from the Robeast before it could kill them; and it would have killed them. There was no doubt about that. Then the peaceful Balmerans had helped Team Voltron rest and recover after their fight with the Robeast.

They had even banded together despite the efforts of Sendak’s memories and the warped quintessence to take over the Castle of Lions, tear their team apart, and eventually kill them all. It left scars; but in the end, they were alive and that’s all that mattered.

“We’ll be coming out of the slipstream in a couple tickd,” Lance said, keeping track of their progress using the view screens. “When Nyma gives us the all clear, we’ll land on one of the landing pads and let you and Shiro off there. Does that sound okay, Allura?”

He couldn’t see her nod but he heard her hum of agreement. “You’re not going to join us?” she asked.

Keith shook his head. “We’re going to land at another landing pad nearby,” he said.

“That’s the best option,” the black paladin said. “Allura and I will head on to the Market while you two meet up with Nyma.”

“I have to pay Nyma back for the information she’s given me,” Lance said. “So we may be a while.”

“Why don’t you pay her while I take care of the juniberry trade with Merla?” Keith asked.

Lance shrugged. “I could,” he said. “I’ll see what I can do.” He flashed his mate a reassuring smile before returning his gaze to the view screen. “Although,” he added, “you might want to join us when you’re finished dealing with Merla.”

The red paladin looked at the prince through the corner of his eye. “Why?” he asked suspiciously.

Lance shrugged and smiled innocently. “No reason,” he said. “I just think you might enjoy yourself.”

“Lance,” Allura said. “What are you planning?”

“Nothing to concern yourself over, ‘Llura,” the prince said. “Just, if you could get Merla to give you a bottle or two of juniberry juice as well as the plant,” he said to Keith, “that would be fantastic.”

Lance heard his sister snort from her spot behind his seat and his smile turned teasing. “I think you might enjoy it too, Shiro,” he said. “It’s delicious and has a way of bringing out the best in my sister and me.”

He didn’t have to look to know both Allura and Shiro were blushing. He couldn’t resist one more push.

“Particularly in bed.”

He ended up having to hand over control of the pod to Keith sooner than he’d planned. He regretted nothing.

Chapter Text

“This is going to take a little while,” Pidge muttered as she typed away on her self-built laptop. She shook her head with an exhausted sighed and ran a hand through her messy hair before returning to typing.

“Any luck with Sendak’s memories?” Coran asked, waltzing into the observatory where Pidge and Hunk had taken up temporary residence.

The yellow paladin lifted his gaze to the advisor and sighed, shrugging his shoulders in a half-hearted affirmative. “Kind of,” he said aloud. “Pidge is working on translating the information from Galra to English.” Rover flashed and beeped in offense drawing a light chuckle from the mildly frustrated paladin. “With Rover’s help, of course,” Hunk amended with a friendly pat on the hoverbot’s surface.

“Ah. Is English your native language?” Coran asked, striding across the room to sit cross legged next to the yellow paladin.

“It is, yeah,” Hunk said with a nod. “Well,” he corrected, “it’s my second language, actually. But it’s Pidge’s first language, isn’t it, Pidge?”

“Shut up and let me work,” the green paladin snapped without any real anger.

Hunk grinned taking no offense. “Don’t worry,” he said, nudging the concerned advisor. “She gets like this when she’s in the zone.”

“In what zone?” Coran asked in confusion.

“Oh, right. It’s an Earth phrase,” Hunk explained. “It means ‘focused’ or something like that.”

“I see,” Coran said, nodding slowly. “You have interesting phrases on your planet.”

“Okay nerds, I’ve got something,” Pidge said suddenly, startling her companions. “It’s not as much as I’d like, but it’s all I’ve got for now. I had to write a brand new code from scratch just to translate this shit. It’s not as easy as it sounds considering I have no flippin’ idea how the Galra language even works. Grammar, spelling, syntax, all that shit. I’m totally just giving it an educated guess.”

“Maybe,” Hunk said, leaning so he could look over his friend’s shoulder. “But last time you made an educated guess, we rescued Shiro, found the Yellow Lion, and traveled through a wormhole to a completely different planet.”

Pidge glanced at Hunk with calculating eyes.

“What?” Hunk asked.

“I’m trying to decide if you’re insulting me or complimenting me,” she said.

Hunk smiled broadly. “Well, since I found Yellow, I’d say it was a compliment,” he said, his smile softening to something gently and loving. “She’s…” he shook his head as he struggled to find the right words, “amazing.”

At that, Pidge snorted and grinned. “Green’s better,” she said, and returned her attention to the computer in her lap. “Okay,” she said. “I’ve got some gibberish, broken sentences, a few individual words and numbers. But the most interesting part is this string of symbols here.”

She made a few quick keystrokes and two lines of Galra symbols zoomed in so they took up the center of the computer screen.

“Why aren’t they translated yet?” Hunk asked.

The green paladin grumbled something under her breath. “My program is working on it but it’s like there’s a firewall or something around them protecting them.”

“Oh! That means this is important,” Hunk said, his eyes sparkling with the chance to solve a brand new puzzle. “Hang on a sec. Let me write this down and see if I can figure it out by hand.”

Pidge stared at Hunk incredulously for a moment before shaking her head. “Why you feel the need to do everything the old fashioned way is beyond me,” she muttered.

Hunk scoffed. “Um, excuse you. But writing things down will never go out of style,” he said proudly.

“Erm, if I might interject,” Coran said, holding up a finger to get the paladins’ attention.

“Yeah?” Pidge said.

“What is a ‘firewall?’” he asked. “I’ve never heard that word before. But judging by the way you talk about it, I get the feeling it isn’t a literal wall of fire.” He paled and looked between the two in growing fear. “At least, I certainly hope it isn’t.”

Pidge rolled her eyes and went back to typing completely dismissing the advisor’s ridiculous question. Hunk, however, chuckled and patted Coran’s back in a friendly, reassuring way.

“Don’t worry,” the yellow paladin said. “It’s not a literal wall of fire, I promise.”

The tension in Coran’s shoulders immediately drained leaving him slumped in relief. “Oh, that’s good to hear,” he said.

Pidge suddenly gave Coran a suspicious look. “Why do I get the feeling you don’t trust us?” she demanded.

“Well,” the advisor said, some of the tension returning as he tugged on his bushy, orange mustache awkwardly, “Shiro did warn me about your tendency towards, erm, blowing things up.”

Pidge threw her head back and groaned dramatically. “That was one time,” she whined loudly. “One time and he still won’t let me live it down. God, that guy can hold a grudge.”

Hunk stared at Pidge with a look that was equal parts impressed and wary, perhaps weighted more towards the wary side of things. “I kind of want to know this story but I kind of don’t at the same time,” he said.

“Good, cause you’ll hear jack squat from me,” Pidge said curtly.

Hunk held up his hands. “Okay, touchy subject. Got it. Anyway,” he turned back to Coran, “a firewall is what we call a digital creation designed to allow outbound communication but limit incoming information.”

“So, essentially, it’s a particle barrier?” Coran asked.

Hunk nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, kind of like that,” he said. “Only a firewall only exists in the digital world. It’s not a physical object, like a particle barrier, but a part of a computer system or network that acts a lot like a particle barrier. Depending on the firewall,” he glanced at the green paladin typing away on her keyboard, “it can be easy or hard to find a way around it.”

“I could break this one down if I understood how this thing works,” Pidge grumbled in annoyance. “But since I have nothing to go on, I can’t just create a virus that would attack just the firewall and leave the data itself as is.”

Coran sat back and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Sounds interesting,” he said. “If you need any help, you could hook your device to the Castle’s syste-”

“No! Nope!” both Hunk and Pidge said at the same time.

“Not after the last time we did that,” Hunk said, eyes wide and shaking his head as if to get the horrible memories out of his head.

“Tell me about it,” Pidge said. “Thanks for the offer, Coran. The Castle’s systems would definitely speed things up, but I’m not taking the chance of Sendak taking over the ship, again.”

The advisor winced and sulked. “Yes, good point.” He slumped in defeat. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

The yellow and green paladins looked at each other for a moment.

“Why not?” Hunk said to which Pidge shrugged and nodded. “You wouldn’t happen to have any spare memory storage crystal things lying around, would you?” he asked.

Coran sat up with an eager smile. “Yes, we do, as a matter of fact,” he said.

“If you could bring us a couple of those, that would be great,” Hunk said with a smile. “We can upload anything Pidge finishes translating and clearing of any malware type stuff onto the crystals. Sound good?” he asked his friend.

“Sounds good to me,” Pidge said without looking up.

“Oh, and could you grab me some paper and something to write with?” Hunk asked. “I want to write those Galra symbols things Pidge is working on down. Maybe I can figure it out before she does.”

The green paladin’s fingers suddenly stilled and brown eyes pinned Hunk with a steely glare. “Is that a challenge?” she said.

Hunk grinned. “You want it to be?” he teased.

Pidge thought for a moment, then grinned and Hunk knew what her answer was.

“Wait ‘till I get my writing stuff, then we’ll start,” Hunk said. “Coran, make sure she doesn’t cheat.”

“I don’t cheat!” Pidge cried in an offended tone.

“Or blow things up,” Hunk added playfully.

“Oh my God, that was one fraking time!” she shouted.


 

:There should be a break in the storms shortly,: Nyma said. :Just follow the inbound ships and you should be fine.:

Lance relayed the trader’s instructions to Keith before returning his gaze to Nyma’s form which only he could see. “Keith and I are going to drop Shiro and Allura off at a separate landing pad before flying to you,” he said.

:A- She’s coming with you?: Nyma asked, stunned. She scoffed. :I thought the idea was for her not to be caught.:

“That’s what I said,” Lance grumbled, ignoring the glare his sister shot him not so subtly. “If she keeps to the plan, then everything should go smoothly. No one should recognize her.”

Nyma looked like she wanted to argue but eventually just shrugged. :Fine, whatever. What about Shiro?:

“What about him?” the prince asked, frowning.

Nyma rolled her eyes. :He’s the frelling Champion, you quiznak,: she said. :He’s pretty recognizable. A lot of people go to the arenas for the gladiator games. Lots of good trades there. Not all things, of course, and not all legal, but still. I’d be stunned beyond belief if no one recognizes him.:

Lance opened his mouth the reply, and shut it again. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he muttered sheepishly.

“Hadn’t thought of what?” his sister asked.

The blue paladin sighed and looked up at Shiro. “You’re the Champion,” he said simply, noticing the way Shiro flinched at the title. “You’re recognizable.”

Shiro’s dark gray eyes became shadowed and he hung his head in shame. “I forgot about that,” he said. He ran a hand through his short black and white hair. “If I wear my helmet, do you think anyone would notice?”

Lance chewed his lip in thought but it was Allura who spoke. “Maybe,” she said. “I’d keep it on just in case.”

“Besides,” Lance said, unable to resist the chance to tease his sister’s potential suitor, “I hear uniforms are all the rage these days.”

:Well,: Nyma said, adding her opinion to the mix, :so long as it’s not a Galra uniform. Those can be a bit of a downer, if you know what I mean.:

“Then it’s a good thing Keith won’t be wearing his,” Lance said.

“Wearing my what?” the red paladin asked with a suspicious glance at his mate.

“Nothing,” Lance said, with a flirtatious wink.

:I’ll be waiting,: Nyma said. :Get down here as soon as you can. The faster we get this plant business over with, the better.:

“Understood,” Lance said. “See you shortly.”

Nyma nodded and her form vanished.

“Any movement yet?” he asked.

“Nothing yet.” Keith said, studying the main view screens. “But the storms seem to be letting up a bi- Oh. The first ship just broke from orbit.”

“And there go the others,” Shiro said with a satisfied smile. “Let’s keep up.”

The black and red paladins took control of the pod and flew down to join the ship descending into the planet’s atmosphere. Lance stood and leaned forward, bracing himself by putting a hand on both pilot seats. Allura stood and leaned next to him, placing her supporting hand on Shiro’s shoulder.

The storms on Meserie were fueled by the intense winds and temperature difference between the sunlit and sunless sides of the planet. Through the cloud breaks Lance could see something shimmering faintly far below. It got brighter the lower they went until finally they broke through the bottom layer of clouds and he recognized it for what it was: the particle barrier protecting the trade outpost from the dangerous weather of Meserie.

From the looks of it, the storms would break soon, allowing the eternal sunlight to break through once again. But that wouldn’t matter once they crossed the threshold of the barrier. Sure enough, a large section of the protective shield dimmed until its power faded completely allowing travel between the trade post and the atmosphere. The little Altean pod didn’t take precedence compared to several larger ships, but that wasn’t too big of an issue. With a bit of patience, they made it through the barrier and flew towards one of the smaller landing pads.

Keith took full control from there, allowing Shiro to stand and switch places with Lance. The red paladin eased the pod down to a soft landing while Allura grabbed her bag of items to trade.

“You might want to change your form, ‘Llura,” Lance said. “Just in case.”

The princess rolled her eyes in fond exasperation. “I will,” she drawled.

“Change your form?” Shiro asked. “To wha-”

The black paladin trailed off as he watched Princess Allura’s skin suddenly fade to a deathly white that very nearly matched her hair. Her fingernails extended to something that was more reminiscent of claws, if claws could be elegant. But perhaps the most startling change was her eyes. Allura’s eyes were no longer the soft, gentle turquoise Shiro had come to know and care for deeply. They were now a pale, sea foam green that was almost too light to be seen through the whiteness of the princess’s new form.

Lance turned in his seat, took in Allura’s new form, and lifted a judgmental eyebrow. “A Wraith sister?” he said. “Really? Of all the races in the universe, you chose a Wraith?”

“That would be a Wraith Queen,” Allura corrected with just enough haughtiness to pull it off. “And, as it happens, I find the Wraith a fascinating race.”

“They feed on other life forms like parasites,” Lance argued.

“Carnivores,” Allura corrected. “Anyone who automatically assumes they’re at the top of the food chain is rather arrogant, if you asked me.”

“I didn’t.”

Allura shrugged. “The fact remains. I doubt many people will stop a female Wraith from going about her business,” she said.

Lance snorted. “No, I guess not.” He glanced at Shiro and sighed. “Hold onto your heart, lover boy,” he teased. “Or your Wraith lady will steal it from you.”

Allura smacked her brother none too gently over the head while Shiro flushed and blinked like a deer in headlights. Keith just rolled his eyes and opened the pod door for the princess and Shiro to disembark.

“Be safe,” Lance said seriously as he watched his sister step out into the unknown.

She paused just outside the doorway and smiled. “I will.”

Lance caught Shiro’s eye and the black paladin nodded seriously in understanding. Then the door slid shut and Keith took off again leaving them behind. Lance turned around in his seat and rubbed his face with his hands. The anxiety was getting to him.

“Are you okay?” Keith asked.

After a moment, Lance nodded and lowered his hands. “Yes,” he said. “I just have a bad feeling is all.”

“Do you want to go back?” Keith slowed the pod slightly in preparation for a sharp turn if Lance asked for it. “I don’t mind. We can call it quits now, if you want.”

“No,” Lance said firmly. “I’ll be fine. Just… Let me think of what form to wear.”

Keith glanced at his mate with interest. “You’re shapeshifting too?”

The prince shrugged. “Don’t really have a choice if I want to go unnoticed,” he said. “My face is known to the Galra, particularly the Galra in positions of command. I would be stupid to think Lotor doesn’t at least know what I look like if he isn’t hunting me himself.”

“You think he could be?”

“Let’s just say, it’s a very real possibility,” Lance said, nodding.

He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. His right eye socket still ached from when his cybernetic eye shorted out due to Pidge’s bayard induced electrocution a couple cycles ago. She’d had good reason to do what she did, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt. Still, better a little pain than the alternative.

“There she is.”

Keith’s voice startled Lance out of his doze. The prince sat up and looked at the view screens. Sure enough, Nyma stood on one of the larger landing pads near several other parked spacecraft. Keith maneuvered the pod down so it landed in front of the trader.

“One of these days, I’m going to do all the flying,” Lance muttered while Keith powered down the pod.

The red paladin snickered and stood, walking back to open the pod door and step outside. Lance took a deep breath, shifted, and joined his mate outside. Nyma was in the middle of talking to Keith when she fell silent and stared at Lance in confusion. But it was Keith’s expression that made Lance preen with delight.

“Careful there, Keith,” Lance teased, her voice still her own. “Your jaw might fall off if you keep letting it dangle like that.”

“I… ah, you’re…”

Lance snorted at her lover’s inelegant fumbling and turned to Nyma. “Nyma,” she greeted. “You look well. Better than a holographic image, I must say.” She let her eyes wander up and down trader’s figure with pleasure. “Just as lovely too.”

Lance didn’t miss the dark gleam in Keith’s eyes. Jealousy. It sent shivers down her spine.

“Lance?” Nyma gasped, staring hard at the prince’s new form.

Lance held out her hands and shrugged. “The one and only,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind the hair. I know I’m not a natural blonde, but I thought I would try it out anyway. I can always change it later.”

The trader’s surprise morphed into amusement. “Well, if I’d known you could do that…” She bit her lip and hissed.

“Mm?” Lance sauntered forward, taking care to sway her hips in the way she remembered Keith liked. “You were saying?”

Nyma snorted. “Well, I’d certainly like to finish,” she began. “But if looks could kill,” she shifted her lidless sapphire gaze to Keith, “then your mate would have murdered me a thousand times by now.”

Lance smirked and followed the trader’s gaze. Sure enough, Keith’s fluffy ears were pinned to his head and his violet and gold eyes were narrowed and glaring daggers at Nyma. Lance let her eyelids droop low over her eyes and moved until she was very much in her mate’s personal space.

“What’s the matter, Keith?” she asked, her voice adopting a lilting tone. “Don’t you like my new form?” She pressed her entire body against Keith’s, including the two slightly more noticable breasts on her chest. “Am I not pretty as a female?”

Keith’s ears flipped up and forward just as those two-toned eyes widened in pleased shock. Lance grinned, proud of her temporary body. She had experience shifting into distinctly female forms before, just not often. She much preferred her natural, more familiar form. She hadn’t bothered changing her entire physique like Allura did. Instead, she went for the more subtle alternative, if enlarging breasts and changing her short hair to a Daystar gold was considered subtle.

Keith seemed to like it, though, if the hardening heat against Lance’s hips was any indication.

Chapter Text

“So,” Lance said, keeping pace with Nyma, “how do you want to handle this?”

The trader shrugged and stepped onto the lift, followed closely by Keith and Lance‘s effeminate form. “We’ll go to The Mistro,” Nyma said as the lift began moving downwards. “Merla is staying there at the moment. Coincidentally, so is Lotor. So I suggest you two at least try to keep a low profile.”

“Hardly sounds like a coincidence,” Keith muttered darkly.

“It isn’t,” Nyma said, her lips pressed together in a grim line. “Lotor is one of her best clients.”

Lance furrowed her brow in confusion. “Clients?” he asked. “How can he be her client? He’s Galra. He can’t have the juniberry. It would kill him.”

“Half Galra, actually,” Keith corrected. “No one knows what his other half is. Either way, he may be a twisted bastard, but his mind is sharp. If he was using the juniberry as a drug, I doubt that would have gone unnoticed. The emperor wouldn’t have given him as much power as he has if he was an addict.”

Nyma shook her head. “Doesn’t change the fact that he is one of her biggest clients,” she said. She stepped off the lift a few levels below the landing pads and onto a skypath as she continued to speak. “He has a harem, as I’m sure you know, and-”

“Wait, he what?” Lance gasped.

Nyma paused and turned back to stare at the currently female prince in surprise. “You didn’t know?” she said. “It’s common knowledge. It’s actually one of the reasons why he’s not too popular with the Galran masses.”

The prince looked completely thrown by this new information. “I thought the Galra only ever took one mate,” she murmured.

“They do,” Keith said coldly. “None of them are his mate. He just uses them.”

“And throws them away when he’s done with them,” Nyma finished, moving forward again. “The ones who join his harem willingly aren’t a problem. The ones who aren’t taken willingly, are…”she clicked her tongue, “subdued.”

“With the drug,” Lance murmured in dawning understanding. She took a deep breath and let it all out in a heavy sigh, running a hand through her short, currently blonde hair. “That’s not what I was expecting. That could be a deal breaker.”

Keith glanced at her with worry in his violet and gold eyes. “What do you mean by that?” he asked cautiously.

The blue paladin looked over at Keith briefly before dropping her mismatched gaze and shaking her head. “Nothing,” she said. “I’m just a little unnerved, is all.”

The worry in the red paladin’s eyes abruptly turned to frustration. He grabbed his mate’s arm and pulled them over so they stood near a doorway to one of the several establishments on this level. Nyma stopped and followed them curiously.

“What did you mean by that, Lance?” Keith demanded.

“Nothing,” Lance said. “It really is nothing. It was just a passing idea-”

“What was it?” Keith asked, pinning his mate in place with his gaze and his strong grip on his arm. “Lance, what were you planning?”

The prince hesitated, then sighed and leaned back against the wall in defeat. “It really is nothing,” she said, meeting Keith’s gaze evenly. “I hadn’t even decided whether to go through with it yet or not.”

“What was it?” Keith asked slowly, enunciating every word.

Lance groaned. “Politics,” she said finally. “I’m not a major player in politics, never have been. That was always Allura’s area of expertise. I’m a pilot, a-” She fell silent when someone walked by them briskly into the building. “A Druid,” she continued in a softer voice. “The Sentinel,” she finished with a slow smirk. “I watch, listen, learn, and protect. What better way to do that then to learn about the enemy from the enemy’s own mouth?”

Nyma’s lidless blue eyes grew wide in shock. “You want to meet Lotor in person?” she hissed. “Why? How stupid can you be?”

“Is it really stupid if it works?” Lance snapped back angrily.

“If what works?” the trader demanded.

“Lance,” Keith said, drawing the blue paladin’s gaze back to him. “Why would… What are you planning?”

Lance pursed her lips. “Look,” she said. “Princes, princesses, Sentinels, Heirs, whatever, all of that meant nothing on Altea. They were literally just the titles of those given the duty of representing our people in the Universal Union of Worlds. The Sentinel protected the Heir who was both the leader of our people and our chosen representative. When and if the Heir was unable to represent for whatever reason, the Sentinel had full power and authority to take their place.”

“What does that have to do with-”

“Shut up and I’ll tell you,” Lance snapped at the trader. “I was never supposed to be the Sentinel. That was never the plan. I was a student in the Druid Collegium studying to be a Master Pilot with lots and lots of other students of many races from many planets with many different cultures. But as the Heir’s son, I had to retain at least some modicum of awareness of the political playing field on other planets.” She lifted a blonde eyebrow. “How do think I would do that?”

“How would I know?” Nyma said in exasperation. “I’m a trader not a…” She stiffened and fell silent, her eyes growing wide. “Gossip,” she said. “You listened to their gossip.”

“Listened, participated, perpetuated, and everything in between,” Lance said.

“Rolo and me,” Nyma said carefully, “we aren’t the first spies you’ve ever had, are we?”

“Well,” the prince said, tilting her head slightly, “you are the first ones to know you’re spies.”

Keith frowned. “I-I don’t understand,” he said. “How could you have spies who didn’t know they were spies?”

“Because they weren’t spies in the strictest sense,” the prince said with a casual shrug. “They were friends, colleagues, professors, visitors.” Her mismatched blue eyes met Keith’s violet and gold. “They gossiped. People talk about the latest current events, they complain about circumstances and people, they gossip about who was in bed with whom and whether that relationship was publicly acceptable or not, who was the child of whom, who had the power, all of that.”

Lance smiled. “All I had to do was host a few parties, flirt, and remember people’s faces and names and people would talk to me,” she said. “As an Altean, my general political standing wasn’t a threat to them. As Altean royalty, or as they perceived it anyway, I was high enough on the local political food chain to warrant hearing the juicier bits of information.”

“They were your spies,” Nyma said. Her expression turned thoughtful. “Clever.”

Lance rolled her eyes. “Flattery is attractive,” she said. “But don’t bother denying you do exactly the same thing. Just because you don’t call you contacts and customers ‘spies’ doesn’t mean that they are.”

Nyma nodded slowly in agreement. “True,” she admitted.

“You’re dodging the question, Lance,” Keith said. “What are you planning?”

Lance sighed. “On other planets, the royalty are often the highest echelons of power,” the prince said. “The throne is inherited from parent to child. All that power just waiting to be claimed. If only the parent would die.” She grinned, a dark gleam in her mismatched blue eyes. “Zarkon has conquered much of the known universe and has been on the throne for over 10,000 standard decaphoebs. That’s a lot of power and a long time to wait to inherit it.” She flicked her gaze to Nyma. “Don’t you think?”

“You want to stage a takeover,” Keith murmured in realization. He lifted his gaze to the tower they stood by before looking back at Lance. “That’s-”

“Insane,” Nyma interrupted.

“Actually,” Keith said, shooting a brief glare at the trader for interrupting him, “I was going to say that’s a good idea.”

“What? You mean you’re agreeing to this?” Nyma gasped, staring at the red paladin in shock. “He’s- She’s your mate. If you really care about her, then you wouldn’t let her do something this stupid and dangerous.”

“He doesn’t let-

“I don’t let him do anything,” Keith said, running his thumb over the fabric covering his mate’s arm. “He- She does what she wants. But if she thinks she’s going into this on her own,” he narrowed his eyes at Lance, “without any sort of backup or protection, she’s gravely,” he practically growled the word, “mistaken.”

The prince blinked in surprise, her mouth hanging open slightly. “I…” She hesitated, flicking her gaze between Nyma and Keith.

“What?” Nyma snapped in annoyance. “What other crazy ideas do you have floating around in that stupid head of yours?”

“Don’t call her stupid,” Keith warned.

Lance shrugged and lifted her eyebrows in honest bewilderment. “I was just expecting a bit more resistance to the idea, I guess,” she said, looking at Keith specifically.

The red paladin shrugged. “Why? It’s a good idea. But,” he said, holding up a finger in front of the prince’s lips, silencing her, “if you really think you’re going to contact Lotor without me by your side, I’ll-”

“What?” Lance asked with a teasing smile. “You’ll punish me?”

Keith snorted and grinned. “Exactly.”

Lance’s smile broadened to Nyma dramatic huff of exasperation. “I look forward to it,” she whispered.

“I seriously doubt that,” Keith said, tapping his mate’s nose. “I’m pretty sure you won’t enjoy having the Castle’s emergency alarm go off in your quarters at random times during the night,” he said, enjoying the way Lance’s smile vanished along with all the color in her face. “Or if all of your skin care products suddenly went missing,” he added.

“You wouldn’t dare,” Lance breathed, eyeing her lover warily.

Keith gave Lance a disdainful look. “And you,” he patted Lance’s slender shoulder patronizingly, “obviously don’t know me very well.”

“Wha?”

“You were taking us somewhere?” Keith asked, releasing his hold on his mate and turning expectantly to Nyma.

The trader glanced at Lance’s stunned expression and rolled her eyes. “Idiots,” she muttered under her breath. “This way.” She waved her hand carelessly and strolled on down the skypath with Keith by her side forcing Lance to hurry to catch up.


 

He wasn’t sure he liked her. He respected her confidence and was wary of her Magog-spawned microraptor, but he didn’t like her and he didn’t trust her as far as he could throw her.

:You’re wise.:

He stiffened minutely, fighting back a snarl at the mental intrusion. The microraptor on Merla’s shoulder fluffed up its feathers in a threatening manner and focused its beady eyes directly on him. It took much of his concentration to calm down.

:Don’t worry,: Merla said, not once glancing in his direction. :I’m not mad. Far from it actually.:

That was somewhat of a relief.

:Your prince is a bore,: the trader complained. Her deep red lips were spread in a pleased smile as she spoke with Lotor. :So unoriginal. Always the juice, never anything else. Even I know moderation is key.: She sighed mentally. :But you would know all about that, wouldn’t you, Soldier?:

That comment brought a frown to Thace’s face. He narrowed his eyes in disapproval. :You should watch your tongue, Pythoness,: he thought. :We wouldn’t want you to lose it.:

To Thace’s chagrin, Merla laughed out loud, lifting her hand to cover her lips. Lotor’s eyes narrowed dangerous though he kept his expression pleasant.

“Is something amusing you, Lady Merla?” the Galran Prince asked, a slight edge to his tone.

The red haired trader smiled and lowered her hand. “Your pet guard is rather loyal to you is all,” she said, eyeing Thace with her golden eyes. “He told me in no uncertain terms to watch my tongue.” She chuckled. “Had I known your guards were so loyal, Lotor-”

“Prince Lotor,” the Galra corrected in frustration.

“Then I would have at least been mildly impressed by your offered payment this time around,” she continued as if Lotor had not interrupted her. She rolled her shoulders, thoroughly unmoved by her royal client’s darkening mood. “As it is, I’m afraid your payment this time is insufficient in regards to your requested merchandise,” she said, uncrossing her legs and preparing to stand. “You and I both know you’re trying to underpay me. I’ll let it slide this time and call it a failed trade with no hard feelings.” She stood and focused her slitted pupils on the prince with a look of disdain. “But if you have any desire to keep me as your trader, then I suggest next time we meet you have the usual payment.”

“You insult me, Merla,” Lotor said, standing gracefully from his couch to join the trader. “Our agreed payment was 30 GAC marks per shipment. Why the sudden change?”

Merla snorted and reached up to pet her microraptor’s feathers. “Because the marks you’re trying to pay me with are fake,” she said.

“How so?” the prince asked.

“Their weight isn’t exactly 30 bits,” she replied. “Surely you know a single Galran mark weighs exactly one bit. What kind of trader would I be if I didn’t know that?” Her grin sharpened. “What kind of prince would you be if you didn’t know that?”

Thace tensed, ready to step in and stop things from escalating as they were wont to do when the prince’s honor was questioned. Lotor was not known for his mercy in battles of any kind. Even if those battles were nothing but arguments that came to blows.

But to his surprise, Prince Lotor smiled and nodded. “I’m impressed,” he said. “I didn’t think you would catch that.”

Merla sneered derisively. “Don’t patronize me, Lotor,” she warned. “You don’t scare me. Despite your prowess in battle, the political power you wield compared to your father's is almost insultingly little. Enough of your fellow… aristocracy,” she said, her pause just long enough to be mocking, “utilize my services to make up the loss of your patronage. I wouldn’t be losing a thing. Although,” she added, looking away and strolling out onto the balcony, leaning on the railing and looking out over the view of Meserie, “I think you would be losing something valuable if we parted ways, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

A smile stretched across the prince’s face as he approached Merla from behind. The trader never looked back, but her microraptor did, its beady eyes locking on the prince’s form. “While you’re not wrong,” he agreed, “you are mistaken.”

“Oh?”

“You would miss my face,” Lotor said startling a cackle from the trader.

“A blot on the universe’s perfect record,” she said. “The stars above and below regret the day you appeared in this world.”

“Not that your face is any better, ugly whore,” Lotor said.

Thace pressed his lips together, schooling his expression carefully so it revealed no tell-tale emotion. He was beginning to suspect he knew what was going on. If he was right, then there would be no need to interfere.

Merla smiled back, lifting a dark red eyebrow in a perfect arch. “I take that as a compliment,” she said. She lifted one of her perfectly manicured fingernails and trailed it alone the Galran prince’s cheek. “I slept with my supplier to get this shipment,” she admitted shamelessly. “Pity it’s a pathetic batch. The quality is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. I doubt you would find any use for it.”

Yes, this is exactly what Thace thought it was. He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He would never understand traders and their ridiculous methods.

“Well, trash isn’t worth much,” Lotor said. “Why keep it? I have a much better way to get rid of unwanted garbage than you do.”

“Oh really?” Merla asked, flicking a strand of long white hair off of Lotor’s shoulder. She allowed her eyelids to fall low over her eyes, her dark lashes veiling her golden gaze. “Well I’m afraid I like my garbage disposal process,” she said. “I refuse to trade for anything more than what my trash is worth.” She smiled. “It’s only fair. Trash for trash.”

Lotor hummed thoughtfully, studying the trader’s eyes. “Alright, if you insist,” he said, strolling back to the doorway to his balcony and snapped his fingers.

Thace watched as a lovely person with mauve, freshly oiled skin that gleamed in the light filtering through the particle barrier far above stepped out from a side room and hurried to the prince’s side. Her hair was long, straight, and the same shade of gold as her eyes. Her ears were sharply pointed and there was a small, thumb sized, golden scale on either side of her eyes. The resemblance to her made Thace sick. The fact this was Lotor’s latest favorite toy made him furious.

Though most of the Galra would never call Lotor’s current favorite a 'toy' within earshot of the prince himself, they didn’t bother hiding their opinions from the toy when they fell out of favor. Then they were fair game. Thace, however, was wise enough to keep his mouth shut and his thoughts to himself. Lotor had a way of exacting retribution for any insults thrown at his favorites, something Thace had witnessed personally. 

Such a twisted sense of loyalty, Thace thought darkly. Disgusting.

:Agreed.:

:Get out of my head, Pythoness,: he snapped.

:Touchy, touchy.:

Merla clicked her tongue, and purred. “A pity, Lotor,” she said. “Taking such an ugly thing under your wing.”

Thace tensed, his eyes flickering to the prince warily. The favorite by Lotor’s side, however, smiled.

“True,” she said, startling Thace. None of the other toys in Lotor’s harem ever dared speak without the prince’s permission. “The prince’s heart must be a shriveled shell to accept one such as me.” Her smiled sharpened. “As shriveled as your own.”

Merla’s lashes lowered and she licked her lips. “I hate you,” she said simply.

“As I, you,” the favorite replied.

Merla hummed, her eyes drinking in the favorite’s form. She obviously liked what she saw. She met Lotor’s eye. “Bribery, dear Lotor?” she asked. “I never would have suspected you’d stoop so low.”

This time, Lotor’s gaze did narrow dangerously. “She may be ugly, but she’s all I’ve got,” he said.

“I’m sure,” Merla drawled. “I don’t mix business with pleasure.”

“But business is pleasure if handled correctly,” Lotor said. “Take it or leave it.”

The microraptor still perched on Merla shoulder cawed twice as the trader laughed merrily. “No deal,” she said. “I’ll show myself out.”

She strolled confidently passed the fuming prince with her head held high and her shoulders square. That gave her a cursory look before dismissing her and focusing on the prince. Merla’s heels clicked across the floor. They stopped. There was the familiar beeping of the access panel activating. Then-

“Fine,” the prince said. “What do you want?”

:Well done,: Thace though, knowing Merla would hear him.

:As usual,: can the arrogant reply. Aloud, Merla said, “I want information.” She turned on her heel and stared at Lotor, accepting the challenge. “I know that father of yours has something big planned.” She strode back to the prince, one slow step at a time. “It’s no secret. His pet Druids have been seen scurrying around on more of your battlecruisers than usual lately.” She clucked and examined her fingernails. “It’s bad for business.” She smirked. “Tell me what your father is up to, plus the usual payment, and the shipment is yours.”

“In its entirety?”

Merla glared at the prince. “What do you take me for?” she demanded. “I’m a Trader. I keep my end of the bargain.”

“In its entirety?” Lotor repeated.

Merla pursed her lips. Finally, she rolled her eyes and groaned. “Most of it,” she said. “I need to keep a few to help renew my personal stash. You’ll want more in another few movemenfs, won’t you?”

“How much?”

Merla shrugged. “You always want the berries and the juice. I need the plants to keep that coming.”

“How much?” Lotor demanded.

“Two bottles,” Merla said firmly. “One for my personal use and one in case I need to bargain my way out of a tight spot. The rest is yours.” Her snake-like eyes shifted to Lotor’s favorite. “And your toy’s.” She grinned. “Do we have a deal?”

Thace watched as Lotor visibly battled with himself before finally nodding. “Yes,” he growled angrily. “We have a deal.”

“Good,” Merla chirped happily. “I’ll have my servant bring you your shipment while you pay me.” She smiled. “He should be here shortly.”

“When?”

Merla’s smile widened. “Shortly,” she repeated. “Now.” She sat in one of the chairs in the common room near the balcony, sprawling her body and clothes over the seat without regard for anything but herself. “This information. Tell me. And don’t try to lie to me, dearest Lotor.” She grinned. “I’ll know if you do.”

Chapter Text

“They don’t seem to like you,” Shiro said, glancing around warily at the many people going out of their way to avoid him and Allura as they moved through the marketplace.

“Mm. The Wraith aren’t exactly known for being overly friendly,” she said. “I’m beginning to rethink taking this form.”

“A little late for that, don’t you think?”

“Unfortunately,” the princess muttered. “Might as well make the best of it.”

She paused at one of the larger stands and considered its wares. “Pick out what you think you and the other paladins may need,” she said, nodding to the clothes folded neatly in piles on the tables. “I’m sure wearing the same thing every day can grow old.”

The black paladin snorted. “Heck yeah, it does,” he said with a grin. “How are we going to pay for all of this, though?”

Allura tilted her Wraith head to the bag she still held. “We choose our wares and then haggle for a fair trade,” she said.

“So nothing has a set price?” Shiro asked curiously, fingering a shirt that looked promising for Hunk.

“Everything has a value,” she explained, “but that value can be expressed in different ways. No everyone values the same thing the same way.”

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” he said.

“Precisely,” the princess said.

Shiro shook his head and picked up the shirt he’d been eyeing and tucked it under his arm as he moved to the next pile of clothes. It took a few minutes for Shiro to finish looking through the piles. When all was said and done, he had picked up seven shirts of varying styles and colors, seven pairs of pants, and a couple shirts that were long enough to pass as short dresses in case Allura or Pidge wanted to wear them.

“Is that all?” the princess asked, looking through the black paladin’s selections.

Shiro flushed lightly and shrugged. “I’m not much of a shopper and I don’t have the best fashion sense, to be honest,” he admitted. “But I think they’ll like them. I tried to grab something for everyone. Even Coran.”

“I’m sure he’ll appreciate that,” Allura said, flashing him a smile.

It was slightly disturbing to see that smile on a face that was too pale to be considered health. Allura’s Wraith skin was so pale as to also be a greenish color. Even some of the veins were visible in her neck and cheeks. If Shiro didn’t know better, he’d say she looked like a drowning victim brought back to life by some twisted Druid magic.

Uncomfortable, he cleared his throat and began searching for the trader in charge of this stand. As if on cue, an alien of indiscernible gender stepped out from around one of the other tables and approached the due.

“I hope you have found the merchandise to your liking,” the trader said to Allura.

“We did, yes,” the princess said.

Shiro blinked and glanced at Allura through the corner of his eye. He had never heard the princess talk like that before. She had dropped the register of her voice and slowed down her speech so each word flowed into the next like water. Come to think of it, her movements were slower now too. They were more deliberate, deadly. Everything about Allura in her Wraith form now appeared to be calculated. It was disturbing and Shiro had to pause and catch his breath when he felt the sudden, almost overwhelming desire to run.

Threat! his senses screamed at him. Enemy! Hunter! Threat!

He could feel the tiny hairs on the back of his neck stand on end as he fought back a shiver. His legs, however, tingled with the sudden surge of adrenaline, fueling his fight or flight instinct. Intellectually, he knew this wasn’t a real Wraith; this was Allura shifted into the form of a Wraith. He had never even seen a real Wraith in person before. But something told him, his body and instincts would recognize one instantly and force him to react. Thus, while Allura was not a true Wraith, her shift was well done enough to elicit the same instinctual reaction that a true Wraith would.

The trader, however, seemed unaffected by Allura’s air and spoke in a calm, even voice. “What do you have to trade?” they asked.

“Nothing much,” she replied easily. “Just relics of an era long past.”

The trader’s eyes narrowed, their interest caught. “We see,” they said. “Perhaps we can come to an agreement on something.”

Allura tilted her head forward gracefully.  “Perhaps we can,” she purred.

Well, this was definitely going to be…different. Shiro heaved a sigh and followed Allura and the trader to a small alcove in the back. This must be where the official trade itself took place. All it needed was an old style cash register and it would have been something from Earth. Shiro almost snickered at the thought.

“What do you have to offer?” the trader asked.

Allura lifted her bag and placed it on the table the trader stood by. “Place the clothes on the table, child,” she said.

It took the black paladin a moment to realize the princess had been talking to him. He quickly put the clothes on the table next to Allura’s bag and stepped back, waiting for another command.

Allura reached into the bag, pulled out the items within, and laid them out on the table. Shiro did not recognize a couple items, but he did know jewelry when he saw it. Last to be pulled out was a small bottle of Kadesh which Shiro remembered Allura using to trade for Lance’s cybernetic eye.

The trader noticed the bottle of Kadesh, eyeing it with obvious interest before studying the other items. However, they said nothing, merely waited for Allura to make the first move. Shiro looked at his princess and watched her nudge two jewels of sparkling quality forward and one of the items Shiro didn’t recognize.

The trader gave no indication of approval or rejection. They gazed down at the offering with no observable emotion and pushed the unknown object back, pulling the bottle of Kadesh forward to join the offered jewels. Allura place a sharp fingernail on the brightest jewel which gleamed a pure white in color and pulled it back towards her. Again, the trader gave no outward sign of annoyance or any emotion at all. They pulled the white jewel back towards them and pushed back the other two; and act which Allura quickly reversed.

However, after pausing for a few seconds, she pulled the Kadesh back to her and pushed the white jewel forward. Without removing his gaze from the table, the trader reached out and removed one of the regular shirts and long shirt from the pile of clothes. Allura must have seen the move, but she did not visibly acknowledge it. Instead, she pulled the white jewel back and pushed the Kadesh forward. One of the regular shirts was returned to the pile but a pair of pants was removed.

Allura hummed and stepped back from the table. The trader lifted their blank gaze and nodded. “We have a deal,” they said.

The trader picked up the two lesser jewels and the bottle of Kadesh and turned to a shielded object behind them. They placed their hand against what Shiro realized was an opaque particle barrier and the shield vanished revealing several shelves. Objects of varying sizes, purposes, and colors filled the shelves. There were even a few flowers in there as well. The trader placed the Kadesh and the jewels between a plant with strange looking orange flowers and raised the particle barrier once more.

“We have never seen a Wraith Queen wander far from her hive alone,” the trader said.

Allura nodded in acquiescence. “It does not happen often,” she admitted, sounding unbothered by the fact. “My hive is small as is my territory. The drones are keeping watch on my children.” She smiled, her yellow teeth, sharp as razors flashing in the filtered light. “Besides,” she added, walking her fingers along the Shiro shoulder in what the black paladin could only call a creepy manner, “I am not alone. I have a loyal guard with me.”

The trader turned their strange gaze to Shiro, silently observing him. For a split second, Shiro caught the faintest flicker of emotion before it was smothered by the trader’s usual mask of calm.

“The Champion?” they asked. “You have allied with the Galra?”

Allura hissed in displeasure. “I have not,” she said. “He left the Galra and came to my hive.” Again, she grinned. “Who was I to turn down such a prize?” Her long, deathly pale fingers gripped the black paladin’s armored shoulder firmly. “Especially when taking him with me allows my drones to protect my children from other hives.”

“A sound decision,” the trader said. “May your stay here be productive.”

Then the trader turned and strode away from them, completely ignoring their presence.

“That was weird,” Shiro said mildly.

“Plethars are not known for their expressive emotions,” Allura said. “They only speak when they have to. They are almost completely deaf and rely mostly on their sense of smell and sight to get around. However, they are very shrewd traders.” She almost glanced back over her shoulder, catching herself at the last moment. “Although that was a fair trade, I can’t help but feel shorted.”

Shiro had no answer to that. He did have a rather pressing question, though. “Um.” Oh, yes, Shiro. Great start. Very intelligent. “How many bottles of that, um, contraceptive stuff-”

“Kadesh?” Allura asked easily.

“Y-yeah,” Shiro stuttered awkwardly, hefting the pile of clothes in his arms. “How much of that do you have?”

Allura shrugged. “At least ten,” she said casually, smirking when the black paladin suddenly stumbled next to her. “The Castle was my and my father’s main means of travel when we would embark on diplomatic and exploratory missions,” she explained. “We rarely went alone, of course. There were always several others who would come along for the ride. At least one or two of those individuals were adept at the art of sensual persuasion.”

Color burst into Shiro’s cheeks. “Uh, you mean prostitution?” he gasped, his voice reaching a higher register that was less than natural.

Allura shot a judgmental look at her companion. “Hardly,” she said. “I believe the common word was courtesan,” she clarified. “Their skills were useful in the field of diplomacy. It was not something to be disregarded. Many treaties were signed and disagreements eased from the actions of a skilled courtesan.”

“Ah.”

There wasn’t much else Shiro could say to that. He wasn’t sure how he felt about the whole idea of using one’s body in that way to get what they wanted. It felt like doing so cheapened the person. But then, it wasn’t his body so it wasn’t his place to judge. He simply knew that he would never be able to do that.

“I take it that occupation is not widely accepted on your planet,” Allura said, catching her paladin’s discomfort.

Shiro sighed. “Not really, no,” he said. “It really depends on who you ask. But on the whole, no, not really.”

“I see.” She focused on the path ahead of her. “Let’s return our things to the pod and decide what to do from there. Maybe Pidge and Hunk were able to get something from Sendak’s memories. I’m sure Coran would be proud of that.”

Shiro nodded. “I’ll contact Keith and ask where he parked the pod,” he said.

“Good idea.”


 

The Mistro was a large tower that was actually three separate spires joined in the center by a glass and steel atrium. The design of a mix of lots of cultures and engineering styles that somehow didn’t clash as much as Keithek thought they should. In fact, the designs seemed to flow smoothly from one spire to the next. He followed Nyma through one of the three main entrances accessed by the larger skypaths. There were several smaller skypaths that branched off from the main routes that looped around The Mistro, probably for employees and escape exits in case of an emergency. Or, Keithek though wryly, to conduct less than legal trades outside of the public eye.

The moment Keithek entered the atrium of The Mistro, he was impressed. The glass and steel structure towered above him so high he could barely make out the glass roof. There were several small lifts connected to the spires that carried guests up and down the different levels. From the looks of it, each tower was an individual hotel.

There were a few small skypaths that extended from the spires to meet a circular skypath allowing guests to travel from spire to spire without having to ride a lift all the way to the ground floor, get on another lift, and ride up to a different floor. The circular skypaths allowed the guests to move about freely while also allowing the patrons at the base of the atrium to have an unobstructed view of the incredibly high ceiling.

Everything was opulent and extravagant. Not to the point of being gaudy, but enough to impress and flaunt. Clearly anyone who stayed in The Mistro was well off in some respect. The Mistro followed the usual pattern of housing adopted by most planets in the Galra Empire and those planets not yet a part of the empire but allied with it or left alone for one reason or another, then the richer the patron, the higher level they lived on. The top several floors of each spire were always permanent or semi-permanent residences with the richest occupant at the very top level. All or most of the floors below were rented out to guests with enough money to afford them.

The reservation desk for each spire hotel was located near that particular spire’s lift. Some of the employees were androids, but the majority were living people. If Keithek had to guess, he’d bet his soldier’s salary that these employees were well paid. They probably made more money than Keithek had, honestly.

He stumbled to a stop when Nyma stopped abruptly in front of him. He lowered his eyes and flushed when he noticed the trader’s smirk. She had caught him ogling like a foolish tourist. He rolled his eyes and took some pleasure in the fact that Lance was just as bad as he was, if not worse. The prince had wandered out a bit further from Nyma and Keithek so she stood directly underneath the center of the atrium. Her cybernetic and organic eyes were focused on the glass ceiling far above and her mouth hung slightly open in awe.

“Lance,” Keithek called, startling his mate.

Lance jerked her gaze back to Keithek and hurried back to rejoin their little group.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” a jovial new voice said.

Keithek turned in surprise to see Rolo standing next to Nyma, chewing on a twig as usual and grinning.

“Glad to see you made it,” Rolo said, looking between the three people. However, when his eyes settled on Lance, he frowned in confusion. “Who’s this?” he asked.

Lance leaned her weight on one leg, propped her hand on her hip, and gave Rolo a flat stare. “Really, Rolo?” she said, a slow smile worming its way across her face when the male trader’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Only a movement since we last spoke and you’ve already forgotten?” She dramatically placed her free hand over her chest, directly between her breasts. “I’m hurt.”

“Lance?” Rolo cried. Immediately, he slammed his mouth shut and looked around to be sure his outburst hadn’t drawn too much unwanted attention. “Lance?” he repeated in a softer voice. “Is that… Is that you?”

“What do you think?” Lance teased. “A little change in hair color, a couple extra weights,” she flicked her breasts casually, “and you suddenly don’t recognize me?”

“Uh…” Rolo ran his eyes up and down Lance’s currently blonde, female form and shook his head. “I… I did not expect that.”

The prince shrugged. “My people can change our forms at will,” she said. “It’s all superficial though, strictly topical. Anything deeper is beyond us. Changing our very being at the core would require going against our nature and any Druid would tell you that’s impossible.”

Rolo nodded slowly, obviously still trying to process this. He looked at Nyma through the corner of his eye. “You knew?” he asked.

“Nope,” she chirped, popping the ‘p’ sound with her lips. “I found out when I saw him.”

“And you didn’t bother to drop me a hint?” he demanded, slightly hurt.

The Teiidae snorted. “And miss that priceless look of shock on your face two ticks ago? Are you kidding me? I’ll treasure that expression for years.”

“Oh, by the…” Rolo bit off his words with a groan of mild annoyance that was more play than serious. “Okay, whatever. Keith?” he said, dropping a hand on the red paladin’s shoulder. “You’re with me. We’re going to meet with Merla. You got him- er, her?” he asked Nyma, awkwardly pointing to a still female Lance who snickered.

“Oh yes,” Nyma said. “We’re going to grab a few drinks and talk.”

Rolo’s face froze. “Oh quiznak. I’m out. Keith, come along.”

Keithek flailed for a moment when he was suddenly yanked by Rolo, stumbling to keep up. He looked back over his shoulder just in time to catch Lance throw him a reassuring smile. This was it, he thought. Hopefully, this Merla person wouldn’t be as bad as she’d been made out to be.


 

“So, I heard drinks,” Lance said, turning her gaze to Nyma. “Alcoholic or no?”

“Oh, always alcoholic,” Nyma said, looping her arm through Lance’s. “This way, pretty lady. I know a guy who can make a mean Redshift Nova.”

“A Redshift Nova?” Lance repeated with a smile. “And why would this supposedly fabulous drink be called a Redshift Nova?”

“Because the drink has a habit of appearing clear to anyone incapable of seeing infrared light,” she said conspiratorially, leaning close to Lance’s ear. “It’s a hit among Teiidae.”

“I can see why,” Lance said, grinning. “And the ‘Nova’ part?”

“Mm. Because it has an explosive aftertaste that’s to die for,” she said proudly.

“Oh really?” Lance said. “I’ll reserve judgment until I taste this Redshift Nova then.”

Nyma rolled her shoulders and tilted her head at him teasingly before walking towards a nice lounge that took up several of the lower floor of the spire directly across from them. A glowing sign adorned the wall directly above the lounge’s main entrance declaring it Den Resistance. This could be fun.

Chapter Text

Lance scrunched her face and forced herself to swallow, coughing when the drink finally left her tongue. She was almost offended by Nyma's hysterical laughter. Lance slapped the cup back onto the counter and took a moment to catch her breath.

"It's nice," she gasped, her voice hoarse.

Nyma smacked Lance's back and continue to cackle madly at the Altean's expense. "Wow," she crowed. "That was probably the best reaction to that drink I've ever seen in my life." She snorted and tumbled back into uncontrollable laughter. "I'll remember that forever."

"You're cruel," Lance said, promptly coughing.

"Alright, alright," Nyma said, taking the sample cup from in front of her companion and handing it back to the amused bartender. "Redshift Nova, please," she requested with a smile.

"That wasn't a Redshift Nova?" Lance asked, pointing to the bartender's retreating back.

"Frell no," Nyma exclaimed, waving dismissively in Lance's direction. "That was just a little something to knock you on your smeg."

Lance rolled her eyes. "Gee, thanks," she drawled.

When a new drink was placed on the bar in front of her, she eyed it suspiciously. Then her right eye adjusted its vision to accommodate the infrared spectrum and the drink glowed. It was a bit odd seeing the drink both clear and red at the same time so she forced the cybernetic eye to return to the visible spectrum.

"I take it this is the mysterious Redshift Nova?" she asked, pointing to the glass.

Nyma nodded and wrapped her fingers around the glass's slender stem. The part of the glass that held the drink was shaped like a funnel with a crystalized substance covering the rim. Lance tasted it warily with her tongue and her eyebrows lifted in genuine surprise.

"Sugar?" she asked.

Nyma lifted an eyebrow and gave her a flat stare. "Just sugar?" she asked.

Lance hesitated before pressing her lips to the rim of the glass and titling it so the clear liquid flowed into her mouth, washing over the crystalized sugar as it did so. She hummed in pleasure. Then she swallowed and the aftertaste kicked in.

"By the Lions!" she cried, licking her lips.

"Good, isn't it?" Nyma asked, taking a long swallow of her own drink. "I love it so much and this place," she gestured to the lounge around them, "makes the best Redshift Novas in the universe."

"In your oh-so-humble opinion?" Lance teased.

"Oh naturally," the trader replied, smiling proudly. She took another drink then hummed. "So, I have to ask. I assume you could always shapeshift because that doesn't seem like that something that can be learned, but of all things why a Human? Or at least," she studied Lance's currently form closely, "I think you're Human."

"I am, yes," Lance said. "I saw quite a few when I visited the Humans' home planet."

"So why a Human?" Nyma asked. "Why not Teiidae or even a Galra halfbreed like your mate? Those forms would have been much less conspicuous. You do realize your friends are the first and only Humans I've ever seen before. Although," Nyma smirked, "if this is what Humans look like, I'm not complaining."

Lance grinned and raised her glass to Nyma with a wink. "Human females anyway," she corrected.

"Human and female?" Nyma said. She hummed and sipped her drink. "You just became much more attractive."

Lance snorted. "I didn't do it for you," she said. "I like looking like this. It's comfortable."

"So you changed into a female for comfort?" Nyma asked.

"No. I changed because today, right now, I am female," Lance said. She set her glass down and traced her finger along the glass rim, her lips pressed together in a thin line. "Alteans were… We…" She sighed and slumped. "This wasn't as easy as I thought it would be," she muttered.

"I'm not judging, you know," Nyma said, sipping her drink. "I've been around, I've seen a lot, I've done a lot. With the exception of a few individuals who I will not name because of current circumstances, I don't think I really have the right to judge others because of cultural differences."

That startled a laugh from Lance. "In that case," she crossed her legs and turned to face Nyma directly. "You know that Allura is female and I am male. What if I told you that that's technically not true?"

Nyma lifted an eyebrow and shifted in her seat. She leaned towards Lance with an eager expression on her face, still holding her glass in her hand. "Ooh, this should be interesting," she said.

"I appear female because right now I see myself as female," Lance said. "Allura appears female because she sees herself as female. We change our forms to match what we are in our minds, not the other way around. Well," she corrected, "not usually the other way around."

"Example?" Nyma asked, her lidless blue eyes sparkling with interest.

Lance shrugged. "When I shifted, I could have kept my form in what is generally considered to be a male bipedal form. But I didn't because I don't feel like a male right now."

Nyma hummed thoughtfully. "Feel as in physical feel or…?"

Lance sighed. "This is difficult," she mumbled. "Gender is not something that was ever…" She gestured uselessly with her hand. "For us, gender was not something that was really an issue," she said finally. "We shifted our forms to suit what we felt like in the sense of identity. I wouldn’t just willingly take on a female form unless I currently identified as female."

"But you just said gender wasn't an issue?" Nyma asked in confusion.

"It wasn't, really," Lance said. "The Altean language did not have gender specific identifier words until more and more people from other planets came and we integrated some of their words into our language. It helped them understand us and, in a way, helped us understand them. Most races in the universe have a specific set of genders that they typically adhere to in one way or another. We don't. We can change our forms to what other races see to be different genders, but to us it's merely an expression of who we are."

"Huh." Nyma sat back and studied Lance curiously over the rim of her glass. "So this form you're currently wearing isn't really-"

"It is female in the Human sense of appearancd, yes," Lance said. "And I do currently identify as a female but-"

"You're using the same word there," Nyma said. "Was that deliberate or not?"

Lance huffed. Then she sat up and held up a finger to silently ask Nyma to wait while her other hand reached up and touched something behind her left ear. She shook her heard briefly before speaking.

"Sava," she said, pointing to herself. "Sava," she said again, pointing to Nyma. "Sava." She pointed to the bartender. "Sava." She pointed to another lounge guest sitting across the room. Then she turned back to Nyma. "Savi," she said, this time gesturing to everyone in the room. Then she made a gesture that seemed to imply a young person or a child and said, "Sava-vae." Next she used her hands to indicate many children and said, "Savi-vae."

Nyma furrowed her brown and waited for Lance to turn on her translator again. She waited politely while Lance adjusted as the many voices in the lounge began translating in her mind once more before speaking.

"Was that Altean?" she asked.

"It was yes," Lance said, nodding. "I actually very rarely stop speaking Altean. I can speak Galra, although the dialect I'm most familiar seems to have been relegated to being spoken only by the emperor and his closest allies. The rest of them seem to speak a more common dialect that's fairly easy to pick up on when I'm near a Galra with a translator."

"But if a Galra without a translator walked by and spoke Common Galran, you wouldn't be able to understand them," Nyma said. She took a sip of drink. "Interesting. Since most people use the latest translator earpieces, we all tend to understand each other." She pursed her lips and shook her head. "We almost don't even have to bother learning other languages anymore because the translators work so well."

"Yes, but what if they failed?" Lance asked, sipping her own drink. She winced at the aftertaste but continued speaking. "If your translator failed, I wouldn't understand you and I highly doubt you would understand me."

"True." Nyma grinned. "But I don't really need to understand you, do I?" she teased. "I think drunk people all have a common language."

Lance laughed. "I'm not drunk," she said.

"Not yet," Nyma agreed pulling another laugh from Lance. "So, those words you used, what did they mean?"

Lance hesitated. "Let me see. I'm going to try saying them again with my translator on and tell me if you hear the same words."

"Go ahead."

"Me," Lance said, pointing to herself. "You." She pointed to Nyma. "Hi-"

"Stop," Nyma said abruptly, holding up a hand. "I'm not hearing the same words." She watched Lance slump in defeat. "Want to try to explain without using those words?" she asked.

The prince shrugged. "I'll try," she said. She took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. "The first word I said in Altean means 'person.'" She lifted a shoulder in a half shrug. "Kind of. It can also mean me, you, mine, yours; you understand. The second word is the plural of the first. It generally means us, we, they," she waved her hand to indicate so-on. "The third word essentially means little person, young person, or child. The last word is the plural of the third word. It means little people, young people, or children. Those last two words are reserved for children only. Once a child reaches the age of majority, those words can no longer be used unless referring to a child of a parent. Otherwise, it's considered an insult."

"Huh," Nyma said thoughtfully. "Are those your only indicator words for people or pronouns if you will?"

"In Altean? Yes," Lance said. "We don't use words like 'him,' or 'her.' It was always just the words I said before."

"Which have no implied gender attached to them," Nyma said.

"Correct. You see." She paused and chuckled suddenly. "I'm beginning to sound like Coran." Nyma snorted and Lance continued. "According to our history books, before Alteans made contact with a race from another world, we never had words for different genders because we did not see the use for them. A person was a person and a child was a child. How each person or child chose to appear or perceive themselves was up to them."

"But after making contact, you realized other races perceived a gender difference," Nyma said, nodding. "So your people adopted the indicator words the other races used for clarification?"

"In a way, yes," Lance said. "Technically, we only ever used them when speaking to other races. They weren't used between Alteans. I've never referred to myself with any word other than the first one I used when I spoke Altean to you earlier. But that word is probably unfamiliar to your translator so it's using the mental implications of the word to something you can easily understand."

"So 'she,'" Nyma said. "Why can't it just use 'she?'"

Lance smirked. "I'm guessing you tried to say the Altean word just now," she said sympathetically.

"Um, yes. Why? Is that not what you heard?" Nyma asked in confusion.

"No," Lance confirmed. "I heard you say 'she.'"

"But that's not what I… Huh." Nyma licked her lips, set her drink down on the bar, and crossed her arms as she pondered this little puzzle. "Normally I can use words from other languages without my translator changing them."

"It's probably not working now because the Altean language is considered a dead language," Lance said with a sad smile. "Why upload a dead language into a translator intended for commercial use when there are so many other, more commonly spoken languages like Common Galran to understand?"

Nyma grimaced. "Point taken," she said. "The Humans with you though. Do they have the common translators or Altean translators?"

"Altean," the prince said. "Shiro has the common translator though from his time as the Champion."

"Ah," Nyma said, nodding. "That makes sense. Then Shiro aside, do the others hear the Altean words you use?"

"I doubt it," Lance said, sipping his drink. "The translators themselves may be Altean but they were designed to work differently from their modern counterparts. They 'listen' to the words being spoken and translate the thought behind it less so than the exact wording."

"What do you mean?"

The prince thought for a moment. "This," she pointed to her glass, "is my drink. I'm saying this in the dialect of Galran I'm familiar with, by the way, so your translator doesn't try to change my words too much. If I said it in Altean, it would be something more along the lines of, 'This is the drink of person-Lance.'" She snickered. "That sounds so odd in Galran."

"You were speaking in Galran?" Nyma asked. "That whole time?"

Lance nodded as she took another drink. "Yes," she said.

Nyma snorted. "Person-Lance."

Lance rolled her eyes but smiled too. "Like I said, we don't perceive gender like other races. On that note, we're also all born with the reproductive organs of both the sexual male and the sexual female like a flower, but w-"

"Wait, what?" Nyma cried. "Really?" She smiled broadly. "So realistically you could get pregnant?"

"No, I can't," Lance said. "Even though all Alteans have the ability to be both the sexual male or sexual female in a relationship, that doesn't mean all of the individual parts are the same. For example, and Al-" She cleared her throat. "My sister wi-"

"Wait, that word. 'Sister.' How would you say that in Altean?" Nyma asked.

"Person-sibling of person-Lance," the prince said, trying to bite back a smile.

The trader snickered. "That's a mouthful," she said.

"It is compared to other languages, I guess," Lance agreed. "But it works for us. As I was saying though, my sister has the capability to be both the sexual male and sexual female partner in a relationship."

Nyma's grin darkened. "Does that 'person-Shiro' know?" she teased.

Lance gave her a look. "What do you think?" she said. "I don't know how Human sexuality works, but I can guess from observing that they each typically only have one half of the sexual reproductive organs: male or female. Although, I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few Humans who had both."

"Like you do?" Nyma said, lifting her glass to Lance who smiled and raised hers in return.

"Like I do, yes," she agreed. "Like all Alteans do." She drank some more, grimacing at the aftertaste as usual. "My sister is currently in what appears to be a female form because she identifies with that part of herself the most at the moment. I've only ever seen her shift to a more masculine appearance once or twice. Aldrun, my older brother, settled for a more masculine appearance because he liked it best. He said he felt like it belonged to him. He never took any female form after that."

Nyma nodded and hummed impatiently. "Right, right. Back to the part about Allura having man sex parts," she said eagerly. "Are you serious?"

"Oh definitely," Lance said, with a wink. "She'll kill me if she found out I told you, but she does."

"So she can both get pregnant and impregnate," Nyma said. "Nice. So why can't you get pregnant? You have both sexual parts too, right?"

"I do, but…" She shrugged and finished her drink. "My female sexual organs are underdeveloped. It happens sometimes. It's a genetic defect that occurs every now and then. Mother had it and we were beginning to suspect Alwida had it to, but we couldn't know for sure until she reached the age of majority."

"She?" Nyma asked. "I'm assuming your age of majority is the equivalent to Teiidae's puberty. So I understand waiting to be sure she's of age to start actually growing things before checking for abnormalities. But 'she?'"

Lance tilted her head in what wasn't quite an agreement but not a disagreement either. "She may not have been of age of majority or," he gestured to Nyma, "puberty, but she tended to prefer the thought of being a mother over not. Also, I'm not actually saying 'she.' I'm saying," he paused, presumably to switch languages though Nyma couldn't hear a difference, "'younger-person-sibling-Alwida of person-Lance.'"

"But the translator says 'she,'" Nyma said. "Okay. So your big sister can bang the Champion just as much as he can bang her. I like this. But your female sexual organs are underdeveloped so you can't get pregnant?" she asked to be sure she fully understood.

When Lance nodded, Nyma drained the rest of her drink, smacking her lips in pleasure. She waved the bartender over and ordered both of them seconds, smiling when the bartender mixed and served them two fresh Redshift Novas.

"Getting pregnant isn't the be all, end all, you know," Nyma said, taking a sip of her fresh drink. "You still have a vagina or something like that, don't you?"

Lance nodded but grimaced. "Yes," she said carefully, "but it's too small for use. I should know. I tried putting my finger in there once. Never again. It was too painful. I couldn't get my fingertip in. But, since I never really wanted to be a mother in the first place, it never bothered me much."

"Two things," Nyma said, holding up two fingers. "First, I bet it did bother you. Second, how do you say 'mother' in Altean?"

"Birthgiver-person," the prince said, smiling. Then her smile faded. "And yes, it did bother me when I first found out about the problem," she admitted. "But it doesn't bother me much now."

"Is that why you usually appear male?" Nyma asked.

"Sort of," Lance said. "My genitalia have little to do with who I am so much as who I am has to do with my physical appearance. Because I see myself as a person I do-"

"'Person' here means the Altean person word, right?" Nyma asked.

"Yes. Because I see myself as that," Lance picked up her fresh glass and raised it to Nyma, "I don't feel like I've changed much. From my perspective, I've just decided I feel more comfortable as what you would call a female. Also, I'm sure you've noticed that my breasts aren't very big." She flicked one of her breasts.

"I did notice," Nyma said. "But that's common in many races."

"True," Lance agreed. "But in my case, because my female sexual organs are underdeveloped, it affects most of the secondary female sexual organs I have as well, such as my mammary glands. That's why they're so small when I decide to take this form. They can't create milk like my sister's can."

Nyma clicked her tongue and drank more. "You said your mother had the same genetic issue you do. I'm assuming that since she's," Nyma held up hands and made air quotations, "the birthgiver-person of person-Lance, her male sexual organs were underdeveloped."

Lance rolled her eyes and laughed heartily but nodded. "Yes," she said. "That's right." She cleared her throat but the smile didn't go away. "It was commonplace for life partners to switch birthing duties between them. Not everyone felt comfortable with the idea of being the birthgiver-"

"Like you," Nyma interjected.

"-and sometimes none of the life partners in a relationship wanted to take that position," Lance finished, nodding. "But it wasn't looked down on to refuse that position for whatever reason. We courted multiple people at once, we willingly switched birthgiving duties, we changed our forms to suit our preferences for what felt right at the time, and we held festivals that are probably what made us so infamous in this day and age," she added with a chuckle.

"You mean those sex orgy parties?" Nyma asked wryly. "Not judging. I almost wish I could have joined."

"You could attend, but unless you were the age of majority, you couldn't get involved in the more adventurous activities." Nyma snorted and Lance smirked. "You also couldn't touch the juice or anything that even remotely looked like the juniberry unless you had a death wish."

Lance swallowed a mouthful of the Redshift Nova and shook her head at the biting aftertaste. "But if you did go," she said, "and you were at least the age of majority, then you could join in on the fun. You could mount or be mounted or do both or do neither. Not that we'd notice," Lance said with a wry grin. "By the end of the first night, most of us were too inebriated to think of much else."

"Does Keith know about this?" Nyma asked. "I think he might enjoy it."

"He might," Lance agreed. "But seeing as, all things considered, the festival is a thing of the past, I'm not sure it really matters anymore."

"It matters to you," the trader said pointedly.

Lance shrugged. "Yes," she said softly. "But I'm fine with the way things are. At least," she corrected, "I will be when I finally get the juniberry back in my system. Then I'll feel more myself and I may even be able to participate next time I take Keith to bed."

"Whatever, lover-person-Lance," Nyma teased earning her a playful nudge from the prince. "So," Nyma continued, "do you feel like this is who you are?" She gesturing to all of Lance's current form.

"Yes. Well," Lance looked down at herself. "Everything but the Human appearance anyway. That's a bit odd. But it's close enough to Altean that it doesn't feel too weird. I bet my sister is feeling some discomfort right about now though," she said, snickering.

"Should I keep calling your sister 'princess' then?" the trader asked.

Lance smiled. "As long as she doesn't correct you," she said, "then yes. If she feels like that isn't the title for her, then she'll tell you and specify what you should call her instead. But I doubt she will. She introduced herself so she chose that title."

"Then I have to keep calling you 'prince?'" the trader groaned dramatically.

"Yes," Lance said, "you still do. It's essentially the equivalent to our royal title."

"Even with the implied gender attached to it?" Nyma pressed.

"Well, it's better than the Altean equivalent which is a mouthful," Lance said.

The trader grinned. "Care to share?"

"Leader-person-child of leader-person,'" Lance said, hiding her smile behind her glass, draining it dry. "I may need to be more drunk if this conversation is going to continue like this," she said.

"I'm not opposed to that," Nyma said. She waved the bartender over and had their drinks refilled a second time. They had so much more to talk about.

Chapter Text

Keithek shifted nervously as the lift rose above The Mistro’s atrium floor. He watched his mate retreat arm-in-arm into one of the high class lounges on the lower floors of the tower directly across from the one he and Rolo were going to enter. The lift slowed at what Keithek believed was possibly the eighty-sixth or eighty-eighth floor. Honestly, he’d lost count of the floors, finding more interest in the people crossing the skypaths connecting the spires of The Mistro. At one point, he even thought he saw his father, but that was ridiculous. His father was probably still with that slimy Commander Prorok.

When Rolo stepped off the lift, Keithek followed. The clear, durable material lined the walkway topped by a platinum covered bar acting as a railing. It was strong enough for guests to lean against while still providing an eye-catching view of The Mistro and all within it. It was slightly difficult for Keithek to keep his eyes on Rolo’s back because the view was so distracting.

“Here.”

Rolo’s voice startled Keithek out of his musings, jerking his attention back to the trader. Rolo knocked on one of the few doors on this level. That was another thing Keithek noticed. The higher the floor, the fewer doors lined the walkway. Out of curiosity, Keithek leaned over the railing and looked up at the higher floors. Starting about five floors up, the next ten or so floors no longer had open walkways. They were walled by a durable material that was nigh on impossible to see through from this side. But Keithek would bet it was easy to see out of the material from the other side. The higher floors were too hard to make out from this vantage point.

Then his observations cut to an abrupt halt when someone, probably Rolo, grabbed his arm and yanked him into the room. Flustered, Keithek stumbled into the room and quickly righted himself.

“Well, he certainly has energy.”

Keithek stiffened and focused his attention on the woman in front of him. Her hair was long, perfectly straight, and a deep, deep red. If Keithek hadn’t known better, he would swear she had dyed her hair with blood. Her lips were the same deep shade of carmine as her hair. Her skin was a faint mauve that was lighter than Keithek’s skin but with no trace of the extra fur or scales typical of the Galran race. Her eyes were a molten gold, sliced directly through the middle by a black pupil that was currently wide and studying Keithek closely.

This had to be Merla. The way she held herself spoke volumes of her confidence. This was her layer, temporary though it may be. Here, in this room, she was in charge. Keithek felt his ears flick forward, twitching with every sound while he tried to make sense of the smells he was picking up as well. There was something exotic that was subtle but too strong to go unnoticed. It was not sweet like sugar so much as sweet like a flower. There was an earthen smell in the room too.

But none of it was stronger than whatever scent Merla herself had on. It was shockingly enticing, which was confusing to Keithek because he had only ever found Lance’s scent naturally enticing. The memory of Lance standing in his room, lit by the Balmeran aurora borealis from his view screens, filled his mind. Lance’s scent always seemed to intensify when Keithek looked at him. Even as she was now, Lance’s scent intensified when she caught Keithek’s gaze on her.

He blinked and whatever labyrinth his mind had gotten lost in suddenly vanished, slamming him back into Merla’s room so abruptly he wobbled. Rolo caught his arm when his knees suddenly gave out beneath him preventing him from crumbling to the floor.

“That’s enough, Merla,” Rolo said in a stern voice.

Keithek shook his head trying to clear it of the murky clouds that seemed to fill it like cotton.

“So your mate is an Altean,” Merla purred, completely ignoring Rolo’s command. She leaned down and pinched Keithek’s chin between her pale purple fingers, holding his face still so she could stare directly into his eyes. “And a pureblood at that.” She hummed and tilted her head with a sly grin. “What a rarity in this day and age,” she said, releasing Keithek and straightening.

“Was that necessary?” Rolo demanded, hauling Keithek up.

The red paladin blinked for another couple ticks before forcing himself to focus on Merla’s now retreating form. Her black clothes hugged her form in what Keithek supposed would be pleasing to most people. Feathers of a dark green, red, and black extended from her right shoulder only leaving her left shoulder bare.

A hoarse caw startled Keithek. His violet and gold eyes darted over to a nearby couch in shock. Perched comfortable on the black of the furniture was a microraptor that eyed Keithek and Rolo with wide, suspicious eyes that the red paladin doubted missed much.

“It was necessary,” Merla said, drawing Keithek’s attention back to her. “I wanted to know why your little client was so interested in my wares. It’s not often you come to me for anything, after all,” she said, tossing Rolo a dark smile over her shoulder. “I was curious.”

“Curiosity will be the end of you,” Rolo warned.

“And yet without curiosity, none of us would be here,” Keithek said with a shrug, rolling his shoulders in satisfaction when they popped. “Speaking of curiosity, what did you do to me?”

Merla grinned and waved Keithek and Rolo over to her. “Come over here and I’ll tell you,” she said. “Maybe.”

Rolo huffed but Keithek strode over to one of the two chairs positioned opposite the couch Merla sat on, her microraptor still perched on the couch back behind her. Rolo eventually joined them, taking a seat in the remaining chair next to Keithek.

“I looked into your mind,” Merla said without prelude. “I was curious to know why someone like you wanted the juniberry plant so bad.” Her golden eyes shifted to Rolo with amusement. “Your friend here is so squeaky clean, as far as the drug trade is concerned, that I was beginning to wonder if he just didn’t like me.”

She stuck her lower lip out in a dramatic pout that had Rolo scoffing. She merely chuckled and crossed her legs and leaned back into the cushion, completely relaxed.

“You have telepathy?” Keithek asked with interest. “You can talk to other people through their minds?”

“Yes,” Merla said, nodding. “Well, that and other things.” She examined her fingernails, picking one, flicking something away before tapping her cheek thoughtfully. “If you want to know more, you’ll have to pay me.”

Keithek nodded. “Understood,” he said. “But considering I am more interested in the juniberry plant than your mental capabilities, as I’m sure you would know if you truly can read my thoughts, then you’ll understand why I would rather satisfy my curiosity on that subject later.”

Merla’s eyebrows lifted almost to her hairline and a smile stretched across her lovely face in pleasant surprise. “Well, well. Someone is very well spoken,” she said. “Drinks?” she suggested, uncrossing her legs and standing. “Then we can start the trade.”

“I’d rather do this sober,” Rolo said firmly.

“Since you’re not really the one I’m trading with, I don’t particularly care about you,” Merla said.

Keithek sat up to watch the woman reach for a bottle of something and pour its contents into to fine goblets. The plucked both up by the slender stems and strolled back to the lounge area where Keithek and Rolo still sat. She handed one goblet to Keithek, taking a sip of her own pointedly before turning around and taking a seat on her couch. Satisfied she hadn’t drugged his drink, Keithek tasted the liquid.

He licked his lips at the unexpected taste. “It’s good,” he said. “What is this?”

She hummed, pleased. “Fine Polluxian wine,” she said proudly. “I have more bottles than I know what to do with. I have a very reliable source, you see. In exchange for my services, I get all the Polluxian wine I want.” She winked at the red paladin and sipped her drink. “Now,” she said, “I understand you want the juniberry plant.”

“Yes,” Keithek said when he realized Merla was waiting for him to answer aloud.

“But not for recreational use, if you know what I mean,” she said, with a smirk. “And not even for yourself.” She sipped her drink and leaned forward. “Is there a particular reason?”

Keithek took a deep breath and organized his thoughts. “My mate is a pureblooded Altean, as you now know,” he said, nodding to Merla who lifted her glass to him in acknowledgement. “He’s… She’s sterile without it.”

“She?” Merla asked. “A shapeshifter, then?” At Keithek’s nod, Merla leaned back and tilted her head so her microraptor could play with her hair fondly. “Not many of those in the universe. Not that I’ve seen, anyway. Does he or she have a specific gender preference or not?”

“I…” Keithek thought for a moment. “I don’t know,” he admitted sheepishly. “I never thought to ask. I don’t really care what she chooses to look like or what gender she prefers, if she has any at all. She’s still my mate.”

Merla hummed and sipped her wine. “Blonde hair and pale skin,” she said, her eyes still on Keithek. “A clever disguise. Although, I have to ask, what race is she currently taking the form of? I don’t recognize it.”

“I don’t know if I should answer that unless you want to pay for it,” Keithek answered, deliberately taking a sip of his wine and refusing to think of the answer.

Merla barked a laugh. “You’re learning,” she said proudly. “Good.”

Rolo shifted, clearly uncomfortable with this whole situation. Merla completely ignored Rolo’s presence which Keithek got the feeling Rolo was entirely fine with. For a moment, the red paladin felt bad for dragging Rolo into this. But if he had to choose, he would do it again in a heartbeat.

“You love her,” Merla said, her gaze astute and calculating. She lifted her goblet to her lips but didn’t drink it. “Your mate. You love her.”

“Completely,” Keithek said, meeting Merla’s gaze unwaveringly.

He must have passed some test, because Merla smiled. She thunked her foot on the table separating her couch from the chairs Keithek and Rolo sat in and pushed a box across the surface towards the red paladin. It was a metal contraption with a solid base that was held together on all four sides by an opaque particle barrier. The metal at the cube’s edges connecting the particle barriers met at the top of the cube at a small activation device with a single button on it.

“Feel free to look it over,” she said. “Make sure it’s to your liking.”

Taking that as permission, Keithek leaned forward and carefully pressed the button at the top of the cube. Instantly, the particle barriers vanished and the metal arms retracted, folding into the base of the cube revealing the merchandise. Keithek could feel Merla’s gaze on him but it didn’t bother him. It barely even registered at the moment. His attention was wholly on the plant sitting innocently on the cube’s base.

It was relatively small. Its roots peeked out here and there through the dirt in the clear pot the plant currently occupied. The stem was dark green, a shade or so lighter than the spiraling vines reaching out from the plant and dangling over its sides. The leaves were a light green that was the same shade as Pidge’s bayard energy blade but nowhere near as visibly dangerous. Three bright, vibrant fuchsia petals were folded up in what looked like a bud. Peeking out from the pink petals was a slim, yellow pistil with three prongs at the top. Three shorter yellow stamens were just barely visible between the petals.

Its scent was sweet and… Keithek tensed. This was the scent he had detected the moment he entered this room. The sweet flowery scent that somehow reminded him of Lance, this was it. Looking at the plant now, even with the flower itself not fully bloomed, Keithek couldn’t help but think it was beautiful.

“Do you approve?” Merla asked.

Keithek sat back and nodded. “It’s more beautiful than I thought it would be,” he said.

Merla grinned. “Good,” she said, swishing her wine around delicately in her glass. “Shall we start the trade?”

“I thought we already had,” Keithek said, earning him another wide smile from the female trader.

“We have,” Merla confirmed. “But it always helps to be polite.”

Keithek nodded but didn’t speak. He waited for Merla to name her price. He could haggle but not very well. He preferred it if the price was set in stone. It confused him how the same thing could be sold for so many different prices. Because of this, he had developed the habit of letting the more experienced in the trade name a price so he could have a starting point to begin working with.

“Aren’t you going to name a price?” Merla asked, smiling at him over the rim of her glass.

Keithek sat back, stunned. He swallowed and lowered his eyes. “I’m actually not very good at trading,” he said.

“If you give me permission to trade in your place, I can handle her for you,” Rolo said, leaning forward and resting his forearms on his thighs.

Merla shot Rolo a look of open disdain before returning her gaze to Keithek. “Is that what you want?” she asked.

Keithek may not have been looking directly at her, but he could hear the judgement in Merla’s voice. “No,” he said firmly. “This is my trade.” He lifted his head and met Merla’s eyes directly. “I don’t have much in the form of physical things, valuable or not,” he said. “But I can give you information.”

“Information is always useful,” Merla said mildly. “Depending on what it is,” she added.

That was true. Keithek quickly wracked his brain for anything he could possibly think could be useful to the female trader. He knew she could read his mind, but he highly doubted she would do so during a trade. As he understood the Trader’s Code, every trader valued a fair trade. Reading his mind could be seen as cheating, negating the fairness of the trade. Still, it never hurt to be careful.

“Have you heard Sendak is dead?” he asked.

Merla nodded. “Indeed,” she said, sipping her wine. “Our great emperor was quite upset from what I heard.”

“I killed him.”

“Oh, you did, did you?” Merla smiled and held out her goblet as if to ask for more. “How did you, a halfbreed, pull that little stunt off?”

Keithek ignored the jab at his lineage. Merla was obviously a mixed breed herself.

“He nearly killed my mate,” Keithek answered simply.

The memory of Lance collapsed on the floor, his blood pooling beneath his head from where his eye had once been, suddenly burst to the forefront of his mind. Merla was doing this, Keithek realized. There was no reason to hide this, so he let her see the memory, even though the emotions that came with it were not pleasant.

The horror that froze him, like a more sinister version of the ice welling from Lance’s core, closed over his heart when he saw in his memory’s eyes Sendak crush his mate’s eye. Then rage like an eruption volcano blazed through his veins, blinding him to anything but the monster that dared harm his mate. His next clear thought was of plunging his bayard blade into Sendak’s chest.

Then images that he didn’t remember bled into his mind. Images of people and places he didn’t recognize flashed across his mind’s eyes. Something nipped at his mind like a raptor pecking at a nut. He tried to shake the sensation off but he couldn’t. Just as it was beginning to reach the point of pain, two people flashed before his eyes.

Rolo had mentioned Lotor was Merla’s biggest customer and that she was here on Meserie to trade with the Galran prince; but seeing Lotor like this was strange. His face was contorted by something. Disgust?

But Lotor’s face wasn’t what had caught Keithek’s attention. He had immediately zeroed in on the face of the Galra soldier standing guard by Prince Lotor. He knew that face. Thace. Father? Father was with Lotor? But Lotor was here. Did that mean his father was here as well?

Since when had his father been promoted to serving directly under Lotor? Or was it promotion at all? It could very well be a demotion. But then, why would Thace be assigned to Lotor at all? Unless he was suspected of treason and espionage. A burst of terror struck him in the chest like a bolt of electricity. He couldn’t lose his father. He couldn’t…

What would he tell mother?

From deep within his mind, a familiar roar deafened him, singeing the pain and fear from his mind. It soothed his racing thoughts like a balm. He was jumping to conclusions with very little information. Not information at all really so much as raw data. He needed to calm down and think things through. Red’s constant heat was like lava, burning away his panic and reassuring him that all was well.

A startled cry jolted him back to the present. When he looked up at Merla, the trader’s pupils were wide in her golden eyes. The Red Lion growled in his mind and Keithek realized that the roar had happened now, not then. Red must have sensed her paladin’s distress and reacted in his defense, forcing Merla out of his mind.

“I…”

Keithek shut his mouth. He had no reason to apologize for his Lion’s actions. Red had reacted in his defense. She wouldn’t have done that if she hadn’t felt it was necessary. So he held his tongue and waited for Merla to speak. But she wasn’t the first to speak.

“Um, what just happened?” Rolo asked, his eyes flickering between Keithek’s calm face  and Merla’s unnerved expression.

“What was that, boy?” Merla demanded fiercely.

“That was my Lion,” Keithek replied simply. He dared give a smile of his own. “She doesn’t like it when people intrude on my mind.”

Merla placed her goblet on the table in front of her and stared directly into Keithek’s eyes. “Fascinating,” she said. “I’ve heard of the Lions of Voltron, but I never heard of them actually having a personality. Do they all have personalities?”

“Every one,” Keithek answered.

Merla’s pupils narrowed to thin slits, dangerous and cunning. :You saw my thoughts,: she said directly into his mind.

“Is that what that was?” Keithek deliberately answered out loud for everyone to hear.

Obviously put out by Keithek’s refusal to speak mentally in a private conversation, Merla tilted her head down and glared at the red paladin. Her microraptor hissed and flapped its wings in warning, its feathers lifting in an attempt to make itself appear larger than it was.

“What is going on?” Rolo demanded, sounding unnerved.

“How?” Merla snapped angrily.

Keithek met Merla’s eyes evenly. “A door once opened can be entered from both directions,” he said. “My mother taught me that.”

Merla continued to glare at Keithek for another few ticks before retrieving her goblet and leaning back against the couch to take a slow sip of the wine. She paused, glancing down at her drink before looking up at Keithek once more from beneath dark lashes.

“I accept,” she said. “Take the plant and leave.”

“Thank you,” Keithek said.

He leaned forward and pressed a button on the side of the metal base holding the juniberry plant. The metal arms unfolded from their slots, reforming the cube’s skeleton before activating the opaque particle barriers which would protect the plant from unwelcome eyes and contaminants.

He picked up the cube and stood to leave. Rolo didn’t hesitate to stand and follow the red paladin towards the door.

“It was a promotion, by the way,” Merla said suddenly.

Keithek paused before the door, turning his head to look back over his shoulder where Merla still sat with her back to him on the couch. Her microraptor, however, was staring directly at him with its dark eyes.

“Your mother is also well,” she continued, sipping her drink. “Although, I will say, the sooner that older brother of hers keels over dead, the better.”

Keithek narrowed his eyes, absorbing the information. “Thank you,” he said before leaving, Rolo on his heels.

Chapter Text

Shiro leaned back against the pod waiting patiently for Allura to finish changing and come out. Most of the people wandering through the landing pads had a specific destination to reach, either on Meserie or off, so they didn’t pay him much mind. But a few did notice him, all he’d had to do was knock on the pod and ask if Allura was done changing clothes. This usually resulted in muffled laughter from his impromptu audience as they went on their way.

He sighed and allowed his body to slump slightly against the metallic surface of the pod. Naturally, that was when the door hissed open. Instantly, Shiro straightened and turned to face the doorway, waiting for the princess to step out. When she did, Shiro had to take a second to reconcile what he was seeing before it finally settled in his mind.

Allura had shed her Wraith form for a more Human appearance. She had returned to her usual height and build, which was a relief. Her Wraith form had bothered the black paladin in ways he wasn’t sure he could properly explain. Allura’s skin was no longer the dark tan from what Shiro liked to think of as her true form, but a pale cream. She had let down her hair from the bun it had been in earlier and changed its color to a bright, sun gold. Her eyes were perhaps a bit darker but it was hard to tell in this light. Honestly, if Shiro hadn’t known this was Allura and hadn’t seen the pink eye scales that were still present on her face, then he would never have recognized her.

In addition to changing her form, the princess had also changed out of her flight suit, which had admittedly looked odd on her Wraith form, in favor of one of the long shirts she and Shiro had traded for. This shirt was a pale pink that was the same shade as the cherry blossoms Shiro remembered from home. Underneath the dress, the princess had chosen a pair of simple, cream colored pants that were a bit loose, but comfortable looking. She had tied a makeshift belt around her waist made of what looked like a few spare cables from the pod’s storage bin.

She flashed the black paladin a smile. “You ready?” she asked.

Shiro looked down at himself and sighed. He had let her talk him into changing his own clothes into the shirt and pants set he’d chosen for himself. They were black and gray and a bit more form fitting than he’d thought they were. None of the clothes had measurements on them so he’d focused on the styles that were designed for people with two arms and legs in the correct physical locations for a Human body. Overall, he liked his outfit.

The only thing that bothered him was that his cybernetic hand was still visible. He hadn’t been able to find a pair of gloves to wear. At least his shirt was long sleeved so most of the metal was hidden from view. All he could hope for now was that his face wouldn’t be too recognizable. It was a long shot, but it was better than nothing. Also, he didn’t stand out from the crowd as much looking like this.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Shiro said.

“Good. Then let’s go,” Allura said, closing the pod door behind her and walking across the landing platform with Shiro by her side.

“Do you know where this Mistro place is?” Shiro asked curiously, looking around at the tops of the few skyscrapers that rose above the canyon and the main settlement of the Meserie trade post.

“No, but I’ll bet it’s one of those spires,” the princess said, eyeing the buildings as well. “The higher the floor, the more well off the occupant.”

“We have buildings like that back home too,” Shiro said. “The top floor of some hotels in big cities are sometimes penthouses.”

“Penthouses?” Allura asked, tilting her head towards Shiro to indicate she was listening without actually looking at him.

The black paladin nodded. “That’s what we call them. They’re usually nice and rich people live there. I couldn’t afford one on my salary.”

Allura snorted. “I doubt I’d want to even when I had the means,” she said with a wry smile.

Shiro grimaced. “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, giving him a gentle smile. Then her eyes locked on someone over Shiro’s shoulder and she stepped around him. “Excuse me,” she called, catching the person’s attention.

Shiro turned around only to stumble after the princess when she wrapped her fingers around his metal wrist and pulled him along behind her. When she slowed to a stop, Shiro looked up, and up. The alien standing in front of them was tall and so slender, its body reminded Shiro of a young tree lime. Its skin was a pasty pale but smooth and featureless. Its head was small but seemed to fit with this creature’s tall and thin proportions. Its nose consisted of two, narrow slits curving delicately up from its lips.

The alien’s head swayed gently on its neck which was easily a little longer than a foot as it turned its eyes to focus on Allura and Shiro. Its eyes were perhaps the only large thing about this alien. They were as black as Shiro’s Lion except for a starburst of silver-gray in the center surrounding a tiny, pinprick of black which Shiro assumed was the iris and pupil.

“What is it child?” the alien said, its voice soft like a whisper.

“I am seeking a place called The Mistro,” Allura said, tilting her head forward in a small bow. “I ask for guidance because I have never set foot here before.”

The alien bobbed its head gently. “Then allow me to guide you, small one,” it said.

“Your help is graciously accepted,” Allura said.

The alien swept past them, stepping up onto the lift. Allura and Shiro followed. Shiro was finding it hard not to stare at the alien in awe. After a moment, the creature turned its head and met Shiro’s gaze with its own. There was no judgement there, only curiosity.

“Why do you stare, small one?” it asked.

A flush crept into Shiro’s face from being caught in the act of staring rudely. “I… I didn’t mean to be rude,” he said, stepping back and bowing slightly at the waist, startling both Allura and the alien. “It’s just,” he straightened, “I’ve never seen someone like you before.”

The alien hummed. “Nor I you,” it said. It tilted its head to the side curving its neck as it did so. “Do you approve?”

Shiro blinked in honest confusion. “Approve?” he asked. “Of what? You?” The alien nodded. “That’s not really my place,” he said. “You are who you are and I am who I am.”

“And yet you stare,” it said. “Why?”

Allura glanced at Shiro as well. The black paladin rolled his shoulders and thought for a moment. “I guess I’ve just never seen anyone so graceful before,” he said without any hint of mockery. “You move like water. It’s strange, but nice.”

The alien made a face that Shiro sincerely hoped was a smile before turning away. The lift slowed at one of the higher skypath levels and the alien gestured to it.

“This is the level you seek,” it said. “The Mistro is the building with three spires.”

It pointed to three, tall spires towering above the skypath and glittering in the fragile sunlight filtering through the storm clouds and the particle barrier above them.

“I thank you for your help,” Allura said, nodding her head in farewell.

“You are most welcome,” it said, turning its gaze to Shiro.

It bobbed its head to him and Shiro bowed politely in return. When he straightened, the lift was already descending once more leaving him and the princess standing on the skypath. Visitors began to gather by the lift dock once more, waiting for the next lift going up or down. Allura paid them no mind. Instead, she took Shiro’s hand and they made their way towards The Mistro.

“You impressed her,” the princess said suddenly when they were clear of the densest crowd.

“Her? How do you mean?” Shiro asked.

“You bowed to her,” Allura said, glancing at him. “How did you know to do that?”

The black paladin shrugged. “I didn’t,” he said. “It’s part of my culture. Bowing is respectful.”

“I see.” The princess pondered this for a moment. “Do the others, Hunk and Pidge, do they bow as well?” she asked.

Shiro shook his head. “No. I doubt it. I think Pidge would punch anyone who asked her to. Hunk might consider it though. But really, it’s a part of my personal culture and heritage.”

“Your world is so full of so many differences,” Allura marveled. “I don’t think I have every visited or even heard of a world as eclectic as yours.”

Shiro snorted. “I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said.

“It was.”

Shiro looked at the princess who met his eyes and smiled. That smile made a warm grow in his chest and made his heart beat faster and oh good lord above he was going sappy. Too many soap operas. That had to be the culprit. Definitely. Too many soap operas.


 

Keithek stopped by the lift tube and pressed the button to call the lift to this floor. He held the cube with the juniberry plant close to his chest. It had taken a lot of effort to get this plant. There was no way he was going to let something happen to it. Not now.

“What was that back there?” Rolo demanded.

“She read my mind,” Keithek answered.

“Yeah, I got that much,” the trader groused. “What did you do to Merla?” When Keithek didn’t answer right away, Rolo grabbed his shoulder and forced the red paladin to turn and face him. “Look,” Rolo said fiercely. “Merla is powerful in the trading world. There isn’t much that can ruffle her feathers. Whatever you did managed to do just that. Now, what did you do?”

Keithek glared at Rolo who met him glare for glare. After a tick or two, Keithek rolled his eyes. “When she looked into my mind, I looked into hers,” he said. “No, I don’t know how I did it,” he said quickly when Rolo opened his mouth to speak. “All I know is that a telepathic communication can work both ways. It’s a double edged sword.”

“Read someone else’s mind, you risk getting your own mind read,” Rolo murmured.

“Something like that,” Keithek said, nodding and shrugging. “My mother described it as opening a narrow tube between two buildings. As long as the door is open, people can enter or leave whenever they want. But only if they see the door.”

Rolo huffed and shook his head. “You’re crazy, kid,” he said.

“I’m not a kid,” Keithek said, glaring angrily at the trader.

“Ok, then Not-a-Kid,” Rolo said, ignoring Keithek’s darkening glare. “What did you give Merla in exchange for the plant? What did she see that was so interesting?”

The red paladin heaved a sigh and pressed his lips together in a firm line. “She saw me kill Sendak,” he said grimly. “Then one thing led to another and I found my way into her mind and saw my father and Lotor.”

“Not surprising,” the trader said. “Lotor’s here right now. I’m not exactly sure which spire he’s staying it, but whichever it is, I can guarantee it’s one of the top floors.”

“My father’s with Lotor,” Keithek said. “Last I heard, he was still working under Commander Prorok.”

Rolo hesitated, glancing at the red paladin through the corner of his eye. “Your father’s Thace, isn’t it?” he asked in a low voice.

Keithek spun to face the trader and his ears flipped up in full alert. “How do you know that?” he demanded.

“Relax, Not-a-Kid,” Rolo said, waving the red paladin down. The nickname only served to raise Keithek’s hackles, however. “I figured it out after we left that Castleship of yours. Thace is a contact for the resistance. We call him-”

“Soldier,” Keithek said, easing back from his defensive stance. “I know. He tried to keep me out of most of it, but I helped where and when I could.” He sighed as the lift finally reached their level. “He managed to manipulate the crew ledgers so I could serve under Sendak for a few trips. Sendak was high enough in rank that the Druids weren’t necessarily needed to enforce his commands. I got lucky. There weren’t any Druids on the battlecruiser for the two trips I served on it.”

He fell silent when the lift doors opened and they stepped inside. When the doors hissed shut, Keithek spoke once more. “Good thing too,” he said. “If a Druid had been aboard, I doubt Lance would be in one piece right now.”

“I take it that’s how you two met,” Rolo said.

Keithek nodded. “I captured him under Sendak’s command. Then I helped him escape.” His ears drooped. “I wasn’t able to contact my father before or since. I don’t have his private codes, and anyway, it’s too dangerous. I don’t want to blow his cover.”

Rolo nodded. “We haven’t gotten a spy as deep or as high up in rank as he’s managed to get,” he admitted. “He’s a valuable asset.”

Keithek nodded slowly. “That’s one way of putting it,” he said.

The trader bit down too hard on his stick and it snapped. Sighing, he pulled out the piece in his mouth and tucked it in one of his vest pockets. Then he stuck the other piece back in his mouth and continued chewing.

“Merla said something about your mother, too,” he said finally. “You know her?” Keithek nodded and Rolo shook his head. “I’m surprised. Don’t be offended, but most halfbreeds don’t know one parent, let alone two. You’re lucky.”

The red paladin shrugged. “Lucky that I know them? Yeah, maybe.” The lift slowed as they approached the atrium floor. “I just wish they were easier to talk to.”

Rolo huffed a laugh. “They’re parents,” he said, smiling wistfully. “Take what luck you can get. Like the fact no one else tried to get on this lift while we were talking,” he said.

The lift doors opened and Rolo stepped out onto the atrium floor with Keithek on his heels. He made his way confidently across the floor to the restaurant and lounge in the spire across the way.

“Brace yourself,” he muttered when the red paladin caught up to him and matched his stride. “Nyma can drink just about anyone under the table. Stupid Teiidae immune systems,” he grumbled.

“I think Lance should be fine,” Keithek said, sincerely hoping that would be the case.

“Rolo!”

The trader halted mid-stride and turned around startling Keithek. The red paladin followed the trader’s gaze to a large, crustacean-like creature with two legs, four arms, and what appeared to be four eyes. The two largest eyes were black and gleamed in the dim light of the lounge. The two smaller eyes were situated on the creature’s head just beneath the two red antennae and covered by a type of tinted goggles.

“Mans,” Rolo greeted with a smile. “I hope Nyma hasn’t been too much trouble.”

The creature, Mans, shook his head and groaned. “Whoever that is she’s made her new drinking partner has a higher tolerance than I expected,” he said. “Although, I don’t think she’ll last much longer.”

Mans looked over his shoulder at the yellow skinned Teiidae and her blonde companion sitting on the other side of the bar. Keithek felt his heart flutter a bit when he saw Lance. She was smiling and laughing at something Nyma had said. It was nice to see her smile like that. Keithek just wished that smile was directed at…

Lance looked up and her eyes picked out Keithek easily. Her smiled immediately grew wider and she waved. Keithek waved back.

“I’ll be right back,” he muttered to Rolo before making his way around the bar towards his mate, his prize still tucked close to his chest.


 

Rolo watched the halfbreed go in amused sympathy. If Lance was as drunk as she looked, then Keithek would have his hands full with her.

“Who’s your friend?” Manset asked, reaching over to swipe both of the freshly poured glasses of water from the bar. He handed one to Rolo and kept the other for himself.

The trader glance surreptitiously around them before answering. “He’s one of the paladins of Voltron,” he said.

“Really?” Manset’s nonexistent eyebrows lifted as he made his way leisurely over to one of the bar stools. “He seems quite taken with Nyma’s drinking companion.”

“Well,” Rolo shrugged, taking the seat next to Manset and sipping his water. “Considering she’s his mate, that makes sense.”

The crustacean stiffened and stared at Rolo in shock. When the trader nodded, Manset looked at Nyma and the other drinker with renewed interest.

“I see,” he murmured. “What’s her name?”

Rolo licked his lips and took a drink. “Lance,” he said.

“Lance?” Manset asked. “Strange name. Any idea what her race is?”

The trader nodded. “Altean,” he said.

“Alt- what?!” Manset gasped, whirling to Rolo. “Altean?” he hissed.

He turned back to Nyma and Lance just in time to see the halfbreed boy join them. The halfbreed was smiling like a lovesick lunatic. Manset watched the boy place the cube he’d been holding on the bar in front of Lance and say something too softly to be heard. Whatever it was had an immediate effect on Lance. Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. She set her drink down and promptly glomped her mate. The unprepared halfbreed suddenly found his arms full of drunken Altean, but judging from the way they were both kissing, Manset doubted either party minded the situation.

Manset narrowed his eyes at the cube sitting on the bar by Nyma and sighed. “I’m guessing that thing is in there,” he said.

“It is, yes,” Rolo said with a nod. “He traded with Merla for it.”

Manset groaned. “I hope this means you’ll wash your hands of this business,” he said.

“That halfbreed’s father is the Soldier,” Rolo said. He watched Manset’s reaction from the corner of his eye. He knew he had the lounge owner’s attention now. “And whoever his mother is, Merla knows her.”

“And you think that’s important?” Manset asked in a low voice.

Rolo didn’t nod, but he did set down his now empty glass. “I guess that depends on who she is,” he said. He pushed his bar stool back and stood to go join Nyma, Keithek, and Lance when he looked up and froze, his eyes wide. “L-leader?” he gasped.

Manset spun around so fast, he very nearly fell out of his seat. Standing there in front of him was a woman who was almost the spitting image of their venerable leader. Except for the pink eye scales that resembled the blue eye scales on Nyma’s drinking companion’s cheeks, he would have been ready to swear this person was their leader.

“I beg your pardon?” the woman asked, looking between Rolo and Manset in confusion.

The person standing next to her looked equally confused. His dark gray eyes sparkled with interest and wariness. He didn’t belong to any race Manset was familiar with. But the mechanical arm combined with the tuft of white hair hanging over his brow and the scar across his face screamed the person’s name without the need for words. Anyone who had ever seen a gladiator game in the past standard period knew this man.

“Champion,” Manset said, schooling his tone to not come off as curt.

Judging by the Champion’s not-so-subtle flinch, he hadn’t succeeded.

Chapter Text

The woman narrowed her eyes in warning. “That’s ‘paladin’ to you,” she said in clipped tones. “We all fight to survive in different ways. Some literally.”

“Um, why are you… Um.” Rolo tried to figure out what to say. He recognized Shiro but he could not figure out who the woman next to him was. Unless… “Are you-?”

“It’s okay, Katie,” Shiro said, cutting off the trader flashing the woman a tired smile. “Don’t worry about it. We won’t be staying long, anyway.” He glanced at the crustacean alien once more before turning his dark gray eyes to a still stunned Rolo. “Long time no see,” he said, extending his right hand.

Rolo hesitated just long enough to notice a flicker of sadness in the black paladin’s gaze. Biting back on his confusion, he reached out and clasped the cybernetic hand firmly. “I guess so,” he replied. “No hard feelings about last time, I hope.”

Shiro blinked dumbly for a second then his expression eased into something more like amusement and relief. “Is that what’s bothering you?” he asked. Rolo grimaced and Shiro huffed a laugh. “Look, we’ve all been in tough places before. You’ve helped us since then. I may not trust you completely, but I trust you enough.”

“Thank you?” Rolo said, his voice lifting up in a question. “I think?”

The black paladin pulled his hand back with a snort of amusement. “That’s what we call a backhanded compliment back where I’m from,” he said.

The woman rolled her eyes. “You two are ridiculous,” she said in what Rolo was sure was only mock scorn. “Rolo,” she said, startling the trader, “you wouldn’t happen to know where my brother is, would you?”

“Bro- oh! Yeah, she-he-uh…” Rolo stumbled over his words awkwardly for a moment while the no-doubt shapeshifted princess stared at him in bewilderment.

“Are you quite alright?” Allura asked, looking concerned.

“Yeah, um... Can you change genders, by any chance?” he asked.

The princess blinked. “We don’t have a gender,” she said. “Although,” she added thoughtfully, “I suppose we can change our outward appearance to something you perceive as a gender, yes. Why?”

“Nothing,” Rolo said quickly, waving his hands to dismiss the issue. “Just wanted to be sure. So,” he said, crossing his arms as he fell back into his comfortable position as a trader, “how do you want to proceed?”


 

Shiro watched Allura aim a distrustful glare at the alien by Rolo’s side instead of answering. She briefly met the black paladin’s gaze before sighing and forcing herself to relax her shoulders and focus on the problem at hand.

“I’m here to pick up Lance and Keith,” she said to Rolo. “And to talk about the other issue,” she added, lifting an eyebrow significantly.

Rolo nodded. “Yeah, um, about that,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I booked you a VIP room to talk. But you won’t be talking to me. You’ll be talking to him,” he said, pointing a thumb at the crustacean alien. “Guys, this is Manset, the owner of this lounge. Any business you want to discuss, future partnerships, trading deals, that sort of thing, they all go through him.”

Manset stiffened and turned all four of his eyes to Rolo in shock. “What?” he gasped. “These- They- Rolo, what sort of trade is this?” he demanded.

“The kind that involves trade agreements between our two groups to work together,” Allura said smoothly. “We have the same goal and don’t want to end up stepping on each other’s toes while trying to accomplish that goal. I’m sure you understand,” she purred.

The lounge owner hummed, then sighed. “I see,” he said. “This isn’t the best place for this. This way.” He waved for the group to join him and began making his way to a more private room to conduct business.

Shiro wasn’t sure about this Manset person, but Rolo seemed to trust him. That didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but if Shiro never trusted anyone then he would be no better than a Galra. They had to be willing to offer some level of trust otherwise their whole alliance would be doomed before it even had the chance to start.

They began moving easily through the midday crowd towards one of two private lifts leading to the second and third levels where the VIP lounges and VIP meeting rooms were located respectfully. Just as their little group rounded the bar, a blur of blue and yellow darted in front of Shiro and leapt into Allura’s arm with a cry of joy.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, it was hard for Shiro to tell at the moment, the black paladin didn’t react to the sudden move right away even though it startled the living daylights out of him. Perhaps it was the way Allura’s eyes widened when the person appeared in her vision, or maybe it was the smile on the person’s face. Either way, Shiro was glad he hadn’t acted.

“He did it!” Lance’s voice burst from the petite blonde Human currently clinging to Allura’s Human form like a barnacle. “Keith did it! He got the juniberry for us!”

“Is that Lance?” Shiro gasped, completely caught off guard.

“He- What?” Allura breathed.

The princess lifted her eyes from her armful of what Shiro was still trying to fully comprehend was a shapeshifted Lance and looked up to the red paladin. Keith was standing a few paces back from the group closer to the bar and watching to scene awkwardly.

“You did it?” Allura asked, pulling Shiro’s attention back to her. The sheer amount of hope in Allura’s voice and growing smile was enough to nearly break the black paladin’s heart.

Keith’s gold and violet eyes dropped to the floor as he shifted from foot to foot and nodded shyly. “Yeah,” he said. “I traded for it and…”

He gestured to a decently sized cube made of metal and opaque particle barriers sitting on the bar counter where Lance had been sitting. Nyma was still sitting there. Nyma waved easily at Shiro when she noticed his gaze on her and the black paladin nodded back respectfully but didn’t speak. Her smile grew in size when Rolo strolled over and plopped down heavily in the bar stool next to her. Shiro shook his head and focused on following the red paladin’s movements with his eyes.

“This is it,” Keith said, picking up the cube from the bar and turning back around to face the princess and the others. “I was only able to get one plant, but I figured if you two took care of it, it would grow. Here.” He held it out to the princess. “Do you want it now or would you rather I take it back to the pod?” he asked.

Allura released her shapeshifted sibling and took the cube in her hands as if it was the most delicate thing in the universe. It was almost as if she was afraid the cube and its precious contents would vanish in a pile of ash if she so much as breathed on it wrong. She stroked one of the opaque particle barrier side with her thumbs and smiled up at the red paladin gratefully.

“Thank you so much, Keith,” she said, her eyes still sparkling with joyful tears. “Thank you so much.”

“You know what this means, sister,” Lance purred, her eyes hooded in what Shiro was coming to recognize as the expression the prince wore right before she would begin teasing someone relentlessly. He winced in anticipated sympathy. “I expect to be playing with children soon,” Lance said.

Allura’s resulting blush was brilliant but Shiro would wager a guess that his own blush was even darker, especially when Lance deliberately made eye contact with him and winked.

“I expect you to take good care of her, Shiro,” Lance said. “But don’t even think about touching her until after we have our own little juniberry festival.”

Allura gasped, a giddy smile on her face. “Yes! Yes, that would be perfect. We can even celebrate your birthday, Lance,” she said excitedly.

Both of Lance’s blue eyes widened in surprise. “I… But I don’t know-”

“That’s why I wanted it actually. The juniberry, I mean,” Keith said suddenly, drawing Lance’s attention. “I know you two talked about it a lot and I wanted to get you something for your birthday, Lance, but I-”

The red paladin fell silent when Lance smiled and stepped away from her sister in favor of pulling Keith into a hug. “Thank you,” she murmured close to Keith’s ear. “It truly means a lot.”

“While I find this all rather fascinating,” the lounge owner said, cutting through the emotional celebration, “I have to ask: are you both Altean?”

Lance stepped just far enough away from Keith to look at Manset curiously while still remaining in the red paladin’s arms. “We are, yes,” she said. “Why?”

“Do you know someone called ‘Sentinel’?” the lounge owner asked.

Lance and Allura narrowed their eyes while Shiro glared and Keith practically snarled at Manset.

“I take that as a yes,” Manset said, astutely.

“Why do you want to know?” Keith asked, his voice so low it could have been a growl.

“Easy, Keith,” Shiro said, stepping between the red paladin and Manset although his glare never eased. “I don’t think this is a conversation we should be having out here,” he said, making a point to look around at the other guests in the lounge, some of whom had taken an interest in their little group.

“Of course,” Manset said easily. “This way.”

He waved a hand towards the lift before leading the way. Shiro watched Manset’s retreating back for a moment before turning his serious gaze to Keith and Lance. “Keith, keep an eye on Lance,” he said. “If this goes south, I need your first priority to be getting Lance back to the Castle.”

“It already is,” the red paladin said seriously, nodding to the black paladin.

Lance huffed. “You do realize I’m perfectly capable of handling myself,” she said, crossing her arms.

“I do,” Shiro agreed. “But I don’t like all of us being together in the same place at the same time like this. If it were just us, then I wouldn’t be so worried.”

“But it isn’t just us,” Lance murmured, staring at Manset’s back. Allura had stopped by the lift door, refusing to get in while she waited for Shiro to join her. “Keep an eye on my sister, Shiro,” she said. “If it’s a choice between her or me, you have to promise me you’ll choose her.”

Shiro shook his head. “I can’t do that,” he said.

“You have to,” Lance said fiercely. “She’s-”

“I know what she is, Lance,” the black paladin said calmly. “I may not know everything, but I know enough. She may be who she is, but we’re all a team. We work together, we succeed together, and we don’t leave anyone behind. That includes you.”

“I don’t plan on being left behind,” Lance said with a sigh. “But I do have another errand to run here on Meserie and I don’t know if I’ll be finished before you two are. Keep her safe, Shiro. Please.”

The black paladin’s eyes softened. “You have my word on that,” he said. He placed his cybernetic hand on the prince’s shoulder and squeezed it before turning and following after Allura and Manset. This was their chance to plant the seeds for the alliance they needed.


 

“Don’t you want to join them?” Keith asked, watching Shiro step into the lift with Allura and Manset.

“Not particularly,” the prince said, resting her head on the red paladin’s shoulder with a sigh. “Politics and diplomacy were never my strong suits. They were always hers. She’ll be fine taking care of this on her own. Besides,” Lance said, stepping away from Keith and stretching luxuriously, “as long as she’s handling this side of things, I can handle the rest.”

The red paladin grimace, his ears drooping so they hung almost as limp as his black hair. “You still want to go through with it?” he asked wearily.

Lance shrugged. “It’s worth a try,” she said. “Since Lotor has no way of knowing about Shiro and Allura, they should be safe as long as they stay out of sight.”

“And if Lotor tries to kill you?” Keith said in a flat tone, crossing his arms over his chest.

“He won’t,” the blue paladin said in a sure voice. “Zarkon wants the Sentinel alive and unharmed.”

“Yeah,” Keith grumbled. “And Sendak did a fantastic job of upholding his side of the no-harm thing.”

Lance visibly paled, forcing herself to take a deep breath to calm down her nerves. She couldn’t afford to think of Sendak right now. She needed to focus on Lotor. Sendak was dead. Lotor was alive and very dangerous.

“I doubt the prince of the Galra Empire would harm the person who will be offering him a chance to actually sit on the throne of as the Emperor of the Galra Empire,” Lance said.

Although the prince’s words were strong and confident, her voice was unsure and wavered disconcertingly. Keith reached out and pinched his mate’s chin between his thumb and forefinger, lifting Lance’s face so their eyes met.

“You don’t know Lotor like I do,” the red paladin said, his voice cold and distant, yet gentle. “If Zarkon ever has a problem with a prisoner, he lets the Druids have their way with them. If the Druids grow tired of the prisoner or Lotor is interested for whatever reason, then the prisoner is handed over to Lotor. That bastard has a reputation for breaking his prisoners.”

“He won’t break me,” Lance said firmly.

“He almost broke my mother, Lance,” Keith snapped. “It was only by a miracle that she got away while she still could.”

Your mother?” Lance murmured in surprise.

Keith’s eyes grew wide and he slammed his mouth shut, avoid his mate’s gaze. Eventually, he nodded reluctantly.

“My mother was a prisoner of Lotor,” Keith explained. “My father helped her escape.” He bit his lip nervously and bowed his head. “Look, Lance,” he said. “I want you to live. I need you to live. I’ll die for you. I want you to stay as far away from Lotor as possible. Promise me you’ll do that Druid teleport thing the instant things start to look bad.”

Lance snorted and reached up to trail her fingers down the soft fur on one of Keith’s ears. “I promise to do my best,” she said. “I can’t promise any more than that.”

Keith sighed reluctantly. “I’ll accept that,” he said finally. “Come on. Let’s go find a way to break into Lotor’s room.”

Lance’s snort startled him. He stared at his mate in confusion as Lance strolled boldly out of the lounge and out into The Mistro’s atrium in the opposite direction of any of the lifts.

“Um, where are you going?” Keith asked, not understanding what was going on.

“Why break in when I can walk right through the front door?” Lance asked. She stepped up to The Mistro’s main desk and smiled at the employee there. “Hello,” she purred. “I’d like to make a call to one of your guests.”

“Sure,” the employee said. “Who do you want to speak to?”

“Prince Lotor of the Galra Empire,” Lance said, flashing the now terrified employee a flirtatious smile. “Tell him, ‘The Sentinel is here to see him.’ Don’t worry. He’s expecting me.”

The employee’s hands shook as he typed the message into a computer and sent it to the requested guest.

“You’re insane,” Lance heard her mate mutter under his breath.

She smiled proudly.


 

Thace fingered the blade at his waist. The weight of it was comforting. It reminded him of the whole reason why he was fighting, why he was spying, why he was doing everything these days. This may not have been his first blade, but this knife had awoken for him and that was enough. Be knew time was not necessarily on his side but he also knew that time was more often than no, an unexpected ally.

He had been getting close to finding out how Emperor Zarkon’s planet-destroying weapon worked before Commander Prorok’s failed attack on Voltron at Balmera 95-Vox. On the bright side, Prorok’s failure had earned Thace the chance to gain favor with Zarkon. That could be a double edged sword. On the one hand, Thace now had access to things he hadn’t before due to his rank as a mere subcommander. On the other hand, however, if Thace stumbled even a little, he would cut himself. He had to be careful, now more than ever.

That’s why he was ready to face who knows what the moment he stepped off the lift onto the floor of The Mistro’s atrium.

Whoever had been stupid enough to have The Mistro’s desk employee call up to Lotor’s chambers asking for a private meeting would regret their mistake. The fact that, when asked, The Mistro’s desk employee said the person who wanted to speak to the Prince of the Galra Empire was someone who called themselves ‘Sentinel’ was the final bar on the proverbial ion canon’s power setting. Thace was fully prepared to kill the idiot, but he would have to wait until Lotor was through with them. The prince had declared the right to first blood.

Thace was ready for this. He was not ready to see his son.

Chapter Text

Hunk stared at the papers scattered around him on the floor. The more he looked at the strange Galra symbols, the more he was convinced he was looking at-

“Coordinates.”

He looked up at Pidge in shock, meeting her eyes in surprise when they both spoke at the same.

“Dude.”

Hunk began cackling when Pidge’s expression morphed into an expression of mild disgust when they both said the same thing at the same time again. It felt just like they were back at the Galaxy Garrison studying for their midterms or semester final exams. The only thing missing was a bag of Cheetos and half empty Coke cans.

And Earth.

Just as quickly as Hunk’s laughter began, it stopped. He swallowed his humor and gathered up his spread of papers before scooting across the floor so he sat next to the green paladin. He shuffled through the papers until he had his latest scribbles on the top of the pile and held it out to Pidge.

“I think it’s coordinates,” he said. “It’s the only combination that makes sense.”

“Yeah, I agree,” Pidge said, gesturing to her screen.

The currently open window on the computer screen was filled with lines of code which made no sense to Hunk. It took him a second to realize it wasn’t code at all so much as different perturbations of the same group of Galra symbols he had been working through by hand. He huffed a laugh and shook his head.

“Well,” the yellow paladin said, “since we both came up with the same result after two different methods of working this out with no input from each other, I think we’ve got a pretty solid lead.”

“Yeah.” Pidge heaved a sigh and scratched her head. “Something about it just bothers me though,” she mumbled.

“Hm? Why?” Hunk asked, facing his friend.

“These coordinates are just…” She threw up her hands in a shrug and groaned. “These coordinates don’t make sense.”

Hunk furrowed his brow in confusion and leaned closer to Pidge so he could get a better look over her shoulder at the computer. “How so?”

Pidge leaned away from Hunk and gave him a disgruntled look that Hunk caught. Immediately, the yellow paladin flushed and leaned back.

“Sorry,” he said apologetically. “Personal bubble, I know.”

Pidge rolled her eyes and sighed. “Anyway,” she said, “as I was saying, these coordinates don’t make sense. They all lead to nowhere space. It’s just this place with nothing. Look.”

She enlarged one of the windows in the background and typed the coordinates into the computer. The screen filled with a star map of Altean symbols that quickly became English letters, translating the names of the planets and stars. Then the map zoomed in on a small triad objects. From what Hunk could tell, the two larger objects were probably planets while the third object was either a planetoid like the one they found Rolo and Nyma on or a large moon of some kind.

“See what I mean?” Pidge said, gesturing to the screen in frustrated annoyance. “There is literally nothing at these coordinates. Just these two planets and that,” she pointed vaguely at the third celestial object, “moon thing.”

“Could there be life on those planets and moon-thing?” Hunk asked curiously.

“I mean, I could ask Coran to run a check on the area with the Castle’s scanners but…” She shook her head. “Do these planets look like they could possibly support life of any kind?”

Hunk shrugged but leaned closer to the screen to get a better look at the planets. He was aware of the green paladin leaning away from him but since she didn’t verbally complain or smack him or anything, he didn’t give it much thought. She’d let him know if he was intruding too far on her space.

Honestly, he had to agree with Pidge. The two planets looked like a rocky desert with some serious ice caps and the larger planet looked like someone dropped too much blue food coloring into water. The dark sapphire swirled around the planet at what Hunk knew where nothing less than hurricane force winds at the very least. Granted, this was only a snapshot of the two planets; but just from this, the yellow paladin highly suspected no life could exist on these worlds.

The moon-thing or planetoid, however, could maybe have life on it, if there was an atmosphere on the thing. It was hard to tell from this image exactly, but it almost looked too small to have a significant atmosphere. If Hunk didn’t know better, he would have asked what Pluto’s moon Charon was doing in this triad of celestial bodies in a war in the stars in a galaxy far, far away? Man, where was Yoda when you needed him?

“No, you’re right,” Hunk admitted. “They don’t look like they could support life.” He shrugged. “But you never know. Space is a freaky, weird place.”

Pidge nodded hesitantly and shrugged. “True.” She heaved a sigh and reached up to tap the translator behind her ear. “Hey, Shiro, can you hear me?”

“Pidge,” Shiro said.

“Shiro? You okay?” Hunk asked in concern. “You sound tense. What’s going on?”

“Katie and I just got an interview with someone who may be able to put us into contact with the resistance,” Shiro said. “So I can’t talk long.”

“Got it. Okay, we’ll make this quick, then,” Hunk said. “Pidge and I found something in Sendak’s memories. We think they’re coordinates.”

“Coordinates?” Shiro asked, interest overriding his nerves. “Coordinates to where?”

“That’s just it,” Pidge spoke up. “We’re not sure. Or, we’re sure of where the coordinates lead to, but not why they lead there?”

“Why? Is there a base there? Or a planet or something?” Shiro pressed.

“Two planets and a planetoid-moon-thing,” Pidge said, nodding.

“Planetoid-moon-thing?” Shiro repeated incredulously.

“It’s too small to be classed as a planet,” Pidge explained, “but if it’s a moon, it’s a big moon. It’s like Pluto’s moon, Charon,” Pidge said.

“Considering one of the planets at those coordinates looks like Pluto,” Hunk said, “I’d say our local Roman god of the underworld has got some competition.” He chuckled. “I bet Pele could still take him on, though.”

Pidge snickered. “Dude, I don’t believe in gods and I agree with you on that one,” she said, shooting Hunk a grin.

“Yeah, I figured you would,” Hunk agreed, returning the green paladin’s smile.

“Back to the coordinates?” Shiro interrupted impatiently. “Sorry to press, but I can’t talk much longer. I don’t want to be rude.”

“Naw, you’re good,” Hunk said.

“We’re going to ask Coran to use the Castle’s sensors to scan for anything there,” Pidge said, “but I doubt we’ll find anything. Those two planets… Well, the planets and the planetoid-moon-thing look lifeless.”

“Planetoid-moon-thing?” Shiro said in a deadpan voice that made Hunk fight to muffle his laughter. “Is that really what you’re both going to keep calling it? Why not pick one and go with it?”

“Because that’s discriminating, Shiro,” Pidge quipped in mocking offense. “We can’t judge it based on one image. That’s so rude. You might hurt its feelings.”

Hunk slapped both of his hands over his mouth to smother his laughter as the green paladin spoke. Pidge winked at Hunk and held a finger up to her lips indicating silence. Shiro said nothing so they both waited with baited breath for the black paladin’s response.

“You…”

Shiro’s heavy sigh which was audible over the communicator was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Hunk hands flew away from his mouth like an exploding coke can. He threw his head back and cackled madly. Pidge wasn’t far behind him. Except, instead of cackling, Pidge was snickering, her breath hissing through her teeth as she tried to control her laughter.

“Don’t worry, Space Dad,” Pidge said merrily. “We’ll keep looking into this. I’ll contact you when we have more.”

“Thanks,” Shiro said in what sounded suspiciously like sarcasm.

“Real fast-” Hunk said loudly before Shiro could break the connection. “Where’re Lance and Keith? I haven’t heard from them.”

“They’re fine, last I checked,” the black paladin said. “Lance had to run another errand here before meeting us back at the pod. Keith went with him, I think.”

“I’d be surprised if he didn’t,” Pidge said wryly.

“Yeah. Those two are attached at the hip,” Hunk said. He noticed the dark grin spreading slowly across the green paladin’s face and narrowed his eyes in warning. “Pidge, no. Don’t-”

“Literally,” Pidge said with a sly wink.

“Oh Pele, save me,” Hunk groaned.

“That was good wasn’t it, Shiro?” Pidge asked proudly. There was no response. “Shiro?” she called again. “That jerk. He hung up on me.”

“Yeah, I wonder why?” the yellow paladin groused, getting to his feet. “You can keep coming up with horrible puns and dirty jokes. But I’m going to the bridge to find Coran.”

“Hey. Wait, for me!”


 

“Is everything alright?” the Altean woman asked.

The Champion sighed heavily and rolled his eyes, nodding. The woman lifted an eyebrow to which the Champion pursed his lips and shrugged before saying one word.

“Pidge.”

Whatever that word meant, it was clear to the woman. Both of her eyebrows lifted and she nodded sagely, her lips twitching up in an amused smile. Then she focused all of her attention on Manset.

“I was told you were the one to talk to if we wanted to form an alliance,” she said, lifting the box holding that accursed drug plant close to her chest and studying Manset with watchful eyes. “Is this true?”

“That depends,” Manset said, strolling over to the private, fully stocked wet bar on the far wall of this VIP room.

This wasn’t one of his best. This wasn’t designed for lounging or revelers. This room was mostly used for meetings or business so the windows were mirrored allowing the people inside to see out, but no one to see inside. The walls were also soundproofed to maintain privacy and security for anyone in this room. However, the hidden cameras placed at strategic points in the room picked up audio very well.

Manset poured himself a glass of wine before turning to his guests. “What sort of alliance did you have in mind?” he asked. “Business? Financial? I should probably tell you now that I don’t plan on selling my business.”

“A business alliance,” the woman said curtly. “Unless, of course, you’re not in the business of defeating Zarkon and the Galra Empire. If that’s the case, then we have nothing else to talk about.”

Without waiting for Manset to reply, she turned on her heel and walked back to the lift with the Champion by her side.

“Calm yourself,” Manset said. “I had to make sure I understood the situation before talking. You understand.”

The woman paused and looked back at him from over her shoulder. “I suppose,” she drawled.

“However,” Manset said. “I’m afraid I have to ask: are you the Sentinel?”

Her eyes narrowed dangerously. “Why do you want to know about the Sentinel?”

“So you aren’t.”

“Why do you want to know about the Sentinel?” she repeated, her voice colder than the first time. The Champion shifted by her side, immediately putting Manset on edge.

“I do not want to harm him,” the lounge owner said. “But I’m under orders to contact the Sentinel directly, if possible.”

“Why?” the woman asked.

“Orders from who?” the Champion demanded.

“My orders are from my superior,” Manset explained. “As for why, we’ve heard much about the Sentinel and his connection to Voltron. I’m sure he’s aware that the esteemed emperor has charged a large portion of his forces to tracking him down and capturing him alive at all costs.”

“We’re aware,” the Champion said. He glanced at the woman carefully before continuing. “Anything you say to us will be directly delivered to the Sentinel.”

“So the Sentinel is your leader, is he?” Manset said, calmly taking a sip of his drink. “Ah, forgive my manners. Would you like something to drink?” he asked, gesturing to the stocked bar behind him.

“I don’t drink on the job,” the Champion said.

“I prefer to keep my wits about me,” the woman said. “But your offer is greatly appreciated.”

“Very well.” Manset took another sip of his drink before speaking once more. “As I understand it, the young Galra halfbreed whose mate was drinking with Nyma is a paladin of Voltron.”

“His name is Keith and yes, he is,” the woman said. “As is Keith’s mate and Shiro.”

“Shiro.” The lounge owner focused his gaze on the Champion. “Is that your name?”

The Champion nodded. “It is.” He hesitated before stepping forward and extending his hand in what appeared to be a friendly manner. “I think we should have done this to begin with. I’m Shiro and this is Katie,” he said, nodding to the blonde woman next to him. “I hope it’ll a pleasure to meet you.”

Manset eyed the offered hand for a moment before clasping it in one of his three hands that wasn’t holding his wine. “I hope it will be a pleasure as well,” he said. “I apologize for the abruptness of my attitude from earlier. But you must understand that our resistance has only managed to get as far as it has because we trust so few people.”

Katie nodded. “I understand,” she said. “I should probably tell you that I’ll be the one to handle most of these meetings, not the Sentinel.”

“What?” Manset gasped. “Why?”

“Because I have more experience than he does with this,” she said simply. “I was trained to be a diplomat. He wasn’t.”

“You talk about him as if you’re close,” Manset commented, sipping his drink.

Katie nodded, her eye gleaming with intelligence. “We are,” she replied. “Anything he knows, I know. Anything I know, he knows.”

“Mates then?”

Katie’s face flushed a bright red before quickly draining to a stark white. “No!” she cried almost instantly, too quickly to be a lie. “Ugh, no.”

Interestingly, even Shiro, the Champion of the Galran gladiator fights, visibly paled at the suggestion. Well, there were only a few types of relationships that would garner a reaction like that. If mating someone was so terrible, then perhaps the Sentinel and Katie were…

“Related?” Manset asked.

Katie nodded. “Yes,” she said.

Manset did not miss the sharp look Shiro shot the Altean woman at her admission. Curious. Perhaps her words were a lie? Or perhaps she shouldn’t have said that? Was her relationship to the Sentinel something that-

“Don’t tell anyone,” Shiro said, confirming some of Manset’s suspicions. “The less Zarkon knows, the better. For all of us.”

Manset glared. “You think I would betray you to the Galra?” he hissed angrily.

“No offense, but that’s how we met Rolo and Nyma,” Shiro said. “We’re not interested in a repeat performance of that.”

“I see.” Manset considered his options before speaking once more. “Alright. Our Leader would like to meet with the Sentinel personally to discuss an alliance.”

“That can be arranged,” Katie said. “Although, I think your Leader would prefer to speak to the leader of our team instead.”

The lounge owner studied the two people in front of him curiously. “You mean to say the Sentinel isn’t your leader?” he asked.

“No,” Katie said. “I am. The Sentinel is my sibling. He took it upon himself to draw the Galra’s attention so I could move in secrecy.”

It was subtle, but Manset caught the way Katie’s eyebrows fell low over her eyes and the way she grit her jaw.

“I’m still not happy with him about that,” she grumbled.

Shiro pressed his lips together in a thin line. “He did it to protect you,” he said to Katie.

Judging by the Altean woman’s heavy sigh of annoyance, this was a conversation that had happened several times before.

Manset hummed thoughtfully. “I’ll pass on the information,” he said. “Is there any way for me to contact you when I get a solid time and place for you to meet our leader?”

“Nyma and Rolo have a direct line to my brother,” Katie said. “Anything he hears, he’ll pass on to me.”

“I suppose that’s fair,” Manset said. “You may be asked to come to the meeting alone.”

Shiro stiffened in shock. “That’s not-”

“As long as I have confirmation that I’m meeting the Leader alone as well, I don’t have a problem with those terms,” Katie said.

“A- Katie!?” Shiro cried.

“I’m capable of handling myself,” Katie said firmly, cutting the Champion off with a cool glare. “Consider this a promise,” she said, turning her gaze back to Manset. “When I receive word of the time and place of the meeting, I will come alone. Unless, of course, your leader wants to meet the Sentinel as well. Then I’ll have him accompany me.”

Manset nodded slowly. “I’ll pass on your words and inform you of my leader’s choice,” he said finally.

“That is acceptable,” Katie said, nodding. Her hands tightened their grip on the box they held, momentarily distracting the lounge owner from his thoughts.

 “Although,” he added as an afterthought, “I have to ask: that… thing,” he nodded to the box in Katie’s hands, “is it really important to you?”

The Altean woman blinked and looked down at the box. She pressed the button at the top of the metal clasp and the slender, metallic arms folded back into their place at the box’s base. The particle barriers vanished as the metal arms folded away revealing a deceptively simple flower with fuchsia petals, a bright yellow stamen, and a living, green stem that vanished into a small pot of dirt.

Manset noticed the way the Champion looked at the small plant curiously before lifting his gaze to Katie’s face. The soft smile that filled the Champion’s face at Katie’s expression of pure joy was telling.

“This…” Katie’s voice was a whisper that Manset almost missed. “This is everything to me and my brother,” she said louder.

She pressed her lips to the plant, kissing one of the petals before breathing on it. For a split tick, Manset would have sworn he saw a faint vapor that glittered gold in the faint light of the VIP room. He didn’t doubt he saw that vapor, but he wasn’t sure if it was really a vapor. Especially when the plant shivered in the impromptu breeze in such a way that one of the small, frail vines that spiraled out from the plant’s stem seeking something to latch onto, ended up looping around one of Katie’s pale fingers.

It was like the plant was sentient. This...

Manset shook his head. This was quite frankly above his pay grade. “Put that away before you leave,” he said. “Those plants aren’t exactly welcome in much of the universe.”

The Altean woman’s smile faded somewhat. “So I’ve heard,” she said. She gently freed her finger from the juniberry plant’s vine before activating the box’s sealing mechanism, hiding the plant from view once more. “If that’s all,” she said, lifting her gaze to Manset’s, “then we’ll be on our way.”

The lounge owner nodded. “It is,” he said, “for now.”

Katie nodded and turned to walk back to the lift with Shiro close by her side.

“Actually,” Manset called, “I do have one more question.” He waited until both of his guests stopped and looked back at him before saying, “I heard you mention something about changing your outward appearance to Rolo when we were first introduced. What did you mean by that?”

The Altean woman smiled playfully. “Wouldn’t you like to know,” she said.

The Champion actually snorted, his lips struggling to fight back a smile as he followed Katie into the lift. Manset leaned back against the bar in the dim VIP room. He would have to report this to the Leader as soon as possible. If all went well, then they and their counterparts within the Galra ranks could bring about the emperor’s long-awaited downfall much sooner. That was something to drink to. So he did just that.

Chapter Text

Thace could barely believe what, or specifically who, he was seeing. Standing near the information desk for the largest spire of The Mistro was Keithek. The boy was leaning back against the stone wall of the spire by the desk alcove and gazing at a petite, young female with pale skin and short, messy blonde hair. The female’s back faced Thace when he stepped out of the lift, but when Keithek’s eyes lifted and locked on Thace’s form, she turned to face him.

The woman’s features were sharp and her two blue eyes alert. One blue eye, Thace corrected himself. The woman’s right eye was cybernetic. Judging by the scar streaking away from the corner of the right eye through the eye scale there, the eye had not been removed gracefully.

Eye scale.

Thace stilled, staring at the woman in dawning realization. Either this person was Altean or, more likely, she had enough Altean blood within her to manifest those distinctive characteristics. The only living pureblooded Altean Thace knew of was the Sentinel. But Thace was fairly certain the Sentinel was a male, not a female. If that was still true, then who was this woman?

“Am I really that eye catching?” the woman asked, her lips curving up in a teasing smile.

Keithek snorted in amusement although his eyes did not leave Thace for a tick. Thace took a deep breath of the air, but he couldn’t detect anything of use. There were simply too many scents filling The Mistro’s atrium. He would have to wait until they stepped into the lift to be sure. But if he was right…

“Are you the Sentinel?” he asked the woman in a curt voice.

She grinned. “Guilty,” she said, crossing her arms over her small breasts. She gave Thace a quick once over with her eyes before smirking. “Are you my escort?”

“The Sentinel is a male,” Thace said firmly. “I’ve seen his image.”

“Have you now?” the woman asked, looking thoroughly amused by this whole situation.

Thace glanced up at Keithek who shifted uncomfortably behind the woman. Keithek nodded minutely and Thace felt like his gut had been punched. This was not supposed to happen. The Sentinel was supposed to be against Zarkon and the Galra Empire. Why would the Sentinel turn himself… herself… in? Unless this person wasn’t the Sentinel at all but a stand-in or decoy perhaps?

The woman hummed. “Who would have thought I’d be so popular in this day and age,” she said. “I feel important.” She looked back at Keithek and did something Thace couldn’t see, but whatever it was made Keithek respond with a flat glare and groan of annoyance. “Well? What are you waiting for?" she said, facing Thace once more. "Lead on, soldier.”

Thace narrowed his golden eyes when the woman commanded him. Whether she meant to or not, being addressed by his codename out of context by a woman who bore a resemblence to Romelle still made him twitch. Nevertheless, he had a duty to perform and a façade to uphold. He snatched the woman’s upper arm in a tight grip and pulled her along to the lift.

The action must have caught her off guard because she stumbled the first few steps before speeding up her steps to match his long-legged gait. Her smile slipped somewhat but the ghost of it remained on her face as if she was trying to hold a cracking mask in place. When he stepped into the lift, he pulled the woman in with him and placed his hand against the scanning pad. The transparent material surrounding the lift suddenly clouded to translucent, blocking the view from any curious eyes outside.

Just before the lift door slid shut, Keithek stepped in. Thace had a brief moment of mild surprise before he was forced to dodge a sharp left hand punch. Instinctively, Thace leapt back and lifted both arms in self-defense, releasing his hold on the woman as he did so. When there wasn’t another incoming blow, Thace lowered his arms and relaxed his stance to stare at Keithek in surprise.

The woman looked just as startled as Thace did but she didn’t struggle to get out of Keithek’s hold. Thace’s son held the woman to his chest with one hand looping around the woman’s back and the other hand gripping the woman’s head, holding her close to his chest. Keithek’s gold and violet eyes glared angrily at Thace with a viciousness the Galra soldier had never seen before except from his superiors. He never imagined he would see that expression aimed at him from his own son.

“Keith?” the woman breathed, surprise filling her voice. “Keith what-”

“Was that really necessary?” Keithek demanded angrily at Thace.

Thace straightened, glancing at the floor number indicator to see they were just now passing the tenth floor. He sighed. “I had to keep up the façade of a loyal soldier of the Galra Empire,” he said.

“You couldn’t have done that without being so rough?” Keithek snapped.

Thace sighed, his shoulders dropping. “It wasn’t intentional,” he insisted with a grimace. “I apologize if I was too rough,” he said to the woman.

She blinked and angled her head so she could meet Thace’s eyes over her shoulder, clearly still confused by this whole thing. “I… It’s nothing,” she said, sounding unsure. “I’m fine.” She tried to pull away from Keithek’s grasp only for Keithek’s hold on her to tighten causing her eyes to bulge out in shock. “Keith, what are you doing?” she said. “Let me go.”

Keithek didn’t reply but he reluctantly loosened his grip allowing the woman to step back. He glanced at her briefly, his cheeks darkening before meeting Thace’s gaze again. Most of the anger had faded from his eyes by now, replaced by guilt and embarrassment. Thace lifted his eyebrows in a silent question. Keithek cleared his throat and looked away.

“Keith, what is going on?” the woman asked sternly. Keithek bit his lip but didn't answer fast enough to suit the woman, so she turned her gaze to Thace. Planting her hands on her hips in the picture of petulant annoyance, she said, “What is going on here?”

Thace glanced at his son instead of answering. “Is she-” Keithek nodded. “And you’re bringing her to Lotor?” he demanded, his displeasure evident on his face.

The woman’s mouth dropped open. “Are you ignoring me?” she gasped.

“I’m not bringing her to do anything,” Keithek said, rolling his eyes. “I don’t let her do anything either.”

“Keith?” she said, aiming an offended stare at Thace’s halfbreed son. “You too?”

Keithek sighed. “I’m not ignoring you,” he said softly.

“You do realize the prince won’t let her just walk out of there easily,” Thace said.

“I am right here!she suddenly shouted. “Both of you, stop ignoring me.”

“I wasn’t ignoring you,” Keithek cried in offense.

“You were talking over me like I wasn’t even here,” the woman said fiercely. “That’s basically the same thing. If you have something to say about me, both of you,” she emphasized, shooting a glare at Thace, “then say it to me directly. Now what is going on here? What is up with you two? Do you know each other?”

Keithek pursed his lips and shifted foot to foot awkwardly. Eventually, he nodded. “He’s… my father,” he said.

“Your-” The woman stared at Thace with wide eyes, her mouth open in surprise. “Oh,” she said in a soft voice.

Thace nodded. “Keithek is my son,” he said. It had been long enough for the scents of the previous occupants to be thoroughly filtered out of the lift through the ventilation system. He could smell it now, the scent of a mated Galra. “So it’s true,” he said, meeting his son’s eyes. “You did find a mate.”

Keithek’s eyes widened and blood rushed into his cheeks, but he nodded. “I did. I…” He glanced at the woman before continuing. “Father, this is Lance, my mate,” he said, placing a hand on the woman’s right shoulder, lifting a finger to tug down her collar revealing the distinct Mark on her lower neck.

But that didn’t make sense. Rolo and Nyma had told Thace that Keithek’s mate was a male and this woman clearly was not male.

“I see where you get your muscles, Keith,” the woman, Lance, said. “Too bad you didn’t get your height from him,” she added with a teasing grin.

Keithek’s blush intensified and he glared at Lance. The woman was thoroughly unbothered by the look. In fact, rather than be intimidated, her smile grew wider and she leaned over to press her lips to Keithek’s in a kiss.

“Well,” she said, “I suppose your father can’t be all that bad. He did help make you, after all.”

This time, even Thace blushed. By the Blade, did this woman have no shame?

“I’m Lance,” she said, stepping away from Keithek and holding out a hand to Thace. “And you are?”

“Thace,” he replied, gripping Lance’s forearm firmly. “Subcommander under Commander Prorok.”

“Impressive,” Lance said, withdrawing her hand and studying Thace closely. “I take it you’re part of the resistance as well. Otherwise, Keith wouldn’t be so open with you.”

The Galra soldier nodded. “I am. As far as I’m aware, I’m currently the highest ranked spy in the Galra Empire,” he confirmed. His golden eyes narrowed in warning. “So you understand why-”

“Don’t worry about that whole thing back there,” Lance said, waving away Thace’s words. “I was just caught off guard, is all. I should have expected something like that, I suppose. But I figured I would be handcuffed or something similar, not grabbed and pulled around like a doll.”

“Wait, you were expecting to be handcuffed?” Keithek gasped in barely disguised horror.

Lance rolled her eyes. “I’m basically turning myself in to my number one hunter, Keith,” she said. “What did you think would happen?”

Keithek didn’t answer aloud but his glare spoke volumes about how unhappy he was. It had the desired effect. His mate hesitated.

“I probably should have told you,” she said. “I didn’t think about that, to be honest.”

Another glance at the floor numbers had Thace moving to end this quickly. They only had about fifty more floors to go before they reached Lotor’s private suite at the top of the spire.

“That’s not important right now,” Thace said. “If you’re my son’s mate, then you know who the Sentinel is.”

“Well I should,” Lance said with a casual shrug of her shoulders. “If I didn’t know who I was, that would be rather awkward.”

“You are the Sentinel, then,” Thace confirmed.

“The one and only,” Lance answered confidently. Thace didn’t miss the way Keithek rolled his eyes.

“This was a stupid idea,” Keithek muttered under his breath.

“That’s not what you said earlier when you pinned me against a wall outside,” Lance said, snickering.

Keithek groaned. “That was before I found out you were expecting to be handcuffed like a prisoner,” he said.

“I am essentially a prisoner,” Lance said. “But I doubt I will be for long.”

“You don’t know Lotor,” Thace said, interrupting his mates' banter. “He’s been obsessing over you since the emperor first sent him your image. Which does bring up a rather pressing question.” He glanced at Lance through the corner of his eye. “You don’t look like your image at all.”

“That was the general idea,” Lance said. “I didn’t want to be noticed before I was ready.”

What happened next was not something Thace had ever seen before but left him with a sense of sick fascination. The paleness of Lance’s skin darkened to the shade of the stone lining the canyon walls of Meserie at the same time her blonde hair bled brown from the roots to the tips. Lance hair ended up a shade or so darker than her skin which only served to highlight the bright blue of both her natural and cybernetic eyes and her eye scales. She ran long, dark fingers through her hair, shaking her head as if to clear it. When her hand lowered, her ears had narrowed and elongated to a graceful point.

This person was slightly more effeminate than the image of the Sentinel Lotor had received and Thace had seen, but it was definitely the Sentinel.

“You’re a shapeshifter?” Thace gasped.

“All Alteans were,” Lance answered. “Do me a favor, Thace. If Lotor orders you to attack me or capture me, do your best to obey him.”

“What?” Thace cried. “Why would-”

“You won’t succeed,” Lance said seriously, her eyes narrowed sternly. “I honestly doubt you’ll be able to lay a hand on me before I get out of there. But just in case something happens, do not go easy on me.” She met the Galra spy’s eyes steadily. “Because I won’t go easy on you,” she finished.

Thace bit his tongue against the obvious protests he wanted to say, but one look at his son stilled his resistance. “You have my word,” he said. “But don’t underestimate Lotor.” The lift dinged, indicating they had finally reached the prince’s private floor. “You’ll regret it if you do.”

Lance’s eyes narrowed but she held out her arm for Thace to grip like he had when he originally pulled her into the lift. “I don’t plan to,” she said.

Without another word, Thace gripped Lance’s offered arm and yanked her unceremoniously out of the lift the moment the doors opened. Thace could smell Keithek’s fury at the unwelcome manhandling of his mate, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It would definitely lend credence to their story. He dragged Lance to the door to Lotor’s private suite and knocked.

“Your Highness,” he called. “It’s Thace. I have the Sentinel and her companion.”

The door unlocked and hissed open revealing a dark room beyond. Thace jerked Lance abruptly, forcing the Sentinel to follow. The woman winced slightly at the force but otherwise didn’t resist. Keithek stepped inside right next to his mate and scanned the room around them, cataloguing everything in sight just as Thace had trained him to do. The rush of pride vanished the moment Prince Lotor stepped into the room from the balcony beyond the far door on the other side of the large common area.

“Welcome,” the prince said, lifting a glass of red liquid in a mockery of a salute. “You’ll have to forgive me, as I wasn’t expecting visitors. Especially one as…sought after as yourself.”

Lance squared her shoulders and gave Thace a look of disdain. “I hardly find being dragged up here like a prisoner when I was fully intending to come of my own free will a proper welcome,” she said.

Lotor smiled, though it didn’t reach his eyes. “No, I suppose not.”

He lifted a finger, waving it dismissively at Thace who reluctantly released his hold on the Sentinel. Lance yanked her arm back to her side, rubbing it self-consciously.

“I’ve come to talk,” she said.

“I’m sure.” Lotor moved to a bar in the corner and uncorked a bottle, pouring its contents into a fresh glass. “A drink first,” he said, picking up the glass and handing it to Lance.


 

Lance eyed the glass suspiciously, refusing to touch it. The Galran prince chuckled and sipped the drink from the glass, swallowing obviously before offering it back to Lance. After a tick or two, Lance took the offered cup and held it up to her nose. It smelled of spice and alcohol and something else she thought she barely recognized. It was faint, muddled by the heavy scent of spice and alcohol, but she could swear she knew that smell…

Her thoughts were derailed momentarily when Lotor abruptly clinked their glasses together.

“To good fortune,” the prince said, before lifting his own glass to his lips and draining it dry.

Lance sighed and carefully drained her own drink. She could taste the source of that familiar scent, but again it was too faint to discern what it was exactly. She knew what it was, but she just couldn’t remember. The Galran prince merely grinned and refilled both of their glasses from the same bottle.

“So,” Lotor said, moving away from Lance to sprawl comfortably on one of the lush couches in the room, completely ignoring Thace and Keith. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this meeting?”

“I want to talk,” she said again.

The Galran prince grinned. “So you’ve said. What could possibly be so important that you would deliberately offer yourself to me without any means of protection?”

“I doubt you’ll harm me,” Lance said boldly, striding to the chair directly across from the couch Lotor currently occupied.

“Oh? And why wouldn’t I?” the prince asked.

“Because the emperor has ordered his hunters to capture me alive and unharmed,” Lance replied promptly. “And you’re such a good boy, I doubt you’ll disobey your father.”

Something flickered across Lotor’s eyes too fast for Lance to fully comprehend. But whatever it was, was gone when Lotor spoke once again.

“You have such faith in me,” he said wryly. “If you truly believed I wouldn’t harm you, then why bring your companion?”

Lotor deliberately focused his attention on Keith whom Lance was willing to bet looked positively murderous. If the amusement in Lotor’s fresh grin was anything to go by, Lance would have collected on that bet.

“He’s my mate,” Lance said in a calm voice, belaying the nervous tingles that danced along his skin. “He would have come even if I’d commanded him not to.”

That certainly didn’t sit well with the Galran prince. Lotor’s gaze flicked back to Lance with narrowed eyes.

“Your… mate?” Lotor repeated. Something about the way Lotor said the word ‘mate’ sent shivers down Lance’s spine. “And does your mate satisfy you?”

Lance blinked, completely thrown by the unexpected question. “I… yes,” she said. “Why would you ask that?”

Lotor shrugged. “I doubt your words,” he said, taking another sip of his drink before placing it on the side table closest to him.

“I’m not lying,” Lance said, narrowing her eyes. “I wouldn’t lie about something like that.”

“Maybe not deliberately,” the Galran prince said, settling back in his seat and smiling pleasantly. “But I honestly doubt your mate has ever satisfied you.”

Lance narrowed her eyes and set her own glass aside. “This has no bearing on why I’m here,” she said in a curt voice. “I’ve come because I want to know-”

“I couldn’t care less about the emperor,” Lotor said. “I follow his orders because they often align with my own goals.”

Golden eyes raked up and down the Sentinel’s form, not bothering to hide their owner’s intent. It made the hairs on the back of Lance’s neck stand on end. What was going on? She hadn’t been this nervous when she entered the room. 

“And what would those goals be?” Lance asked, trying to smother the unexpected and unwelcome emotions.

“That information will cost you,” Lotor said, smirking when Lance narrowed her eyes in annoyance.

“Then it’s not worth my time,” she said, uncrossing her legs and moving to stand.

“I didn’t give you permission to move,” Lotor said.

Lance snorted. “I don’t need your permission,” she said. “I do what I want.”

The Galran prince sighed. “It appears I’ll have to be a bit less delicate with you,” he said.

“I’m not a fragile flo-”

Lance froze, her eyes wide in astonishment when Lotor was suddenly right in front of her. Since when did… How could he have moved… Fingers traced up the scar on her right cheek to the slashed eye scale before pressing it. It felt strange, sparkling like electricity and demanding like a shout from utter silence.

“It appears you haven’t bonded with your mate,” Lotor said, changing the pressure on Lance’s eye scale so it increased and decreased in a steady rhythm.

“What do you mean?” Lance hissed, suddenly finding it hard to talk.

What was going on? This wasn’t normal. The last time she had felt like this was when she’d participated in the Juniberry Festival. But that was… Juniberry. Her eyes whipped to the glass of red liquid which she now recognized.

“You like it?” Lotor asked. “It’s a special brew. I prefer more alcohol to mask the scent and flavor of the plant. It helps keep my more enthusiastic companions docile.” He teased a nail against the damaged eye scale and Lance barely managed to suppress a shudder. “The fact it’s affecting you like this instead of throwing you into a sea of hallucinations confirms your identity as an Altean. But while I do enjoy this form,” the nail pressed harder, drawing out a soft gasp as Lance instinctively tried to lean away from the touch, “I’d much prefer it if you were on your knees.”

This wasn’t right. This wasn’t how juniberry juice was meant to be used. It wasn’t intended for this. She flinched, feeling her body shift, seeking a form that she hoped would be less appealing to the Galran prince. That was a mistake.

“Ah,” Lotor purred, leaning close so he shared the same breath as Lance. “There you are.”

Lance flinched but the pressure on his eye scale distracted him, making it difficult to think straight. “I’m not interested,” he said.

Keith. Where was Keith?

“This seems to disagree with that statement,” Lotor said, tapping the tip of the warm flesh between his legs sending something Lance hadn’t felt in a long time zinging through his body.

He gasped, fighting back the influence of the juinberry juice. He narrowed his eyes and placed his hand directly over Lotor’s chest. He could do this. If he could just clear his mind and get the information he came here for…

“I doubt the emperor would approve,” Lance said in a shaky voice.

“Zarkon trusts me to expel the resistance from prisoners,” Lotor said, his lips so close to Lance’s. Closer. Come closer. No. No, stay away!

“So you’re defying your father’s orders?” Lance breathed. “You’re not the emperor yet.”

Lotor huffed a laugh that taunted Lance like a forbidden treat he desired but knew would make him sick to his stomach. “I will be,” the prince said. “I already have the loyalty of most of the Druids. It won’t be long.”

“Why not just kill him and get it over with then?” Lance asked, pressing himself as far back into the cushions as he could in an attempt to resist the juniberry juice-induced desire.

“If I play my hand right,” Lotor said, “I won’t have to. He’ll drive himself to an early grave.”

Lance hummed. “Pity.”

“Not at all,” the Galran prince whispered.

“Not Zarkon,” Lance said. “You.”

Before Lotor could reply, Lance bit his lip hard enough to draw blood. The pain roused him from the juniberry juice haze enough for him to reach for his quintessence. It took more concentration than it should have to blast Lotor across the room with a quintessence bolt and vanish himself from the couch. The red paladin was struggling viciously in Thace’s grasp, but froze when Lance appeared in front of him. Lance grabbed his mate by the collar and teleported them both out of Lotor’s rooms and back to the pod.

He had the information he needed. That was all that mattered right now. He needed a shower.

Chapter Text

No one told him. No one fraking told him the Sentinel was a Druid!

With a roar of fury, Lotor picked himself up off the floor and glared at the spot where the Sentinel vanished. Had Lotor been informed of the Sentinel’s Druidic powers, he could have set up countermeasures. He also would have known that the cocktail he’d served his guest would not have affected him as seriously as he’d planned.

Druids had a strange way of muting the effects of certain drugs designed to muffle the senses. Drugging a Druid required a larger dose than what would typically be used for the average target. Haggar thought this was due to the quintessence they manipulated at will. Quintessence could act as an offensive weapon to attack and as a defensive shield to protect the user.

Not knowing about the Sentinel’s Druidic powers had put Lotor at a disadvantage which resulted in the Sentinel escaping. Frell it all.

“Thace!” he shouted at the thoroughly befuddled Galra soldier. “Find him!”

The soldier hesitated. “Where should I-”

“He teleported,” Lotor said fiercely. He stalked to his bedroom and returned with his sword. “Druids can only teleport short distances. He’s still here. Contact Commander Prorok and have him scan Meserie for the Sentinel. No one is allowed to leave this place without approval.”

“How will we tell the Sentinel apart from the other signals?” Thace asked in confusion.

“His signal should be the same as a Druid’s,” the prince declared. “Tell Prorok to start the scan immediately.”

“Vrepit sa, sir!” Thace said promptly. “And if the Lions appear?”

“Blow them out of the sky,” Lotor snarled. “What are you waiting for?” he snapped when the soldier didn’t leave immediately. “Find him! Find the Sentinel. Now!”


 

Without waiting for further instructions, Thace turned and bolted out the door towards the lift as fast as his long legs could carry him. Once in the lift, he activated his communicator and called into it.

“Commander Prorok,” he said urgently. “This is Thace. Can you hear me?”

“Subcommander,” Prorok’s voice said, sounding bored over the communicator. “Are we leaving this frell-forsaken planet yet?”

“The Sentinel has been sighted on Meserie,” Thace said quickly. “Prince Lotor has commanded us to find him at all costs. Start a scan of the planet’s surface. Look for a Druid signal. That should be the Sentinel.”

“A Druid signature?” the commander gasped. “The Sentinel is a Druid?”

“That’s an affirmative.”

Thace turned to stare out the lift’s currently unclouded windows, looking for anyone that even remotely resembled the forms he’d witnessed the Sentinel wearing. He also kept an eye out for his son. If the two were mated, then there was little chance Keithek would leave the Sentinel alone.

“No one is allowed to leave the planet without clearance,” Thace continued, his eyes darting across The Mistro’s expanse for anyone familiar.

“And did his royal highness give orders regarding the Lions?” Prorok asked in annoyance.

“If the Lions arrive, destroy them,” Thace replied. “Lotor should be coming after me.”

He checked the floor level counter even though he knew he had a ways to go still. Then, to his horror, the floor numbers slowed down, then stopped just as the lift came to a stop of the seventy-seventh floor. When the doors opened, he muttered a particularly vile curse that he would have been ashamed to utter in any other circumstance.

The woman who stepped into the lift clucked and waved a finger at him in a degrading manner. “Now, now, not in front of a lady,” she purred, her full, red lips forming a sultry smile.

Her microraptor warbled and ruffled its feathers as it shifted to a more comfortable position on her shoulder. Thace growled deep in his throat in growing frustration. The microraptor’s warbling instantly became a warning caw. One of Merla’s eyebrows rose to her hairline and she gave Thace a look of amused disdain before allowing the lift to move downwards once more.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “Your precious prince can catch the next lift down.” She chuckled. “Who knows. He may even sprout wings and fly.” At Thace’s glare, she snorted. “I’d pay to see that.”

“What do you want, Pythoness?” the subcommander demanded.

Her golden eyes widened in what could have been the perfect picture of innocence had the smirk vanished from her face. “Nothing,” she said casually. “Can I not take the lift without getting questioned by the Galra? What have we come to?” she drawled, flipping her long red hair over her shoulders in a flirtatious manner.

“You never do anything without reason,” Thace said, glaring at the trader suspiciously.

Merla pursed her lips and shrugged. “As it happens, my business here is complete,” she said. “I have no reason to stay so I’m leaving. Although,” her feline pupils focused on something on The Mistro’s atrium floor, “I may get myself a drink before I go.”

Thace snarled, but Merla was entirely unfazed.

“So,” the trader said, “what could be so important that every Galra in the vicinity of The Mistro is suddenly on high alert?” Her unnatural eyes locked on the subcommander’s, patiently waiting for an answer. When Thace didn’t answer right away, she smiled teasingly. “You do realize I don’t have to ask you what’s going on,” she said easily. “I was being courteous.”

The subcommander sneered and broke their gaze. “The Sentinel presented himself to Lotor,” he said reluctantly.

“Oh? He went to all that trouble to meet our darling prince face to face and managed to walk out the door without being stopped?” Merla said, her tone a mix of boredom and mild interest. “I’m impressed.”

“He teleported,” Thace said curtly. He bit back the feeling of smug satisfaction when Merla’s gaze locked on him in rapt interest.

“Did he, indeed?” she purred. Her smile grew. “And how did he do that?”

“That costs, Pythoness,” Thace snapped, hoping the woman would get the hint and mind her own business. He tolerated Merla because she was a well of information if her price was met, but he had little to no respect for her as a person. Why Romelle put up with the bitch was beyond Thace’s comprehension.

Merla laughed. “Now you want to trade?” she teased. “Alright. Name your price.”

The floor level indicator flashed fifteen and Thace breathed a sigh of relief. Just a bit longer.

“Your next shipment for Lotor gets mysteriously lost,” he said in clipped tones.

Merla snorted. “Over my dead body. But that was a nice try. I applaud your attempt.”

She flashed a flirtatious smile at the subcommander accompanied by a wink before strolling easily out of the lift the moment the doors opened. Thace muttered a curse and raced out into the atrium past her. Something light and soft brushed his mind and he snarled, tossing a hateful glare over his shoulder at Merla. The triumphant smirk on her lips only fueled his anger.

He didn’t bother to stop, though. He had to find the Sentinel and his son. He prayed the two were able to escape. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to help them out if they were captured without endangering his cover. The Sentinel could not be captured.

Keithek, he prayed. Keep your mate safe.


 

“Allura!”

The princess froze two steps out of the lift from the VIP room when her true name rang in her ear from her communicator. “Keith?” she said, glancing around the lounge to be sure she was alone. Nyma and Rolo were nowhere in sight. They must have left the first chance they got.

“Get out of there,” Keith said urgently. “Lotor knows we’re here.”

“What?” Allura gasped. “How did he find you?”

“What is it?” Shiro asked softly, his dark gray eyes bright and alert. When he realized Allura was talking through her communicator, he opened his own channel. “Keith, is that you?” he asked.

“Shiro, are you with Allura?” Keith demanded.

“We’re together, yes,” the princess replied. “What’s going on?”

“I’ll explain later,” Keith said quickly. “Allura, change your form and get out of there.”

“Change my… Why?” Allura asked in confusion.

“I’ll tell you later,” Keith insisted. “Just trust me. Change your form and get out of there. Both of you. Lotor’s probably got every Galra soldier on Meserie after us by now.”

Allura paled, her gaze flicking around the lounge for a safe place to change her appearance without gaining too much attention. When she noticed a walkway leading to the eclectic garden in the center of the lounge behind the bar, she tapped Shiro’s arm and made her way there, clutching the precious box holding the juniberry close to her chest. She didn’t have to look to know Shiro was right behind her.

“Working on it,” she said curtly, slipping into the oasis. “Why do I need to change, Keith?”

Both Allura and Shiro heard the put upon sigh Keith let out. “Look, I can’t tell you everything right now, but basically you look like someone Lotor’s been hunting for a while,” the red paladin said. “He may be hunting for me and Lance right now, but if he sees you he may stop what he’s doing to catch you instead.”

“Why?” Shiro asked, genuinely confused and concerned.

The black paladin paused by a tall plant with broad, glossy, green leaves and huge flowers that looked suspiciously like carnivorous pitcher plants and let Allura move a bit further into the garden. Allura made a point to remain within Shiro’s sight, but just out of sight of any of the patrons in the main lounge area.

“Shiro, I promise I’ll explain everything later,” Keith groaned. “But please, not now. Allura, are you out of there yet?”

“Not yet,” the princess said, setting the box with the juniberry on the ground next to her hesitantly. “I’m changing.”

“Um, make your hair darker,” Keith suggested. “Not brown, though. Or black. That’s too close to brown. And hide your eye scales. Lotor will be looking for those.”

“Why would Lotor know about those?” Allura demanded, frantically trying to come up with a believable shift that fit what Keith implied Lotor would not be looking for. In her panic, she could feel her current form begin to lock in place. If she couldn’t force herself to shift quickly, then she would be stuck in this form until she calmed down enough to focus her mind and complete a shift. Nothing came to mind.

“Two Galra just walked in the lounge where we are,” Shiro reported, adopting a defensive crouch as he inched closer to Allura. “Keith, wha- Pri- Katie! Behind you!”

Allura spun around only to find herself mouth to mouth with a woman she did not know. She had a brief moment of shock before planting her hands on the woman’s bare arms and tensing in preparation to push the woman away.

:Unless you want to be caught by the Galra,: an unknown female voice said in Allura’s mind, :then relax. Besides,: the voice teased, :you’ll need the practice if you intend to get anywhere if that boy toy of yours.:

The woman cradled Allura’s face with her hands, cupping the princess’s pale cheeks in her palms and covering the tell-tale eye scales with her thumbs. Allura tensed when a rush of emotions and tingling sensations danced from her eye scales throughout her body. She shuddered and couldn’t help it when her grip on the woman’s arms twitched before easing, taking the time to actually feel the smooth skin beneath her fingers.

Allura could feel the woman smile into the kiss. But the deep-throated chuckle filling her own mouth when the other woman’s tongue delved into Allura’s mouth startled her.

:Mm. So that’s what those things do,: the woman purred, pressing her thumbs against the princess’s eye scales once more. She nipped Allura’s lip when the princess gasped at the sensation before diving in for another kiss. :I like them.:

“Let her go!” Shiro demanded furiously.

“What’s going on here?” a new voice shouted from the direction of the bar.

Allura tried to break the kiss and step back only for the woman to wrap one arm around her waist and hold her in place, preventing her from escaping. The other hand slipped easily into Allura’s currently blonde hair just far enough for her fingers to tangle in the golden strands but her palm still covered the princess’s pink eye scale.

:Stay,: the woman said, pressing Allura still closer.

“Hey!” Shiro shouted close to Allura’s ear. “Let her go!”

“Easy, pretty boy,” the woman said, finally releasing Allura from the unexpected lip-lock. She grinned and tilted her head in a way that could only be called seductive. “I haven’t forgotten you, handsome,” the woman said, freeing one of her hands and pulling Shiro’s face to hers, kissing him now.

Surprised, Allura just blinked and watched. This was not what she had expected.

:You’re adorable and naïve,: the woman whispered in Allura’s mind.

Allura watched as her black paladin’s struggles slowed but the tension in his form did not fade. Then the woman’s thumb brushed the princess’s eye scale again and her thoughts stuttered to an inelegant stop.

“What is going on here?” the new voice said again, this time from only a short distance behind Allura.

Shiro jerked back, breaking the kiss and moved to prepare a defense for an anticipated attack, only to be yanked back into the unknown woman’s embrace. His dark gray eyes whipped to the woman’s angrily, only to widen in shock. Shiro looked up at Allura as if silently begging for an explanation. Allura had none.

“Well, I was about to take these two lovely people to bed,” the woman said, aiming a venomous glare at the intruding Galra. “But you are killing the mood. Go somewhere else.”

The Galra soldier stiffened, clearly not sure what to make of the scene. His helmeted head moved side to side as he glanced between Shiro and Allura. A blush worked its way into the lower half of his face that was visible beneath the visor. Refusing to back down immediately, he grit his teeth and straightened.

“This is a public area,” he said. “Take your… business elsewhere.”

“I’m sorry, do you own this establishment?” the woman asked, eyeing the soldier with open disdain. “Why don’t you turn around and take your business elsewhere. You’re intruding.” She licked her luscious lips and let her golden feline eyes flick back to Allura appreciatively. “Besides,” she added, pulling Shiro’s face close to her neck at the same time she leaned down so her lips brushed the princess’s, “we were here first and I’m a paying customer.”

Allura didn’t need to look to know the Galra left. The heavy footfalls of the armored boots thudded heavily on the garden pathway. Then her lips were busy once more and the thumb went back to brushing her eye scale. Too soon the kiss stopped and the woman stepped back, not quite releasing her hold on either Allura and Shiro.

“I meant what I said,” the woman said with a smug grin. “If you want, we can make a quick stop in one of the VIP rooms here. I know the owner and I doubt he’d mind too much.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Shiro said, stepping completely out of the woman’s hold and glaring at her. He rubbed his mouth, wiping away the saliva that dripping down his chin. “We were just leaving.”

“Nonsense,” the woman said. “I doubt Keith will mind an extra guest.”

“You know Keith?” Shiro demanded.

“Relax, Champion,” the woman said in the same tone a mother would use to discipline a disobedient child. “I won’t be staying. And for the love of my sanity, please stop referring to me as ‘the woman,’ Allura dear,” the wo- person said. “Call me Merla.”

Merla.

Merla’s unusual eyes glanced at Allura and she smiled. “Yes. I much prefer you using my name to ‘the woman,’” she said again. “Now, this way. Don’t forget your new pet plant. Keith worked so hard to get that, after all.”

She turned her back on the utterly befuddled duo and lifted a crooked finger in a ‘come hither’ motion and began walking down the path towards another exit. Allura hesitated for a moment, glancing at Shiro who appeared just as thrown by the unexpected turn of events as she was. He looked at her for guidance but she had no answer. So she shrugged, picked up the juniberry box, and followed after Merla.

:A wise decision,: Merla’s mental voice murmured in Allura’s voice.

The princess narrowed her eyes. :How are you doing this?: she asked as best she could, forcing the words to form clearly in her mind.

“Please stop,” Merla groaned. “Your mental voice is like a child trying to use adult words. It’s ridiculous.”

“Then why speak to me like that?” Allura asked aloud.

Merla shrugged. “Because it’s convenient,” she said, holding out her left arm at a right angle from her torso.

Before Allura could ask about the odd motion, a feathered raptor swooped down from one of the tall plants overhead and landed on Merla’s arm. Its talons locked firmly around Merla’s faintly purple skin and scooted up to settle comfortably on her shoulder. The microraptor fluffed its feathers, brushing Merla’s cheek with one of its wings.

“Is that an archaeopteryx?” Shiro gasped.

The princess glanced at the black paladin in confusion. “You know what that is?” she asked.

Shiro hesitated. “I… It looks like the drawings I’ve seen of an archaeopteryx,” he said. “We’ve found fossils of them but they’ve been extinct for millennia back home.”

“Yes,” Merla said softly, just loud enough for them to heard. “I would love to hear more about this home planet of yours. Consider it payment for saving your two smegs back there.”

“We didn’t ask for that,” Shiro said, narrowing his eyes in controlled anger.

“Not out loud, you didn’t,” Merla corrected, glancing back at him briefly. “Your minds, however, were so loud I couldn’t block them out. I was going to ignore you and continue on my merry way.”

“What changed?” Allura asked suspiciously.

“I heard Keith’s voice in your mind,” Merla answered readily. “I have a personal interest in our little halfbreed friend. And then I saw your lovely face,” she said.

Merla stopped before stepping out into the lounge area of Den Resistance and turned back so she faced the princess. She lifted a hand and trailed two fingers down Allura’s cheek.

“Keith was right, you know,” Merla said. “You really should change your form.” She cradled Allura’s chin delicately between her fingers, angling the princess’s face so they stared eye to eye. “Lotor and I have a history with someone who looks very much like you at the moment. If you value your life as well as your companion’s, then I suggest you change your skin color at the very least.”

Merla tapped her finely trimmed fingernail against Allura’s eye scale and grinned at the resulting twitch. “Since these are pink, why not make your skin pink?” she suggested. “It will hide these very distinct scales which practically announce your true race to anyone who knows what to look for. Lotor is one of those people. Granted you may not be this Sentinel he’s looking for, but this appearance is just as eye catching. You understand.”

“I don’t, actually,” Allura said, glancing cautiously around at the lounge.

She swallowed and forced herself to relax. Changing her skin color was a little thing which shouldn’t require too much concentration and effort. Sure enough, she felt the soothing sensation of a shift and instinctively knew her skin was now the same shade as her eye scales.

“Much better,” Merla said with a sly grin. “Now, one more question. Feel free to think about it as we walk to your ship. You do have a ship, don’t you?” She waited for Allura to nod before continuing. “Keith traded for that plant with the intention of giving it to his mate. Since I know you’re not Keith’s mate, I have to ask: why do you have it?”

Allura narrowed her eyes but didn’t have the chance to formulate an answer before Merla wrapped manicured fingers around her wrist and pulled her through The Mistro and out into the semi-open air of Meserie with Shiro by her side.

Chapter Text

Keithek had no idea what was going on on the other end of the comms, but judging by the squishing sounds and soft moaning he had a good guess. Although who was kissing who and why was not something he should be thinking about at the moment. Right now, his hands were literally full of a possibly drugged Altean prince who simply could not sit still to save his life.

Since they’d arrived at the pod, Keithek’s stomach had been shifting weirdly. He never wanted to teleport ever again. He wasn’t sure he would survive the venture. The contents of his stomach certainly wouldn’t survive the trip. It was by some sheer stroke of luck that he wasn’t throwing up. Yet.

Lance wasn’t much better. The moment they materialized in the pod, the prince had immediately put some distance between himself and Keithek. He backed up, pressing himself into the far corner and shrank in on himself, curling into a ball on the floor with his arms wrapped around his bent legs. When Keithek first tried to approach him, Lance had let out a weak whimper and tightened his muscles in an obvious flinch.

The sight hurt but Keithek knew better than to push Lance too far too soon. Besides, Allura and Shiro weren’t aware that he and Lance had made a personal visit to Lotor, announcing their presence to the Galran prince. Keithek understood Lance’s reasons and believed him when the blue paladin promised he would be able to make a quick escape should he need to. Those were the only reasons why he hadn’t tried harder to stop Lance from going.

He was regretting that decision. Keithek had expected a form of special treatment from Lotor; most of those involving unpleasant talks. Keithek had been fully prepared to fight Lotor hand to hand if he had to. But when Lotor didn’t make a move to arrest either one of them the moment they stepped into the Galran prince’s chambers, Keithek had been thrown for a loop. When Lotor molested his mate, Keithek had reacted on instinct.

He was still upset with his father for preventing him from jumping to Lance’s defense. He knew Thace was only maintaining his cover and obeying Lance’s orders to do his best to prevent them from escaping, but that did nothing to ease the frustration bubbling just beneath the surface.

Seeing Lance now in such a vulnerable position was not something Keithek enjoyed. Not by a long shot. In unnerved him. Lance rarely lost his nerve. Keithek could count on one hand the number of times Lance had given in to fear and…and…

What… What was that smell?

Keithek froze in the middle of the pod, his adrenaline induced pacing coming to an abrupt halt. His ears were flipped up, fully alert and twitching at the slightest sound. But it wasn’t the sounds he heard so much as the scents he smelled. One scent in particular stood out from the rest. It was spice, musk, and something else, something he couldn’t place. He had never smelled it before but… No. No, that wasn’t true, He had smelled this particular scent before. It had been the underlying smell in the trader Merla’s rooms in The Mistro. It had practically punched him square in the nose when he opened the box containing the juniberry plant.

That same scent was mingling with the scents Keithek associated with his mate and filling the pod. It made Keithek’s mouth water and frell if he didn’t want to taste it. Was this what an aroused Lance smelled like? Frakking frell, Keithek was fucked.

He slapped a hand over his nose and tried very hard to focus past the dizzying scent permeating the pod’s interior. The air may be circulating but it wasn’t doing anything to mitigate the heady scent. He may have groaned. Maybe. Possibly.

“Keith.”

Quiznak.

He turned to his mate who was currently staring directly at him. The natural eye was partially glazed from whatever drug was shooting through his system. It wasn’t deadly, was it? Why was that only just now occurring to him?

Keithek dropped to his knees and cradled Lance’s face in his hands, holding his head steady and studying his mate closely. Lance’s skin was a bit warmer than Keithek was used to. There was still an underlying cold tingling just beneath the feverish warmth, but it was muted as if felt through gloves or a thin jacket.

There Keithek’s observations ended because Lance let his eyelids droop shut and his head lolled in the red paladin’s hands in an obvious nuzzle. It wasn’t at all what Keithek expected. Was this supposed to happen? Or was this not? What…?

He thought back to what he could remember Lotor saying before he’d gotten too angry to pay attention to individual words. What could affect Lance or anyone like this? Was this a generic drug? Lotor mentioned something about confirming Lance’s Altean race because the drink didn’t affect him by giving him hallucinations or the like.

Keithek stiffened. Juniberry. Had there been juniberry in the drink Lotor gave Lance? But how could that be? Lotor had taken a drink of the brew himself before giving it to the blue paladin. Keithek watched him. Lotor had swallowed. If there really had been juniberry in the drink and Lotor himself claimed only an Altean would have been immune to the hallucinations it caused, then how the frell had Lotor been unaffected? Unless Lotor had Altean blood.

The realization hit the red paladin like a sucker punch, knocking the air out of him and sending a rush of adrenaline racing through his system. That was not something he would ever have imagined in a million decaphoebs.

The next dobosh, Keithek didn’t have the chance to imagine anything because Lance unwrapped himself and threw himself into the red paladin’s embrace. Not expecting the sudden move, Keithek sat stock still. His mind raced a span a tick but his reactions seemed stuck in a gravity well. What-?

A sharp inhale sent the scent shooting through his nostrils like a cannon. His Alpha instincts which he’d fought so hard to control suddenly clawed their way back to the forefront of his consciousness. He had to bite his tongue hard enough to draw blood to prevent losing himself to that side of him. This was neither the time nor the place for anything like that. He didn’t even know what was going on let alone know how to handle this mess. Not only that, but Lance was in no shape to fully comprehend the consequences of his actions and Keithek was in no rush to rub that in.

“Keith.”

Oh. This was not going to be easy. It took all of the red paladin’s concentration to keep his head up, his gaze pinned on the interior wall of the pod, his Alpha instincts under strict control, and his hands still on Lance’s back. Everything within him was singing for him to give in to the instincts that governed the Galra race and rut against his mate until Lance was full and both of them were sated.

But he wouldn’t let that happen. Not here, not now.

Keithek was a halfbreed and his mother’s people had none of the base instincts that were integral to the Galra. That gave him something of an advantage in this inner battle. His father had managed to resist the instincts, refusing to mate Keithek’s mother. It had been a wise decision, but Keithek could only imagine the pain and sheer force of will required to accomplish such a feat. Keithek was just a halfbreed and this was a battle he wasn’t sure he could win.

Shiro. Allura. By every Lion and paladin to ever exist in this universe, get here faster.


 

Allura clutched the juniberry box close to her and walked with the air of calm and poise just like she’d been trained to by her father. She kept her shoulders back and her back straight. She had every right to be here. She surreptitiously glanced at Shiro walking next to her and felt pride swell in her chest when she took note of the confident way the black paladin held himself. He strolled in a deceptively relaxed pace, casually looking around at the sights of Meserie like a first time visitor.

Merla, however, out did both Allura and Shiro. Her confident smirk never left her face as she flowed through the crowd. Allura may have a right to be here, but Merla belonged here. Honestly, if planets could be personified, Allura was certain Merla would be Meserie. The traders walking by eyed Merla with a mix of awe and something else. Was that fear? The traders clearly respected Merla, but they still gave her a wide berth. Wherever she walked, the others avoided. It was disconcerting.

“Is there a reason why they’re avoiding you?” Allura asked eyeing the wary traders cautiously.

The Galra were already hunting her and her team in droves. The last thing she needed on her plate of things to worry about right now was to catch the Galra’s attention simply by walking with someone why stood out from the crowd.

Merla, however, seemed to have no such concerns. She snorted inelegantly. “They know better than to mess with me,” she said, flicking her golden gaze to the Altean princess with a sly smile. “The world of the trader is a complex one, Allura.”

“Don’t use that-”

“I’ll use what name I wish to use, Champion,” Merla said, her gaze flashing to the black paladin warningly before returning to the road ahead. The microraptor on her shoulder however, kept its suspicious gaze on Shiro.

“As I was saying,” she said, rolling her shoulders comfortably, “the trading community is both vast and complex utilizing a form of hierarchy based on skill, fairness, trade integrity, and customer satisfaction. By those standards, I’m practically royalty.”

“I doubt a ‘royal’ trader would get this kind of reaction,” the Altean princess said, lifting her eyebrow wryly. “It looks less like they respect you so much as-”

“Hate me?” Merla asked easily. “Fear me? Dislike me?” She snickered. “It’s probably any one of those things, or all of them, or a combination of them. I have quite a few high paying patrons.”

“That’s it?” Shiro said in a flat voice. His expression clearly showed how much he believed that was all to the story.

“Well,” Merla added with a tilt of her head, “I suppose I forgot to mention a small fact that may be the source of their discomfort.”

“And that would be?” the black paladin demanded.

“Are you paying?” Merla shot back with a teasing grin.

Shiro sniffed and glared at the trader; his silence answer enough.

“What sort of payment do you want?” Allura asked curiously.

The red-haired woman studied the currently pink skinned princess with renewed interest. When Merla’s full lips pulled up at the corners, Allura knew she had passed some test. She just wished she knew what sort of test it was and whether it was a good thing she passed it.

“You came here to do more than get that silly little plant, didn’t you?” Merla asked, nodding to the box Allura still held protectively. The princess nodded cautiously. “Good. What did you bring to trade?”

“Some jewelry, mostly,” she admitted. “I did bring a couple other things, but I think my overprotective sibling took those out and hid them somewhere.” She sighed heavily. “I’ll have to go look for those when I get back to the ship.”

“I’m sure,” Merla said with a smirk. “Nothing else?”

“I have a few precious stones left, I think,” Allura said, going through what was left in her trading bag she left in the pod. “And a bottle of Kadesh.”

“I’ll take the Kadesh,” Merla said promptly in a tone that implied should wouldn’t accept it any other way. “In answer to your question, Champion, I deal in something most traders find detestable. But the market for it is large enough to attract and hold my attention. My supplier is reliable and dealing it has put me in a place of power over a surprising number of people in the upper echelons of the universal society.”

“And what would this detestable product be?” Shiro pressed.

“Drugs,” Merla answered easily, giving the stunned paladin a wink. “Specifically, one drug. Congratulations, my dears. You’ve just joined the ranks of my drug using clientele. Although,” she added with a smirk, “I doubt you’ll be using it to get high. As I understand it, the juniberry has some sort of physiological effect on Alteans that’s necessary for their survival in some way. Is that true?” she asked, aiming her question at the princess.

Allura nodded hesitantly, tightening her hold on the box and its precious contents. “The plant contains a hormone our bodies can’t produce naturally but require for many things,” she said. “The most pressing of which is our ability to reproduce.”

Merla’s smile faded somewhat. “I would keep that information to yourself, if I were you,” she said. “Although you aren’t my primary client, you’re still both indirectly my clients which means I have no qualms with letting you in on a little secret. The universe is not friendly. It may awe and inspire you, but there are those who live in it who don’t give a Galra’s smeg about your existence. In fact, I’d wager certain individuals would pay handsomely if you were somehow made permanently incapable of reproducing.”

Allura’s pink skin visibly paled, taking what comfort she could in Shiro’s reassuring presence by her side.

“I bet Zarkon would love that,” the black paladin muttered angrily under his breath.

“Zarkon might,” Merla agreed. “But I doubt his son would.”

“What do you mean?” Allura asked breathlessly.

“Lotor is a unique specimen by himself,” Merla said. “But since he’s one of my biggest clients, I’m afraid I can’t tell you much more than that.”

She came to a stop at the lift, stepping onto the pad when it reached their level. She didn’t speak again until they reached the landing pad. Allura followed the trader past the dozens of Galra soldiers searching the Sentinel.

“Keith’s mate paid a little visit to Lotor and I don’t think the prince took their abrupt departure kindly,” Merla said, reaching up to smooth out her microraptor’s feathers. The creature’s sharp beak nibbled her fingers fondly in return as she did so.

“They did what?” Shiro demanded, overpowering Allura gasp of shock.

Merla seemed outward disinterested in the emotional displays, choosing to examine a fingernail instead. “It’s possible Lance drank something that will not agree with him too well,” she continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted. “It’s a concoction Lotor brews himself. Its base is the juice from pressed juniberries, but it’s been enhanced by additives to mask the plant’s flavor and encourage addictiveness. Since you and Keith’s mate are both Altean, the addictiveness shouldn’t be a problem. I doubt there will be any lasting problems. Although…”

She paused to look over in the direction of Allura’s pod. After a moment, a toothy grin stretched across her face. “I suggest you leave as soon as you’re able,” she said. “I doubt Keith will be able to control himself much longer. The Galra aren’t exactly known for controlling their instincts, after all.”

“Wha-”

Without bothering to finish her question, Allura bolted past Merla towards her pod. She fumbled with the juniberry box in her hands while she struggled to enter the code to unlock and open the pod door, dreading what she would see. Eventually, she was forced to give the box to Shiro to hold so she could properly key in the passcode. She bit back a cheer when the mechanical door hissed open.

It actually wasn’t as bad as she’d feared it would be. Keith sat on his knees with Lance sitting in his laps, straddling one of the red paladin’s thighs. Lance draped his body over the halfbreed’s like a limp blanket. Keith instantly spun to face the princess when she entered, clutching his mate close. That’s when Allura noticed the subtle shivers dancing up and down her sibling’s body.

“What happened?” she demanded.

“Not now,” Shiro said, climbing into the pod behind her. “We need to get out of here right now. Whatever’s wrong with Lance,” he said, making his way towards the pilot’s seat and preparing the pod for takeoff, “we’ll be better able to fix it at the Castle.”

“If you were listening to anything I said, you should know there’s nothing wrong with him,” Merla said, appearing behind the princess.

Keith tensed, focusing his full attention on the trader. The microraptor on Merla’s shoulder gave a hoarse cry and Keith flinched.

“Why’s he acting like this?” Keith demanded.

“You sound odd, Keith,” Merla said in mock sympathy. “Are you well? Trouble breathing perhaps?”

The red paladin glared at the trader viciously, growling deep in his throat.

Merla merely clucked. “I’d control that, if I were you,” she scolded. “Let yourself slip, and you’ll find it harder to stop your fall.”

“What do you mean?” Allura said. “What are you talking about?”

Merla smiled. “Get the Kadesh for me,” she said pointedly to Allura.

The princess hurried to the bag of items she’d dropped behind the co-pilot’s seat and dug through it before pulling out a small bottle of Kadesh. She stood and handed it to the trader who winked.

“Consider our trade complete,” Merla said. “Good luck.” She glanced at Keith significantly. “I’d say sleep well, but I doubt you’ll be sleeping much tonight.”

With that, the trader turned on her heel and left.

Allura didn’t waste any time. She closed and locked the pod door and slid into the co-pilot’s seat next to the black paladin. “Shiro, get us out of here,” she commanded.

“Yes ma’am,” was the last thing Allura heard before the pod’s engines ignited and they lifted off the ground, soaring up to the access gate with a fleet of other outbound ships. Hopefully their small vessel would be overlooked in the crowd. She could hope.


 

Merla watched the small pod weave through the rising cloud of outbound ships, toying with the Kadesh she now possessed. The temptation to use it on herself was there, but she had a strong sense of self-control. Sometimes. She scratched her microraptor absently as she strode over to one of the skypaths. Her ship was docked at another landing platform nearby. It wasn’t a long walk there via skypath.

Her companion was probably sitting obediently in his bunk onboard, waiting for her to return. Merla fingered the Kadesh again and pursed her lips. She really hadn’t had a decent romp in a while. The employee who met her at The Mistro wasn’t as fun as she’d hoped he’d be which was a disappointment. Oh well.

Better luck next time. At least now, she could pay a visit to her supplier. A little microrpator told her the Leader was in need of some Kadesh. If the Traders weren’t going to get off their smegs and deliver the merchandise fast enough, she would simply have to fill in. Not that she minded, of course. Still, she would have liked to try her Kadesh out. She knew from experience that sex while on Kadesh was incredible, even if the act itself would normally be anything but.

A blur of yellow caught Merla’s attention. Yellow wasn’t exactly an uncommon color here on Meserie, but not many bipedal races were yellow. Teiidae were often yellow, though. She focused her mind in the yellow Teiidae’s direction. Nyma.

Merla huffed a laugh. What were the odds? Wouldn’t it be amusing if Nyma was just as interested in trying out her Kadesh as well? Not that Merla had any. But if Nyma did, wouldn’t it be mutually beneficial to make sure it was the real thing and not some cheap knockoff?

Nyma glanced in Merla’s direction and locked eyes with the red haired woman. Merla smiled coyly and approached.

“I heard you have some Kadesh,” she said.

The Teiidae trader narrowed her lidless blue eyes in suspicion. “What’s it to you?” she demanded, crossing her arms.

Merla smiled, her microraptor taking flight and gliding away to land on the small robot buzzing next to Nyma. “I’m afraid I have a bit of a problem,” she confessed, her feline pupils widening. “I was hoping you wouldn’t mind helping a girl out.”

“What's the price?” Nyma asked curtly.

Tossing her long, red hair over her shoulder so it hung down over her chest, Merla clicked her tongue and took a step forward so she was very much in Nyma’s personal space. She presented her own, newly acquired bottle of Kadesh to the Teiidae trader with a sly grin. “I happen to have some Kadesh as well,” she said. “But you must understand, I have to make sure it’s the real thing. I can’t very well hand over less than top-notch merchandise. I need to test it.” She looked up at Nyma’s blue eyes from beneath her dark lashes. “Join me?”

The Teiidae slipped her long tongue across her lips, considering the offer. “No strings attached?” she asked.

“None,” Merla agreed. “My word as a Trader.”

Nyma grinned. “I hear you have a room in The Mistro,” she said. “Never stayed there before.”

Merla lifted her brows coyly. “I suppose there’s a first time for everything,” she said. “And everyone.”

“Then lead on,” Nyma said.

Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad side trip after all.

Chapter Text

“If we keep close to the larger ships in this fleet, we should be okay,” Shiro said, angling the small pod towards the underbelly of the third largest cargo ship in the group. It was too much of a risk to hide near the largest; that would be one of the first places the Galra would probably start looking for them. They couldn’t dart around with the other pods of similar size either because they would stand out. They would have to burn time until the gate in the particle barrier opened to outbound traffic. Hopefully that wouldn’t be too long.

“Good idea,” Allura said, her eyes scanning the skies for any Galra ships in the group. So far, there were none. “Lance?” she called, glancing briefly over her shoulder at her brother still clinging to the red paladin on the floor in the back of the pod. “How are you doing?”

Lance groaned. “Fine,” he muttered.

“This isn’t the time for glossing things over, Lance,” Shiro said curtly, his gaze locked on the skies outside the view screen for any signs of the Galra.

“I’m not ‘glossing’ anything over,” Lance said in mild annoyance. “I’m fine.”

“Lance-” Keith began.

“I’m telling you I’m fine!” Lance insisted. “I really am fine. Better than fine. Much better than fine. Super fine. By the Lions, I feel magnificent.”

Shiro’s brows dropped low over his eyes in confusion. He looked over his shoulder at the duo. “Are you… Are you tripping?” he asked in disbelief.

Lance lifted his face from where he’d buried it in Keith’s chest and stared at the black paladin. “Am I what?” he asked. “I am literally on the ground cuddling Keith like one of Coran’s yelmors. How the frell am I supposed to trip? I’m not even moving.”

A faint flush of annoyance darkened Shiro’s cheeks. “Alright. How ‘bout this,” he grumbled. “Are you on drugs?”

“I…” The Altean prince hesitate, his mouth slamming shut. “Huh. Not really?” he said.

The black paladin rolled his eyes. “What did you do?” he asked in the same tone a father would use on a wayward child.

It was the blue paladin’s turn to flush in embarrassment. “I love how you automatically assume I’m the one that did something.”

“Did you do something?” Shiro asked.

Lance groaned loudly. “Who doesn’t do something?” he countered in frustration.

“Lance,” Shiro warned.

“I’m fine!” the prince moaned, tightening his hold on his mate drawing out a tense growl from the halfbreed. “Just leave me alone.”

“Lance, this is serious,” Allura tried before Shiro could fire a sharp comeback at the petulant prince. “We need to know if you’re alright.”

“He drank something Lotor gave him and he’s been weird ever since,” Keith snapped. “That’s it, alright? Now just… Stop asking so he stops moving. I’m having a hard enough time fighting this as it is without him moving around and making it worse!”

The princess blinked, her mouth forming a small ‘o’ of surprise. “Keith?” she asked hesitantly. “What’s wrong?”

“Frakking frell, just stop!”

“Keith?” Allura whispered, hurt by the red paladin’s pained shout. What could possibly be affecting the halfbreed like this?

“Galra!” Shiro shouted just as an alarm began beeping a warning in the pod’s small compartment. “Hang on, guys.”

He gripping the controls and pushed them forwards, forcing the pod into a steep dive just barely dodging a series of red plasma bolts fired from a small Galra fighter. Allura gripped her seat when the g-forces plastered her against her pilot seat. She held on tight as the pod dove towards the ground, pulling up at the very last minute and swerving to the right which threw her to the left.

There was a loud boom accompanied by a bright flash of light and smoke. A few Galra fighters clearly hadn’t managed to change their trajectory fast enough to avoid crashing into the ground. She hoped no one on the ground had been hurt.

She didn’t have the chance to dwell on that thought because the next tick, the pod was climbing steeply, trying to rejoin the fleet of outbound ships. If they could get through the gate in the particle barrier protecting the settlement, then they would have more room to maneuver and the chance of involving any innocent bystanders would diminish greatly.

“Allura,” the black paladin said before the princess could reach for the weapons controls. “Try contacting Coran. We’ll need to make a quick getaway.”

"Good idea," she said. "I'll have him get the Castle ready for us.”

Allura quickly tapped in the frequency code for the Castle’s communications systems and opened a channel. “Coran,” she called. “This is Al- Katie,” she corrected with a quick glance at Shiro. “The Galra know we’re here. We’re going to try to fly through the gate and get out of here as quickly as we can. Get the Castle ready for a wormhole jump.”


 

“So there could be something there?” Hunk asked.

“Well, technically, yes,” the Altean advisor said, adjusting the visual on the bridge’s large view screen so the three celestial bodies became clearer. “There’s always a chance something could be hiding there. But it’s unlikely any ship or base or anything like that would be located here. There aren’t any signs of life that the ship’s sensors can detect and nothing is in orbit around the planets.”

“What about the planetoid-moon-thing?” Pidge asked, leaning closer to the smaller readout, pushing her glasses further up her nose as she did so.

“Nope, nothing,” Coran chirped. He stepped back from the control panel and looked over the green paladin’s shoulder. “Is that really what you two are going to keep calling it?” he asked mildly.

“Definitely,” Pidge said.

“So there is a chance something could be there,” Hunk said, “we just can’t see it.”

“Not from here, no,” Coran said, looking back at the yellow paladin regretfully. “Something could be jamming our scans, I suppose. There’s always a chance that could be happening, but…” He shrugged and faced the large view screen again with a sigh. “I guess we’ll just have to go there and take a look around in person to be sure.”

“Whoo!” Pidge cheered, punching her fist in the air excitedly. “Space road trip!”

“I’ll make the snacks,” Hunk laughed jovially.

“Coran!”

“Huh?” Pidge straightened and looked around the bridge. “Allura? Is that you?” she called.

“Yes! Finally! Yes, it’s me, Pidge,” Allura’s voice said. “Can you hear me?”

“Loud and clear, princess,” the advisor said proudly. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Get the Castle ready for a wormhole jump,” the princess commanded in clipped, worried tones.

“Oh! Yes! Right away,” Coran cried, darting back to his control panel to prepare the Castle’s systems for both a wormhole jump and a potential battle. Never could be too careful.

“Why?” Hunk asked. “What happened? Are you guys okay?”

“We’re fine for now,” Shiro said. “But the Galra found out we’re here.”

“What did Lance do?” Pidge said in a flat voice, slumping in annoyance.

“…shut up…” The words were faint but the pod’s microphone caught them and Hunk would recognize that voice anywhere.

“Lance? You there?” the yellow paladin called.

“He’s here,” Allura said. “He’s just a bit preoccupied at the moment.”

“Do I want to know?” Pidge asked dubiously.

“Not sure yet,” the black paladin answered honestly.

“Naturally,” Pidge grumbled.

“There’s probably a Galra battlecruiser in orbit around the planet,” the princess said. “Prince Lotor is here. I doubt he would travel in anything less than that. One of you check the scanners. See if you can see the battlecruiser from your hiding place in the gas giant's atmosphere.”

“I can try,” Coran said, typing away at the Altean keyboard in the control panel. “They don’t seem to be detecting anything yet. But it’s highly possible the battlecruiser could be on the other side of the planet.”

“Right,” Pidge said, nodding. “It could be using the planet of Meserie as a shield, kind of like we’re using this gas giant as our cover.”

“Or,” Hunk said, pointing to something in the upper right hand corner of the view screen, “it was in orbit with the other ships and broke formation.”

“Which is it?” Shiro demanded.

“The latter,” Coran said, gritting his teeth when a large, Galra battlecruiser emerged from the other side of Meserie.

“It appears to be dropping to an orbit closer to the planet’s equator,” Pidge said.

“Damn,” Shiro muttered. “It’s waiting for us.”

“Don’t worry, Shiro,” Hunk said. “We’ll cover you.”

“Yeah,” Pidge said. “I haven’t had a chance to blow some Galra fighters into oblivion in a while. The Green Lion and I could use the practice.”

Hunk laughed. “While I’m not excited about the fighting part, I admit I do need to practice,” he said, scratching his head awkwardly. “Yellow’s been on my case about that.”

“One of you get a healing pod ready too,” the black paladin added. “Just in case.”

“That won’t do any good,” Lance’s voice said, sounding fainter than Shiro’s or Allura’s voices.

“It’s just a precaution, Lance,” Shiro said in a reassuring voice.

“And I’m telling you, the precaution won’t do anything,” the blue paladin insisted. His insistent retort was following almost immediately by a yelp and a loud thud.

“What was that?” Coran cried.

“Please tell me you’re all okay,” Hunk pleaded.

“Ugh! We’re fine for now,” Shiro grunted. “We made it through the gate, but we’ve got a tail.”

“I’m counting four Galra fighters,” Allura said.

“On it!” Pidge shouted, racing out of the bridge. “Hunk! Get in your Lion. We’ll give them some cover.”

“Thanks,” Shiro said through gritted. “That would be a lot of help.”

“I’m bringing the Castle out of the gas giant’s atmosphere,” Coran said as the green and yellow paladin darted out of the bridge. “I’ll keep the particle barrier up until the last possible moment. We have enough energy reserves to face that battlecruiser for a few tecks, but that’s about it unfortunately.”

“That should be enough,” the princess said. “We’re almost to Meserie’s upper atmosphere now.”


 

Keithek grunted when another sharp turn caused the g-forces to slam him back first against the far wall of the pod. His claws still clung to his mate’s shirt, dragging Lance along with him. When the prince crashed into Keithek’s chest, it almost knocked the wind out of him. Thank the Lions Keithek had been tensed anyway so the impact didn’t cause as much harm as it would have had he been caught unawares. He did cough though.

“Well, this isn’t exactly comfortable,” Lance muttered, shifting against Keithek’s body in an effort to push himself up to his hands and knees. “Allura!”

“Bit busy, Lance,” the princess said, aiming the pod’s sole weapon at the nearest Galra fighter. “Make it quick.”

“Turn the inertial dampener to a higher setting,” Lance cried, bracing himself when another sharp turn practically flung him into the back of Allura seat. “Before we all break our necks from Shiro’s reckless flying.”

“I am a great pilot,” Shiro snapped distractedly.

“Then focus on flying and not arguing,” Keithek interrupted.

“Everyone’s a critic,” the black paladin said not so quietly, rolling the pod into another aerobatic maneuver that resulted in two Galra fighters crashing into each other.

Keithek locked his jaw and scrambled up to a sitting position only to feel the floor beneath him suddenly become steadier. He felt more firmly planted to the floor than he had before. He looked up and Shiro was still executing artful dodging maneuvers, but the g-forces weren’t anywhere near as strong as they had been. He breathed a sigh of relief, regretting it instantly when he took a deep breath in. Lance’s scent was still unusually potent. This was going to be a long trip.

Then a familiar, solid beam of blue energy blazed across the main view screen, blasting a Galra fighter into oblivion.

“Green and Yellow here to whoop some Galra ass,” Pidge’s voice said over the comm unit.

“We’ve gotcha covered, Shiro,” Hunk said proudly.

“And just in the tick of time. Thank you, paladins,” Allura said gratefully, firing another bolt at a fighter that got too close.

Another alarm, this one an insistent chime sounded in the pod cockpit.

“What’s that?” Hunk asked. “Is that coming from your end?”

“It’s an incoming transmission,” Allura said, staring at the readout on the dashboard in confusion. “I don’t understand. Who would be trying to contact us?”

“Audio only or visual too?” Shiro demanded, bringing the pod out from the Yellow Lion’s left flank.

“Both,” Allura said. After another tick, she gasped. “It’s Galra.”

Keithek scrambled up to the pilot seat. There were only two people he could think of who were both Galra and had an interest in trying to contact them. One option wasn’t too bad, but the other option was the last thing they needed. He grabbed the princess’s shoulder and yanked her over the seat’s arm just two ticks before the view screen changed. Shiro’s side of the view screen maintained the usual readouts and visuals required to fly the pod efficiently. The other half of the view screen, the side that was directly in front of the seat the Altean princess had occupied until Keithek dragged her to the floor of the pod, was now filled with a Galra face. But this wasn’t just any Galra.

“Lotor,” Keithek growled viciously.

The Galran prince grinned, flashing his sharp teeth. “Halfbreed,” Lotor said smoothly. His golden eyes shifted to the black paladin still flying the pod and his grin grew. “And the Champion,” he said, a note of interest in his voice. “I’m surprised to see you fall in with this crowd, Champion. You always struck me as being better than that.”

“Better than fighting in a goddamned arena with lowlifes like you?” Shiro said sharply. “Damn right, I’m better than that.” Then an unexpectedly dark smirk wormed its way onto the black paladin’s face and he glanced at Lotor’s image smugly. “I actually get a good fight this way.”

The Galran prince’s expression twisted in fury. “I’d watch your words if I were you, Champion,” he hissed.

“Don’t tell him what to do,” Lance said suddenly from next to Keithek.

Startled, the red paladin whipped his gaze to his mate. He glanced back at the pod’s floor where Allura was currently sitting in her bottom, propping herself up on her hands which were braced on the floor behind her while her legs were sprawled inelegantly in front of her. Her pink skin looked deceptively darker in her brother’s shadow. Her mouth was set in a grim line and her gaze was cold with pent up fury. She obviously wasn’t happy with being kept out of this.

Too bad, Keithek thought. It was for the best. She was their trump card. They couldn’t afford to reveal her yet. Doing so would throw an even bigger wrench in the works.

“Sentinel.”

Keithek turned his hard gaze back to the view screen and bared his teeth in a snarl. He could feel his ears pin back against his head and his hands flex instinctively, dearly wishing he had the bastard prince’s face beneath his nails. He knew Lotor recognized Keithek’s display, which made the prince’s uncaring dismissal all the more offensive.

“You left so abruptly, we hardly had the chance to talk,” Lotor said easily.

“I don’t make a habit of lingering in the presence of idiots any longer than necessary,” Lance said coldly.

Fury flashed through Lotor’s golden eyes causing Keithek to grip his mate’s wrist without thinking. It was getting incredibly difficult to fight the Alpha instincts scrabbling for control of his consciousness with Lotor taunting him like this and Lance's scent still filling his nose. Was that the bastard prince’s intent?


 

“Are words the only weapons you have with you, Sentinel?” Lotor asked, his eyes never leaving Lance’s. “No quintessence bolts to fire at me? Again.”

The prince smirked. “Not at the moment,” he replied with an easy shrug. “I think you need to recover from the last one before I do that again. It would hardly be a fair fight, otherwise.”

“Your Druidic powers are impressive, I’ll give you that,” the Galran prince admitted. “But they’re nothing compared to the Druids under the emperor’s command. I’m sure they would appreciate the honor of taking you on as a student if you turn yourself in.”

“Not particularly interested,” Lance replied, gripping the empty pilot seat and bracing himself when Shiro rolled the pod to avoid a bolt of red plasma that came too close for comfort. “Besides, I doubt I would be allowed to study under them. Captives aren’t usually granted freedom.”

“Not usually, no,” Lotor agreed. “But exceptions can be made.” His golden eyes narrowed astutely. “You seem tense, Sentinel. Is something wrong?”

Lance glared. “No,” he said.

The Galran prince studied the Sentinel closely before chuckling. “No, I don’t suppose so,” he purred. “While I detest the idea of someone else laying their hands on you, it appears I'll have to tolerate it for now. I don’t like to share my things.”

“He’s not yours,” Keith roared, surging towards the view screen. Only his mate’s firm grip on his arm stopped him from swiping his claws at Lotor’s image.

Lotor laughed at the display. “You should put a leash on your pet, Sentinel,” he said in amusement. “Unruly pets are an eyesore.”

“Funny,” Lance said over Keith’s snarl. “My mate seems to be behaving perfectly fine to me. That aside,” he continued, glaring at the prince, “I don’t remember belonging to anyone. Last I checked, I escaped you. Very easily, I might add. You have no claim to me.”

“For now, maybe,” Lotor said. “But you won’t be free for long. I think you’ll find freedom doesn’t agree with you.”

“How so?” Lance said.

Lotor merely smiled and unclasped his hands, spreading his fingers in a motion resembling a shrug. “You’re smart, Sentinel,” he said simply, clasping his hands together once more. “I think you’ll figure it out. I’m sure your,” he paused, glancing at the other three people in the pod with a mocking smirk, “friends will certainly appreciate it.

For a tick, Lance felt fear zing through him. Allura was standing right next to him in full view of the Galran prince’s visual feed. Then he remembered her skin was still pink and he swallowed over a suddenly dry throat.

“What do you mean?” Lance said lowly, trying desperately to read the Galran prince’s face for any clue, any hint, and finding nothing.

Lotor’s smile sharpened as he lifted one finger and an alarm blared in the pod’s cockpit. Immediately, Lance’s attention dropped to the dashboard and visuals flashing across Shiro’s half of the view screen. A bold, red box was flashing around something on the approaching Galra battlecruiser’s hull. Shiro entered the command to zoom in on the image.

“It’s the ion canon,” Shiro cried, gripping the controls and diving out of range.

“What?” Allura gasped, pushing Lance aside so she could lean over Shiro’s shoulder and see the image for herself.

“A- Katie!” Lance gasped. “What are-”

“Paladins, get out of there!” Allura shouted into the comm unit.

“What? Why?” Pidge asked. “Oh shit! Hunk, get down!”

“What about Coran and the Castle?” Hunk said, already darting out of the ion canon’s aim.

“Coran!” Lance cried.

“Too late!” Pidge said.

Sure enough, a solid beam of destructive purple energy blazed forth from the battlecruiser’s ion canon and exploded in a ball of fire. The explosion blinded the view screens of visuals for a few tense ticks before the Castle of Lions emerged mostly unscathed if a bit worse for wear and surrounded by the Castle’s particle barrier. Shiro turned their pod towards the Castleship while the Lions’ protected them from further enemy fire. They were going to make it.

Lance only had a tick to breathe a heavy sigh of relief before he realized Lotor’s communication channel was still open and transmitting. He turned back to the Galra’s image, their gaze meeting.

“Like I said,” the Galran prince purred, his eerie eyes sweeping up and down Lance’s form with an emotion Lance wasn’t sure he liked. “I think you’ll figure it out.” Lotor grinned. “If it gets to be too much, just turn yourself in to me. Do that and I’ll leave them alone. You have my word.”

“Hey guys!” Hunk said. “The Galra are retreating. Whatever you did, it worked.”

“We didn’t do anything, I don’t think,” Shiro said suspiciously, flying the pod through the Castle’s particle barrier followed closely by the Green and Yellow Lions.

Lance’s eyes flicked across the readouts on Shiro’s half of the view screen and confirmed that the Galra fighters were indeed returning to the battlecruiser. “You sound like you want me more than you want Voltron,” Lance said, his voice sounding hoarse and raw to his ears as he returned his attention to Lotor.

“As I understand it: if I have you, I have Voltron,” Lotor said. “My father can appreciate that at least. He gets Voltron, I get you.”

Lance furrowed his brows, trying to make sense of what Lotor was implying. “But if you have me,” he said hesitantly, “then Zarkon may have Voltron but he won’t be able to control Voltron.”

“Yes,” Lotor said, nodding. “Funny how things work out that way.”

“You’re planning a coup,” Shiro said suddenly, jolting Lance out of his racing mind. The black paladin, looked at Lotor’s image closely before flying into the pod hangar. He landed the pod in its designated spot and turned his full attention on the transmission.

Lotor lifted an eyebrow wryly. “I’m unfamiliar with that word,” he said. “Although I can guess its meaning.”

Shiro bit his lip and frowned, glancing at Allura first, then Lance when he caught his slip. Thankfully, Lotor didn’t outwardly show that he thought much of the motion. Shiro shrugged.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he said.

“Over my dead body,” Allura hissed hatefully.

Lance’s attention twitched towards his sister, but his eyes remained locked on Lotor’s image.

“Consider my offer,” Lotor said. “I won’t even stop you from leaving. Just remember I’ll never stop hunting you whatever you chose. Surrendering yourself to me would just cut down on the inevitable pain and suffering. Either way, I will find you,” he smiled, “and you will submit to me of your own free will.”

Something unfamiliar and disconcerting fluttered low in Lance’s gut making his breath catch in the back of his throat. He barely noticed Keith’s roar of fury. He could only think of the last words the Galran prince said. He couldn’t hear them over Keith’s fury, but he recognized the words formed by Lotor’s lips. They were in a language Lotor should not have known which just made the weight of those words settle firmly in his consciousness. He would never escape them.

“I like your eyes.”

Chapter Text

“You met him?!” Allura cried in furious disbelief. “Why the quiznak did you do that? What could possibly possess you to think that was even remotely a good idea?”

“It was a good idea,” Lance insisted, slumping further into his pilot seat on the Castle’s bridge.

Immediately after Lotor ended his impromptu call to their pod, Allura had raced to the Castle’s bridge with Lance, Keith, and Shiro right behind her and opened a wormhole out of there. After waiting for Hunk and Pidge to fly through the wormhole in their Lions, she flew the Castle through as well. True to his word, not one Galra fighter under Lotor’s command chased after them or fired a single shot at them. But Allura wasn’t one to take chances. She closed the wormhole the moment they exited.

Since then, the princess had been venting her pent-up frustration and fear on her brother and, by extension, Keith. Fortunately, the red paladin had taken it upon himself to defend his exhausted and slightly drugged mate. Unfortunately, Keith would not come within a span of Lance for some reason, which made no sense. It also hurt.

“And why, pray tell, could you possibly think that was a good idea, Lance?” Allura demanded angrily, crossing her arms over her chest and allowing her pink skin to fade back to its usual dark brown.

“Lotor’s part Altean,” Keith said and the blue paladin sighed heavily, sinking further into his seat until he was practically melting out of it.

“What?” Coran breathed.

The silence that followed the advisor’s quiet exclamation was thick and Lance wanted nothing to do with it. However, the quickest way to fill the offensive silence was to speak so since he had the chance to finally get a word in-

“He gave me a drink that contained a high concentration of juniberry juice,” he said, letting his eyelids droop low over his eyes. He honestly didn’t care about much anymore except how very much he wanted to just lay down on his bed and snuggle close to Keith, if his mate would let him.

“And you drank it why?” Allura asked. “And what does this have to do with Lotor being Altean? Where by the Lions did that come from?”

“Part Altean,” Lance corrected, lifting a finger. “He’s definitely part Galra too.”

“At least half Galra,” Keith agreed. “Everyone in the Empire knows the emperor is Lotor’s father. We just never knew who or what his mother was.”

Lance tensed, his eyelids lifting as he pushed himself back up to a proper sitting position. “Actually, I think we do know now,” he said reluctantly.

“Wait, what?" Shiro said, waving his hand in a gesture that requested silence. “I’m confused. One question at a time. Lance, Keith,” he looked at both paladin specifically as he addressed them, “answer Allura’s question. How do you know Lotor’s part Altean?”

“Lotor’s part what?”

The Altean prince groaned and closed his eyes, letting his head fall back to thunk on the seat back. “Welcome back Hunk,” he called in a lackluster tone.

“Wow,” the green paladin said dryly. “I feel loved.”

“Quiznak you, Pidge,” Lance said in the same tone he’d used to address Hunk.

“Lance, please,” the princess scolded. “Welcome back, Pidge, Hunk,” she said to the newly arrived paladins in a much gentler tone. Lance could practically hear the relieved smile in her voice. “We’re talking about Lotor.”

“Lotor?” Hunk gasped. “As in Lotor, son of Emperor Zarkon and Prince of the Galra Empire Lotor? That Lotor?”

“Frell, he’d better be the only one,” Lance moaned.

He felt ambient heat radiating from nearby accompanied by a soft growl and instinctively reached out towards the heat. It took a couple tries to catch Keith’s wrist, brushing his thumb over the red paladin’s skin in a comforting manner.

“Yes, that one,” Shiro said, answering Hunk’s question. “Apparently, Lance and Keith think Prince Lotor’s part Altean.”

“He is,” Lance insisted, opening his eyes and staring at the ceiling. “He gave me the drink with the juniberry juice in it, but I didn’t drink it until after he drank from my glass and swallowed. It didn’t affect him at all.”

Allura took a deep breath and held it, pressing her lips together hard enough to make her lips turn faintly white. Her bright turquoise eyes were wide with horror and dawning understanding when Lance lifted his head to meet her gaze. Her hands clutched the pink fabric covering her arms, causing the fabric to wrinkle. Her whole demeanor was tense and silently pleading with Lance to deny the conclusion she’d come to. He couldn’t do it.

He dropped his gaze to the floor. The uneven gust when the princess released her breath that was more sob than sigh nearly dragged a similar sound from him. If they were right, then this changed a lot of things. It also put an extra twist on Lotor’s perverse obsession with the Sentinel that Lance wasn’t sure he felt comfortable with. Was Lotor aware of who the Sentinel was? Did he know who Lance was? Did Lotor know who his mother was? If so, then if Lotor’s mother was who Lance and Allura both thought she was, then this whole situation was a new level of revolting. It was downright ghastly.

“Someone care to fill us in?” the green paladin spoke up, her head bouncing between the princess’s and Lance’s expression with a frown. “Why does the identity of Lotor’s mother matter again?” Her brown eyes locked on Keith and she advanced on the red paladin with stubborn purpose. “Keith,” she said, “why are they freaking out over this?”

Keith flinched, his ears folding back against his head, and he twitched towards the door to the bridge before he caught himself. He cleared his throat and, after a quick glance at Lance still in the blue paladin’s pilot seat, spoke.

“I don’t know,” he muttered. “Honestly,” he added when Pidge propped her hands on her hips and lifted an eyebrow in disbelief. “I really don’t,” he insisted.

“Oh yeah?” she said. “Then why are you acting so suspicious?”

Keith flushed and breathed out in a gusty sigh before taking another quick breath. “Look, it’s nothing,” he said in abrupt, curt tones. “I don’t know.”

“Lauma,” Allura said.

Lance closed his eyes and sighed in defeat while Pidge, Hunk, and Shiro turned to the princess in confusion.

“Lauma?” the green paladin asked. “As in your sister, Lauma?” A moment later, Pidge’s eyes grew round. “Holy shit,” she murmured. “Your big sister is Prince Lotor’s mom?”

“We have no solid proof,” Lance said, pushing himself up from his seat. “But it’s the only reasonable explanation we have.”


 

The Altean prince sighed and trudged towards his sister, gathering her in a hug that they both clearly needed. From her perspective, Pidge could see the tears beginning to form in Allura’s eyes. She saw the moment the princess gave up holding back and wrapped her arms around her brother’s body, digging her fingers into Lance’s shirt. Not a second later, her shoulders began shaking and Pidge winced. She didn’t really want to watch the princess cry; especially not about something like this.

It brought back too many memories. Allura had lost her entire planet and her family except for Lance and Coran. Finding out her big sister was probably the mother of their current pain-in-the-ass enemy who happened to be the son of the royal bastard emperor of the known universe must be the sucker punch of the century. Literally. Pidge flushed. That meant Lauma had to have known Zarkon... Biblically. She promptly paled and wanted badly to vomit. That was not an image she wanted in her head. The thought of absolutely anyone having sex with Emperor Zarkon was…well, to put it mildly, horrifying.

Pidge gulped, fighting back the bile in her throat, and deliberately looked up at Shiro. Obviously, the black paladin was just as stunned by the announcement as Pidge probably was. He just appeared to be handling it better than her. Or maybe Shiro was just better at hiding his darker feelings than Pidge. Probably both, honestly.

A hand dropped heavily on her shoulder and she looked over at Hunk. The yellow paladin’s eyes were still wide with surprise, but there was a tell-tale hint of tears at the corners. Pidge winced. She hadn’t thought about how this whole Voltron thing was affecting her friend. When they’d made their quick trip back to Earth, Pidge had gotten to see her mother, but Hunk hadn’t gotten to see anyone he knew. The yellow paladin hadn’t seen his family since the beginning of fall semester at the Galaxy Garrison. That was easily two and a half Earth months.

Now they weren’t sure when or if they would ever be able to go back to Earth. After the disastrous fallout between Lance and Keith, the Red Lion going all Momma-Lion on Keith and revealing herself to the general Earth masses, and then the whole fight with Sendak’s parasitic mind-controlled memory core King Alfor, everyone had decided to avoid Earth. If something happened and the Galra tracked them down and discovered Earth, then chances were Zarkon would launch a full-scale invasion. Earth was powerful, but nowhere near the level of defending itself against an invasion from a technologically advanced race of space wizards from the far reaches of the universe. No way in hell.

Pidge suddenly felt the empty places in her heart where Matt and her father belonged sting sharply and she leaned into the embrace Hunk offered. She started this adventure to find her missing family and by quiznak she would succeed. But she didn’t want to lose anyone else to get her family back. Team Voltron had become her family too.


 

“Lance?” Allura asked softly, just loud enough for Keithek to hear.

The red paladin shifted awkwardly, glancing at Shiro, who seemed just as lost with this show of emotion. He felt his ears flick up to hear the princess’s words better and got ready to make a quick exit if he could. He wasn’t prepared for the solid object that was suddenly right behind him. He just barely managed to catch himself before he could make a sound that would have shamed his adulthood.

He spun around to see Coran standing there. Keithek frowned in confusion, but his question was halted by the advisor lifting a finger up to his lips.

“Lance, what’s that smell?” Allura asked.

Keithek stiffened, a blush flooding into his cheeks. He knew what smell she was talking about. He knew without even asking. He was still smelling it. It wasn’t as strong as it had been in the small, confined pod, but it was still there. It surrounded Lance’s body like a cloud that fogged Keithek’s mind. It made the alpha instincts he struggled to keep buried deep inside of him come bounding to the forefront of his consciousness.  

Lance made a sound like a whine and Keithek had to grit his teeth to control himself. A low grumble echoed in the back of his mind sending a pulse of wild, untamed heat into him. It soothed his tension, taking the edge off as it flowed through his veins. Then the heat flowed southward and Keithek gasped in shock. The Red Lion purred and Keithek got the distinct impression she was laughing at him. He felt so betrayed.

He was so lost in his communication with the Red Lion that he missed whatever Lance said in reply to Allura’s question. Instead, he was jerked back to the present by a chilly hand gripping his wrist and yanking him towards the door. When Keithek’s vision cleared, he was stunned to see Lance pulling him through the bridge door towards the lift.

No. No, no, no, nononono. Not another small, confined space where he could drown in Lance’s overwhelming scent. He wasn’t sure he could control himself if that happened. He hissed and planted his feet firmly on the ground, digging his heels into the unforgiving metal floor. Fat lot of good that did.

Lance simply gave a powerful yank with a strength that Keithek often forgot the prince was capable of. Caught off guard, the red paladin stumbled forwards, crashing into his mate’s body sending them both thudding against the lift doors. Lance grunted when his body was suddenly sandwiched between the cool metal of the lift doors and Keithek’s much warmer body.

The Red Lion purred in Keithek’s mind and the red paladin gulped, his mouth suddenly incredibly dry. This was not okay. He could smell Lance. His mate’s scent was filling his nostrils and doing things to him that he wasn’t sure Lance would be okay with. The last time Keithek had accidentally let his Alpha instincts take over, it had led to rejection and the biggest fight they had ever had and hopefully would ever have.

Keithek took a deep breath to steady his nerves, and instantly regretted it when he saw the way his mate’s eyes locked on his. The pupil of Lance’s natural eye was blown wide, his lips were slightly parted, and his scent thickened. The Red Lion purred, sending fire blazing through Keithek’s senses, burning him alive, and driving him to make the first move.

The tiny, breathless whimper Lance let out when Keithek’s lips planted firmly onto his was the red paladin’s unmaking. One of the prince’s hands looped around Keithek’s shoulders while the other flailed out, feeling for the lift activation button. Two ticks later, the firm metal doors that had been doing such an efficient job holding the two lovers upright suddenly slid aside.

Lance managed to catch himself and roll around the corner so he and Keithek were now propped up against the lift wall. It was smooth as frak and Keithek expressed his pleasure in yet another kiss that had his mate’s legs suddenly giving. He caught Lance’s hips with his hands, slipping them around the muscular thighs. Without actually thinking through what he was doing, Keithek lifted Lance up so his mate could wrap his legs around his waist.

The next moment, Lance broke the kiss and turned his head aside, reaching out with one of his arms towards something wholly unimportant. Keithek growled and bit the juncture where his mate’s neck met the shoulder. It wasn’t the same side as his Mark, but the implication was the same. Judging by the way Lance moaned, the red paladin was ready to bet the prince was well aware of this.

Then the lift dinged and Keithek forgave his mate for looking away. If that’s what it took for them to get out of this lift and to Lance’s bedroom quicker, he was one hundred percent for it. Lance locked his ankles around Keithek’s waist and then wove the fingers of his formerly wayward hand through the red paladin’s messy, dark hair. Keithek purred and felt his mate shiver against him.

The scent slammed into his nose and something primal within him made Keithek growl, bucking his pelvis against his mate harder and sooner than he’d intended. Lance grunted in surprise and tightened his grip on his mate but otherwise made no outward sign of discomfort or rejection. In fact, for an instant, Lance’s skin suddenly became icy to the touch. If Keithek hadn’t known about his mate’s connection to the Blue Lion, he would have been shocked. But when the Red Lion sent a raging inferno of heat into him, he didn’t even try to fight it.

Keithek barely heard the lift ding again. But he couldn't help but notice the moment the lift doors slid open letting the air flow through it once more. He growled, upset with the air for taking away his mate’s scent.

“Keith,” Lance whispered breathlessly. Keithek bucked against him again and Lance whined tilting his head back so it thunked against the lift wall. “Keith, please,” Lance begged. “Bed. My… Come on. Please.”

Keithek dug his claws into his mate’s thighs drawing a stuttered sigh from Lance’s lips. Only then did he lean back from his mate’s neck, purring appreciatively at the lesser mark he’d left there. He looked forward the biting the actual Mark itself, renewing his claim to his mate in every way he could. He rolled his hips, grinding against his mate and loving the resulting open mouthed moan. He grinned in pleasure and ground again, harder this time.

Then Keithek felt something hard and hot pressing against his penis and hesitated, his hips coming to a shuddering stop that pulling a pathetic whine from his mate. He knew exactly what he was feeling, he just couldn’t believe it. He bucked his hips and listened to the startled grunt from Lance, feeling his mate grip his shirt with blunted nails. The realization jolted the red paladin back to the here and now, leaving him shaking and struggling to control himself.

This wasn’t right. Lance wasn’t in his right mind. That drink, that drugged drink that Lotor had given him… Lance had been hard ever since then, hadn’t he? Lotor had pointed it out, Keithek had been smelling it, but only now was he actually feeling it, and by the Lions he wanted itHe couldn’t do this; not when Lance wasn’t completely in control of himself. The last time Keithek had lost control, it had ended badly. He had no desire to have a repeat of that experience.

Reluctantly, Keithek lowered his mate back to the ground, maintaining his grip when Lance’s legs threatened to give way. The prince gasped and lifted his eyes to Keithek, confusion and hurt whirling within their depths. It never ceased to amaze the red paladin how much emotion could be perceived from a cybernetic eye. Lance was a beautiful and expressive person.

“Wh-why did you stop?” Lance pleaded, clutching Keithek’s upper arms desperately.

Keithek took a deep breath and tugged his mate out of the lift and into the hallway. Lance followed but his wide, adorable eyes stayed locked on the red paladin searching for an answer. Keithek sighed.

“We can’t do this,” he said. He hated himself for this, but it was for the best.

The prince’s expression crumbled. “You can’t do that,” he said, his voice shaking. “You can’t just do that to me!” he shouted, pushing Keithek away from him and slumping against the hallway wall. He buried his face in his hands and sobbed. “You can’t do that to me,” he cried. “Why? Why would you do that? What did I do?” he demanded, lifting his face so his eyes bored holes into his mate. “What did I do to deserve that? Whatever it was, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Keithek shook his head violently. “You didn’t do anything,” he said quickly, holding up his hands to forestall any further arguments from his mate. “But you aren’t in your right mind, right now.” He swallowed hard. Damn that addicting scent. “I can’t do this with you when you’re under the influence of whatever Lotor gave you,” he said firmly. “I won’t, Lance. I won’t stoop to that.”

Lance stared at Keithek in incomprehension for a moment before the hurt in his eyes cleared and his confusion vanished. “What?” he asked. “You think... You think I’m drugged?!”

“You said yourself there was a strong concentration of juniberry juice in that drink,” Keithek said. “Even though you’re immune to the plant’s effects and you’re both a symbiotic species, that doesn’t mean you won’t have a reaction from getting a huge dose suddenly after several movements without. That can do things to your head and I won’t take advantage of that. No matter how badly I want to,” he finished, gripping his mate’s arms and fighting with his self-control.

The prince just stared at him wide eyed for a moment before groaning. “You idiot,” he said finally. “That drink didn’t do anything to my head. It fixed me. Don’t you see? I’m better now. I’m whole. I’m fully capable of thinking clearly, thank you very much,” he snapped, startling Keithek with the sharpness and clarity to his tone. “And if you don’t take me into my bedroom and make love to me right now, I think I’ll cry.”

Stunned, Keithek could only stare at his mate. “Cry?” he squeaked. “Lance?”

Instead of answering immediately, Lance pressed himself against his mate and buried his face in Keithek’s neck. The scent rolling off of him was so close to Keithek’s sensitive nose… It was absolutely intoxicating.

“Lotor was the first one to touch me after I could finally feel again,” Lance said, his voice muffled by Keithek’s skin. “You promised you’d overwrite everything Sendak did to me. I’m calling in that promise. Overwrite everything. Wipe both of them off me.”

He tilted is head just the right way so his breath ghosted across the sensitive hairs on Keithek’s neck and whispered, “Keithek.”

Oh quiznak.

Chapter Text

In the end, it took teeth digging into his neck for Keithek to move. It wasn’t a nip either; it was a full-on bite. He grunted in surprise and mild pain. Reaching up with one hand, he gripped the back of his mate’s neck firmly, squeezing until Lance whimpered and allowed himself to be tugged away from Keithek’s neck.

The prince was flushed and shaking, his eyes closed and his head tilted back, pinning Keithek’s fingers in place against his neck. His breath came in deep, fluttering sighs that were clearly an attempt to calm himself down. Keithek smirked at the utter mess his mate had become. To think, they hadn’t even made it to Lance's room yet, let alone the bed. There was so much left to be done.

Keithek pressed a light, teasing kiss to his mate’s chin, brushing his lips along the jawline to the dark, pointed ear. His ears twitched at every waver in Lance’s breathing and his nostrils flared, taking in as much of that intoxicating scent as he could. He nipped the outer shell of Lance’s ear, grinning at the startled whimper.

“Again,” he whispered directly into Lance’s ear. He licked along the delicate folds of the inner side of the shell. “My name,” he said. “Say it again.”

Lance sighed, his fingers twitching where they still grasped Keithek’s back. “M-make me,” he replied.

Keithek purred and nuzzled his mate’s neck. “Gladly,” he said.

The red paladin smiled and pressed another kiss directly beneath Lance’s ear. He squeezed his mate’s neck just hard enough for his nails to prick, but not hard enough to break the skin. Then he deliberately stepping back, breaking all physical contact as he did so. He watched as Lance slumped without Keithek’s support, catching himself before he fell to his knees. When a pair of mismatched blue eyes locked on Keithek in hurt shock, the red paladin smiled.

“You have lovely eyes,” Keithek said, studying every reaction his mate had in response to that simple phrase. It infuriated him to see Lance’s visible flinch. A compliment should never be used as a weapon. “I’ll show you just how beautiful you are,” he swore. “But first,” he lifted a hand and hooked a finger in a ‘come hither’ motion, “we should take this somewhere more… private.”

Lance hesitated a moment, but eventually followed Keithek towards his bedroom. With every step Keithek took backwards, Lance took a step forwards until they reached the doors to the prince's chambers.

“Open the door, Lance,” Keithek commanded, watching his mate move hesitantly towards the control panel. When the doors slid open, Keithek leaned close to Lance’s hair and whispered, “Good boy.”

Instantly, Keithek was aware of an intense flush in his mate’s cheeks. He could feel the heat of it without even touching Lance’s skin. And that scent… He couldn’t help it. He nuzzled his mate’s dark hair.

“I could take you gently,” he said softly, enjoying the sigh his voice elicited. “Or I could take you so hard you’ll forget your own name.”

The catch in his mate’s breathing was enticing and went right to Keithek’s groin. Frak this holding back nonsense. It was doing murder to his patience and self-control. The longer he stayed in such close proximity to his very beautiful, very aroused mate, the harder it was to hold back his Alpha instincts.

“I did promise I would do that to you one day,” he murmured, “did I not? Right before I made love to you the first time. Since you’re already calling in my other promises,” he smiled into the soft, dark hair, “why not call that one in too?”

Lance was shaking now and it was particularly pleasing to know Keithek was the cause. Just because he could, he nuzzled his mate’s hair and purred. Lance stiffened and whined.

“Do it,” Lance said, his voice strong despite the state he was in. He turned his head so he faced Keithek directly. There was a heat in Lance’s ocean blue gaze that belayed his tendency towards cold. “If you think you can,” he added with a sly grin.


 

Keith obviously hadn’t been expecting the challenge. Lance used his mate’s momentary lapse to grab him by the lapels of his shirt and pull him into a kiss. He didn’t let the kiss last long enough for Keith to recover his control. It was just long enough to tease. Then he planted both hands on Keith’s chest and pushed.

The red paladin stumbled backwards, barely catching himself before the backs of his knees hit the bed. Lance grinned and pounced on his mate, laughing at the breathless ‘oof’ Keith let out when Lance landed on top of him. He let Keith wrap strong arms around his body and roll them so the soft mattress pressed against his back.

He sighed as his mate captured his lips in a kiss. Keith adjusted his body so a leg slipped between Lance’s and pressed right… there. He whined and couldn’t help but press down against Keith’s thigh. It felt so good. How, by the Lions, had he ever survived this long without feeling this? It made him shudder with need and arch his back up from the mattress, desperately seeking more contact. He rolled his hips and broke the kiss to gasp at the sensation.

He heard Keith laugh softly above him but he didn’t care. He just cared about feeling more of that tingling sensation that set his nerves dancing almost to the point of pain. It was all he wanted. He rolled his hips again, increasing the force behind it. Keith’s thigh jerked just as Lance pressed the hardest and his gasp became a moan which his mate promptly swallowed in another kiss.

The kiss was deep and open mouthed and anything but chaste. Keith thrust his tongue into Lance’s mouth, swiping over the prince’s own tongue with a satisfied purr. Lance tried to roll his hips once more, hoping the move would encourage Keith to hurry up and get on with it. But the moment he tried to lift his hips, he felt a hand slip between his legs and cup him. He gasped, startled by both the move and the sensation. Then the hand was undoing his pants and dear Lions yes!

Lance reached up with both arms to pull Keith closer but was disappointed when his mate chose to break the kiss and lean back instead. He furrowed his brow and took the chance to catch his breath.

“Keith?” he asked, giving his mate his best pleading stare.

The red paladin merely grinned, flashing his teeth in a satisfied grin. Lance only had a moment to wonder what his mate was so proud of before the hand that had been working his pants off suddenly gripped his swollen cock tightly. Lance gasped as his entire body stiffened. His legs twitched closed and both of his hands flew down to clasp Keith’s hand, unsure whether they should try removing the hand or leave it there. Lance bit his lip and squeezed his eyes shut, letting his head fall back to the mattress while his entire body began shuddering.

“Does that hurt?” Keith asked, his voice husky with desire but still tinged with concern.

It took much more concentration than Lance thought it should to shake his head negatively.

“Good,” was all Keith said in reply.

The next moment teeth clamped down firmly on his neck right over the Mark and the hand gripping his penis began moving. Oh… Oh Lions. His eyes rolled back in his head and his hips began moving of their own accord, meeting every upstroke of Keith’s hand in a messy but satisfying rhythm.

“More,” he gasped. “Keith.”

Lance's legs stopped trying to clench and instead fell open, baring himself to his mate without him consciously thinking about it. His hips continued to move with Keith’s harsh rhythm. So close. Just a bit…

It stopped.

Lance’s eyes flew open in horror when he felt Keith’s body heat retreat, latching onto him and clinging to his mate desperately. Keith wouldn’t leave him like this. He couldn’t leave him like this. He couldn’t! Lance wouldn’t let him.


 

Keithek had only leaned back so he could flip his mate over, rip those offending pants off, and start preparing Lance for what was to come. Apparently Lance wasn’t happy with that because the next thing Keithek knew, he was lying on his back with Lance straddling him. However, while the sudden change of position had caught him off guard, Keithek was not displeased by it. Who could possibly be upset with someone as beautiful and alluring as Lance straddling his waist and rolling his buttocks teasingly against Keithek’s cock?

Admittedly, Keithek was somewhat upset when Lance stopped moving his hips. But when the prince began removing his clothes, Keithek felt his dismay vanish. In its place was a renewed desire that grew with every hint of dark skin that was revealed. Taking the hint, the red paladin began removing his own clothes too.

At Keithek's insistence, Lance sat up on his knees so the red paladin could sit up and kick off his pants. Thank every star in the sky Keithek preferred simple clothes. They were quick and easy to get on and off. By the time Keithek was fully naked, Lance had managed to remove his pants and undo the dark blue wrap he’d had pinned around his shoulders but he was still struggling with the buttons of his shirt. Keithek joined the struggle, undoing the buttons from the bottom and working his way up until Lance’s shirt was entirely open and baring his chest.

Before Lance could shrug out of the thin, light blue fabric, Keithek yanked him into a deep, distracting kiss. He wrapped one arm around his mate’s slender waist, holding him in place while his other hand nudged on sleeve off a dark shoulder. He ran a thumb over Lance’s smooth shoulder before slipping his hand up into his mate's soft hair so his fingers tangled in the short, dark strands.

Lance chuckled, breaking the kiss just so he could say in a teasing tone, “Keith, do you like my shirt on? I had no idea.”

Well, a comment like that deserved a punishment. Keithek thrust his hand in Lance’s hair and yanked so Lance’s head was forced to tilt back, baring his throat in a forced submission. He licked up Lance’s throat, flicking his tongue at his mate’s chin.

“You never did say,” he purred. “Which did you prefer? Do you want me to make love to you slowly until you’re begging me to make you come? Or do you want me to pound you in the mattress until you scream and can think of nothing but me and my cock knotting deep inside you? Which is it?”

He eased his hold just enough for his mate to swallow and give a gasping answer.

“To borrow the Human word,” Lance said breathlessly, “fuck me." His eyes opened and a sly grin met Keithek’s in a clear challenge. "Make me scream."

The red paladin huffed. “I think I can do that,” he said. “If you submit to me.”

Lance laughed. “You know you’ll have to make me do that,” he said.

Keithek growled and thrust up against his mate’s vulnerable groin taking intense pleasure in the way Lance’s eyes closed and his mouth dropped open. He was going to thoroughly enjoy this.

“Suck me,” he commanded.

He eased his grip on Lance’s hair so his mate could move. It took a tick or two for the command to fully sink into the prince’s desire-clouded mind. But when it did, the resulting blush was magnificent. Lance gulped and began slowly working himself off of Keithek’s lap so he could see the halfbreed's penis fully. Keithek placed an encouraging hand on Lance’s head and eased him down so the prince’s face was pressed flush to Keithek’s hot erection.

“Suck,” Keithek commanded again.

Lance hesitated just long enough to swallow and lick his lips before he took the tip of the halfbreed's penis into his mouth. Keithek groaned and resisted the urge to pull Lance’s face closer and thrust into that hot, wet mouth. There was another hole he wanted to thrust into more and he would be frakked if that didn’t happen.

“Prepare yourself,” he commanded, scratching his mate’s head in a soothing manner.

Lance moaned around his mouthful ripping a growl from Keithek, but obeyed the command. As the red paladin watched, Lance reached back and began working himself open with his fingers. It was growing increasingly difficult for Keithek to control himself the longer he watched the prince come undone, especially when Lance’s moans grew in frequency and intensity the more worked up he got.

Keithek had to focus on something else, like the cloth-covered arch of Lance’s back. Keithek could barely wait until that shirt was soaked with sweat and other liquids. He wondered what Lance would look like spread out across his bed, used, sated, and thoroughly exhausted.

The red paladin’s hips accidentally bucked into Lance’s mouth, startling a choked grunt from the prince. Keithek took that as a hint. He eased Lance off of his penis and helped him climb back into his lap. Lance looped his arms around Keithek’s neck and leaned in for a kiss which the red paladin met willingly.

Keithek wasn’t sure how long the kiss lasted, but he enjoyed every tick of it. He only ended it because he wanted to be inside his mate now!


 

Lance shifted, sitting up on his knees so his entrance lined up with his mate’s penis. Then, with a little guidance, he sat directly on the thick, hot flesh with a heavy sigh. He could feel his mate move both inside him and out and instinctively squeezed his walls as tightly as he could to prevent Keith from trying anything. They would get to the love-making, as soon as Lance was good and ready.

Keith seemed to think Lance would be the only one submitting tonight. Lance had other plans that involved proving that both could submit if given the right persuasion. Speaking of, when Lance felt ready, he lifted his hips up slow, his breath stuttering when his erect penis brushed against Keith’s firm belly. Then he dropped back to his mate’s lap at the same time he pushed Keith down onto his back.

He planted his hands on his mate’s chest, spreading his fingers out over the mauve skin he had come to adore and even crave. He met Keith’s stunned eyes and deliberately lifted his hips, dropping them quickly. Keith winced and gripped Lance’s hips firmly with both of his hands. However, instead of attempting to stop the prince’s movement, Keith’s hold actually helped steady Lance as he moved and slowly but surely found a rhythm that satisfied them both.

Every time Lance felt Keith's penis hit him deep inside, he let out a small sound and adjusted his position slightly. He remembered there was a spot deep inside him that, when hit just right, made him cry out in pleasure. He wanted to know what it would feel like now that he could actually feel the arousal that no doubt came with that feeling.

Sure enough, the moment he found it, Lance tensed, clenching his muscles with a startled cry. He began moving faster, rolling his hips so he hit that spot just… so… One of the hands clenching his hips began sliding up his thigh, then up his belly, then his chest… It… He was so… So close…


 

It wouldn’t be long now. Keithek could see it in the way Lance shuddered and his muscles tensed. There was no way Keithek was going to let his mate control everything. He wanted so badly to just let loose. He eased himself up into a sitting position, curling his fingers around the back of Lance’s neck and squeezing. Instantly, his mate whined and his eyes fluttered open, lifting to meet Keithek’s.

“Let me rut you,” he begged.

Lance’s gaze was hazy and muddled from pleasure. He blinked up at his mate, trying to fully understand what Keithek meant. The halfbreed growled and thrust up hard into Lance, enjoying the cry and euphoric expression that took over his mate’s face.

“I’m an Alpha, Lance,” Keithek said urgently. “I want to rut you like you’re my Omega. Let me do that, please.”

That seemed to have gotten through. Lance’s eyes grew wide in disbelief, but he nodded nonetheless.

“Please,” Lance breathed. “Make me submit.”

Keithek growled hungrily and lifted Lance off of his penis, much to the prince’s vocal displeasure. Fortunately, the separation didn’t last long. Keithek flipped Lance onto the bed so his mate lay on his stomach. Then he lifted Lance’s hips just enough and thrust back into the moist heat he was unequivocally addicted to. He was sure he groaned, but it was nowhere near as wanton as the long, drawn out moan Lance made.

Keithek took a deep breath and stopped fighting himself, letting the Alpha instincts he’d been holding at bay surge to the forefront.


 

The moment Keith began thrusting again, Lance knew something had changed. The thrusts were fast and hard enough to knock him off balance. Keith was pulling almost completely out before thrusting back in hard enough for his balls to slap Lance’s behind with a wet, satisfying slap. The force of it was enough to knock Lance from his hands to his forearms.

Then he was pushed flat onto the mattress by a hand planted firmly between his shoulders. The grueling pace continued without pause. The new angle was magnificent and wrested a sharp cry with every deep-seated thrust.

This wasn’t love-making. This was mating. This was just as much a mark of possession as the Mark itself and strangely Lance found he enjoyed it immensely. Keith had made love to him before. But this was new and exhilarating and everything Lance needed right now. He turned his head to the side letting his cheek pressed against the mattress so he could look back and watch Keith move.

His penis pulsed and Lance’s mouth grew dry at the sight. Keith’s eyes were wild and untamed, but not in a terrifying way. Quite the opposite, actually. They were filled with desire, lust, and a primal hunger Lance had only ever seen in wild animals in season. Seeing it now in his mate’s eyes was incredibly arousing. Keith was claiming Lance in the most basic, instinctual way he knew how. Lance was owned by Keith just as much as Keith was owned by Lance.

He couldn’t think much the next tick because, Keith shifted so he lay directly on top of Lance’s body. His hips paused briefly so he could adjust his angle. The new position prevented Keith from pulling out all the way, but his penis could still bury as deep as it would go. He rolled his hips slowly once before returning to the brutal pace from earlier.

This was probably Lance’s favorite position. Like this, he was practically powerless and wholly beholden to Keith. The red paladin could do just about anything to Lance like this and the prince could do little to resist him. That is, if he wanted to resist. He had no desire to resist. He wanted more.

“Keith,” he gasped.

The force of each thrust caused Lance’s as yet unattended erection to bounce between the mattress and his stomach in a teasing mockery of what he craved. Then Keith grabbed one of Lance’s arms and twisted it so it was clamped between his cloth-covered back and Keith’s muscular stomach. To make sure Lance couldn’t slip from the hold, not that he would try, Keith reached around the prince’s waist and pressed a hand to Lance’s chest, brushing his fingers over the pert nipples.

Lance shuddered and groaned. It felt amazing but it wasn’t…

“Keith,” he pleaded breathlessly. “I need... My… It hurts. Ugh! Touch me. Keithek, touch me, please!”

A deep-throated growl rumbled right by Lance’s ear and then a hand gripped right where Lance wanted and began moving. 

“Yes,” Lance cried, reaching back with his free hand to grab a fistful of Keith's thick, black hair. “Yes. Yes! Harder! Keithek, harder!”

Keith pumped the prince’s erection at the same rough pace as his thrusts until Lance screamed his name.


 

Keithek was drowning in Lance. He was above Lance. He was below Lance. He was in Lance. Everything was Lance. The Alpha within him was loving this, had been craving this for ever. Finally getting to rut his mate like an Alpha would an Omega was better than any wet dream Keith could possibly think up. He didn’t bother trying to consciously guide his movements. His body knew what to do, so he let it do everything.

Best of all, Lance was loving it too. His mate was meeting him thrust for thrust as best he could, crying for more, and, when Keith finally began working Lance’s neglected erection, clinging to his hair and screaming his name like a prayer. It was perfect.

When Lance came with a hoarse cry, Keithek increased his pace, grunting when the walls around his own penis suddenly clamped down hard. He could feel his own climax. Just a few more thrusts. He needed both hands for this. He used his hands to pull Lance’s hips up just as he thrust down into his mate as hard and as deep as he could. Lance let out a choke cry of pained pleasure and Keithek was done for.

He bit down on Lance’s Mark and held on while he came, spilling a stream of semen into his mate’s body. His knot grew causing Lance to whimper and squirm uncomfortably. Keithek bit harder and rolled his hips, hoping to distract his mate from the discomfort. When Lance kept whimpering softly, Keithek began to worry that this had been too much. Had he made a mistake letting his instincts take over? Was his knot too big for Lance to take? Did he-

“Keithek.”

His thoughts screeched to a halt and his ears flicked forward in full alert when he heard Lance moan his name.

“Again?” Lance asked breathlessly.

What?

“Do me again?”

Keithek purred and rubbed soothing circles against Lance’s belly with his thumbs but refused to relinquish his bite. Of course he would rut his mate again. He’d do it again and again until Lance either called it quits or fainted from sheer exhaustion. This was the best night of his life.

Chapter Text

“Well,” Hunk said into the very loud, very awkward silence. “That wasn’t something I wanted to see, like, ever.”

Pidge shrugged next to him with a casual air, although the blush on her cheek belayed her discomfiture. “I mean, it could’ve been worse,” she said. “They could have-”

“Pidge,” Hunk said, holding up a hand. “Please, don’t. Just, for the sake of my sanity and my poor, bleeding eyes, just don’t.”

The green paladin shot her friend an odd look. “What do your eyes have to do with what I’m saying?” she asked.

“My eyes are already bleeding,” Hunk said heavily, his shoulders slumped in defeat. “The last thing I need is for my ears to join them. I might bleed to death and I don’t want to die.”

Pidge snickered. “Yeah, I can see it now.” She puffed out her chest and held up her hands dramatically as if to pantomime a sign and said, “Here lies Hunk, Yellow Paladin of Voltron and best friend. Strong and sturdy as a boulder.” She smirked. “But with a tendency to melt in the presence of extreme heat,” she added, bouncing her eyebrows up and down proudly.

Hunk gave the shortest paladin a flat, unimpressed stare which Pidge met with unrepentant satisfaction. Unexpectedly, it was Shiro who snorted. Surprised, both Pidge and Hunk blinked and turned to the black paladin with twin expressions of shock. Then Pidge burst into a wide smile just as Hunk slumped in defeat.

“Really?” Hunk moaned, giving the black paladin his best kicked puppy face. “Really, Shiro? Way to kick a friend when he’s down.”

Shiro smiled shyly and rubbed the back of his neck. “Sorry, buddy,” he said. “But that was such a great pun, I couldn’t help it. You could almost say it was,” he paused to wink at Pidge before adding with an unrepentant smile, “punishing.”

“Oh my god,” Hunk groaned, slapping a hand over his face. “You’re killing me, Shiro. Really. You’re killing me. We literally just discussed how that is not a good idea, Shiro. We literally just talked about this.”

“Well,” Pidge said, letting the word hang in the air, “we talked about your tombstone writing stuff-”

“Epitaph,” Shiro offered.

“Yeah, that,” the green paladin said, pointing to Shiro lazily. “But we didn’t actually talk about your death.”

Hunk pouted, shooting both Pidge and Shiro a look of disappointment. “You’re both horrible,” he said with a heavy sigh.

“You love us,” Pidge chirped confidently.

“Yeah. Yeah, I do,” the yellow paladin said, crossing his arms. “But you’re both still horrible.”

Shiro chuckled.

“What are you three talking about?”

Blinking, the three paladins turned to the princess and advisor who still stood in the room staring at the Humans like they’d all grown a second head or something. Though, honestly, considering the things they’d seen and done, growing a third head wouldn’t necessarily be that strange. Not anymore, at least.

“Oh, hello,” Pidge said with a bright smile. “Forgot you guys were there, sorry.”

Allura frowned in confusion. “You forgot…” She stopped and shook her head, obviously deciding it was too much effort to try to figure out what went on in her paladins’ minds. “We’ll discuss this later,” she said instead, drawing herself up so she resembled her usual powerful figure. “In the meantime, Coran.” She knelt and picked up a small metal box with sides made of translucent particle barriers and turned to her advisor, handing him the box. “Could you take this to the observatory, please?” she asked.

Coran took the offered box in confusion. “Of course,” he said slowly. “Um, what is it?” he asked, lifting his eyes to his princess suspiciously. “Should I be afraid?”

“What?” Allura gasped. “No! You should be happy! It’s a juniberry flower, Coran.” She grasped the Altean advisor’s wrists in her hands and her entire demeanor brightened with joy. “A real, living juniberry flower.”

“Really?” Hunk gasped, coming over to join the two Alteans. “Can I see?”

“Oh! Oh! Me too! Can I see too?” the green paladin said excitedly, hopping next to her friend.

“Of course,” the princess said happily.

She tapped a button on the box’s metal base and the metal arms at every corner of the device folded up, disengaging the particle barrier sides as they did so. The plant inside was pretty, but it wasn’t something that would have stood out if it had been tucked into a bouquet of lilies and roses. The fuchsia petal and bold yellow stamen were certainly eye-catching, though. The stem and leaves looked normal except for a few curly-q vines reaching out from the flower’s stems, probably looking for something to latch onto as the plant grew.

“It’s kind of pretty,” Pidge said.

Hunk leaned close and took a deep breath of the flower’s scent and sighed. “It smells good,” he said, smiling. “Can I touch it?” he asked curiously, already holding out a finger just in case the answer was yes.

Luckily, the princess nodded. “Gently, though,” she warned. “I don’t want anything to happen to it.”

Hunk looked back at the plant and pressed his finger against the stem. It was smooth and the leaves were slightly glossy in appearance. He tapped one of the curly-q vines and huffed a laugh when it bounced like a spring.

“Want to see something interesting?” Coran said.

“Sure,” Hunk said.

The yellow paladin leaned back a bit so the Altean could lean close to the flower’s blossom and watched. Coran took a deep breath and let it all out in a slow, steady breeze that ruffled the petals and leaves. For a moment, Hunk was confused. He was about to ask what Coran was doing when suddenly the plant moved.

“Wha-?” Pidge shrieked, reeling back.

“Holy crow,” Hunk gasped.

“Wow,” Shiro breathed, watching the way the juniberry’s delicate vines slowly stretched out to a finger Coran held out and began looping around it. “That’s amazing.”

“The freaking thing’s alive?!” the green paladin demanded in shock.

The princess scoffed. “Well, of course it’s alive,” she said, lifting an eyebrow in a perfect arch that practically screamed sarcasm. “All plants tend to be alive, on a fairly reliable basis. Unless they’re dead,” she added. “Then they aren’t alive.”

She smiled proudly at her paladins until Hunk burst out laughing. A second later, Shiro joined in, laughing harder when Pidge crossed her arms in a sulk.

“She got you there, Pidge,” Shiro said giving the green paladin a sympathetic look.

“Heck yeah, she did,” Hunk said, smacking his friend’s back in a jovial manner. “That was a good one, Allura.”

“You think so?” the Altean princess asked, letting Coran take the juniberry from her hands so she could clasp them over her chest in a hopeful gesture. “I admit, your humor is a bit odd sometimes,” she said bashfully. “I’m trying to understand it, but I’m never sure if I’m getting it right or making a fool out of myself.”

“You aren’t making a fool of yourself, princess,” Shiro said with a reassuring smile. “You’re doing fine. We’re all on a learning curve here, don’t worry.”

Hunk and Pidge both looked at the black paladin significantly, but it was Hunk who actually said something.

“Um, you know, it really works best if you actually say what you mean, Shiro,” the yellow paladin said.

“Yeah,” Pidge said, crossing her arms. “Using words. That’s always a good place to start.”

“I-I’m sorry. What are you two talking about?” Allura asked, glancing between the green and yellow paladins in confusion. When neither paladin acknowledged her, she frowned and turned her gaze to Shiro. She opened her mouth to demand an explanation when she noticed the very prominent blush in the black paladin’s cheeks. “Shiro?” she said in concern. “What is it? Are you okay?”

“He’s fine,” Hunk said, flashing the princess a reassuring smile.

“Yeah,” Pidge agreed, never moving her eyes from Shiro’s nervous form. “He’s just got a bad case of twitterpation.”

“Twit-what?” Allura said, stumbling over the unfamiliar word. “Hunk?” she gasped when the yellow paladin snorted, his cheeks bloating as if he was about to throw up. She instinctively stepped back, thanking the Lions Hunk was fast enough to slap a hand over his mouth. While she was worried about Shiro’s condition and Hunk’s reaction, she had no desire to have half-digested food splattered all over her.

“Goodness, what is that?” Coran asked, his eyes wide with genuine worry. “Is that an illness on your planet?” He gasped and clutched the precious juniberry plant close to his chest as if to protect it from whatever imagined disease Shiro had. “Is it contagious?”

“Oh very,” Pidge said seriously, adjusting her glasses so they sat higher on her nose. “Although, it always helps if the other person is receptive.”

Hunk snorted, clapping his other hand over his mouth. His dark cheeks began to burn as he deprived himself of air as he struggled to hold back whatever was in his mouth. Both Allura and Coran took another hesitant step back.

“Oh,” Allura said, holding up hands in a peaceful gesture. She smiled hesitantly and a shaky smile worked its way onto her face. “I-I see. Well, I guess I’ll go set up a healing pod then.”

“Oh no. It’s not something like that can cure,” Pidge continued, holding up a finger and wagging it in a mock scolding manner. “It can literally only be cured by the other person being receptive to it. Isn’t that right, Shiro?” she said, glancing at the black paladin from the corner of her eye with a sly smirk on her face.

The smirk was what caught the princess’s attention. Immediately, her fear vanished, replaced by suspicion. She crossed her arms and leveled a stern glare at the green paladin. Pidge noticed the looked and promptly grinned, all teeth and no regret. Mildly annoyed her glare didn’t affect Pidge like she’d intended it to, she turned the force of it onto Hunk. The yellow paladin blinked. Then he glanced at Shiro and suddenly burst out laughing.

Thoroughly confused, Allura followed Hunk’s eyes to Shiro and her eyes widened. The black paladin, the eldest of the paladins, the most experiences on the battlefield, the decisive head of Voltron, was blushing like a lovesick child. In fact, if Allura didn’t know better, she would have thought Shiro was trying to melt through the floor of the bridge and hide in some dark corner of the Castle.

“Alright, paladins,” she said in her best ‘princess’ voice. “What is going on here? Shiro, explain,” she commanded, fully expecting her black paladin to answer.

Shiro stiffened and turned wide, terrified on her. He looked very much like he wanted to just run but wasn’t able to get his legs moving. Nevertheless, Allura did not let up her stare. She wanted answers. If she wasn’t going to get them from Pidge or Hunk, then she would get them from Shiro. She shifted so her weight settled on one hip and waited patiently for a response.

Shiro gulped and the blush in his cheeks became so intense, Allura began to wonder if he would make the Red Lion jealous. Then he spoke and the princess focused on the words.

“I… um…” Shiro shifted awkwardly, before taking a deep, steadying breath, squaring his shoulders, and facing her. “I… I like you,” he said.

Allura furrowed her brow in mild confusion. “I like you too, Shiro,” she said. “Why was that so hard to… Oh. Oh!” She pressed her lips together to keep anything else embarrassing from tumbling out. She could feel a blush of her own flooding her cheeks.

“Not in the friend way, I mean,” Shiro said, rubbing the back of his neck shyly. “Well, that too,” he said quickly. “But I like-like you. If you know what I mean. I guess what I’m trying to say is,” another confidence building sigh, “I would like to- permission, I would like permission to, ah, court you. If that’s okay.”

Oh. Oh dear. That was… This was… This whole thing was, well, to put it plainly, awkward. But, not in a bad way.

Allura swallowed. What was she? A Galra? She was an Altean, for the Lions’ sake. Confessions like this shouldn’t unnerve her so badly. She’d had several such requests before, but they had never affected her as badly as this one did.

Lance was right. Maybe she should give this a try. She glanced surreptitiously at the juniberry flower sitting innocently in her advisor’s hands and felt a welcome warmth swell in her chest. She could be whole. She could be a mother now if she wanted. Not only that, but Shiro was not only open to courting, he had requested it first. That was perhaps the most astonishing part of this whole thing. Since when did Shiro know the intricacies of courtship? Coran shifted next to her and suddenly Allura knew her advisor was the one responsible.  

Lance would never let her live this down.

“I-um,” she began hesitantly. “Yes. I see. Uh, yes. I… I like you too,” she said. “And I accept your offer of courtship.”

She smiled demurely, warmth still blossoming in her cheeks. But it was nothing like the deep red in Shiro’s cheeks. When he smiled, his entire demeanor brightened and, for a moment, Allura was stunned. She’d often caught glimpses of this Shiro under the armor he wore on a daily basis. The way he tolerated the other paladins’ antics, the gentle encouragement he always offered to anyone who needed it, or the proud smile he gave anyone who succeeded in reaching their goals. Shiro had become the big brother the Voltron paladins needed, even if they teasingly called him their ‘dad.’

Without Allura realizing it, the black paladin from Earth had wormed his way into her heart in a way she hadn’t been prepared for. She couldn’t bring herself to regret it, though. Seeing the untainted joy in Shiro’s face right now was enough to send starbugs fluttering in her stomach. Was this what Keith felt when he looked at Lance? She knew without thinking about it that this was indeed the same feeling. She could remember feeling this when their minds had been forcibly melded under the influence of those headsets.

This was amazing. She couldn’t even begin to find the words to describe what she feeling. She felt so-

“You two are pathetic.”

The abrupt return to reality slammed into the princess like a sucker punch to the gut. She blinked and looked at the green paladin in dazed surprise. Pidge had her hands planted firmly on her hips and was in the middle of rolling her eyes pathetically.

“First of all,” Pidge said, looking at Shiro significantly, “you really need to work on your eloquence because, dude, you suck. As for you, princess,” Pidge added, glancing at Allura, “what the heck kind of answer is ‘I like you too’? I mean, really?” She groaned. “You both are so freaking hopeless.”

Hunk snickered. “They kind of are,” he said. “But it’s so cute and adorable. I feel like I’m watching a sappy romance.”

Pidge flushed and looked away. “I wouldn’t know what you mean,” she said, perhaps a bit too quickly if the Hunk suddenly looked at her in shock was anything to go by.

“Pidge,” the yellow paladin began, his words slow and full of awe, “do you like sappy romances?”

“That’s not important right now,” Pidge said loudly.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t loud enough to override Shiro’s firm, “Yes.”

Horrified, the green paladin stared at Shiro in betrayal. Shiro met her stare in righteous triumph. He grinned and said, “Her favorite’s She’s The Man.”

“Oh,” Hunk said. “That’s not too bad, actually. I kind of like that one too. Don’t love it ‘cause it’s not really my thing, but it’s not bad. I’d rather watch that than something like The Notebook.”

The black paladin nodded sagely. “Totally agree,” he said. “Anything but that movie.”

“I made Pidge watch that with me once,” Hunk said.

“No way,” Shiro said, a sparkle of interest in his eyes.

The yellow paladin nodded, completely unaware of, or immune to, Pidge’s glare. “Oh yeah,” he said. “Someone at the Garrison snuck it into the barracks on their computer and hosted a movie night. I went for the food but the movie was okay. Didn’t like the ending though. Pidge cried,” he said matter-of-factly.

Pidge’s eyes bugged and she reeled back in betrayal. “You promised you’d never tell anyone that!” she cried. She curled his hands into fists and shook like a lit firework fuse. “Shiro secretly loves watching Titanic and cries like a baby when Jack dies every time he watches it.”

Shiro paled and Pidge snickered. “Karma’s a bitch,” she said, winking at the oldest paladin without any sign of remorse.

Shiro’s mouth dropped open. “You- You can’t just-”

“As for the whole twitterpation thing,” Pidge continued, steamrolling right over the black paladin’s broken attempts to form whole sentences, “I’ll have you know, I did that for the greater good,” she said, crossing her arms in a huff. “Besides, twitterpated is a great word. It’s right up there with Babushka and jelly bean-”

“Oh! And shish kabob,” Hunk added excitedly.

Pidge pointed to her friend and nodded enthusiastically. “That’s a good one,” she said. “I gotta add that to my list of fun words.”

“What are-?! Why did you say I had twitterpated-whatever?” Shiro said incredulously. “How in the world do you even remember that movie? You haven’t seen it in years.”

“I was right though, wasn’t I,” Pidge said, her tone making it clear she wasn’t asking a question.

Shiro’s eyebrow twitched. “You made it sound like I was sick,” he said. “And you made it sound like it was contagious disease like the flu or something.”

“But it got you to confess, right?” Pidge argued. “And Allura said ‘yes,’ so we’re all fine and dandy. No more pining or ridiculously gooshy subtext. Do you have any idea how difficult it’s been living with you two?” she said, pointing to both Shiro and Allura. “At least Lance and Keith could fuck and knock down the sexual tension between them. But you two just would not do anything! It was driving me nuts!”

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Shiro said, shaking his head in denial but the tell-tale blush on his cheeked countered his words. “Besides, it doesn’t matter. You don’t force someone to confess like that.”

“Do you regret it?” Pidge said.

Shiro shook his head. “No,” he said with a shy glance at Allura. “But you didn’t have to-”

“Were you ever going to confess on your own?” Pidge pressed.

“Yes,” Shiro said confidently. “I was just-”

“Too slow, yeah. I know,” Pidge said, earning herself an annoyed look. “Well, look on the bright side. It’s all out in the open now so you two can start dating and yeah. Have fun with that. Hunk, let’s go. We should give these two lovebirds some privacy.” She winked.

“Oh Pele, what have I helped you do?” Hunk groaned.

“Hey Coran,” Pidge said, grabbing the thoroughly confused advisor’s wrist and dragging him out of the bridge with her and Hunk. “Let’s go plant that flower thing.”

The moment they stepped into the lift, though, Pidge said, “Five says Allura tops.”

Hunk snorted. “Whatever,” he said. “I’m not getting involved. Especially not when I know I’ll lose that bet.”

This was certainly turning out to be a great night.

Chapter Text

Nyma laid on the soft bed, the silken sheets wrapped around her body to keep out the cool air of the room. She propped herself up on her forearms and yawned widely, rolling her shoulders and humming when they popped pleasantly. Soft, breathy laughter sounded from beside her.

“Comfortable?” Merla asked, reaching up to stretch luxuriously.

Nyma smiled and glanced at her bedmate. “Hmm. For now,” she said, resting her chin on her palms. “Who knew you had that in you?”

Merla shrugged but otherwise didn’t move. “You’re good,” she purred. “If you’re ever interested in doing that again, I would be flattered.”

“Are you offering to make this a regular thing?” Nyma asked, lifting an eyebrow in surprise.

“Don’t worry, my little lady,” Merla said, opening her golden feline eyes and unerringly capturing the Teiidae’s gaze. She lifted a light purple-gray finger and trailed a perfectly manicured, red painted nail down Nyma’s cheek and along her jaw to the younger trader’s lips. “No strings attached,” she said in a reassuring voice. “I just know what’s good and want more of it. If you’re willing to offer it, of course,” she added with a sultry wink.

Nyma stuck her tongue out and licked Merla’s finger still resting against her lips, nipping it playfully. “Well,” she murmured, “if you’re offering…” She grinned.

Merla rolled onto her side and sat up so she could place a deep, tongue dancing kiss on Nyma’s lips. She slipped her hand up Nyma’s cheek and gripped one of her yellow appendages dangling from her head like she had not a few doboshes before, and a varga before that, and, well, a good few times before that. For an asexual species in regards to reproduction, Nyma certainly enjoyed the act.

“One day,” Merla whispered, breaking the kiss to pet the yellow appendage, “you’ll have to tell me what these are for.”

Nyma grinned. “Pay me and I just might,” she teased.

Merla cackled. “That’s my girl,” she said proudly. She let out a deep sigh of content, then groaned. “Well, however much I’d love to stay longer -and believe me,” she said with a sly grin, “with your skills, I’d enjoy that- I’m afraid I have to leave. I have business elsewhere, other patrons, other clients, other suppliers. You understand.”

Merla tapped Nyma’s nose playfully and sat up fully. Nyma took the chance to admire the sleek, sweat covered body before the red haired trader slipped out of bed and into the shower.

“Feel free to bathe after me,” Merla called without looking back. “I’ll be leaving immediately after I dress. I have the room for three more vargas. Then the staff will come in and clean it. If you’re in here, I’ll deny I know you.”

Nyma snorted. “How nice of you,” she drawled sarcastically.

“Always,” Merla trilled, reaching out to pet her microraptor snoozing comfortably on the back of a large, overstuffed chair. With a single backward wave, Merla stepped into the bathing room and closed the door.

Groaning, Nyma sank down to the ridiculously inviting bed and dearly wished she could just stay here. She did not want to go back to the yurt she and Rolo were renting and finish packing up to leave. She needed to deliver the Kadesh to her client on Pollux, after all.

When she heard the water turned on in the bathing room, Nyma sighed and crawled out of bed. She wasn’t exactly in the mood to wait to bathe so she grabbed her clothes and walked straight to the bathing room door. Merla’s exotic pet lifted its head to eye her suspicious but made no other move. Nyma had no desire to harm her fellow trader. She just wanted to clean up.

When she tried the door’s control pad, she was pleasantly surprised to find it unlocked. She pressed the door open button and strolled in, tossing her clothes on the floor, ignoring Merla’s expression of mild surprise.

“As much as I enjoyed our dance in bed,” Merla said, “I much prefer to bathe by myself.”

Nyma scoffed. “I hardly need much,” she said, stepping onto the bathing floor. “Just spray me. That’s all I need.”

Merla hesitated before shrugged and aiming the hose in her hand directly at Nyma’s face, turning the water flow knob to full power. A thin, membrane slid over the Teiidae’s eyes, protecting them from the water as she turned her head so the spray hit the tiny scales on her face. Then Merla lowered the hose to spray the rest of Nyma’s body. True to the Teiidae’s word, Nyma was fully rinsed in a total of ten ticks. Satisfied, Nyma shook her head and the membranes retreated from her blue, jewel toned eyes.

“I guess I’ll see you some time,” Nyma said, stepping off the bathing floor and picking up her clothes. “Don’t know when,” she added, with a cheeky grin. “But I’m sure I’ll be seeing you.”

She just barely heard the other trader’s snort of amusement before she stepped out of the bathing room and let the door close behind her. This time, she heard it lock. Glancing at the microraptor still sitting on the couch back, Nyma sighed and tossed her clothes on the bed keeping her top in her hand. She reached into the hidden pocket between the fabric that was designed to hold her small breasts and pulled out the fluorite shard.

It gleamed in the flickering light shining through the large window from the particle barrier protecting Meserie. She stroked the shard with her thumb for a moment before sighing and reaching for the quintessence inside it. She was beginning to recognize the sensations now, cataloguing them so she could keep track of what she did. The last thing she wanted or needed was to accidentally make a mistake and hurt herself. She doubted she could hurt Lance. Then again, she thought glancing at the shard, you never know.

She could feel a distant pull from the carnelian shard holding a strand of her quintessence. It was still in Lance’s possession; but for some reason, Nyma was certain Lance wasn’t actually holding the stone right at this moment. That meant she couldn’t speak to him directly. Then again, the prince had mentioned something about always being able to connect with him so long as she held the fluorite shard containing his quintessence. She may not be able to communicate with him, but she could see him. Or something like that, anyway.

Her eyebrows lifted and she pursed her lips in mild interest. Might as well, she thought, shrugging her shoulders carelessly. She pulled her top over her head, tugging it so it sat snugly in place, and then pulled on her pants. Once she was fully dressed, aside from her shoes, she closed her fingers over the shard so she held it tightly in her fist, focused her eyes on her fist, and concentrated on reaching for the Altean quintessence woven into the fluorite shard’s crystalline interior and plucking it like she would a string.

She felt a faint response, but not in the way she had grown to recognize as Lance answering her call. This was less aware and more subconscious instinctual response. When the response was strong enough, she lifted her eyes curiously and gasped. That was not what she had been expecting. She tilted her head thoughtfully and examined the dim, translucent form of the Sentinel.

Lance was there, all right. The prince was sprawled across what Nyma could only assume was a bed and stark naked. He was clearly deep asleep and showed no signs of waking up. If Nyma was a betting woman, she would have been fully prepared to bet everything she had that the Sentinel had just been thoroughly… What was that new word she’d learned from those strange people with Lance? Oh yes. Fuck. The Sentinel had clearly been thoroughly fucked.

Nyma snorted, then quickly covered her mouth with her hand and hoped the Sentinel hadn’t heard her. When Lance didn’t move or show any sign of even being aware of her existence, Nyma relaxed. But then a disturbing thought occurred to her. What if Lance really couldn’t hear her or see her right now? The Teiidae was beginning to think this whole quintessence thing was a bit more complex than she’d first thought.

She glanced down at her fist and furrowed her brow as her thoughts raced. This was definitely not something Lance would want falling into the hands of the enemy. Her lidless blue eyes lifted to the still sleeping prince once more, frowning when something she couldn’t see flicked the short, dark brown hair. Keith. It had to be. Nyma bit her lip and severed the connection. This felt too much like the kind of spying she did not feel comfortable with.

She quickly tucked the shard into the hidden pocket in her top and hurried to her shoes which she’d left by the foot of the bed. Slipping her shoes on, she glanced back over her shoulder to the bathing room where Merla was still washing. The microraptor crooned, abruptly snatching Nyma’s attention. Nyma faced the raptor’s intelligent gaze evenly, straightened her back, and strode quickly towards the exit.

She wouldn’t breathe easily until she and Rolo were off of Meserie in their small, ‘reclaimed’ Galra cargo vessel and shooting through the stars. Manset had given them enough information to think on for a good long while. Hopefully, the Leader wouldn’t mind a short delay in receiving the Kadesh. Nyma wasn’t exactly sure heading straight for the rebellion’s base was a wise thing to do at the moment. If only she could-

"Nyma! Answer me, you frell-begotten-"

“Finish that sentence and I might just punch you for the sake of it when I see you, Rolo,” Nyma snapped, rubbing her ear where the translator latched on the side of her head. The communicator connected to the translator picked up Nyma words loud and clear because Rolo groaned.

"Thank the ‘verse," Rolo sighed in obvious relief. "Where the frell are you? We have to get out of here, now."

Nyma picked up her pace, moving away from Merla’s door in the semi-private hallway to the lift door, pressing the button to go down. “Why?” she demanded, glancing to either side of her to be sure she was alone. “What’s happened?”

"The frak- Nyma, where have you been?" Rolo demanded in exasperation. "The Galra are crawling all over the place. They’re quite literally everywhere. I’m packing the last of our things into the ship. Get your smeg over here right now. We’re getting out of here."

“On my way,” Nyma said in a curt voice. She began tapping her foot impatiently when it felt like the lift was taking its sweet time coming. “I’m waiting for the lift at The Mistro.”

"The Mistro?" Rolo gasped. "You’re not at De- the lounge, are you?"

Nyma frowned when Rolo stopped himself from saying the full name of Manset’s place. There must be someone near him.

“No, I’m not,” she said. “I’m on one of the higher floors.”

"What were you doing on the higher floors?" Rolo said. "Nevermind. Nevermind. That’s not important right now. Just get out of there."

Nyma blew a heavy sigh of relief when the lift finally arrived at her floor with a satisfying ding. “I’m getting into the lift now,” she said, doing just that. “If anyone comes in here with me, I’ll have to stop talking though.”

"Understood," Rolo said. "I’ll have the ship warmed up and ready to leave for when you get here. Just- Hurry."

“I’m going as fast as I can,” Nyma snapped, the building anxiety forming a heavy weight in her gut and adding an edge to her voice. “Just tell me what’s going on. What’ve you heard?”

"It’s the Sentinel," Rolo said. Nyma tensed. "Apparently Lotor found him and is giving chase. He’s practically barricaded this place. Word is, the Sentinel is already long gone though."

“Then why’s Lotor still here?” Nyma asked, crossing her arms over her chest and fighting the urge to pace. The lift was too small for that. Then a ding broke through her thoughts and she groaned. “Look. I can’t talk now. I think someone’s getting on.”

"Want me to keep talking?"

“No,” Nyma said curtly. “Got to go.”

Rolo didn’t reply and Nyma was immensely glad for that because the person who appeared in the lift doorway was not someone she wanted her partner to be anywhere near. The masked Druid made no move to greet Nyma, it merely glided into the lift with an almost unnatural grace. Nyma could feel the air in the lift crackle with a subtle power which she now recognized to be quintessence.

She resisted the urge to press a hand protectively over the fluorite shard still hidden in her top. Nyma wasn’t stupid. She was a Trader of goods and information. She was fully within her rights to be here on Meserie and here in the lift at The Mistro. She belonged here; the Druid did not.

Nyma deliberately relaxed, allowing her weight to settle comfortably on one hip. This stance was less suited to moving quickly, but it gave off a sense of confidence that she desperately needed to feel right now. The Druid standing next to her in the lift was making the scales on the back of her neck lift in the prehistoric Teiidae instinctual reaction to a perceived threat.

She said nothing. The Druid said nothing. The smooth, bone white mask covering the Druid’s face had five slits that glowed an eerie yellow like Galra eyes, but not. There were two horizontal slits on either side of the mask where the Druid’s eyes would be while the fifth was smaller and set vertically in the top center of the mask where the creature’s forehead should be. It was impossible to tell the Druid’s race, gender, or anything useful for identification through the featureless brown robes it wore draped over its body. The hood was even lifted to hide all features of the Druid’s face not hidden by the bone mask. Only the Druid’s hands were currently visible.

Nyma counted her breaths, forcing herself to remain calm. The Druid was just hitching a ride down to The Mistro’s atrium. That was hardly unusual. Just stay calm. They were both simply riding to their destinations. Nothing more. Don’t worry. Whatever you do, do not worry.

Finally, the lift dinged and the doors slid open. Nyma wanted badly to bolt out of the transport but held herself in check. Running would imply guilt. Instead, she glanced at the Druid and lifted an eyebrow.

The Druid acknowledged her with a minute nod and swept out of the lift without a word or backward glance. Nyma stepped out behind the brown, cloaked being and turned towards the main doors. She took easy, measured steps, taking care to appear calm and confident, at home. She belonged here. The Druid did not.

There certainly were many more Galra here now than there had been. Galra drones dotted the place like silent watchmen. It was disturbing Meserie was carefully neutral. For the Galra to suddenly increase their presence here, no matter the reason, was cause for concern. The people of Meserie would not be pleased with this. It was clearly a violation of the treaty between Meserie and the Galra Empire. Although the Galra Empire was notorious for breaking treaties, they had studiously kept their end of the treaty with Meserie.

This was probably due in large part to the Trade Guild’s strong presence here. The Trade Guild was strictly non-political. It was comprised of the single, most powerful gathering of individuals, from more worlds than the Galra controlled, whose sole purpose was to trade and exchange culture, materials, and knowledge. Any and all attempts to undermine its influence was treated as a breach in a trade contract and punished in kind.

No member of the Trade Guild would even acknowledge the offending party. Any trades that had been in progress between a Trade Guild member and someone from the offending party were immediately severed and erased as if they’d never been made. Traders would refuse to deal and the Guild would back them up. Even the Galra Empire, in all its might and power, was hesitant to create an enemy of the Trader’s Guild. Or at least they had been. If things had changed, then that was all the more reason for Nyma to get off this trade post planet as fast as she could.

Nyma was almost to The Mistro’s main entrance when movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention. She surreptitiously glanced in the direction and her hearts began thudding uncomfortably in her chest and abdomen. One of the desk clerks was leaning towards a Galra soldier and saying something urgently and pointing at her.

Frak. She’d been made.

Throwing caution to the wind, Nyma lurched into a full run. She was fast and knew how to dodge successfully through a thick crowd with ease. Even the Druids with their immense powers and teleportation skills would find it hard to attack her in this crowd of people. The risk of teleporting into a space that was already occupied was too real.

A bolt of purple energy zagged its way through the sky, striking the skypath Nyma ran on just a span from her. Nyma’s lidless blue eyes widened in horror when she saw the crumbled corpse of the innocent victim of the quintessence bolt. The poor person’s only crime was being too close to Nyma.

Terrified, Nyma looked up and was stunned by the sight of two Druids flying through the air above and slightly behind her. Druids could fly?! The frak? Since when was that even a thing?!

Fueled by fear-tinged fury, Nyma turned her eyes back to the skypath in front of her and maintained her speed. She couldn’t run much faster or she would run out of energy too soon. Not that it would make much of a difference, she realized. She was too far from the lift that would take her to Rolo and their little vessel home. She wouldn’t make it.

Gritting her teeth, she reached up and tapped the communicator on her translator and sent what she sincerely hoped would not be her last message to her best friend. Then she deactivated the communicator with a soft, electrical buzz. The circuitry was ruined now. The Galra wouldn’t be able to recover any data from the device.

That just left the incriminating fluorite shard with the Sentinel’s quintessence in it. Nyma had no doubt the Druids would find the crystal soon after her capture. If Lance could bind his quintessence to the shard, then Nyma could only imagine what the Druids could do with that little bit of quintessence. How should she get rid of it without letting it fall into unsavory hands? Who should she trust? Who could she trust?

There was one person. She had to hope that-

She screamed.


 

"I won’t make it. Take off without me."

Rolo’s legs were weak and shaky. He’d had to lean back against the ship’s metal side to keep himself upright. His best friend’s words still ringing in his ears. He’d tried calling her, but it was no use.

He fought away tears and climbed into the ship and pushed the engine to takeoff mode. He would never forgive himself for this. Nyma knew the risks. They both did. All Rolo could do now was hope and pray the Galra didn’t kill Nyma. As long as she was alive, Rolo had something to work for. He would get her back. He’d do it if it killed him in the process.

But not now. Right now, he had to get away or be captured as well. He flew his ship into the group of other ships exiting Meserie through the gate in the particle barrier. Besides, he had to tell the leader Nyma had been compromised. They had to be ready in case the Druids’ infamous interrogations managed to get sensitive information from Nyma. Everyone broke eventually, after all. No exceptions.

Even Druids. Rolo gripped the ship’s controls and began planning a rescue mission.

Chapter Text

“And you’re sure these planets have no forms of life on them?” Allura asked. “Nothing at all?”

Hunk looked back at the display on the view screen depicting the three celestial object at the coordinates he and Pidge had discovered. “As far as we can tell,” he said with a shrug. “I mean, we can’t exactly tell for sure unless we get closer to do a full scan.”

“But that would expose us,” the princess muttered, gnawing her lip in worry.

“It would indeed,” Coran agreed, the corners of his mouth turned down. “The long range scanners simply aren’t powerful enough to detect such minute details.” He sighed. “I could perhaps hide the Castle far enough away to avoid being detected. But that’s only if we’re absolutely certain there isn’t any life on those planets. If we hid the Castle on the far side of the blue planet,” he said pointing to the planet with the blue, swirling atmosphere, “then we would be hidden from any detection devices on the rocky planet there,” he pointed to the other large planet of the trio.

“But that’s assuming there isn’t any life on the blue planet that we simply can’t detect from this far away,” Shiro said grimly, crossing his arms in mild frustration. “Although, I doubt there would be.”

Pidge frowned and looked up at the black paladin in confusion. “Why do say that?” she asked. “Not that I’m disagreeing, or anything. But, I mean, we literally just said we can’t detect something that small from this far away.”

Shiro shrugged. “I had the rundown of basic astronomy and physics when I was in college, Pidge,” he said, a wry smile tugging at his lips. “I had to have that in order to be even considered as a potential candidate for the Galaxy Garrison’s piloting program. For starters,” he said, stepping up to the control panel Hunk had been using to control the visualizations on the bridge’s main view screen, “that blue planet is out of proportion.”

“What?” Pidge asked, frowning.

“What do you mean by that?” Hunk asked, leaning over Shiro’s shoulder to study the black paladin’s inputs with interest.

“Well, basically,” Shiro zoomed into the blue planet in the current image on the view screen, “that planet looks seriously close to the parent star.”

“Yeah,” Hunk said, nodding and looking back up at the view screen. “We did notice that. It’s another reason why Pidge and I doubt there could be any life on those planets. The sheer amount of solar radiation from the star would kill any life form we know of.”

The green paladin nodded in agreement. “Yeah,” she said. “We ran the estimated parameters through the Castle’s database of known races and none of them could stand up to the minimum radiation levels those planets would be subjected to.” She held out her hands in a shrug. “That actually why we aren’t sure if these coordinates are right or not.”

“It certainly is a conundrum,” the Altean advisor admitted.

“That is true,” Allura said. “But Meserie has a particle barrier strong enough to ward off its parent star’s radiation and the planet’s own dangerous weather. Would it not be possible to design a particle barrier to withstand these conditions as well?” she asked, turning to Coran.

Coran hummed and pinched his mustache in thought. “Theoretically, yes,” he said slowly. “But it would have to be incredibly powerful.”

“It would also have to withstand the constant bombardment from the particulates in the planet’s atmosphere,” Shiro said. “That’s actually the other reason why I doubt there’s life on that planet. See those swirling blue formations?” he said, following one of the large, swirling blue storms visible in the planet’s atmosphere. “I vaguely remember NASA discovering an exoplanet that fit the description of this planet almost to a T.”

Pidge’s eyebrows lifted and she gave Shiro a look of disbelief from the corner of her eye. “Shiro,” she said slowly, “you do realize our telescopes and satellites aren’t strong enough to detect worlds in this kind of detail from so far away. Even if we could, we’d be seeing them as they were in the past due to the time it took for the light to travel from the planet and its star to Earth. That’s a hell of a long time.”

The black paladin rolled his eyes and groaned. “I know that, Pidge,” he said. “Look, all I’m saying is that this planet,” he pointed to the blue planet on the view screen, “is similar to the exoplanet NASA discovered, not the same.”

“And why do you think that?” Allura asked, stepping up to Shiro’s side and resting an encouraging hand on his metal prosthetic arm.

Shiro sighed. “Because of the readings here,” he said, pulling up the coded readouts from the Castle’s long distance scanners. “These here,” he nodded to a few lines of script, “indicate high clouds with concentrations of silicate materials in them. Put that together with these temperature readings here,” he scrolled down to another set of readouts, “and we can safely assume this planet is tidally locked. That would explain the stark temperature differences between the sunward side of the planet and the dark side. Add these readings on top of that,” he scrolled further down and highlighted yet another couple lines of script, “and you’ll see the ratio of gas to solid is extremely off kilter.”

“Off what?” the princess asked, unfamiliar with that word.

“Off balance,” Hunk explained, flashing Allura a smile. “Basically, Shiro’s saying the planet’s a hot Jupiter.”

“A what?” both Coran and Allura asked.

“A hot Jupiter,” Hunk repeated easily. “It’s what we call gas giants that orbit their parent stars extremely close and are typically hot because of that. The closest similar gas giant planet we have in our solar system is Jupiter which also happens to be the largest planet in our solar system too. We Earthlings tend to use things we’re familiar with to compare against things we’re unfamiliar with. It helps put things that would typically be hard to grasp into a context we can at least somewhat understand.”

“That would make sense,” Coran said, approaching the control panel. “May I?”

Shiro gestured to the panel and stepped back with a friendly smile, joining Allura who still gazed up at the main view screen curiously. He adjusted his arm so Allura’s arm looped through his and her hand rested on his forearm. She smiled up at him and he flushed happily.

Someone cleared their throat, Pidge, of course, and Shiro’s happy blush suddenly deepened from a gentle pink to a dark raspberry. Allura chuckled, unbothered by her paladin’s teasing.

“Yes,” Coran muttered. “Yes,” he said again, louder. “I have to agree with Shiro.” He straightened and lifted his gaze to the zoomed in image of the blue planet. “I believe I can say with almost absolute certainty that the chance of finding life on that particular planet are slim to none. I doubt even the particle barrier on Meserie could handle chunks of molten glass smashing into it at approximately seven times the speed of sound.”

“Woah! What?” Pidge cried, darting over to the panel, knocking the Altean advisor out of the way as she did so. She stared wide-eyed at the readouts in awe. “That’s so freaking cool.”

Shiro beamed proudly. “I knew I took physics for a reason,” he said.

Hunk’s shoulders slumped. “And here I thought I’d found a fellow physics lover,” he muttered.

“Sorry, buddy,” Shiro said, patting the yellow paladin’s back in sympathy. “It was interesting but not really my thing. I preferred something I could actually put to use.”

Hunk’s eyes blew wide and he turned an offended stare on his friend and leader. “Physics is everything!” he cried. “It’s literally everything. How can you not put that to use?”

Shiro winced and held up both hands to stave off the yellow paladin’s outburst. “Sorry, it’s just not my thing,” he said. “I prefer flying and mechanics to physics.”

“But they’re related!” Hunk cried. “In every single way.”

“Then I’m glad I have you on my team to add your expertise on the subject,” Shiro said with a smile.

The yellow paladin opened his mouth the say something else. But when Shiro’s words sank in fully, he froze, eyes wide and mouth open. “You… My expertise?” he said.

“Well, that,” Shiro said. “And your friendship. You’re smart, Hunk. Look at what you and Pidge figured out,” he said, nodding up to the view screen.

Hunk blinked, then burst into a brilliant smile. “You’re awesome, Shiro,” he said.

“You two are so mushy, it’s ridiculous,” Pidge grumbled loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Speak for yourself, Pidge,” Hunk said.

The green paladin leveled a flat stare at Hunk. “I literally just did,” she said.

“Oh, yeah, I guess you did,” he said, his smile never fading. Then he paused. “You know,” he glanced back at the entrance to the bridge, “we still haven’t heard anything from Keith or Lance.”

“Oh, they’re fine,” Pidge said, waving a hand absently without even bothering to look back. “I bet our Prince Charming is too busy getting his brains f-”

“Pidge, I swear to Pele if you even think about going there, I may have to hurt you,” Hunk said.

This time, Pidge did look over her shoulder, her brown eyes studying Hunk, calculating his will to carry out his threat. Aw, what the hell.

“Fucked out by Keith,” she said, grinning wickedly.

Hunk narrowed his eyes at the shortest paladin. “One day,” he said slowly, “I will make you regret making me bleed to death from my ears.”

Pidge snickered. “Better your ears than your eyes,” she said with a cheeky grin.

“Pidge,” Shiro warned.

Hunk, however, raised both of his hands. His face was totally unreadable as he said in a flat voice, “I’m done. I am so done.”

“On that note,” Shiro said, “we should start putting some thought into how to deal with this situation.”

“Shiro’s right,” Allura said. She lifted her gaze to the view screen. “Our contact on Meserie has agreed to inform the rebellion’s leader to set up a meeting. When that happens, I’ll be prioritizing that mission. However, it would be stupid to just wait for a response when there’s still a lot that need to be done.”

“You can say that again,” Pidge grumbled, adjusting her glasses so they sat higher on her nose. “We still need to find my family.”

“And we will,” Shiro said seriously. “I already promised you that. We will get them back.”

“But we should also check this place out,” Hunk said, nodding to the location on the view screen. “You know, just in case.”

“Yes,” Allura said, nodding. “That’s why, Coran?”

“Yes, princess?” the advisor chirped, straightening from where he was still bent over the control panel.

“Set a course for those coordinates,” Allura commanded. “It doesn’t look too far. It would be best if we didn’t travel by wormhole. That could attract too much attention.”

“Good idea,” Coran said, inputting the new course into the Castleship’s navigational computer. “It should take us a few vargas at slipstream to make it to the vicinity of these coordinates.”

“We should come out of the slipstream behind the rocky planet, here,” Hunk said, pointing to the location.

“Right,” Pidge said, nodding in agreement. “That would be a better idea than using the blue planet for cover. We’d be too close to the star and, I don’t about you guys, but I’m not exactly into sun tanning and skin cancer.”

“Cancer?” Allura asked. “What is that?”

“It’s an Earth illness,” Shiro said.

“Yeah,” Hunk said. “Long story short, it’s basically where our cells begin to grow out of control causing tumors. It’s deadly.”

“I see,” the princess said sadly. “I’m sorry.”

“That…”

“Pidge?” Shiro said, turning to the youngest paladin in concern. “Are you okay?”

Pidge’s eyes were huge when she lifted her head to look directly at the black paladin. “Dude,” she whispered, “why aren’t we sick?”

Hunk frowned. “Um, I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of glad I’m not sick,” he said. “Why would you ask something like that?”

“Because!” Pidge cried, waving her hands out excitedly. “Don’t you understand? We should be sick! We should be making you sick,” she said, pointing to Allura and Coran. “You should be making us sick. We- Why didn’t I realize this earlier?” she muttered, clutching her head.

“Pidge, what are you talking about?” Shiro asked in confusion.

“Look,” the green paladin said, “how many times in Earth’s history has one group of people made contact with a completely different group of people without any prior interactions and no one got sick? Name one.”

“What do you-”

“Oh Pele,” Hunk murmured in wonder. “Holy crap, you’re right. Why aren’t we sick? I don’t want to get space flu!”

“Space flu?” Coran said thoughtfully. “I’ve never heard of that illness. Is it contagious?”

“He’s being dramatic,” Shiro said. “But he does have a point.” He looked over to Allura and asked, “How is it that our immune systems haven’t been affected by all this travel?”

“Oh, that’s simple,” Coran said, startling everyone. “Actually, it's a little complicated,” he amended awkwardly. "I’m no expert, but as I understand it, the Castle monitors the air filtration systems for any foreign and possibly dangerous contagions and filters them out.”

“But how could the Castle possibly know the difference between a contagion and just another particle of airborne whatever?” Hunk demanded. “And please,” he added, holding up a hand to stop Coran’s oncoming speech, “don’t say quintessence.”

“Oh,” the advisor said, wilting slightly. “I guess I shouldn’t say then.”

Hunk blinked then slumped. “You… This is…” He sighed heavily. “I got nothing.”

“Space Magic,” Pidge groaned. “The default answer for everything.”

“Yep. Definitely done,” Hunk said. “So done. Someone take me somewhere where science is still a thing. Please. I’m begging you.”


 

“Commander Prorok.”

Thace didn’t lift his gaze from the battlecruiser’s controls when he heard the Druid’s voice on the bridge. He wasn’t the one being spoken to, so he wasn’t going to acknowledge the Druid’s presence. It wasn’t his business.

“What is it?” Commander Prorok said.

Thace did not pause in his movements as he carefully catalogued everything he could from the brief encounter with the Sentinel. He wanted to know why Prince Lotor had willingly let the Sentinel go. Not that he was complaining; far from it. As far as Thace was concerned, the longer the Sentinel remained out of Galra hands, the better in the long run.

“Where is Prince Lotor?” the Druid hissed.

Still, Lotor was the best tracker under Emperor Zarkon’s command. The prince was infamous for successfully hunting down and demolishing his prey. Lotor was one of the main reasons why Romelle’s rebellion and the Blades of Marmora remained separate. If one fell, there was still a chance the other would succeed. They still communicated, but did their best to keep it to a minimum.

That being said, the Sentinel was currently the most wanted person in the known universe and was making no secret of his attempts to contact any rebellion he could find. Why had Lotor let him go? What was Thace missing?

“I would assume he’s in his chambers,” Prorok’s voice said, filtering into Thace’s thoughts. “Why?”

“It is of no consequence,” the Druid said. “We will inform him of our prize in person.”

Prize?

Thace bit back his reservations and looked over his shoulder at the scene. Thace may not be the commander of this vessel and its accompanying fleet, but he was still a subcommander with all the trappings that came with it. It wouldn’t be unusual if the subcommander showed interest in the goings on between the commander on the bridge and a guest, however unwelcome said guest was.

This time, it wasn’t the Druid that struck fear in Thace’s heart. There were three Druids standing on the bridge, not just the one who’d spoken. Thace’s gaze locked on the Druids two standing behind the leader, doing his upmost best to maintain an uninterested expression. The Teiidae shackled between the two Druids was awake but clearly unhappy with the situation. She was docile, for now.

How by the Blade had Nyma been captured? This didn’t bode well. Nyma glanced at him, but did not hold his gaze. Instead, she kept her mouth shut and let her eyes roam, taking in the bridge and its layout. Nyma was smart. She wouldn’t have just let herself get captured. Something must have happened. Did they know she worked with the rebellion?

Thace’s gaze flickered to the masked Druids but was not surprised to find nothing of use. The billowing cloaks and eerie masks hid practically every aspect of the Druids. Thace sometimes wondered if the Druids were even Galra at all. He didn’t trust them. He doubted he would trust them even if he had been absolutely loyal to Emperor Zarkon. The Druids answered to Haggar. Zarkon trusted Haggar but Thace did not. If anything, he feared Haggar more than he feared Zarkon. The emperor wielded great power, there was no denying that. But it was Haggar who built the Robeasts, who helped create the emperor’s armor, who designed the Galra’s weapons, and who acted as both shield and sword to Zarkon.

Thace frowned and turned back to his console with the air of someone who had lost interest in the scene taking place behind him. Even if it had been just a stroke of luck, Nyma was still relatively high in the rebellion’s hierarchy. She knew too much to be allowed to live in Lotor’s prisons. The Druid’s would rip every shred of information they could from her. That left two very disconcerting options: kill her or help her escape.

The first was easiest, but also had its own set of risks and associated unknowns. Helping her escape was more risky but had the best payout. Perhaps he should pay a visit to the prince this evening. Lotor seemed to have taken a liking to Thace. That could be useful, even if the very thought of it made Thace sick to his stomach.

This was, quite simply, not his day. At least he got to see his son. Thace prayed Keithek lived long enough to reap the benefits of a world without Zarkon, however slim that possibility was.

Chapter Text

Lance leaned against the console in the studying the readouts from the latest scan of the coordinates. He was hyper aware of a particular set of brown eyes watching him with a no doubt smug grin. He shifted, rolling his shoulders to dismiss the feeling of self-consciousness crawling up his spine, only to wince and stagger when his body vehemently resisted the motion. The chuckle that wafted to his ears from behind brought a raging blush to his face.

When Keith begged Lance to let him rut his mate like an Omega, Lance wanted that so bad. He thought he’d known what he was getting into and frell if it didn’t feel absolutely, mind-numbingly, amazing. Right now, however, he was feeling the results and it was seriously intense. He didn’t regret it; not in the slightest. But he did wish he’d waited until he was sure there were no plans to investigate some confounding coordinates ripped from that bastard Sendak’s head.

Speaking of which, while Lance understood his sister’s reasoning behind coming here, he did not think it was a good idea. Allura or Lance, or both, were due to meet with the head of the rebellion soon. The last thing they needed was to get swept up in a side quest that had the chance of blowing up in their faces. Best case scenario: the coordinates were a flop, there was nothing here, and they could go with no worries. Worst case scenario: there was something here, they ended up fighting, they all died, and Zarkon took possession of Voltron.

Unfortunately for their little team, it was looking more and more like the latter of the two scenarios would play out, preferably not completely. There certainly was something here, but it wasn’t anything big. The scans were having trouble getting a full ‘view’ of whatever it was due to the mesh of cosmic radiation, ultraviolet radiation, and the mess of gravitational forces created by the three celestial bodies here.

Lance had to manually pilot the Castle using the backup controls on the console to adjust the Castleship’s position so the thing the Galra wanted so badly to hide was at least somewhat visible on the bridge’s large, main view screen. Lifting his gaze to the view screen now, he furrowed his brows in confusion.

“What is that?” he asked.

“It…looks like a base of some sort,” Hunk said, his gaze also fixed on the view screen.

“No, it’s not,” Keith said suddenly, striding up to stand next to his mate.

Lance found himself leaning towards the red paladin without actually thinking about it and that brought a faint smile to his face. A tick later, he shook his head to clear those distracting thoughts from his mind. Now was not the time to let his attention wander.

“If it’s not a base, then what is it?” he asked.

“It looks like a way-station,” Keith answered, frowning at the image on the view screen.

The red paladin looked down and tapped a symbol on the console after a moment of hesitation. The prince glanced at his mate wryly from the corner of his eye.

“Do you even know what you’re pressing?” he asked incredulously.

Keith flushed and shot Lance an annoyed glare before lifting his gaze back to the looming view screen. “If you look at the size of the structure,” he said, gesturing to the fuzzy image, “you can tell it’s too small to be a base. Besides, I’ve never heard of a Galra base this far out of the way.”

“What do you mean by that?” Hunk asked, approaching Keith’s side.

The halfbreed tilted his head to the yellow paladin next to him, acknowledging his presence without looking at him, and answered. “This isn’t anywhere near the main trade or military routes,” he said thoughtfully, his brow furrowed in confusion. “It’s much more likely that this is a way-station for Galra ships to refuel. But,” he shook his head, a look of clear confusion on his face, “even that is stretching it. As far as I’m aware, this isn’t a particularly active sector of the Empire. Or the ‘Verse in general for that matter.”

“Then maybe it’s less of a refuel way station and more of a secret spy base,” Pidge said, nudging her glasses further up her nose with an excited smile on her face.

“As much as I’m not exactly sure how I feel about you’re excitement,” Shiro said, rolling his eyes at the youngest paladin’s reaction, “I have to agree with Pidge. Her explanation does make the most sense. Although,” he frowned, “if that is the case, the it would be best if we try to stay under the radar.”

“Agreed,” Princess Allura said, crossing her arms. “But if this is a spy base-”

“Way-station,” Keith muttered.

“-then it’s worth investigating.” Allura continued, completely ignoring the red paladin’s interjection. “Pidge, does the Green Lion still have your cloaking upgrade?” she asked, her turquoise eyes dropping to the Human.

“Yeah,” Pidge replied with a proud smile. “It’ll keep me hidden for about three minutes or so. It’s not much,” she admitted with a shrug, “but it’s better than nothing.”

Allura smiled. “On the contrary,” she said, “that’s perfect. If we time it with a solar flare, we can generate interference from the Castle and pass it off as cosmic interference. That should give the Green Lion extra time to fly over to the base,” Keith groaned and rolled his eyes, “and land somewhere out of sight.”

Pidge grinned. “You can trust me,” she said with a grin. “At least I won’t get captured, unlike some people we know,” she added with a cheeky glance at the obviously unimpressed Altean prince. “Isn’t that right Jellyfish?”

One of Lance’s eyebrows twitched but before he could formulate a retort, Keith snorted. Mortified, the prince’s mouth dropped open and he focused the full force of his offended gaze on his mate.

“Keith?!” he cried. “Of all people…”

The red paladin shrugged helplessly. “It wasn’t that bad,” Keith said. “I got you out, right?”

“Actually, the Red Lion did,” Lance said in a flat tone.

“And we both know she wouldn’t have done it if she hadn’t chosen me as her paladin so…” Keith shrugged. “I got you out. With Red’s help, naturally. But then, Red didn’t get you out of your cell in the first place, right?”

Lance blinked slowly. “You are absolutely sleeping alone tonight,” he said.

Instantly, Keith’s ears flipped forward and he stiffened, eyes wide in horror. “What?” he gasped. “But- Lance. Lance! I was just kidding. Lance?”

“Alright, you two,” Shiro said, placing a hand on both Keith’s and Lance’s shoulders and pushing them forcefully apart, “save the lovers’ spat for later. Pidge, go prep the Green Lion for launch,” he commanded. “Allura,” he paused to look over his shoulder at the princess, “once we’re inside, how do you plan on getting the data from the base?”

“Base? Are you… Whatever,” Keith muttered, his ears flopping to rest limply his head in defeat. “I don’t even care anymore.”

“Shiro’s right,” Hunk spoke up. “We know from experience that Galra tech can’t be accessed without a Galra interface of some kind like Shiro’s hand,” he grabbed the startled black paladin’s hand and waved it bringing a flush to Shiro’s cheeks, “or an actual Galra like Keith.”

“Halfbreed,” Keith corrected. “But the basic concept is right.”

Allura frowned, taking Hunk’s words into consideration. She lifted her gaze back to the view screen and bit her lips. “Coran,” she said suddenly, “I’d like you to oversee this venture please.”

“Oh! Of course, princess,” the Altean advisor said promptly. “But, if I may ask, why me? What will you be doing?”

“I promised to meet with the leader of the rebellion,” she said. “If we get a message with the time and place before we finish here, then we’ll need to prioritize that.”

“I can go in your place,” Lance offered, turning to his sister. “I’m the Sentinel. They’re aware of that. They should accept me as a stand-in if something comes up and you’re needed here.”

“I know,” she said grimly.

“Y-you know,” Keith said hesitantly. “I may be able to contact the rebellion myself if we don’t get a reply soon.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Lance said, shaking his head. “I can still talk to Nyma through our shards if need be.”

Keith’s ears folded back ever so slightly. “Yes, well, I meant I can contact them in another way,” he said.

Shiro squeezed the halfbreed’s shoulder, encouraging him to continue. “What do you mean?” he asked.

Keith’s ears perked up when his violet and gold eyes locked on his mate. Lance frowned, then sighed and nodded. “It’s alright,” the prince said. “I already know. I was planning on telling Allura later on anyway.”

Keith nodded and shrugged, fully aware of the lack of secrets between the Altean siblings; even if it was a bit disconcerting. “My father is deep under cover in Zarkon’s ranks,” he said finally. “It’s one of the reasons why I was willing to help Lance escape on Sendak’s battlecruiser when we first met. I’ve grown up watching my parents fight against the Emperor. But to do so, my father had to ignore my existence. We couldn’t acknowledge each other as family except in private. My mother… I haven’t seen her in a long a time, but I know she’s alive and well.” He smirked. “I also know she’s more than willing and capable of ripping Lotor’s face off if given half the chance.”

“Wait,” Hunk said, holding up a hand. “Your parents are alive?”

“Um, yes,” Keith said slowly.

“Oh.” Hunk blinked for a moment in silence. “Huh. I mean, you never talked about them before so I just assumed they were dead or something.”

“No, they’re alive.” The red paladin grinned. “My father’s managed to work his way into the higher echelons of the emperor’s command which is a good thing for the rebellion but, well,” he pursed his lips as if tasting something sour, “not so good for his health, if you know what I mean.”

Shiro’s dark gray eyes narrowed and he nodded grimly. “I believe it,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if spies weren’t treated well.”

“They aren’t,” Keith said in a dark tone. “They’re handed over to the Druids as test subjects for their latest experiments.” Keith deliberately looked away when the black paladin paled in horror.

“That’s actually one of the reasons why I happened to be on Sendak’s battlecruiser at the time Lance was captured,” Keith continued. “Sendak had his arm converted to a Druid-enhanced weapon so it wasn’t deemed necessary to have a Druid on board. I tended to do my best to avoid Druids, if at all possible. They’re unpredictable at best and don’t even get me started on their leader.”

He glanced hesitantly at Shiro who’s expression darkened with unpleasant memories. “Haggar,” he murmured. Keith pressed his lips together in a thin line and nodded.

“Who?” Coran asked.

“Haggar,” Shiro said louder. “She’s the witch in charge of the Druids. She’s more powerful than they are, more vicious, and absolutely loyal to Zarkon.”

“Try fanatically loyal,” Keith said. “Lotor was still in her good graces last I checked, but if he ever tried to pull a queue-thing you mentioned-”

“Coup,” Shiro said, a smile quirking is lips despite the grim atmosphere. “It’s short for ‘coup d’etat.”

Keith’s ears twitched. “Which still means nothing to me,” he said.

“It’s French,” Hunk offered helpfully. “Basically, a coup d’etat is a sudden political move that essentially replaces the current government with another regime.” He shrugged. “I can be anything from the prince killing the king and taking the throne to completely overthrowing a monarchy and replacing it with literally anything else.”

Keith nodded. “Okay. Then if Lotor ever tried to pull a coup, Haggar would not support him,” he said, focusing his violet and gold gaze on the princess. “Most of the Druids would follow Haggar’s lead, but I’m willing to bet more than a few would support Lotor’s rise to power.”

“You know,” Pidge said, “I mean, just throwing this out there, but this whole thing sounds a lot like one of those ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ things.”

"Shiro said something like that earlier when we escaped Meserie," Allura said.

“Yeah, that's all well and good until you remember the guy who said that was eventually killed by one of those so-called ‘friends,’” Hunk said.

Pidge grimaced. “I didn’t say it was good idea,” she said, “but it is an idea. It’s at least an option. Think about it. Keith just said Lotor doesn’t have the full support of the entire Druid enclave-thing or, from what I understand, the rest of the general Galran populace. Right?” she aimed at Keith.

The red paladin nodded. “It’s close,” Keith admitted, “but the majority of the Galra don’t particularly like him, no. They respect him for his military expertise and ability to weed out spies and rebel bases. But his personal life is…” He flushed. “Well, let’s just say off-putting and leave it at that.” He glanced significantly at Lance who flushed and looked away.

“Okay then,” Pidge said. “That’s something. Again, this is just an idea here, but what if we helped Lotor take the throne? That would add a lot of firepower to our arsenal and we’d have a common enemy so chances are he won’t attack us until after Zarkon’s dealt with.”

“Dead, you mean?” Lance asked.

“Well, yeah,” Pidge admitted. “Probably.”

Allura frowned and considered her paladins’ words carefully, lifting her gaze to the small way station on the view screen. After a moment, she sighed and looked directly at her brother. Lance grimaced, knowing what he was being asked to do. There was room to refuse. Allura wouldn’t hold his refusal against him. But refusing meant giving up a potentially lucrative opportunity to get rid of Zarkon. At the very least the power upheaval would split the Galra Empire which would weaken it and open it up to a breakup from within.

“I’ll handle that,” he said finally.

He felt Keith grab his shoulder and squeeze worryingly. Lance covered his mate’s hand with his own, forestalling any verbal response Keith would have made.

“We’ll talk later,” he said softly, meeting his mate’s eyes. “I promise.”

Keith’s ears pinned to his head in obvious distaste but he held his tongue, for now. Lance wasn’t looking forward to their inevitable talk, but he would keep his word.

“If he’s doing that, then I’m going with him,” Keith said suddenly. “Lotor’s seen my face. He knows I’m Lance’s mate and that I’m a paladin of Volton. Seeing me wouldn’t give any of you away and I’ll know if something happens to Lance.”

“You act like I can’t defend myself,” Lance grumbled.

“Well, in his defense,” Hunk said, “you did get captured just hours after we met.”

“By the Lions,” the prince groaned loudly. “That was one time. One time.”

“One time too many. Alright,” Allura said in relief. “Pidge, do you think you can get anything useful from the base without Keith or Shiro’s input?”

Pidge thought a moment. “Yeah, probably,” she said. “If Hunk’s there to help me, it shouldn’t be too big of a problem. I could bring Rover with us just in case we do need a Galra interface.”

“Good,” Allura, nodding. “Coran?”

“Yes, princess?” the advisor answered promptly.

“Stay in the Castle and keep an eye on them,” Allura commanded. “Help them get in and out of there as quickly and efficiently as possible without getting caught. This is strictly a data retrieval venture,” she said aiming a stern look at the green paladin. “Don’t take any unnecessary risks, understood?”

Pidge saluted in what must have been an Earth style with the side of her hand pressing against her forehead, palm down. “Yes ma’am,” she said.

Allura smiled and turned her attention to the black paladin. “Shiro,” she said. “I would like you to accompany me to meet the rebel leader, if you would.”

“You didn’t have to ask,” Shiro said, an encouraging smile on his face.

“About that,” Keith said, holding up a finger to catch the group’s attention. “When you meet her-”

“Her?” Pidge said in surprise, whirling around to face the red paladin. “The rebel leader’s a she?”

“Um, yes” Keith said, blushing faintly. “Tell her, ‘Keithek says hello,’ and she’ll probably be more open with you.”

Allura’s white eyebrows dropped low over her eyes. “Keith,” she said slowly, “do you know the rebel leader?”

“Yeah,” Keith said. “She’s my mom.”

“Your mom?” Hunk cried.

“What?” Shiro gasped.

“No freaking way,” Pidge said, practically bouncing in excitement.

Lance stared at his mate utterly dumbstruck. Keith noticed the prince’s shock and flushed, shrugging awkwardly.

“Why didn’t you say anything before?” Shiro demanded.

Keith’s ears lifted slightly but the flush never left his mauve cheeks. “She’s my mother,” she said in growing annoyance. “Do you go around telling people who your family is? Especially when one of them is a spy and the other a rebel leader?”

“Ah,” Hunk said. “That… makes sense.”

“What’s her name?” Lance asked.

Keith hesitated. “Romelle,” he said finally. “Last I heard, she was hiding out, moving from place to place, so I’m not sure where she is at the moment. But I know how to find out.”

“We’re all ears,” Shiro said.

“My mother’s rebellion isn’t the only one out there,” Keith explained. “They allied with the Blade of Marmora which is actually the original rebel group. Zarkon could never thoroughly destroy them.” He smiled proudly. “My father was a member of their rebellion before he met my mother.”

“So now he plays for both sides of the field?” Lance wondered. “Clever.”

“Coming from you,” Pidge said, “I’m almost tempted to laugh.”

The prince blinked. “I’m… not sure what you mean by that,” he said, eyeing the shortest paladin carefully.

“That’s why you’re a jellyfish,” she said easily.

“Says the shrub,” Lance shot back.

“You little shit,” Pidge growled.

“Guys,” Shiro said in his ‘Dad’ voice. “Save it. Keith, you were saying.”

“Right. I wasn’t able to become an official member of the Blade, but I have the knife my father gave me,” he said, removing the short dagger he always had strapped to his side. He held it out so the purple sigil inscribed on the base of the blade near the handle. “This is their symbol. If you can’t track down Romelle, then try contacting the Blade. They may be hesitant, but they want Zarkon dead almost as much as we do.”

Allura nodded, absorbing the new information. “Change of plan then,” she said. “Hunk, stay here with Pidge and Coran. Keith, go with Lance and see if you can find a way to contact Lotor or track down the Blade of Marmora. Shiro, you’re with me.”

“What do you want me to do if Nyma contacts me using her shard?” Lance asked.

“Tell her we’re ready when they are,” Allura said. “If you don’t hear from her by tonight, try contacting her instead.”

Lance nodded. “Understood.”

“Fly with the Lions, paladins,” the princess said. “It’s time we brought this battle to Zarkon.”

Chapter Text

“I cannot believe she asked you to do that,” Keith muttered just loud enough for Lance to hear.

The prince heaved a sigh. “If she hadn’t asked, I would have offered,” he said.

“What?” Keith gasped, staring at Lance in shock. “Why?”

“Because Pidge is right,” he replied calmly. “It is a good idea and definitely worth looking into. Besides,” he added, his lips forming a grim line, “we need all the help we can get right now.”

It was an unpleasant truth that everyone in their little team was becoming more and more aware of. No matter how powerful Voltron was, it was still one weapon that wasn't originally intended to be a weapon, wielded by five paladins, a princess, and an advisor from all over time and space. They were a force to be reckoned with, no question. But they were not unstoppable. At the very least, Zarkon still had them in the hole as far as technology and sheer numbers were concerned.

The number of times they had miscalculated or made bad calls due to relying on ancient information was too shameful to count. The only excuse Lance could conceivably accept was that, until several turns ago, the ‘ancient’ information stored in the Castle’s databases as well as the Alteans’ memories was finally current and up-to-date. Sometimes it was easy to forget he was not simply on an excursion with the Lions of Voltron but fighting a war against the Galra. When he did inevitably remember how long it had been since everything began, it took almost every ounce of self-control to not curl up in a corner and cry.

Lance still wasn’t sure how Allura and Coran were handling the transition. The young prince hadn’t seen either Altean cry or vent or do anything remotely similar to mourning. He knew his sister and uncle well. As both Alteans and Lance’s family, he worried for them. Alteans were social creatures; they needed emotion and expression and other people like lifeblood. Lance was beginning to suspect Allura and Coran were bottling their emotions up which, Lance knew from experience, was never the right decision.

This war should have ended ages ago. How was the Galra Empire still in existence? By all reasoning, it should have collapsed in on itself millennia ago. No empire in the history of the ‘Verse ever existed as long as the Galra Empire had. It simply wasn’t plausible. Some rebellion should have risen to challenge the Empire somewhere, somehow. Voltron, the rebellion led by this Romelle, the Blade of Marmora, they couldn’t be the only rebellions. They couldn’t be.

Their little Voltron team… There was so little they knew and so much they needed to know.  They needed allies. They needed friends.

“We need all the help we can get,” he whispered again.

Arms slipped around his waist and something warm and solid pressed against his back. “True,” Keith said by Lance’s ear. “But we aren’t alone. We aren’t helpless either.”

“I know that,” Lance said, lifting his gaze back to the view screen. “But we don’t have the advantage either. The Galra are periods ahead of our technology. One blast from their ion canon drains the particle barrier much faster than I’m comfortable with. And that’s just the beginning of the list. We have a lot of work ahead of us.” He sighed and tilted his head so it rested against Keith’s, smiling when he felt his mate’s furry ear twitch so it wasn’t squished between them.

“True,” Keith agreed. “But you’re thinking too far ahead. Let’s just focus on tracking down the rebellions and finding allies. There will always be more worlds to free.”

“Don’t remind me,” the prince grumbled. “I suppose with no one to fight them on even ground, it made resisting the Galra difficult.”

For a teck, the two just stood together in silence.

“You know,” Keith said, “don’t think I didn’t notice the way you didn’t answer my question earlier.”

“What question?” Lance asked.

“About why you volunteered to deal with Lotor,” the red paladin practically growled.

Lance sighed. “It made sense,” he said. “Lotor knows about me. He knows my face and yours, he’s already hunting me, he-”

“Is obsessed with you!” Keith said, pulling away from Lance and stepping to the side so he could see his mate’s face. “He’s made you his new pet project just like he does for any rebel base he gets wind of. Why do you think it’s been so difficult to bring him down? He’s ruthless and efficient. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a time when he hasn’t gotten what he wants.”

“He doesn’t have the throne,” Lance said, catching Keith gaze from the corner of his eye. A smirk slithered its way onto his face. “And I can only imagine how badly he wants that.”

The red paladin pressed his lips together and leveled the prince with a flat glare. “He also wants you,” he said to which Lance groaned and rolled his eyes. “Especially now that you practically handed yourself to him on a jewel encrusted platter not a cycle ago,” Keith continued, stepping back into the prince’s line of sight. “Lotor let you go. He enjoys the chase. It’s a thrill to him. Don’t you see?” Keith said in exasperation.

“I do see, Keith,” Lance snapped, immediately regretting the harshness when he saw the grimace on his mate’s face. He sighed and counted to three to calm down before continuing. “I do see,” he said again. “I really do. But this was the plan, all along. I’m the bait, Allura is the prize. I’m expendable, she isn’t.”

“You are not expendable!” Keith cried, eyes wide.

Lance held up his hands to stave off any further emotional outbursts. “That’s- That’s not what I meant,” he said quickly, trying to calm the red paladin down.

“It is though,” Keith insisted. “You always say you’re expendable when you’re not. Why don’t you see that?”

The prince heaved a sigh. “I do see that, now,” he said. “But I need you to see things from my point of view to understand. Just hear me out before interrupting, alright? Can you do that for me?”

Keith glared but managed to take a deep breath and steady himself. “Fine,” he said.

Lance flashed a weak smile in gratitude. “Look,” he began before stopping and trying again. “Keith, I may have chosen you over my sister when Fa- when that perverse A.I. dared me,” he said, “but I still have to remember my duty as the Sentinel. That doesn’t just go away. Please don’t misunderstand,” he said quickly when Keith glowered, shifting in frustration. “I don’t regret my choice. I never will. But I was a Sentinel before I ever met you. I swore an oath, Keith. The Galra take oaths seriously, so please know that I do too.”

Keith bit his lip and looked away, clearly fighting the urge to speak.

“The Sentinel exists to protect the Heir,” Lance said. “Sentinels also have their own lives, their own joys, their own families, everything. We’re still our own person. But we are also Sentinels with all the duties and responsibilities attached to that title. That’s why the title was never given lightly.”

“I may not have been the first choice for Allura’s Sentinel,” Lance continued, “but that doesn’t change the fact I am her Sentinel now. I take that duty seriously. I have to. Keith,” he placed both hands on his mate’s slumped shoulders, encouraging the red paladin to look up and meet his eyes. “Keith, I have to. If Allura dies, then everything we’ve done, everything we’ve worked for, everything we’ve lost, everything will have been for nothing. Allura is the only one who can control Voltron,” the prince said.

“I know,” Keith said, resting his hand over one of Lance’s. “I know that. I just don’t see why she can’t just change that. Your father made that ‘Voltron only works for the Heir’ rule, so why can’t the Heir herself break it?”

“She probably can,” Lance said. “But I don’t want her to, and I don’t think she wants to either.”

“What?” Keith gasped. “Why? Why would she be so selfish to-”

“Because she wants to live,” Lance said fiercely, startling his mate. “We woke up with no planet, no people, no culture, nothing. We only had each other and Voltron. Think about that, Keith. You, me, Pidge, Hunk, Shiro: we’re all paladins of Voltron. We pilot the Lions and fight Zarkon directly. We have a purpose. What do Allura and Coran have?”

“Allura leads us,” Keith said. “She helps us and… Coran is like a parent or friend I can talk to and confide in and…”

Lance smiled sadly. “Allura is the Heir of Altea. Neither she nor I were ever intended to be involved with Voltron. The Sentinel and the Heir were peaceful positions intended to lead, guide, watch, and protect Altea and Altea alone. The Heir protects Altea, the Sentinel protects the Heir and, by extension, Altea. Voltron, with the help of the Castle of Lions, was designed to be a protector of other worlds should they require it for whatever reason. Evacuation, restoration, rejuvenation, defense from an asteroid impact, anything of that sort. It was never intended to be a weapon.”

“But it is a weapon,” Keith said.

“Anything can be a weapon, Keith,” Lance said. “But yes, that is what many people in power thought. That’s why the paladin positions were opened to any race, not just Alteans. Representatives from other planets worried Voltron’s creation was a move by Altea to become more powerful. It took some effort for us to convince them otherwise. Although, I sincerely doubt we ever fully succeeded.”

“But if you or Allura weren’t supposed to be involved with Voltron," Keith asked, shaking his head, "then how were you supposed to protect Altea? What if an asteroid came hurtling towards Altea or a weblum came and tried to blast Altea into oblivion? Wouldn’t you use Voltron to protect yourselves?”

“Of course, we would,” Lance said. “But Altea had its own defenses which were powered by the Heir and the Sentinel. Voltron was only ever a last resort.”

“That still doesn’t tell me anything,” Keith said, stepping away from Lance’s grasp in frustration. He ran a hand down his face and began pacing along the front of the bridge. “What does this have to do with you facing Lotor? What does this have to do with Allura and Coran? What does-”

“Without Altea to protect, Allura and I had no purpose,” Lance said, cutting off the red paladin’s tirade. “The Heir and Sentinel are intrinsically tied to Altea and its people. With those gone, we are aimless. Why else do you think Allura was so set on giving the Lions of Voltron to a group of strangers she’d only just met? Why else do you think she immediately began resisting the Galra? Where do you think she gets the desire- the need to continue fighting like she is?”

Keith closed his eyes and his ears folded down to rest on his head. “I can guess,” he said quietly.

“Because it was the only thing she could do,” Lance finished. “It was all either of us could do. We'd lost our purpose.” He cautiously approached his mate, reaching out to weave his fingers between Keith’s. “Can you fault us for clinging to the purpose we’ve finally found?”

Keith’s lips twitched up in a hesitant smile but he never opened his eyes.

“I have Allura, my Heir, Coran, the Blue Lion, and now you and my fellow paladins,” Lance said, stepping closer. “Fighting Zarkon with Voltron as the Blue Lion’s paladin has become my duty. You, Allura, Coran, Hunk, Pidge, Shiro, and the Lions have become my Altea. Being Allura’s Sentinel,” he said, lifting their entwined hands so he could press them to his chest, “and being your mate have become my purpose.”

Keith’s ears lifted slightly just as beautiful violet and gold eyes opened and focused on the prince’s ocean blue gaze.

“Please don’t fault me for continuing to be Allura’s Sentinel,” Lance pleaded, his voice just above a whisper. “It’s familiar, something from home to cling to. Even if I wasn’t her Sentinel, I would still do the same thing because she’s my sister and I care for her.”


 

“I… I understand,” Keithek replied just as softly, resting his forehead against Lance’s. “I guess I just don’t…” He sighed. “Sometimes I think I’ll lose you to her.”

“Lose me?” Lance repeated in confusion.

Keithek nodded, his lips quirking in a smile when the motion made Lance’s head move too. “You’re both…” His smile faded. “To be honest, the way you two act with each other, I sometimes wonder if you’re lovers.”

The prince hummed thoughtfully. “Maybe I would have considered courting her if we weren’t related,” he said. “But since we are related, I find the idea both revolting and pointless.”

“That doesn’t exactly do wonders for my self-esteem, you know,” Keithek grumbled, aiming a half-hearted glare at the Altean.

“Yes, well, you weren’t exactly born yet when I would have asked her,” Lance said wryly.

Keithek bit his lip. “And if I had been?” he asked after a moment.

“If you had been, and I’d met you,” Lance said, considering the question, “I think I would have flirted with you, at the very least. If you'd reciprocated, then maybe I’d consider asking to court you. If you didn’t ask me first, that is,” he added with a grin and playful wink.

“And what about your father?” Keithek pressed, lifting his free hand up to brush the scar by his mate’s cybernetic eye.

Lance’s playfulness vanished, replaced by a blank expression. “I… I don’t know,” he said finally, leaning away from Keithek’s hand.

Keithek frowned, slipping his hand back into Lance’s hair and gripping it tight, preventing his mate from retreating. “Don’t run from me,” he said fiercely. “Never run from me. Please.”

The prince sighed but leaned forward so his forehead touched Keithek’s. The red paladin eased his grip, returning his hand to Lance’s cheek, brushing his thumb over the damaged eye scale. He didn’t miss the way Lance sighed and his eyes fluttered when the scale was touched. It was one of his favorite things to see.

“One day,” Keithek said, “I want you to tell me all about Altea.” Lance opened his eyes and met Keithek’s gaze. “I want to know about the juniberry festival, the Sentinels and Heirs, the traditions, the Collegium, your family, everything. I want to know everything.”

Keithek watched mismatched blue eyes as secretive as the ocean widened, tears catching in dark lashes. Then those eyes closed and the tears tangled in lashes finally broke free and slid down Lance’s cheeks.

“One day,” Lance whispered, “I’ll have the courage to show you.”

Show him?

Lance brushed their noses together in a brief nuzzle before stepping back. “I have to get ready to leave,” he said. “You should too.” He grinned. “Fluffy Ears.”

Keithek blinked, his mauve cheeks darkening as the blood rushed into them. “Did you just insult me?” he cried in indignation.

“Was it an insult?” Lance asked, a teasing smirk on his face.

He could feel the heat in his cheeks intensify and his ears droop closer and closer to his hair the more he thought about Lance’s little name for him. If it wasn’t an insult, then was it maybe…

“You cannot call me that,” Keithek said. He absently wondered if the heat from his blush would make his cheeks glow.

“I just did, Fluffy Ears,” Lance said in a sing-song voice, spinning on his heel and strolling towards the door on the far side of the bridge. “Oh dear,” he said, pausing a covering his mouth in mock surprise. “I said it again. What ever will you do to stop me?”

Keithek’s cheeks blazed, his ears flipping up and forward. “Call me that again,” he growled in warning.

Lance’s eyes narrowed and he said slowly, deliberately pronouncing both words clearly, “Fluffy. Ears.”

He may or may not have squeaked when he ran out of the bridge as fast as his feet could carry him. Was it a pity the lift didn’t come fast enough for him to make good his escape? Was it? Was it really?

Nope.


 

When Merla first stepped into her transport, her microraptor left her shoulder in favor of the steel perch bolted to the wall in her personal room where it remained. Merla, however, elected to sit in the copilot seat next to her only other companion, an elderly Polluxian by the name Pukaj. The man was physically old, but his mind and eyes were still as sharp as Merla’s microraptor’s talons.

He provided stimulating conversation without the unnecessary annoyances a younger man would bring. He was also an excellent pilot and Merla's most trusted employee. Whatever Pukaj saw or heard would remain in the strictest confidence. Perhaps that was why she chose to confide in him.

“Sleep well, did you?” Pukaj asked wryly.

Perhaps not. Merla shot the man a mild glare through the corner of her eye before smirking. “I would have,” she said, “if I’d slept.”

“I’m sure,” Pukaj said.

“The Galra are rather active at the moment,” the Trader said mildly, watching the Galran fighters dart through the air in Meserie’s particle barrier protected atmosphere. “I assume our precious prince has decided to leave already.”

“Actually, he’s been gone for a while now,” Pukaj said, his eyes remaining fixed on the airspace around their little vessel. “He left about half a teck before you arrived, my lady.”

“Did he now?” Merla looked out the main view screen at the approaching exit gate through the particle barrier. “I was under the impression he was waiting for someone.”

Pukaj merely shrugged. “I only know what I’ve heard,” he said.

“And that would be?” Merla asked, palming a particular sweet treat into Pukaj’s lap.

“Apparently, someone paid a visit to Lotor before leading him on a wild wake angel chase,” Pukaj said, plucking the treat out of his lap and popping it easily into his mouth. “Heard that someone got away too. Though,” he added with a shrug, “whether this someone actually escaped or Lotor let them get away is up for debate.”

“Really?” Merla asked, palming another treat into Pukaj’s lap.

“Mm, yes,” the pilot said, sucking on the new treat happily. “Though, I personally think Lotor let them get away. Bet he thinks the hunt will be worth it.”

Merla hummed. “This ‘someone’ have a name?” she asked, holding out a third treat right in front of Pukaj’s mouth. She didn’t flinch when the old man took the sweet from her fingers with his tongue.

“I’m sure he does,” Pukaj said around his latest mouthful. “’Though I think he goes by a title or whatever. Sentinel, or something like that.”

“I see,” Merla said, pulling her fingers back and examining them curiously. Then she stood and patted Pukaj’s shoulder, rubbing the specks of saliva off on the pilot’s sleeve. “Set a course for Pollux, please,” she said. “I need a fresh batch of wine.”

“As you wish, my lady,” Pukaj called.

Chapter Text

His pride was definitely suffering from the hit. It probably would for a good long while. He dropped his head into his hands with a sigh.

“Oh, don’t be like that,” Merla said from her place in the co-pilot’s chair.

He lifted his head just enough to glare at her over his hands. She smiled and chuckled, unaffected.

“Just remember you asked me for help and not the other way around,” she said, turning her chair so she could look back out the main view screen.

“Kiss a Galra smeg, bitch,” Rolo snapped.

Again, Merla just chuckled, shrugging the insult off with ease. “You complain a lot, you know,” she said in a mild tone. “How Nyma manages to stand your presence for longer than a few minutes is beyond me. Reminds me why I like to work alone.”

The elderly pilot currently flying Merla’s transport cleared his throat and tapped her on the shoulder.

“My apologies,” Merla said, reaching out to pat the man’s hand companionably. “Mostly alone,” she corrected. “Pukaj here is the best partner to have.”

“Debatable,” Rolo grumbled, dropping his gaze and letting his face sink back behind his fingers with a sigh. After a teck or two of welcome silence, Rolo ran his hands over his face and through his messy white hair. “Look, I don’t care for your jokes or your obnoxiousness or you, quite frankly.”

“Mm, the feeling’s mutual,” Merla said.

“But neither of us want Nyma in prison,” Rolo said, gritting his teeth at Merla’s voice. “And don’t talk about Nyma like you know her,” he snapped. “She’s my partner, not yours.”

The red-haired Trader smirked. “If you say so,” she said, still in a very good mood.

“I do say so,” Rolo hissed.

Merla shrugged. “She may be your partner in business, but she was my partner in bed.”

“One of many,” Rolo said.

“Same could be said for me,” Merla said, giving her impromptu guest a wink. “Teasing aside,” she said, turn her seat so she faced Rolo fully, “why were you so insistent I take you along?”

“You have direct access to the Leader,” Rolo said. “How or why that is are questions I probably don’t want to know the answers to. But you know her and I need to talk to her.”

“You could just go through Manset,” Merla said, placing her elbow on her armrest and supporting her chin with a perfectly manicured finger. “You always have before. What could be so important that you’d change protocol now?”

Rolo glared at the female Trader angrily. “It’s Nyma. She's my family Pythoness. What was I supposed to do?”

“Follow protocol,” Merla said, her eyes narrowing in controlled fury. “By not doing so, you’re testing the chain of command.”

“We don’t have a chain of command,” Rolo shouted. “We haven’t been able to make a significant move against the Empire for a year.”

“So you’re throwing a temper tantrum?” Merla said flatly, lifting a disdainful eyebrow.

“What I’m doing is driving home the point that our rebellion is stagnant,” Rolo snapped, standing from his seat so he could loom over an unimpressed Merla and vent his frustration. “You know it. I know it. Lotor knows it. Frell, I bet even Zarkon knows it.”

He threw up his hands and paced as he continued his tirade. “Then this Voltron comes along and succeeds in making a noticeable dent in the Empire’s forces faster than we ever could. And you want to know the best part? Their team is just a group of five people. Five people, Merla,” he said, turning to the woman who still sat watching him. “Five people have done more than our rebellion has since we started.”

Merla pursed her lips and lifted an eyebrow. “Are you quite finished?” she drawled in a bored tone.

Rolo sneered. “Yes,” he hissed. “Although why I even bothered is beyond me.”

“You bothered because, whether you like it or not, you trust me on some level,” Merla said. “A foolish decision, but a decision nonetheless. You know I have the influence needed to convince the Leader to make a move. You also know I have the power to manipulate certain people of high standing and political prestige. And you would be stupid if you didn’t know about my personal connection to Lotor.”

“I don’t care who you sleep with-”

“Don’t disrespect me, Rolo,” Merla said, raising her voice for the first time since Rolo boarded her vessel. He watched as the woman’s eyes gleamed with fury. “I may prefer to be more free with my body than the average person in my position, but even I have enough self-respect not to sleep with a filthy snake like Lotor.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” Rolo said, daring Merla to respond.

Golden eyes narrowed in a formidable glare but Merla said nothing. Instead, she sniffed. “Normally, I would space someone for insulting me like that outside of a Trade,” she said. “But considering I’m aware you’re lashing out at me because of your partner’s capture, I’ll let it slide. This time. Do not make the same mistake again, Rolo. I don’t give second chances.”

Rolo held Merla’s glare but didn’t push his luck by opening his mouth. He knew Merla would make good on her threat if she wanted to. Besides, she was right. Normally, Rolo wouldn’t lash out at anyone, particularly anyone in a higher position than him in the Trader’s Guild. Merla could easily make his life in the Guild a living hell if she wanted to.

“Now,” Merla said, adjusting her position so one leg cross over the other and settled back comfortably in her chair. “Tell me why you broke protocol and contacted me. The truth this time,” she added, resting her palms on her knee.

Rolo licked his lips and focused on organizing his thoughts enough to put his desire to words. “You know Nyma was captured,” he said finally. “You also know Nyma was privy to a lot that goes on in our ranks.”

“I am,” Merla said steadily.

Rolo shifted his feet and looked everywhere but Merla as he forced himself to spit out his next words. “Yeah, well, what you don’t know is that Nyma and I may have…” He pursed his lips. “Gone rogue at one point,” he finished.

Merla snorted inelegantly. “You two?” she said in disbelief. “Rogue? I’ll believe it when I see it.”

“Remember that reward out for the Champion?” Rolo said, plowing over Merla’s words. “Remember how much it was?” Merla’s golden eyes darkened and Rolo continued. “Nyma and I… We were down on our luck,” Rolo began. “Our last Trade sucked a Galra’s smeg. We had no way of getting rid of our cargo which is why we came to Meserie sooner than planned and why we don’t have our usual ship.”

“Yes, I did wonder about that,” Merla said, tilting her chin down in a minute nod.

“Well, our old ship got busted up real bad,” Rolo said. “It broke down by a planetoid in one of the smaller systems. We managed to land it and send out a distress signal. We were planning on a passing ship to come give us a hand. What we weren’t planning on was for the Voltron team to help us out instead.” He swallowed thickly and fought the urge to pace. “The Champion was there with them,” he said. “He’s one of their paladins.”

“Paladins?” Merla asked.

“The pilots of those Lions,” Rolo said. “Like the one you saw in Keith’s mind. Keith’s the paladin of the Red Lion.”

Merla tapped her lower lip thoughtfully and nodded for him to continue.

“It was my idea,” Rolo admitted. “I’m not proud of it, but I take full responsibility. Nyma went along with it. We needed the money.” He reached up and scratched his messy hair, pulling off his aviator hat and toying with it to keep his hands busy. “We waited until the Voltron team finished helping us fix our ship enough to fly and the rest of them headed back into their flying Castle-”

“Flying Castle?” Merla said, both of her eyebrows lifted. “You can’t be serious.”

“Oh, very serious,” Rolo said, his own eyes widening as he nodded. “You didn’t see it, Merla. It’s a literal Castle that flies. I could not make that up.”

Merla’s eyes narrowed and Rolo fought back a flinch when he felt the woman nudge his thoughts so the image of the Castleship was clear and bold in his mind’s eye. Her eyes grew round and she hummed.

“Impressive,” she purred.

“Yeah,” Rolo agreed, nodding enthusiastically. “And it packs some serious firepower too.”

He met Merla’s gaze directly and deliberately thought of the blast of white fired from the Castleship that obliterated the entire Galra fleet. Had the memory of the event not been so horrific, he probably would have laughed at Merla’s reaction. The woman stumbled to her feet, her eyes wide.

The hoarse squawk rang from behind Rolo was all the warning he got before Merla’s microraptor flew past his head. He instinctively flinched away from the feathers and sharp talons, watching as the creature land on its mistress’s shoulder.

“What was that?” Merla demanded, her voice soft in shock.

Rolo opened his mouth to answer but nothing came out.

“Rolo, what was that?” Merla demanded. “Tell me now.”

“I don’t- I have no idea,” he said, shaking his head. “One of their team, Coran I think his name was, said it was some sort of quintessence beam thing. But I didn’t really understand everything. You’d have to ask the Sentinel if you want a full explanation.”

“Sentinel,” Merla muttered. “I’ve been hearing that name more and more.”

“He’s… Well, the leader of the Voltron team I suppose,” Rolo said carefully.

“You suppose?” Merla said, eyeing Rolo carefully.

Rolo drew himself up to his full height and met Merla’s gaze. “I can’t tell you much because of client-Trader confidentiality,” he said. “But I can say he has quite a bit of sway in the Voltron team.”

“I see,” Merla purred, running her fingers through her pet’s feathers absently.

“I can tell you a few things, though,” he said. “He’s Altean, insane, and obsessed with keeping the Galra’s attention on him.”

Merla glanced at Rolo, frowning. “Why?”

He just gave her a look and she hummed, crossing her arms over her chest and turning to the main view screen. The brilliant colors of the slipstream still filled the screens, brightening the cockpit in a rainbow glow.

“He’s bait, isn’t he?” she said softly, her mind quickly connecting the dots of the puzzle laid out before her. “A distraction. Where there’s bait, there’s a prize. Where there’s a distraction, there’s something we aren’t meant to see. What is it?”

Rolo didn’t answer.

“What does all this have to do with Nyma?” Merla asked suddenly.

“She’s the Sentinel’s direct contact,” Rolo said, drawing the woman’s gaze. “She has a crystal that allows her to communicate with the Sentinel directly. He has one just like it. It works. No delay between messages, visual and audible communication, and portable.”

“What’s the catch?” Merla asked shrewdly.

“From what I understand,” Rolo said, “the two crystals are…” he paused, choosing his words carefully, “linked to their respective owners. The owners trade the crystals and can communicate between one another directly. Nyma has the Sentinel’s and he has hers. She can only contact him and he can only contact her through them.”

“Clever,” Merla murmured. “Risks?”

“I’m not sure I understand the details, but basically if someone else took Nyma’s crystal and figured out how to use it,” Rolo shrugged, “then they could spy on the Sentinel directly and he would have no idea. Granted, this interloper person wouldn’t be able to hear anything the Sentinel said, but they could see him and watch him. The same goes for Nyma and her crystal.”

“That’s a serious risk,” Merla said.

“It was a good faith gift,” Rolo said. “He asked us to help him but didn’t have anything to trade that would be useful so he gave us that.”

“You didn’t ask for anything else?”

“We did, but he refused the other choices.” Rolo sighed. “Knowing what I do now about this quintessence stuff, I’m beginning to understand why.”

Merla nodded slowly. “This Sentinel,” she said, “I’m assuming he knows that halfbreed that came to trade with me, Keith.”

“He’d better,” Rolo said. “They’re mates.”

Merla stilled, a slow smile slithering across her face. “Are they now?” she purred. Her microraptor clicked its beak and made a pleased, warbling sound that didn’t sound half-bad. “Well then, with information like that, who am I to keep the Leader waiting?”

“Is that payment enough?” Rolo asked.

Merla gave him a cursory glance before dismissing him. “Yes, thank you,” she said. “Consider our Trade complete. We’ll deliver you to the Leader and leave you to your own devices from there.”

“Thank you, Merla,” Rolo said, trying his best not to vomit the words.

The woman actually did look at him them, studying him closely, before returning to the main view screen. “You’re welcome,” she said, taking a seat in the co-pilot’s seat. “Now leave me and my friend here,” she patted the arm of the old man still flying the ship, “alone. Your presence is tiring.”

Rolo rolled his eyes and mouthed Merla’s words with a sarcastic expression as he walked back to his seat. He kicked his feet up onto the ledge nearby, sank down into the seat cushions, flopped his hat over his face to block out the light from the slipstream, folded his hands on his chest, and tried to sleep. He may or may not have been slapped awake when he started to snore.


 

Coran patted the dirt around the juniberry flower with the upmost care. The main blossom was still just as bright and beautiful as last cycle, which wasn’t a surprise really. It had only been one cycle, after all. It just felt like so much longer.

Finally, he had a piece of Altea back. He had his two wards alive and well, Voltron and its paladins, and now the juniberry flower. Strange how something so small could carry with it so much hope. He had no desire to have children anymore. That time had long past; even if it only felt like a few turns since his beloved and his children lost their lives. He had his family. He had always seen Allura and Lance as his family but now he had the paladins as well. They may not be related by blood, but they were Coran’s family, his children.

As long as they needed him, he would be here for them.

“Coran? You in here?”

Smiling to himself, Coran sat up from the small garden and dusted the dirt off his hands. “Yes, Hunk,” he called. “I’m here. What is it?”

The yellow paladin walked into the observatory from the lift tube with a curious expression on his face. Worried, Coran moved to stand before Hunk waved him back. The paladin sat down next to the Advisor with his legs crossed and sighed.

“You did a good job,” Hunk said, smiling and nodding at the plant.

Coran beamed proudly. “Thank you,” he said, gazing down at the little flower. “It’ll take time, but it’ll grow and spread until it fills this whole bed.”

“It- What?” Hunk gasped. “It will?”

“Oh yes,” Coran said. “The juniberry is a plant that grows by extending its roots down into the ground then outwards in all directions. New stems grow from the roots, produce leaves which help the plant convert light into food and flowers which attract attention, then produce berries which are typically either eaten by Alteans or other animals or fall to the ground and begin the whole process again.”

Hunk tilted his head curiously and frowned. “Okay, that all makes sense,” he said. “But where does the Altean energy come in? I thought the juniberry used Altean energy to make energy.”

“It does,” Coran said, nodding. “That’s why the wild plant would grow near Altean settlements.” At Hunk’s confused look, the Advisor hummed. “Put it this way,” he said. “You are Human and need oxygen to breathe.  But you can survive underwater as long as you have access to oxygen, correct?”

Hunk’s brow furrowed. “I mean, yeah,” he said. “As long as we can breathe from the oxygen tank and the oxygen doesn’t run out, then yeah. We could survive like that. It wouldn’t be much of an existence though.”

He sat up suddenly and his eyes grew wide. “I get it, I think,” he said. “That’s why the plant survived this long.”

The Advisor nodded. “I would assume so,” he said. “But, honestly, I think…” He glanced at the lift door to be sure they were alone before continuing. “Don’t tell Allura or Lance this,” he said. “But I think there might be some colonies of Alteans somewhere, survivors of the massacre.”

“What?” Hunk gasped. “That’s great! Why wouldn’t you want to tell Lance and Allura that? That’s good news.”

“I don’t want to give them hope before I have proof myself,” Coran explained. “I suspect there might be Alteans out there, but I don’t know for sure. Besides,” he said, his eyes sparkling with sadness, “even if I’m right and there are Altean colonies out there, I have no way of knowing if those colonies would be friendly.”

“What do you mean?” Hunk asked.

Coran met Hunk’s gaze with his own and smiled sadly. “It’s been a long time and the Galra have ruled the known universe for that time,” he said. “I was blessed to be born Altean, raised among lovers of peace, and trained to understand and respect the differences between races and cultures, whether I agreed with them or not. But I am not naïve. Neither is Allura,” he added.

He lifted his gaze to the glittering stars hovering beyond the view screen dome that covered the walls and ceiling of the observatory. “Allura traveled with her father frequently, training to be a diplomat,” he said. “She saw much on her travels, but not everything. Alfor did his best to protect her from the worst the universe had to offer while still helping her see that there is no such thing as a perfect society. Evil is everywhere sentience exists.”

“Lance stayed on Altea studying in the Collegium,” Coran continued. “The Druids traveled just as often as diplomats, sometimes even more often depending on the demand for their skills. Had Lance finished his studies and become a Pilot, he definitely would have traveled.”

“But he didn’t,” Hunk said in a subdued voice.

“No,” Coran said with a sigh. “No, he did not. Out of the two of them, Lance is probably the more naïve. He’s not stupid, but he has a habit underestimating how evil people can be. I fear the day he’ll come face-to-face with the truth, it will break him.”

“He survived Sendak,” Hunk said hopefully.

“Yes,” Coran said, nodding. “Yes, he did.” He flashed the yellow paladin a smile. “We all did.”

He didn’t say anything else and Hunk didn’t press. For a teck, the two simply sat in the silence.

“You know,” Coran said, an amused smile on his face, “Allura is rather strict about deadlines.” When Hunk looked at him oddly, Coran lifted both eyebrows. “Weren’t you supposed to be getting ready to go with Pidge?”

“Oh Pele!” Hunk cried, scrambling to his feet and racing to the lift.

Coran laughed. Technically, the boy still had several tecks before he had to be ready. Coran hadn’t even started readying the Castle’s systems yet. Still, it felt good to know he could still have a little fun. It made him feel young again, his children tumbling in the grass with his beloved resting her head in his lap. Those days were gone. But he still had a family to love and that’s all that mattered.

Chapter Text

Allura waited impatiently by the Blue Lion for her brother to get down to the hanger bay already. When Lance finally did arrive, he was staring fixedly at a tablet cradled in one hand and a bag in the other.

“Lance!” she called.

Immediately, her brother looked up, smiling when he saw her. “’Llura,” he said happily. “Why are you here? Not that I’m complaining,” he said quickly. “I just thought you were getting ready to leave with Shiro.”

“I was,” the princess said, her eyes shifting to anything but Lance.

She glanced back up at her brother and immediately knew she’d made a mistake. Lance was smirking at her. Even though he wasn’t laughing out loud, his eyes were doing all the laughing necessary.

“You’re avoiding him,” Lance teased in a sing-song tone.

Allura frowned and sulked. “Maybe,” she huffed.

“You know,” her brother teased, tapping her shoulder with a grin, “Shiro can’t court you if you don’t stay with him.”

“I’m aware of that-”

“And yet you’re here with me and Shiro’s probably loading up the Black Lion as we speak, alone and mourning the loss of his lovely princess,” the Sentinel taunted without even the slightest bit of remorse.

Allura rolled her turquoise eyes dramatically in an effort to distract her brother and herself from the intensifying blush in her cheeks. Lance was probably right, though. The princess wouldn’t be surprised if Shiro was in the Black Lion’s hanger loading it up with the necessary supplies they would need for their trip.

She groaned. “Look,” she said, hoping to cut off her brother’s teasing. “That’s not why I’m here.”

“Oh no?” Lance said, winking at her.

“No,” she said, feeling worry grip her heart. “I need your advice.”

Immediately, the humor drained from her brother’s face. Allura felt bad for doing this to Lance, but she really did need to talk.

“What is it?” Lance asked seriously, hefting the tablet in his right hand so it shifted back to rest on his forearm against his elbow.

Allura’s eyes flickered to the lift door behind Lance to be sure they were alone before speaking. “Do you think separating now is the right idea?” she asked. At her brother’s confused frown, she tried to clarify. “I mean, I know it’s important that we find the Resistance’s leader, but something keeps telling me we need to stay together. But if we do stay together, then it will take longer to do everything we need to do.”

Lance sighed. “I’m not really to one to answering a question like that,” he said slowly. “Coran would probably be the better choice.”

“But I didn’t ask him,” Allura cut in quickly. “I asked you. I want to know what you think.”

Her brother grimaced and shifted awkwardly. “Honestly, I’d rather not separate,” he admitted softly. “I don’t like not knowing where you are. I’m your Sentinel. It’s my job to protect you and I don’t know where you ar-”

“Stop right there,” Allura said sharply, holding up a hand, palm facing Lance. “I’m not asking Lance the Sentinel. I’m asking Lance my sibling.”

The lift doors hissed open but neither sibling turned to the newcomer. Instead, Allura took a deep breath before reaching up and switching off her translator, startling her brother. After a moment of hesitation, Lance also reached up and turned off his translator. His dark blue eyes studied hers uneasily, waiting for her to explain.

“Sava is asking sava-Lance,” Allura said slowly, her eyes never leaving Lance’s, “if going out on sava-Lance’s own to deliberately distract the Galra from looking for sava is a good idea.”

Lance sighed and hung his head, not answering.

“Sava is also asking sava-Lance why sava-Lance hasn’t shifted in so long,” Allura said, lifting an eyebrow. She ignored the pointed look her sibling shot her. “And what sava-Lance hopes to accomplish by continuing to be the bait and lead the Galra on a wild wake angel chase.”

Lance narrowed his eyes in growing frustration. “And sava could ask sava-‘Llura why sava-‘Llura keeps asking questions that sava-‘Llura hasn’t answered either.”

The lift doors hissed open but neither sibling turned to the newcomer. Instead, Allura glowered.

“True words. Sava retracts the questions about shifting then,” Allura said softly. “But not the others.”

Lance groaned. “Sava is the Sentinel of sava-‘Llura-”

“Sava-Lance-” Allura began sharply.

“-and,” Lance continued, raising his voice to talk over Allura, “sava is the sava-mei of sava-‘Llura. Can sava-‘Llura find fault in wanting to protect the sava-mei of sava-Lance?” Lance asked, his eyes wide and vulnerable. “Sava-ro-Keith asked sava the same question, or close to it.”

“And what did sava-Lance say?” Allura asked, cautiously curious.

“Exactly what sava is telling sava-‘Llura now,” Lance replied simply. “That sava is the sava-mei of Allura and sava loves Allura. Sava would do anything for Allura just as sava knows Allura would do anything for sava.”

When Allura’s brother dropped the polite honorific before her name in favor of using her full name, it didn’t go unmissed. She knew Lance was trying to impress on her the importance of his words. Honorifics for a person were never dropped without permission. To drop the honorific and call someone who was not a life-partner by their full name without permission was considered beyond rude.

Lance knew exactly what he was doing and it irked Allura to no end. By dropping the honorific, he was placing himself in a vulnerable position. If Allura responded without dropping the honorific to his name, then he would know she took offense to his words. But if she did drop the honorific…

“Lance,” she said reluctantly, “sava is not asking because sava doubts. Sava is asking because sava senses there is more to this than savi have been led to believe.” She glanced up at the Blue Lion behind her with a frown. In the corner of her eye, she saw her brother follow her gaze. “Savi have not accessed the full power of the Lions,” she murmured. “It worries sava.”

Lance shifted awkwardly next to her. “It is only a matter of time,” he said. “It took even Zarkon,” he spat the name with an intense hatred Allura could feel with equal intensity, “a while to master sava-Black Lion’s special abilities.”

“But not this long,” the princess murmured with a frown.

Lance had nothing to say in response to that.


 

“What the hell are you two saying?” Pidge demanded, her eyes flickering between the two Alteans.

Startled, both Allura and Lance spun around to stare at the green paladin with wide eyes. Clearly, they had forgotten they weren't alone. Pidge planted her hands on her hips and stared at the siblings with open suspicion, waiting for a response. Lance, at least, had the decency to flush in embarrassment and slip a hand up to flick something behind his ear, probably his translator. His head twitched slightly before he sighed.

“Sorry, shrub,” he said, a ghost of his usual teasing smile on his lips. “Didn’t notice you there.”

Pidge pursed her lips and lifted both eyebrows making it very clear how much she did not buy that obviously pathetic excuse. Lance cleared his throat and dropped his gaze, flushing. When he lifted his head, his eyes were focused on his sister’s. He grimaced, reached up to brush his fingers over Allura’s eye scale, then strode towards the Blue Lion without another word.

Allura watched her brother enter the Blue Lion’s mouth with a sigh before reaching up to turn her own translator back on as well. “I apologize for that,” she said, turning back to face Pidge. “Some things I…” She bit her lip and clasped her hands in front of her, bowing her head. “Some things I just want to talk about to my brother alone.”

The green paladin frowned. “You do remember the trouble keeping secrets got us in last time, right?” she said in a flat tone.

Allura nodded. “It’s not that kind of a secret,” she said.

“Then what kind is it?” Pidge demanded.

The princess took a deep breath. “I suppose it’s not so much of a secret,” she murmured, tucking a stray strand of white hair behind her pointed ear. “Pidge, can I ask you a question?”

Caught off guard, Pidge nodded cautiously. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Your family,” Allura began slowly, “the ones still held by the Galra…” She hesitated when Pidge frowned. “If you knew your family was captured because they thought it would keep you safe, how would you feel?”

Pidge swallowed. “I wouldn’t like it,” she said. “And I’d smack my big brother a good one for allowing himself to be that stupid.”

Allura smiled finally. “That’s essentially what I was trying to get across,” she said. “But,” her smile faded, “I wasn’t sure if he would listen to me unless I spoke to him like that.” She looked up to the Blue Lion’s glowing yellow eyes and sighed.

“Did he?” Pidge asked. “Listen, I mean?”

“I think so,” Allura answered. “Though I doubt he’ll heed my words.”

“Brothers usually don’t,” Pidge said wryly. “But at least he loves you enough to hear you out.”

“True.”

Pidge groaned and rolled her eyes dramatically. “Oh, my god. Hey jellyfish!” she shouted up at the Blue Lion’s head. “You little shit! Did you really think I missed you calling me a ‘shrub’ earlier? You fucking jerk!”

Dull thuds echoed from the Lion’s mouth as Lance ran down the ramp. It took a second for Pidge to realize he wasn’t going to stop. Then her eyes got huge and she backpedaled. She may be quick, but she was still much lighter than Lance and she had no desire to be glomped.

Oh well.

Just as she turned to duck behind Allura, Lance nabbed her and it was over. If she didn’t know better, she would have bet every penny she had that that her squeals of laughter were heard all the way up to the observatory at the top of the Castle. Thankfully, Allura, may she be blessed, managed to snatch the collar of Lance’s shirt and yank him away.

“Lance!” Allura cried. “That is not becoming of the Sentinel. You do not go around tickling paladins.”

Lance tried to look chastened. He really did. Not.

“Stop smiling,” Allura said, waving a finger in her brother’s face. “And you, Pidge,” the princess said, turning her attention to the still gasping and giggling paladin. “Watch your language! Honestly, how old are you two? Don’t answer that!” she added quickly, holding up a hand. “You’re both old enough to know better.” She huffed. “Lance, finish getting your Lion ready for departure. Pidge, you do the same.”

“Don’t tell me what to d-”

“Lance,” Allura said. “I love you, but shut up.”

Pidge snorted. “Burn,” she whispered.

“Shrub,” Lance whispered.

“Jellyfish,” Pidge whispered back.

“Ugh! You utter children!” Allura cried. “Both of you, hold your tongues and get to work.”

Lance groaned but began to walk back to his Lion when he glanced at Pidge, and cracked up laughing. For her part, Pidge didn’t see anything wrong with the scenario. The princess told her to hold her tongue. Just because Pidge decided to take the command literally didn’t mean anything. Besides, the look of helpless frustration on Allura’s pretty face was well worth it. Even if it did mean Pidge had to book it out of the Blue Lion’s hanger as face as she could.

On the bright side, the lift door opened and closed behind Pidge too quickly for Allura to catch her. This time.


 

Shiro scanned through the data one last time from the cockpit of the Black Lion before preparing for launch. Technically, he still had another few minutes before Allura was due to arrive so he didn’t need to rush. But why wait?

Nothing new had been added. Nodding thoughtfully, Shiro dismissed the display. Coran said he would forward what he’d been able to find on the Resistance. Looking at the readouts now, Shiro couldn’t help but be impressed. The Advisor certainly knew what he was doing.

The plan was to head out with Allura in search of the Blade of Marmora unless Lance heard something from Nyma. Then they were to focus on meeting with the Resistance’s mysterious Leader, Romelle. But Lance hadn’t heard anything yet. That worried Shiro. The whole scenario worried him. The information on the Resistance led him to believe that they were organized but not as active as he’d prefer. What if Nyma decided to double-cross them? She and Rolo had done it once. What was to stop them from doing it again?

Nevertheless, the agreement was to give Nyma another three hours before Lance attempted to contact her. If he still didn’t get a response, or the response was less than trustworthy, then it would be up to Allura. If the princess decided to give it another try, then they would. Otherwise, they were going to focus on forging an alliance with the Blade of Marmora.

There was something nagging Shiro, though. Why weren’t the Blade and the Resistance working together as one unit? From what he understood from Keith’s short explanation, the Blade and the Resistance were allied but not necessarily working together as one unit. That could be due to any number of things, but it still posed the question of why? Why were they still separate? Was there a reason?

“Shiro?”

He did not jump. He really didn’t. It was just a twitch. A very big twitch. Yes.

“Princess!” he said. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

Allura flashed him a look, pressing her lips together to prevent her snickers from escaping. “Yes,” she said, a smile slipping onto her face. “I noticed.”

Shiro flushed and ducked his head to hide his crooked smile. He must have been a sight.

“How are preparations going?” Allura asked, resting a hand on Shiro’s shoulder.

Trying very hard not to notice the touch, Shiro cleared his throat and maximized the Resistance’s display on the main view screen. “I think we can start looking here,” he said, pointing to a peculiar star system. He tapped the display and the system grew to fill the view screen. “I was able to put Coran’s information together with what I could remember from my time with the Galra,” the hand on his shoulder tightened, “and I think this would be the best place to start looking for the Resistance.”

“Why?” Allura asked, studying the image. “Wait.” She leaned closer to the screen with a frown. “I think I know this planet.”

“You do?” Shiro asked, lifting his eyebrows in mild surprise. “What do you know about it?”

“Well, if it is the place I’m thinking of, then it’s certainly changed since I saw it last,” the princess said, straightening. “Last time I visited, it wasn’t frozen over. It was an ocean world and the people there were sea dwellers mostly.”

“You mean people live there?” Shiro asked, looking at the ice-bound planet with renewed interest. “Amazing. You don’t think…”

“No,” Allura said, shaking her head. “I doubt the Galra are responsible for this. It’s most likely due to natural causes. The planet life was sustained by thermal vents that heated the water. If the thermal vents became less active, then it would make sense for the water to cool and freeze. The planet is already on the edge of the habitable zone.”

“Huh.” Shiro considered the planet thoughtfully. “Does it have a name? Or did it have a name when you visited?”

Allura nodded. “It did yes, but I always had trouble pronouncing it,” she said, glancing away awkwardly.

Shiro chuckled fondly and patted the hand still resting on his shoulder. “Then would you mind if I gave it a name so we don’t keep calling it ‘the planet’?” he asked.

“I don’t mind,” Allura said.

“Alright then. We’ll call it Oceanus, then,” the black paladin declared proudly.

Allura gave him a look, one eyebrow lifted. “Oceanus,” she repeated blandly. “Really? That’s the best you can come up with?”

Shiro blushed and shrugged. “Well, where I come from, Oceanus is a mythological figure from Greek mythology. That where we get the word ‘ocean.’ But, I mean, if you don’t like it, we could call it Panthalassa, I guess.”

“Panthalassa?”

“Yeah. It’s what we call the sea back when Pangea still existed,” Shiro said, his eyes sparkling with excitement. At the princess’s look of confusion, he wilted. “Or we could call it Oceanus.”

Allura sighed. “I like Panthalassa,” she said. “But it’s harder to remember.”

Shiro blinked, then grinned and bit his lip. He would not crack any age jokes. “Alright. Oceanus it is.”

“Shiro, are you there?” Coran’s voice said over the Black Lion’s speakers.

“We’re here, Coran,” Allura answered.

“Oh, Princess, you’re there too. Good, good,” the Advisor chirped happily. “Pidge and Hunk are ready to fly to the Galra space base.”

“Understood,” Allura said. She gnawed her lip for a moment before speaking once more. “Have Lance and Keith left yet?” she called.

“Hm? No, not yet,” Coran replied. “Why? Is something wrong?”

“No, not really,” Allura said. “Has Lance still heard nothing from Nyma?”

“I’m afraid not, Princess,” Coran said, although there was room for hope in his voice. “He’s giving it another hour before attempting to contact her himself.”

“This just sounds fishy,” Shiro muttered. At Allura’s confused look, the black paladin clarified. “Confusing, weird. It’s an Earth thing.”

The princess nodded. “Coran, tell Lance to go ahead and try contacting Nyma, if he can.”

“As you wish,” the Advisor said. “Um, if you don’t mind me saying,” he said hesitantly, “I’m not sure I like the idea of splitting up. I would much rather we stayed together as a team. It would slow our progress, true, but it would be safer, I think.”

Shiro grimaced, but nodded in agreement. “I know what you mean, Coran,” he said. “But we do have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it.” He looked over his shoulder at Allura and was surprised to see a pensive expression on her face. “Allura? What’s wrong?”

“Coran,” Allura said slowly, “did Lance tell you to say that?”

“No, why do you ask?”

The princess looked away. “No reason,” she mumbled.

“Allura,” Shiro said softly, “is there something bothering you?”

The princess frowned. “I’ll take this,” she whispered. “Change of plan, Coran,” she said louder.

“Princess?”

“Shiro and I are staying here,” she said.

Shiro furrowed his brow. “Are you sure?” he asked.

“Never dismiss advice given twice,” Allura said. She squeezed his shoulder. “When Lance finishes with Nyma, let me know. I’ll see them off.”

“Understood, princess,” Coran said.

“Allura,” Shiro said. “What’s bothering you?”

“Nothing I can put my finger on,” she said. She glanced at him briefly before sighing. “I honestly don’t know what’s bothering me exactly. Just… I feel like I’m missing something important.”

“Does it have something to do with us splitting up?” Shiro asked shrewdly.

She nodded. “There’s a phrase among my people,” she said slowly, “Never dismiss good advice given twice.”

“You said that earlier,” Shiro said, nodding. “It rhymes,” he added with a small smile.

“Does it?” she asked in surprise. “Interesting. It doesn’t in Altean.”

Shiro just shrugged, his smile not fading in the slightest. Despite her obvious discomfort, a smile worked its way onto Allura’s lips as well. At the sight of it, Shiro’s smile grew. He counted that as a victory.

And he was staring. So was she.

The both realized that at the same moment. Shiro’s face flamed in embarrassment but Allura chuckled. She leaned down and placed a light kiss on the paladin’s cheek right by his eye. Shiro might have made a sound in the higher octaves. Might.

Allura laughed and turned to leave, squeezing Shiro’s shoulder one last time. Shiro was blushing too hard to do much other than sink into his pilot seat and try to cool down. The Black Lion purred in his mind. It would have been soothing except for the fact Shiro felt distinctly like he was being teased. He watched Allura stroll across the Black Lion’s hanger towards the lift and-

:Found you.:

Shiro sat bolt upright in his seat in shock. What was- He could swear he just heard- Was that- It couldn’t be.

“What the hell?” he murmured.

Chapter Text

Whatever she’d been expecting, this hadn’t been it. She should have expected worse. She didn’t.

She couldn’t scream any longer. She couldn’t talk either. Her throat was too raw. Thus, when the Soldier came into her cell, she didn’t even bother to acknowledge him.

“I realize you can’t talk,” he said, “but I need to ask you a few questions.”

Well, she couldn’t talk, but she could spit just fine apparently. The Soldier didn’t wipe the spit away, but his expression did soften minutely.

“I guess I deserve that,” he muttered just loud enough for her to hear. He straightened his back and clasped his hands behind him. After a quick glance over his shoulder, he sighed. “I can’t talk long,” he said. “But you know the protocol here.”

She nodded.

“You tricked us,” he said, strolling slowly around the rack she was strapped to. “You and your partner contacted us with a trade. The Champion for a clean record. We sent a battlecruiser to the designated meet and -what do you know?- no one was there.” He stopped just in her left peripheral vision. “You wasted the resources of the Galra Empire and diverted attention from an attack on Balmera 95-Vox that could have benefited from the presence of that battlecruiser.”

He leaned in close to her ear and hissed, “You and your despicable partner are indirectly responsible for the deaths of 1,000 Galra lives at the hands of Voltron. Come to find out the Champion is a member of this Voltron team; the very same Champion you and your partner supposedly had in custody.”

The Soldier stepped back so he stood in front of her, his cold yellow eyes glowing in the dimness of the room. “Prince Lotor himself saw the Champion and the Sentinel together as part of the Voltron team. I doubt it was a coincidence that you were found on Meserie at the same time the Sentinel escaped Lotor with the Champion’s help. That makes you a traitor to the Galra Empire.” Those golden eyes narrowed dangerously. “The penalty for treason is death.”

She snorted, licking the yellow-ish blood dribbling from her nose.

“I thought the Trader’s Guild doesn’t involve itself with politics of any world or people,” the Soldier continued.

Again, she just snorted and let her head loll back against the metal gurney.

The Soldier bit his lip, dipping his chin slightly. “Can you hold out for another cycle?” he asked softly.

She frowned, coughing when she tried to talk. She settled for a disgruntled stare.

“You’ll be interviewed by Prince Lotor shortly,” the Soldier declared louder. “You might want to start deciding what’s more important to you: your life or your loyalty.”

She clamped her mouth shut and swallowed. Her lidless blue eyes glared at the Galra subcommander.

“But if someone else comes in before he gets here,” the Soldier added quietly, “then maybe you should trust them.” He lifted an eyebrow and lifted his chin. “Still no answer?” he said in his usual volume.

He casually stepped closer to her, deliberately placing his body between her and the door. She glanced down briefly at her right breast, clenching her jaw just in time for a powerful, purple, right hook. If the hand happened to slip into her shirt and pull a certain something out of it, then all the better for it. All the same, it still felt good to spit the excess blood at the Soldier’s face.

“I’ll remember that,” he said, palming the little item away.

She wasn’t ready for the next punch, but the blackness was a welcome relief.


 

Frak, that felt good. He’d wanted to do that since that bastard partner of hers first contacted him to trade the Champion. After Ulaz worked so hard to get him out of here, the crazy Traders were going to put the Champion right back in. Ulaz had been one of the best deep cover operatives the Blade of Marmora had. It was for that reason alone that Ulaz hadn’t been killed for betraying the Blade and acting on his own.

Ulaz thought freeing the Champion was worth it. Thace may not have understood it, but he trusted his friend’s instincts. For those backstabbing, traitorous traders to do something that very nearly cost a member of the Blade to lose his life was unacceptable. Bastards.

He took a moment to take a slow, deep breath to calm down and compose himself before leaving the holding cell. He was definitely still furious, but unlike the traders, he wasn’t going to turn on his friends. Although, he thought, feeling the item he’d taken from Nyma, he certainly hadn’t expected to get something out of that little session. Maybe this would be useful. Hopefully.

Probably not.

The Druid standing outside the interrogation room was answer enough. The masked being regarded Thace silently before tilting its hooded head and holding out its hand. It must have seen him take the item. If it saw that, then it may have seen something it shouldn’t have. But then again, it wasn’t a bad thing to have informants. Besides, Commander Prorok was the one who actually sealed the deal with Rolo and Nyma to trade for the Champion.

Wouldn’t it be inconvenient if a piece of evidence handed over by a loyal soldier of the Galra Empire disappeared under the watch of a certain inept commander already suspected of mishandling the Balmera 95-Vox incident?

Obediently, Thace placed the item in the Druid’s hand. “I found this in the prisoner’s shirt,” he said mildly. “I’m not exactly sure what it is, but considering the prisoner was attempting to conceal it, I think it would be wise to turn this over to the prince.”

The masked creature made no move to nod, but it did close its fingers over the object and held it up to the many eye slits in the mask. It was a small, smooth fluorite crystal that gleamed blue, green, and purple in the reddish-violet light of the battlecruiser. Thace couldn’t even begin to figure out what use the crystal could have. It didn’t glow with power like the control crystals onboard the Galra spacecraft or in their weapons. It was also too small to store a great deal of information. Even if it had been the correct size, it wasn’t cut correctly for maximum storage use. Why would the frelling Trader have something like this with her?

“Is the prince still in his chambers?” Thace asked.

As expected, the Druid didn’t answer verbally. However, it did nod. Fighting back a sigh of relief, Thace nodded.

“Good,” he said simply.

Without another word, he turned on his heel and made his way to the prince’s quarters. He still wasn’t fond of the thought of turning over what could be vital intell involving the rebellion to the Druids, but he could work around it. He had no choice. It was for this reason, and this reason alone, that he felt relief when the Druid fell into step beside him. If the Druid intended to turn the crystal over to the prince right now, then that gave Thace another chance to work this turn of events to his favor.

Unfortunately, Druids were not the best companions under any circumstance so the march to Prince Lotor’s chambers felt like it took longer than usual. At least when they finally arrived, the prince’s door opened readily.

“Enter,” the prince commanded from inside.

“Your Majesty,” Thace said, bowing at the waist. He noticed with interest that the Druid at his side mirrored his movements. Straightening, Thace stepping into the room, the Druid by his side, and was mildly surprised to see the prince pacing back and forth. He frowned. “Your Majesty,” he said, “has something happened?”

“He found them before me,” Lotor growled furiously.

“Who found whom, my lord?” Thace asked in confusion.

“My obsessed idiot of a father, without ever leaving his frell-forsaken-fortress, managed to find Voltron before me!” Lotor shouted, aiming a burning glare at the subcommander that had even the Druid shrinking back. “Frak that bastard to the Void!”

Thace hesitated. Lotor’s anger was notoriously dangerous to friend and foe alike. He glanced at the Druid who surprising met his gaze in return. For once in his lifetime, Thace actually felt more comfortable with the creature by his side.

“May I ask how you know this?” Thace asked.

“The Emperor contacted me and informed me in person,” Lotor hissed. “I’ve been ordered to drop everything and head to the coordinates he gave me.”

“He isn’t going himself?”

The prince sneered. “He is. It seems I’m just closer. The first time he contacts me directly in turns and it’s to send me on a wild wake angel chase after his latest obsession.”

Thace wisely held his tongue upon hearing the irony in that statement.

“Perhaps I should wait to tell you about the prisoner?” Thace asked carefully.

Immediately, he had Lotor’s attention. “On the contrary,” the Galra prince said, pausing his pacing to face the subcommander fully. He crossed his arms and narrowed his golden eyes. “Tell me everything.”

Taking a deep, steadying breath, Thace nodded adjusting his stance so he stood at attention. “The prisoner didn’t say much of use when I interrogated her,” he reported. “However, I was able to take this from her.” He gestured to the Druid who stiffened before extending its hand, revealing the fluorite shard. “I’m unsure of its purpose, but she went to great lengths to conceal it so I assumed you would want to study it yourself.”

“It contains a strand of quintessence,” the Druid said, startling both Thace and the prince.

“Is it the prisoner’s quintessence?” Lotor asked, taking the shard from the Druid’s hand.

The masked creature shook its head. “No,” it answered firmly. “I was not able to recognize the owner. It is…” it tilted its head as if perplexed, “unlike any quintessence I have ever felt before.”

“Is it now?” Lotor murmured, turning the shard so it caught the light. “Have you gotten anything else of use from the prisoner?” he said, lowering the shard to study the Druid.

“I have not, my lord,” Thace said, drawing the prince’s gaze. He lowered his chin in respect. “But I do know her.”

“Do you, now?” Lotor purred, his eyes narrowed and a flash of teeth gleamed in the dim light.

“Yes, your highness,” Thace replied. “Commander Prorok sometimes used the prisoner and her partner as informants.” He hesitated. “It was them who informed the Commander that Voltron was heading to Balmera 95-Vox.”

For a moment, the prince said nothing. His eyes, however, flickered back to the crystal shard in his hand, fiddling with it absently in thought. Humming, Lotor turned and made his way to the view port.

“If your highness permits,” Thace said, stepping forward, “this could be an opportunity. If we arrive early, then you could claim both Voltron and perhaps even the Sentinel. At the very least, you could use Voltron as leverage the draw the Sentinel out if he isn’t there.”

“I’m aware,” Lotor said in a flat tone.

“You believe the Emperor is testing you,” the Druid said.

Startled, Thace stared at the Druid with wide eyes. If Emperor Zarkon was testing Lotor, it meant one of two things: Zarkon was preparing the prince for something greater or, more likely, he didn’t trust Lotor to not undermine his authority. That put the prince in a tight spot. If Lotor acted on the emperor’s orders, then he couldn’t hide his prize without revealing his hand. On the flip side, if Lotor didn’t act on the emperor’s orders, he would be seen as a disobedient child. Neither outcome was optimal to anyone’s goals.

“Do you need to go in person?” Thace ventured. “Or could a representative go in your place?”

The Galran prince turned to the subcommander, silently waiting for him to continue. Thace chose his words carefully. “Could you gather your generals and have them continue your work here while you attend to the emperor’s command?” Thace asked.  “Or the other way around?”

“As much as I’d love to, no,” the prince said. He flipped the crystal shard carelessly into the air before catching it. “Did you learn anything else of interest from the prisoner?”

Thace acknowledged the abrupt change of subject for what it was and bowed his head respectfully. “Nothing of use,” he admitted. “She admitted to meeting someone who matches the Sentinel’s appearance to conduct a trade, but nothing more. Once the trade was complete, they parted ways.”

Lotor hummed thoughtfully, his eyes settling on the silent Druid.

“The subcommander speaks true,” the Druid said softly. “We could use more persuasive methods, if you wish, bu-”

“No,” Lotor said, cutting of the Druid’s words. “If my father wants to pick a fight with the Traders Guild, let him. I won’t. I’ll keep this,” he held up the shard, “but we don’t need to keep her. Besides,” he added thoughtfully, “she’s more useful to us out there than in here. Release her on the next planet we pass.”

“Vrepit sa, sir,” Thace said, offering the prince a salute.


 

“Is there anything else, your highness?” the Druid asked once subcommander Thace left Lotor’s rooms.

The prince hummed. “Send word to Ezor,” he said. “Tell her I have someone I want her to follow.”

“Of course.”

“That will be all,” Lotor said, turning away from the Druid in a clear dismissal.

He waited until he heard the door slide shut, enjoying the silence. He truly enjoyed Meserie. It was such an organized chaos. But this was also one of the most powerful worlds under the Trader’s Guild’s control. If the Druids had bothered to inform him of the possible suspect involved in helping the Sentinel escape instead of acting first, then he wouldn’t be in this mess. As things were, the Druids had captured a Trader in full view of the public on Meserie of all places.

This wouldn’t sit well with the Trader’s Guild. With any luck, a few good words in the right ears would help soothe some feathers. Lotor had no desire to be on the butt end of the Trader’s Guild’s ire. They were a powerful force to be reckoned with. A neutral force, but a powerful force nonetheless. They refused to actively be involved in interplanetary politics and were notoriously vicious to anyone who attempted to deliberately involve them interplanetary politics. Politics were bad for business.

Lotor enjoyed his steady trade deal with that witch Merla. She was a frell of a Trader and always kept her word. Granted, she may not keep it in the way anyone expected her to, but she always kept it. If Merla learned some of Lotor’s people had captured a Trader -if she didn’t know already, she was a conniving witch like that- then Lotor wouldn’t enjoy his next few trades. He would have to give more than he received.

Oh well. He would worry about that later. In the meantime, he studied the crystal shard in his hand. It was fluorite, if he wasn’t mistaken. The murky blue-green of the crystal shimmered dully like viewing sunlight from underwater. The streak of intruding purple just added a nice touch of darkness.

If the Druid was right and there was a strand of quintessence trapped in there, then that left a number of questions. Why was it there? How did it get there? To whom did it belong? And was this even worth bothering to find out?

He closed his fingers around it, closed his eyes, and reached. Fluorite wasn’t a crystal he typically worked with, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t feel it. Instead of touching the trapped quintessence directly, he felt around it. Whoever had bound the quintessence into the crystal knew what they were doing. The thin thread of quintessence wove with the crystal until it was as much a part of the shard as the shard was a part of it. Fascinating.

Lovely colors and master craftsmanship. He would be interested to know to whom this originally belonged. But right now, he had a hunt to begin.


 

Lance shuddered, rubbing his arms when the hairs on his skin stood on end. Goosebumps, the Humans called the sensation. Such an odd word for such a strange feeling. He wasn’t cold so much as… What was the word? Disconcerted? Unnerved? Unsettled?

He didn’t know. All he knew for certain was that something was wrong. Nyma still wasn’t responding. He tried to convince himself that she was in the middle of a trade, or asleep, or too busy to answer. But somehow, he had the nagging feeling that it wasn’t as simple as that. He bit his lip, licking it when he caught himself, and bit his thumbnail instead.

He shuddered again and for a very brief moment, he almost felt like something was touching him. But as quickly as the thought occurred to him, the feeling went away. Had something happened to Nyma? Was she alright? What about Rolo? They weren’t captured by Lotor, were they? They’d been so careful to stay out of the prince’s sights. Where did they mess up? Did they mess up?

“Lance?”

Lance jumped and probably squeaked too, if the wide eyes and surprised quirk of Keith’s lips were anything to go by.

“I didn’t know you could do that,” Keith said, wonder coloring his words.

“Do what?” Lance asked suspiciously, not really sure if he wanted to know the answer.

“Squeak,” Keith replied. The grin stretching across his face was all teeth and made Lance both uncomfortable and hungry.

“I don’t,” he said.

Keith smirked. “And yet…” He let the words trail off suggestively.

It took a lot more self-control to fight back a smile than Lance would willingly admit.

“No luck yet?” Keith asked, his smile fading followed quickly by Lance’s.

“No.”

Keith pursed his lips, his ears drooping lower in disappointment. “What do you want to do?” he asked.

“Continue with the plan,” Lance said, tucking the carnelian shard into his vest pocket. “We can’t worry about something that may be nothing when we could and should be worrying about something that is definitely something.”

“I’ll let Coran know we’re ready to leave, then,” Keith said. He reached out and brushed the backs of his fingers against the torn eye scale, smiling when Lance’s eyelids drooped and his breath fluttered. “I’ll be back,” he said.

Lance mourned the loss of Keith’s touch. He was growing used to the odd jumble of emotions and sensations he got from his lover whenever Keith touch his scales, particularly the damaged one. Every time he felt himself slipping closer and closer to a decision he never thought he’d have to make, and wasn’t sure he was ready to make. But then, was one ever ready to bind themselves so permanently like that?

Did he want to know the answer to that?