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A Hand to Hold

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    Lance flinched at the sound of the front door slamming closed. His azure eyes quickly falling to his two children. His daughter Katie was burying her face in his in the faded blue fabric of his apron; he could already hear her sniffling. Hunk, her older brother, stared nervously at the doorway to the small family kitchen.

    Just moments ago, the trio had been happily preparing what was to be that night's supper. Oh how quickly things change.

    "Hunk, sweetie, why don't you and Pidge go upstairs and play now?" Lance put on his bravest smile for his babies. Hunk looked up at his maternal parent with wide, brown eyes. Lance could tell the 6-year-old knew what was coming but the boy simply nodded and took his little sister by the hand. Pidge pulled back and rubbed her eyes with the back of her tiny fist. Lance ruffled her hair and shooed the two off to their rooms.

    As soon as the children were out of the kitchen, a large man thudded in. His hair was a sandy shade of brown that seemed to compliment his fairer shade of skin, but it was his eyes that drew Lance's attention. Despite them being a gentle honey color, they held deep malice in them. And it seemed to be directed at the lithe brunette in his kitchen.

    Without little warning, the man had stormed over to his mate and seized him by the arm. After a quick shake and a slap to the face, Lance was tossed to flood. He winced as he pushed himself up.

    "How many times do I have to say make sure everything I need is put together when I leave, huh?! Do you understand how embarrassing it is to go to present something and NOT have everything you need?! If you can't even do that right, what's the use of having you around?!" The man swung again, catch Lance's cheek hard enough to knock him back down.

    "I'm sorry, Jeruon," he mumbled, voice hushed and broken. "I thought I had everything gathered in the case like you asked." The man, Jeruon, sneered down at Lance as he pushed himself up once again.

    "I bet you did this on purpose! I bet you WANTED me to fail!" This time Jeruon kicked Lance, his foot pressing hard against the darker man's side. Lance coughed as he hit the floor a third and final time. He was in too much pain to even bother getting up.

    "I-it's no like that. I promise, Jeruon! I was an accident," he choked the words out when he finally caught his breath again. Jeruon simply grunted and kicked the crumpled form again for good measure. He wanted Lance to hurt. He ALWAYS wanted Lance to hurt.

    "Can't have me a suitable child, can't have dinner ready by the time I get home, can't even pack my suitcase right! What use are you?!" He grabbed Lance's arm and jerked him upright. "This is why you aren't marked yet! Why would I want to put a claiming mark to a piece of shit like you?" Jeruon pushed Lance into the wall. "Why would anyone WANT to claim you? Hell, you're only here because out parents arranged this. If it weren't for that, you'd probably be in a ditch somewhere."

    Lance, who had slid to the floor after hitting the wall, bit back his tears. Crying never helped in times like this. Times where his spouse was enraged and need to work off some extra steam. Sure, it hurt, it hurt a lot, but what else could he do?

    "Momma?" Lance's eyes shot open to see Katie peek her head around the corner. Oh, no. No, don't come in here! Not right now!

    "G-go back to your room sweetie. M-momma's fine." He did his best to smile but the split in his lip caused him to wince. The man clicked his tongue.

    "You're bleeden momma," the little girls wide, honey eyes were full of concern. "Papa, momma needs a band-aid." Katie walked into the kitchen and the man clicked his tongue.

    "Go back to your room, brat. Grown up are talkin' right now." Lance visibly flinched at the tone in his mate's voice.

    "But momma's hort," The way she said it almost sounded like she was asking a question. Like, why hadn't her papa helped her momma yet? Why was he just standing there when her momma looked like he was gonna cry?

    "I said go to your room!" It was the child's turn to flinch.

    "B-but momma-" Lance's breath hitched in his throat and a white hot rage filled his chest. His mate, his alpha, the father of his children, had just backhanded his daughter, throwing her to the floor next to her maternal figure. His stomach churned and twisted and he no longer felt the throbbing pains of his body. How could he when his little girl was laying there with a bloody lip and tears pouring down her face. She was too afraid to even make a sound.

    Lance growled. It was a sound so deep and loud that it was Jeruon's turn to be afraid. In all the years that Jeruon had been abusing him, Lance had never growled. He'd never fought back. So long as Jeruon was only hurt him, he was fine with it, but this time he'd hurt their child. He'd hit a 3-year-old little girl. He'd hit their daughter, Lance's daughter, and he may not live to regret it.

    Lance stood up slowly, fist's clenched at his sides.

    "Go to your room, Katie." She listened this time. After all, a mad momma was a scary momma.

    The moment she was out of sight, Lance tackled Jeruon to the ground. The large man toppled over with a heavy thud at the sudden attack.

    "You bastard," Lance growled, "How dare you hit my little girl!" One of Lance's hands was wrapped firmly around Jeruon's neck, the other swinging wildly at the man's face. "Hitting me, hurting me, was one thing! But you! You fucking scum licked rat shit, hit one of my babies!" Jeruon resisted, hands pulling at the claws digging in his throat, but the strength Lance had in his rage seemed overpowering.

    "L-Lance!" he gasped out the words but Lance wasn't listening. He returned the blow to their daughter ten fold and didn't stop until the man had passed out.

    Lance stood up, chest heaving, and spit on Jeruon's shirt.

    "I'm leaving you," was the last thing he said before walking out. And he did just that. He grabbed a couple of bags and stuffed them full of his and his children's things and left.


 

    Lance held the two sleeping children tight in his lap. It had taken a bus ride, two different trains, and a cab to finally make it to the palace in the capital city of Altea. He'd hoped that his uncle wouldn't mind the surprise visit, if he did, well then, Lance wasn't sure what he would do. He had nowhere else he could go now.

    Once the cab stopped, Lance gingerly woke the children.

    "We're here," he said softly, "Wake up sleepy heads."

    "But momma," Hunk whined as he rubbed at his eyes. Poor thing was so tired, well, it had been a long night for him. Lance simply hummed and paid the driver, Katie still out cold, his shirt held tight in her small hands. He grabbed their bags and they made their way to the guard's post.

    "Hi!" Lance said in the most chipper voice he could muster for such early hours. "Do you mind paging Coran and letting him know his nephew is here?" The guard grunted and stared at Lance for a moment before speaking into his com.

    "Someone's 'ere for you, Coran, says 'e's your nephew."  There was a moment of static before the sound of an older man with a thick accent called out 'PASSWORD!' Lance couldn't help but laugh a little. His uncle was so eccentric that a simple ID check wouldn't work. He had to have some crazy password. Which, all in all, didn't sound very safe.

    "Hmm, if I remember correctly, it's 'Coran, Coran, the gorgeous man'." The guard repeated Lance's words into his com with disinterest and the old man's laughter could be heard loud and clear.

    "It's actually butterscotch nunvil now but let him in!" The guard rubbed the bridge of his nose in frustration but opened the gates anyways.

    It was a bit of a  long walk to the castle's doors, especially with three bags and two clingy children, but Lance's made it.

    "Can I pull the thingy momma?" Hunk asked looking at the large, lion head knockers. Lance smiled and set the bags down at his feet.

    "Of course sweetheart, c'mere," Lance picked up the chubby boy on his now free hip and lifted him so he could reach the silvery metal. Three thunks later and the door swung wide open to reveal the smiling mustached face that was Uncle Coran.

    "Lance, my boy! It's been ages!" Lance flinched as the man pulled him into a tight hug.

    "It's good to see you too, Uncle, but you're going to wake Katie up if you don't calm down." Lance readjusted the two on his hips and beamed a smile at his uncle.

    "Uncle 'Ran!" Hunk reached out to the older Altean who happily snatched the boy from his mother.

    "My word, Hunk! You've grown so much since last I saw you!" While the two chatted away, Lance picked up their bags. He winced as he bent over; it didn't go unnoticed. No matter how much he wished it had.

    "We came to have a slumber party, Uncle 'Ran! Momma said we had to ask Princess 'Llura 'bout it first though!" Hunk jabbered on and Coran gave Lance a worried look. Lance simply returned it with a tired smile.

    "I'm sure the Princess will think it's a grand idea, little Hunk! First, let's get you three to a room and then we can go find Allura! Maybe even get some waffle along the way! How does that sound?" Katie lifted her head from Lance's shoulder and blinked wearily her momma.

    "Faffles?" The three boys laughed and made their way to one of the many guest rooms in the castle.


    Katie was wide awake and practically humming with energy as she and her brother ran out in front of Lance and his uncle. The events of yesterday all but forgotten in the sweet sound of their giggles. Lance couldn't help but smile, even with the rather severe ache in his side.

    "So, Lance," Coran said as he twirled the end of his mustache, "Mind telling me what's really going on? I know you're not here for just a random visit." The elder's periwinkle eyes never left the children galavanting in front of him, but his smile had faded into a hard pressed line.

    "Wh-what? A boy can't come visit the uncle he get's his devilish good looks from?" Lance tried to be smooth about it, avoid the topic, the real reason. His uncle raised an eyebrow and put a comforting hand on the other's shoulder.

    "I'm old, not stupid, my boy." The younger Altean sighed, his eyes flickered towards the floor and then back to his children.

    "It's one thing to hurt me. I'm his omega, bonded or not, but it wasn't just me this time, Uncle. He hit Katie," his eyes began to water, "H-he hit her, Coran, and I," he came to a complete stop, "I just lost it. All those times he hit me, all those horrible things he said, even when he refused to bond, it hurt so bad. I wanted to fight back, but I didn't. And that was fine," the words come flooding out with his tears, "But when he hit her, I-I hit him back. Not just a little, Uncle, I wanted him to hurt. I wanted him to hurt so much I hit him until he fainted and then I left him there." Coran pulled Lance into his arms, petting his hair softly.

    "It's alright, Lance." Suddenly, there were two sets of small arms wrapped around Lance's legs.

    "S'okay, momma. Don't cry no more." Hunk rubbed his cheek against Lance's pant leg.

    "Faffles make you better momma!" Katie said as she looked up at him with a smile.

    Lance scooped the two into his arms and spun them around.

    "Then how about we go make some waffles!" Happy shrieks and giggles echoed through the halls as the trio headed off to the palace kitchens.

    Coran stared after them for a moment, he wasn't sure how to feel about all of this. His nephew was a kind and wonderful child, he deserved happiness. Instead, he got dealt a bad hand and was arranged to be mated with an alpha who held little respect for omega. The red-hairedn man shook himself out of his train of thought and followed suit.

    Lance set his children down just outside the kitchen's large wooden doors.

    "Now, I need you both to be on your best behavior. I'm sure the staff is working very hard right now so that the princess can have a yummy breakfast." He said as he propped his hand on his hips.

    "But Momma is the one who steals all the blueberries." Lance choked on his breath.

    "Ahem, never mind that, Hunky Money, momma will be on his best behavior too." Katie giggled while Lance tried to hide his embarrassment. Since when were 5 year-olds this smart.

    No matter how many times he'd seen this kitchen, it always awed him. The cerulean floor tiles were bright and worked so well with the darker blue of the walls. The ivory colored cabinetry still looked new and the gold accents were shined to perfection. All so clean despite the constant flow of cooks and servants.

    Lance pushed the heavy doors open and ushered the children inside. Coran slid in just behind them, one hand twirling his mustache. He spun around on his hill to face the trio.

    "Welcome to Cafe' Altea! If you'd kindly follow me, I'll show our most esteemed guest to their table," Katie giggled and happily ran after her great-uncle. Hunk, on the other hand, chose to stick close to his maternal figure.

    "Faffles Unc 'Ran!" Katie shouted as she was lifted onto the stool by the counter. Lance laughed at the eager little girl as he lifted his son onto the seat next to her.

    "Patience little one," Lance cooed softly as he ruffled his daughter's hair. Lance himself stood at the end of the counter space and watched the people run about, busying themselves while they prepared for day's meals.

    A moment later and the three of them were scarfing down the waffles like they hadn't eaten in ages, and they hadn't. The last thing they had eaten was sandwiches for lunch. There wasn't really time for much else after that. They'd started to make dinner but things had taken a quick turn down a dark path before they were even close to finishing.

    Hunk was the first to finish his breakfast and so he sat quietly, patiently waiting for his family. Lance smiled at his adorable little boy.

    "Hunky Monkey, do you and Pidgey want the rest of momma's waffles? I'm already full but I don't want the rest to go to waste." Hunk's eye lit up a little and he nodded eagerly. The kid was a heavy eater and Lance could tell that he was too shy to ask for more. Lance put the half waffle from the top of the stack onto Katie's plate and then swapped the dish out with Hunk's. There was no hesitation for the two to continue eating.

    Lance had insisted on washing their plates after the children had finished eating. Even going as far as to argue with Coran and another of castle's servants. Lance won in the end of course. He'd been humming happily, Kaite on his hip and Hunk sitting on the counter drying the last plate when the kitchen's door swung open with a bang.

    "Where are my babies?!" Allura shouted, her silver hair pulled into a messy bun but otherwise as regal as one would expect a princess to look.

    "'Llura! 'Llura!" Katie squirmed out of her maternal's grasp and ran right into the princess's legs. Lance sighed and would have scolded the little girl had the princess not been just as excited to scoop her up. Picking Hunk up off the counter, Lance strolled over to the two giggling girls with a small smile across his lips.

    "As beautiful as always, Allura. How have you been?"

    "Much better now that I've gotten to see these cuties again! You really should visit with them more often, Lance!" The woman huffed as she pinched one of Hunk's cheeks.

    "Um," Lance hesitated, "I actually need to talk to you about that." It was then that Allura noticed the darkening spot on Lance's face. The once caramel skin was faded into a sickly yellow-purple bruise.

Chapter Text

    "I see," Allura said solemnly, elbows propped on the dark oak of the table top with her fingers laced together under her chin. "I'm glad you left him, Lance. Since the two of you aren't bound, there isn't much he can really do, you know you are more than welcome to live here." Lance laughed bitterly.

    "Yes, and I'm very grateful," He worried at his lower lip and looked at the door, he could hear his children beyond it laughing as they played pretend with Coran.

    "I sense a but coming," Her voice was soft.

    Lance laughed again, just as bitterly as before, and returned his eyes to Allura's. "But I'm scared, Allura. I know it doesn't happen often, unbound couple with kids splitting, but every case like it always ends in the alpha's favor. He may not be able to hurt me like he did, but he could hurt them. He's going to take them from me, Allura. I-" his voice broke and tears formed in his eyes, "I know he will." He buried his face in his hands and sobbed quietly.

    Allura reached out and gently pulled his hands down. "Lance," her crystalline eyes locked with his, "I swear on the name of my father, Alfor of Altea, the king before me," she squeezed his hands, "That I will not allow that. You and your children are under my protection. I will not fail you."

    He sniffled a bit and pulled a hand free to wipe away his tears.

    "The kids were right. You really are the best princess in the universe." This time, when Lance laughed, it was genuine.

    They discussed many things after that. From the children's schooling, Allura thought it best to have a tutor come and give them an early start to their education, to how Lance would repay her kindness. Like the days earlier escapade, Lance insisted that he help around the castle.

  "Lance," Allura sighed for what seemed like the hundredth time since this topic began, "It's not at all necessary. There's plenty of space in this castle. Adding three more people will not do any harm. Not to mention that I actually enjoy your's, and your children's, company."

    "Look, Allura, I know you're trying to give me a break, and I'm extremely grateful," Lance gave her a stern look, "But I'm not going to be comfortable with just letting people work around me. Especially not right now. I - I need to stay occupied."

    She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She kind of understood, he wanted to distract himself from the negative by keeping busy. She had been the same way after her father dies. Every moment that she wasn't working was a moment wasted on thinking about regrets of the past.

    "Alright, well, and I hate to admit this but, I do really need help on something. You know about the Universal Peace Summit, correct?" Lance nodded. "Well, it's once again Altea's turn to host the event and therefore my duty to plan and organize it. Coran and I have planned out most of it but, and I say this in the nicest way," Allura smiled nervously, "Coran doesn't exactly have the best taste in food and I've been far too busy with everything else to make a menu."

    Lance's eye lit, their blue shimmering like ripples on a lake. The Universal Peace Summit, also known as the U.P.S., was an intergalactic event held every year on different planets within the alliance. It was created after the fall of Zarkon to assist in the reconstruction of the once fallen worlds. King Alfor felt the need to bring everyone together, every leading figure gathered in the capitol castle of Altea where they discussed needs and boundaries and set up new laws for the alliance.  It had been nearly 50 years since Altea had hosted the first summit and it seems to have finally come full circle. 

        "What?! You're kidding, right?! I'd be more than honored to help!" One moment his smile could outshine the sun, then, seemingly out of nowhere, it faulted. The light in his eyes dimmed and his voice became soft, "Is that going to be alright though? This is an extremely important event, Allura. I - I don't want to mess it up. Jeruon always says that-" Allura slammed her hands on the table with a loud bang.

    "Nonsense! I don't know anyone with a better sense of taste or works harder than you! That trash will probably starve and die without you." She mustered her brightest smile, "I know you'll do wonderfully, Lance. Now let's get started! The summit's only two weeks away after all!"


 

 

    The first week was there and gone in the blink of an eye and yet it still felt like it had been agonizingly slow. It started out well enough, Lance had been formally introduced to the kitchen staff. Most of the staff turned out to be beta but Lance was a little excited to learn that Lania, the executive chef, was an omega.

    Lania was a bit intimidating at first. The older woman had a stern look about her, silver-blue hair always pulled into a taut bun high on her head. Had it not been for her scent, Lance would have never believed it. She carried herself in such a way that rivaled even Allura. Turns out that Lania is actually a kind soul. She just takes her duties very seriously. She taught Lance about cooking and kept him from being too distracted.

    Lania's daughter, Silva, was a beta not much older than Lance. She also worked in the kitchen but mostly as a dishwasher or server. She didn't have her mother's passion for cooking and told Lance on many occasions that she only worked there to have access to the castle's library. That didn't mean she didn't take her job just as seriously though. She worked just as hard as everyone else. She and Lance quickly became friends and Silva turned out to be a big help with actually planning. She's a marvel when it comes to organizing.

    The rest of the staff had been just as welcoming and helpful and Lance was thankful for the distractions. With the kids being tutored by a strange alien named Slav, there wasn't much left to keep Lance's mind off Jeruon. His mind would occasionally drift back to the fears that the alpha would just show up and demand to take the children. Lance would be lying if he said he wasn't constantly checking over his shoulder or flinching whenever he heard a man shout.

    He rubbed the back of his neck, a nervous habit he'd had since he had first gotten Jeruon, as he thought about what was still left to do. The menu was pretty much taken care of, all that was left was the banquet dinner on the last night of the summit. Allura said she'd planned a ball that night and so the food needed to be light and with enough variety to cater to everyone's wishes. It also needed to be simple enough for everyone to mingle while they ate but elegant enough to be worthy of something like the Universal Peace Summit.

    Lance stopped pacing about his room and fell forward onto his mattress. He rolled to his side and let out a deep sigh. It had been hard enough to come up with a menu proper enough for diplomats and dignitaries and still be easy enough for the staff to make without too much trouble. Then factor in the stress of making sure that every species would be comfortable eating what was prepared. It was honestly shocking that he'd managed to get as much as he had done in only a week. Which gave him another 6 or 7 days to plan the banquet. It was honestly a lot more exhausting than Lance had really figured it would be.

    Lance didn't realize how tired he actually was until he felt tiny hands shake at his shoulders.

    "We're back mama!" Hunk giggled.

    "Ye' mama!" Katia crawled onto Lance's side.

    Lance rolled back and pulled the two of them into his chest. He giggled with them as he nuzzled the tops of their heads.

    "Welcome back! How was my pups' day?"  He pushed himself up to sit, Hunk sat to his left while Katie remained perched on his lap.

    "Well, Mr. Slav says that I read really good! I told it's cause mama always helped me practice." Hunk puffed out his little chest and his lips curled into a proud smile.

    "Oo! Oo! Misser Slav got scared today, again! There was water and, and he said that he couldn't sim!" Katie covered her mouth with both hands as she giggled.

    "Pidge got in trouble again today, too, mama. She took apart the holo-pad this time."

    "Tattles!" The small girl shouted and point a finger at her brother. "You weren't sposed to tell!"

    Lance sighed and ruffled her hair. "Katie, I know you're curious about things but it's very rude to take someone else's things apart. You know that." Katie nodded, eyes down cast. "You're going to apologize to Mr.Slav tomorrow, okay? Hunk, put that tongue back in your mouth, mister." Katie nodded again, with a smirk this time, and Hunk quickly pulled his tongue back. Lance didn't even have to look at the boy to know what he was doing.

    Lance pulled them both into a big hug and gave them a quick squeeze.

    "Looks like it's almost dinner time! How about we go ahead and go, yeah?" The two nodded and excitedly crawled off there mother.

    It was a race to kitchen after that. Lance struggled to keep up with his two rabbit-like pups as the ran through the winding hallways. Days like these made his worst days worth doing over and over again.


 

    Lance was arguing with his stubborn little girl when he noticed that Hunk was eating.

    "You have to eat your carrots lil' miss! Hunk, sweetie, what's wrong?" Lance pushed the small plate back towards Katie as he gave his son a concerned look. Normally the boy was the first to eat but he'd yet to touch his food.

    "Uncle 'Ran's not here yet." Hunk said as he pushed a piece of meat around his plate.

    "Katie! Don't make me take away your dessert. Hm, he is late, isn't he? Want me to go look for him?"

    "Yes!" Katie shouted at the same time as Hunk said, "Please!"

    "Okay, well then, I'll go look for him then." Lance stood up and kissed each their cheeks. "Hey, Silva, mind keeping an eye on these two while I go look for my uncle real quick?"

    "Not a problem, Lance. I owe you for helping me out with the clean up from the other day. Plus these two are the absolute sweetest." Silva smiled sweetly as she dried her hands on a rag.

    "This doesn't mean you get out of eating you carrots, young lady." He smiled to himself as left to the sound of his daughter groaning about how much she hated the 'orange dirt sticks'.


 

    Lance checked his room first, to see if Coran had gone to get them, they had gone to dinner a little early after all. Then checked his uncle's room, he even knocked on the bathrooms, but nothing. He peeked back into the kitchen to see if his uncle had shown up while he was looking for him. A shake of the head from Silva told him that was a negative too.

    He noted to remember to thank Silva later. Somehow she'd managed to get Katie to eat her vegetables.

    "Maybe he's with Allura?" Lance mumbled to himself as he rubbed the back of his neck. He didn't really want to disturb the princess, but he was getting worried about his uncle at this point. Coran wasn't one to miss a meal, nor was he one to just disappear. Plus, he couldn't go back to the kitchen without actually looking everywhere he could. Hunk's puppy dog eyes would be too heartbreaking to see.

    It took a few wrong turns, and a little more time than he'd wished, to reach Allura's study. Lance paused at the door to listen for voices and knocked when he'd heard the princess's muffled voice.

    "Allura, can I come in?"

    "Lance! Yes, please do! I was just about to send for you!" Her voice was chipper as Lance pushed the heavy doors open.

    "Really? I was just looking for Coran. Hunk won't eat without him." Lance shook his head and laughed softly. "The boy is such a sweetheart."

    "He is. He is." Coran said as he twirled at his mustache. "Anyways, my boy, we have some news!"

    Lance cocked an eyebrow at the older man. "News?" Allura clapped her hands together excitedly.

    "Yes! Okay, you know how the new Galran king joined the alliance to help make peace with what his predecessor had done?" Lance nodded, still completely confused. "Well, Thace, the son of King Ulaz who helping bring down Zarkon down from the inside, has taken the thrown and volunteered his son, Prince Keith, to be the Galra ambassador for this year's summit!"

    Okay, that was shocking news. The Galra had never shown up to the summit. It was assumed that the wounds of the war were still too fresh to risk conflict at the U.P.S.

    "That's wonderful news, princess, but what does that have to do with me?" Lance was simply making the menu. What did that have to do with the sudden decision of the Galra to physically join the summit?

    "Well, you see, the prince and his guard, will be arriving the day after tomorrow," Lance gasped at Allura, "They want to be sure that everything will be safe and go as planned, and maybe make sure there's a place to fall back to in case things don't. They will, but just in case." Lance nodded.

    "I still don't understand what this has to do with me though."

    Coran pulled nervously at his mustache. "Well, Lance, my boy, with the summit less than a week away, the princess and I will be too busy to be as gracious hosts as the prince deserves."

    "Wait, no. No no no! You can't be asking me to guide them! I don't even know my own way around the castle yet! Plus there's Katie and Hunk and I still need to plan the banquet's menu!" He panicked a little.

    "Lance, please. There's no one else I trust enough to leave this too." Allura was using her princess voice now.

    "Allura, I love you, you're like a sister, but sometimes I really question your judgment." He sighed through his nose. "Fine. I'll do it, but if this goes poorly, I'm blaming you."

    She squealed and clapped her hands together again. "Excellent! Now let's go eat! I'll be joining you tonight to celebrate!"


 

    Lance had trouble sleeping the next two nights and worked himself a little harder to get done what he could for the banquet. Lania and Silva volunteered to take over the task while he showed the early diplomats around the castle. He didn't agree at first but once they promised not to make any final decisions without talking about it with him first, he relented. It wasn't that he didn't trust them, he knew for a fact that they were more than capable, he just felt bad for pushing his duties onto them when they already had so much to do.

    Every moment not spent working on the menu was spent worrying about what the Galra would be like. Allura said that there would only be the prince and a single guard. Which struck Lance as odd. Most diplomats were coming with at least three bodyguards and an assistant. Was it supposed to be a show of good faith to only send the prince with one guard? Or maybe they were just that intimidating? What it they were huge and aggressive? They only thing Lance knew for sure was that the Galra were tall, purple, and generally covered in this fur. He'd never met one as they rarely left their planetary ships.

     Lance chewed his lip nervously as he paced in front of the castle's main doors. They were supposed to be there anytime now and he was supposed to greet them and take them to see Allura for a meeting before giving them a small tour and showing them to their rooms. Lance was both grateful and terrified to find they would be staying in rooms in the same hall as he and his children. The good thing was that he wouldn't get them lost, the bad thing was that they were going to be really, really close.

    He visibly flinched when he heard the doors opening. After somehow managing to swallow the lump in his throat, he bowed, proud of how steady his voice sounded as he greeted them.

    "Welcome to Altea. My name his Lance and I will be the one to show you around the castle." He lifted his head and gave his most charming smile.

Chapter Text

    "Welcome to Altea. My name is Lance and I will be the one to show you around the castle." He lifted his head and gave his most charming smile.

     Lance's smile almost faltered, torn between a little fear and awe at the sight before him. Okay, so the Galra were definitely big, purple and intimidating. Well, only one of the two was big, but both were certainly intimidating. 

     The shorter one, who was smaller than Lance by a few inches but less lean, had to be the prince. His hair was rather long in the back but his bangs were short and, even pressed to the side, looked a mess. Lance would have suspected he was the guard, what with the sheer look of agitation plastered his face, had it not been for the regal clothes, form fitted. A deep purple suit so dark it was almost black, maroon button-up, and a short cape in matching colors pulled over his right shoulder. 

     Then there was the guard, he carried himself in a friendlier manner but his size was enough to scare off most. He was built thick and muscular but the scar across the bridge of his nose and robotic arm were what probably kept most away. His hair was styled with an undercut but he had a tuft of white hair sitting on his forehead. He wore Malmora armor but Lance was confused when he didn't see any weapon. At the very least a guard should have a dagger or short sword, right?

     "I'm Shiro and this is Prince Keith. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance." The larger man, Shiro, bowed his head slightly and held out his mechanical hand. Lance hesitated for a moment, glancing at the foreign metal then back to the guard, but he gave the hand a firm shake anyways. Keith simply crossed his arms and looked away with a huff.

    Lance cleared his throat, slightly annoyed at the attitude displayed by the younger. Prince or not, that was just rude.

    "If you'll please follow me," Lance used his hands to gesture to his right, "The Princess wishes to give you a formal welcome but she's also still very busy with the summit so she, unfortunately, couldn't greet you at the doors." With one last smile, Lance turned on his heels in the direction he'd waved at. "This way if you will, gentlemen."


 

      Lance nervously chewed on the inside of his cheek. The walk to the princess's study was a long and winding one and it seemed that their guests weren't really in the talking mood. He'd know, he tried more than once to get the two talking. 

     "How was your trip here? I hope it was comfortable. It's a pretty long trip from Daibazaal, isn't it?" Lance looked over his shoulder at the Galra behind him, smile still firmly plastered. 

     All he got in response was a grunt from Keith and a simple 'It was well enough.' from Shiro. So he tried again.

     "Is Altea strange? In comparison I mean." Another grunt from the prince and the guard smiled and answered with 'It's a little different, but it's not bad.'

     Lance sighed and scratched the back of his neck. He was at a complete loss here. Silence wasn't his strong suit and it was starting to make him uncomfortable.

     "Lance!" A soft voice called out to him as he passed a hall. "What are you doing way over here? Off to see Princess Allura?" Lance stopped and blinked at her.

     "Hm? Oh, Vielli! Actually, I was. The Galran diplomats just arrived and I was taking them to see the princess." The Altean girl paused, her gray-blue eyes widening slightly as Keith and Shiro came into view. "And might I say you're looking particularly cute this morning. Was someone hoping to impress a prince?" Lance added as he noticed the shift her demeanor.

    "Wh-what? No!" She waved her hands frantically at him.

    "Don't worry, love," he said with a laugh, "That dress really does suit you though. It really brings out the color of your eyes." He gestured to the soft orange dress that hung loosely at the girl's hips.

    Vielli blushed and smiled. "Thank you! Um, well, you better get back to what you were doing." Lance checked over his shoulder again and made note of the agitated look on the prince's face.

    "Oh, yes. Sorry, sometimes beautiful women can be so distracting! I'll see you later then, Vielli." He winked at her and waved his goodbyes to the girl and started back on the journey to Allura.

     "Do you always forget your duties and flirt around?" The tone of the prince's voice was cold to Lance's ears, but the Altean boy simply tilted his head.

     "Everone deserves to be recognized for their efforts, whether it's in themselves or in what they do for others," Lance stated matter-of-factly, a sad smile playing on his lips. He assumed it was a well enough answer as the guard chuckled and the prince huffed.

     All of a sudden, the silence wasn't so bad.


 

     Lance did his best to contain the relieved sigh threatening to spill as the trio finally made it to the princess's study. 

     He knocked twice. "Princess Allura, Prince Keith has arrived." 

     The door swung open to reveal a bright-eyed Coran with a wide grin on his face.

     "Welcome to Castle Altea, young prince!" Coran bowed as he stepped aside from the three boys to pass.

     "I do apologize for not being able to greet you properly, Prince Keith, but with the summit only four days away.." Allura sounded genuinely disappointed in her inability to be a proper host.

     "It's alright, princess. If anyone understands the importance of this event as much, it would be the Galra. We will forever be in debt to Altea for its kindness."  He crossed his right arm over his chest and bowed. 

     Allura waved her hand. "Oh! Please don't think like that! Without your help, things would never have progressed so quickly! I believe it's thanks to your grandfather that any of this is possible to begin with."  

     The royals spoke for while longer. Mostly about the summit or what was to be expected in the coming week. Lance listened for a while, quietly observing the two talk. Allura was much more animated than Keith, waving her hands about in small gestures here and there. While the prince kept his hands neatly at his sides, only lifting them when he wanted to suggest an addition or slight change. The young Altean would be lying if he said he wasn't expecting some sort of aggression from the Galran prince. 

    When no fears were confirmed, Lance let his mind drift to the guard. He leaned next to the dark frame, a soft smile on his face. Somehow, Shiro looked rather pleased. Maybe he'd expected the same things Lance had? For one royal to overstep their bounds or for rumors to be confirmed. He'd heard many species refer to Alteans as a superficial and hoity race. Most assumed that they all behaved like spoiled brats.

    "You were expecting this to go differently, weren't you?" Lance must have startled the man, if the slight stuttering was any indication.

     "W-what? Of course not. I mean.." Shiro scratched the back of his neck, "Yes. I was. Prince Keith isn't exactly social and neither of us has met with an Altean before so all we know about your people are rumors and rumors, well.." he paused.

     "Rumors aren't always kind. That's why they're called rumors. I completely understand. I wasn't... I wasn't expecting this to go this well myself. The Princess doesn't handle confrontation as dignified as one would think. Just last year she punched a Duke for informing her that she needed a king to be able to rule properly." Lance was caught a little off guard by the soft laugh that escaped Shiro.

    "It seems we've both had our hands full when dealing with royalty." With that, it was quiet again between the two men.


 

    After the meeting between Allura and Keith had finally concluded, Lance had taken the Galra on a short tour. He showed them the room where the meetings will be held and where they would eat. He showed them the gardens and the ballroom, Lance even showed the two where the pool room was before finally making it around to their sleeping quarters.

    "And this is where you'll be staying. The princess had two rooms prepared, both with two beds. That way if you'd rather share a room, or sleep separately, the option was available. My own room is right over there, so don't hesitate to knock if you need anything." Lance smiled as he gestured from the dark oak that would be Keith and Shiro's rooms to one three doors down and across the hall.

    Keith was already in his room, door shut and locked, by the time Lance turned back around. It hurt his feelings a little, but he pushed the soft disappointment in himself aside. Shiro had said that the prince wasn't a social being.

     "He's just nervous. Or maybe a little jealous?" Well, that certainly caught the Altean off guard.

     "What? Jealous? Why?" 

     "Hmm, it's kinda hard to explain. Where we're from, everyone is serious. Always tense. Despite the workload your princess has, she seems to be pretty relaxed. Then there's the fact that omegan can't wander about free. They always have a beta or alpha with them for protection. Not that they can't take care of themselves, the Prince is probably just as capable, if not more so, than I at hand to hand combat," Shiro ran a hand through the tuft of pale bangs, "But you get to wander about freely here."

     Lance blinked. Was that why Keith had such an attitude when he spoke to him? He was jealous of Lance's freedom to wander?  Wait..

     "The Prince is an omega?! But..what?! I mean he's so intense! I wouldn't have pegged him as anything BUT an alpha!" 

     "Can't Alteans smell the difference?"

     "Not really. The only times we become sensitive to pheromones is when we're in heat." You really do learn something new every day.

    A screech sounded from inside the prince's room.

    "EAAH! THE HELL?!" Thud. Crash. Bang. Another shout, and, was that giggling?

    The door slid back and Keith tumbled out onto the floor between Shiro, who had pulled a small dagger from somewhere, and Lance, who looked concerned and dumbfounded.

    "What is-"

    "Momma!" Lance's eyes were dinner plates when he saw the mess of blonde hair in a little green dress sitting on the prince's back. "I got found!" He quickly picked the little girl up.

    "Katie! Wh-what are you doing way over here?! Where's Hunk and Mr. Slav?!" He looked nervously between Katie and the grumpy Galra on the floor.

    "'m best hider, momma!"

    "Momma? This whelp is your kid?!" Keith, who was being helped up by Shiro, glared, "Why was it in my room? And why did it attack me?!"

    Katie's attention returned to Keith when he spoke, a sparkle in her eyes as she made grabby hands at the disgruntled prince. "Kitty! Momma, big kitty," she then noticed Shiro, "EVEN BIGGER KITTY!"

    Lance struggled to keep hold of his daughter as she squirmed, "Ka-Katie! No! They're not kitties!" He readjusted his grip. "I-I am so sorry! She's supposed to be with her tutor."

    "Her tutor?" The words barely left Shiro's mouth before Keith shoved him away.

    "Who cares where she's supposed to be?! She attacked me!"

    "You found me," Katie wagger a little finger at the prince. "You gets hugs cause you win, lil' kitty."

    The Prince's fur fluffed but whatever was on his tongue was silenced by a startled cry.

     "Mister Lance! There's a 98.907% chance in this reality that I have lost Miss Kaitlyn," he paused and scratched his beak, "And a 47.7786% chance in this reality that I won't- Oh, you've found her. So we're in that reality. Good. That means that there is a 76.55% increase in the chance that this is the reality where the day ends well."

    Lance felt his eye twitch. "Slav," his tone was that of barely controlled anger, "Why was my daughter alone, at this end of the castles, the opposite end of where you're supposed to be tutoring her and her brother, and where is my son?"

    Oh, that's a scary smile.

    "There's an 80% chance in this reality he's still in the ventilation system, and a 68.009% chance he'll come out the same place as Miss Kaitlyn."

    "Why," Lance started, teeth grit together, "Is my son in the air vents?"

    Slav seemed to finally catch onto the fact that Lance was upset. Not sure why it took so long, there had to be a 100% chance in any reality where he lost the kids that Lance would be absolutely furious.    "S-Scuse' me, M-Mr. Sir.." Hunk peaked out of Keith's room, just enough for the others to see his mess of brown hair and wide brown eyes.

    Keith jumped with a hiss. "Another one?!" The moment he'd moved, Hunk made a mad dash for Lance's legs.

    "Oh! This is the reality that that has a 92% chance of this day ending on a very good note! Whatever you do, do not eat blueberries tonight." Lance shot Slav a glare as the multi-armed alien scurried off mumbling about bad berries.

    "I'm sorry, mama, we were playing and Pidge she found a loose vent and opened it and then she crawled in 'fore I could stop her and Mr.Slav was too big to fit and so I went in and tried to catch her but I couldn't and.. and.." Hunk rambled on, his face buried in Lance's pant leg.

    Lance adjusted Katie on his hip before kneeling. He gently placed his hand on top of Hunk's head. "Shh. It's okay," he said softly as he stroked his son's hair. "It's okay."

    "No, it's not!" Of course, how could they forget about the prince?

    "Keith," Shiro finally stepped in, "They're kids. There's no need to be harsh."

    "But they-"

    "Keith." His tone was final.

    "Fine." Was the prince pouting?


 

    "I really am sorry about earlier." Things had settled, Keith decided to take the other room and left Shiro with the first. "This is the first time they've done this and I swear it won't happen again. They're good kids, just, well, curious?" Lance rubbed the back of his neck, shocked that it wasn't raw with how often he'd done it that day.

    "It's alright, Lance, really. The prince is just a little unsettled is all. He's not used to kits. He grew up pretty isolated and has no siblings." Shiro shook his head, "In any case, he probably won't come out for a bit. I should get his food. Would you mind showing back to the kitchens? I'm afraid I don't quite remember where they were." Nice change of subject there. Can't reveal too much to someone he barely knows.

    "Of course, right this way."


 

     It felt less awkward this time around. Shiro still seemed guarded, but, at the same time, he seemed much more relaxed. Lance wondered if it was due to the prince's lack of being there or if he was just getting used to Lance and the castle. Either way, the tanned Altean liked him much better like this. 

     They actually talked along the way this time. Well, they sort of talked. It was mostly Lance asking about what life was like on Daibazaal.

     "So, you said that omegas need escorts on Daibazaal, right? Is it that dangerous to wander around there?" It was a simple question with a loaded answer.

     "Well, yes and no. There are still those who see omegas as less than other people," Shiro spoke softly as he ran a hand through his hair. "Under Zarkon's rule, things were," he paused, "Things were different. Darker. He ruled for decades. Some people just a hard time letting things go."

    Lance didn't need to hear any more to get the gist of what Shiro meant. He'd lived with Jeruon long enough to at least sort of read between the lines.

    They were silent for the restof their short trip, the both of them too caught up in their own heads to really talk.

    For the first time in more than a week, Lance's mind filled with thoughts of his ex. He wondered what the alpha was doing right then. Had he moved on to some other poor omega or was he raging that Lance had dared to not only leave, but hit him back before doing so? Was he eating alright? Without Lance, there was no one to cook or clean or do the laundry or pack his suitcase.

    Lance brought his hand to his chest and clutched the fabric of his shirt. He wasn't worried about Jeruon. He didn't miss his abuser. No, that wasn't what was happening. There was no way that was this was.

    "-ce," No, that wasn't right. He didn't care what Jeruon was doing. He didn't care if the man was hungry or hurt or alone. He didn't want to go back. To check on the him.

    "-ance," No, no, no, no! He didn't want to go back to that! He didn't-

    "Lance!"  Lance jumped, eyes he didn't know he closed shooting open. He stared at the Galran with startled wide eyes and blurred vision.

    "Are you alright? You're crying..." Shiro reached out and gently cupped the Altean's face. Lance flinched slightly at the touch, mind still on the alpha he left behind. Shiro's brow furrowed, eyes full of worry, lips pressed into a thin line.

    Everything was still for a moment. Lance's sapphire eyes locked with the soft gold of Shiro's. Lance quickly came to his senses, a soft blush tinging his cheeks, and shook his head.

    "I'm sorry. I'm fine. Just got lost in my thoughts is all." He wiped away the tears the moment Shiro's hand fell away from his face. When Shiro didn't seem to believe him, he changed the subject.

    "Ahem. Anyways, the kitchen is right up here." He was walking before he'd even finished, pointing to this and that, reminding Shiro which way went where, ignoring the twinge in his chest at the honesty in those golden orbs.