Actions

Work Header

I Might Make You Walk the Plank

Chapter Text

 

0{}=========> 

 

“They’re gaining on us, cap’n,” Hunk calls from the gangway, treading carefully like he always does as he jogs between the forecastle and the quarterdeck. He shouts another order, and the crew of the Blue Lion obeys the captain’s First Mate as they run quite a bit faster to get to their posts, tugging ropes and securing sails. They spit and crack knuckles before buckling down, all born sailors, and all of them masters of the art.

From her post up in the crow’s nest, Pidge, the crew’s one and only  lookout, leans down to get a look at the deck where men and women are hard at work. She’d spotted the ship long ago, but it’s only now that the crew has really gotten down to business.

God only knows why their captain is standing calmly at the wheel, not saying a word. It’s not that the crew doesn’t trust Hunk (really, he’s more than qualified to be giving orders) but captain McClain should really be doing more than looking at the slowly growing shape on the water.

 

 

“What the hell is Lance doing?” Hunk mutters under his breath.

Really, it’s just another normal day of trying to avoid trouble. And on a normal day, they don’t succeed at avoiding trouble.

The boats looms a ways off in the distance, but there’s no mistaking it.

“Lanc-- captain!” Pidge corrects herself before shouting down to the main deck.

The captain looks up, and even from all the way up in the crow’s nest Pidge can see a certain glint in his eyes. She knows that look.

Lance McClain, youngest man to ever captain the Blue Lion, is hiding something.

 

Everyone, sailor or landwalker or a whichever, has heard stories of the Red Sword.

 

0{}=======>

 

It hadn’t taken long for the Blue Lion to be boarded by the unwelcome pirate crew.

Keith Kogane himself is among them, and Lance can’t help but stare a little.

Yeah, he hasn’t changed much since they last clashed swords.

That… that isn’t a euphemism. They literally challenged each other to a duel (winner won two trunks of gold).

Lance had won.

Lance can’t help it, he loves a challenge. And he loves to win.

 

Now there’s a full on battle of swords and knives and fists on his ship, all of his crewmen and women locked in combat. He doesn’t see any downed bodies, which is a good sign. But the fight is only a few minutes in, and all Lance wants to do is find Kogane, talk with him. Offer to chat over dinner, maybe.

There hadn’t been any sort of diplomacy, the fight just sort of… happened. He doesn't like it any more than the rest of his crew, but if he can talk to captain Kogane, then this might all be worth it.

 

Hunk is battling it out with one of the most skilled fighters of the Red Sword, and he's losing.

“Pidge!” Hunk calls from the gangway, locked in a fisticuffs match with some pirate wearing a red monocle. One of the man's arms is missing, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped him from getting the upper hand in the fight.

Without a thought, Pidge unsheathes one of her two knives and tosses one towards Hunk, where it pierces into the wood of the deck with a satisfying thunk.

Hunk salutes her and grabs for the knife, yanking it out of the deck just in time to miss a hit from his opponent.

Right on cue, Pidge swings down on a rope from out of fucking nowhere and kicks the man in the chest, with so much force that he goes flying over the side of the ship. The man shouts, but it's too late for him. They hear an almighty splash coming from the side of the ship.

Hunk gapes. "Pidge, you're freaking amazing," he says by way of thanks. 

Pidge shrugs. "You're welcome." The she turns to look out onto the water, grinning. “Tell those sharks I said Hi!” she calls down over the rail, giving a cheeky wave at the pirate thrashing in the water.

Shit, Pidge thinks, for someone who spends their whole life on a boat, that guy really should’ve learned how to swim. She shrugs again and grabs the nearest rope to return to her place in the crow's nest. Maybe from up there, she'll be able to find her captain somewhere in the flurry of brawling bodies and flashing blades and blood mixed with spit.

-Meanwhile, Lance is still searching.

Everyone else seems to be otherwise preoccupied, but Lance has no opponent. He’ll find him….

 

Aha. And there he is.

 

Keith Kogane lurks near the captain’s quarters like a snake, perhaps thinking that Lance has retreated to his cabin to avoid getting his perfect face nicked with a blade.

He really should've expected that Lance would know his way around his own ship.

He comes up behind Keith without a sound, and yanks him back by the shoulders of his leather doublet.

Keith yelps, before a hand slaps over his mouth.

 

That’s how Keith suddenly finds himself in the captain’s quarters, face to face with one grinning Lance McClain, captain of the Blue Lion himself.

 

0{}==========>

 

 

Being unarmed doesn’t bother Keith all that much.

He’s trained for combat in more ways than one, but there’s just something about not having his knife at his belt that makes him feel naked. He tossed his sword to Shiro, his First Mate and brother, in the heat of the fight, and now, all he’s got is his hands. And his brainpower.

 

Lance holds up the knife in question and wiggles it in the air, just out of Keith’s reach. Keith makes a snatch for it anyway, and it’s pulled back further. Teasing.

“Ah ah,” Lance says, holding the knife up for inspection, winking at his own reflection in the blade. “...Not until we talk.” He sounds too lighthearted for the matter at hand.

Lance never does follow the rules.

Keith stares. “Talk,” he deadpans. “About?”

“About how you need to stop harassing my crew, Kogane.”

Keith knows he can keep his cool. He can hold his own around Lance McClain, no problem.

He just wants his damn knife back. And the gold, too. And maybe a few other things, but he hardly has the time.

It’s so dark in here. Keith wouldn’t mind, except he’s got a very dangerous man in front of him. Dangerous because he’s a skilled fighter and marksman, and dangerous because every time Keith sees him, he wonders if what he’s feeling in his chest is something he should really talk to his ship’s medic about.

But Keith can be dangerous, too. Incredibly dangerous.

“You up for a deal, Kogane?” Lance breathes in the ear of the Red Sword’s very own captain-- who is not turning pink at the ears, no sir.

Pirates do not blush .

“Don’t you dare start this with me, McClain,” Keith Kogane hisses back, pulling himself away and already prepared to fight. The other man looks put out, but not enough to step back.

“I thought a pirate like yourself would appreciate something a little more, I dunno, thrilling?” he says with a shrug. There’s something in his voice, something that makes Keith want to let his guard down, even though he ends up doing no such thing.

Keith eyes him up and down, forgetting about the fight raging out on deck. At least the fight wasn’t brought to his own ship, this time. But he looks at McClain, who has, unfortunately, not changed at all since the last time they met.

And the last time they met, Keith lost an entire trunk of gold and two members of his crew. (They weren’t killed, thankfully. Lance had simply offered them a job that they couldn’t refuse).

His eyes narrow. “What could you possibly have that’s worth more than what I’ll be paying if I don’t return to Zarkon with your head on a plate of gold?” he spits.

“I want to make a deal with you,” Lance says quickly, waving the hand that isn’t holding onto Keith’s knife. He looks so entreating, standing there with his rugged pair of boots and greaves, and the loose, white shirt underneath his signature suede waistcoat. No doublet. No hat. Just Lance McClain, true to his name and swashbuckling without even trying. No sailor could ever stand a chance.

Keith does his damn best.

“It’s a deal that involves you, running in the opposite direction of Zarkon,” says Lance, staring at Keith for some sort of reaction. “You just gotta trust me.”

Is he serious?

“You can’t expect it to be that easy,” Keith says, without thinking.

“There’s no way you’re on hundred percent loyal to Zarkon,” Lance argues quietly, but Keith won’t have it.

“How would you know?” he says, vicious, and he lifts his chin in disdain, because damn it if he’ll let himself be screwed with like this. His brain can’t handle that. “How would you know anything? This is so much more complicated than you could possibly wrap your head around.”

“I think it isn’t as complicated as you make it out to be,” Lance tries. How could he possibly be that perceptive?

Keith scoffs. “Jesus, maybe I should’ve forgotten about you completely. You know I’m not here by choice, right?”

Lance grins devilishly, his eyes hooded. “What?” he says, cocking his head. His gaze stands out more stark against darkly tanned skin. “Don’t tell me you haven’t been seeing me in your dreams since the last time we saw each other? I could’ve sworn that was why you came back.” His tongue flicks out quickly to wet his lips, and it’s too sensual for it to be an accident.

Keith growls. In the threshold of the captain’s quarters, the light from outside is mostly blocked off. Shadows dance oddly over their faces, but it’s impossible to ignore McClain’s face, his eyes and jaw, his sharp nose and sharper eyes. He’s too intelligent for his own good. A master sailor and a trickster. God, Keith wants to drown the bastard. Or fuck him. Or maybe both, but not necessarily in that order.

His job is only to take what he was sent to take, anyway. All the gold on the ship. As many talented crew members as possible. Captain Lance McClain’s head pickled in seawater. The usual, as far as commands from the Emperor go.

It’s not… it’s not that Keith enjoys being under Zarkon’s rule, it’s just that out here on the open sea, he’s got a lot more leeway to do his own thing than most people who answer to Zarkon’s beck and call.

The fact that he gets to watch McClain’s pretty face fall when he says what he says next is just a bonus.

“You’re right,” he whispers, stepping back towards Lance with the ghost of a smile on his face. Now he’ll play with him, he thinks, because Lance always plays him. Lance McClain, captain of the Blue Lion and perhaps the most beguiling human Keith has (and most other people have) ever met, always plays Keith for the fool.

Not today.

“Oh?” Lance says, real surprise painting his face. He doesn’t move away when Keith draws in, leaning over to whisper in his ear. Lance shivers.

“I have been seeing you in my dreams,” Keith breathes, letting his breath ghost over the other man’s cheek, reveling in the way some of that mischief dies in Lance’s eyes. “Every single night.”

Shit…” Lance murmurs. In the dimness, the blue looks almost black. The mischievous light is replaced with curiosity. Heat.

But also… caution. There’s something calculating in the way Lance’s eyes flick across Keith’s face but never look away.

Keith smirks and watches for a reaction, knowing that the famous Lance McClain would never let someone outsmart him. Out-seduce him. And maybe Keith’s a little out of practice, but damn it if he doesn’t love to play a few of his own games every once in a blue moon. “Every night, just before I go to bed,” he whispers, and notices the tiniest shiver run through Lance, “I lie in bed, staring up at the ceiling and you know what I picture?” he says, reaching a hand towards Lance’s waist so gently, so carefully, Lance doesn’t even notice. “I picture you, giving me the most perfect thing I could ever imagine--” In a flash, Lance’s sword is out of his belt and in Keith’s hand, and then the pointy end is pointed directly at his carotid artery faster than he can say “gangplank.”

“Your surrender,” Keith finishes.

His eyes lock with Lance’s, triumphant.

For a beat, the silence just hangs, and hangs.

And then the sounds of a battle raging bloody outside finally return.

 

0{}========>

 

 

Lance doesn’t know why he let Keith Kogane play him like that -- god damn, he played Lance like a fucking violin -- but he sure hadn’t minded hearing the captain of the Red Sword talk to him like that.

But life is short, and Lance’s might turn out even shorter if he tries to put up a fight now, without a plan.

But he’ll think of one.

He always thinks of one.

Keith just about drags Lance by the collar of his blue, suede waistcoat -- Lance McClain dresses down for a ship’s captain, Keith noticed the first time they’d met -- and hauls him onto the main deck, sword still pointed at the man’s throat.

“Attention!” he barks.

Only a few brawling sailors stop what they’re doing, turning to look at the source of the command. A few spot Keith, then catch sight of Lance. Those belonging to Lance’s crew blanch and immediately drop their swords. Their opponents don’t try to take advantage of that, funnily enough.

Lance catches Hunk in the mix, bright yellow bandana standing out from the rest of the crowd as he knocks a man out cold with his bare fist.

Everyone,” Lance calls out, and it’s not necessarily that he’s loud as he’s just got a very resonant voice, and more than a few people also cease with the weapons as they spot Lance in a very compromising position.

The hush spreads.

Hunk finally turns around and spots his captain. His eyes go wide.

He suddenly looks terrified.

Lance thinks the poor guy might go into a rage at the mere sight of it, but he hopes not. His First Mate’s life is worth so much more. The life of every single member of his crew is worth more than his, he thinks. He would die for them. But he would really rather not have to watch anyone die for him. So he keeps up the brave face and gives Hunk a wink, and doesn’t think about how that probably won’t make his First Mate feel any better about the situation.

Keith ignores the fact that Lance is much better at getting everyone’s attention than he is.

“Your captain has been captured,” Keith announces, although that much is obvious. Lance can feel an eye roll coming on. “You will do as I say, or you will watch him die.”

“Geez, and here I was thinking we had something for a minute,” Lance mutters with the tip of his own sword still pointed at him.

“Shut up, McClain,” Keith hisses back, quietly enough that the crowd looking up at them won’t hear. He does raise his voice to say, “You will hand over all the gold you have on this ship, and you will also send forward three of your best fighters. If anyone tries anything, your captain swims with the sharks.”

Lance snorts bitterly. “I can swim just fine on my own, thanks.”

“Really?” Keith bites back, pressing the sword tip into the skin of Lance’s neck, just a little. “Because I hear it’s quite difficult to keep yourself afloat with chains around your arms and legs.”

“Damn,” Lance purrs, not about to give in to fear tactics. “Chains? Sounds pretty kinky.”

Keith tries not to look absolutely furious. And if he presses the sword into Lance’s flesh a little bit more firmly, he doesn’t care.

“Well?” he bellows at the stock-still crowd, all waiting for further instruction, apparently. “Your gold and your best fighters, now.”

Lance’s crew scrambles to follow the orders of the man holding their beloved captain hostage. Hunk gives Lance one last, desperate look, but then tears his gaze away. As second in command, he holds the responsibility of rounding up three of their best swordsmen. And he doesn’t look happy about it. But his hands are tied.

 

 

Ten minutes later, two trunks heavy with loot sit at Keith Kogane’s feet. He kicks at one of the trunk lids with a leather boot, and flips it open.

A hefty collection of gold pieces, precious stones and jewelry shine in their case, and Keith allows himself a small smile.

Just this once, Zarkon won’t punish them for a poor job.

Not that the Emperor will be happy, necessarily, but he sure won’t be mad. Consider that a success in Keith’s book. He looks up and notices the three strangers standing in front of him, two men and one woman.

Hunk steps forward. His face is blank.

Lance looks at the three members of his crew that he knows he’ll have a lot of trouble being without.

“Rax,” he says, looking at the first man, burly and forlorn. Rax looks at him with sad eyes. He may be an incredibly skilled fighter and excellent sailor to boot, but he’s also a softie and one of Lance’s trusted friends. He schools his expression and wishes there was another way. He turns to look at the other two. “Rolo. Nyma.” Rolo and Nyma bow their heads, respectful of their captain.

Nyma is the first to look at Keith, eyes aflame. “We will never work for Zarkon willingly,” she says, and spits at Keith’s feet.

Keith doesn’t bat an eye. “Willingness doesn’t matter,” he says evenly, and doesn’t even give her or Rolo the courtesy of eye contact. “Zarkon will figure out what to do with you.”

“I’ll bring them back, that’s a promise,” Lance says. He’s seething.

And he means it. Even if it takes a few weeks, or a few months, he’ll get these three back.

And in the meantime, he’ll be planning his own bit of payback.

“Watch it, McClain,” Keith says, a smirk in his voice. “Or I might just make you walk the plank.”

 

0{}=========>

 

More than a few lives are spared on account of Lance’s hostage situation.

 

Keith lets him go as soon as Rax, Rolo, Nyma, and the gold have all made their way onto the Red Sword.

Lance watches with a fire burning in his heart. It hurts to watch them go -- the gold doesn’t matter. His crew is worth more than all the gold in the world.

Then Keith sheathes his swords (well, Lance’s sword) and backs away from Lance, a placid smile on his face. Lance hates that face. Stupid and too pale for a sailor. Certainly too pretty.

“If you try to follow us, we’ll open canonfire,” Keith threatens blandly. “And don’t think I’ll hesitate.”

“Likewise,” says Lance, eyebrow quirking.

 

0{}=========>

 

When the ships are far enough that Keith can just make out the figures of the Blue Lion's crew shuffling around on deck, his eyes catch sight of movement coming from up in the mess of ropes stretching from the crow’s nest.

 

He doesn’t need an eyeglass to know it’s Lance. He’s fairly high up, high enough that he won’t be ignored, and he’s waving something around, something… shiny.

Wait a minute--

Panicked, Keith pats himself down, searching frantically for his knife and realizes all too late that-- Shit. It’s gone.

He looks back up, back at the sight of Lance holding himself up with one hand on the rope, legs hooked around it like an acrobat. The other hand waves the object -- Keith’s knife -- in the air like a prize.

And Keith Kogane doesn’t need an eyeglass to see the trademark, devilish grin on Lance McClain’s gorgeous, infuriating face.

Oh, he’ll get it back.

 

Chapter Text

 

Two weeks later

 

Lance swallows, fidgeting as he fixes his coat again. It’s a nice coat, leather and worn, but still suitable enough for a meeting with the Queen. He hopes. A knife that isn't his hangs in a sheath at his belt, making him think about things and people he shouldn't be thinking about.

God, he really messed up this time. Allura is going to behead him, probably, or at the very least she won’t allow him back onto the water until he’s found himself a few extra crew members to keep an eye on him -- which he really would prefer not to have. Worse, she might ban him from ever stepping foot on a boat again.

If that’s the case, he supposes he’ll just have to make a run for it, consequences be damned.

He looks around and suddenly Hunk is there, a reassuring smile on his face. A small smile but it does the trick, anyway.

“Hunk, if I die,” Lance jokes lightly, with half a smile of his own, “make sure you take good care of my ship.”

Hunk snorts. “You’re not gonna die. You’re just in trouble with the Queen.”

Lance blinks.

“Yeah, yeah she might kill you a little bit,” Hunk says, laughing nervously.

Lance refrains from rolling his eyes and gives his first mate a hearty enough slap on the back, trying to keep his and Hunk’s spirits high.

“Always nice to know I can count on ya for moral support.”

“Hey, always happy to help.”

Someone clears their throat from behind. Lance and Hunk both turn to see one of the royal guards walking over, a dull look on his face.

“The Queen will see you now.”

With a resigned nod, Lance gives Hunk one more look, before turning to follow the guard. Hunk tries to follow, but another guard lowers his rapier in front of his face and gives him a stern glare. “The queen will see only him,” the guard says firmly, mustache twitching.

Hunk raises his hands defensively, but he backs off. “Sure, sure.”

He watches as Lance is led from the foyer and through the sturdy set of doors, which open with a heavy sound that echoes into the throne room. Hunk is left to wait back in the foyer with a few more guards.

 

It’s funny, after years and years of knowing and working alongside Lance, Hunk has come to terms with the fact that no matter what, the man will always find a way into trouble.

But the upside to Lance is, he usually also finds a way out of it.

 

0{}=========>

 

Allura doesn’t sit on her throne. She paces in front of it.

Her advisor, Coran, stands restlessly next to the throne, clearly pretending he isn’t wholly interested in the conversation about to take place. Other than Coran and two silent guards, there’s no one else.

By now, the entire court has caught wind of captain McClain’s... shall we say, ‘slip up?’ After all, mistakes do happen. It’s just that they’re a bit harder to forgive when they happen to reflect poorly on the royal family themselves. Allura is the last of her family, and so the weight of it bears heavily on her shoulders. One mistake might as well equate to a thousand.

Hence, the pacing.

The guards leave Lance to stand alone in the middle of the throne room. Perhaps to await Judgment. Perhaps to have tea.

He can never be sure with Allura these days.

 

Ever since the death of Alfor only three years ago, Allura’s been a changed woman. More cautious. More irritable. But no less kind, and no less fair.

Really, Lance can’t blame her for her caution or her temper (although, her temper has always been a little on the short side). He loves Allura, respects her to pieces, and he would gladly die for her. Seriously, he would. It comes with the territory of being one of her allies, a member of her court - indirectly - as well as one of her friends. Yes, Lance considers the Queen herself to be his friend.

The chateau feels empty, lately. Stone and wood and metal, quiet maids and stoic guards. Life on land, even on the coast where the air is thick with salt and the sound of waves crashing against high cliffs, gets stale after spending so much of your life at sea, Lance thinks.

 

“Shall we move this conversation outside?” Allura asks knowingly.

Without waiting for a reply, she turns on her heel and strides over to one of the archways leading outside, to one of the chateau’s seaside balconies.

Lance follows her closely, happy for some fresh air and the sea in his sight.

He steps out into the sun and breathes deeply, coming to stand next to the Queen, who has gone still. A blue and white dress that's too heavy for the weather flutters in the wind, the train ending at her ankles to reveal that she's wearing plain sandals. It's not very Queen-ly. Lance doesn't comment on it.

From here, he can see everything; the docks, the cliffs standing high as they’re kissed roughly by salty waves and seafoam. Boats in the harbor. A market bustling down below, only a little ways off in the distance, far enough that the sounds of merchants and screaming babies and traveling singers are just muffled noise, intermingled with the crash of waves.

They stand side by side, alone even though Coran makes it his mission to stand just within the archway, parchment in hand for want of something to keep occupied while the queen and Lance talk amongst themselves.

“I swore I would get them back,” Lance murmurs, staring out over the water and wishing he could be back on his ship. His crew is down there, waiting for him. “Nyma. Rolo. Rax. When they were taken by those pirates-”

“I heard they were recruited,” Allura interrupts, “not so much taken.

“They had no choice,” Lance argues. The heavy tail of his coat whips in a sudden breeze. Warm. It’s a beautiful day. “No say in the matter at all. I can’t just abandon them.” He lays his hands on the balcony rail, palms up and shoulders tense, fully prepared to argue his case, and argue it well. Damn it, he wants his crew safe.

“If your only other option is to enter Zarkon’s territory,” Allura says, “perhaps it is in our best interests that you stay put. Remain safe.” She gives Lance a sidelong glance and sighs. “I’ve lost too many people I care for already.”

Lance’s shoulders fall. His new, tight boots he’d commissioned specially for this meeting pinch his toes and he shifts from side to side. Breathing deeply, he tries again.

“Your highness, if I may,” he says, “I respectfully request your permission to get my shipmates back. They’re incredibly valuable members of my crew and enormously skilled fighters.” His voice is soft, coaxing, begging Allura to see reason. “And my friends.”

Allura’s brow is set in a stern line. She’s still frowning, from what Lance can make out as he stands next to her with his head inclined towards her, but he has hope.

“I will not let one of my best men, one of the royal family’s most valuable seamen,” Lance is sure she means ‘spies,’ but he lets it go anyway, “go after the likes of pirates.”

That little bit of hope he’s holding onto starts to dwindle.

“Not without a contingency and certainly not without help.”

It takes just a second for Lance to process.

Slowly, a grin creeps up on his lips as the rest of his face lights up. The hope returns.

When he looks back at Allura, he can see the faintest trace of a knowing smile glinting in her eyes. Her expression hasn’t changed, but Lance has always been good at reading people, especially Allura.

And yes, she is absolutely giving him her permission.

“You saying you’re gonna let me go, then?” he asks, just to be safe.

Allura quirks an eyebrow. She lifts her chin, shoulders back as she stands tall and angles herself until she’s looking Lance in the eye. “Something tells me that you would have gone after your shipmates with or without my permission.” Then she shoots Lance a look .

Lance only shrugs. “Hey, your words, your highness. Not mine.”

“Mhmm…”

“Am I free to leave now, then?”

With a sigh, Allura looks over to where Coran still stands. He’s been pretending to scribble something down onto a thick roll of parchment, but he immediately drops the act when he catches sight of the queen looking at him. He gives a cough, and looks from Allura, to Lance.

“Not quite,” he says to the both of them. “Give me twenty four hours to find you some extra deck hands -- then you may be on your way.”

“You’re the best, Coran,” Lance says, throwing the man a little salute. Coran winks.

“Anything for my favorite sailor.”

Lance catches Allura frowning. “Apologies, your highness. You are also the best.”

The frown lessens.

“You have two months,” she says. “I will personally see to it that you have all the supplies and food that you need before you depart tomorrow.”

Grateful, Lance steps back from the rough balcony rail and bows deeply, a courtesy he never forgets because hey, it’s custom, but also because he knows Allura always gets uncomfortable when people make a show of it. And Lance, being Lance, always makes a show of it.

The day they met, he’d made a show of it. Hell, he’d like to think he’d won over Altea’s one and only princess that day. But alas and alack, it turned out she hadn’t been interested.

“I’ll be back in two months,” he swears. “With my entire crew.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

 

0{}=========>

 

“We’d like to speak with your captain.”

Pidge looks up from where she sits with her back against a barrel of fish. Before her stands four tough-looking, burly people who are either blacksmiths or sailors. The four of them all look down at Pidge expectantly.

Groaning, Pidge stands up, rolling her shoulders. She was just enjoying her break, did she have to interact with strangers now? It couldn’t wait until she’d at least had a nap?

“The hell are you?” she asks, because she’s tired.

She looks between the four of them to figure out which one spoke to her. Three out of the four are women, so at least the guy is ruled out. Between the other three, there are two very tall women with swirling tattoos that lace around muscled arms. Their eyes are bright. Out of the three, the tallest and the shortest appear to be very young. Eighteen, maybe.

The shortest woman might lack in height, but she makes up for it in pure bulk. She looks like she could lift a ship’s anchor above her head, no question. Only one tattoo graces her body, on the side of her calf, visible because she’s cut her trouser legs just below her knees. A small, inked picture of some kind of crystal - it’s stunning.

Pidge thinks this must be the one who asked to speak with the captain.

“We were sent by the queen to accompany you on your voyage to save your kidnapped shipmates,” the shorter woman says. Yeah, she’s the one.

“You got a name, lady?” Pidge asks, and stifles a yawn.

The woman gives her a funny look, but thankfully, she doesn’t snap at Pidge for her rudeness. Most sailors are worse with manners, anyway.

“My name is Shay,” she answers. “These are my friends and fellow shipmates; Klay,” she gestures towards the one man standing in the mix, maybe forty or maybe older by Pidge’s estimates, “Plaxum,” a nod towards the woman on her left, who must also be around forty-something and the second tallest out of the bunch. “And this is Florona,” Shay cants her head towards the third woman, towering strong at what must be more than six feet tall.

Pidge tells herself not to stare, even though the woman looks like a goddess of a character out of a war story. Powerful stance, wide shoulders, and piercing eyes. Florona smiles down at Pidge. “Pleasure to meet you,” she says. “My queen, Luxia, sent me and Plaxum here to help in any way we can. We have been allies of Altea since before Alfor - may he rest in peace - was even crowned king.”

Pidge steps forward to shake hands. “Good to know we can count on allies when we need ‘em,” she says with a crooked grin.

She hears Shay giggle, and turns. “What?” Pidge asks.

“Oh!” Shay shakes her head. “It’s nothing, just…” she looks up to Plaxum, then back down at Pidge.

Ahh, yes, the height difference. Adorable.

Pidge hates it when people pick on her for her height.

Why else would she choose to hang out in the crow’s nest all day? (Well, because it’s extremely fun, but yes, also to be taller than the entire crew of the Blue Lion. But whatever).

Shay must’ve caught the look on Pidge’s face, because she quickly adds, “No no, I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just-- I mean, I’ve always felt short next to these two as well.” She bites her lip and cringes, possibly hoping she hasn’t made things worse.

With a soft snort, Pidge shakes her head, like she’s fine with it. Honestly? It really is fine. “I get it,” she says. “I make you feel better about being short. Hey, join the club. We have style.” She points to the single hoop earring hanging from her ear, the one she only wears for special occasions. Visiting Altea after three months at sea is certainly a special occasion.

Shay gets the message and laughs wholeheartedly, her own hoop earrings swinging gently as she does.

Plaxum’s eyes crinkle to show off pronounced crow’s feet as she laughs, and Florona giggles with the contagious sounds of their combined laughter. Klay smirks, but doesn’t laugh along.

“Well uh, thank you all for being here,” Pidge says, pointedly looking at Klay while she does. “I know our captain will really, really appreciate the help. We’re gonna need it.”

“I just hope your cap’n is as good as they say he is,” Klay says gruffly. His face, weatherworn and suntanned, looks like leather that wasn’t hung right, before getting tossed over a skull that was too small for all the extra material. His eyes are large and dark, with a scar faded to white just below the left one. “I have yet to meet the legendary Lance McClain.”

“That’s captain Lance McClain,” a voice says. Footsteps echo on wood as the captain himself makes his way on board, just as the four new arrivals turn around quickly. He winks when he sees them all staring. “I assume you’re here to give me an extra hand on the trip, eh?” His gaze flicks sharply from one person to the next, sizing them up with a lazy smile.

Florona blushes when his eyes fall on her, but Plaxum catches it and elbows her in the ribs. With a ‘guh!’ Florona turns to glare daggers back at her superior. Shay sighs.

“You’re him, eh?” Klay asks. He doesn’t sound very impressed.

Lance holds out his arms in a welcoming gesture. “The one and only.”

“Hmph..” it’s clear that Klay is judging Lance on looks alone, and he’s taking his time. Dark eyes fall to Lance’s dress boots, to the lack of a doublet over the blue waistcoat, and finally to the lack of a captain’s hat.

Or any hat, for that matter.

“Guess they were right about one thing,” he says, voice coarse like he once swallowed a bag of sand and never recovered.

“Oh?” Lance says with a self-satisfied smirk. “What do they say about me? Tall? Strong? Dashingly handsome? The most beautiful smile to grace the seven seas?”

“Young.”

“...Young?”

“Quite.” Klay reaches up to scratch his nose. It’s clear where his opinions lie, and it’s not on either extreme.

Apathetic would be a good word for him. Or bitter and crotchety, but Lance does his best not to judge by a person’s age.

He makes a hm sound from the back of his throat. Yeah, he's not completely new to reactions like Klay's. “Okay then. Yeah, guess they are right. Whoever ‘they’ is.”

“He’s from my home kingdom, Balmera,” Shay quickly intercedes, stepping forward with a look of apology on her face. “He’s here with me. And this is Plaxum and Florona.”

The other two step forward to introduce themselves.

 

Introductions aside, Lance gets down to the business of showing Allura’s new recruits to their quarters on the ship, informs them of when they’ll be departing and for where, and tries not to let his heart sink a little when none of them look pleased to hear it.

“Zarkon’s territory?” Plaxum says. Her voice reflects how the rest of them must be feeling. Lance had already informed the rest of his crew where they’d be heading, and true to form, the men and women working aboard the Blue Lion were all in, and fuck the outcome. Truly one of the greatest crews out there, Lance would have to say.

“It’s where they’re holding three of my crew.”

“You’re going to sail a ten week’s journey in two months, are yeh?” Klay chimes in unhelpfully.

Lance’s smile falters but he hides his own doubts with a shrug of his shoulders. “What? Never heard the stories of the Blue Lion?” He extends an arm and spins in a circle, as if to gesture to the collective ship and its sailors. “We’re kind of legendary, my good sir.” Man, he really wants to laugh at the dubious look on Klay’s leathery face. “But I guess you’ll just have to wait and see. I’m sure you’ll be the judge of that once we make it to the Galra Empire and back with a week to spare.”

Just then, the wind picks up.

From the bow, a younger boy comes running up to meet Lance, his bandana slipping a little.

“Zack!” Lance says with a friendly smile. “My favorite cabin boy.”

“I’m your only cabin boy.”

“My favorite favorite cabin boy,”  Lance chuckles. “Just in time, little man. Have you met our newest shipmates?”

Zack looks at the odd team of four standing in the space in front of the gangplank. Bored, his attention refocuses on the captain.

“I was just talking with Dez. He says we might have to stay another night here on account ‘f a storm brewin’. Thought I’d better let ya know sooner rather than later.”

As if on cue, the sky darkens. Lance’s keen ears pick out a gentle roll of thunder off in the distance.

Perfect, he thinks bitterly. It’s like the universe just can’t let me have anything nice.

 

0{}=========>

 

The Emperor isn’t happy.

Granted, he’s not mad, either, but Keith will take what he can get. And as long as Shiro isn’t on the receiving end of any punishment, then he’ll count it as a win. In truth, he’d prefer death over watching his brother suffer like he did three years ago.

Never again.

 

Never again.

 

And he can’t leave. Sure, he can explore the seven seas and sail wherever he wants - within the time constraints he's given - but he knows he’ll never be free from Zarkon’s rule.

Because Keith knows something that he shouldn’t. Something very, very sensitive.

Emperor Zarkon has his own secret. One that Keith wishes he didn't know. Just like most of the Empire, Keith had been blissfully ignorant - sure he'd suspected foul things all around with the Emperor, but this secret... it wasn't something you could just guess. Keith couldn't know.

Not until Shiro figured it out.

And the punishment had not been light, once Zarkon discovered what Shiro knew. The outcome?

Not death, surprisingly.

No, Shiro and Keith are working off two life debts, and Keith knows that if he wasn’t the best pirate to exist in over a hundred years, he’d already be dead. Job security has never been more crucial to himself or his brother.

 

“The captain of the Blue Lion,” Zarkon growls.

Keith can feel the beads of sweat already forming at his temples but he bites the inside of his cheek and tells himself that he didn't step out of line. He's done nothing wrong. Maybe he let one of Altea's best sailors walk free, but he'd still gotten something - and that has to count now, right? “Yes?” he says coolly.

The Emperor sits stiffly in his throne, never lounging. He’s too old to act like an entitled, twenty-one year old brat about to inherit the throne. His son already does that. No, Zarkon sits like a king who knows he’s a king, who knows he has power and has no desire to prove it, because he simply doesn’t need to.

He has an Empire that spans multiple countries, multiple seas. Wealth beyond what any other kingdom has ever come close to.

“He’s still alive, I presume.”

“Yes,” Keith answers immediately, because he knows he can't lie to the Emperor. He's not suicidal.

“Why?” The voice is inviting and somehow stone cold at the same time.

Keith could never answer that question truthfully. But he knows what Zarkon wants to hear, and if he doesn’t get that, Keith can figure out the next best thing.

“With all due respect, your Excellency,” Keith says, totally calm, “McClain is a distinguished sailor. Queen Allura herself has been considering a knighthood for him.”

The Emperor is thoroughly unfazed.

“You did say he may have knowledge of Altea that we ourselves don’t. Information you need.” Good, Keith, keep going. He hates that he’s defending that obnoxious, cocky excuse for a sailor. An excellent conman, probably better than even some of the best pirates Keith has ever worked with, but he’s bad trouble. The complicated sort of trouble. And Keith prefers to stay far away from that sort of trouble if he can help it.

"Information about the map. I assume that's what you mean." With a sniff, Zarkon cocks his head and eyes Keith, a bit like a panther eyeing its soon-to-be prey. "That's why you didn't kill him when you had the chance."

“I received no specific order to kill him.”

“No…”

“But if you want me to find him and bring him on board my ship for questioning,” Keith tries, “that can be arranged.”

The Emperor leans forward in his chair. “And what exactly would this accomplish?” he asks, slowly, punctuating every consonant sharply. “You said yourself that the man is an expert liar. An escape artist and a trickster. And did you not also mention how he’s always been nothing but a pain in your side?"

"I don't deny it."

"So, captain Kogane, I ask you this:” the Emperor's voice lowers into something softer, “Why, pray tell, is he still alive?”

Keith wrangles with his thoughts, pushing down one after the other. Because this is not a new question to him.

Why isn't Lance McClain dead in the water?

Because aside from Shiro, the thought of seeing him again, even if it’s to fight and steal from each other, is the only thing that helps him sleep at night?

Saying that is as good as a death sentence.

Worse than a death sentence. He has no good answer.... So Keith lies.

Because that’s what pirates do, isn’t it?

“If I can’t get him to tell us the truth about where the the map is being kept," Keith says, feigning confidence like a born actor, "then I will kill him. You have my word on that.”

Chapter Text

If Keith can get to the Blue Lion - to Lance - he’s that much closer to keeping himself and his brother alive.

And if all goes according to plan, he’ll never have to worry again. Keith knows where Lance will look first - not that he knows Lance’s habits or anything - but he’s become a little predictable with Keith. And Keith actually pays attention , so there’s that, too.

Galra territory spans a huge swath of land, landlocked countries and islands galore, but Keith remembers all too well where he last saw Lance.

It was near an island, about a three week’s journey from Zarkon’s home territory, containing only one small village and no ruler other than the word of an absent Emperor. An island called Kerberos.

It was also the island where Shiro was found, washed up from what must have been a shipwreck, no memory of the events before the island and certainly no memory of home.

Keith found him. Recruited him, helped him. Blood didn’t mean anything, they were brothers through and through ever since that day, no matter the fact that they had different mothers.

After just a month of sailing, they'd decided to return to the island, explore a little. There was wealth just ripe for the taking, and hey, pirates will be pirates. That night, a night of sneaking around the island and stealing what they could get their hands on from the rich folk's seaside homes, it was Shiro who found it.

The map.

To this day, Keith still has no idea where the map leads, but he knows it must be of the utmost importance and utmost secrecy for Zarkon to have wanted it safe so badly.

The night Shiro found that map, their lives as they knew it were over.

The island’s patrols found them. They would’ve been hanged if one of the commanders - Haxus - hadn’t seen their potential and decided to exploit it. Keith Kogane, one of the most talented pirates on the seven seas, had plenty of potential. Shiro had no history that would interfere with his loyalties, and he had some talent as well.

Not to mention, he’d seen the contents of the map.

And so, they were sent to Zarkon.

Keith’s heart does a triple somersault when he thinks back on the day they lost that stupid map.

 

The day Keith met captain Lance McClain.

 

Say what you like about pirates, but Keith would like to think that Lance McClain might just be worse. Cruel? No… not exactly. Underhanded and self-preserving? Absolutely.

His teeth grind as he remembers watching Lance swing back to his ship on a loose rope with his trademark grin, gripping a leather cylinder in his hand. The fucking map .

Now it’s hidden gods know where, somewhere in the kingdom of Altea. But Keith still hasn’t figured a way around the kingdom’s patrol system. Ever since the death of Alfor, the kingdom saw a rise in security, about five times that of what it had been before. Now there’s no getting into even the lower villages without some form of identification, let alone the château itself. Even the best pirates wouldn’t be stupid enough to try.

But Keith isn’t one of the best.

He’s the Best.

If the Blue Lion is headed to Kerberos in the hopes of getting back their crew members, they’ve got another thing coming, Keith thinks, and If he can’t get to the map himself, he’ll get someone else to do it.

Lance McClain is going to tell him how to get it back.

….Even if he doesn’t know it yet.

 

0{}=========>

 

When Altea is no longer visible on the horizon, Lance finally lets his shoulders fall as he inhales the scent of the sea.

 

The sun falls lower in the distance, giving off the impression that it’s dipping itself into the water for a swim.

Lance believes that the world is round, and one of his dreams in life is to sail around it. Around and around and around, visiting new lands, meeting new people. Eating new foods. Then leaving for something new again. He’s loathe to the thought of settling down, and so he sails. And he sails.

Feet that are planted firmly on the ground grow roots, and Lance knows that with roots, it’s impossible to fly. He wants flight. Freedom.

The ocean.

It’s so vast and unexplored, there’s so much potential that his heart squeezes every time he thinks about it as he looks out over the water from the prow of his ship. Why doesn’t everyone just do this?

He feels someone come to stand next to him.

Turning, Hunk smiles back at him with warm, crinkling eyes.

“Yeah,” he says, looking out onto the water in the same direction as Lance had before, “I never get tired of it either.”

Lance hums. “Why d’you think more people don’t become sailors, Hunk?” he murmurs. Silence answers him, which is answer enough. Because not everyone can be so lucky. Lance’s waistcoat is unbuttoned and the laces on the neck of his shirt are loose, so that he can feel as much of the sea air as possible. He lets the setting rays of the sun warm his face, and his smile deepens until lips open to reveal pearly white. Lance is far from unattractive -- if anything, quite a bit of his reputation comes from his looks -- and hell, he knows it.

But his crew knows better than to stare.

His hair has grown out a little since the last time they visited Altea. Just a little below his earlobes, curling gently with a natural sweep from the wind.

His eyes stare at the swimming sun and he feels determined, welcoming the surge of willpower from the sight of nothing but the sea in front of him.

He’ll get them back. And maybe even have some fun on the way.

Nyma and Rolo, and even Rax the buzzkill, wouldn’t want him to worry.

“To Kerberos,” he says, and sneaks a side glance at his first mate.

“May we only encounter peaceful waters and guiding winds,” Hunk murmurs, nodding.

Anything can happen in two months, they both think.

 

0{}=========>

 

“Hoist anchor,” Keith says to no one in particular.

The man closest to him catches the command and immediately turns to pass the orders along, before their captain gets angry. Soon the shout of “Hoist anchor!” fills the deck. People run back and forth to get to their posts. The heavy clink-a-clink of the anchor slowly being cranked out of the water is loud in Keith’s ears. The energy of the crew is palpable, considering they’ve all been aching to get back onto the water the minute they returned to land.

Keith looks up to where Shiro is ready at the helm as he awaits Keith’s cue to steer them out of the port.

The Red Sword is small, compared to your run-of-the-mill warship or Spanish Galleon, good for speed and outrunning danger. Although, it’s rare that any ship could pose a threat to the Sword.

Shiro catches Keith looking up at him and gives him a nod, thin-lipped as he forces a smile. He hadn’t been too keen on trying to find the Blue Lion, not when that crew of sailors had already given them more trouble than it was worth, but Shiro knows he’ll be the one fighting for his brother’s life if anyone were to threaten him. Better him than Keith, he supposes.

And Keith - Keith, who is by no means stupid - hates how self-righteously sacrificing his brother is. For what? Keith doesn’t think he could be worth enough for someone to sacrifice their own life for him.

Climbing the stairs to reach the helm, Keith nods to Shiro and says, “Set a course north.”

“Aye aye, captain,” Shiro says, trying to make a joke as he holds a hand over his brow to block out the sun.

Keith rolls his eyes. “Just do it.”

“I never said I wasn’t gonna.”

With a roll of his shoulders, Keith lifts his hat (one of those three-pointed ones, a little on the smaller side but it does the trick) and slips it on. Half of his face is immediately thrown in shadow. His brother smirks.

“You’re so... dramatic,” Shiro says.

“Shut up,” Keith snaps. He frowns and looks out over the rest of the ship, or as much as he can see from next to the wheel. “Just cross your damn fingers we reach the Lion before it can pass us for Kerberos.”

Keith’s eyes catch the way Shiro tenses at the wheel. Even after three years, their past with Kerberos still weighs heavy on him.

If Keith is lucky, their ships will intercept in just three days’ time. The Blue Lion will never make it to Kerberos, because the people they’re looking for aren’t there. They’d been dropped off in a port, somewhere just outside Galra territory, and left to find their way home.

But Lance doesn’t know that, now does he?

All Lance knows is one set course, one simple direction, and Keith knows his as well. The Red Sword is headed straight for a man who will either give them the whereabouts of the map and assistance in getting it back, or…

Or what?

Will Keith really kill him if he doesn’t talk? The little voice in his head is whispering, No.

The voice that wants Keith and his brother survive Zarkon's iron rule screams back, Yes.

He desperately wants to agree with the second voice. His stupid heart wants him to agree with the first.

“What’re you thinking about?” Shiro asks, startling Keith out of a daze. He turns, expression schooled.

“What?” he says. “Nothing, why?”

His brother is chuckling. How mature, Keith thinks.

“Oh nothing, nothing,” Shiro says, shrugging at the helm. He waves down to one of the boatswains, overseeing some of the younger swabbies. “You looked like you were mooning over someone. You wanna talk about it or...?”

Keith ignores him.

“Can I try and guess?” Shiro asks, teasing.

Keith growls, turning on his heel to head back down to the captain’s quarters. He’s not in the mood.

“I’m the captain of this ship,” he bites back, not looking at Shiro, “and you’re treating me like I’m still a kid. Please, don't.”

“Hey…” Shiro’s voice is softer now, more sincere. “I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just…” something in his voice makes Keith turns back around. He sees Shiro, smiling warmly back at him just like brothers do when they’re trying to apologize for something stupid. “Y'know you’ll always be that pirate kid who found me three years ago, right? The one who tried to explain to me how you were actually the captain of an entire ship-”

“What did I just say?” Keith says, but it’s halfhearted. His face betrays him. He’s smiling and he knows it. Stupid Shiro.

He loves the guy; he’d die for him. But sometimes he gets all mushy and Keith never knows how to handle that.

“Is it Lance McClain?”

How-- How the hell does he just know?

Biting his lip, Keith goes back to not making eye contact with his brother. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he says, and takes the steps two at a time to get back to work. He’s got a crew to manage.

“Okay…” he can hear Shiro say, still calm as anything at the helm.

And he hates it. Keith hates it. Because it’s horribly, painfully true.

 

0{}=========>

 

The crew sits in a haphazard circle for their first meal out at sea. The sun is nowhere to be seen, replaced instead with a waxing moon.

Their three-day stay in Altea had been three days too many, it seems, because instead of the tension that had been in the air during the visit to dry land, they now all appear to be very content on the water. Someone passes around a couple fresh loaves of bread, courtesy of Altea’s best bakers. Everyone tears off a piece, before passing it to the person next to them.

Two of the ship’s newcomers, Plaxum and Florona, share a heavy crate as a makeshift bench as they dig into their food. Shay sits closer to the captain’s quarters on a tightly wound pile of rope. She seems happy enough, which, Lance thinks, is good. He needs everyone to be in high spirits if they’re going to be spending another two months with only each other for company.

 

Hunk stands at the wheel, yawning. He will not let himself fall asleep while he’s on duty. He’s too focused on one particular crew member.

She’s new, that much is obvious, considering he’s never seen her before. Damn, she looks strong enough to snap a man’s neck with one hand tied behind her back. And she has a tattoo of a gemstone on her calf -- although why he’d noticed that when they first met, he doesn’t quite know. But hey, she’s buff and she has a tattoo? She’s basically the whole package. Definitely the girl of his dreams. If only Hunk could actually, you know, talk to her.

“You sure you’re okay up here for a few hours, buddy?” Lance asks from behind. Hunk starts, but keeps his hands firmly on the wheel.

“You seem a little... I ‘unno, like a little out of it or something?” Lance says. He looks a touch worried.

“Hmm? Yeah, yeah! We’re all good up here, cap’n. No need to worry.” Hunk tries not to sound like he’s being weird.

Which he is.

He shifts uncomfortably in place and waits for Lance to leave.

Which he doesn’t.

“Um… Is there something you wanna tell me, Hunk?” Lance asks, hesitating a little when Hunk’s eyes flick back to him twice their previous size.

“What? No! Nothing. I wasn’t looking at her. What?”

Now Lance looks really confused. “Weren’t looking at who?”

He turns his head to look down over the crew, all happy to chat amongst themselves on deck. Eyes wander over each crew member, the deck hands and the gunners and the quartermaster, Slav, who’s currently devouring an apple. The apple doesn’t stand a chance.

Lance catches sight of Shay, one of their newest additions, sitting just within his and Hunk’s line of sight down below. It clicks.

With a sly grin spread across his face, he lifts an eyebrow and turns to look at Hunk. He knows Hunk must be red in the face. Guess he’s just lucky it’s dark outside.

Hunk swallows audibly. “I swear, I wasn’t gonna try anything--”

“You should go talk to her.”

“I should… what?” Hunk’s mouth falls open just a little.

Lance cocks his head down to where Shay sits. The grin hasn’t left his face. “You should go. Talk.” Another quirk of his eyebrow. “To her.”

Hunk stutters for a few seconds. Lance lets him.

Hey, it’s not everyday you find someone worth getting all flustered over. Lance sure wishes he had someone like that. But right now, it’s Hunk’s turn.

“So?” Lance says, once Hunk’s done trying to deny everything (a poor attempt, really). “You gonna go talk to her, or am I gonna have to drag you down there myself?”

Hunk yelps. “Please god no, holy shit, Lance.” He all but sprints over to the steps, practically tripping over himself. Before he can take one step down, he looks back over his shoulder with a small, grateful smile. “Thanks,” he says, before descending the steps a little too quickly. Lance smiles after him and hopes the poor guy doesn’t fall and break something.

Ahh, love.

And then his ribs compress painfully over his heart as he thinks, damn, he wouldn’t mind having something like that. Love at first sight or something. Stupid, sappy stuff. He’s all over it, but… but at the same time, he’s afraid.

Which is stupid. Who’s afraid of love?

What he wouldn’t give to finally have that moment where he can look at someone and their face just clicks, like they were made for each other. He wants that flutter in his chest. To smile so hard that his face hurts but he just can’t stop. Feel his veins being set on fire, and then have them cooled when that person smiles back at him.

But maybe he wasn’t meant to have that.

 

When Lance was fourteen, he was sent away to learn a trade. He’d lived in a small village, on an island not far from the coast of Altea. It was close enough that the island lay in the kingdom’s waters, so that was where it belonged. Lance had a big family, all the love in the world, and water all around him.

He grew up a strong swimmer. Learned how to sail. But his parents were too afraid he would run away with a stolen sailboat if he ever got the chance - so they sent him to the mainland.

Tough love, right?

Lance became an apprentice to fishermen and learned the trade. He swabbed decks, moved around buckets of chum, all that good stuff. He couldn’t say he hadn’t earned his place with the rest of the sailors, that was for damn sure. Then he worked his way up, until he was deemed good enough to be a deckhand on one of the older merchant ships working for the royal family.

From that moment on, he was hooked. Sailing was a gift, one that he would never take for granted.

Does he miss his family?

God, yes. Like crazy. He visits once a year, even though he knows they still miss him terribly. But he’s doing well, dare he say very well, and he wouldn’t trade his life as a sailor for anything else.

The day he decides to live on land is the day he’s no longer a free man.

With a sigh, he takes up shift at the helm and gently pats the polished, storm-worn wood of the wheel. If he listens carefully, he can hear a gentle creak as good old Blue is pushed forward in the water. It’s clear weather. He prays it stays that way for as long as possible.

It’ll be interesting, he thinks, when a storm comes.

Storms at sea are just an inevitable.

When that time comes, he’ll figure out who works well under the pressure, and who doesn’t. The four newcomers will certainly be tested, but then again, they’d seem pretty tough to Lance. Hey, if the Queen herself trusts them, then so does he.

Warm.... The air is soft and the light from the waxing moon reflects off the water. He follows that light like a beacon, then pulls his compass from the pocket of his waistcoat. Yeah, still headed dead north… they’re just fine. Lance stares back at the light-spackled water like a lovestruck fool staring at his muse.

Then his eyes fall back down to the deck, where the crew hasn’t finished dinner yet. He sees Hunk, sitting by Shay. They’re laughing, talking about something that Lance doesn’t need to hear to know that it probably isn’t all that entertaining. But that’s what people do when they have feelings for each other, right? They laugh with each other because it’s fun. It warms the cheeks as well as the soul. And it almost hurts.

Lance wishes he could say he’d stopped hurting, after he told himself once and for all that to find love was to commit, and to commit was to leave the sea for a life that could never be totally free. He knows that if he decides to be with someone, they won’t want this life. There aren’t many people out there, men or women, who'd want to spend their entire lives out on the open sea. So Lance is afraid.

Afraid, because he doesn’t want that to happen to him, but also afraid that he’ll never find love at all. He's not sure which one terrifies him more.

 

Or maybe he’s afraid that the person he ends up falling in love with will send him away, too.

 

Chapter Text

The crew of the Red Sword is loud and jocular, voices raising with every downed cup of rum. Keith, on the other hand, prefers the silence that his captain’s quarters offers. With Shiro on duty again, Keith has a little time to plan things out.

A map covering the northermost quarter of Galra territory sits on the round table in the middle of his bedroom, covered in charcoal markings and circles. Nothing has been decided on.

This would be a lot easier if he knew what he was going to do once they actually reached the Blue Lion. What he would say.

What will he say? He doesn’t know if he’ll call for an attack, or if he’ll leave the ship in someone else’s care and go in alone. He’ll need himself a decent rowboat if he’s going to try something like that.

Is it worth risking more lives just to get to Lance again? The last time they’d come pretty close. The only life lost was his quartermaster’s-- Sendak. Keith never liked the guy anyway, but the Emperor had taken the death a little harder than Keith. Which was to say, he hadn’t been too put out. More annoyed than anything else.

He prefers the less risky route in this particular case, which is unlike him. Is it really such a bad thing that he wants to spare a few lives? His crew doesn’t deserve to be tossed into another fight only a couple weeks after the last one. Lance’s crew probably doesn’t, either. They’re not a part of this. Not really.

This is between him and Lance.

“No one else,” Keith murmurs to himself, the realization striking him just as he loosens his ponytail. Inky black hair falls to just barely skim his collarbone.

He stands in front of the mirror, one nearly as tall as he is. Perks of being the captain: decent mirrors. His doublet and waistcoat have long since been discarded on his bed, along with his boots. His red shirt is loose, the laces completely undone now. He looks at his own face in the mirror and realizes how pale he looks in the weird light of the candles from his nightstand and dining table, how intense his eyes are. He’s glad he’s looking in a mirror, and not at someone else. He’s not sure how that look would be received. Not well, probably .

Or maybe too well. He’d prefer not to think about it; He’d prefer not to think about aiming that look at someone he shouldn’t be thinking about in that way to begin with.

Lance McClain is gorgeous, Keith isn’t an idiot. His entire crew knows it, even if some of them don’t swing that way. Lance McClain is sultry and confident and sometimes a little too much. Keith imagines wiping that confident smirk right off of his pretty face, like he almost did the last time they saw each other. Maybe Lance had gotten his knife, but Keith? Oh, he’d gotten Lance to follow his commands with his own sword pointed at his throat, the hilt in Keith’s hands. He’d had captain McClain at his mercy.

He swallows, pushing away the thought of Lance McClain at his mercy.

That is not a thought that will help him if he wants to get the guy to spill all his secrets about Zarkon’s precious map. Keith has plenty of his own confidence.

But something about Lance just sort of makes all of that dissipate, leaving Keith an irritable, scattered mess. The confidence becomes faked even when he talks a good game with the Lion’s captain. McClain is known for getting people wrapped around his little finger.  

And no, it’s not fair at all.

It’s like Lance was born with a swagger that couldn’t be learned, it just was.

With a groan, Keith pulls the shirt over his head and tosses that, too. He stands there and faces himself in the mirror, in only his breeches and stockings. A pirate captain stares back with bags weighing heavy under his eyes. Defined muscles mask the fact that he hasn’t been eating well in a while, and god knows he needs to eat if he’s going to be well enough to carry out this voyage, whether or not he makes the decision to take the last steps on his own. The breeches feel a little too loose. His stomach feels a little too empty. His chest feels much too heavy, and with a feeling of resignation bordering on legitimate distress, Keith turns, shuffles over to his bed, and flops facedown onto the mattress. He can’t even bring himself to remove the breeches. Fuck them. He’ll just have to deal with a little extra sweat come morning.

And as for the plan, he supposes he’ll decide that in the morning as well. Fight alongside his crew and kidnap the captain, or go the more diplomatic route and face Lance McClain alone?

Both are bold. Neither are preferable. Keith juggles both choices in his head until, exhausted and confused, he falls asleep.

And when he finally starts to dream, Lance is the one removing his breeches.

Shit, he’s so screwed. This mission is fucked and has been fucked from square one and Keith is so, so screwed.

 

Although, the dream isn’t terrible.

 

0{}=========>

 

Lance wakes to the sound of a busy crew in his ears.

Dang it, he should’ve been the first one up to give orders.

Throwing on his shirt and boots, Lance forgoes the waistcoat in lieu of making a mad dash for the door. The door swings open and he bolts through it-- straight into Klay.

The man raises a disapproving eyebrow at Lance. Lance, the captain of the ship, who is not only clearly in a hurry to be somewhere, but also probably a little underdressed compared to the normal captain’s getup. In all Klay’s years of sailing, what, has he never had a captain who likes to be a little loose with the whole doublet-and-hat thing? There’s nothing wrong with keeping that heat stroke at bay, thanks.

Lance will admit, he should’ve at least laced up his shirt. Underdressed is definitely a word he could use to describe himself.

He notices Florona, helping another woman pull one of the sails taut with a thick rope. She’s staring. Definitely staring.

When she realizes that Lance has caught her in the act, she blushes and looks away quickly. The woman helping her with the rope snickers. It isn’t cruel, just amused. It’s just... painfully obvious that Florona is very new, hasn’t even learned one of the unspoken rules on board the Blue Lion, which is: the captain is as handsome as he is cocky. Don’t stare, and he won’t bother you.

Just as well, Florona probably wouldn’t hesitate in finding ways to get the captain to bother her. Or bugger her. Whichever.

It’s not like others on board the ship haven’t tried before.

Lance allows himself a crooked grin before he looks away and shrugs, looking at Klay before pointing up towards the helm, as if it’s self-explanatory. “Just going to go make sure Hunk’s doing okay up there,” he says, lamely excusing himself from Klay’s presence, before he trips over his feet while trying to go around.

Klay isn’t making first impressions easy, is he? He hasn’t said a word this entire time, and Lance still feels like he’s just gotten a lecture on tardiness from his old sailing mentor, Iverson. He feels like he’s back on the fishing boats again as a swabbie. As fond as (most of) those memories are, he doesn’t care to relive them just now.

Lance wishes he could just tell Klay how damn competent he is. How completely Not Stupid he is. But it’s not as easy as steering a ship and shouting out some orders. Leadership?

Klay’s only been on board the Lion for a little over twenty-four hours; Lance has time. He’ll prove himself, no question. His crew is counting on this trip to be a success, so Lance is gonna suck it up and be a captain.

The first thing Hunk does when he sees Lance ascending the steps is laugh, both because his captain is never this late to wake up, and because he usually wears something over his shirt. Oh, and he also usually doesn’t forget to lace it up. Not to mention... Lance has bedhead.

“What happened?” he asks through another chuckle. “Wake up on the wrong side of the bed?”

“Just woke up too late ,” Lance mutters, shooing Hunk away from the wheel. “What did I miss?”

“Other than having to tell Klay that I give orders in your absence and not him?” Hunk asks, backing away from the wheel as he rolls his eyes. “Eh. Not much.”

“He did what now?” says Lance, mouth agape. He wants to be mad. Ughh , he wants to tell that leathery-faced old prick that he’s working for Lance, not the other way around. Klay was sent with the others to help and keep an eye on progress -- not to boss everyone else around.

Oh, they were hand picked by Coran to come along on the voyage? Wonderful.

But it’s still not Klay’s place to tell the others what they can and can’t do. Especially when it comes to Lance. Or his first mate.

Lance wants to be angry, but dammit, he knows he can’t. They’re only a day into their trip. Getting riled up over some of the new blood would make sailing that much more awkward for everyone.

“Still headed north?” Lance asks, pulling out his compass.

“North as north can get, my good sir,” Hunk assures with a grin.

Lance chuckles, slapping his first mate on the back. “Always watching my back. Just four more weeks to Kerberos,”

“And four weeks back,” Hunk finishes for him. The fact that he isn’t even a touch doubtful about making the journey with two weeks to spare speaks volumes about how much he trusts Lance.

“I’m guessing last night went well?” Lance asks offhandedly, keeping his eyes ahead, not daring to catch Hunk’s eye and break his poker face.

“Last night…” Hunk says, confused.

“You know,” Lance says, trying to guide the conversation along. “Shay?”

“O-Oh, right,” Hunk laughs nervously. “Um, yeah, pretty well. I mean, we talked for a little and then she said she had to get to sleep. She didn’t have the first night shift and I did, so we couldn’t really hang around for too long.”

With a pensive frown, Lance runs that over in his head. “So… I just need to give you two the same shifts. That’s what you’re saying?”

Hunk blanches. “Oh geez, please don’t go out of your way just for us, Lance, it’s not a huge deal--”

“Hunk, buddy,” Lance interjects, lightly teasing. “Re-lax. It’s really no trouble. I am always here to help a fellow sailor out.”

“You’d seriously switch my shifts for me?” Hunk’s expression still holds some doubt. And a little bit of pink. “I-I barely know her, Lance.”

“You barely know her now,” Lance insists. He takes his eyes off the water as his hands gently grip the wheel, keeping the ship well on course. “But if you two have more time with each other then I’m sure…” he catches the look on Hunk’s face.

The man is beaming.

Hunk’s smiles are always a good thing, but getting Hunk to smile this big is sort of like watching the sun come out from behind a cloud. It’s amazingly warm. And it makes everyone else happy.

“Like I said,” Lance says, “I got you, buddy. Don’t worry about it.”

Hunk laughs, giving Lance a grateful nod.

“Thank you. Seriously.”

“It’s no trouble.”

“...So? What about you?”

Confused, Lance throws Hunk his best, ‘So, what?’ look. The wind whips at his hair, so at least Lance knows his bedhead will be a little less noticeable to the rest of his crew, later on. Still, he thinks he’ll have to run back down to his quarters at some point to grab his waistcoat. And maybe comb through his hair a little, too.

“You know…” Hunk returns Lance’s nonchalant look with a sheepish one of his own. “Your person. Your ‘special someone.’ You have one, right? It’s been a while since we talked about this sort of thing, hasn’t it?”

It’s not so much a question as much as it is an accusation. A gentle accusation. Because Hunk is never anything but gentle (unless you get between him and his cooking, then it’s a different story; Hunk works part time as the ship’s cook, and he can be the most dangerous man on the ship if he wants to be).

It could’ve been any other question. It just had to be this one.

Lance shrugs, forcing out an awkward half-laugh. “Ah-hummm…” Another shrug. He’s shrugging too much. He averts his gaze and looks back at the water, for something to keep his suddenly scattering thoughts a little more occupied.

Hunk’s smile transforms into a smirk. Or the closest thing to a smirk that he can come up with. It’s Hunk, after all. “I knew it,” he says, triumphant.

“Knew what?”

 

Both Lance and Hunk nearly jump out of their skins as a body drops from the air, but doesn’t land.

Pidge. She’s cackling at the both of them, of course.

“You two sure are jumpy today,” she snorts.

Lance should’ve known, god , he’ll never get used to her uncanny entrances.

Pidge hangs upside down just above the helm, her short hair almost brushing the wheel. Her green bandana keeps most of it away from her face, though. Lance snorts at his lookout’s upside-down grin.

“If it isn’t our lookout pigeon herself,” Lance says, reaching out a finger to tap Pidge’s nose playfully. The nose wrinkles, and Pidge quickly twists her body around, grabbing at rope until she’s finally right-side up.

“How many times have I told you not to--”

“Yeah yeah, ‘don’t bop the nose,’ yaddah yaddah, ‘slice off the prize jewels if I do,’ yaddah yaddah,” Lance recites back, like a bored kid learning easy arithmetic. “Can I help you with something, or are you just planning to hang around all day?”

“Nice one Lance,” Hunk snickers.

Pidge groans.

“You guys and your fucking puns,” she mutters. “I just wanted to know what you were talking about.”

“Nothing,” Lance says. Too quickly.

“So something, then,” Pidge says, matter-of-fact as she eyes Hunk quizzically. Hunk nods back. An entire conversation passes between them without a word spoken.

“I asked if Lance had a ‘special someone,’ and I think he’s in denial,” Hunk finally spills.

“~Oooohhh~” Pidge coos, angling herself to look at just Lance, who’s doing his very best to look at the water ahead of the ship and nothing else. With a quick look at their silent captain, Hunk and Pidge both exchange knowing looks.

“Is it Allura?” Hunk asks.

“What? No!”

“Yeah, Hunk, that crush ended ages ago,” Pidge confirms. She swings a little from her rope as the wind picks up.  

“Yeah!” Lance splutters. “We’re friends. That’s it.” He sees Hunk’s look of disappointment, so he adds, “And I just don’t have time for that sort of thing anyway, y’know? I don’t do commitment. We’ve been over this.” He sighs at the helm. The sun isn’t all that high yet. “I’ve got other things to worry about.”

Ohh…

Lance doesn’t like that tone of voice. Pidge is looking at him like he’s her newest target for knife-throwing practice. And Pidge never misses.

“I think I know,” she says, lowering her voice to a dramatic whisper. Hunk snickers, and Pidge flips herself upside down again, an impish grin spreading across her face. “He’s been acting funny ever since we got boarded by the Sword, hasn’t he?

“I don’t like where this is going,” Lance says, keeping his voice impressively even.

“So you know where this is going?”

“...No.”

“So you weren’t thinking about that pirate captain the entire trip back to Altea?”

“I was angry, Pidge, angry!” Lance bites back, waving a hand in the air to make his point known. Water splashes from either side of the ship. They’re picking up speed, which is good, Lance thinks, because he really wants to make good time today. “That little escapade is kind of the whole reason we’re on this trip in the first place, remember?”

Pidge hums thoughtfully to herself. Lance wants to get his musket gun and shoot the rope down, taking Pidge along with it. But his musket is down in his quarters, because Lance is an idiot. Such is life.

“Well yeah,” she says, “but we’ve been raided before, and you were always the one keeping positive. Now you’re like…. I dunno, moony or something.”

“She’s got a point,” Hunk adds. Lance shoots him his most withering look. It has Hunk backing down with raised palms, but not Pidge. Like hell is Pidge going to let this go.

“You’re mooning over someone who isn’t Allura, and who definitely isn’t a crew member, and you’ve only been acting like this since the raid. Oh, and," her eyes lower to Lance's belt line, looking at something in particular, "you're still holding onto that knife."

Hunk quickly looks to see what she's talking about. He spots the unfamiliar holster attached to Lance's belt-- then his eyes flick back to Lance, questioning.

"It's a nice knife," Pidge says. She looks as smug as she sounds, even hanging upside down from a rope. "I guess I don't blame ya for keeping it if it's useful. Unless it's got some sentimental value...?"

Lance makes a whining noise and looks at his first mate.

"Hunk?” Pidge says.

Hunk makes a sound like a cross between ‘ehhh?’ and ‘mhmm?’ still a little lost in all of this.

“Care to bet a few gold pieces on this fine, sunny day aboard the Blue Lion?”

With a redeemed glint in his eyes, Hunk eagerly falls for the promise of a bet. Ignoring the fact that he’s never won in a bet against Pidge Gunderson once in their shared careers at sea. “What’s the occasion?” he asks. He catches Lance scowling at the both of them.

Hey, he’s got plenty of reason to scowl. These two are incorrigible, they really are. Put them together and they’re a recipe for all things sunshine and evil.

“My money’s still on Allura,” Hunk murmurs, leaning in towards Pidge, even though Lance can still hear him just fine.

“Hey!”

“Yeah?” Pidge replies, ignoring Lance’s protests. “Well my money is on captain Keith Kogane.”

Both Lance and Hunk go dead silent, turning their heads to look at Pidge in unison.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” says Hunk.

Pidge shakes her head. Even upside down, it’s still clearly a ‘nope.’

“I’ve made my bet,” she says. “Guess we’ll just have to find out when we reach Kerberos, huh?”

Now Hunk looks more confused than anything. He adjusts his yellow bandana, laughing nervously. “But captain Kogane is… He’s the enemy, Pidge, that would be stupid. Right Lance?”

Lance pretends he doesn’t hear.

“...Lance?”

“Weather’s looking good today, huh? We’re picking up some speed, I’d say we’ll make it to Kerberos in just three w--”

“Lance, buddy. Answer me.”

Nothing.

Hunk and Pidge are going to get fuck all from their captain if they keep playing him from this angle.

It’s time for a kinder approach. Naturally, Hunk is the one to attempt such a thing.

“It’s okay, Lance,” he reassures, “Pidge is just messing with you. She doesn’t mean it.”

“Yes I do.”

Hunk whips around. “Think about what you’re saying , Pidge. We’re talking about the captain of the Red Sword. More to the point, we’re talking about a pirate.”

“Hell yeah we are,” Pidge confirms.

“And pirates equal bad news. Period. Just… yeah. Bad n-- are you even listening?”

Pidge inspects her nails blandly, like that’s something she cares about. The hand that isn’t curled for a nail inspection is wrapped tightly around her rope. Her hands must be blistering at this point. But then, she’s been swinging around this ship for years. “Rope burn” probably doesn’t even run in her vocabulary. Just like the phrases “I give up” and “Yes, I’m sure you can throw knives better than I can.” Pidge is her own kind of Deadly.

“Pidge…” Lance begs, but it’s no use.

Pidge finally takes mercy on him. Which is a rare thing for her. “Fine,” she says, brushing a stray, jagged lock of hair away from her eyes. “But this isn’t over, you hear me?” She points a finger at her captain. If anyone else were to do that, they’d probably get their finger chopped off by Lance’s own sword.

But not Pidge. “Oh, and we’re still on for that bet,” she says, words directed at Hunk.

With a final salute, she swings herself from the rope for prime momentum, and flies away, letting go of the first rope as soon as she nears another. 

In that fashion, she swings, then climbs, until she’s back at her post high up in the crow’s nest. Lance glowers after her. He will never understand how she does it, but he’s learned not to question her.

Hey, you’d learn not to ask questions too, if you found yourself with the greatest lookout to ever exist on the seven seas.

“You guys are the worst,” Lance groans from the wheel. Sighing, Hunk sidles up behind him and pats Lance’s shoulder comfortingly.

“You have to admit you’ve been acting weird since the raid, though.”

“Yeah,” Lance says. “Because it was a raid. We were raided. They took three of our best sailors, excuse me for being a little bummed out.”

“Still…”

“Are you going to let this go, or am I going to have to put you on cleaning duty?” Lance snaps. He feels bad as soon as he says it. But he can’t take it back.

“No,” Hunk says, quiet. “But will you think about what I said?”

“About what.”

“You know what.” Another creeeak from the hull. The sails have caught a nice gust of wind; They’re really cruising now. Maybe Lance is right, and they really will reach Kerberos in just three weeks. “Whether or not you’re actually feeling something for that Kogane guy,” he shudders a little, “this can’t compromise our situation when we reach the island. We want our shipmates back. Not you with your head chopped off, just because you couldn’t keep it in your pants.”

Ouch. Harsh.

Lance inhales, using the scent of salt and sweat and leather to brace himself for the day to come. “Whatever it is you’re worried about...” he says, with eyes only for the horizon. His compass points north. That’s all he should be thinking about. “Don’t be.”

 

0{}=========>

The day passes uneventfully.

Lance finds the time later to retrieve his waistcoat and a comb. He quietly informs Shay that she’ll be getting the first night shift which -- “oh wouldn’t ya know it, how coincidental” -- happens to be the same shift as his first mate’s. He retreats to his quarters for a light lunch of cheese and smoked peppers, and then gets back to work.

He doesn’t speak to Klay, other than to tell him to adjust one of the sails. The man gives him a gruff look, but he does as he’s told. He must’ve caught something on Lance’s face, the sudden lapse into silence, already so uncharacteristic of their captain. He’s turned pensive and focused. And no one on board the Lion can figure out why. Except maybe Pidge, but she doesn’t say a word.

North. They’re on course. Everything is going to be fine, and they’re going to get their shipmates back, and then they’re going to return to Altea with the royal family’s gold and only good news to report.

When Lance goes to bed late that night after Hunk has taken over, the sky is clear and the air is quiet but for the crash of water against the wood of the hull. The Blue Lion plows along through the waves with a steady grace.

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Only, there is no red sky this evening, just a regular sunset to the west, pink and mild.

When Lance wakes early the next morning, the sun paints the sky red.

Red sky come morning, sailor’s warning.

The old adage Lance remembers from his swabbie days. He’s had the luck of encountering many a red sky at night, beautiful sunsets of crimson fading to make way for oranges and pinks, until the sky is pulled into darkness and blanketed in wayfarers’ stars.

But a red sky in the early hours of the morning means something entirely different, and entirely worse.

 

The next morning when Lance wakes and has a look outside, he immediately throws on his shirt, his waistcoat, even his doublet. He's still pulling on his boots as he scrambles for the door, ascending the steps with a speed he’s always had but rarely needed.

“All hands on deck!” he calls, looking around. 

The few crew members on board snap to attention. They seem to be aware of the problem as well, looking up at the sky with a silent dread. Most of them have been sailing long enough to know the signs.

Hunk is at Lance’s side in a heartbeat.

“Captain?” he says.

“Get everyone else up above deck,” Lance says without a segue. “We need to roll up the sails and we need to do it now.”

As if in response, they both hear the quiet purr of thunder, somewhere far off in the distance.

Just as Lance thought.

“A storm’s coming.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Keith wakes before the rest of the crew, gets changed, and heads out to the deck.

It’s still dark out, but Keith knows that Shiro is at the wheel, keeping the ship going where she needs to go. The air feels cool and Keith suspects rain. But a little rain never stopped him, and it isn’t going to stop him today. This is his fight - his problem - and he’s not about to get anyone else tangled up in the mess that was made three years ago.

The sooner he gets that damned map back, the better.

His doublet protects from the early morning chill. He wonders how the rest of the day will be, once the rain passes… if it even does rain.

Surprisingly, he makes it to the rail without a single creak from the wooden boards of the ship’s main deck. He leans over the rail, eyeing the one rowboat hanging securely just a few meters below by a set of ropes. It’s dark, but he can see well enough the distance from the deck to the boat.

A cough comes from the direction of the helm.

Shit. He’s been caught.

Keeping cool, Keith slowly turns to look up, where Shiro is still standing placidly at the wheel.

Oh… just a cough. He hadn’t seen Keith after all. Not waiting to push his luck any further, Keith makes the executive decision before he can overthink it, looks back down at the rowboat, cringes inwardly, then climbs over the rail. And he does so in the quietest damn way he can muster.

As soon as he lands feet first in the rowboat, he unsheathes his sword with one hand, the other unholstering the knife he’d snagged from the ship’s weapon stockpile. With his own knife gone, this is the next best thing-- and if he loses it, good riddance.

A healthy breeze makes the little rowboat rock into the hull of the Sword, and Keith takes that opportunity to let out a sigh of relief. He’s only just started, but so far, so good. He kneels to unwrap the cloth from his boots, then sets to work, taking in the sturdiness of the ropes, the distance from the rowboat to the water, and tries to calculate just how big of a splash this is going to make.

In the end, he thinks, there’s only one way to find out.

Here goes nothing...?

At the same time that he swings the blade of his sword at one rope, he aims the knife and tosses it with all his might at the other rope. It lands.

A clean cut. He’s surprised it actually got through the rope, but less surprised that his sword cut through the other one. Although, shit, he hadn’t really braced himself for the flipped-stomach feeling of sudden weightlessness you get just before plummeting a solid three meters straight down into icy waters.

The little boat falls perfectly vertical, landing not so much with a splash as it does with a hard slap, followed by a quiet “ Oomph,"   from Keith. His knees buckle on impact, but he stops himself from falling just in time. Looking up, he sees no activity aboard the Red Sword. Only the knowledge that Shiro is guiding his ship with such care and love puts Keith’s mind at ease.

By the time Shiro or anyone else notices anything, Keith will be long gone. For the better, hopefully. He’s going to go get that map and then he’s going to fix this.

God, he must be going insane.

Checking his compass out of habit, he nods to himself. He knows where he’s going. Here’s hoping the other ship is close enough to where he suspects.

 

As time passes, the sky grows less dark and more colored. He’s a few miles out now with no thought of turning back, and it’s only then that he notices something, something he realizes he should have thought about before leaving the Red Lion without warning. Because the sky is red.

And a red sky come morning is never a good thing for a sailor, pirate or otherwise.

All he can do now is brace himself, and pray to every god above that he reaches the Blue Lion before the storm reaches him.

 

0{}=========>

 

Allura’s father died before his time.

The worst of the battles between her people and the Galra ended after Alfor’s death, but the kingdom of Altea and the Galra Empire are still at war.

She knows Zarkon is hiding something-- something that could be a lead towards his downfall. She won’t back down from this war without at least trying to figure out what it is.

 

She lunges again. The blade of her rapier is deflected with ease.

“You were meant to riposte first, Allura,” Coran instructs, not breaking so much as a single drop of sweat. Their swords clash as the spar reaches its end. “Nice lunge. Use your legs to their full advantage, though. You can reach farther than that.” He parries her next lunge almost effortlessly. Allura pants and blows a wisp of silvery hair out of her eyes. Her own brow is soaked in sweat, and her braid is coming loose.

“We’ve been sparring for hours. I must be doing something right.”

Coran tuts and only just dodges a swipe from Allura’s rapier. She’s clearly done messing around.

“Yes,” he says, mustache twitching in what is almost a proud smile. Eyes glint brightly beneath bushy eyebrows. “Your stamina has certainly come a long way. Your swordsmanship has improved tenfold since last month, I will say, but there’s no such thing as too much practice.”

Another swipe, and this time Allura means business. When her blade connects with Coran’s, the shhhhiiing of metal is loud in their ears. “I’m not stopping until. I. Win.” Every word is punctuated with a sharp breath and a parry from her blade as she tries to keep up, forcing her words through gritted teeth. Muscles flex beneath her sparring tunic. She’s been training with Coran ever since she was eight, but only in the past three or four years has Coran started getting serious about their sessions. Coran is constantly one step ahead, and since Allura knows it’s only because the man knows her fighting style so well after all these years, she normally doesn’t take it too much to heart.

But for some reason she does tonight. There’s anger there, anger that she normally doesn’t let boil over. Sure, she has a temper and it often shows in little ways (harmless ways) but this anger is much more than something brought on by annoyance or fatigue. Perhaps it’s a combination of those, but it’s something more, too.

God, she wants this war to be over and she wants to win. She wants to see the Galra Empire fall and she wants to take Zarkon down. She wants to take him down her self .

Shiiiinngg!

“Nice hit Allura, keep it up!”

 

After the final battle - after her father was killed in a fight near the cliffs, just half a mile away from the château, Allura had wanted to run down to see him. Because it couldn’t be true, the messenger must have been lying.

Her personal guards were sent to keep her locked in her room instead, with no way out. Death was ‘not for a princess’s eyes,’ according to the head guard. Coran wasn’t in a good place to say anything in her favor, either, since he was already preoccupied with calling for a retreat on the north beach at the time.

Oh, she’d kicked and screamed and shattered everything breakable in her room, and attempted more than one escape out of the window. Just as well, more guards had been positioned outside of the windows.

Even now, Allura can’t remember a time she’d cried harder than on that day. And she’d been locked in her own room for it.

The funeral was attended by thousands . Peasants and merchants and nobles had gathered in the château, or in the surrounding villages, to pay their respects to such a generous and just ruler. Twenty four hours later, Allura was crowned the reigning Queen of Altea.

She’d never felt more alone.

 

With a solid swipe to her right, she parries Coran’s next lunge and rotates, her torso leading the rest of her upper body into a strike that’s both harsh and masterful. She twists the rapier out of Coran’s hands, and allows her lips to curl in a triumphant, sweaty smirk as the rapier clangs onto the ground, the sound swept away in the breeze.

Their private session in the château’s courtyard has come to an end.

Her guardian looks genuinely impressed.

“That…” he says, “was much better.”

And while he does sound proud, there’s something else hidden there: Concern.

“Are you doing all right, Allura?”

Allura doesn’t answer at first. Just looks at the rapier lying defeated on the stone tiles of the courtyard.

“Fine,” she says, after a beat of heavy silence.

Coran looks the opposite of convinced.

“It is my job first and foremost to look after your wellbeing, your highness.”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Coran,” Allura says, sheathing her own rapier with a stoic expression. “But thank you.”

Coran would normally push a little harder, maybe ask her again. Perhaps offer to sit down at one of the stone benches in the courtyard and talk about it. But this isn’t the first time the Queen has shut everyone out. The only thing to do now is wait it out and let her blow off some steam; give her some space.

Whatever it is, she’s capable of overcoming it on her own.

Allura walks back to the château with her lungs and her spirit still burning, and only one of them has to do with the sparring session.

 

0{}==========>

 

As royalty, Allura’s had a lot of friends but few of them real.

Real, as in, don’t actually give a damn about the titles or the money.

 

Lance McClain and Hunk Hale, even Pidge Gunderson, they are her friends. True friends.

She knows and has known plenty of the sailors, and has often visited the men and women hard at work on the docks.

Lance was different. He had so much more spirit - maybe it was because he was so young, but he’d always had a certain charm that not many people could just throw around like they’d been born to do. And he was cocky, maybe a little loud sometimes, but he was a sailor, and every once in awhile the wildness in his spirit sort of got the better of him.

Did she grow fond of him? Of course.

Did she fall in love with him? God no. But that didn’t mean Lance hadn’t tried to court her. It was only the third week into their acquaintance, and Lance had managed to slip in three not-so-subtle marriage proposals. The first two had been rejected gently.

The third one was... sort of the last straw.

This was five years ago, mind, when Allura was still a princess. Lance thought he’d had a chance then. But the third proposal? Oh…

Well, there’d been flowers. A secretly planned dinner aboard a small, “borrowed” sailboat. Candlelight. All the right things, really.

When Lance popped the question for the third time that month, Allura had quite literally jumped overboard. (Nothing personal).

Lance hadn’t taken it all that hard. Really. He’d even helped her back onto the boat afterwards. A little hurt? Sure, it would’ve been odd if he hadn’t been.

But Lance isn’t, nor has he ever been, one to hold a grudge. To this day, they’re thick as thieves, Allura and Lance. They bicker a little, naturally. It’s almost like they’ve become wrapped up in a relationship one might see between brother and sister, and Lance can’t help but be a little protective. It’s no secret that he would protect the Queen with his life not only out of patriotism, but because Allura has always been kind to him. Best friends, certainly. But a romantic relationship?

It would be a little weird. Not to mention, Allura is twenty-six. Lance is twenty-two, and a sailor. It never would’ve worked out.

Things have changed so much since then…. She almost misses it-- Not the courting, just the carefree feeling of it all, before everything changed for the worse.

Allura washes her face of the sweat gathered from an evening’s training session and sighs, feeling a wave of nostalgia. She leaves on her sparring clothes, just a plain white shirt with billowing sleeves and a pair of easy-to-move-in leggings. She eats dinner. No one dines with her. The guards don’t say a word and she’s given up trying to make conversation with them, anyway. She wanders the corridors, lets the breeze from the château’s open windows cool her head before she decides she’s tired enough to return to her bed chambers, where she’s greeted by no ladies-in-waiting, not even a maid. There are very few servants at court these days.

Actually, there are only four or five people who actually keep the château in check and cook the food, not counting the guards, who receive good pay and ample time off to spend with family. Allura’s done nothing but try to continue her father’s legacy of justice and generosity, even with the phantom of a war looming just off on the horizon. Any day now. Another attack will come.

Allura wants to carry on her father’s legacy, but it’s a heavy legacy to bear.

Like every night, she changes into a nightgown, tries to get a comb through her thick shock of white hair, and checks under her bed out of habit, just to make sure that it’s still there.

Zarkon’s map.

It’s been locked in a metal box for three years, stashed below the foot of her bed. Who better to guard it than the Queen of Altea herself? She still has no bloody idea what the map is for, or where it’s meant to lead. By all accounts, the end location doesn’t even exist, and there’s no compass rose, so how anyone could follow the map is beyond her. But Lance had brought it back from a successful raid on a pirate ship belonging to the Galra, so it must be important. Somehow.

It’s still there, safe in its case, stubbornly secured with two locks.

The only way to open the box - well, short of tearing it apart with something stronger than the metal itself - is with two keys. One of them sits in Allura’s chest of drawers beneath a pile of old stockings. The other key remains with Lance. Technically, he’s the only one she can trust to keep the damn thing safe from wandering hands or curious thieves (not that a thief could easily get into the château). And god help her, because Lance McClain can be reckless at the best of times. Yet he’s still the only one she feels comfortable keeping the key with.

If this map means anything, she’s sure someone will come across that information at some point. Perhaps Lance McClain, or perhaps one of the kingdom’s renowned scholars. Anyone would do at this point. She just wants some answers.

Eyes heavy with sleep, Allura crawls wearily into her bed with the mess of swansdown pillows, and checks under her regular pillow to make sure her dagger is still there. Which it is.

Of course, there are always guards posted outside, but there’s no promise that one of her windows, open or closed, is safe. And while the white stonework outside the château means it’s easy to spot an intruder, you just can’t be too careful these days. Oh, and if the dagger fails, Allura does have a sword hanging a foot above the headboard of her bed.

So… yeah. She’s got every possibility accounted for. She just wishes the château didn’t feel like a cliffside tomb of white stone walls and weary hearts.

As she falls asleep, she can hear the heavy waves beating against the cliffs not a mile away, and she thinks about her father. About how she’ll continue his legacy. Even if it kills her, too.

 

0{}=========> 

 

Lance doesn’t want to die.

 

The waves are showing the Blue Lion no mercy, tossing the ship around like a toy boat in a roiling tub of saltwater and fury. This, Lance thinks, might actually be worse than an attack by Weblum. Because at least you can kill a Weblum. You can’t kill a storm.

He grips tightly to a rope as the ship rocks dangerously starboard, catching himself before he’s thrown over the side like a ragdoll. His arms strain. He grits his teeth and calls out another order, although he’s not sure if anyone can hear him over the roar of the rain and drumrolls of angry thunder. It’s a miracle none of the crew have been tossed over the rail yet. He crosses his fingers and prays it never happens.

Most of the crew aboard the Lion are above deck. Only a choice few remain below -- including Zack the cabin boy, who’s only fifteen, and if something ever happened to him on the ship Lance is sure he’d seek out his own beheading; Slav is also down below, making sure some of the heavier equipment stays put amidst the tilting of the ship, and also probably making sure his precious stash of seafaring books is kept safe.

Pidge, ever bold in the face of imminent danger, remains stubbornly at her post up in the crow’s nest, looking for any sign of a reprieve from the bombardment of nasty waves and dark water. If they can find the eye of the monster that is the storm, they have a chance of keeping their ship in one piece for the remainder of the trip. It’s a little harder to get a good look any where when the rain makes her spyglass more slippery than a greased pig. Every swear word she’s ever learned crosses her mind, but she’s not giving up.

One of the sails is ripped -- luckily, it’s not going to pose a huge problem. They have two spares rolled up belowdeck for emergencies, and hell if this doesn’t count as an emergency. For now, only one sail is down, drawn taut against the violent wind. The ripped one has since been taken down, to be repaired when the worst of this is over.

Pidge calls down to the forecastle where Hunk hangs onto another rope, one arm around Shay, who got caught up in running between the forecastle and the main deck and would’ve been thrown overboard if Hunk hadn’t caught her in time. They both look up towards the source of the shout.

“Get Lance!” she tries again, pointing at Hunk and Shay, then to the helm, where Lance hangs onto his own rope with one hand while making a last-ditch effort to keep his beloved ship on course. His brow is pinched with focus and his knuckles are white around the wheel. His face is only just visible behind a sheet of rain.

Hunk waves up to Pidge, says something to Shay, and then leaves her on her own to hang onto the rope while he braves the gangway. He slips a few times.

Pidge winces, watching from above as she silently roots for Hunk to not let his ass get swept over the rail.

The Lion’s hull groans, receiving a beating from the waves. Amongst them, one wave taller than the tallest building that anyone on deck has ever seen rises out of the churning water. Everyone braces themselves for impact.

Mrrrrrrrnnnn creeeeAAAKK!!

Literally everyone aboard the Lion holds their breath and grabs the closest, stable piece of upholstery that they can find. Some scramble for open ropes as the ship shudders soundly and tilts…. And tilts. Gallons upon gallons of water slosh onto the deck with vigor.

No one screams, or cries, because they’re sailors and dammit, this is their job. It’s just that the storm is worse than anything anyone on this ship has ever encountered.

Except Lance.

Standing at the helm, Lance is dragged back into a memory: his first trip out to sea.

Captain Iverson decided it was high time Lance experienced the open waters. So, the swabbie with the big mouth and a spirit for adventure was officially a part of the S.S. Garrison crew. Lance had never been more excited in all his seventeen years of life than on that day.

Three days into their journey, a storm hit. A big one. Bigger than the one the Blue Lion is facing now, even.

And long story short, some of Iverson’s crew hadn’t made it. To this day, Lance feels guilty for being one of the trip’s few survivors.

He is not going to let his crew down. Jaw set and mouth pressed tight in a focused line, he promises himself that.

 

Just then Hunk is in his vision, climbing the steps to the helm with both hands gripping the railing with all his might as the ship tilts again. Rain is loud in Lance’s ears and the waves rocking the ship like some horrible version of a baby’s cradle are even louder. “Hunk!” he says. He has to raise his voice to almost a shout to be heard over the rain.

“Lance!” Hunk answers, slipping a little before he reaches the wheel. He bends his knees to brace for the next rocking of the ship. “Lance, it’s Pidge,” he pants, pointing up towards the crow’s nest. Lance frowns and follows the finger, looking up at where he can just barely make out Pidge in the torrential downpour. It looks like she’s waving down at them. And pointing-- not at them, but at something off in the distance that they have yet to see.

“I think she found it,” Hunk says.

“Found what?”

Crrrreeeeeakkkk

Another tilt, not as bad as the last one but still fairly strong, has Hunk and Lance gripping each other’s forearms and bending their knees, locking each other in place so as not to lose balance. Still gripping firmly, Hunk explains, “The eye! The eye of the storm! I think Pidge can see it.”

Lance’s mouth forms a silent “O.”

He nods. Hunk gives him a grim look, turning to look back at the rest of the crew.

Shay is still holding tight to her rope.

Lance can see the figure of Klay, arms thrown around the mizzenmast with a look of deep concentration on his grizzled face. His hat is missing. Everyone else seems to be in a similar position. No one is in any position to be carrying out orders, practical or not.

Lance turns back to Hunk and nods harder, before looking up to give a wave to Pidge. He just hopes she can see it. “Point the way!” he yells.

It takes a few seconds. He has to repeat himself, but eventually, Pidge catches on. With an indiscernible shout on her end, Pidge gets her spyglass, and uses that to better point Lance in the direction they need to go.

Lance’s expression sets in determination. He follows the spyglass, and with all his strength, he turns the wheel to follow suit. "Mind the boom!" comes a shout.

The Lion seems to be disagreeing with him, but really it’s just mother nature, telling the entire ship and her crew to go fuck themselves. Lance never did like being told what to do.

The storm rages . Lance McClain, one and only captain of the Blue Lion, steels himself for the worst and lets it come.

Those who can get a clear look up at the helm watch. Some in fear.

Some in awe.

Lance isn’t too sure which category Klay falls into, but right at the moment he doesn’t actually care. Honestly? He couldn’t give less of a seagull’s shit. He spots Plaxum and Florona, helping each other stay upright near a pile of rope and crates, using the heavy objects for balance.

Someone shakes him by the shoulder. Lance looks over, gritting his teeth as he battles with the storm for control of the wheel.

“Hunk!” he says, “What is it?”

Hunk just points again at Pidge, shaking his head as if to say, ‘I got nothing on this one.”

Lance looks up at Pidge. The spyglass has been lowered, and the tiny spot of light - the eye of the storm - is in the ship’s sight. But it doesn’t look like Pidge is pointing at that.

“What?” Lance calls up.

“Annn O’rrbohhh!” comes Pidge’s voice, garbled by the wind and pounding sheets of rain.

“Whaaat?!” Lance shouts back.

He sees Pidge lean over the side of the crow’s nest and suddenly fears she might fall. But she just shouts back down at him, voice loud and a little clearer than before.

Clear enough that Lance picks out the words, “Man overboard!”

The hand still holding the spyglass for dear life points out towards the portside bow. On gut instinct, Lance turns, grabs Hunk by the shoulder, and says in the unwavering voice of a seasoned ship’s captain, “Take the wheel.”

Hunk springs into action, barely given the time to process before he’s suddenly the one guiding the ship.

Lance is down the stairs in seconds.

Sure enough, Shay, also near the portside rail, shoots him a worried look and points out over the side of the ship.

Lance grips the rail and leans over.

Pidge was right.

Just off a few meters, a rain-smudged image of a human hanging on for dear life to what looks like a capsized boat is being tossed in the throes of the storm. Lance can’t make out who it is, but he does know one thing: No one is dying on his watch. Whether or not they belong to his crew is not something he cares about today.

Without a thought, Lance violently shrugs off his doublet, kicks off his boots with a grunt, takes a few paces back, and then makes a run for the rail.

He vaguely hears Hunk screaming after him. Hunk and a few others.

Lance ignores it and keeps going until he’s at the rail and leaping over, diving into the water like he’s been doing this sort of thing his whole life. Because he kind of has. Just not in the middle of what must be the most vicious storm in all of sailor history. His hands break the surface before the rest of him.

 

The water is freezing.

The first thing his body registers is the shock of cold cold cold and it makes him want to seize up, to stop fighting and just let himself be swept away. Which goes against everything he believes in, so Lance does what anyone in his situation would do: Calls upon his years of swimming experience and kicks his legs harder than he ever has until his thighs burn, until his muscles and lungs ache, but he keeps going. The maelstrom does not let up for him. More than once he finds himself tossed below the surface. Lance’s lungs are strong, but he can’t hold up for much longer. He breaks the surface again and gasps for air. It’s hard to get a clean breath in the thickness of the rain but he manages, and as he does he looks around quickly for any sign of the person hanging onto that boat. Or piece of wood. Whichever it was.

There they are, not far from the overturned, splintered remains of what must’ve been a rowboat.

The person’s face is hard to see and they seem barely conscious. Lance already feels disoriented from so many plunges below the water and the rain is inhibiting his vision, his ears ring, hurting from the biting cold of the water. But the person looks like he’s struggling weakly to keep above the surface, hands clawing at wood and god only knows how long he’s been capsized. It could have been hours , for all Lance knows.

Another deep breath, and he dives, taking hard, streamlined strokes towards the struggling man.

That’s when another wave hits.

Lance goes under.

When he breaches the surface again, there’s no sign of the other man or the boat. He dives in the direction Lance last saw him, frantic and searching, heart beating faster in his ears. Or maybe that’s the thunder he hears.

Something brushes his thigh and he twists in the water. Spots a lock of inky, black hair cutting through a clump of sea foam before it disappears beneath the water, and Lance doesn’t waste another second.

He can’t open his eyes underwater, but he can feel. He reaches out and his hand makes contact with cloth. Fingers latch onto it on instinct and Lance reaches for more, finding an arm, which is connected to a torso, and he kicks himself closer to wrap an arm around it. A strong tide tries to pull them apart but Lance isn’t having it.

He kicks, and kicks, and battles it out against the sea gods themselves as he brings himself and the capsized stranger to the surface, gasping for air. The other man appears to be unconscious, head lolling to one side, and from this angle Lance can’t get a look at his face at all- it wouldn’t matter anyway, because the shock of dark hair has been slicked messily over his face. Lance prays he’s breathing at least a little.

 

He can’t quite remember what happened next, but Lance vaguely remembers someone shouting at him from up above and tossing down a rope, which he grabs, feeling himself and the person in his arms being dragged towards the ship. A rope ladder is unrolled over the rail.

It’s a mystery to Lance, how he manages to climb the damn thing with a limp, wet body slung over one shoulder, but he manages it. When he hoists them both over the rail, his own body gets the better of him and he sags, exhausted. He can’t stop himself from collapsing to the deck, with the unconscious stranger falling on top of him with a soft thud.

Half of his crew surrounds him. Some offer him a hand, but he brushes them off breathlessly. Everyone backs off.

He coughs.

The stranger sprawled over him remains unmoving, adding extra weight to Lance's stomach and chest, and the rain is not letting up. Terrified he’s saved the man from the water only to let him die on the deck, Lance rolls him over and crawls to his side, pressing an ear to his chest.

Alive .

Lance hadn’t let him die after all. Thank god. He can breathe a little easier now.

“Captain…” Klay’s voice. Lance doesn’t need to look up to know. “He’s not one of ours.”

He’s right, but Lance hardly sees how that’s Klay’s biggest concern at the moment.

“He’s alive,” is all Lance can say, lifting his head to inspect the man lying limp next to him, clothes soaked through and chilled to the bone.

And that’s when he finally catches sight of the stranger’s pale face, visible now with the oil-dark hair washed back from the rain. Pink lips carry a tint of blue.

The rest of the crew surrounding them is dead silent amidst the roar of the water.

Dark eyes flutter open.

A thick cough, wet and full of seawater, fills Lance’s ears.

Lance's own throat constricts; his vision spots, either from the lack of oxygen he’s been receiving lately or from pure and utter confusion. After all the mayhem, diving into frigid water in the thick of a storm, carrying his weight and more back up the side of his own ship, and it’s only now that Lance feels a tremor run through his entire body. He’s not fighting for air anymore but for some reason, oxygen escapes him.

Someone, Lance thinks it might be Plaxum, comments in a hushed voice to someone else, "Is that- Do you think it's...?"

She doesn't get a response.

The man lifts his head from the deck, panting heavily, and indigo eyes lock on blue. Even through the rain, Lance can hear him clear as day.

“Lance McClain,” Keith Kogane says, voice weak. Then his eyes fall shut again as his head hits the deck.

Suddenly, the Blue Lion is swept up in even more chaos than before, and so is Lance’s tangled fishing line soul.

 

Chapter Text

Keith had spotted the dark clouds in the sky around the same time he caught sight of a dot on the water. The Blue Lion.

He’d known it was her, not needing to see the name painted on the side of the hull to confirm it.

Now storm clouds block out the sun. It’s dark enough to be either late evening or early morning, even though it must be around noon at this point.

Keith wouldn’t know-- he’s a little busy trying not to fucking die out here, thanks. With newfound vigor, he rows hard, propelling the little boat forward with everything he’s got even as the waves grow bigger and bigger. Dangerously bigger. Wind-chapped knuckles crack and bleed but he ignores it. The rain pounding down into the rowboat is slowly but surely filling the bottom… Keith wishes he had a bucket. For now, he can afford to ignore it, but sooner or later the rain is going to lead to trouble and he sure knows it.

His hair is soaked. His clothes feel like they’ve been tossed into a tub and slapped back onto his body instead of a hanger to dry. Wet fabric sticks to him in all the wrong ways and in all the wrong places. Is it weird that he feels violated by his own clothing?

He rows, upper arms sore, and takes deep breaths in through his nose, trying to conserve energy.

“Stupid.” Huff. “Fucking.” Huff. “Rain.”

Just then a flash of lightning erupts in the distance.

Oh, fantastic .

Seriously?

Keith groans and rows harder, if it’s even possible. He’d shrugged off his coat an hour ago when it proved too constricting for rowing-- not to mention sweaty. A wave lifts the rowboat and for a second, he’s floating. Then he’s dropped. Roughly. The boat lands hard at an angle and Keith is thrown to the side, the wind knocked out of him. God damn it, god damn it god damn it, he was an idiot. He should’ve stayed on the ship and tried something else. Thought this through like an adult instead of acting on his impulses.

Shiro’s gonna murder him. Oh, if this storm doesn’t kill him first, Shiro is going to fucking crucify him.

Hell no. He’s getting to that ship. He can see it; He’s so close, just a few more miles and then….

And then what? He’ll be welcomed aboard with open arms? The crew of the Lion had never seemed like the type to shoot first and ask questions later, but in this storm, they just might be. Who knows. Keith supposes he’ll just have to risk it.

So he rows, rows for longer than he thinks is the amount of time he’d estimated this would take, head twisting over his shoulder every ten seconds to make sure the ship is still there, not just a hallucination brought on by all the electricity in the air. He startles when a massive clap of thunder cracks from right above. It’s like being surrounded on all sides by thousands of horse’s hooves all galloping at the same time.

Time is impossible to measure in situations like this, when all you can see is darkness and the shapes of waves swelling on the surface of the water. The only light he has is the barest pulse of sunlight coming faintly through fast-moving clouds and the crackles of lightning off in the distance, casting a sharp but sparse reflection on the water. Keith swallows and grips the oars with all the strength he has when the boat is lifted again, higher this time, and when he falls, he doesn’t land the right way.

Ahhh!”

Keith reaches forward, oars forgotten as he goes to grab his right ankle. When he looks, nothing appears wrong, but it feels wrong.

Oh god. Oh god, he wants to cry out in pain and let himself be thrown over the side of the boat to drown. He looks over his shoulder again as he bites his lip in pain, and takes in a shaky breath.

Don’t ever let pain control you, Keith, his brother once told him. It was a couple years back, that one time some asshole in Barbados punched him in the face after Keith stole the guy’s pocket watch. The man had it coming anyway. He was a thief before Keith took the watch back, so in the end, they both deserved what was coming to them. Don’t give him the satisfaction. Patience yields focus. Stupid Shiro. Keith hates him for always being so insufferably right all the time.

The Blue Lion bobs on the water like a fishing lure in the storm, small. It’s only then that Keith forgets about his ankle, grabs the oars, and continues to row.

 

Hours. Has it been hours?

 

His coat lies in a soggy heap on the floor of the boat. His hands are blistered, his lip bleeding from being bitten hard as Keith tries to ignore the pain in his ankle, which is more likely sprained than it is broken. He’ll be fine. He has to be fine.

The ship is so close now that he can make out people running back and forth on deck. The the rain is so heavy, and getting heavier with every minute. It’s a wonder Keith can still see anything at all. Can the crew see him from here, like he can see them? Can Lance see him?

Doubtful.

But he’s almost there, and Keith’s spirits lift just a fraction.

Then the wave hits. Not just any wave. No, this is the highest, nastiest wave Keith has ever seen in all his years of sailing… and he’s seen some big waves. None of them compare to this one. He braces himself, but there’s hardly any point. He’s nothing but a speck on the water and the wave is a solid wall of sheer, unrelenting power.

The next thing he knows is a mouthful of seawater, a coldness that consumes him completely, and then, nothing.

 

0{}=========>

 

He faintly remembers opening his eyes, rain pouring down all around him. Blue eyes look back down at him, wet and huge, and very surprised. He thinks he might've said something, but the memory evades him when he blacks out again.

Keith wakes wrapped in a blanket.

That’s interesting.

Just one blanket though, which must be why he still feels cold. It’s dark where he is, dimly lit by a small candle in a holder mounted to the wall. He cracks his eyes open wider.

Wait-- Where the hell is he?

Soft footfalls sound from nearby, and he unthinkingly turns his head to see who it is. It’s hard to tell, the light is so sparse down here. And he must be down somewhere low. He knows when he’s on a ship, and he knows his way around one just fine, no matter the state he’s in. The figure in front of him stands with arms crossed, seeming to tower above Keith, who’s still huddled on his side against a wall.

“Where am I?” he croaks, voice hoarse and dry. His tongue feels like someone scrubbed it with a dead animal. Twice.

A small object is tossed down by his head. He looks towards it weakly.

A waterskin. They’re giving him something to drink?

Desperate to slake the horrible thirst and dry mouth after so much saltwater, Keith pulls an arm from his blanket cocoon and grabs haphazardly for the waterskin, then hurriedly sits upright as he draws it to his mouth, swallowing fresh, clean water faster than his body can keep up with.

He coughs, and drops the waterskin to the floor.

The figure above humph s. Unsure what this guy's purpose here is, Keith ignores the disapproving noise. He seems to be staring out through a barred door...

So he’s in the brig, then. They’ve thrown him in the brig. How is that even fair? He never even got a chance to explain his reasons for being here in the first place. The brig ?

Well, he thinks, he couldn’t have explained himself when he was unconscious.

But like, still. Come on.

It’s so… cold. He shivers, curling in on himself and he immediately wishes he hadn’t because he must look so weak and vulnerable, wrapped in a blanket with no hat, no weapon, and no one with him for backup. He’s a pirate, and the captain of the Red Sword, and this is what he’s been reduced to- a sniveling prisoner locked in the brig of an Altean ship. And it's definitely the ship he's thinking of. He sits up a little straighter and lets the blanket fall from his shoulders in an attempt to not look so stupid-- then quickly reaches to pull the blanket back up when he realizes he’s not wearing his shirt.

Where? The hell??

As discreetly as possible, Keith shifts where he sits to try and figure out if… nope, no breeches either. What, had they stripped him naked before imprisoning him?

Okay, he can tell he’s at least wearing some underwear. Jesus, thank god. He scowls back at the person outside his cell and lifts his chin, trying to salvage what little dignity he has left.

“Tell me where I am,” he demands.

The man shrugs. He doesn’t look like he wants to talk to Keith at all. He’d probably drawn the short stick to keep an eye on the prisoner. Keith doesn’t feel sorry for him.

Tell me where I am,”  he tries one more time, managing to sound firm. He doesn’t feel it. He feels like he’s going to pass out again, but he tells himself not to. There literally could not be a worse time to do a thing like that than right now.

The guy sighs. He’s tall and very tan, thickly muscled, and a yellow bandana is tied around his head. He looks like he could lift Keith in the air with one hand and not even bat an eye.

“The brig,” he says. “Happy?”

“The brig of the Blue Lion, right?” Keith assumes. He realizes he recognizes this particular crew member now, as the remnants of dizziness fade and the fresh water clears his head. This would be the captain’s first mate, but for the life of him Keith can’t remember his name.

“Right?” he repeats.

No response.

Oh, so it’s like that, is it? Fine. Two can play at that game. Keith scowls and goes silent, too, glaring daggers at the man outside his cell. The guy’s just looking at him, annoyingly quiet. His eyes don’t roam, but something about the way he looks at Keith is enough to make him wonder. Why is this guy staring at him like that? What, is he afraid of Keith? He is a pirate - No, Keith seriously doubts that this silently powerful stranger is even a little bit scared of him. Not when he probably looks like a shivering, damp rat in a blanket.

“Could you at least tell me your name?”

The man looks unsure for a moment. He shuffles in place, reaching up with one hand to fidget with the shoulder of his leather vest. “Why do you need to know?” he finally says.

Keith rolls his eyes. “I didn't realize it was a crime to be curious. You know I'm still a person, right?”

It must not have been what his new prison guard was expecting to hear, and Keith actually does get a real answer this time.

“It’s-- It’s uh, it’s Hunk.”

“Hunk?”

The first mate - Hunk - nods slowly.

“Huh…” Keith scoots closer to the bars of his cell and pulls an arm back out of his blanket, reaching between two of the bars. Hunk steps back at first, maybe thinking Keith will try something. But then Keith raises an eyebrow, frowning lightly with an unamused look on his face, and it has Hunk rethinking his actions. After a beat, he steps forward.

Arm extended, Hunk reaches out and grabs Keith’s hand for a small shake, a little awkward but at the same time curiously relieving. For Keith, at least.

It’s a start. He’s not too sure how Hunk feels, since he doesn’t appear to be all that comfortable with shaking a prisoner’s hand. Or a pirate's. Keith lets up and lowers his hand, and Hunk draws back again too, stepping away. It leaves Keith feeling a little miffed, but he supposes he can’t blame the guy for being cautious.

Who wouldn’t be, if they had one of the most famous pirate captains sitting right in front of them? After all, pirates can’t be trusted. Even if this one does happen to be one of the youngest captains to ever command a pirate crew.

Especially if they are that, actually.

Keith is twenty-one, perhaps not the tallest or burliest when it comes to stature, but he’s the fastest man on board his ship and the best fighter. He’s a swordsman. A master swordsman, to be honest, as well as one of the greatest sailors known on the seas in a very long time.

Maybe aside from McClain.

And speaking of-

“I want to talk to your captain.”

Hunk shakes his head, like he knew Keith was going to say that. “Sorry, no can do. The captain’s currently very busy.”

“Doing what?” Keith asks, challenging.

As expected, Hunk tenses up, pausing like he’s trying to think of something to say that doesn’t sound like he’s making it up on the spot.

Which is exactly what he ends up doing.

“He’s um. He’s doing… things. Important captain things.”

“Like?”

Hunk just keeps getting more and more flustered, and it shows. “Like uh, like stuff and things like-” he snaps his fingers as he attempts to stall for time. “The laundry!” He shuts his eyes then, like he’s instantly regretting his choice of words.

Even Keith feels a little sorry. This guy has clearly never been taught how to lie properly.

“The laundry,” Keith deadpans. It’s funny. He almost wants to give this guy some room to make a recovery. It never comes, though. Hunk just stands there with a conflicted look on his face, evidently wishing he’d never said anything at all. And Keith almost feels bad. Almost.

“Let me talk to your captain,” he says. Then, just for the hell of it, “Please.”

He hears Hunk groan but to Keith’s satisfaction, he does look like he’s going to give in.

The first mate brings a hand over his face and rubs at his temples, and Keith thinks he must be running on somewhere between two and four hours of sleep. Considering the storm and everything…

Wait, is the storm over?

It certainly doesn’t feel like the ship is being rocked back and forth like it’s being attacked by giant waves, and he doesn’t hear thunder or the incessant pounding of rain. It must be safe to assume they’ve made it out of the storm. Or at the very least, they found its eye, and now they’re just waiting it out.

“So are you just gonna stand there or…?”

Hunk throws him an annoyed look, but it looks like he’s given up arguing. With a final “Hmph", he turns on his heel, fists clenched, and leaves. Keith hears the sound of wooden steps creaking as Hunk leaves the brig. A door slams shut, and then, silence.

Geez, what got that guy’s stockings in a twist?

Keith’s alone down here. No other prisoners are on board, it would seem, but he supposes that might be a good thing.

He sits there in his blanket and counts the seconds in his head, tapping a finger against the rough paneling of the floor.

Thirty-six seconds.

Fifty-two seconds.

One minute and twenty-eight seconds.

 

Three minutes.

 

eight minutes.

 

God this is so boring. He’d rather be stuck back in Barbados. And hell knows Barbados roughed him up real good.

Just as Keith thinks he might just go back to sleep, he hears more footsteps. Steps creak, lighter than before-- Just one set of footsteps. Hunk hasn’t come back down, but someone else is here.

Keith’s stomach feels funny all of a sudden. Without thinking about it, he pulls the blanket tighter around himself, maybe to stop the chills running all throughout his body and maybe just to provide an extra shred of decency. He’s not even half-dressed, after all. He supposes it’d be bad manners to greet the captain of a ship, enemy or no, in just his underwear.

Then again, a part of him does wonder how said captain would… react.

Nah. Better not.

The footsteps get closer to the bottom of the stairs.

 

A pause.

 

Keith waits, listening keenly with a schooled expression. And he waits. He’s just waiting for it, what is taking so long? He feels like an idiot as he waits for that face to appear in front of him with that self-confident smirk and striking blue eyes. What a dick.

And Keith holds his breath, waiting. The footsteps return, growing louder until finally- Yep, it's him. Just him, no one else. It's dark, but not too dark for Keith to see. 

Lance.

For some reason, Keith is never prepared to see him, no matter how much he psychs himself out. What is wrong with him?

For a moment, they just look at each other in complete silence. Even the ship feels like it's gone still, waiting for someone to talk first. Lance, naturally, is the first to break the tense (one might say unnecessarily tense) silence. Keith isn’t sure what he was expecting.

“Long time no see, Kogane.”

Keith growls under his breath and glares back up at Lance, who looks relaxed as he stands on the other side of the bars, one hand on his hips.

“Missed me that much, huh?”

“Don’t start with me,” Keith snaps. For some reason that’s something he always finds himself saying around Lance. Because Lance McClain is always ready to start something.

“If you’re here for your knife, you’re not getting it back,” says Lance. “Sorry.” He’s definitely not sorry. “I can’t really give prisoners weapons, those are kinda the rules.”

“Not here for the knife,” Keith answers in a clipped voice.

A beat.

Lance snorts, and Keith even lets himself let out a little huff of his own. That’s all it takes for them to fall back into something easier, like their usual back-and-forth that they’d usually take part in above deck, maybe during a raid or a nice, one-on-one duel. It’s a little different when one of them is behind bars. Now it’s just awkward.

They both seem to realize this after a moment, and although the tension has lessened somewhat, it’s by no means gone.

Lance clears his throat. It’s weird, the way he looks now, like maybe he’s not as confident as he appears when he’s waving around a sword or a knife or one of his annoyingly disarming smiles. “I hope you made yourself comfortable?” he says, lips quirking. “We’ll be setting out again as soon as the last of the rain clears up. Can’t go taking any chances, y’know?”

“... Comfortable?”  Keith gapes, head tilted up to look Lance in the face before doing a sweep of the area around him with his eyes, making it clear enough that he disagrees. Very strongly. “Couldn’t you have just, I don’t know,” he shrugs under the blanket, “put me in a regular cabin with a chain around my ankle or something?”

“Whose cabin? We don’t have guest rooms on this ship, my friend.”

“Not your friend.”

Lance slaps a hand to his chest, right over his heart. His face is laughably dramatic, like something out of a tragic play. “And here I was thinking we had something,” he stage whispers, fluttering his eyelashes like a stereotypical damsel, before letting his mouth get pulled up in a wider grin at the expense of Keith’s mutinous little heart.

Keith scoffs and dismisses it, quickly pulling out the uncaring façade he’s grown so used to wearing around Lance. If only to preserve his own pride. “You said that the last time we saw each other.”

“Oho, so you do remember that!” Lance folds his arms across his chest, triumphant.

“You should at least let people explain themselves before tossing them into the brig, asshole.”

Lance has the decency to look sheepish. He rubs the back of his neck, lips forming into something a little less smug. He’s wearing that stupid half-smile-- the one that makes Keith want to look away. Because it’s really not fair, how someone can do something as dumb as smile only halfway and still have the innate power to knock the air out of someone’s lungs. And Keith really likes having air in his lungs, thanks.

“Uhh yeah, about that... you were kinda passed out. No one could wake you up, so. Well.” He shrugs.

Keith scowls. Then he wonders- How long….?

“How long was I out?” he asks.

“Just five hours.”

Five?” Keith splutters, eyes wide. “No way.”

Lance holds up his hands. A gesture that usually means, Friend, you need to relax. “Hey, not my fault,” he says. “It could’ve been worse. You could be dead. Like, after capsizing that boat and everything?” The look he gives Keith is a little more than obvious. It’s a look that practically screams, Uh, you’re welcome.

Keith isn’t impressed. “Why am I in the brig?”

Lance clucks his tongue and shakes his head, a wry smile on his face. “Wow. No beating around the bush with you, huh? Looks like you haven’t changed much.”

“It’s only been, what, three weeks?” Keith mentally kicks himself in the ass for remembering that so quickly. He rushes to add, “You must’ve had a good reason for bringing me down here without at least some sort of trial window.”

“Thought that one was pretty obvious, my good sir.” Lance flicks his hand Keith’s way, giving him a look as though it’s perfectly clear. “Hello? Pirate?”

Keith growls. With self-control to be envied, he does not, however, roll his eyes. He’s only just now feeling a little more self-conscious -- he’s only wearing his skivvies and a blanket, after all. He decides to try an easier question.

“Where the hell are my clothes?”

Lance snorts. “They’re with laundry. Don’t worry princess, I promise on my honor as a sailor that you’ll get them back.”

“Why doesn’t that make me feel any better.”

“Well I guess I could just leave you with that blanket, if you’d rather do it the Roman way.” That look on his face is so indecent that Keith is almost glad for the darkness. He’s not sure what he’d do if Lance could see how red his face must be.

“Give me my fucking clothes.”

“Ah ah ah,” Lance wags a finger at him, just like he did once before. During the raid, those few weeks ago. Then he does something that pisses Keith off even more: He lowers himself down into a crouch on the ground, eyes level with Keith’s. Like Keith is a kid who’s about to get a very stern talking-to. “Tell me,” Lance murmurs, voice barely loud enough to fill the small space belowdeck, “tell me why you were trying to travel by rowboat in the middle of the worst storm this part of the world’s seen in years.”

“Why would I tell you?” Keith snaps. Then remembers that the whole reason he came here was to talk to Lance in the first place.

“Do you have anything better to do?” Lance counters smugly, gesturing around. “I just wanna know why one of the youngest ever ship's captains -- and a pirate, for god’s sake -- decided to abandon his crew in the middle of a storm, just to wind up in the brig of an enemy ship. Even I’m not that stupid, pal. Start explaining.” That look. It’s almost daring Keith to snap back.

Keith almost falls for it. That idiotic game Lance plays where he just pushes and pushes and pushes, until all the buttons have been pushed, and now they’re all loose and it’s just inconvenient for everyone involved. Keith almost snaps back at Lance with something equally insulting, but he bites it back. It leaves a bitter taste in his mouth, but he keeps it together. He’s at a huge disadvantage and they both know it.

“You were rrr..." Nnnnope, no, he can't do it. This has got to be the most embarrassing thing he's ever had to do in his life. And that includes the Thing in Barbados. He tries again. "You were right.” He feels like he’s choking on his own words. It’s nothing short of painful, admitting Lance McClain was right about something. “I came here to see you.” But not because I missed you, you shameless son of a bitch.

Lance quirks an eyebrow, confused. It looks pretty sincere. "What was that?" he says, face slowly brightening. If he didn't look positively obscene before, he does now. It should be impossible and illegal, really, because he's hardly even doing anything. He's just smiling. Smiling with those hooded eyes. "I didn't quite hear that."

A low growl, deep in the back of his throat. Irritated. "I know you heard me."

"I really think you should say it again though."

"You. Were. Right." Keith snarls. "I'm not saying it again."

Lance's smile doesn't leave his face. Although he remains curious. “...So what exactly am I right about?” he asks.

“Believe it or not, I wanted to talk to you.”

Sultry lips curl in a way Keith thinks is really unnecessary. But Lance McClain is kind of the definition of “Unnecessary.” He’s also the definition of “Dramatic,” “Insufferable,” and “Shameless.”

“You.” Lance points questioningly, a brazen look in his eye as his voice lowers. “You wanted to talk to me. Well well well…”

It takes everything in Keith not to just say fuck it and stop talking.

But he’s gotta do this. It’s either he does it his way, or the Galra will find him eventually, figure out what he’s up to, and do it their way. And the Galra don’t leave survivors when they do things their way.

“You remember that deal you mentioned, the last time we talked?” Keith says begrudgingly, phrasing it as though they’d only “talked,” and not “threatened each other’s lives while simultaneously getting under each other’s skin in ways that most enemies don’t usually resort to.”

Lance looks thoughtful for a moment. He also looks tired, which really shouldn’t be all that surprising considering he’d probably been a little busy with the storm. Captaining a ship during an event like that comes with a price. That price is normally one heavy dose of nightmares and, in many cases, a few night’s lack of sleep. Lance is still attractive as hell, unfortunately for Keith, but there’s no denying that even in the shitty light of the lower decks, he’s sleep-deprived and looks it. No doublet as usual, waistcoat undone and shirt a little uneven at the neckline, and by the looks of it, Lance probably hasn’t brushed his hair since the storm. Case in point, it’s a mess.

Fucking gorgeous, though. It makes Keith want to punch him in the face.

After a moment of pensive silence, Lance nods. “The deal…” He slowly stands, tapping a finger to his chin. “You mean--”

“The one where I take your side and help you take down Zarkon, yeah.”

That throws Lance for a loop. “Umm,” he says uncertainly, “I don’t know if that last part’s exactly what I meant--”

“We can do it,” Keith interrupts again. He can feel some energy finally returning to him, a little tingle in his fingertips that makes him remember why he came here in the first place. And nearly died doing it. “Show me where that map is, and I can show you how to use it.” That last part is kind of a lie. But technically, he does know one or two people who might be able to help them out. Baby steps. He just needs his foot in the door, that’s all. “Please, I wouldn’t have come if I didn’t mean it.”

He has a point. Lance knows firsthand how close Keith had come to actually giving up his life just to reach this ship. Plus, he knows how proud Keith is. He wouldn’t lower himself to begging if he wasn’t totally desperate for something.

There’s conflict in Lance’s eyes. A war between morals, between the knowledge that they’re enemies and have been that way for years, the fact that Keith is a pirate, and the knowledge that Keith sounds too serious to be lying.

But pirates are good liars.

And Lance is torn.

“I... “ he laughs, almost nervous sounding. “I really don’t know about that. I haven’t even seen that map in years.”

“But you know where it is,” Keith assumes. It’s his turn to look smug now. Lance doesn’t respond to the question. Keith takes it as a ‘Yes.’

“Please…” he tries one last time. If he came all this way for nothing…

"That map," Lance says hesitantly. A question and a consideration hang in the air. A glimmer of hope. "There's really a way to take Zarkon down?"

"It can point us in the right direction." Keith hopes that's true. He's not... he's not entirely sure, per se, but he can figure it out as he goes along. If Lance goes along with him.

“I…” Lance sighs. He pinches the bridge of his nose, breathing deeply. “You’re asking a lot of me. And right now we’re already sort of on course to go get some of my crew back-- You know," he says, eyeing Keith in annoyance, "the ones you kidnapped the last time we saw each other?”

Keith winces, shifting a little in his blanket on the floor. He wishes he had the strength to stand, but he hasn’t eaten anything in at least a day and it’s starting to catch up to him. “About that…” he starts, and Lance’s eyes narrow.

“What?” Lance asks.

“Your friends. The three people we took last time," Keith begins carefully. "They’re off the coast of Arus on an island, about twenty miles from Altea’s border. If they’re as good as you think, then they must be on their way back to Altea by now.”

Lance is stunned. “You let them go?” he asks. “Wait, why?”

With a sigh, Keith leans his head back against the wall of the cell and lets his eyes fall shut. God, he's so tired. “They all had tempers, I knew it was never going to work out."

He hears Lance laugh.

"They would’ve tried to kill me in my sleep or something if I kept them on as crew members. So I let them go." Keith shrugs. "Honestly, they seemed much happier to be marooned on a remote part of the island with a little rowboat than to be stuck on board the Sword with me.”

Lance huffs another laugh at that. His eyes look like they’re far away as he shakes his head, grinning. “They’re pretty great, aren’t they,” he murmurs. When he snaps out of it, his eyes fall on Keith again with a look that might be… forgiving? Is Keith reading that right?

“Okay. Okay, fine, maybe I’ll help you. But you gotta hold up on your end of the deal, my friend.”

“Again, we are not friends.”

“Just let me sleep on it, okay?" There's still a touch of uncertainty in Lance's voice, but Keith will take what he can get. As long as they hurry this along and get that godforsaken map. "I’ll come back later.” Lance turns, but then throws a look over his shoulder. “Not to mention, I’ve gotta get this ship turned around.”

“We’re going back to Altea?”

“Mmm, close,” Lance says, quirking an eyebrow. He still looks tired, but there’s something in the way he holds himself, a renewed spark of something but it’s hard to say what that something is. Lance has always been a bit difficult to figure out. Keith wonders about Lance McClain a lot more than he’d care to admit, but he knows he’s in no position to question him. “We’re going to Arus. And then we’re going to leave my baby Blue for some R&R with my crew while you and I go back to Altea.”

“And let me guess,” Keith says, spirits falling marginally. “We’ll be rowing back.”

“Nah,” Lance says. “I know some people who’ll be more than happy to lend us something.”

“And what’ll you tell your crew?” Keith asks, because he can’t help but wonder what the crew of the Blue Lion would think if they knew their captain was leaving them on their own to carry out a deal with a pirate. And not just any pirate, either.

“I’ll tell them I don’t want us all to have to make the trip back to Altea when we’ve already made it this far,” Lance says, eyes crinkling. “Which is the truth.” Then he looks away, taking a step towards the stairs that lead up to the main deck. “And I’ll tell them that I don’t trust you on board, so I’m taking you back to Altea as a prisoner to be put on trial for your numerous crimes as a pirate.” He throws a wink over his shoulder, which has Keith biting the inside of his cheek to keep from firing back. Then Lance strolls over the darkened floor of the brig to the stairs and begins climbing, one hand gentle on the rail, and he starts whistling to himself. He’s infuriating in every way, honestly. "I'll be back," he says.

The footsteps grow fainter with every word.

“And bring me back my FUCKING CLOTHES!” Keith shouts after him. “....Bastard,” he mutters as an afterthought.

“Sticks and stones, my fine, fine swordsman,” comes the muffled reply from up the steps. Then Keith hears the door shut, and he’s alone again.

 

0{}=========>

 

After the storm passes, Shiro checks to make sure no lasting damage has been done, double checks on the crew, and then returns to his quarters. No one says a word to him. It’s clear he’s furious. And even though Shiro isn’t the type of man to lash out in anger, it’s clear as day that if someone were to so much as tap him on the shoulder today, he’d throw them overboard without a word.

When he shuts the door behind him, Shiro reaches into his pocket again and pulls out the tiny slip of paper.

It’s from Keith. There’s no signature, but it’s pretty obvious who wrote the little note. It’s hardly a note really, since it’s only ten words-- just enough to throw Shiro into a panic when he first read them.
Now, though, he’s agitated and he’s fuming, a quiet mess of guilt and anger. Because his brother is a goddamn idiot.

 

Shiro,

I’m fine. Take care of Red while I’m gone.

 

Chapter Text

The ocean never betrays you. It just does what it’s meant to do, even if that means causing destruction. Nature has its orders, and they’re never, ever personal, so if a storm comes, there’s no one to blame for the damage inflicted. The ocean does its job, and people do theirs.

The ocean never betrays you. People do.

 

The weather is blessedly clear that night. Lance’s quarters are quiet, quiet enough that he can have his thoughts to himself.

He tugs at the little gold hoop in his ear, the one he wears whenever he feels a little lost and confused and not entirely sure what to do with himself, other than rummage around in his belongings for pretty things to use as a distraction. The earring is small, but it does the trick. A little weight to ground him. Something to touch, cool and metal, to return himself to his ship before he can get lost out in the storm. And his mind is currently in the throes of a nasty hurricane.

When the door to his room squeaks open, he doesn’t turn around. Only one person’s actually permitted to enter the captain’s quarters (on occasion) without having to knock.

“Hey,” Hunk says.

“How’s the crew?” Lance asks. He stares out the porthole window and uses the darkened image of lolling waves to keep himself anchored in place. Air, he needs some air. It can wait, though, until Hunk’s said whatever it is he needs to. “How’s Blue looking?”

“Good, good...” Hunk sounds like he’s hesitating. Like maybe he doesn’t actually mean ‘everything is good.’ “We’re uh, turned around on a course for Arus. Hopefully Nyma and the others will be waiting for us when we get there. Klay has some doubts but...” he shrugs, shaking his head. “We’ll definitely make it back with a few weeks to spare. Assuming we make as few detours as possible.”

Lance “huh”s, a laugh that isn’t all there. Hunk frowns after him and steps all the way into the captain’s quarters, shutting the door behind him gently.

“I meant to ask earlier. How are you doing?”

Lance shrugs and keeps his eyes on the darkened porthole. The waves are just shapes on the water, unclear. He hears Hunk sigh behind him.

“Look…” Hunk says, scratching the back of his neck. “I know that I act a little… oblivious. About your feelings for other people and stuff. But this thing with Keith Kogane-”

“There is no thing . He’s just fun to mess with, okay?” Lance bristles. “I like to get under his skin. He likes to make himself a nuisance. It’s just… this thing that we do.” He can feel his shoulders tense and knows it’s obvious. He doesn’t care. “That’s it.”

Their thing. Like how they always come close to killing each other but for some reason never do, even when the chance is right there. How they tease each other and bicker like some married couple instead of a couple of mortal enemies who work for different empires and different rulers. They come from completely different worlds and want completely different things. Lance tries not to think about that.

Except, trying not to think about something tends to make you think about it a lot more. And he's thought about Keith a lot more than he'd ever admit-- wouldn’t even admit it if he was threatened to hang.

“A pirate, Lance, he’s a pirate.”

“Yes, and he’s in our brig because of that,” Lance says quietly, forcing his shoulders to fall. Pretend he’s calm. Quell the hurricane in his head and just fucking pretend and not think for a minute. He is calm. “And because he kidnapped three of our best fighters, only to drop them off on Arus for reasons that are still unclear, stole our gold, and committed other crimes that I don’t have time to list off the top of my head.” He twists his head to look at Hunk out of the corner of his eye. “I know who he is, Hunk. I know what he is. I don't get why you're so against me getting him away from this ship.”

Hunk is shaking his head again, unconvinced as ever. Because he knows his captain. His captain, who is also his best friend.

"You're still wearing his knife." He points grimly to Lance’s belt, where sure enough, the knife in question hangs innocently enough.

Lance’s hand falls reflexively to rest over the knife, but he gives an unconcerned shrug. “It’s a nice knife.”

“Lance, you might have everyone else on this ship fooled,” Hunk says. He’s desperate for Lance to listen, or at least that’s what it sounds like. “Well, maybe not Pidge,” he mutters, “but the rest of them? They might not know you but I sure as hell do. You feel something for this Kogane guy, and it’s… it’s hurting you, Lance. Have you looked at yourself in a mirror lately?”

The words sting, but Lance knows he’s right. He isn’t dumb enough not to see the truth in Hunk’s concern. Yeah, he’s seen himself in a mirror. Just a few minutes ago, actually. He hadn’t even bothered to brush his hair, feeling the weariness of a sleepless night bearing down on him. Even now, the bags under his eyes are dark enough to be bruises, adding a dimension to his face that somehow takes away from the youth, from the pretense that he’s just young and carefree and only wants to sail without any worries aside from having to return to land one day. If anyone who didn’t know him looked at him now, at the bags under his eyes and weariness in the way he holds himself, maybe they’d blame it on the stress brought on by the storm. Yeah, anyone who didn’t know Lance well enough would easily believe that.

Hunk isn’t anyone.

Hunk is the man Lance knew when they were barely sixteen, learning how to fish with him just off the coast of Altea, teaching each other how to cook special family recipes or learning how to spar with proper swords. Staying up late at night to lie on their backs on one of the sailboats, looking at stars and talking about working for the royal family one day.

And when Lance became a captain, there was no question. Hunk had been the obvious choice as Lance's first mate aboard the Blue Lion. The rest was history. 

 

Hunk is Hunk. He knows bullshit when he sees it. And he knows Lance, knows when Lance is mooning over someone or something and above all, he knows when his friend has something on his mind. Something that is making him intensely unhappy.

“I’m sorry,” Hunk finally says, voice growing soft. “If it really isn’t interfering with our jobs, then I guess it’s none of my business.”

Lance has his eyes cast down now, his chin almost to his chest. His eyelids feel heavier by the second and his hands, clasped behind his back, feel loose. He needs sleep. He wonders if he’ll actually get any tonight, or if he’ll be too busy trying to figure out what the hell his heart is doing to him.

“Don’t apologize,” he answers hoarsely. He’s so tired, he just wants to kick off his boots and jump into his bed and pass out for ten years without any interruptions. But will his body even let him sleep this time?

“I just-” Hunk says, laughing nervously, “I thought maybe it was more serious than that. That maybe you had some real feelings…?”

His words fade to nothing when Lance turns, and there’s a ruined expression on his captain’s face. He looks sick. A little pale, or at least the sunburned colour of cheeks looks fainter than before.

“I guess you’ll just have to tell Pidge that neither of you won your little bet,” Lance murmurs. Maybe he can be a little dramatic sometimes, but this time he really does just want the matter dropped. Keith was already on the brain before this conversation even began. Now it’s just becoming more complicated than it already was. “Because there is no thing.”

“Lance.”

Hunk’s tone is so sharply different that Lance startles, whipping his head around. His eyes are wide. Hunk’s are, too, but not for the same reasons. He’s worried.

Lance isn’t worried. He’s just terrified.

“You’re not taking him to Altea as a prisoner, are you?”

Lance bites his lip. He knows his expression is one hundred percent transparent, because Hunk’s face falls two seconds later.

“Where are you taking him then?”

“Altea,” Lance assures, because that’s the truth.

Hunk looks skeptical at that. “As a prisoner?”

“No.”

“Then…?” The question hangs in the air, heavy.

“It’s-It’s hard to explain.”

“I have time.”

When Lance steps away from the porthole and turns around, Hunk’s face is set in a determined, calm expression. He’s not going to leave until Lance has done a better job of explaining what the hell he’s up to. Because god only knows when Lance gets like this, he’s normally up to something.

Lance coughs to clear his throat and cards a hand through his hair, and curse the gods of the sea and the stars, because he’s cornered. Well and truly.

He tries, opening his mouth but then shutting it again as he rethinks. Then re-rethinks. How does he even explain...?

“You know that map we stole three years ago? The first day Blue crossed paths with the Red Sword?”

Hunk nods, slowly. “You mean the map that you stole,” he clarifies. Lance rolls his eyes, but he nods.

“Yeah. That one.”

“What about it?”

“Let’s just say it’s…” There’s really not much he can say without Hunk telling him to drop this whole thing and reconsider. If Lance let slip that he’d made a deal with a pirate - one whose word may or may not be trustworthy- then Hunk is going to have Lance’s skin. And Lance really likes it when his skin is attached to the rest of his body.

He pinches a thumb and index finger around the bridge of his nose as he thinks. Hunk waits patiently.

“There may be a way to taking down Zarkon,” he finally says, voice tight.

What.”

“And the rest of the Galra Empire as we know it. Possibly.”

The cabin is silent for a few seconds, but for all Lance knows in that moment, it could’ve been hours. The hull creaks and the ship rocks so gently that it’s become second-nature to the both of them.

“Where…” Hunk says, brow furrowed as he turns gently cynical, “where did you hear about this? Wait, actually, don’t answer that. I know where.”

They look each other in the eye.

They’re best friends. Comrades and sailors for life. If they don’t understand each other, they talk about it like goddamn adults. But even at age twenty-two with the world at his feet and a crew at his beck and call, Lance wears his heart on his sleeves, because he’s young and doesn’t know what to do in order to get the infernal thumping in his chest to settle down. He can’t lie to his friend. But he can’t tell him everything either. What Hunk doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

“Please, Hunk,” Lance says, silently pleading with his first mate. He knows it’s not fair to leave Hunk in the dark like this but he also knows that if he spilled everything and admitted what he knows - what he’s done - Hunk would be tying him to the mizzenmast right now. “I’m asking you to trust me.”

So that’s it, then. That’s all he’s going to say?

Hunk seems to be thinking the same thing, because the look in his eyes is a little bit broken. But he understands.

“Life or death?” he asks.

“Life or death.”

Hunk is silent for a moment.

Then he nods. He doesn’t look like he likes it, but he nods anyway. “Okay,” he says. Because he trusts his friend.

The understanding is mutual, and when Hunk finally leaves, eyes downcast as he sets out to follow instructions to prepare as temporary captain of the ship for the next few weeks, Lance watches and tries not to bite off his tongue. He’s exhausted. Lance is a fool.

He’s Lance McClain, and in that moment, he’s set his fate. He’s making a deal with an honest to god pirate, and he’s going to carry out the deal with said pirate - alone.

He’s set his fate, and he has absolutely no idea what that entails. But he’s Lance fucking McClain, and for some reason, it’s the most thrilling feeling in the world. To not know.

 

0{}=========>

 

Keith is brought food not long after Lance leaves. He groans, trying to get comfortable, but he’s got no mattress down here. Just a thin, stiff pillow that’s probably crawling with god knows what, and then there’s the blanket wrapped around his arms.

It’s still a bit damp, but sitting here in the cramped quarters belowdeck with less air flow than what he’d be getting up above, the blanket feels like too much. He sheds the thing and lets it pool around his waist, sighing as he feels the muggy air settle over his shoulders and chest. He breathes. It's not the greatest air to be breathing, but shit, at least he's breathing and not dead in the water.

Lance had been right about one thing - Keith was kind of lucky to be alive.

The person who brings him food isn’t Hunk. It’s some guy with a grizzled beard and worn leather hat, wearing a sneer and a mismatched ensemble of cotton trousers, a shirt that’s too large and patched up, and a vest of cracked leather.

When the man sets the food down, he does so roughly, letting the plate and glass clatter before he stands back up to leer down at Keith with a guileful set of teeth.

“Bone appa-teet, your highness.” The man bows obnoxiously, almost touching his nose to his knees. The he leans forward and hisses, “The captain of this ship should've let you drown, pirate scum.”

Keith feels like a stone has been dropped into his stomach, and he watches the man chuckle, shoulders shaking and yellow teeth bared.

“What’s it to you?” Keith asks, because he doesn’t even know this man.

The man only spits into the cell, on the floor just a foot away from Keith’s feet - to which Keith tries not to cringe - and then the man turns and stalks off, back up the stairs to the main deck, and he laughs the whole way.

If and when he gets out, Keith thinks, that guy is first on his revenge list.

Well, just after Zarkon. And Lotor. And a few other choice Galra, but they’re not on the ship, are they?

The food is nothing amazing. Hell, in some parts of the Galra Empire it wouldn’t pass for something you’d feed a dog, but Keith is ravenous and he’ll take whatever the hell he can get.

If it’s stale bread and some soggy fish with nothing on it but a dash of saltwater for flavour… so be it. At least there’s water that isn’t from the ocean. He tears a hard piece from the bread and dunks it in his water, before choking down the spongy mess with a grimace. His stomach protests, but he keeps it down, digging into the fish next and taking generous swigs of water in between bites to dull the taste. He’s had worse, he tells himself.

He misses his knife. What he wouldn’t give to have it right now… It sure wouldn’t be terrible for picking a lock or persuading a visiting guard to let him go free. That’s when he realizes.

Lance was wearing it.

He’d noticed as Lance was leaving. He was wearing a knife in a holster at his belt, one with a silver handle embedded with a stone. A red stone. Even if Keith couldn’t make out the color, he’s sure it was a ruby. That was his knife. And - fuck, is it weird that Keith hadn’t minded the way it looked when Lance carried it around? Wore it on his belt like it belonged to him?

He forgets the offensive taste in his mouth for a moment as he thinks about it. Forgets he’s behind bars for a moment and imagines taking that knife back with a wink, the way Lance does. A wink that makes Keith’s tongue turn to lead and his knees to jelly. He’s the enemy. He’s the enemy.

It’s definitely getting warmer down here now.

 

0{}=========>

Lance follows through on his word and returns to the brig late that night.

 

“Evening, princess,” Lance whispers, taking Keith by surprise. Damn, the man is quiet when he wants to be.

Keith startles and Lance has to bite his knuckles to keep from laughing at him. Again, Keith is thankful for the darkness of the brig because dear god he does not want Lance to see how embarrassed he is.

“Hope you got at least a little sleep,” Lance says, voice low and indecent as ever. “I need you ready to go.”

Keith’s brow pinches. “When are we leaving?”

“Right now. Here.” Lance tosses down something at Keith’s feet. A pile of folded laundry. Keith’s clothes.

“Hurry up and get changed, princess,” Lance says with a smirk. What takes Keith the most by surprise is when he hears a solid click, followed by Lance swinging open the cell door with a self-sure grin.

“We’re leaving now now-?” 

“Shhh!” Lance brings a finger to his lips, one eyebrow cocked like he’s slick shit, and it grates on Keith’s nerves - although he shuts his mouth. He’d really hate to do something stupid now (like get himself caught) and prove Lance right. “Wouldn’t want anyone to hear us, would we?”

Every bone in his body makes Keith want to reach across the few feet separating them to strangle Lance McClain until he turns bluer than his stupid waistcoat. But he holds back, and bites his tongue without asking questions. Keith scrambles to his feet, forgetting that he's in nothing but his underwear...

Too late now, he thinks. He pretends not to care and leaves the shitty blanket in a pile on the floor.

On the bright side, he’s finally getting the hell out of this rat’s nest of a brig, and grabs enthusiastically for his pants, ignoring the way Lance looks a little longer than necessary before averting his eyes to offer some privacy. With a grunt, Keith manages to tug on his breeches and lace them up, before he throws on his shirt, his vest, and finally pulls on his boots, which have since dried of the seawater. Well, at least they’ll be cleaner than before.

“What’ll your crew think when they wake up to find you gone tomorrow?” Keith asks, puzzled. Still, he’s got his clothes and he’s free of his cell, so maybe it’s best not to look a gift horse- whatever. “I thought you were gonna bring the ship to Arus first.”

Lance just waves the question off, laughing lightly as he flicks chestnut hair out of his eyes. He’s wearing a coat tonight. Keith believes it’s the first time he’s ever seen Lance wear a coat. A real one, similar to Keith’s own, a leather doublet with a thick collar and sturdy shoulders. It looks good. “Hunk will be taking the ship to Arus. We,” he points at himself, then to Keith, whose heart pounds a little faster, “are headed to Krell.”

“Krell?”

A nod.

“Not Arus?”

“Not Arus.”

“I’ve never been to Krell,” Keith says. He’s surprised to hear of an island within two hundred miles of Altea that he hasn’t visited. “How far is it? And how are we even getting there? Please don’t tell me-”

“Yes, princess-”

Enough with the princess-”

“Yes, Keith, we are taking a rowboat. Relax,” Lance snorts, rolling his shoulders as he soundlessly re-shuts the cell door, only this time Keith stands on the outside with Lance. “It’s about ten miles west of here. Should take less than a day’s trip to reach it, and from there we’ll find a real sailboat.”

That does sound like a better plan, now that Keith thinks about it.

Lance extends his arms in the direction of the steps, winking at Keith the way he’s done a hundred times before, and yet, Keith still can’t fucking handle it. “After you, pretty boy.”

For a moment, his body gets the better of him. Mind half-melted and half-frozen over from the last time Lance so much as threw a smile his way, Keith snaps. Just for a moment. He’s had enough of the teasing. It’s been a long night, and he has had enough.

He marches forward, crowds into Lance’s space without an inch of warning. Lance backs into the wall adjacent to the stairs and Keith is reminded of their last encounter once again, the closeness and privacy and forbidden-ness of it. With one hand pressing to Lance’s chest, he reaches the other down and finds a loop in Lance’s belt. Then he hooks a finger into the leather and pulls, and Lance gasps, suddenly very close to him. They’re so close that their noses almost touch and Keith can smell their sweat as well as Lance’s breath, which is surprisingly not horrendous. The hand at Lance’s belt searches, and Lance mumbles something that Keith thinks isn’t really that appropriate, but in a matter of seconds he’s found what he’s looking for.

Keith suddenly backs away with a shove, and catches Lance’s eye in a hard, intense stare.

Oh, Lance is staring now, which is all Keith needs when he holds up his plunder: The knife.

His knife.

Lance’s mouth falls open, maybe in shock or maybe to complain. But then Keith holds the dagger, point aimed at Lance’s throat, and he grins. “Thanks,” Keith says. “Been looking for this.”

Lance sounds a little breathless, soft in the quiet space below deck when he replies, “Screw you, princess." But he’s smirking back. He's got one trademark eyebrow quirked and boy, is it doing some really dumb things to Keith’s blood pressure. “Tell me that wasn’t the real reason you came all the way out here?” Lance asks. His face holds every trace of a joke, but his voice wavers, like maybe he’s not so sure.

Keith frowns. He hadn’t realized that maybe Lance was still having doubts.

To be frank, that might be the most normal feeling for someone in Lance’s position to have at the moment. Here Keith is, knife in hand, a pirate who (as far as most of this side of the world knows) works for the Emperor of the Galra Empire.

If Lance is having some worries, then hey, Keith can't blame him.

He lowers the knife.

“Of course not,” he says, watching as the forcibly joking expression relaxes. Then he cocks his head towards the stairs, and watches Lance's eyebrows shoot up. “After you, sailor.”

He can swear he sees Lance's jaw drop a few centimeters, before the man quickly pushes away from the wall to make his way up the steps, feet fast against the wood paneling. Keith trails behind with the most smug grin ever.

That, he thinks, was a success. A small success, but a success.

 

0{}=========>

 

Sweet Jesus Mary and Joseph, did Keith really just call him “sailor?”

In that voice?  Lance is starting to wonder if this is such a brilliant plan after all. But he’s not going to say no to that voice, no sir. He's set his fate and he's gloriously terrified of the future to come.

 

Chapter Text

Shiro’s had to put up with some pretty dumb things in his life.

Becoming a pirate was one of those things. Running off to Barbados to make sure Keith was all right was another one of those things.

This though, this is what does it.

Shiro rarely gets angry. He’s angry now.

His hands grip the wheel more firmly as he mutters to himself. The prosthetic he has now - specially made by Zarkon’s most trusted advisor and occult practitioner of sorts - feels almost natural, but not quite. It always feels a bit weird when the air is cold, and right now when it’s dark, with the wind picking up and the water growing ever deeper, he feels the bitterness of the cold seep into his bones and into the metal of an arm that isn’t entirely his. Keith is out there, either dead or on board the Blue Lion (and probably not as an honored guest. Shiro would be stupid to think otherwise).

Knowing Keith, he’s probably not dead. But he’s definitely in some amount of trouble, because isn’t he always?

Keith is like a younger brother to him. Is a younger brother to him. An exhausting one. And as such, he typically acts as a right pain in Shiro’s ass, but they’d die for each other, so there’s that.

Yeah, he’s gonna follow him. If Shiro knows his brother, he’s alive and on the Blue Lion right now. True to character, he probably wanted to go in alone to handle this whole thing himself, and damn the consequences.

But if Shiro is Shiro, he’s going to make sure his brother stays the hell out of harm’s way (unnecessary harm, he might add. Considering - Keith is already in harm’s way on the daily, but this is different). So Shiro’s taking this ship on a detour of its own.

And then he’s going to borrow a sailboat (yes, borrow, and no, not steal) and drag his ass north himself to get to that godforsaken ship. He’s fully prepared to fight tooth and nail to see his brother alive again.

If it means slicing up captain Lance McClain into little, tiny pieces for getting his brother into a much bigger mess than the one he’s already made, so be it.

 

0{}=========>

 

Lance already has rations and clean water stashed in the rowboat when they clamber in, Keith up front and Lance in the rear, oars ready on either side. They land in the boat facing each other, and Lance throws Keith a shit-eating grin just because he can.

When he averts his eyes and turns to sit at his place, oars in hand, Keith knows that Lance’s smile is already fading behind him. And he kind of hates it - wishes he could just call a time out on this whole enemy business and turn around again to say something that might lighten the mood. But, Keith realizes, he has no idea how to lighten up the mood; he’s not equipped with the right personality, he thinks. The right sense of humor (but he does have a sense of humor. He does . Just not a great one).

Lance’s compass sits on his knees and he crosses his fingers they don’t get hit by any big waves. He really, really likes his compass. A little battered and discolored, but he keeps it clean and it gets him to where he needs to be, so he’s not replacing it anytime soon.

The compass points northwest, and from there, they set a course.

They leave when the moon is still bright, half hidden behind the faintest wisps of a cloud. No storm clouds. It’s weird, at first. The storm was only a day ago. Less, maybe.

This is the first time they’ve been on the same boat without spitting insults or trying to kill each other. It’s also the first time Keith thinks he’s ever heard Lance go completely quiet. To be fair, he had looked tired earlier. Had Lance gotten any sleep since Keith saw him last? He knows he hasn’t, but has Lance gotten even a little rest in the past few hours? It was a long day, after all.

They both seem to be feeling it, because they yawn at the same time and when they catch each other at it, Lance can’t help it. He cracks up. “Tired, princess?”

Keith realizes what he’s doing a second later - he’s smiling, almost chuckling himself like it’s actually funny but he forces himself to stop just in time. His face falls flat.

“Keep calling me a princess and I’ll swim back to my own ship from here, and then sail all the way to Barbados," he deadpans. "Swear to god.”

Lance keeps his grin and when Keith turns his head to glance irritably over his shoulder, Lance catches his eye and stares, right into Keith’s unsuspecting gaze. Shameless. It’s dark out but his eyes are damn bright. Beautiful.

Keith quickly snaps out of it and looks away. Why’d he even look back in the first place?

He tries to focus on the rowing. On the stars, on the weather. Appreciates how the sky is clear tonight instead of a raging monster like the night before. The ocean is terrifying. Nature is terrifying, and unpredictable. Funny, Lance is a little like that, too. And thrilling.

The ocean, that is. The ocean is thrilling.

Lance is… Lance is Lance.

That’s when he starts feeling the cold for what it is. Keith shivers.

Lance catches it.

“Y’know I brought a couple spare blankets from the ship,” he says, reaching down behind him as he sets his oars at the bottom of the boat. When Keith looks back again, Lance appears to have conjured up a thin blanket, woolen and a little patched up. But it looks warm. Definitely tempting. “If you’re cold…” he doesn’t finish his sentence when he hears a grumble from Keith.

No. Nope. He won’t fall for it. Lance is trying to get Keith to trust him like they’re friends and not just here on business. Keith doesn’t need this. They already made their deal. No point trying to get all chummy now.

 

Except… he really wants that blanket.

 

The cold wins out in the end. With a scowl, Keith reaches over and grabs the blanket from Lance’s hands, tugging it around his shoulders and reveling in the warmth it provides. He prefers his coat, but that kind of got lost at sea. And that was kind of his own fault, so.

Beggars can't be choosers, he thinks.

He can hear Lance laughing behind him. Just a quiet laugh, one that’s really just a quick huff of air through his nose. Keith doesn’t care what kind of laugh it is, he just doesn’t feel like getting laughed at. It’s too late in the night for this.

Just as Keith thinks maybe Lance has finally gone silent, Lance starts talking again. Keith should stop giving himself such high expectations.

 

“Question,” Lance says, sounding thoughtful. Keith gives a particularly rough pull at the oars, propelling them forward. This is already painful. Lance is not helping. “So if I’m the captain of a ship, and you’re the captain of a ship, but this rowboat isn’t technically even a ship at all, does that mean it can have a captain?”

“...What.”

Keith’s focus is fixed on the water ahead. He’s done playing games - has had enough of them for one day.

“I’m just saying, does this mean neither of us are captains now?” Lance tries, leaning forward so Keith can hear him better. He knows Keith can hear him just fine. He likes to mess with him, though. Maybe he's just trying to lighten the mood but Keith would really prefer he'd not.

Keith jerks forward when the voice gets right in his ear. “Jesus!” he yelps, leaning forward himself as he brings a hand to his ear, caught off guard. “D-Don’t do that.”

“But what about my question, Keith?” Lance urges, rowing with much more enthusiasm. He wishes Keith would follow suit. He’d like to make it to Krell by morning, please and thank you. “My question! Do you think it’s possible that we could both be captains on the same boat, or…”

Keith sighs.

“Lance,” he says, keeping his voice to a dull monotone. Because fuck, he’s really tired. “There aren’t any rowboat captains. And yes, you still keep your title as a captain. Of your ship . Just like I keep the title as captain of the Red Sword. Just because we’re not standing on our ships, that doesn’t mean we’re suddenly out of a job.”

“That....” Lance says, after a quick round of thoughtful silence, “was the most intelligent and simultaneously the most boring answer I’ve ever heard.”

“Yeah, well.” He doesn’t give Lance the courtesy of a better answer.

They row.

Other than sheer exhaustion, Keith isn’t actually sure why he’s suddenly feeling so crabby. Like, this is definitely awkward, and it feels a little like one of those out-of-body experiences he’s heard about, but does this entire trip need to pass in silence? Lance might be a pain, he might work for the ‘enemy,’ and he might be downright annoying to talk to sometimes, but he did save Keith’s life.

He guesses he owes him a little more than the stubborn silence he’s been doing his best to keep up.

Lance himself has gone silent in the back of the boat. Keith hears the sounds of him rowing, mixed together with the sound of his own oars pulling through the water. The surface is getting a little choppy, but neither of them comments on it. Keith tugs the thin blanket more tightly around his shoulders, careful that it doesn’t slip off while he rows. Thank god he’s wearing his clothes underneath this time.

“Um… Hey,” he finally tries.

Lance hums, a sign that he’s listening.

“Thanks, by the way,” Keith says. He owes Lance at least this much. “For saving my life… I never said so back on the ship. So thanks.”

Their oars make soft sounds on the water. The only sounds that either of them makes, for a few minutes. God, those minutes feel eternal.

“All in a day’s work,” Lance finally answers. So quiet, starkly different from the energy he was giving off a few minutes ago.

Keith feels like his eyes might roll back into his skull. Really? Is that all he has to say? Keith just thanked him, for god’s sakes, and that’s what he gets?

“You were mentioning something about Barbados,” Lance murmurs in the quiet. He hears Keith huff air through his nose up at the front of the boat. “What was that all about? Special vacation spot or something?” It sounds innocent enough. Although, Keith doesn’t think Lance is entirely capable of that.

“That was a trip,” Keith mutters back. It doesn’t sound like he wants to talk about it.

Unfortunately for Keith, Lance is a nosy motherfucker.

“You wanna talk about i--” The boat lurches with a wave and Lance and Keith both lean right as the boat lifts, then lands again with a slap on the water.

Lance hears a hiss from Keith, following the movement. The odd way Keith shifts in place to grab for his foot or his ankle, or something.

“Whoa whoa, hey, what’s going on?” he asks, concerned. “Everything okay up there?” He steadies his oar in his hand, but doesn’t start paddling again, waiting.

“Fine,” Keith bites out, but he’s already leaning over to rub where it hurts, a stinging deep in the muscle there. It hadn’t been bothering him since the storm, but now with the sudden wave and too much pressure at a bad angle, the pain flares back up like it never left. “A-ah!” he quickly brings his hand away and takes a deep breath, trying to funnel out some of the pain. It stings again.

“Okay, you’re obviously not fine.”

They’ve both stopped rowing at this point. Lance taps Keith on the shoulder with a frown. “Turn around,” he says.

Too irritated to argue, Keith manages to turn himself around on the wooden bench at the front of the little boat. He hates rowboats. The bane of his existence, really.

“You’re hurt,” Lance says.

Keith’s gaze falls down to his ankle. “It’s not a big deal,” he mutters. “Just twisted it a little during the storm and I guess it still wants to be stupid.”

Lance tuts, clicking his tongue as he eases himself to the edge of his seat to get a better look. He makes a ‘come hither’ motion with one finger, directed at the ankle in question, and Keith very reluctantly brings his leg up to rest the lower half on Lance’s bench, right next to him. Lance does his own, brief inspection, and he hums a little to himself as he does. Keith’s brow furrows when Lance leans his head forward, lips in a thoughtful pout. Shit, that’s kind of cute.

“Mind if I…?” he gestures to Keith’s ankle again. Keith makes a face, but shrugs. Lance carefully pulls at the leather boot, being as delicate as possible so as not to aggravate anything, and manages to get the boot off with minimum pain on Keith's end. Then he brings a hand to the ankle, pushing Keith’s pant leg up a little to gently press a few fingers over the skin there.

At first, it feels like nothing. Lance searches around, fingers unthinkably gentle as he continues to feel for some sort of injury. Make a broken bone, torn muscle, anything

Then he presses into a spot at the innermost part of his ankle, and Keith involuntarily jerks his foot back, a hiss of pain escaping his lips.

“There. Right there,” he says, wincing even as Lance lets up on the pressure.

Lance looks thoughtful. Like he’s considering the possible cause.

Keith knows the cause. That stupid wave brought him and his boat down hard on the water, and now his ankle is all screwed up.

“Well,” Lance says, “I’m thinking it’s just sprained. If it was broken you’d probably be crying like a baby by now.”

“Don’t you wish,” Keith mutters.

Lance throws him a dirty look, but he reaches behind him again for something-- the other blanket. As Keith watches, Lance holds the thin fabric by one end and rips it in a clean, downward motion. He keeps ripping until a nice, long piece of blue fabric comes away; a perfect rectangle of material. Lance drops the remainder of the blanket and holds up the strip of cloth, gesturing again for Keith to settle his foot back on the bench.

Keith already knows what it’s for and extends the ankle. He breathes in through his nose and bites his cheek to distract himself from the discomfort. And from how nice Lance looks with his eyes cast down, eyebrows in a concentrated scrunch and jaw sharply highlighted by the moonlight.

He bites his cheek harder without thinking, then winces when he tastes blood. He's getting distracted again.

This can’t be healthy.

“Just a sprain, nothing to worry your pretty head about,” Lance says as he holds out the fabric and carefully begins to wrap, oblivious to Keith’s inner predicament. Keith watches, frowning at the pressure.

“It’s a little tight,” he says as Lance wraps.

“Yyyep, gonna keep some pressure on it and wait it out. It usually works for sprains, no worries.”

When Lance looks up, looks at Keith, something passes between them. Something Keith can’t really place, but it’s comfortable. He’s- Well, he’s not uncomfortable, so he guesses he could put it like that. Lance can do a lot when it comes to getting under his skin, but it seems he’s almost as gifted with putting people at ease around him with a single look.

It might also have something to do with the fact that he isn’t running his mouth right now. Keith wisely decides not to point that out.

"Why didn't you bring your crew with you?" Lance asks softly, changing the subject as he pats the makeshift cast to ensure it’s wrapped tight. Keith lowers his foot gently back to the floor of the boat. He doesn't think he has the stomach to try shoving his boot back on just yet. "You could've taken me hostage or something. What was up with the whole rowboat in the middle of a massive storm thing? I know you wanted to talk, but..." Lance lets the sentence trail off.

Keith sighs, then decides he’d better get back to rowing. They’re wasting enough time as it is. With a shrug, he rotates on the bench to face forward again, picking up the oars from the floor. "The Galra like to do things their way," he says curtly, and dips the paddles back in the water.

 

Lance watches.

Is it weird that he feels bad? Keith hadn’t looked all that great when he was first brought onto the Lion. Well, okay, he’d looked good. Good as in, he had nice eyelashes and a nice mouth and nice skin and stuff - Lance feels a little bit weird admitting that to himself - but bad because he’d been chilled from being in the water for a very long time, obviously, and when Lance went to visit him in his cell he’d just looked plain tired.

Keith still looks tired, and he also looks sad. Maybe a little alone. Like it’s something he’s had to live with his whole life.

Lance knows what that’s like. Maybe not all the time, because after all he does have Hunk and Pidge and hell, even Allura, but being the captain of a ship… it does come with a price. They say all the best leaders are the ones who have to get used to being alone. It’s a thought that’s never sat well with Lance. Does anyone really deserve to feel like that? Like they’re the only one in the world that they can trust?

The Galra like to do things their way.

Lance thinks he understands now.

"And you prefer to do things your way," he says.

"Nothing gets past you."

“We’ll get to Krell,” Lance swears, putting all of his confidence into the words. “Then Altea. We’ll get the map. That’s… That’s a promise. On my word as a sailor, I promise we’ll get that map and take down Zarkon.”

“I seriously doubt it’s going to be as easy as you're making it sound.”

Lance chuckles. “Where’s your spirit of adventure?” he teases, lifting an oar out of the water to nudge Keith delicately between the shoulder blades. Keith tenses and shrugs the oar away, growling. Lance removes the oar. “Hey... I don’t think you should overthink this. Just relax, okay? If there’s an issue, we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“I just want this all to be over,” Keith murmurs without thinking his words through, and hurriedly bites his lip to keep from saying more. He hadn’t meant to say that aloud.

Lance only sighs as he continues to push the boat through the water, keeping an eye on the compass. “Guess we’re in the same boat,” he says, offhand.

It takes a moment.

Keith groans, leaning back as he lifts one of his own oars out of the water to rap Lance over the head with the paddle, not even looking back to see if it hits. Hearing it is enough. It doesn’t land very hard, but Lance yelps and jumps in his seat anyway. "Hey!" he says, too obviously holding back a laugh. "Eyes on the water, Kogane!"

That, Keith seems to think, is funny. Funnier than some asinine pun. “Serves you right,” he snickers.

“I knew you weren’t just a stuffy prick with a stick up your ass,” Lance says, eyes glinting. He rubs his head where the oar landed but he can’t seem to wipe the smile from his face. This is interesting, he thinks to himself. Keith Kogane has a sense of humour. He’s learned something new. Maybe this won’t be the worst journey he’s ever made in his life. Now they’ve just gotta get a real sailboat, and they’ll be all set to risk their lives doing something Lance never thought he’d ever do.

They’re going to steal from Altea’s royal family. From Allura. If that doesn’t sound like suicide, he’s not too sure what does.

 

0{}=========>

 

Pidge is arguing with Hunk when Zack finds them at the helm.

The cabin boy is wearing a little three-pointed hat today with his ruddy trousers, brown shirt and vest. He dresses like a sailor for sure, despite the fact that his family has more money than most of the crew put together. Not that anyone on board is going to hold a grudge against a kid.

“What’s going on with you two?” he asks. He doesn’t sound like he cares that much, but considering he’s a rich brat who was raised in a seaside manor and sent to learn a trade, it’s really not that unexpected. The experience with the storm doesn’t seem to have done much in the way of sobering him up. He’s just as stubborn and nosy as ever. Honestly, their captain probably hasn’t been doing much to dial back that side of his personality. “Where’s Lance?”

Hunk stops arguing with Pidge mid-sentence, eyes narrowing.

“That’s captain McClain to you, kiddo,” he says, chiding like he’s both of Zack’s parents combined.

In a way, though, that really has been his job, these past few months that they’ve had Zack on board. The kid has certainly been spoiled and it shows, but working as a swabbie has definitely made a dent in his prickly, entitled personality.

“What are you doing up here?” Pidge butts in, side-stepping Hunk when he goes to put an arm in front of her. They clearly haven’t sorted out their own disagreements just yet. Zack blinks, but other than that, not all that affected. “I thought you were on swabbing duty. Hop to it, swabbie.” She makes a shooing motion with her hands.

Zack pouts. The yellow kerchief around his neck flutters, and he adjusts it. It’s a funny sight, to watch a kid of fifteen fix his kerchief like a grown man fixing his tie. It’s a gesture that’s too adult and out of place on him. Which is why Pidge laughs.

Zack doesn’t seem to like that much.

“I don’t get it,” he says, leaving his kerchief be. “What’s the bloody point in swabbing the deck if we get water on it all the time anyway? Plus it just rained. Won’t that clean the ship?”

“Moss, my little whippersnapper,” Pidge snickers, smug. Smug, apparently, because she knows more than a fifteen-year-old. If that doesn’t say something about her maturity as a nineteen-year-old, Hunk doesn’t know what does.

“Cool it, Pidge,” he says before Pidge can really tear into the kid with something more scathing. He knows Pidge is joking, but the boy might not. “This isn’t your business, kid,” he says. Not unkindly, but he does put on a firm voice. He’s in charge right now. Gotta act the part. “The captain needs you on swabbing duty.”

“Where is the captain, again?”

“That’s highly classified,” Pidge says helpfully.

Zack raises an eyebrow.

Pidge heaves a sigh, shaking her head. “It means, None of your Business, pipsqueak.”

Looking her up and down, Zack snorts. “Hark who’s talking, pigeon lady.”

“You little sh-”

Pidge,” Hunk warns.

Pidge clamps her mouth shut - just in time. As she and Zack go silent, Plaxum makes her way up the last of the steps to the helm, concern furrowing her brow. Thick brown hair tied back in a tight braid allows a few loose strands to escape, and she blinks them out of her eyes. Crows feet crinkle when she looks down at Zack, but they fade when her gaze flicks between Hunk and Pidge. She hmphs.

“Don’t tell me our ship’s own first mate is really taking part in a child’s fight?”

Hunk thinks he hears Zack mutter “Not a bloody child” under his breath, but then again, he can’t be certain.

“Plaxum!” Pidge says, throwing on a winning smile. It’s not a gesture she’s used to. It looks forced, but Plaxum doesn’t seem to notice. That, or care.

“I was just wondering why we’re heading northeast instead of plain north,” she inquires, her gaze steady. It lingers on Hunk, i.e. the man currently in charge of steering the ship. He clears his throat and attempts to look unworried, an answer ready on his tongue. It dies when Plaxum gives him a harder look.

He feels like he’s being scrutinized by one of his aunts from back home. He never liked that much. Aunt Maru could always tell when he was lying - he suspects Plaxum might have the same abilities.

Nope. He doesn’t like that at all.

“No fighting here,” he quickly reassures, shooting Pidge a look. Pidge makes a face like she’s constipated. Zack snorts, but then Hunk gives him the same look, and he sobers up quickly.

Plaxum gives them a friendlier smile. “You didn’t answer one of my questions.”

“Right…” Hunk swallows, lifting a hand to rub the back of his next (a habit he might’ve picked up from Lance) while the other rests on the wheel, keeping them on their course. Their new course. “Ahh, about that,” he says, not quite containing a nervous laugh. “It’s not a big deal or anything, and this information doesn’t need to be spread around immediately, but we’re actually headed on a bit of a detour. Arus.”

Plaxum frowns. “Arus?” she says, canting her head to the side quizzically. “Why Arus?” Then she looks around, searching for something. Apparently, she doesn’t find it. “And where is the captain?” she asks. “I don’t think I’ve seen him since yesterday.”

Hunk feels his stomach falling. Shoot, he knew people would notice. Yeah, so maybe he should’ve remembered that the crew isn’t exactly an ignorant bunch. They were bound to notice something was up within, oh, a day, but right now he’s not sure how he feels to have an entire crew - a crew of men and women who are highly trained in combat - coming to him with angry questions and impatient, invasive comments about who's in charge of whom. If word gets out that Lance made a deal with the ship's one and only prisoner, the crew is going to be out for his blood. Stick to the script, he thinks.

The less he says, the better off they’ll all be.

“He left with captain Kogane,” Pidge says before Hunk can stop her.

What?

“Nice going, Pidge.” Hunk groans, burying his face in the hand that isn’t occupied with the wheel.

It takes a few minutes to persuade Plaxum to listen, and a few more minutes to get Zack to quiet the hell down (Pidge helps with that), but when all four people at the helm have finally settled, Hunk explains.

Well, he explains what he knows. And he doesn’t know much - Something Lance made sure of before he left.

He tells what he can. Enough to pacify Plaxum, but not enough that she’ll refuse to go along with the plan. The key is to make it sound like Lance has taken their recent prisoner back to Altea for judgment and lawful punishment. Instead of… whatever the blazes Lance is actually taking him there for.

Honestly? Hunk doesn’t wanna know.

No, seriously, he does not want to know. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. As long as Lance isn’t out to get himself killed, Hunk isn’t too personally offended for being left in the dark.

“Aaand they’ll be borrowing a sailboat when they dock at Arus- no no wait, I meant Krell. I think. just ignore that - SO, Lance should get there and back within a week or so.” That’s what he ends with, nodding as he wrings his hands behind his back, hoping...

“And the pirate. He just went along with all of this?”

Ahhh, right. Hunk’s lips press tight, panic fluttering in his chest as he tries to think of something on the spot.

That’s a fair question, so fair that Hunk has no excuse to not answer. It’s true, Keith would’ve struggled and fought before letting himself get dragged all the way back to Altea like that. But Hunk hadn’t thought that far ahead.

Hello? Captaining a whole entire ship here?

Plaxum stands tall, maybe five foot ten or five foot eleven. She’s pretty intimidating, and coupled with the fact that she’s got her arms crossed and jaw set, tattoos visible on her forearms where the sleeves of her shirt are pushed back, she doesn’t look like the type to argue with. At all.

“The pirate must have said something to the captain,” she says, gaze boring a hole into Hunk, who has no desire to interrupt at the risk of getting on this lady’s bad side. “Made an agreement, perhaps? A trade?” Holy… wow.

Nothing gets past her, does it? Hunk’s about ten times more afraid of her just for that. Impressed, though.

She raises an eyebrow at the way Hunk stares.

“What?” she says. “It was an easy guess.” She squares up to him, totally relaxed where she stands. “So am I right? They’ve gone to follow through on some sort of trade?”

Hunk hurries up to her and puts a hand on her shoulder, making a ‘cease-and-desist’ motion across his neck with the other hand.

“I- No, okay wait, wait a minute.” He takes a deep breath. Plaxum patiently waits for him to collect his thoughts. “This information,” he shakes his head, giving her a meaningful look, “this cannot get to the rest of the crew. As far as they know, we're just going to Arus for a little R&R while the captain takes care of some business. This is for the good of Altea. Please, you've gotta trust me." His argument is on the table now. Now she just has to take his word for it. But she barely knows him.

Which is why Hunk is so nervous.

“If it’s for the good of Altea…” Plaxum looks conflicted for a moment.

Hunk holds his breath and waits.

Finally, she sighs and drops her arms to her sides, resigned.

“Fine. I’ll say nothing.”

“If someone does ask,” Pidge chimes in, “just tell them that Keith Kogane was unconscious after refusing to eat in his cell. And that Lance is taking him back to Altea because he doesn’t trust a pirate on the ship.”

“You couldn’t have told her that before?” Hunk mutters, appalled, motioning towards Plaxum, who rolls her eyes.

“Just don’t tell anyone that Lance left for anything else,” Pidge adds quickly. She pouts out her lower lip and widens those big, green eyes. A classic case of puppy dog face.

Plaxum looks unimpressed - but she nods.

“You have my word,” she says, looking like she’d rather be doing anything besides listening to a few kids (yes, even Hunk is a kid by her standards) bicker inanely about who’s run off where and who’s doing what.

Hunk has to admire her coolness in all of this. She’s keeping it together pretty well, considering she’s just discovered that their very own captain abandoned the ship without a single parting word.

It does have him wondering, though. He knows it’s better to ask fewer questions when it comes to Lance and his ideas, but in all of this, he does feel a little curious. What had those two agreed on? And exactly how much was at stake in all of this?

Is anything at stake? The heck if he knows. And the heck if he's gonna lose precious sleep over it tonight.

 

Chapter Text

They make it to Krell by the time the sun starts to just barely peek over the horizon, dyeing the sky off in the distance light pinks and mild oranges like the inside of a conch shell. The sky above them, however, it still littered with stars. The water is clear, and with the tropical climate the air is warm and a little moist, a stickiness settling over their skin like a film.

Lance would like nothing more than to dive into the gorgeous water, sans clothing, and just never come out. Too much to do, so little time.

They’re met by a sleepy dock worker who doesn’t question their names and only asks for a silver piece for passage onto Krell.

That tells Keith all he needs to know about the island-- Easy to enter means anyone could be here. He wonders if he’s the only pirate within a mile of the place. Probably not.

“We should probably find a place to get some sleep,” Lance suggests, barely stifling a yawn behind a hand.

Keith doesn’t argue.

 

0{}=========>

The inn is two stories and looks like it’s falling apart from the outside, but Lance deems it acceptable enough to enter.

The first thing they come across is an empty entrance area with nothing but a single, rickety chair off in one corner, and a wooden counter. A man stands behind it, scratching away at something with a quill pen. A list, by the looks of it. He looks like the type that sits around all day if he can help it and from what Lance can assume, he’d prefer to be doing something more interesting.

The man doesn’t look up when Lance approaches. He can only guess that this is the owner of the establishment.

“Hey there, you have any rooms available, my good sir?” Lance turns on the charm fast, flashing the man (who isn’t even looking) a signature grin, pearly white and persuasive.

The man gives a grunt, eyes on the list as the quill continues to scratch away. “Who’s asking,” is all he says.

If anything, Lance’s smile only gets wider.

Keith hates to stand off to the side while Lance does the talking, but he waits, tapping his foot impatiently. He’d kill for anything resembling a mattress at this point. Hell, he’d take a barn with a decent pile of hay if it came to that. Now if Lance would just hurry it up, that’d be great.

 

Meanwhile, Lance is busy trying to do just that: Get them a decent room.

Well - Wait, not like that. Not like, a ‘Room.’ Just a room. Or two, if he can manage that. He’s sure he can get them that. A place to sleep, that’s it. That’s all they need.

Why does he suddenly feel all weird?

“The name’s Lance,” he says confidently, “Lance- uh,” that’s where he stops short.

The man finally looks up.

“Lance, Uh?” he says, nodding slowly. “That’s your name?” he snickers.

“No, no,” Lance speedily recovers with a quick, “No, it’s Lance Sanchez. Sorry about that, um, we’re just very tired.” He nods over to Keith, who has since stopped tapping his foot on the cheap wood of the floor.

The innkeeper shifts his gaze to Keith. “And this would be…”

“Matthew,” Keith says quickly.

Lance’s eyebrows snap up, but he makes no comment. Why is he…?

Ahh, right. Wanted criminal. Keith Kogane, pirate and plunderer extraordinaire (one with a stick up his fancy ass, but still).

Probably best if he went incognito while they’re here. And Keith probably isn’t the most popular name around these days. Lance only changes his last name because, as much as he likes the attention, they’re here strictly on business.

“And do you have a name my fine, fine sir?” Lance switches attention from Keith to the man behind the counter, thinking on his feet. He’s got this. Lance knows how to get things done, how to make deals.

Never forget that he grew up around merchant sailors. I.e., people who knew how to get what they wanted. Lance knows how to get what he wants. He’s going to prove that, real quick. “I’d like to know the name of the owner of this wonderful establishment.” Even as he says it, the one set of shutters over the single window slams shut with a gust of wind, making a noise that shudders through the windowpanes. That doesn’t sound good.

“Var,” the man behind the counter says.

“A real pleasure, Var. Listen, we need a couple rooms. You got anything for us?”

Var blinks, very alert considering it’s the ass crack of dawn and no one should really be up at this hour to begin with. Var must be a very dedicated innkeeper to be up and at it so early. With a vexed look, he sighs and takes the paper he was just writing on, sliding it over to Lance’s side of the counter with the pen. “Write your names here,” he taps on the list below the names of people who’ve already signed in, half of them crossed off. Probably already checked out by now.

That’s reassuring.

Lance picks up the quill with gusto and scribbles out two names - his own name with the false surname, and Keith’s. He has to make up the surname, but just as well, it’s not like anyone’s going to know something’s up. Knock on wood.

With a flourish, he finishes writing out ‘Matthew Gunderson’ beneath ‘Lance Sanchez,' and raps his knuckles on the counter with a grin as he sets down the quill.

“How much do I owe ya?” he asks.

“Depends,” the man says a second time, looking Lance up and down. He doesn’t look too impressed. “How much you have?”

Calm as anything, Lance reaches into the pocket of his open waistcoat, and comes back with a small, drawstring pouch. It jingles a little as he drops it into the palm of his outstretched hand. “Oh, probably enough,” he says, one eyebrow raised self-assuredly. “I’ll give you five gold for the room and a meal.”

The innkeeper’s eyes narrow. The scar across his mouth twists a bit as his lips curl, a nasty hint of something in his small, dark eyes. “Just one room?” he asks, eyes slowly drifting from Lance at the counter to Keith in the background.

“You’re right,” Lance says smoothly. “Make that two rooms.” He holds up two fingers for emphasis.

The innkeeper only laughs, shaking his head. He taps his fingers against the stained, dusty counter with its chipped varnish and weird shade of brown. “You’re gonna need more than five gold for two rooms and both of your meals. Ten gold, and we’ll call it fair.”

Lance’s face falls a little, but he’d been prepared to haggle. It’s something he’s good at, after all. If he can handle merchants and pirates, he can handle one innkeeper. “Two rooms for six gold.”

“Nine.”

“Six,” Lance insists, slapping the money on the counter where a couple coins clatter in different directions, although none fall to the ground. “And we’ll be out of here tomorrow, no need to serve us breakfast in bed or anything fancy schmancy like that..”

For that, he receives a glare. This guy doesn’t seem to have the sense of humour that Lance was looking for, and now he’s getting a touch nervous.

“Two rooms,” Keith says, to Lance’s surprise. He steps up to the counter and nudges Lance out of the way.

Lance steps back, watching to see where this is going to go. He crosses his fingers behind his back that Keith doesn’t start issuing threats. That would kind of defeat the purpose of the whole incognito thing.

But instead of raising his voice or trying to start an argument, all Keith does is reach into a pocket of his pants, pulling out a couple coins of his own and tossing them onto the counter where they land with a delicate chink amongst the rest.

Gold pieces.

Then he crosses his arms and stands there, expression schooled, and both Var the innkeeper and Lance turn to stare at Keith.

Keith coolly stares back at Var with a quirk of his lips, as if daring the man to challenge him.

Lance won’t lie, that look would certainly work on him, that’s for damn sure.

A moment of silence passes between the three of them, each daring to question the other, although frankly, it’s pretty much a done deal at this point. Var certainly seems to think so.

The innkeeper snatches the eight pieces and pockets them without further argument, appearing satisfied. Then with a sneer he tells them both, “I just remembered- We only have one room available right now. Tough luck. But if you go to the pub next door you can get some decent rum cheap. Tell ‘em I sent you.” He shrugs, patting his pocket where the coins jangle, mocking them. “They’ll treat you right.”

He nods, then waves them off, clearly bored with the entire exchange already.

Well, that didn’t go exactly as planned. Sharing a room is not the most ideal thing for either of them. Lance suspects there’ll be an argument over who gets the bed, but right now they have to actually make it to the room before they can both collapse for the day. Lance throws one last, longing glance at the counter, already missing his lost gold, but in the end, there’s nothing he can do short of getting in a heated altercation with an innkeeper twice his size.

As much as Lance likes a good fight, he knows when his chances of winning are slim. That’s why he’s still alive and kicking in the first place.

He does have a question for Keith, though, striking up a walk to go past the front entrance and into a tiny corridor that leads to a few rooms, as well as a dangerous looking staircase with steps so old that the bannister has half rotted away. Classy place. Lance takes a look at the stairs, wondering if he should really be trusting the structural framework of the place.

“Hey…” he says, frowning suspiciously Keith’s way. “Where’d you get that gold anyway? I thought you lost all your stuff in the storm.” Now that he thinks about it, Keith shouldn’t have had anything at all except for his clothes - which were taken to laundry and emptied of all objects and effects. Money, weapons, whichever, Keith shouldn’t have any of that.

And yet, he has gold?

Keith just shrugs, and brushes past Lance. He ascends the steps before Lance without looking back, and he only stops for a second to give his answer.

“All good pirates have a way,” he says. Then he picks up the pace, leaving Lance to decide whether or not he should stand there at the bottom of the stairs with a dumb look on his face, or chase after Keith to demand the rest of his gold back.

Keith’s already up the steps by the time Lance makes up his mind, and shuffles up the steps. Fuck it. Sleep first, questions later.

0{}=========>

 

They make it to the room, third door on the right just like Var said, and without a single word they come to the mutual agreement that it’s too early in the morning and they’re both too exhausted to worry about trivial things like sharing a perfectly decent, relatively okay-sized bed.

As soon as Lance flops down on one side, he’s out. Gone, goodbye, hasta la later and all that. He’s well and truly out cold even as Keith is about to shrug off his vest for the night.

He watches, somewhat amused at the way Lance snores softly into one of the crappy pillows with all his clothes still on. That cannot be comfortable. Especially when he’s still wearing his shoes. Damn, this guy can really sleep; Keith’s never had the luxury of being able to just, y’know, lie down and pass out, just like that. And with shoes on? Forget it.

It reminds Keith to remove his own boots, so he does, wincing a little when the right one tugs and let him know that his ankle hasn’t finished being stupid.

Vest and shoes off and cast next to the bed without aplomb, he takes one last look at Lance dead asleep, ignores how strange all of this might seem in retrospect, and lands on his back on the other side of the bed as he tries to put a little space between the both of them.

Tired… too tired.

He falls asleep, with his last thought being, how’s he gonna tell Shiro he shared a bed with a sailor from Altea?

Then he’s out.

 

0{}=========>

 

Keith wakes first, squinting when light hits his face.

There aren’t any curtains over the window to draw closed, and he looks from the edge of the bed to see that the sun is high in the sky, shining directly through the open window. It must be around noon.

They slept in.

Keith looks over at Lance, still asleep like a dead man except for the fact that he’s still snoring. Not violent snores or anything, just soft ones, more from back in his throat than from his nose. Keith feels himself looking for longer than he means to.

He should… probably leave. Get something to eat, maybe. He could take advantage of the fact that meals are included in their stay, so with that in mind he tosses off the sheets (Lance had opted to just flop down on top of them, so Keith felt marginally better about using them). Then he grabs his vest and shrugs it on as he steps into his boots. It’s with a hint of relief that his ankle doesn’t hurt him so much anymore. All he’d probably needed was a good night’s rest - or day’s, considering they arrived early in the morning and it’s now midday. They must’ve slept somewhere between ten and twelve hours… Damn. Keith doesn’t think he’s ever slept so long in his entire life.

Cracking open the door, he throws one last look over his shoulder.

Lance doesn’t stir. He looks too peaceful, none of the stress of their journey weighing on his shoulders. Keith wonders how he can sleep so soundly, but then remembers that he himself had a dreamless sleep. Which is a first in a long time.

Usually, he has nightmares. Sleep’s never been an easy thing for Keith. For some reason, he slept well this time. It couldn’t have been that Lance was with….

Food. Right. He should probably get some.

Lance will be fine for another hour or so. Hell, he might sleep all through the day, Keith suspects, if no one wakes him up.

He wouldn’t do that, though. Better than anyone, Keith knows that captaining a ship drains a lot of energy. He won’t be an ass and wake Lance up before he’s gotten the sleep he needs. The rest of this trip isn’t going to be easy; case in point, they both need their energy. Sleep is good. A very good thing.

He finally tears his eyes away from the sleeping man in the bed, steps out of the room, and quietly shuts the door behind him.

 

You could hardly call it a dining room, since “dining room” typically conjures up the image of a beautiful banquet hall, long, polished tables and good silver set with fine china. It’s a tavern, really, only Keith suspects the drinks here aren’t top quality. Why else would the innkeeper suggest going next door?

Probably just cheap ale here, nothing else.

He’s proven right when he flags down the lady on duty for lunch and the first thing he receives is a pint of something that smells more like urine and less like a consumable drink. Nose crinkling in distaste, he decides to give it a shot anyway. And regrets it immediately. He coughs as soon as the stuff touches his tongue.

Never, in all his years as a sailor, has he ever come across something so vile .

He could get up and go outside, maybe walk around the town and see what it has to offer, but he knows that if Lance wakes up to find him missing he’d suspect a mutiny. Keith’s a lot of things, but mutinous isn’t one of those things.

 

So he does what he is comfortable with, which is to go back to the docks. The bread and cheese in the tavern was gross, anyway. He’s sure there are still some rations in the rowboat. And if Lance tries looking for him, he’ll probably look there first.

When he makes it to the docks, another dock worker is on duty, sitting on a stool with a small notebook in hand. He looks very concentrated on reading out a list of names to himself.

He passes the man without a word and heads to the rowboat tied to one of the wooden posts. The water’s crystalline blue and so clear he can see to the bottom, shallow, with sand and sparse, colorful anemones growing here and there.

It’s funny, he thought maybe the man wouldn’t pay much attention to him, a random passerby, if he just acted like he was supposed to be there. Apparently not.

“What’re you doing?” the man asks from his seat on the stool. He’s got a thin, nasal voice. When Keith turns, the man is glaring at him like Keith is a wanted criminal who’s just been caught in the act.

Of course, Keith is a wanted criminal, but the guy wouldn’t know that.

Keith makes a face, pointing to himself as if to say, Who, me?

Yeah you! The one with the red shirt,” the man snaps. “Get over here! Are you supposed to be touching that boat?”

Keith holds up his hands and slowly steps away from the boat in question, clearing his throat. “Umm, yes? It’s my boat.”

The man doesn’t look like he believes him. He sticks out a crooked finger and curls it back in towards himself, gesturing for Keith to come over there. Which is the last thing Keith wants to do, thanks.

“What’s your name, boy?"

Keith feels the venom seep into his tongue, but he keeps it there. "Matthew," he lies easily. "Gunderson."

The dock worker takes a moment to look through his compact little notebook. “I don’t see you on here,” he taps angrily at the last page, filled with plenty of names but definitely not Keith's pseudonym. "We only got one Matthew on here, and it ain't a Gunderson."

“The dock worker before you must have forgotten to write my name down," he says, going for nonchalant.

"So what is your name, ya little liar?"

"I think you should stop talking to me like that, sir." He's really on his last nerve. Being called a liar is one thing. He's still bitter about being called a 'boy.'

“Is that how you talk to your elders, boy ?”  the man sneers, hocking up saliva and god knows what else before spitting over the side of the dock, making a crude plop in the water below.

Okay. Keith thought maybe he’d be able to keep it together for one old coot with anger issues, but now he's angry. He’s done being referred to as a child, no matter how old the person doing the referring happens to be.

“My name is Keith Ko--”

“What seems to be the problem over here?”

Keith bites back the last word before he can finish. He’d almost told this guy - a complete stranger  - his real name.

Right. That could’ve been disastrous. But it hadn’t been, because lo and behold, Lance McClain is strolling down the docks with a look of feigned innocence. Just in time.

“Who’re you?” the man asks.

“Exactly what I was gonna ask,” Lance says, accusatory. He sticks a finger out and jabs it in the dock worker’s face. “Can I get a name there, pal? Here I am, looking for my friend, and I come down here only to find him being heckled? Is that what I’m seeing?”

“What? No, not at all,” the man says, shaking his head vigorously.

Lance hmphs.

“Come now, it’s not like I meant him any harm. I just wanted to get his name, I-I didn’t think he should be getting into that rowboat..”

Lance whirls around to where Keith stands, a sheepish look on his face. Lance’s own expression is hard to read, but Keith thinks he might be trying to say something like, We’ll be talking about this. Later.

Then Lance quickly faces the other man again, throwing his chin up disdainfully, arms crossed. “My name is Lance McClain, and I am the owner of this fine rowboat.”

The dock worker looks bemused. “What, no ship?” he says.

“Ohh, I have a ship,” Lance reassures with a cocky shrug of one shoulder. “Big one, too. Ever heard of the Blue Lion?”

The man gapes. With bugging eyes, he stands up, looking like maybe he believes Lance. But when he rises from the stool it’s only to double over, hands on his knees as he laughs, heartily. His shoulders shake. His grubby beard parts as his mouth opens in a chortle. Lance patiently waits for him to be done, arms still crossed. He’ll let the guy have his laugh.

Keith, once again, stands off to the side and tries to look as harmless as possible.

“Yeah, I heard of the Blue Lion,” the man finally huffs as he wipes away a tear. “But if you were really the owner, then your name wouldn’t be Lance McClain, it’d be…” the last of his laughter stops short, caught in his throat like an aborted hiccup. “...Lance McClain?”

Adjusting his vest, Lance casually shrugs. The tiny white scar next to his eye, the gold hoop earring in his ear and the telltale blue vest all speak for themselves.

Stories spread fast. When you’re a captain like Lance McClain, word gets around. Keith doesn’t doubt that Lance revels in that fame.

The only time Keith can feel that same pleasure in being known is when he sends his enemies sailing in the opposite direction. It’s a lot of power.

Lance seems to handle that power much more gracefully.

The grubby old dock worker looks stunned beyond words.

“And this is my sailing partner, Matthew Gunderson,” Lance says, patting Keith firmly on the shoulder as he makes the introductions. “As for me,” he extends a hand, which the man nervously takes, “Captain Lance McClain, sailor, trader, and traveling performer extraordinaire.”

“...Performer?”

“Heck yeah. You wanna hear me sing?”

“I don’t think he does,” Keith says, holding back a snort of laughter as he watches the entire conversation unfold. The man with the ruddy coat and sunbleached beard looks like he’s about to wet his pants. The impishness in Keith takes pleasure in the man’s switch from heinous disdain to pure, fearful awe. Hey, he’s no saint. Keith will admit that he doesn’t wish the best for everyone he meets.

Meanwhile, Lance leans in close to the dock worker as he holds out his hand. He whispers something, and Keith struggles to hear.

“I was never here,” Lance murmurs, dropping something into the man’s hand. The objects make a clink. Money, then. “Savvy?”

The man nods. “Aye, sir,” he says, eyes big but this time, not from amusement. He looks like he’s ready to tell the whole world that he’s just met captain Lance McClain, right here on his docks, during his shift.

But he wouldn’t dare. Not now.

 

“Pleasure doing business with you,” Lance says with a wink, and with that he turns on his heel and grabs Keith by the arm, still smiling. “And you. I believe we have somewhere to be, don’t we, partner ?”

The look he gives Keith is off-putting. Keith knows a fake smile when he sees it.

Yeah, Lance is pissed.

They make their way from the docks without a look back, leaving the man to mutter to himself as he quickly makes a note of something in his notebook.

Good riddance.

When they’re out of earshot, Lance huffs and lets go of Keith’s arm. Keith side eyes him with tight lips.

“I was just grabbing some stuff out of the boat,” he explains, realizing how dumb it sounds out loud. It’s the truth, though.

There’s just silence, for a little bit. They pass a couple closed shops, the bustle of the town filling their ears. It’s not the busiest area, but it’s the closest to civilization Keith’s seen since visiting the Emperor’s palace- which only reminds him about his situation. What is he doing? Is he really doing this? He’s really teaming up with Lance to go steal a precious artifact, a stupid map leading to whereabouts Keith isn’t familiar with, and then use said map to make, quite possibly, an extremely dangerous journey.

After all that, he knows it really is too late to turn back now.

"Forgive me for worrying that the one person I was relying on was about to run off without a word,” Lance mutters, putting a break in their shared silence.

“I wasn’t-”

“Gonna. I know. You already told me.”

Keith keeps stride with Lance but he doesn’t like this, this tension in their pauses and in Lance’s body language. He’s not lying, dammit. He wants Lance to know that.

He stops, all of a sudden, in the middle of the road as the village continues to exist around them, but for now it’s just him and Lance, and he’s made it his mission to convince Lance that he can be trusted to stay right here.

“Hey,” he says, putting a hand on Lance’s shoulder to stop him in his tracks. Lance’s expression never changes. “If I left, what would I do?” he says, looking Lance in the eye. “Seriously, what would I do? Tell my crew that I let you get away again without killing you?”

Lance snorts at that. “Like you could.”

“Or you think I’d go marching back to Zarkon with the news that I ran away with you to an island for a few days, plotting against the Galra Empire with one of their most wanted enemies, and then decided after all that that it wasn’t worth the sunburn?“

That one gets a laugh.

“Listen… whatever it is you’re still holding against me, I get it.” Keith shrugs, humble for the moment. “I really do. I’m a pirate. You work for Altea’s royal family. We’re different. I mean hey, we steal from each other so there’s that in common-”

“You mostly steal from me,” Lance points out.

Keith rolls his eyes, but he knows a smile is coming on soon. “What I mean is… just, I don’t know, don’t worry? I guess? We have pretty similar reasons to go through with this. We both want to see Zarkon dead.”

Lance makes a face like he can’t really disagree with that.

“Right?” Keith says anyway.

In the middle of the road, it should have felt like they were in the middle of the action, horses thundering down the path maybe, or hearing the call of street vendors all around them. But it’s surprisingly calm.

“But you stole my money before we left the Lion, didn’t you?” Lance asks. Oh, and now that Keith really looks, Lance doesn’t seem angry at all. Fine and dandy, actually. The little....

God, and he has one eyebrow up, a coquettish grin playing out on his face and in his eyes. He has Keith right where he wants him.

“I don’t see how that matters right now,” Keith says, allowing himself to be taken in by that look. The tension lifts, if only a little.

They walk, a second silence settling in, but it’s not as bad as the first. A vendor shouts out prices for live chickens. Someone else someone crashes a couple pots and pans together, and as they walk an old woman with a headscarf passes, carrying a basket of flat breads. She eyes the two suspiciously.

This entire island seems suspicious of each other.

A refuge island, Keith thinks. Trading spot, perhaps? Definitely those two things - meaning, a lot of suspicious people all together in one place. People who would just as gladly stab you in the back as make a deal with you.

"How about we go get something to eat, and you pay for the first round of drinks?" Lance nudges Keith in the side with an elbow. "Ehh? Ehhhh? C’mon, gimme a smile at least."

His voice gets louder with every word until it's just obnoxious. Keith runs a hand through his hair and sighs, knowing it’s impossible to argue with Lance when he’s like this.

And Keith couldn’t care less.

 

0{}=========>

 

Evening.

 

The pub next door to the inn is packed with people, but everyone seems to already have their own group. A couple stragglers here and there, but no one friendly-looking enough to strike up a conversation with.

“I don’t get it… why are you acting like this?” Keith asks, eyes cast down into his mug. A plate is set in front of him by the one server on duty. His dinner, apparently.

“Like what?” Lance asks, accepting his own plate of food with a courteous nod to the serving woman. She’s young, blonde and petite, and when Lance smiles at her she bats her eyes and giggles.

Keith thinks he might be sick. The young woman walks away, looking happy with herself.

“Nothing. Just forget it.” Keith says.

Lance seems to understand anyway. “You mean, why’m I treating you like a human being instead of a pirate? Is that what you’re asking?”

Keith can’t find it in himself to reply.

"Keith…” Lance’s voice tones down a little from the usual, outgoing barrage of Loud. The plate of something that might be meat and might be a clump of vegetables steams in front of him. He picks up his fork, but doesn’t eat just yet. “I don't know when you got it into your head that I hate pirates just because-- well just because they're pirates , but I think you need to start seeing me a little differently. I mean," he spreads his arms, shoulders up in a shrug, "it's not like I've never stolen a single thing in my life, right?"

Keith snorts. "Guess so." He looks at Lance with an expression that can either be read as, I'm sorry for making snap judgments, it's only natural I would assume , or I remember what you did three years ago, you motherfucker. Don't think I'd ever forget.

They eat.

Soon, their stomachs are full and the atmosphere feels marginally more comfortable. For the first time in a while, Keith feels like he can relax.

A tankard is slammed down on the table, startling them both.

It’s set in front of Lance, contents sloshing around from the impact. Lance blinks, looking up, into the unimpressed face of a second serving lady. Or the bartend on duty. Hard to tell, she’s burly and tall, with muscled arms and small eyes, searching and predatory.

Lance blinks back at her. “Um.”

“Fresh-brewed ale. Pub’s finest. For you,” the woman says. Her lips twist in a nasty look.

“I didn’t order this,” Lance says, looking from the tankard to the woman. All she does is shrug, before nodding towards one of the less well-lit corners of the pub. “Courtesy of that one over there.” She not-so-subtly jerks her head  to where a small table sits by the only window, the curtains drawn. The one person sitting there doesn’t look up. He - or she? - wears a cloak, the hood drawn up to hide their face in shadow. Geez, dramatic much?

“They said it was for ‘the one with the gold earring and the pretty face,” the woman says, sniffing when her eyes fall on the piece of jewelry. “You’re pretty enough, I s’pose.” With that, her face turns lecherous, and Lance barely stops himself from shrinking back in his seat.

“Th-thanks?” he says, trying to make it clear he’s uh, really not interested. In her, that is. The drink, on the other hand…

Hungry eyes move between Lance and Keith, and something changes in the way she looks back at Lance afterwards. “But I s’pose you don’t need me to tell you that,” she says.

Lance turns to see Keith a little pink in the face.

Did he miss something?

“Well uh, thanks. Again.” He waves at the tankard, just to be clear.

The lady with the mole above her lip and an attitude like an ocelot only scoffs, as if to say, you ain’t that pretty, love, and walks away, rolling up her sleeves.

“Talk about a friendly bunch,” Keith comments, sipping from his own mug. It’s ale, watered down as per his request. He’s not really in the drinking mood tonight.

Apparently though, Lance is.

When he looks down at the gifted tankard, he doesn’t look like he’s against it. But before he does pick it up, Lance turns around again to look towards the stranger who sent over the drink.

Still sitting there, sipping at something from a tumbler of their own (man or woman? He can’t tell, but the figure is slender and appears to have longer hair). Lance isn’t sure if it’s a trick of the light, but what little hair he can see looks white. Kind of like Queen Allura’s.

Other than keeping themselves occupied with their drink, they don’t seem otherwise inclined to chat with other guests or act even relatively normal.

It’s all highly suspect, and while Lance seems to have it under his belt like it’s no big deal, Keith doesn’t like it.

Lance, apparently, does not care. Not one bit. With a quick look at Keith that prompts him to watch, Lance grabs the tankard around the neck and lifts it, holds it out towards Keith like it’s a toast with an easygoing “Bottom’s up,” and then knocks back a healthy gulp of the brownish liquid inside.

The face he makes is not a pleasant one. He sets the tankard back down with a shudder, quickly shaking it off and rolling his lips together to make a “brrrrr” sound, but less R and more just vibrating air. Sort of like a horse.

“God damn,” he says through puckered lips. “That stuff’s fuckin’ strong.” His tongue flicks out to catch a drop at the corner of his mouth, and Keith gets distracted for a hot second.

Maybe this is a bad idea.

0{}=========>

 

One hour later, Keith thinks it might be time to cut Lance off.

Yes. Most definitely time to do that.

Lance is having the time of his life, from the looks of it. He’s grinning and singing to himself, something familiar but unintelligible over all the pub noise as he sways gently. And really, Keith feels bad, but he knows he’s gotta stop him before this gets out of hand. Or before Lance tries to buy everyone in the pub a drink. Who knows when they’re going to need that money? This needs to end soon.

Meanwhile, Lance has his chin propped up in one hand, the other arm resting on the table with a hand loose around his third tankard, this time filled only a third of the way with spiced rum while he talks complete nonsense, tanned skin flushed a pleasant color around his cheeks and nose. A few, scattered freckles stand out there. Keith objectively wonders if they’re from sun exposure, or if Lance has always had them.

With a less than bored sigh, he looks again to check on the cloaked stranger in the corner. Still there. They’re getting weirder and weirder the longer they sit there, tumbler now entirely empty as he (and Keith does suspect it is a He) waves off any refills. Definitely weird. Keith doesn’t like it at all.

When he looks at Lance again with a frown, he finds Lance looking back at him, completely unabashed at being caught staring.

"You have pretty eyes," he says thickly, his tongue a little slow to form words. Keith’s eyebrows fly up to his hairline.

“I uh... Um, I have-?” he doesn’t finish when Lance interrupts.

"What is that, like purple or somethin’?” His head cants to the side as he tries to get a better look, which makes Keith tense. Prolonged eye contact isn’t really something he’s super comfortable with. “Nice hair too… Soft. Good nose... I like your face, Keith."

Not what Keith is expecting.

But most definitely funnier than expected. Keith laughs -- realizes he can't stop, and it spirals until he's snorting ugly laughs into his mug.

When he looks back up Lance is looking back at him with the softest eyes. Something in the room siphons the air out of Keith's lungs. It might be that Keith is just caught off guard. He's never had anyone look at him like that, like he's a beacon and Lance is just following his gaze for something to give him purpose.

"Sorry," he says when he gets his breath back, not making an effort to force down the smile, because holy shit, Lance is drunk and this is amazing. It's adorable and funny, and really, innocently... innocent? There's really nothing bad Keith can find about Lance being sloshed, other than the fact that he's probably wasted half of their coins.

They can steal more, Keith thinks.

I like your face, Keith. Jesus Christ that’s adorable. That was probably the most innocent compliment he's ever received, from Lance or anyone else. Is that sad? Maybe a little. Maybe he just didn't notice until it was Lance.

Lance should be illegal.

“Now you have some.”

“Have-? Oh no, no-” Keith brings up a hand just as Lance lifts the tankard and waves it around, disregarding how the rum inside swirls dangerously close to the rim.

Keith protests, pushing the tankard away just as it’s thrust under his nose. God, that stuff is strong. He can smell it from here. Spiced and barely fruity, and very, very potent. That’s gotta be at least triple the alcohol as what’s in Keith’s mug, and he’s barely made a dent in that as it is.

“Come oooonnnn,” Lance coaxes. It’s evident he’s very much affected by the alcohol.

He’s already shown a high tolerance, but come on, two pints of ale and a generous amount of rum is getting up there.

“Absolutely not.”

“You can do it Keith. I believe in you. Here, I’ll go first.”

Cock sure, Lance raises the mug to his lips and tilts it back. And he keeps right on going, going, going until the mug is upside down and Lance is swallowing down the dregs of his drink. He smacks his lips, looking at Keith with the wiliest expression on his face.

Keith watches the whole thing in awe. Maybe disgust. Probably both. His jaw hangs a bit as he takes it in-- takes in the fact that Lance just chugged nearly a third of a pint of rum, and has already drunk Keith under the table before the clock’s struck midnight.

Before Keith can say a word, Lance is already flagging down the bartend lady. She’s across the room but when she catches Lance’s eye she seems to get the message, nodding and turning on her heel to go and get them another round. Keith is in for it now, isn’t he?

Shit, shit shit shit. What has he gotten himself into?

Courtesy of Lance’s drunken request, a tumbler is set down in front of Keith none too gently and Keith looks at the glass, at the dark stuff inside, staring back like a challenge.

It is a challenge. Lance is challenging him. From that shameless look on his face, Lance is so clearly challenging Keith it’s not a question of whether or not he is, but whether or not Keith will take the bait.

Dear god, Keith's starting to wonder exactly what he's gotten himself into.

Steeling himself for the worst, Keith picks up the tumbler and gives it a swirl, a deep breath in, then out.

“What’ssa matter?” Lance teases, leaning across the table to invade Keith’s bubble of personal space. Not that personal space has ever seemed like an issue with Lance. “Scared, princess? Scared you're gonna lose to cap'n Lance McClain?” The words are slurred but it hardly matters. The challenge has been issued.

Keith’s not proud of what he does next.

He takes the bait. He takes the bait like a goddamn idiot.

“Oh, so it’s like that?” Keith whispers, gripping the tumbler firmly in his hands. “Fine. You’re on.”

And with that, he lifts the glass in his hand and downs the whole thing in one go.

He’s not proud.

He just doesn’t like to lose.

 

0{}=========>

 

They get to the room with their arms around each other’s shoulders, singing something they picked up from a friendly group down in the common area. They sway a little as they walk, finally making it to the room they were given with the single bed and tiny, curtainless window, a candle already lit in a candlestick, and the door shuts behind them with a whiny creak-k.

 

Keith takes it in, thinking he’ll probably have to suck it up and take the floor.

Brain addled from the mess of drinks they ended up wasting a couple extra coins on, Keith stumbles over to the bed to grab some pillows and a blanket for a makeshift bed while Lance stands there by the door, seeming to take it all in for a moment.

Keith tries to remember how much Lance had to drink.

More than him, Keith thinks. Definitely more. Which means Keith lost, but in the end he doesn’t really care.

Lance has been holding his alcohol pretty well, though. The one big difference between sober Lance and drunk Lance, Keith noticed earlier, is the way he moves. His hips are a lot looser when he’s got some alcohol in him, easy and fluid when he walks. He struts. There’s more swagger than the usual amount. Something sultry and unattainable, Keith thinks, if he ever wanted to replicate such silky movements he’d fail miserably.

There’s no other word for it. Lance McClain is sexy.

“Heyyy sailor,” Lance says, eyes drinking Keith in as he does his best to arrange the pillows and blanket on the floor. Keith turns around with his boots in hand, prepared to set them aside somewhere and call it a night, but suddenly Lance is walking towards him with that impossibly graceful swagger, eyes only for Keith.

Hands fall on Keith’s shoulders and he drops his boots to the floor, where they land next to each other haphazardly with a thud-thud. Lance smirks when Keith’s mouth falls open in surprise.

Then he’s backing Keith up.

Not sure what’s happening but in no position to protest, Keith feels the backs of his knees connect with the bed. He falls back in a sitting position, managing to keep upright as Lance remains in his space, legs on either side of his waist, bracketing him in to keep him from going anywhere.

Keith swallows.

“Keith,” Lance says. His voice is rough, maybe from talking so much back in the pub and maybe from the dehydrating effects of the alcohol, but whichever it is, Keith’s breath hitches at the sound. Hearing his name being said in that voice has him shifting on the bed, looking up through his eyelashes to get a good look at the wreck that is captain Lance McClain, sans vest and boots, a lazy smile on his lips. Keith’s limbs feel a little lighter. His lungs a little emptier. His chest a little fuller.

And he can smell the alcohol on Lance's breath, rum mixed with something else, spiced and heavy and sharp in Keith's nose. He’s in Keith’s space and Keith isn’t sure how he feels about it.

Is it wrong that he doesn’t want Lance to leave?

But shit, he’s drunk and so is Lance, and this isn’t something he wants.

Not like this.

With a twist in his stomach and a swallow to help out his suddenly dry throat, he gently pushes Lance’s hands away from his shoulders.

Lance looks at him, confused and wide eyed. So blue… "What is it?” he asks, and he almost doesn’t sound drunk. But Keith knows he is. Witnessed him knock back more than any human should be able to handle, back in the pub. This? What is this?

Keith can’t do this. It’d be wrong to do anything when they’re both like this, both intoxicated and not in their right minds, drunk on the thrill of being away from their crews and their friends and their family, alone on an island that no one would think to find them on, in an inn where no one knows them by face and no one would think to ask.

Keith feels hot and his ribs feel tight and god, he really wants this.

He really wants it.

But not like this.

“Lance,” he whispers, and suddenly the silence of the room feels deafening. Almost frightening. He swallows again. “We should probably…” he reels in his thoughts and tries to think a little harder. What had he meant to say again? He can feel the rum settling over his tongue and all throughout his brain, slowing him down and making everything so… fuzzy. He’s a mess.

They’re both a mess, so much so that it’s laughable. Lance is god-almighty-lord-above beautiful, a clumsy yet somehow graceful drunk, far more handsy than his usual brand of touchy-feely-ness. Keith loves it. Wishes he could just give in to the drowsiness, the alcohol, grab Lance by the waist and roll their hips together, press his mouth to the skin beneath his jaw hard enough to make Lance groan. But that little voice in his head tells him he can’t, he shouldn’t. Should. Not.

Should.

Not.

He knows he can’t. Shouldn’t. Whichever.

“Lance we sh-should probably g’to bed,” he manages to say, eyes half closed.

“Don’t… don’t wanna,” Lance breathes, his face crowding Keith’s. Their faces are barely inches from one another, the alcoholic scent of their breaths mingling. Keith just takes it in for a moment.

And then lips are pressing against his, alarmingly soft. Warm. It’s not just the smell of the rum now, no, Keith can taste it. Spiced and sweeter than whatever it was Keith himself had been drinking earlier, and for a moment his desires get the better of him. He follows that taste, chases it with more enthusiasm while he lets Lance’s hands drift over his waist, sneak under his shirt and slide across the skin beneath.

Keith gasps and pulls away for a moment, only to be chased by rum-soaked lips that claim his again, again, again. Those lips become rougher, claiming Keith’s ale-soaked ones with fervor, a fire that Keith has had yet to see from Lance up until now, so warm and getting warmer, amazingly warm, so Keith kisses back.

He’s drunk, and not just on alcohol.

Keith is drunk on the night and on Lance and the feeling that he gives him, and he’s drunk on this feeling that they should not be doing this.

Then reality really does set in, when Lance pulls away for a breath and Keith finds himself staring. At Lance. At the state of him - he looks… Jesus.

Chestnut hair a mess. Shirt entirely unlaced and slipping from one shoulder. Mouth soft-looking and open as Lance breathes hard, eyes hooded and pupils so big that only slivers of blue peek out at Keith.

And he wants this to never end.

But even if he lets this go further, Keith knows with an agonizing pain in his chest that neither of them will remember this come morning.

And if they do, they’ll only remember it as a mistake - No, wait, that’s a lie.

Keith won’t remember it that way. But he’s sure that Lance would.

And then their deal would be off. Because Keith took advantage, and he’s certain Lance would never forgive him for that. Lance might be attractive, and he might be able to bed anyone he wants as often as he wants, and Keith may be a pirate with a history of honest to god crime, but he will not take advantage of this.

Hell, he really fucking wants to.

It would ruin everything if he did.

They’re drunk.

And they need to stop this before it gets out of control. Before Keith truly feels himself losing control.

“We should really get to bed,” Keith says again, and this time he gets all the words out. For a moment, Lance looks at him with those affected, glistening doe eyes, looking like he’s confused. Which he might just be.

When Keith offers Lance the barest shake of his head, already reaching down to lace his own shirt back up, he swallows back the wave of disappointment.  

He brought this on himself.

Without bothering to wait for Lance to try and coax him back into the tempting warmth of a kiss that was never even meant to happen, Keith gives the lightest push against Lance’s chest, and Lance gets it.

He looks shattered in every sense of the word. But he gets it.

Averting his gaze, he clambers off the bed to give Keith room to stand, a little wobbly at first but he manages. Keith stands and waves Lance off before he can so much as offer to help him.

“I’ll umm, j’st take the floor.” Lance points clumsily towards the corner closest to the closed door where the crummy “bed” lies, follows his own finger and makes his way to it.

Keith watches with regret already heavy in his limbs, weighing down on him harder than the alcohol, even. Not only is he drunk, but he’s just now realizing how tired he is. Hazily, he sees Lance lower himself to the floor where the blanket’s been spread. His head hits the pillow, and his eyes flutter closed. A pause.

Then he starts to snore. He’s already asleep, Keith will be damned. Passed out from too much alcohol, clearly. He probably would’ve passed out on the bed if Keith hadn’t said something.

Keith thinks he might cry. But it was either regret everything now, or postpone the inevitable until morning when the regret would be ten times worse.

He lies down on the bed by himself, eyelids heavy like lead, but his heart is much heavier.

Unlike most nights, Keith falls asleep in a matter of minutes, but he’s not sure he’d have fallen asleep at all without the help of the pub and the ale and that sickening final round of spiced rum.

He can still taste it on his lips when his eyes shut.

 

Like last night, he doesn’t dream. He does wake up once, though, in the middle of the night, and finds his pillow soaked through with tears he doesn’t remember spilling.

 

 

Chapter Text

Shiro docks the Red Sword at an island a few miles off the coast of Arus - a trading spot, uninhabited and free from prying eyes.

The ship can’t dock at the mainland, too many people have heard of the ship and loads more know about its infamous captain. The crew would be dragged over to higher authorities immediately, and no one would think to go quietly. Without a doubt, someone would probably get their head chopped off. And it wouldn't be one of his crew.

So… yeah. Quiet island. Much better plan.

Shiro has a gut feeling he’s going to find something here, on Arus. Maybe some help in finding his brother. Maybe he’ll actually find Keith here .

He doesn’t know why, but he knows he didn’t just come to Arus for his crew to recuperate and take a break while Keith is off doing god knows what.

It’s amazing how apathetic the crew has been to Keith’s disappearance. If anything, some of them had seemed privately smug, upon finding out.

It’s hard for Shiro to admit it, but it hadn’t looked good. Hadn’t looked professional. Keith leaving without a word basically translated as his being unable to take the heat of captaining a ship. And a Galra ship at that.

So Shiro knows why the crew is smug, although he’d never admit it aloud.

It’s not like anyone enjoys being under the direct orders of a twenty-one year old, practically a kid to most of the men and women on board the Sword. Many of the crew’s members are twice their captain’s age, if not more. It’s got to sting, knowing their Emperor chose a half-Galra brat to captain their ship.

But that’s their problem. Not Keith’s. Not Shiro’s, either.

He makes the decision to row to the mainland at dawn, setting to bring only one member of the crew with him - Sal, the ship’s cook - the only man aboard the Sword Shiro feels he can trust, aside from Thace, who has to stay behind to keep the crew members in check. Sal’s loyalties are strong, that’s for sure. He’s a patriotic sailor through and through, although how he feels about the Emperor is up for grabs. Shiro knows the guy has a good heart, not to mention a great touch when it comes to his smoked salmon.

 

The bay they’re headed for is one of many lining the southern coast of Arus, surrounded by white cliffs and homes scattered all over the hills. It’s no secret that the mainland and its surrounding islands are all breathtaking, and considering it’s a hub for trade, the economy’s doing well all around. It’s the trading capital of Altea - even though it’s technically just outside of Altea’s borders - and neither Shiro nor any members of his crew should be anywhere near this place if they know what’s good for them.

Considering they chose to drop anchor at the one island he knows won’t be checked for at least a few weeks yet if his timing is right, Shiro can guess that the Sword will be long gone by the time any traders come to find anything amiss.

You know, like an entire pirate ship docked right under the noses of Arus’s citizens.

Shiro leaves his crew to their own devices, confident that they can find themselves a couple rowboats and sail to the mainland themselves if they really want. Maybe gather some food and other things to replenish their stocks. Bullets, rope, sharper knives, whatever floats their proverbial boat. Rations would be preferable, but if not, they still have enough stocked on the ship to get them through another few weeks at sea.

For now, Shiro is going in alone.

“You don’t really think you’ll find yer brother here, do you?” Sal murmurs, sweating hard as he rows in time with Shiro’s quick strokes.

“No idea,” Shiro grunts, rowing like his life depends on it. Arus gets closer and closer, and so do his chances of finding Keith. If he’s run off anywhere other than to the Blue Lion, he’ll be here. Keith sailed these waters years ago, before he met Shiro. Before he became a pirate. Arus is like a second home to him, just after the ocean. And if all else fails and Keith isn’t here, then maybe a local dock worker will have some information about the Lion’s whereabouts. Anything would help at this point.

“What’ll you do if he isn’t here?”

“Ask someone if they’ve seen Lance McClain recently.”

“So you can do what, exactly?”

“So I can pummel the little shit into the ground for taking my brother hostage.”

“But how do you know he’s taken your brother hostage.”

“Call it sailor's intuition.”

“And… and if you do find your brother here, do you really think he’d want to return to the ship?”

“It’s his ship, Sal,” Shiro murmurs. He wonders how that could even be a question. “He loves the Sword. I think the reason he left was to get some answers - about what, I don’t know, but he’s been acting funny these past couple of weeks and I know- I know that McClain has something to do with this. Keith’s going to do his thing, but in the end he always returns to the water.”

“...Well put, sir.”

“Can always count on you to keep positive, Sal," Shiro says, the faintest smile tugging at his face. "Keep rowing, I want to make it to Paladin’s Bay before noon, okay?”

“Aye aye, sir.” He’s teasing, and Shiro knows it. He snorts quietly to himself but keeps on rowing hard, intent to get to the mainland. The sooner he has some answers of his own, the better.

 

0{}=========>

 

The city is even more impressive up close.

Shiro’s just taking it all in when he runs into a woman.

Or rather, the woman runs into him. Or at him. Whichever.

She looks very excited about something, and it’s just Shiro’s luck that she picks him out of the crowd, clearly bursting to tell as many people as she can. A mass exodus of people have gathered now, headed in the direction of the southwestern docks. Violet Bay, if Shiro remembers right. He remembers seeing it once before. It’s Arus’s largest bay, with an enviable trading scene. A prime spot for a pirate, except, piracy is not what Shiro is here for.

Shiro and Sal had docked their own rowboat in Paladin’s Bay, the smallest of the four off the coast of the mainland. They’d given fake names to the dock worker in charge, paid their two silver pieces, and walked right on in. Really, Shiro thinks, it’s almost too easy for a pirate these days.

“Did you hear?” the woman says eagerly, rushing towards Shiro to grab him lightly by the shoulder. Then she flushes pink and draws back, realizing what she’s doing when she gets a good look at Shiro.

And… honestly, it’s not the first time Shiro’s received this reaction upon meeting women in new places. Or men.

“Beg pardon,” she stutters out an apology, “I just, I can’t believe it. I’ve heard so many stories, and now it’s really here!”

“Hang on,” Shiro intercedes, no less perplexed. “What’s here?”

“The Blue Lion just docked in Violet Bay!”

Shiro freezes.

“What?” His full attention is now on this woman, this tiny thing with mousy red hair and enormous grey eyes. She looks like she’s shaking in her shoes, overwhelmed by the excitement of it all. Her dress is a cheap material and she’s got a vest on over it for lack of anything else, probably, and she’s not at all the type of person to stand out in a crowd (well, obviously. She’s incredibly short), but right now, she’s the one person Shiro is concentrated on in the swarm of people making a rush for Violet Bay and the docks.

“The Blue Lion! Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of it?” Oh, has Shiro heard of it. “One of the fastest merchant ships the kingdom’s ever seen! One of the best crews, too.

Shiro shakes his head, then backpedals and nods, expression schooled. “No no, I’ve definitely heard of it.”

“It’s here! I can’t believe it,” her words come out so fast, strung together in her excitement.

Shiro doesn’t know if he feels quite as excited.

Amazed at his stroke of luck, though. Most definitely that. If he knows one thing, it's that he needs to get to that ship.

“I heard the ship hasn’t docked at Arus in years. Not since captain Lance McClain took over.” She looks like she might swoon - which would be very bad for Shiro, since he’d like as little attention drawn to him as possible. “I wonder if he’s here then?” she wonders aloud. It sounds like she’s not breathing enough, breathless at the thought of Lance McClain, the swashbuckling eighth wonder of the world. Or at least, that’s how she makes him sound. “He’s gotta be, right?” She looks at Shiro avidly, as if he has all the answers.

He stammers, giving a jerky shrug. “I-I have no idea,” is all he can say. He’s wondering the same thing himself.

“I really hope so!” she gushes. “Oh, I think I might die if he’s here, I really do. I bet he’s even got the earring!” She taps her ear for emphasis and nods enthusiastically at Shiro, all smiles. It’s very endearing, Shiro thinks it’s a shame that this woman’s already fallen for some sailor with a famous name before she’s even met him. Shiro knows firsthand that Lance McClain isn’t everything the rumors say.

For one thing, he’s not six foot two. More like five foot eleven. And he does not have a talking parrot like the rumors say. Lance does enough talking all by himself, Shiro thinks, from what he’s seen the few times they’ve come face to face.

The tattoos, however, he’s not too sure about. But he’d rather leave that rumor be.

When his thoughts come back into focus, the woman is already leaving, hiking up the skirt of her dress as she races back into the crowd, intent on seeing this visiting ship and its famous captain for herself.

Shiro huffs, astonished, because the timing could not have been better. It’s the type of good luck he really doesn’t trust.

“Yeah…” he says to no one in particular, taking up a determined stride as he follows the flow of the crowd as well. “I sure hope so, too.”

Lance McClain, he thinks fiercely to himself, if you hurt Keith, so help you god...

“What was that all about? What’s up with the stampede?” Sal comes up behind him, finished tying up their boat, and speeds up to match pace with Shiro. He frowns after all the people flocking down to the docks. "Must be summin' good if it's drawing such a big crowd."

Violet Bay can’t be too far. Shiro doesn’t slow when he hears Sal.

“We’re paying a visit to someone,” Shiro says, and leaves Sal to follow him.

Sal mutters, brow pinched in a skeptical look. “Enemy or friend?” he asks.

“Guess we’ll see.”

 

0{}=========>

 

Half an hour earlier.

 

Hunk can see the southwestern coast of Arus nearing, and he feels himself relax. Not a lot, but enough. This is familiar territory.

Arus covers a span of land lined with cliffs, as well as ten or eleven islands within thirty miles of the mainland, and true to the stories, it’s visually breathtaking. White cliffs, sandy beaches, lines of multicolored homes of clay and brick and mortar that have been there for decades. For some, centuries.

The city of the port in which they dock the ship is quaint, charming and busy.

 

And when they dock, it’s the same reaction they get from most busy ports.

Word spreads fast this side of Arus.

Within minutes of the Lion dropping anchor, a crowd is already beginning to gather at the docks, which makes Hunk a little nervous.

Okay, a lot nervous.

They’re going to be expecting Lance - hoping to see him, no doubt. Lance is a crowd favorite and great with people, popular with men and women both, and Hunk knows that the last time they made a trip to Arus was a few years ago. Gosh, Lance would really love to be back here. It’s a lot like home, with the white beaches and the market and houses that are all so unique and personalized, old and familiar and comfortable. It’s only now that it starts to settle on Hunk. The weight of it. Their captain is off doing god knows what, leaving very little in the way of instructions.

Hunk hadn’t exactly been told what to do after coming to Arus, other than let the crew rest a bit and recover from the storm. There’s certainly a lot to be done, and they need their sails fixed. Not to mention they have a few sick crew members who could really use the care of a real doctor, not just a ship’s medic. No offense to Slav.

He doesn’t leave the ship just yet when they drop the anchor, breathing in the air that contains so much of the sea, but now it’s mixed with the smells of food and smoke and animals and people, people they don’t know, but who seem to know them.

He looks back at the small crowds gathered here and there where the docks begin, being held back by a few stubborn dock workers.

 

One of the clusters of people breaks up just then, as someone parts it through the middle.

He sidesteps the one dock worker on his side and powers forward, ignoring the other man’s shouts of protest. Someone runs to grab him by the shoulder, to stop him, but he turns around and looks at them, says a few brief words, and whatever it is has the dock worker backing off.

Pidge spots him first.

“Hunk, I think you’d better take a look at this,” he hears Pidge say, which precedes a quick tap on his shoulder. He turns, a question on his lips but it dies when he sees where Pidge is pointing.

Just down at the end of the gangplank, Takashi Shirogane, first mate of the Red Sword, stands with his arms crossed like the entire ship owes him something.

“I think we’ve got some company,” Pidge says. She sounds blithe about it, but Hunk isn’t the worst at reading body language; Pidge is nervous. It’s no secret that most pirates make her that way. Ever since losing Matt four years ago she hasn’t been able to face a pirate without either running the opposite direction, or bashing their teeth in while hurtling at them from a rope. Their last battle with the crew of the Sword had, fortunately, resulted in the latter. Hunk is still eternally grateful that Pidge kicked that monocle-wearing, one armed son of a bitch back during the raid.

Shirogane, however, is a question that has yet to be answered.

“Do we open fire, sir?” Klay asks, appearing from out of nowhere.

Hunk frowns, shaking his head. “No…” 

He tells himself that it's a reasonable command, considering opening fire on one man standing at the docks could still end up going wrong. If they hurt a civilian by accident, their reputation would be, for lack of a better word, shot to hell.

It looks like Shiro and the other guy are the only ones from the Sword's crew who are here. Whatever it is, it’s more personal than your average sailor-versus-pirate conflict of interest. Something in his gut is telling him to do something he never thought he'd do. Especially when Lance isn't here.

“Let him come aboard," he says.

The few people who hear him step up to protest immediately. Hunk waves them off and motions for the dock worker down below to let Shiro up. Both men at the bottom of the gangplank look equally bewildered, but both oblige. The dock worker steps away, and Shiro steps forward.

By the time Klay has given Hunk his two cents about making Shiro walk the actual plank instead, the man in question is already being led on board. He's immediately flanked on either side by a member of the crew. 

The rest of them stare. A few hiss and make rude comments about Shiro, spitting out insults like “pirate scum,” and "scurvy son of a three-legged bitch." There are some worse ones - sailors are very creative in the business of insults - but they're better left unsaid. Some people just look at him sadly and shake their heads. Florona and Plaxum are two of those people.

Klay looks like someone shoved an entire lemon down his throat. Shay looks concerned, Pidge looks suspicious, and Zack, being a kid, just looks intrigued.

Everyone backs away to keep some distance from their visitor when Shiro is ushered over to Hunk, who stands with his chin up. Hey, he’s going to at least look the part for their visitor.

Shiro‘s partner, it appears, waits down at the bottom of the gangplank, pretending like he’s absolutely supposed to be there. Hunk raises an eyebrow at the man but deems him harmless enough for the moment.

“I’m unarmed,” Shiro says calmly as he steps forward, before someone pokes the butt of their rifle into his back just between his shoulder blades. “Do you mind?” He twists his head around, a dark scowl already on his face.

“Lower your weapons,” Hunk orders. His crew looks at each other, but reluctantly, they lower their weapons. Klay lowers his rifle and backs off.

“I’m just here to speak with your captain,” Shiro says. His jaw looks set.

When Shiro gives Hunk a pointed look, he gets the message.

“Oh. Um, everyone,” Hunk says to the crew, who wait eagerly to re-arm and take out the pirate scum poisoning their deck, “you can leave. Take a break. Return to your quarters, whatever you prefer. ”

For a minute, they all just look at him, weapons half-lowered.

But then Pidge growls, “Everyone get the hell out!” in the most threatening voice she can muster, and suddenly everyone is back to work. Nothing to see here. Although a few people do keep an eye on the visitor. Klay, specifically. Plaxum, too, but she looks more concerned than outright suspicious.

Shiro has an eyebrow raised by the time Hunk turns his focus back to him. There’s a tense silence in the air.

He just let a sworn enemy board the ship, after all.

On the other hand, the man is unarmed (unless that prosthetic of his can suddenly turn into a sword), and from what Hunk can tell from body language alone, he’s looking for something. And no, contrary to the pirate stereotype, he does not appear to be looking for blood or for gold.

On closer inspection, Hunk can make out the faintest worry lines on the man’s forehead. There’s the barest trace of white at the forefront of his hairline, which doesn’t look bad so much as it makes him look like he’s seen some things. Things that either worried him or scared him so deeply that they left their mark on him.

The Galra have done some screwed up things.

Hunk doesn’t know much about this Shirogane guy, but what he’s heard is hardly the backstory of a cold blooded plunderer of the seven seas.

“You know why I’m here,” Shiro says. His gaze doesn’t back down, which has Hunk forcing himself to do the same.

“No, actually, I don’t,” he responds, equally calm. It’s a facade, but hell if Shiro knows it.

“My captain.”

“You mean Kogane,” Hunk says, putting his own hands on his hips to mirror Shiro’s - admittedly impressive - power stance. “What about him?”

“He went missing a few days ago, along with one of our rowboats. Know anything about that?”

“I--”

“Actually,” Shiro interrupts as he looks around, seemingly confused when he doesn’t appear to find what he’s looking for, “I was hoping I could speak with your captain about this. Where’s McClain?”

This time, the facade cracks a little. Hunk winces. “Ahh, yeah… here’s the thing.”

Shiro’s eyes widen.

“He’s not here.”

It doesn’t look like that was the answer the Red Sword’s first mate was hoping for.

“But if you really need to speak with the captain right now, you’re welcome to say whatever it is you wanna say to me.” Hunk makes the offer casually, but it’s obvious that the hostility between them hasn’t budged.

Shiro’s mouth opens and closes, like he’s about to say something, then opens and closes again, and now he just looks like a gaping fish without a voice.

“Was there something in particular that you could only say to McClain?” Hunk says coolly, rolling his shoulders like he doesn't care. Even though he does. He really does. He's really not good with confrontation, geez, can't the universe just let up on him for one second, please?

“Why isn't he here in the first place?”

“Why did you send your captain out in the middle of a deadly storm just to talk to him?” Hunk shoots right back. “Doesn’t sound to me like you guys care very much about your captain’s life.”

“I- He- I don’t understand...” Shiro looks frantic, and understandably confused. He'd looked like he had the upper hand in the conversation, but now, he just looks broken. “I came here to find Keith, I didn’t realize your captain had decided to take a detour." Hunk looks skeptical of that. "And we never sent him here! The idiot did that all on his own.”

Hunk frowns. It’s not the reaction he was expecting.

When he looks around, a slew of faces he didn’t realize were watching quickly turn to look away. Of course everyone’s listening in. Maybe it’d be better if they took this somewhere more private.

He tilts his head in the direction of the captain’s quarters, as if to say Follow me.

Shiro doesn’t look like he wants to trust Hunk, but there’s something desperate about him. About his body language, and the ways his eyes flicker back and forth like they’re trying to find something, only to come up short.

They step away from the busyness of the main deck, with Shiro following Hunk. He throws a look over his shoulder when he suspects people are still watching (which they are) or maybe considering throwing a knife in his back (which he’s sure some of them want to do).

 

 

The door clicks behind Shiro and Hunk, leaving them in a strange silence. It’s darker in here, but the porthole lets in some sunlight.

“I thought my brother might be in trouble,” Shiro says, breaking their silence.

“Wait wait, Keith Kogane is your brother?” Hunk asks, taken aback. “Whoa, ‘kay, was not expecting that.”

Shiro lifts an eyebrow, perplexed. “Where is Keith?” he asks. “You just said out there that he’d sailed off to you guys in the storm.”

“Ohhh, he did,” Hunk says, “he-- well, he tried at least. We found him capsized just off a ways from our ship in the thick of it and-”

“He’s alive though, right?” Shiro looks a little pale, eyes wide and anxious.

Hunk is quick to answer. “Yes! Yes, he’s alive.” Shiro heaves an enormous sigh of relief.  “...I mean, as far as I know?” Hunk adds softly, cringing a little.

Shiro’s eyes narrow dangerously, and Hunk backs up. “...What does that mean, ‘As far as you know?”

“He um, he had something he had to do. But don’t worry though!” Hunk reassures, waving his hands in front of him quickly, “He’s with Lance.”

“You’re saying he’s with your captain.”

Hunk nods up and down, not daring to say more.

“So what you’re saying is, Keith is with Lance McClain. On his own.”

“Yes?” Hunk almost wants to add ‘Did I stutter?’ to the end of it, but looking at Shiro, he thinks not. The guy is ripped and he’s got a metal arm. Better not mess with him. Or look at him the wrong way.

“Where did they go?”

Aaand it’s the one question Hunk can’t answer. He shakes his head to say as much.

With a sigh, Shiro brings his hands up to rub at his temples. He doesn't look happy. Hunk can relate. "Do you at least know why they left?"

Hunk gulps. "I don't know if that's my business to say-"

"Please." 

Hunk stares, like he's seeing this man for the first time. Without the history of being a member of the Red Sword's crew. Without the knowledge that he's Keith Kogane's supposed brother. Hunk looks at Shiro and sees someone who's just as worried about finding his family as Lance is about keeping his crew safe.

"I just need to know where he is."

Shiro is the first mate of a very important ship - like Hunk - and he's been put in charge at the last minute with little to no instruction of what to do or what's going on - like Hunk.  

"I don't know a lot about your brother," Hunk says quietly, looking appropriately sympathetic, "but if he's with Lance, I'm sure he'll be fine."

They're not all that different.

"Funny how they left us both in charge and the first thing we do is ask each other for help," Shiro comments.

In a moment of stark realization, they both crack a smile. 

"So my captain ran off with your captain," says Shiro, shaking his head in disbelief. His voice has that tone, something that says, Wow, I don't know what I was expecting.

"I know," Hunk murmurs in the quiet, "I can't really believe it either. I mean, after all this time, he finally makes a move to-" he slaps a hand over his mouth. Maybe that wasn't exactly the right thing to say - especially in front of Shiro, who raises an eyebrow.

"Makes a move to...?" Shiro asks. He inclines his head like he's hoping to hear more. "Is... Is there something you're not telling me?"

Hunk bites his lip and shakes his head, jerky and wide-eyed. "Nope. Nothing."

"Because if you were implying that your captain has a thing for my brother-"

"You definitely heard wrong," Hunk assures quickly with a hand cutting across his throat in the universal 'cease and desist' gesture. But Shiro doesn't look like he believes Hunk's claims. He doesn't look angry, either, which is the most surprising.

"Hunk, right?" he says, stepping forward, which has Hunk shifting uncomfortably although he refuses to back away. He won't be reduced to that, no thanks.

He nods.

"Okay Hunk, what do you know about my brother and Lance McClain?" His voice is entreating, very calm and almost... amused. 

This has been a weird day for Hunk, but talking about this is really the cherry on top of the three layered cake.

"It's not my business to say," he tries again.

But Shiro isn't having it. "Hypothetically, then," he says, encouraging Hunk with a smaller nod. He doesn't look like he's doing this for kicks. He looks like he genuinely wants to know.

"I-I..." Hunk gets flustered. Because seriously, this isn't his business. Right? But then, would it really do that much harm to offer up his own theory? If this is all hypothetical, of course. "It's... possible that... I mean, don't take my word for it, but I think my captain always had something of an eye for your captain - not that I'm one hundred percent sure of that or anything-"

"Thanks, Hunk, that's all I needed to hear."

"It-It is?"

Shiro nods, looking like he's finally gotten some answers. "And with their luck, they've probably made some sort of deal. And I'm sure Keith was the instigator."

Hunk snorts at that. "Seriously?" he says, incredulous. "I dunno man, Lance has always kind of been the instigator type..."

The sentence trails off, hanging in the silence.

"They'd make a good team," they say together, then turn to stare at one another, full on grinning this time.

Hunk laughs, rubbing a hand down his face, because this has got to be the goddamn weirdest day in his life. And Hunk's had some weird days. "So as long as we're on the same page..." he begins, looking to Shiro for some confirmation.

Shiro grins, sticking out his prosthetic for Hunk to shake, which he does. Nervously, but he does. "You mind if I stick around? If they're working together right now, they'll probably be coming back here afterwards, right?"

"I have no idea," Hunk says. "But Lance swore he'd be back."

"Then it's not a question," Shiro mutters. He looks like a parent listening in on a story about something ridiculous their kids got up to earlier that day. "Keith will definitely be coming back with him."

 

0{}=========>

 

When Shiro walks down the gangplank of the Blue Lion, all eyes are on him. But all he does is step onto the dock, pulling aside his colleague to tell him something quietly.

 

“Tell Thace to take over," he tells Sal, "And also let him know that I’m getting our captain back. Do not send in backup.”

Sal nods understandingly. “Aye, sir.” He touches two fingers to his temple in a salute.

Then Shiro re-boards the Lion, and the crew looks shocked.

Hunk quickly informs them that Shiro means to join them, not harm them, but the reactions are definitely mixed. One man, a little hunched but not too old in the face, approaches Shiro with a cryptic look.

“The outcome of this does not look good,” says the quartermaster. Slav shakes a finger in Shiro's face.

Shiro frowns. He's not interested on getting on another person's bad side before the day is even half over. "Hey, come on," he says. "I'm with you guys."

"You are most certainly not," the man replies. "You are from the Galra Empire, and you are not one of our kind." His accent is thick. Shiro's brow furrows, trying to place it.

"Uhh... So where are you from?" he says, trying to turn the conversation into something more amicable. "Germany?" He realizes too late that he shouldn't have said that.

“I’m Pakistani, you complete and utter idiot.”

Shiro leans in to whisper to Hunk, “Did he just…?”

Hunk nods sagely. “Don’t take it personally. He thinks most people who aren’t him are idiots. I’m sure you’re, uh, very smart. That’s just Slav being Slav.”

“And Slav is right here,” says Slav, looking horribly slighted by the remark. “And it is not just me, you know. Most of these people” he waves a hand broadly behind him, where some of the crew are working to roll up the sails, “are very much stupid. You are also stupid. Due to unfortunate circumstances, however, it is you who is captaining this ship. And you, ” he points at Shiro, “ You are also very stupid, for coming on board this ship when Altea already holds so much against you and your kind.” The way his gaze lingers on the metal prosthetic is not lost on Shiro, who bites his lips, infuriated but not quite to the brink of snapping. Who does this guy think he is?

“You- You…” he stops himself before he loses it in front of the entire crew. This is not the place, and certainly not the time.

"Cool it, Slav," Hunk says. Slav makes a face and mutters something rude, but he walks away with his proverbial tail between his legs.

“So what do we do? Go after them?” Shiro asks.

Hunk shrugs, a nervous half-smile, half-grimace on his face. “I think the best thing to do in this situation might be to just, I dunno, stay put. Lance said he would be back, and his word is good."

"Then I guess we'll just have to stay put, huh?"

 

 

0{}=========>

 

Lance wakes up with the most raging hangover he’s had in years. His head is pounding like someone attached a heavy anchor to each of his temples.

It’s so strong, it could lift him by the ankle and shake him like a ragdoll if it wanted to. Which is exactly how he feels.

When he looks to his left, he sees a second pillow by his head, as well as his effects exactly as he left them. Compass, vest, boots… wait, did he really leave those there? He doesn’t remember taking them off last night. There’s not a whole lot he remembers about last night, except for-

His eyes catch something sitting on top of the extra pillow. Some paper, maybe? It’s all folded up though. A note?

When he tries to sit up, it feels almost like someone just rammed him between the eyes with his own compass. Woozy, he wisely chooses to lay his head back down... very, very slowly. Then he reaches for the pillow and snatches up the folded up piece of paper. Looks like he was right; It’s a note. An odd one.

 

The note reads,

 

Heard you were looking for a sailboat, last night while you were chatting with that friend of yours. If you’re looking for a recommendation, go see Ulaz and tell him where you’re headed. He’ll find you something. Do NOT go to Prorok. The Galra have their eyes on him.

P.s. You’re being followed. I’m already risking a lot just to tell you this. Trust no one and watch your back. And whatever you do, get as far away from Krell as you can. Fast.

-M

 

It's the furthest thing from comforting. Lance folds the paper back up clumsily and thinks. Or tries to, still a little groggy from the night and the alcohol and... geez, a lot happened in just twenty-four hours.

And now he's reading a note that someone sneaked onto his pillow in the middle of the night. Like a thief - but his throat isn't slit or anything, which is always nice. If a stranger came into their room - no, actually, broke into their room - just to leave this message… what gives Lance reason to trust it isn’t a scam?

After checking his belongings twice, he can confirm that nothing was stolen. The only thing different about the room since last night is the note.

Some note. It seems someone is following him and Keith, and doing one hell of a job too if they haven’t shown themselves yet.

The only question is, who.

He reads the note again. Then a third time.

“Em,” he says, reading the signature aloud for himself. No bells ring in his head. It doesn’t stir any memories. How could it? It’s one letter. Just an ‘M’ and nothing else.

It’s gotta mean something. Whoever this is, they were probably risking their lives just to get into the room last night while he and Keith were out cold. Which is intensely creepy to think about. But Lance must have slept like a log, and Keith must be a pretty heavy sleeper, too.

Speaking of…

 

Lance hears a yawn from behind.

“Issit morning yet?” comes Keith voice, a little slurred from sleep. Lance wonders if the guy is as hungover as he is. And… oh man, he reeeally likes Keith’s sleepy-voice.

Priorities. Right.

They can always talk later. Right?

“Keith,” Lance says, finally managing to sit up from his bed on the floor without feeling like he’s going to vomit on himself. He holds up the crumpled letter, waving it at Keith, who sits up in bed with a frown just a couple yards away. Lance’s heart thump-thumps away in his ears when he takes in the mess of bedhead, dark hair falling over eyes that are almost purple, eyes crinkled because the guy is still half asleep and god, what Lance wouldn’t give to see that every damn morning.

Priorities, Lance.

Keith sees the letter in Lance’s hand and frowns, cocking his head. “Wass that?” he mutters, rubbing at one eye and Lance’s heart just about jumps into his throat. Fuck. Shit, it’s too much. He shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath, not having to pretend like he’s still half-asleep, too.

When he opens them again, Keith’s leaned forward in the bed, arm extended.

“Can I see?” he asks, nodding towards the letter.

Lance hurriedly gets to his feet, clumsy but he makes it. “Right, right.”

Lance is proud to say he neither vomits nor has a heart attack as he stands from the floor, shuffling over to the bed with the letter in hand.

Keith only reads the letter once, but he seems to get it much more quickly. And he looks a lot more harried by the information that’s included in the note.

“Prorok,” Keith says, leaping out of bed as he throws on his boots and vest, then grabbing his knife from under his pillow to holster it again. “If he’s on the island, we’ve got to leave. Right now.”

“No breakfast?” Lance whines, pouting.

“No time. And didn't you specifically tell Var not to include breakfast with our stay?"

"Should've paid full price," Lance grumbles, lacing up the shirt he accidentally slept in again. He'll just wash it in some stupid seawater and wear the spare he packed in his rucksack.

"You can bitch about it later," Keith says with an eye roll. "Let’s go.”

 

They leave the room a little messy, but you know what, they paid their eight gold pieces. So really, they can’t be bothered to give a damn.

 

0{}=========>

 

It turns out that Ulaz is the straightforward, serious type, and he finds them a sailboat no problem.

 

“If one of the Galra is here on Krell,” he says, inspecting the letter more carefully while the other two wait, “you can be sure they’ve already noticed your being here. Whoever told you to come here was absolutely right - the sooner you leave, the better off we all are.”

“Very reassuring,” Keith mutters. His shirtsleeves flutter in the breeze brought in from outside. The marina isn't as busy as they would have expected on a day like today.

“Trust me,” Ulaz says, “it’s just a fact. The Galra are what they are, and some are worse than others. You’ll get to Altea fast with this one,” he pats the hull of their chosen boat fondly as he pockets the money from Lance. The rest of their gold. And yes, Keith had eventually given in and handed over… most of his stolen coins.

Ulaz has a pleasant voice, deep and a little lilting, putting both Lance and Keith at ease. It’s easy to trust him (and Keith doesn’t trust a lot of people).

 

When they set sail just before noon, leaving the docks without a fuss from the dock worker, it’s in higher spirits.

 

Keith doesn’t bring up anything about the night before. They have bigger things to deal with first.

 

0{}=========>

 

“You left the note with my instructions?”

“I did.”

“And what were my instructions?”

“To go and see Prorok for a boat, and to tell no one about the note.” He swallows, masking the worst of the nerves. It’s hard hide when your enslaver is staring you dead in the eye with the most nauseating stare.

“Good. Hope is not lost for you, after all.” The prince smirks, hazel eyes that could pass for yellow narrowing with malice. “And no one saw you?”

The younger man, who’s really no older than twenty-one or twenty-two now, backs up until he’s flat against the wall of the stables. He hadn’t been offered the luxury of a room at the inn the night before. Not like his prince.

The prince sneers, enjoying the way his prized prisoner - no no, associate - cowers against the wall. “You seems particularly flighty today, Matthew. I hope there isn’t a problem.” His words are slow and deliberate, an emphasis on every consonant.

Matt Holt shakes his head from side to side, slow and shaky. He swallows again. “I left the note,” he says. “It’s done. Your highness.”

“Thank goodness,” the prince sneers, giving Matt the courtesy of some personal space as he takes one small step back. “It would be... such a shame if you never got the chance to reunite with that dear sister of yours.”

 

Chapter Text

 

The sun is high in the sky and hot enough to cook food on the deck. Lance, being his insufferable self, tossed his vest aside hours ago.

Just two more days until they make it to Altea. And it starts out a quiet enough ride.

 

Anyone who knows Lance knows that Lance does not do Quiet.

Cue the top of the third hour of their journey to Altea, and Lance is done playing the quiet game.

One thing that Keith learns very quickly is that Lance likes to talk, and once you get him going, the fucker will not shut up.

“-So anyway there I am, I still have the pointy half of an arrow and I’m only wearing one boot, and the stupid thing charges me like it’s a flipping hawk instead of one little parrot,” the hand that isn’t busy steering the boat flies around animatedly, never stopping for more than a second as the epic saga about a cheeky parrot and a wild goose chase for the lost treasure of Cortez continues. Animals have like, zero sense of personal space. Am I right or am I right?” Lance’s frenzied hand takes a break when the story - Keith hopes - finally comes to its thrilling conclusion.

“At least parrots have bigger brains,” Keith mutters from his place on the deck, close to the water. He’s been put in charge of reading the compass.

“How’s that?” Lance brings a finger to his ear, raising an eyebrow to show Keith he didn’t hear him.

“Nothing important.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t.” Keith can hear the immediate difference in Lance’s tone of voice. It’s still easygoing, nothing necessarily wrong, but it’s clear that it’s on its way to becoming something more serious. He doesn’t like it.

Serious Lance isn’t something he’s seen a lot of. And when he has seen it… it’s um, a little bit scary.

Back during the raid when Keith took those three sailors hostage? Lance had been stoic while Keith took charge of the situation, but he’d been undeniably furious. The way he’d spoken to Keith before the Red Sword took off again still gives Keith goosebumps to remember it.

I’ll bring them back, that’s a promise.

No hesitation. No nerves but certainly a lot of Nerve. All steel and ice and piercing blue eyes. Lance McClain may try his damndest not to act like it, but at the end of the day he’s not just a lover - He’s a fighter. A dangerous one.

Dangerous, because he can be really unpredictable. The outcome of a fight can turn on a dime if he’s one of the people fighting; the thread of a conversation, too, if Lance is the one leading it.

This (mostly one-sided) conversation suddenly feels very different. Weird different. Keith thinks this might be heading into unknown territory and he can’t even prepare himself because he has no idea what to expect. He never does these days.

“I just want to get to Altea without losing my hearing because you talked both my ears off,” Keith mutters, only half-hoping Lance can hear him.

Which he does.

“Sure. Maybe I can stop talking about myself for a little tiny bit,” Lance hedges, sounding wary and not quite as slighted as Keith was expecting, “so I can finally hear about the incredible life of captain Keith Kogane, pirate and plunderer extraordinaire?”

That gets a humorless snort from Keith. “Not on your life,” he says.

“What, seriously?” Now Lance sounds mortally offended. Keith turns his head, straining a little because he’s not really in the mood to move from his spot by the rail and he’s tired anyway.

“Seriously.”

“But I’m curious,” Lance says. “Please, Keith? I just told you my embarrassing parrot story, now you have to tell me something embarrassing about you.”

“Not happening.”

“Why are you so against talking?” Lance complains. But then Keith looks away, and something must have registered, because the next thing he says doesn’t sound like a joke. Or a trick to get Keith to talk. “Okay, here's something else you probably don't know about me."

Keith groans, preparing himself for another saga about annoying birds and make believe treasures.

"I left my family when I was eighteen to sail around the world, all right? Because I loved sailing too much to let it just stay a fantasy. And if I die, I wanna die out here, at sea.”

Where did that come from?

“That’s… some pretty dark stuff,” Keith says. Because it really is? It’s the most morbid he thinks Lance has ever gotten around him.

It never ceases to amaze him and baffle him at the same time, just how genuine Lance can be as a person when he’s not busy running around like a swashbuckling king of the world, with his ship and a crew that can sail like nobody’s business, and a smile that could bring the Empire itself to its knees.

“Keith,” Lance says, giving very little movement at the wheel. The boat rocks a bit but there’s no rain at the moment and the air is clear of mist. Really decent weather. Keith still wishes it could be just a touch less hot; He’s not really in the mood to remove his shirt, too (his vest, however, was left hours ago in the single cabin below deck). Lance seems just fine as he is, although his hair clings to his brow with gathering sweat. “Look… I’m not gonna force you to talk. I was just curious, and these next two days we have to get through to get to Altea are only the start of a much longer trip-- If we’re gonna do this, I’d like to know who I’m sailing with.”

That’s fair. Undeniably fair, actually.

God dammit, Lance.

A deep breath in, and Keith complies. “Okay,” he says. “What do you want to know?”

 

0{}=========>

 

Keith's childhood wasn't anything one could really qualify as "happy."

For starters, when he was eight his parents were killed in a fire. Talk about a conversation starter.

He'd escaped with the help of a nurse, who died very soon afterward, and although he’d been young he still remembers that night vividly. One of the worst nights of his life. The worst night of his life

Until now, Shiro had been the only one Keith trusted with this information.

Soon after the fire, Keith was taken under the wing of an older man called Stoker, who ran a fishing business and knew everything there was to know about sailing. He taught Keith how to sail, how to fish, and how to navigate the waters with or without a compass.

He was old, too. His memory wasn’t the best… and it deteriorated. Although he meant well and took good care of the kid, they were not the best of circumstances. The man started  to lose it.

When Keith was ten, old Stoker forgot his name;  then he forgot everything else about Keith,  and when that day finally came Keith ran away because he couldn’t handle the emotional pain of it. He just kept losing people. Maybe he was cursed. Or maybe he wasn’t meant to have anyone after all?

He doesn’t regret running, though. Not from that particular situation.

But the running? As in, all the other times he’s run from things? Hidden out on remote islands before this whole pirate fiasco started, going to new lands under fake names and getting in with crowds he had no business hanging around?

He’s not sure.

But Lance doesn’t ask him anyway. He’s a really good listener, surprisingly enough, when he’s not the one doing the talking. He waits for Keith to continue, not a word from him at the wheel.

It’s evening now and the air’s cooled down, enough that Keith had gone down to the cabin to grab the spare blanket, which is now draped closely around his shoulders. It’s not like he’s got a coat he can wear like Lance does.

“I never meant to fall into this whole business,” Keith explains, almost desperate to get it out, “it sort of just found me. Or Haxus did, I don’t know.” He bites his lip hard. “God…. it’s just complicated.”

“Who’s Haxus?” Lance asks.

Keith shakes his head, pulling the blanket tighter. “You don’t wanna know.”

“Oh… okay.”

Keith appreciates that he doesn’t push for more.

Keith started his unofficial “career” as a pirate at age eighteen, when he commandeered a smaller trading ship. He couldn’t face the prospect of living alone, especially so close to where his parents were killed.

“I sailed to the other side of the Mediterranean. Left the boat at the dock and traveled until I was standing at the edge of the Marmoran Desert.”

 

Desert? Lance thinks. That’s a long trek to pull off. The Marmoran desert isn’t exactly on the coast.

“Damn,” Lance murmurs, “it sounds like you, my friend, were a just bit too far away from the ocean.”

Keith nods. “And as soon as I saw the sand, it hit me. I couldn’t keep running like that, I couldn’t…” he stops short, breath catching.

That’s the first time he’s said it aloud. Actually, it’s the first time he’s ever admitted it to himself. And so honestly, too. Then he remembers that Lance is still waiting for him to finish. “I... I turned back.”

“...And?”

“And I did what any idiot at eighteen would do.”

“Found a girl and knocked her up?”

“Would you shut up?”

Lance bites his lip, but it’s too late. The smile is there. The goofy, self-confident look that’s nearly impossible to miss. Just one more thing that makes him so much who he is. “Sorry. I was just kidding.”

Keith sighs. The air feels like it’s growing even cooler. He hopes it isn’t a cold night, all he wants to do is sleep as soundly as he did the night before. “I stole a boat.”

“Another one?”

“Well… more like a ship.”

“....You stole an entire ship?”

Keith’s eyes drop back down to the water racing past them, a thin line of foam in the boat’s wake. “I uh, think commandeered would be a better word to use.”

Madre de Dios, Keith, you stole an entire goddamn ship.”

“Commandeered.”

Commandeered an entire goddamn ship. Holy shit, how’d you even pull that off? I knew you were one of the best pirates of our time - I mean, according to rumors or whatever - but I don’t think I ever heard that one. You’re serious?”

Keith hums, thin-lipped. “I was young. And it wasn’t the first ship I took charge of, either.”

“Don’t tell me the Red Sword is a stolen ship, too?”

“Again,” Keith snaps, “commandeered. Kuh-man-deered. Do I have to spell it out?”

“Stolen,” Lance insists, getting one of those smirks on his lips, which sets Keith’s insides on fire. “You’re a pirate. You pirated a ship. Oh my god,” his mouth drops in a big wide ‘O.’ “It’s a pirated ship. A pirate ship.”

“Incredibly clever,” Keith deadpans.

“So why’d you do it in the first place?”

There’s an abrupt pause in the steady stream of banter, something out of place when the question lands.

It’s almost too personal.

Maybe the question hadn’t been intended that way, but Lance seems to have this innate gift for casually prying into people’s lives with a single, well-placed question.

“I didn’t have a choice,” Keith finds himself saying. The admission is harsh despite the quiet. “When I came back from the desert I had nothing, no family, no friends and no money. Very few belongings other than the clothes on my back.”

“That’s a rough place to be.”

“Mmm..” Keith nods hazily. His eyes focus wearily on the water caressing the hull of the boat. “The first ship I stole was Galran, which means a price was on my head the day I took it-- But the Sword was the first ship that really caught my eye. It wasn’t one of the Galra’s, but it wasn’t Altean, either.” He stares at the water so wistfully that Lance thinks maybe Keith’s in a different place right now, transported back into a memory while he speaks. “The crew was made up of merchant sailors and a really old captain. Like, really old.”

“Like grandpa old?”

Keith nods but doesn’t look away from the passing water. “I think by steali-- commandeering the ship, I was doing them a favor.”

“How’d you even get everyone off the ship before you took it?” Lance wonders aloud.

“Oh, the gunners were actually still on board,” Keith assures, casual, “but it turned out they hated their captain and were glad to see him gone.”

A tense, uneasy pause follows.

“You don’t mean to tell me you…?” Lance makes a slicing motion across his throat, clicking his tongue for sound effect.

Keith quickly shakes his head. “No, it’s not like that. I didn’t kill him or anything, I just shouted ‘Fire!’ and most of the crew evacuated. He must’ve been a pretty terrible captain if he decided to abandon his own ship.”

“That’s amazing,” Lance chuckles, shaking his head. He adjusts their course a little, snaps his compass shut and shoves it back into the side pocket of his doublet.

“Anyway...” Keith continues, bringing the conversation back to something more serious. “It was either I did what I had to do to survive, or I died at the hands of Galra. The day they finally caught me, I was more surprised than anyone when they didn’t just kill me on sight.” His shoulders slump forward, his chin down as he gets lost, memories disjointed and none of them pleasant. He wears his title of captain like a mask and now that he has no ship to captain, it’s all too clear that he’s lost again. “And then they recruited me. They could’ve just killed me right there.”

“Glad they didn’t,” Lance says gently. He means it.

“They should have,” Keith hisses back, virulent.

But Lance knows the anger isn’t aimed at him. It’s at the situation. At Keith’s messed up childhood. At the Galra, and everything the Empire stands for.

And it’s heartbreakingly evident, how much Keith has wanted out of it. For so long he’s wanted out of it. Life really isn’t fair - for some it’s even less so.

 

The sky is only just getting well and truly dark when the conversation lulls again.

It’s weird, there are always times when people who’ve been talking to each other a while finally run out of things to say.

The thing is, Keith hasn’t run out of things to say. It’s just - they’re things he’s a little too afraid to say out loud. It’s not like he and Lance know each other that well, or are friends or anything. All they did was meet a few random times when their ships crossed paths. And met again during the storm to strike up a deal.

And also sailed alone in a rowboat to Krell, where they fell asleep on the same bed one night and drank themselves silly the next.

Oh, and borrowed a sailboat because they both seemed to have wordlessly decided it was worth following this trip through until the end.

Not for the first time, the little voice in the back of Keith’s head asks, What is this?

Keith goes to get himself some sleep, and when he wakes and trudges back up to the deck, it’s completely dark. Stars and planets twinkle up in the sky, just as reliable as any compass, although Keith isn’t the most talented wayfarer. Thank god for Lance and that compass of his.

He takes the night shift, and Lance silently passes over control of the wheel without argument, then murmurs a quick “g’night” and heads down to the cabin.

Keith breathes in the night air and thinks, he can do this. With Lance, they really do have a better chance at pulling this whole thing off. He can do this.

They make a good team.

They can do this.

 

0{}=========>

 

One day over, one less chance of a storm to worry about.

When Lance wakes, he walks up to the deck to find Keith with his back to him, standing still as a statue at the wheel. Hair darker than spilled ink brushes the nape of his neck, hanging in a loose ponytail. Morning sunlight hits it just right and Lance swears he sees traces of purple, true to any stories about real, raven hair. So that’s the color of his hair. Raven.... It suits him.

Lance isn't sure why he cares about that so much.

A blanket pools at Keith’s feet, but he’s clearly been so focused on keeping the boat on course that he hasn’t given a thought to staying warm. He’s wearing his vest over his shirt, tightly laced, but that’s all he must have had overnight to keep the chill at bay. His stance is strong, though, and confident, something Lance hasn’t gotten to see much of, considering the first they saw each other recently was when Keith almost drowned. Then he was thrown into the brig practically naked - which probably hadn’t been great for his dignity - and after that he and Lance went to Krell and got drunk enough to make Davy Jones weep.

Now, though, his feet are spread apart for balance and his shoulders are relaxed, back straight. And is it Lance, or does he look taller than usual?

Keith Kogane belongs behind the wheel. No question about it.

But uh, just not right now. It’s Lance’s shift.

“Hey,” he says, not bothering to cover his mouth as he yawns.

Keith turns his head and catches sight of Lance.

The wind is particularly loud in his ears when Lance sees Keith’s face lit softly by the sun. He’s got bags under his eyes, though, sleep worn. Lance thinks it’s a good thing he woke up when he did, because Keith looks like he could really use the break.

“Go and get some rest,” Lance says, bravely fighting back a second yawn. “I’ve got this.”

He motions for Keith to step away from the wheel. He does so without protest.

“Thanks.”

Lance shrugs and walks up to stand by Keith, taking hold of the wheel himself. “Just thought I’d give ya a break, you look like someone just dug you out of a grave.”

He should’ve known better. Lance really should have known that Keith Kogane wasn’t a morning person.

Keith scowls, elbowing past Lance in the direction of the cabin. “Gee, thanks. Really appreciate it.”

Lance frowns as he looks back, watching Keith shuffle away like he’s an actual dead man brought back to life. Touchy, very touchy, Lance thinks to himself. Morning Keith isn’t the most pleasant version of Keith. He looks nice when he’s waking up in a bed, with the messy hair and sheets thrown over him, and Lance won’t lie, he likes the windswept ponytail too, but it’s obvious that anyone would be a hell of a lot more tired after staying up all night to steer a boat.

Long story short, Keith isn’t just sleepy right now, he’s dog tired and looks it.

He’s also getting a little pissy, and Lance is not a fan.

“Well no need to snap.”

“Do me a favor and leave me alone,” Keith mumbles, rubbing his eyes.

“Come on, there’s no need to be like that princes--”

Fuck off, McClain.” There’s not much heat in the words, but Lance still doesn’t appreciate being talked to like that. Like he’s nothing but a swabbie. Keith or no, he’s done being talked down to. Sure, he calls Keith princess, but this is the sort of mouthing off that would get anyone on his own ship a stern talking to, followed by a formal apology and even, perhaps, a hug.

Lance likes a little mutual respect on his ship, what can he say.

“Sure, will do,” Lance answers judiciously. He holds the wheel steady and his eyes fall from the cabin door to the sail. Then to the boom. Which gets him thinking…

Technically, the sail is already at a fine angle, the boom hanging where it needs to be. But Keith is just so close and the opportunity so, so golden...

“Hey Keith,” Lance says, craning his head to catch Keith’s eye.

Tired, he turns around. “What?

“You mind stepping a little to your right?”

Keith frowns, but does as he’s told, taking a hesitant couple of steps in that direction. “Uh, why’d I have to do that?”

“Just wanted to try something,” Lance says.

Then he looks Keith dead in the eye and turns the wheel hard to port.

Before Keith has time to react, the boom swings forward, all the way around until it catches Keith in the chest. He’s lucky he throws his arms up before he’s knocked flat. But this way, with his arms wrapped around the boom, he’s suddenly swinging with it.

Oophh!”  It catches him hard. Even Lance winces at the sight of Keith getting the wind knocked out of him. Jesus Chri-- h-hey! Lan--”

But it doesn’t stop there. The boom keeps moving as Lance turns the wheel, and it takes Keith with it while he holds on for dear life, swinging out until he’s hanging over the side of the rail. Keith’s legs dangle over fast-passing water and he scrambles to get a better hold on the wooden boom.

“Sh-shit, what the-?” Keith yelps as he holds tight. “What the hell!”

This, Lance thinks, might just be the funniest thing he’s seen to date. He stops turning the wheel and holds it in place. “Well,” he says, far too nonchalant, “if you’re just hanging around...”

“Lance!”

“I guess I’ll just go check to see what I can rustle up for breakfast. Gotta admit it’s perfect wind for sailing today isn’t it-”

“Lance, get me down !”

“Mmm, I’m not so sure I like that tone on you.”

“Do you have even a single good reason for doing this?” Keith yells back over to the wheel, where Lance is grinning from ear to ear and not even trying to hide it, “or do you just enjoy making my life hell?”

Lance “huh”s, like he’s contemplating the question. Keith growls loudly and pulls himself up until he’s doubled over the boom, legs hanging over one side and his upper body leaning over the other, although he’s trying very hard to keep his head up. Is this fair? He knows he’s done a lot of questionable things in his life, but must he lose his dignity now ?

The universe must be holding a heavy grudge against him or something.

“Well let me think,” Lance muses, one hand stroking his chin in thought, “would you like me to list them off? I can do alphabetical, chronological, or by the level of annoyance you and your crew gave me when they paid my ship a visit.”

“Fuck you, McClain!” Keith spits. The boat hits a particularly choppy spot and the boom shudders. Keith’s grip slips and he grunts, scrambling for better purchase, but he’s safe enough from falling into the water below.

“Don’t you wish, princess,” Lance answers good naturedly. “Maybe buy me dinner first.”

“You, McClain, are a steaming pile of seagull shit. Bring me back around!”

“Why?” Lance asks. He widens his eyes in feigned innocence, stares at Keith like he’s got no hidden agenda.

Lance won’t lie, it’s not all that much of an agenda.

Nah, this is just payback for Keith taking his gold.

Oh, and kidnapping part of his crew.

And raiding his ship.

And murdering his heart with that stupid ponytail of his.

The list goes on.

To be honest, this is probably the least Lance could be doing to get back at Keith. And it’s probably the nicest way of handling it.

“It could always be worse,” Lance says easily. “I could’ve just pushed you overboard. We could’ve been hit by another storm,” he starts to list off all the ways it could possibly be worse.

 

Meanwhile, Keith tries not to slip sideways, lying horizontal on the boom. He raps his forehead gently against the wood, put out and well past angry, and lets out a loud growl.

“Oh, we could get attacked by a Weblum,” Lance notes, shrugging and not paying attention to the activity from the boom where it hangs out past the rail.

Keith scoffs from his already precarious position in the air, feet dangling over the water like bait on a hook. He has had it up to here . "Those don't even exist , Lance, they're an old sailor's tale.  Get me the hell down before I crawl over there to go and rip you a new assh-"

Hooo ‘kay, I think you’ve had enough,” Lance chuckles. It’s evident how seriously he’s taking Keith’s predicament.

Not very.

“I swear to every god ever conceived, you son of a three-legged bitch, I will-”

“All right,” Lance mutters. Keith can just about see the eye roll. “I get the message, geesh. Gimme a second.” He mutters something else about Keith’s ‘brilliant grasp on the delicate language of a sailor’ and gives it a hot second, reveling in the payback.

 

It actually takes a minute, but with a heavy turn of the wheel and a few pulls at the control lines, the boom is brought back - hovering right over the deck, to Keith’s impatient relief. He lets himself slide sideways before he falls, landing right side up on the deck just a few feet below, both feet planted firmly.

Lance catches the seething look on Keith’s face.

“I cannot believe you just did that.”

Lance holds out his arms, palms up. “Hey, what can I say? I just thought I’d try to play fair.”

“Fair?” Keith splutters, amazed. “That- That was low . Even a pirate would call that trick dirty.”

Lance scoffs. “Oh puh- lease . You wanna see dirty, my friend? I’ll show you dirty.” He makes to turn the wheel again, but Keith shouts and throws out a hand.

“Wait!”

“Hmm?”

A hiss escapes Keith’s lips, like the low simmer of an angry kettle. It looks like he’s collecting himself. Doing his best to play it off, like he isn’t pissed beyond words and mad at Lance for putting him in that position.

“Okay, fine,” he grits out. He sounds like he wants to throw up, but to Keith’s credit, he does no such thing. “ Fine, all right? I’m sorry.”

Lance inclines his head, one hand at his ear. “I didn’t quite catch that, could you please repeat that for me?”

“I’m sorry. I'm sorry about the gold, and I'm sorry about your friends. Is that what you want to hear?”

It takes Lance a moment to ponder that. All his silence does is make Keith even more agitated, but when it’s finally deemed enough, Lance sighs. “All right. Go ahead and get your beauty sleep." The way he says it, he might as well have added "princess."

All the agitation seems to dissipate from Keith as he visibly sags, although he remains on his feet.

“Screw this,” he mutters, and he might just be talking to himself, but Lance hears him loud and clear. “I’m going to bed.” Without being rammed in the chest by a rogue boom, this time, Keith drags himself towards the cabin to do just that. Go to bed.

But then he’s sidetracked again when Lance clears his throat.

"...Wait a sec, hold on a minute." his attention shifts from the wheel in favor of staring at Keith, mouth agape.

"What?"

"Seriously?" Lance says. "You've never seen a Weblum? You’re kidding." He turns the wheel a bit to adjust, and the movement catches Keith’s eye. He yelps, backing away from the starboard side like the boom is a weapon of mass destruction, bracing himself for another surprise attack via said weapon. “Enough with the jokes, Lance. I’m tired .”

“I wasn’t gonna-- Whatever. Just listen, yeah? You really haven’t seen a Weblum breaching before? Like, not even in the middle of the ocean? Oh man, I wouldn’t have expected that of you.”

Keith gives him a look, like he suspects Lance is still messing with him, just in a new and different way. But Lance isn’t kidding.

On the contrary, he sounds intriguingly serious. “Keith, as soon as you come back up, I’ve got to tell you about Weblums. You’re gonna love this.”

Keith is two steps from the door to the cabin when he turns back around, straight-faced and flat out beat. He definitely looks ready to collapse. “Sure. Sounds like a plan.” He reaches for the door.

“Wait!” Lance shouts.

What?”

Lance makes a sad, pleading face. “Will you bring me up some of those salt biscuits?”

“You can wait an hour,” Keith says with finality, and slams the cabin door behind him with an almighty BANG.

Lance makes a sad noise.

“But Keeeiiiiith , I haven’t eaten anything this morning! Keith??”

He doesn’t get the courtesy of a response. His shoulders slump.

But he’s hungry though.

“What,” he calls down, “was it something I said?”

 

0{}=========>

 

Keith emerges from the cabin a little over an hour later with a couple crumbling biscuits in hand, which he shoves at Lance before promptly returning to the cabin. Because one hour is not enough to recover from the eternal force of pure energy that is Lance.

 

By noon, he’s back and ready to take over at the wheel.

 

Five more hours and they switch again.

They’re starting to find a flow-- Starting to actually read each other, their moods, how much they can handle before someone else has to take over again. It’s an effective system. It seems like - when they’re not bickering over the compass or demanding the other brings them food - they actually do work pretty well together. It’s an interesting dynamic, to say the least, considering that neither of them is technically the captain of the boat. And that’s just fine.

It’s nearing twilight when Keith finally comes back out again for an evening shift, but he brings some food out for the two of them to eat before Keith takes the wheel.

They eat in silence, just some dried jerky and more biscuits along with a shared canteen of fresh water, but it’s filling enough to keep their energy in check and their spirits up.

With just a hint of reluctance, Keith brings up Lance’s Very Important Interest in Weblums.

Lance’s face lights up immediately.

And that’s how they find themselves both hanging around by the wheel, Keith leaning against the rail and Lance lazily standing with his weight shifted to one leg, keeping half an eye on the compass. He’s a little more interested in talking about the mythical sea creatures - Weblums - larger than even a Kraken (yeah, those are real, too) but typically gentle beasts. Lance becomes so engrossed in his own discussion that Keith finds himself absorbed in it as well.

“They’re enormous. Big enough that if one breached, you might think it was a small island at first.”

Keith’s eyes widen. “So I’m assuming you’ve actually seen one then.”

Lance laughs, the way adults laugh at naïve children. “Ah, no, I haven’t seen one.”

“So you’ve seen more than one?” Keith asks, not hiding his amazement. Even this is something he hasn’t had the opportunity - or maybe the luck - to witness for himself. A creature bigger than a Kraken, large enough to swallow the Red Sword whole and still have room left over for dessert. Keith and his crew once sighted a Kraken (from a distance, mind) but a Weblum?

No, Keith legitimately thought those things were a myth. A sailor’s tale used by Stoker to scare him away from deeper waters, back when he was still getting the hang of sailing on his own. “You’ve actually seen more than one Weblum?” he says. “They’re actually real.” He feels the urge to sit down and does, pulling the blanket he snagged from the cabin back around his shoulders, like he did last night.

Lance nods solemnly. "And they're normally gentle creatures." He says it with a sad look. "But we did have an encounter with one a few days’ journey from Kerberos, where the water was really deep. This one wasn't so gentle." He taps a finger to his temple, just next to his eyebrow where the faded white scar stands out more than ever now. A sad smile crosses his face. “We’re lucky we all made it out of that one with the ship intact and no one worse than a little battered and bruised.”

Keith looks at Lance and the scar at his temple. At his expression. Keith’s twisted a little awkwardly where he sits at the rail, legs dangling even though his upper body is turned inward, to where Lance stands at the wheel. He’s wearing his coat. Keith wears the blanket (because god forbid they could have picked up a bloody coat before leaving Krell) and even then, he shivers. He’s not too sure what to say.

Keith always knew his life probably wasn’t normal. The lives of most pirates aren’t. He’d always known that losing his family at such a young age wasn’t too out of the ordinary, and doing desperate things to survive also wasn’t totally unorthodox. Becoming a pirate had been a bit much, though.

He’d had no choice. The boat was just...  there in front of him, and behind him, nothing.

Nothing that actually meant anything to him, anyway. Ahead is always something new, something with meaning and mystery and the capacity to offer him something he’s never had before. Why did he chase that feeling? Why does he chase that feeling? He’s been so intent on filling that empty gap behind his ribs where something’s been missing for so long.

The gap feels a little less gaping, now.

There’s always something better in front of him.

He believes that now. For real, this time. With Lance standing in front of him, Keith believes it. It’s a beautiful day and they’re moving fast. He and Lance are moving fast.

And the sailboat, too. Oh, the boat may be going about five knots but Keith feels like his thoughts are going about fifty.

“So uh, Barbados,” Lance says, changing the subject because the silence feels too awkward now.

“What about Barbados?”  Keith suddenly shrinks into himself.

He looks small, sitting to the side right at the edge of the rail, more perched  than actually sitting. The boat glides, cutting the water beautifully. As a smaller boat it’s much faster than your average, full-sized ship, about five knots at the moment and making good progress. Lance is proud to say he captains a fast ship, but his ship wasn’t built for speed first.

This boat, though, it was definitely built for speed. Ulaz really helped them out on this one. Lance makes a mental note to remember the man’s name. He’ll probably owe the guy a favor in the future (if they ever cross paths again).

“I met a Seer. This woman who told people’s fortunes for money.”

Lance makes an amused sound in the back of his throat. “You met a conwoman,” he says.

Keith shakes his head, staring out over the water. “No. I mean, that’s what I thought at first, but a year passed and I realized that she was right about one thing she said to me.”

“Which was?”

“That things were going to get better,” Keith whispers, pressing his mouth into the blanket that covers his knees now. It’s not the most stable position to be in when he’s sitting curled up with his knees to his chin by the rail of a sailboat. He manages. “That my life was going to change, would get better, but before that, things were going to be rough and unpredictable-”

“Rough and unpredictable?” Lance murmurs at the wheel. “She said that?”

“Her exact words,” says Keith.

He’s almost glad he can’t see Lance’s face, happy for the distance between them while they talk. Keith doesn’t really like to talk about himself. Especially when it comes to… personal stuff. And the thing is, he really wants to talk about it now. Because something about Lance makes Keith want to share everything. To talk about himself and share his entire life story, everything, until his voice is hoarse and his tongue is numb. He’s beginning to trust Lance.

Trust. Not just out of necessity to stay alive or because Lance is a very capable person, but because Lance is really starting to rub off on Keith as a human being. Endearing, charismatic, adaptable and sometimes really damn hilarious. A gifted sailor. A good friend who has his friends’ backs.

Keith doesn’t know when he started thinking of Lance as his friend, these past few days, but he thinks of him that way now. Possibly. A little questionable, thinking back on the incident with the boom, but he knows deep down (deep, deep, deep down) it'd been justified. Sort of.

“You all right there, buddy?” Lance says. And god, it’s so sincere and kind and trusting. It cements the answer to Keith’s question, one he’s been mulling over in the back of his mind ever since he jumped ship to row like an insane person in the middle of a storm to get some closure on a deal. A deal he’s glad he made.

“I can’t go back to Zarkon,” he says. It’s a declaration to himself, so full of everything that he feels a little overwhelmed by it. He takes in a ragged breath that’s just short of a sob, but it’s not out of grief or anything like that.

It’s just that saying it aloud feels fucking amazing and his whole world feels rocked. Maybe that’s just the boat swaying in the water, though.

Lance doesn’t miss a beat. “You won’t,” he says. “You’re not going back there. We’re going to Altea, haven’t you been listening to me at all?”

Keith allows himself a smile. “It’s the only thing I’ve had to listen to for the past couple days.”

“So…?”

“So, I stopped listening somewhere within the first ten minutes.”

Lance snorts, not buying into it for minute. “Ahhh hush. You can’t get enough of this voice.”

 

0{}=========>

 

Day three feels longer, but the air is cooler and by midday it’s already rained three different times. None of them are heavy enough to do more than make the insides of their shoes all mushy and uncomfortable.

 

“What are we going to do when we get to Altea?” Keith asks, trying to sound offhand.

He’s nervous, though.

In the distance - about ten miles or more - the grey cliffs of Altea’s mainland stand out in the light fog of the morning.

“Get the map, obviously.”

Keith rolls his eyes. “Well yeah, but I mean how?”

He can’t see Lance from here, but he’s sure Lance is shrugging. “Dunno… I was sort of thinking we’d just… wing it?” A huff of easy laughter escapes his lips, one of the warmest sounds Keith has heard in a while. The wind gets loud, up here above deck, but he could never mistake that laugh.

“Wing it?” Keith repeats.

“Sure, why not? It’d definitely spice things up a little. Why… You’re not scared, are you?”

Oh, Keith’s not scared. He’s not nervous anymore, either. He’s just terrified.

And with a pounding in his chest, he realizes that it’s not Altea that terrifies him. It’s Lance.

 

Chapter Text

“Captain McClain…” mister Turner - the docker - looks more than a little surprised when Lance himself arrives at Altea’s main port early in the morning, standing proudly at the prow of an unfamiliar boat. Beady eyes inspect the boat, apparently unable to find anything less than exceptional about it, but he still looks haughtily at Lance when the man in question waves at him from the prow.

The boat isn’t even moored when Lance hops down to the deck.

“What are you doing back in Altea so soon?” the docker inquires immediately. “And where is your ship?”

“All in good time, my dear Turner,” Lance flashes the man his most winning smile, winking. “All in good time.”

“I’m going to need an actual explanation as to why you’ve returned so early, captain McClain,” mister Turner drawls, sticking his nose up. “And without your entire crew. I certainly hope the trip did not go so horribly that you were the sole survivor?”

Lance snorts at that. “Ahhh, good old Turner, always with a sense of humor,” he steps forward once the boat is all tied up, reaching out to slap the docker on the back. Turner makes a face and shakes off the hand.

“McClain, you had better answer the question before I bring this up with her majesty herself,” he threatens. The top few buttons on his too-tight coat look ready to pop right off, as does his temper. And why is he even wearing a coat? It’s too hot for that on a day like today.

Lance had already decided he was better off leaving his doublet back in the cabin. He could always run back and grab it later - once he and Keith put their plan into action. And speaking of Keith, he is currently sulking in the cabin, waiting for Lance to tell him the coast is clear.

The town market and the docks only appear to just be getting busy, with people gathered in the square and away from the beaches, trudging around with barrels of this and crates of that, some herding live animals towards the city’s main square while others set up shop at stalls

Lance hops away from the boat with ease, lightfooted. He’s quick to grab a rope and moor it before she can float away.

Keith waits below deck, as planned. No coming up until nightfall... for now he's sitting pretty in the most cramped quarters he's ever been made to tolerate.

Lucky him.

The plan had been whipped together a bit last-minute while the two of them were still a few miles out, and the conversation had gone something along the lines of-

 

“Seriously? It’s not like anyone’s going to recognize me!”

“Keith, there are too many merchant ships docked at the port and there’s bound to be at least one person who’s seen you before.”

“Doubt it.”

“Would you just get in the cabin??”

Make me.”

 

-Which had then led to a very small scuffle aboard the boat, ending with Lance threatening to tie Keith to the boom and Keith, pushing Lance back to the rail, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt, and holding him at an angle so that, in theory, he could easily let go and drop Lance into the water.

Lance is a strong swimmer, he’ll admit, but he really had not been in the mood to show up to Altea drenched like a wet rat. Appearances are kind of everything for him, after all. He’s got a reputation to uphold.

If any upstanding men or women caught Lance McClain looking like he’d just taken a swim with all his clothes on, he’s not sure how much of his dignity would survive.

As soon as Keith had let him go (on the deck, not into the water) the arguing wasn’t quite as bad.

Still, Lance won out, in the end. If only because logic said Keith wouldn’t last a day in Altea without someone recognizing him and, hypothetically, trying to murder him. Or turn him in to the Queen.

 

And so Keith sits below deck. Probably pouting and being dramatic about it, but on the bright side they’ll be safe from anyone even remotely suspicious of some weird, dark-haired stranger following Lance around the city.

Mister Turner only scowls harder when Lance neglects to answer right away.

“Your crew,” he demands, pointing at the docked sailboat. Then at Lance. It’s a very intimidating finger point, especially for a man who wears bright red breeches, a yellow kerchief, and a powdered wig nestled on his bald scalp, and who stands barely taller than five foot two. Lance towers over him.

Turner never did let height get in the way of his job - which he takes terribly seriously.

“I presume the rest of your people aren’t all packed like sardines below the deck of that little boat, ey?” he implores.

“Now that’s the sense of humor I was looking for,” Lance says, hoping against all hope that maybe he can worm his way out of any further interrogations.

Turner doesn’t look amused. Lance can feel his smile falter a little, and he clears his throat, thumping his chest like he swallowed something down the wrong pipe. Right. Time to lie.

Yeah, he probably should’ve gone over his lines a few more times.

“Ahh, right, right.” He laughs, but it cracks a little. Turner waits, foot tapping impatiently. “So, here’s the thing. The real reason I came here was because I have some very important news to deliver the Queen.”

Turner raises an eyebrow. “And you couldn’t get someone else to sail all the way back for ya?” he asks, frowning dubiously. “What exactly could be so important as ta warrant a personal visit from captain McClain himself?”

Lance offers him another slap on the back, going for good natured and most definitely not nervous. And again, the hand is shaken off. “Listen. Will. Can I call you Will?”

“The hell you can.”

“Listen, Wi-- Turner, the thing is, this is highly sensitive information. Only for the Queen’s ears.”

Turner scoffs, but Lance keeps going. He forces his shoulders to ease up, forces his teeth not to  clench so tightly when he takes a pause, and he suddenly can’t remember whether or not Turner is the type to actually board a docked boat and do a check of the cargo, or if he lets it be. Ships aren’t normally checked, especially larger ones like the Blue Lion, but sometimes a foreign trading ship or an unfamiliar sailboat - like this one from Ulaz - could be up for inspection if something was thought to be amiss.

Lance can’t let Turner think that.

Can’t allow him to even consider that.

If Keith is caught, this mission is over. Failed before it’s even begun.

“I’m here on account of a very serious hostage situation,” Lance fibs, swallowing around a lump in his throat before the story he’d thought up earlier finally returns to him. “I need the Queen’s input in the matter before anything is done. It’s uh, imperative that I speak with the Queen as soon as possible.”

That has Turner’s full and undivided attention. “Oh?” he says, still frowning but looking far less doubtful about Lance’s unexpected return. “You mean you’ve taken a hostage on your ship, or someone has taken another one of your crew?”

Geez, what, did everyone in the entire kingdom hear about that?

“We managed to capture someone verrrry important,” Lance says carefully, an emphasis on the ‘T’ of “important.” He watches for Turner’s reaction, and when the man says nothing, Lance takes it as an invitation to continue. “We have Keith Kogane.”

That elicits a very different reaction from mister Turner than the previously cold, scowling, somewhat blasé exterior.

At the moment, beady eyes the color of fresh dirt are open wide enough that Lance can actually make out their color, and he takes those ten sweet, sweet seconds to revel in the fact that he managed to shut the docker up for once.

“So…” Lance blinks, cocking his head in the direction of the château, “you mind letting me through? Kind of have an important meeting to attend to.”

He takes a step to go around mister Turner, but the man also takes a step, cutting off Lance’s path. “Ah ah... forgetting something?” he holds out a hand expectantly, palm up. “I realize this matter is important but… your docking fee.”

Lance remembers with a sinking feeling that he’d spent all of his gold back on Krell, to pay for Ulaz’s boat.  

“I kind of forgot my gold in my other boots,” Lance apologizes, not feeling very apologetic and probably not sounding it either, and it has the docker gritting his teeth.

“No gold, no passage. Apologies.”

All right. Time to pull out the big guns.

Lance narrows his eyes and crosses his arms, shifting his weight until his stance is easy and confident. Definitely not the stance of a liar. A bad liar, at least. “I’ll have you know that this matter of business is urgent, and if I am held up from seeing the Queen right now, what will I tell her then? That I couldn’t get this information to her as quickly as I wanted to because some big shot with a money pouch and a notebook told me I couldn’t get to the château without a shilling or two? What am I, a tourist?”

Now Turner looks uneasy. To his credit, he holds his ground. “I’m just doing my job, McClain. I’m sure you can respect that as much as the next hardworking man around these parts.”

“Mmm, true, very true,” Lance taps his chin like he’s considering it. He doesn’t keep up that act for very long, instead shrugging, letting a regretful sigh escape his lips. It’s a little dramatic, but that’s just his thing. “Unfortunately, Queen Allura doesn’t like to be kept waiting - you know how it is. And who do you think I’ll be pointing fingers at when she asks why it took me so long to see her, huh?”

The docker pales at that.

Lance stares him down.

The minute that passes between the two of them is tense as the string of a violin tuned a little too high.

Lance is proud to say that, not only is he a good liar, he may just be good enough to be a pirate.

But he’ll gloat about that to Keith later. For now, he’s got a Queen to chat with. Assuming things go smoothly and the best case scenario proves true, Allura might just hand over the map, no questions asked.

Assuming Lance wants to be realistic, she probably won’t do that.

But he might still be able to get her to tell him where it is. And that’s where the real plan comes in.

 

0{}=========>

 

 

“You have Keith Kogane in your custody,” Allura seethes, practically sparking at the fingertips. Her eyes dance with fire and when she turns to catch Lance with a threatening glare, he withers under it. Her voice echoes in the empty throne room. Coran isn't here, this time, and neither are the guards. She'd asked everyone to leave the two of them alone. Somehow, that has Lance feeling even more afraid.

“Your highness, let me explain--”

“You have one of the most dangerous pirates on your ship and you don’t even think to turn that ship around and sail straight back to Altea - and don’t you give me that rubbish about getting your crew back from Kerberos, as they clearly aren’t there with the Red Sword if their captain was anywhere near your ship .”

 

Yeah, Lance hadn’t expected things to go quite as smoothly as he’d hoped. But truthfully, even if this isn’t the worst case scenario, an angry Allura could just as easily mean a life sentence in prison. Delivering such a dangerous lie is not without its consequences.

 

Long story short, Allura is livid.

It’s not the truth, but Lance would rather die than tell her what’s really going on. That he’s made allies with a pirate. Not just any pirate, either.

This is the only alternative he could think of. He just… hadn’t thought the Queen would be quite so uppity about it. Lance is a pretty easygoing person, most of the time, and Allura is a very anxious presence. The fact that they can be polar opposites has often made for a refreshing friendship dynamic.

Right now though, it’s grating on Lance’s ability to keep calm.

He just needs to get through this, and then get back to the boat. Because as anticipated, the best case scenario for getting the map with no questions asked is… well, out of the question. Allura is angry, Lance is fearing for his life (more or less) and the plan involving returning to the château after dark to basically rob the Queen of a valuable artifact… it makes him feel all wrong on the inside. Dirty.

If this is what pirates do on a daily basis, he’s sure glad he isn’t one.

Or… or does this make him one? What exactly qualifies someone to be a pirate? Right now, he thinks, this would probably just qualify him as a thief. A criminal.

A liar.

“Your highness, if I may,” he interrupts Allura’s tirade - already a very risky thing to do - and decides he might as well stick his neck out a little further. He never meant for it to come to this. Never meant to take his Queen by surprise with an early return, sans crew, only to deliver the news of a hostage situation and a request for the one thing Allura swore she would keep safe herself.

That map has got to be somewhere in the château. And if it is, and if Allura refuses to help, then Lance is going to find it regardless. And if there are consequences once he returns from wherever the hell that map takes him and Keith, then he’ll pay the price. Right now, though, the kingdom of Altea as they know it is at stake.

A lot of lives are at stake.

Delaying the possibility of taking down Zarkon could prove fatal to this kingdom if something isn’t done soon. Any day now, the war will be upon them.

Lance isn’t ready for that. God, he’d do anything besides sit idly by while the Galra come for his kingdom, for his family - his family - and for all the people he holds so dear.

The map is priority. And fuck it if he’s putting so much stock into one roll of vellum and leather when he doesn’t even know where it’ll take him.

"First Kogane, and then you ask me to give you the one thing I've been trying so hard to protect from people like him? Or like Zarkon?" she asks, incredulous. "You don't even know where the map leads, do you?" Allura grits out, snapping Lance back to the present.

No, Lance knows already, but Keith knows someone who knows. So what if that’s a long shot? It’s better than nothing.

"We'll figure it out,” he says. Lucky for him, he sounds confident that time. Allura doesn’t return the sentiment.

Blue eyes narrow like a hawk. “And who is ‘We?’”

Lance gulps. “M-my crew,” he says quickly.

She laughs without humor and shakes her head, hands clasped behind her back. She looks more like she’s ready to fight on the front lines than have a conversation with Lance about this. When she turns, back to him, her voice softens. It’s not gentle, but man does it get the point across.

“I gave you two months to carry out a very specific mission and now you go behind my back,” she says, “capture a pirate, and not only do you abandon your crew just to return to Altea, but you neglected to bring the hostage with you.” Then she turns again to look at Lance and when she does, she looks hurt, painfully deceived, a frown so disappointed it has Lance feeling like he’s five, his ma scolding him for something he probably didn’t do. But Allura has more severity, a little less motherly love and a little more warrior stoicism.

Lance hates to disappoint Allura. Joking around and pulling pranks, sure, those are fun and everyone has a laugh in the end, but this is not a joke. No one is laughing. Least of all Lance.

No, he thinks, he wouldn’t make a good pirate at all. Because he might be great at lying, but god does he hate doing it.

“I think it's time for you to go, Lance,” Allura says. It sounds final, and Lance knows she's done with him. “You may spend the night in the château, if you wish, but if you do not I suggest seeking out an inn and leaving for your ship first thing in the morning. We wouldn’t want to keep captain Kogane waiting on his final judgment, would we?”

That’s when Lance realizes with a chill down his spine that Allura, no matter how good she is, has no intention of showing Keith mercy. If they ever cross paths, that is.

Meaning Lance can never let that happen. Not tonight and not ever. If it does, someone is going to die.

He’s not sure if this feeling is entirely a new one, but Lance doesn’t know if he could allow that.

Scratch that, he one hundred percent could not allow Keith to die on his watch - they’ve already risked so much and tonight they’ll be risking so much more, but he knows who he is. He knows what he’s fighting for and for whom.

His family. His crew. His kingdom. He doesn’t really know where Keith falls into any of those, but he knows that he’d protect Keith, too, if it came to that.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t come to that.

“I’ll just... see myself out,” Lance says, trying not to look as disappointed as he feels.

He goes.

 

0{}=========>

 

Lance spends his afternoon in a local tavern, not drinking.

No, seriously, he can’t afford to be doing that

Okay fine he has one (one) pint of ale, but that’s it.

Late afternoon comes, and Lance thinks maybe he should’ve thought about paying for this before stepping foot in the tavern. He’s got no other place to go, though, except back to the boat where he’s sure Turner is expecting pay and Keith is just waiting to hear everything that went down at the château. He supposes he’ll just stay here as long as possible, wait it out, maybe, until the one man on bar duty turns his eye long enough for Lance to skedaddle on out.

You know what one of the worst things in the whole entire universe is?

Waiting. That’s it.

Waiting for anything at all is without a doubt the worst thing in the whole entire universe.

Lance would almost rather face down Allura in an argument again…. Almost.

The man who shares the otherwise empty table with him (one of those communal tables, long and lined with benches) has a lazy smile plastered on his face when he looks at Lance. A day drinker, by the looks of it. Probably a regular, too, judging from the way the lady at the counter tops off his drink without being asked.

He also doesn't ask permission before getting up from his seat, pint sloshing in his hand, to amble over to Lance and sit down next to him.

Lance knows better than to send him away. He seems harmless enough.

“Yehr Lance McCleen, ain't yeh?” the man slurs, thick and hinting at a Scottish background, although which part of Scotland, Lance can’t be sure. He just knows the accent is heavy .

“Yeah…?”

“I’ve heard o’ yeh. Saw th'earring and the scar'n I knew." He taps at his temple, grinning lazily. Yeah, he's just about gone. "Whatchyeh doin’ in a place like this?” he asks, eyes a little bloodshot as he leans in closer. His breath reeks of cheap whiskey. “Last I heard, y’were on yehr way ta Kerberos.” He rolls his R’s more than necessary, one of the many signs that clues Lance in on just how intoxicated this man must be. The hand Lance has wrapped around his pint tenses, but other than that he remains the picture of easiness.

“Oh y’know, this’n that,” he replies, going for casual. It is a tavern, after all. “I always forget how quickly word spreads in this kingdom."

"Aye," the man agrees. "So what, here on some business, or jus' here t'make some friends?" He chuckles, and Lance wrinkles his nose.

"Some business with the Queen," Lance says, trying for honest but not enough to overshare. "Important stuff.” His lips quirk and he takes another swig from his ale, holding back a grimace at the taste. it's just to settle his nerves. He's not here to get drunk.

“The Queen? What’ve you been up to with her, pray tell?” the man all but purrs. There’s something too suggestive in the way he says it.

But Lance won’t entertain the man’s teasing. Refuses to do such a thing, because come on, this is Allura. They’re talking about Allura. Like hell if she deserves to be talked about like that. So he shrugs and takes another sip of ale, saying nothing.

The tavern is pretty empty, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few stragglers hanging around. He’d prefer not to attract more attention to himself than necessary.

“Nothing between you and her majesty, eh?” the man chuckles throatily as he leans to nudge Lance with an elbow.

Ohhhkay, he doesn’t like that at all.

Allura? Yeah, she’s bloody incredible, but he’s over it. He’s been over it since the third time she rejected his proposal. It’s all good between them, y’know?

Except - right, except now she’s angry with him for something he didn’t even do. And tonight all he’ll be doing is breaking her trust even more.

“Nothing,” Lance says, “just here on some business.”

Someone sits down next to him on his other side, right next to Lance. Hardly space to roll his shoulders, let alone scoot over to another seat. He’s stuck here, unless he decides to claim the empty space left by Beard Number One, who at least gave him the courtesy of a personal bubble.

Another guy, well muscled and bearded like the first, nurses a huge tankard of something that looks and smells like horse piss, but he takes a swallow of the stuff anyway before joining in.

“What kind of business?” Beard Number Two asks, not giving Lance the courtesy of an introduction. He just butts into the conversation, manners be damned.

“The uh, important kind? Very top secret.” Lance racks his brain for something safe to say. “Not that I’m really supposed to be telling you this," he decides he'll milk the mysterious act a little bit, noticing how a couple younger women a few tables over are watching, listening in, "but my crew and I managed to capture of one the most famous pirates on the seven seas.” He smirks, cocky, and the ale is helping if only a little. “No big deal.”

“Pirate, eh?” Beard Number two has no space to inch closer, and his elbows knock against Lance’s, making him fumble with his pint. It's almost empty anyway. He swallows and steels himself. They’re drunk, and they’re nosy. So what? It’s not like they actually care. Lance will be gone come morning, and they’ll have forgotten all about him by then.

Beard Number Two won’t let up, though.

“Which pirate we talking about? Sendak the Monocle? Haxus?”

The familiar name stirs up uneasiness in Lance’s gut.

“Shirogane?” Beard Number One chimes in. His voice is louder than what Lance would call an ‘indoor voice.’ “I’d like ta see someone try to capture ‘im, wot with that metal arm ‘n everythin’.”

“No,” Lance says, playing along with a crooked grin. “Ve-ery close, though.”

“Wot,” Beard Two snickers, “not cap’n Kogeen, ey?”

The two men break into bouts of laughter at the idea, exchanging friendly shoves across the table as they do. "Bloody 'ell, I hear he's six foot two and once got swallowed by a Weblum. But he got spit out because he was so vile."

Well that's a lie, Lance thinks smugly, Keith's never even seen a Weblum. Plus, he's only like, five foot ten. Or whatever.

Lance is about to respond with full confidence that yes, it sure is. Keith Kogane is absolutely being held on the Lion, make no mistake.

Only, his attention is drawn to the doorway, where the door suddenly squeaks open on rusting hinges. Soft light from late afternoon trickles into the musty tavern and leather boots, weirdly familiar, make light sounds on the floor. The door squeaks shut and the person in the doorway turns until he's facing Lance, a long cloak with a hood shadowing his features.

God, damn it all.

 

Lance knew leaving Keith alone on the boat was a bad idea.

 

Sure enough, it’s Keith who removes the hood, letting it fall as he eyes Lance with a disapproving look. He strolls over to them, his stride smooth. He looks out of place here, which is funny, because shouldn't pirates be totally at home in shady taverns?

“Thought I’d find you in here,” he says, looking pointedly at Lance, who blinks rapidly back up at him as he tries to get his expression back under control. 

“Who’re you?” one of the men on either side of Lance asks, still slurring a bit.

“Kei….” Shit, right, “Matthew!” Lance recovers quickly, waving Keith over to come over. “Men, this is my sailing partner, Matthew Gunderson. One of the best men you could count on when you’re in a tight spot. Right, Matt?”

Keith scowls. "Pleasure," he says stiffly, and takes a seat next to Lance where Beard Number One left just enough space for someone with a frame just Keith’s size.

A bit of a squeeze, but he’s clearly not going anywhere. Beard One backs up on the bench to put some space between them. It’s clear they aren’t taking as well to him as they have to Lance, from the way the curiosity dulls into boredom. Or maybe suspicion. But maybe not. The change is slow, it’s amazing how much alcohol can slow the reflexes.

“And just what are you doing here, huh buddy?” Lance asks with a cheerful smile, incredibly fake, pretending to be pleasantly surprised by Keith’s arrival.

Which he is.

Surprised, that is.

Pleasantly?

Um.

The two Beards are too drunk to notice Lance's poor acting skills.

“Think I’ll go and get us another round, eh?" the first man to approach Lance says, nodding between the two visitors. "And something for your partner as well.” The way he says the word "partner" sounds off. Like it means something... else. Lance cringes inwardly. Like he said, word travels mighty fast around this kingdom.

But then again, his preferences aren't exactly like, a secret secret. It's just that even as someone who loves the attention, Lance really does like a little bit of privacy every once in a while.

The second man deems this the appropriate time to stand up as well. He must be buddy-buddy with the first guy, because he follows right behind. “I’ll just be topping this off then,” he raises his tankard for emphasis, then lumbers off, on the cusp of falling on his face from the drink if his uneven gait is anything to go by.

Lance turns to Keith, slackjawed.

Um?!” he hisses, barely low enough to ward off unwanted attention and ever so articulate in his surprise. “Excuse you, what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be counting sheep back on the boat or something?”

“That cabin is tiny and the rations you packed are disgusting,” Keith answers, pointedly ignoring Lance's obvious irritation. He unfastens the clasp at his throat and lets the cloak fall to the bench. Lance tries not to let his eyes linger on the small, exposed part of Keith's collarbone as the fabric falls away. “I was going stir crazy, okay?” He shrugs, reaching over to push Lance's mug towards himself. He makes no move to drink, though. Just plays around with the handle, staring into the mug's contents. Clearly he's been bored out of his mind. Lance supposes he can't entirely blame him.

But like, seriously?! What a dumb move. Keith could still get recognized any minute now. And then they're done for.

“How’d you get off the boat without being spotted?” Lance hisses when Beards One and Two are out of earshot. “Please tell me you didn’t push Turner off the docks, man. He may be an ass and all but he’s really not such a bad guy.”

“Relax. He went off duty for the night,” Keith reassures. He looks bored again. Tired, too, but that’s nothing new. Lance doesn’t like seeing Keith with purple blotches beneath his eyes; it makes him feel kinda sorta awful.

Okay, and since when did he care? He shouldn't care.

“The next person on duty probably didn’t get there until I was already long gone.”

“Where’d you get the cloak?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“You stole it, didn’t you?” Lance mutters back, choosing to ignore how his ale has already been stolen right out from under his nose. That one's on him, though, he'll acknowledge that one. “You stole someone’s cloak.”

“No, I didn't.”

“Oh, excuse me, commandeered someone’s cloak.”

“Shut up and I’ll pay for your drink. I know you don’t have money.”

Lance shuts up.

The two men with thick beards and thicker accents return, the first one setting down a couple tankards with thunks that land hard on the table. The second one sets down two more.

“Everything all right over here?” Beard Two asks with a wink, nodding at Lance. Lance should really figure out his name. The man is all right and he feels bad for referring to him in his head as 'Beard Number One.'

“All fine here,” he assures. “Thanks for the drinks.”

“Ahhh, ‘s nothin’. You’re Lance McClain! Least we could do, yeah?”

Lance does his best to be humble, shrugging off the sideways compliment gracefully.

“Cheers!” the first one shouts, and lifts one of the tankards in the air. There’s nothing else to do but follow suit, really.

Lance and Keith both reach for a tankard and lift them, side eyeing each other the whole time, and then simultaneously remember the last time they started drinking together in a tavern.

God help them.

“To cap’n Lance McClain, sailor ‘n’ ladies’ man extraordinaire!” Beard One cheers, and knocks back an enormous swallow of his drink. Mead, thank god, so at least it smells a sight better. Keith raises his tankard but doesn't touch the drink. Lance only takes a sip, being polite.

“Better settle down with the there drink, Donoghue!” Someone shouts from across the room. “Does your wife know you’re here?”

Beard One - Donoghue - turns around slowly to face the other side of the tavern where a man with a shabby coat and a smile full of grey teeth leers back. He holds a tankard of his own in the air, and lord above, he looks more intoxicated that the two Scotsmen if it’s possible. “I hear it’s your fifth hour in here. Get lost, ya lazy drunk!” Then he sneers over at Beard Two. “And tell O’Hare his wife left him for a reason!”

“Oi! What’d you say ‘bout me’n me friend here?” Donoghue snarls. The threat in his voice makes the rest of the tavern patrons fall into a nervous silence.

“You heard me, Donny boy,” the man with the grey teeth jeers back. He lists halfway off his chair, chuckling as he turns even more red in the face.

Lance turns to look at Keith. Keith looks back.

Maybe it’s about time they get going.

Something gets thrown across the room, just then.

Lance and Keith wince in unison at the sound of glass shattering against a wall. They turn to look at each other at the same exact time, similar looks on their faces.

“You think we should uh…?”

“We should probably…”

 They both scramble out of their seats and make a mad dash for the door. Keith grabs his "not stolen" cloak and quickly throws it back on.

It seems their moment of rest and relaxation is to be short-lived. Geez, Lance thinks bitterly, can't he ever have anything nice?

Lance dodges two empty tankards (and one full one, thank god it missed) just as the beginnings of a bar fight make themselves known. Getting out of the tavern suddenly becomes a bit harder. Keith might have had to push a couple stragglers out of the way just to keep up with Lance, but they make it to the door. And not a moment too soon.

When they make it to the other side of the door and slam it shut, they slump against it together with a shared breath of relief.

Then they let themselves laugh, soft, such a fleeting moment that it's almost missed. Their breathing slows, and only then do they stumble away from the tavern door, searching out the shadows in their attempts to remain unnoticed.

"That... just happened." Lance laughs, almost tripping over a wobbly cobblestone.

Yeah, that happened.

Two Scotsmen just bought them drinks, Keith wasn’t so much as looked at twice let alone recognized, and they may or may not have been the catalyst for what must be quite the bar brawl going on now. The sounds of breaking flatware and shouts of angry patrons echo behind them through the closed door, but it’s hardly their problem now.

“Did you uh… did you at least pay for those drinks?”

“Nnnope.”

“...Okay then.”

 

0{}=========>

 

 

Lance tells Keith just how badly his meeting with Allura went.

While Keith doesn’t outright say “I told you so,” it’s pretty clear he wants to.

They wait around, wandering the square together even as the shops close up and there's nothing left to do but wait.

Nightfall comes. Time to get what they came for.

They have to pass through the lower town and through the square, where roads and pathways snake off in every direction, but Lance knows the way like the back of his hand. Hasn’t needed a guard to show him the way since he started working for the royal family.

 The château looms above them, casting a shadow that makes it seem more ominous than welcoming. This place has always been like a second (well, maybe third) home to Lance. He knows it well. Not perfectly - not like Allura - but he's visited so often that he was even given his own suite to have, for the times when he stopped back to pay a visit or bring in new wares from far off places.

Now it looks like a great white tombstone, waiting to swallow Lance and Keith whole.

They press on, Lance at the forefront.

 

That's Keith notices that Lance is unarmed; he doesn't have anything at his belt. Since when? He doesn't remember Lance ever being the type to go into anything without at least one or two tricks up his sleeve.

But then, he doesn't remember Lance ever bringing his sword with him on the boat or anything, either. Is he sure about this? They're about to break into the home of the royal family, and Lance has nothing to defend himself with.

Keith idly pats his belt, where his knife sits in its holster where it belongs. It gives him a shred of comfort, knowing it's there. 

He feels like he should say something, though,

"So... you have something just in case we get caught, right?" he says.

Lance doesn't turn around, but Keith can hear that he's just vaguely confused by the question.

"Something?" he asks. "What kind of something?"

"I dunno, a weapon? In case the guards catch us?"

"Oh... right." He sounds a little off. Keith wonders if everything is okay up there. "No time," Lance says, sounding distracted, and keeps pressing forward. "Besides, the guards won't catch us. I know this place. They'll be pretty spread out, just trust me."

 

They reach the château without issue, coming up on the towering white building from behind.

It’s just climbing the wall that Lance is worried about.

"Ahhh, shoot," he mutters when he catches sight of the guards. There are men stationed every few meters along the wall, and it’s not that Lance doesn’t work well under pressure - he does - it’s just that he doesn’t want to have to kill anyone. That's a lot more security than he remembers there being.

They find a spot behind a cluster of bushes, staring out to inspect the space between two guards. There’s not enough space for a blind spot. They'll have to find another way around.

"What is it?" Keith whispers, concerned now. He doesn't like the tone Lance is using.

"Keith," Lance says, holding back a sigh of disappointment. This is going to take longer than he thought. Security has really buckled down since the last time he was here. "We're going to have to find another way in."

 

Snaaap!

 

The sound of a twig breaking comes from behind. Both of them whip around on reflex. Keith raises his knife - just in time to block a savage blow from the sharp edge of one artfully crafted sword. The sword shhhiiings against the metal and Keith feels himself buckle under the pressure.

He can hear a strangled gasp from Lance, right behind him. Except he can't turn around, too focused on using his knife to keep the sword away from his face. Too focused on the person holding the sword, too. The blade is beautiful and lethal, moonlight glinting off of the polished surface, but that isn't what draws his attention.

It's who's holding it.

Queen Allura.

"Well don't trouble yourself," she says, voice sharper than the sword she's holding. "The château is always open for special guests." 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

You,” she snarls, lip curling. “I know you.”

“Do you,” Keith says, keeping his grip tight on the knife.

“Keith Kogane.”

“That’s captain Kogane.”

“Not in my kingdom it isn’t.” Blue eyes like cut diamonds simmer, boring into Keith before flickering towards Lance. “I thought you might come back. But with him ?” She quickly snaps her attention back to Keith, and to their blades pressing against one another, both of their arms shaking from the force. Neither one lets up.

Allura stands alone, no guards at her side although the men lining the wall across the path have definitely heard the commotion by now. A few turn to each other before they break from the line to run forward. One of them spots Allura and stops immediately, not sure what to do. The guard, tall and armed with a bayonet, looks to his Queen, urgent.

“Your highness, what is going on? Do you know these men?”

“Stay back,” Allura growls, not letting up on the pressure from the sword in her hand. Keith holds his own with his teeth bared fiercely, but they both know this can’t last forever. Someone has to make a move. But not before Allura jerks her head towards Lance and barks out an instruction. “Seize him. He’s not to be harmed.”

“Allura wait!” Lance shouts, but a guard steps forward to apprehend him even as he says it, grabbing his arms and forcing them roughly behind his back. He’s in no position to fight back. "G-Gedoff me!"

It’s just Keith and Allura. No one steps in the middle to break up the faceoff. No one here would be that stupid.

Neither one makes a move to lower their weapons, either.

“If I drop my knife, what will you do?” Keith says, the only voice to be heard amongst the Queen, Lance, and the four or five guards present in case things go south. They all seem to be holding their breath. “....Will you kill me?”

“The crimes you have committed against Altea are more than enough to see you hanged thrice over,” Allura hisses back, forcing the sword against the knife harder. Keith twists his knife to the side to keep her from getting around and striking. It’s impossible for either to make a move, unless one of them willingly drops their weapon. Like hell is that happening.

“I challenge you then,” Keith says. “A duel.”

Allura’s face betrays no reaction. Keith does, however, hear Lance inhale sharply from behind. He wishes he could turn to check and see if he’s all right, to make sure the guard isn’t hurting him. The thought of Lance getting hurt… for the first time since he’s known him, the thought makes Keith feel ill. But he keeps his eyes locked on the Queen.

“A duel to the death?” Allura assumes, face stony and cold when she looks Keith dead in the eye.

But Keith shakes his head. “Whoever yields first. They lose, and whoever wins gets the map.”

Allura bares her teeth, then. The first sign of any emotion from her. “That’s why you’re here-- with him,” she just barely cocks her head at Lance, still standing stiff a few yards away with a guard holding him tight by the arms. He wouldn’t dare try running. He might have a few tricks up his sleeve, but he’s not suicidal. Keith knows Lance can act the part of a buffoon, but he’s much, much smarter than most people give him credit for. Smarter than Keith once gave him credit for, and he’d be a fool to make that mistake again.

“If you yield,” Keith presses, “you let us go with the map.”

Allura scoffs. “And when you lose?”
She doesn’t say “If.”

“Then he faces a fair trial,” Lance pipes up from behind. Allura spares the briefest second to glance back at him, a glare so distrusting it would have Keith pleading forgiveness if it’d been aimed his way. The Queen looks betrayed, and Keith can sort of understand why. Lance worked for her, after all.

But Keith nods in earnest. “A trial,” he agrees. “If I lose, I still have the right to a fair trial.” Then he lowers his voice so only Allura can hear, a question that sounds more like a challenge than anything. “You wouldn’t just hang someone in cold blood, would you? Without displaying at least some of the justice your kingdom is so celebrated for?”

They both know that she can’t deny him that.

It takes her a moment, the barest flicker in her eyes as she considers it.

It’s clear she has no choice but to comply with the measures.

“Take him to the courtyard,” she snaps, and a guard is upon them immediately, grabbing Keith by the arms much like Lance and bringing them to fold painfully against his back. The man presses a thumb into the sensitive nerves of his inner wrist and he has no choice but to drop his knife, hissing from the sudden pain. Another guard steps forward to pick it up, inspecting it.

“The knife has Galra markings,” he mutters, handing it over to Allura, who takes it with an awaiting hand. “It’s definitely him.”

With a nod, Allura lowers her sword.

Keith grits his teeth as the sentry holding him from behind gives a hard push, and then he’s being led away, up towards the wall where an entrance that’s no longer blocked off by a guard waits for him to be led through. To the courtyard, apparently.

When he looks to his right, Lance is in the same position as him, locked in a tight hold by another sentry and looking back at Keith with sorrowful eyes. Keith thinks he can see him mouthing the words, “I’m so sorry.”

But maybe he’s just imagining it.

Imagined or not, Keith’s heart pangs with guilt.

He’d known there’d be a risk, but he hadn’t given all that much thought to what would happen if Lance got caught, too. Now all he can think about is god, just don’t hang him, too. He’s guilty of nothing and I’m guilty of everything.

If he loses this duel, and they put him on trial, he’ll have no choice but to plead guilty for his crimes because, well, it would be impossible to deny them, being who he is. If Keith loses, he’s going to die.

But better him than Lance , he thinks. He would rather be killed as a criminal than watch an innocent man hang on his account.

He has to win this fight. He needs to win this fight.

 

0{}=========>

 

The courtyard is surrounded on all sides by either white stone walls or the white brick and stone of the chateau. A guard stands at each end of the courtyard, armed, put there to block off any exits.

Lance watches, petrified.

Keith and Allura are going to fight each other. It’s not going to be pretty to watch.

The worst part is, this isn’t something he can take a side in. And if Allura wins, she will make sure Keith dies.

Coran is there. The first few minutes after seeing Lance had been heartbreaking for the both of them. Lance had promised himself long ago that he would do everything in his power to ensure he never upset Coran.

And wouldn’t you know, now he’s gone and done exactly that . It almost feels like he’s betraying his own family - because hell, Coran and Allura have shown him no less kindness over the years.

Now, though...

“Allura,” Coran says, giving a small cough. He stands closest to the walls of the chateau, waistcoat haphazardly thrown over sleeping clothes, and he chances a look at Keith, still being restrained by the sentry even though he’s not struggling anymore. Then at Lance, who has to be restrained by not one but two guards closer to the courtyard’s entrance. “Your highness, you don’t need to do this. Our guards can escort Kogane to the cells. He can be dealt with come morning, but you are in no position to be fighting a pirate…. Least of all this one.”

Lance watches Keith’s face for something. Anything. Even a subtle raised eyebrow would be something, but Keith just stands there with the same deadset, determined look. Only the torches from the guards posted at either side of the courtyard cast any light. The shadows flicker over stone tiles, over faces and armor and eyes searing with cold, hard intent. Keith looks ready to fight, and so does Allura.

Lance would love nothing more than to run between them with arms outstretched and call this whole thing off. Maybe settle this over dinner instead. Yeah, that definitely sounds better. Can’t the universe back him up just this once?

“Please, Allura,” Coran implores again, but the Queen’s made up her mind. Lance almost wants to agree with Coran. While a duel gives them a better chance of leaving the kingdom with the map in hand, it also gives Allura the chance to show absolutely zero mercy towards a pirate, especially one who works for the man that killed her father.

“This is something I have to do myself,” Allura says. “I agreed to the duel, and now I’m going to follow through. An Altean does not go back on their word.” The words are practically spat out, aimed at Keith and it’s clear why.

She believes she has more honor than a pirate.

Lance isn’t even sure if he can argue.

...Can he? So far, Keith has never gone back on any of his promises. He never once mentioned that maybe they should turn around, forget this whole business of defeating Zarkon and sail their separate ways like none of this ever happened.

Keith could’ve gone back to being highly respected in Zarkon’s ranks. Could have gone back to living the life on the high seas, taking what he wanted. The only downside was working for Zarkon. But at least he’d be alive. There were always other ways of escape, and Lance knows he isn’t the be-all end-all. There’s always another way.

But Keith’s here now, because he listened to Lance.

Followed him. Trusted him.

And now Lance thinks, he has no one to blame but himself. It was Lance who pulled him into this mess - on the day of the raid, he’d pulled Keith aside and planted the idea in his head, and now here they are - and he’s not sure if someone is going to die, or if Allura will make good on her word and hand over the map, should she be the first to yield.

Allura is as stubborn as they come; as much as Lance loves Allura and trusts her as a friend, he has a horrible feeling that neither outcome will be a good one.

Coran calls the two opponents to step forward.

The sentry holding Keith lets him go. He’s handed a sword, and he takes it without a word.

This is it, apparently, just him and Allura. No one is allowed to come between them.

Allura already has a sword of her own, a beautiful thing crafted from Altean steel with a gilded pommel and hilt, perfectly balanced in her hand and deadly to boot. Compared to Keith’s run-of-the-mill blade of a lesser metal and weight that was never balanced just for him, it’s clear he’s already at a disadvantage.

Even so, he would never back down now. Not even if he was forced to fight with his bare hands, probably.

 

He's pushed to the center of the courtyard where Allura waits.

Everyone else waits, too. Lance waits. Waits for the fight to start. Waits so that he can start breathing again. Is he not breathing? He hadn't noticed.

“Fight!” Coran calls.

At first, neither Allura nor Keith makes a move. They both hold their swords at waist height, watching each other. Neither says a word, either.

Lance would’ve expected at least Allura to make some sort of remark, pledge to avenge her father or something along those lines, but she’s gone silent.

The fire from the torches crackle faintly.

The tips of their swords are hardly more than inches apart, and when Keith finally closes that short distance, all he does is give a light tap to Allura’s blade.

She quickly retracts her sword, but then when Keith does nothing more than smirk, she glares and readies her sword again. Lance can feel himself prickling with dread. Allura never liked games. Not unless she knew she was winning.

When she goes in to make the next move, it isn’t some light tap -- the blow falls heavy and just barely grazes the top of Keith’s hair before he’s ducking, rolling out of the way with his own sword clutched tight. He picks himself up again on the other side, at Allura's back before she turns just in time to block the oncoming blow from him, and then it’s a fight, a real one, one that everyone in the courtyard watches in complete awe because damn, can they swing a sword. Swing after lunge after parry, no shields to protect themselves. They match each other blow for blow, drawing each other into a deadly dance from which neither Lance nor the sentries can look away. 

It isn’t until around twenty seconds into the duel that things take a more violent turn - and no, really, twenty seconds is a lot of time when it comes to a fight like this.

Both opponents are stubborn, hotheaded, and highly skilled with a sword. By the looks of it, they’re evenly matched. And they both know it.

Exhausted, they step back at the same time for just a breath, hardly enough for respite but it’s something. Lance wants to shout encouragement, but he doesn't know what he would say. He knows them both. He cares for them both. And right now, he's going to remain silent.

From there, the two just circle each other, shooting looks at one another like they both have something to hide.

Keith moves first - a swift swing from the right, and Allura brings up her own sword to parry it, metal ringing on metal as the blade is knocked away. They’re not using flimsy rapiers, no, they’re using real swords. Real swords, and a very real chance that something could go horribly wrong. You get checked with a rapier, you get a cut that may scar (at the worst) or bruise a little (at best). But if you get a well-placed hit with the sharp edge of a sharpened, Altean steel sword? Good luck surviving that.

Lance swallows and wonders if Allura would really be so heartless as to let herself slip up, to injure or kill Keith “by accident.” One ill-placed strike could easily do it.

No… No, Allura isn’t like that.

From then on, it’s blow after blow, circling each other like wildcats with their teeth bared and breathing heavy. Allura blows a loose strand of white hair from her face and bends at the knees, either readying herself for a hit or preparing to pounce and strike.

Keith, on the other hand, never stops moving. He’s everywhere, calculating and fiery in his swings, never letting up even though Lance wonders if that stamina is actually going to last.

With a sinking feeling, he realizes that while Keith is fantastic at being aggressive, he’s allowing himself more openings in his defenses.

Allura seems to notice this, too. She takes more pauses than him, slowly circles the enclosed part of the courtyard with her sword half-lowered as she watches. Unlike Keith, she puts more stock into waiting.

Keith lunges.

At the same time, Allura bends her knees and pivots, her left arm grabbing Keith’s extended wrist to twist it around, his sword now aimed the other way, then twirling beneath the arm like a dancer while still holding onto him, suddenly in closer range with Keith at her back but just enough arm space to manage.

In a dirty (but not forbidden) move, she brutally rams her elbow backwards into Keith’s chest, before bringing it up to connect with his face, winding him and knocking him back and away.

Lance hears him let out a small, pained sound from the back of his throat. Keith staggers, but refuses to fall or back down. A trickle of blood runs from his nose but he doesn’t seem to notice or care as he persists, running forward again with his sword readied.

Lance can’t speak. Can’t shout out a warning, can’t do anything other than watch. He doesn’t want either of them hurt - And because of that, he’s stuck, paralyzed by silence and ridden with worry.

Shiiinnng!

Steel on steel, a sound both beautiful and sinister in the way that church bells sound when they’re being rung for a funeral.

It happens fast. One minute they’re dancing around each other, and the next, Keith is lunging. Instead of parrying, Allura dodges and darts under the raised arm.

And then Lance blinks, and Keith’s sword is in Allura’s left hand, her own sword in her right.

Both are pressed against Keith’s throat in a silver cross of metal. Keith is on the ground, face unreadable.

“Do you yield,” Allura says quietly, although she doesn’t phrase it like a question.

She’s already won.

Lance stares and he feels like his heart just got tossed into a bottle and thrown out to sea. It’s up to Keith now, whether or not he intends to get his throat slit trying to find a way out of the entrapment of swords, or accept his imprisonment with what little dignity he’s been left with.

To Lance’s bleak surprise, he chooses the latter.

Satisfied, Allura nods. But she doesn’t drop her weapons; Instead, she keeps them where they are - pressed to Keith’s neck - then she looks at Lance, standing off to the side after being made to watch the entire thing unfold. He can already feel his face blanching when the Queen’s gaze zeroes in on him.

“I had a feeling you would come back here,” she says. She sounds sad. “But with him,” she swings her head viciously to look back at Keith. “You’re helping him. A pirate.”

“Allura please, you don’t understand--”

“Oh yes, I do. I should’ve known. You ,” she looks down at Keith, who kneels at her mercy with the two blades crisscrossed at his throat, “you’re just like the rest of your kind. Pirates have always been masters of manipulation and you poisoned the mind of one of my best sailors. Do you have anything to say to that?” Keith wears a solemn look on his face. Like maybe he believes Allura. Almost like… like he’s accepting her accusation. The claim that he’s nothing more than a manipulator and a criminal.

Lance shakes his head, because no, that’s not true .

But Allura doesn’t seem to care. “You kneel before me tonight on account of trespassing, attempted robbery, attempted murder, and god knows what other crimes you’ve committed in your pathetic lifetime.” She pulls a face as she looks at Keith, who stares back up stonily from his awkward position on the courtyard ground. “Your trial will be held at dawn. If you are found guilty of all charges, I will have no choice.”

“Allura, please, no,” Lance steps forward with his hands out, palms up in surrender, but a sentry is quick to restrain him anyway. He struggles, this time, and another guard quickly steps forward in case it becomes a problem. “Please don’t. Please--”

“The sentence will be death.”

“Allura I’m begging you.”

“Lance,” Allura looks at Lance then, her eyes so wide and so, utterly betrayed. Lance feels whatever words he’d been about to say stop short in his throat. “Even I expected more of you, Lance. You’re better than this.” She nods down at Keith, who looks something akin to ashamed. Lance wishes he wouldn’t. “You’re better than him.”

“No, I’m not. I’m really, really not,” Lance says, refusing to back down. He spares a look at Keith, but Keith won’t look back up at him. His arms hurt from the awkward angle at which they’re being held behind his back, but it’s nothing compared to watching Keith accept this punishment so easily. “I’m no better than him. Put me on trial, too.”

“I can’t… I can’t do that, Lance.”

“Why?” Lance snaps, all attempt at being calm forgotten, “because I’m too valuable to you? Put me on trial with him! Be the Queen you’re supposed to be!”

That was the wrong thing to say.

Allura levels her gaze with Lance’s, eyes no longer wide, instead narrowed and dangerously intense. She can be frightening, Allura. She is frightening. Lance always knew it, but he never thought he’d find himself on the receiving end of such controlled, lethal anger. Right now, he finally knows true Fear, and her name is Allura DelaRoi.

“You will be placed on probation for breaking and entering,” Allura says, entirely too calm, “...and for speaking out of turn. And I don’t suppose I need mention the fact that you’ve been aiding and abetting a pirate. I’ll have Coran escort you to a room.”

“Allura please--”

“You will address me as ‘your Highness’ when speaking to me,” she snaps. “And I don’t want to hear any more from you. Not tonight.”

 

0{}=========>

 

It's late when Shiro leaves his temporary quarters, approaching Hunk with the offer to talk.

They sit in the captain’s quarters, Hunk and Shiro, with the rest of the crew sullenly hanging around on deck or in their cabins, unsure what they’re meant to be doing if not taking Shiro prisoner as a criminal.

Hunk is the one who brings up the map.

It’s Shiro, Hunk discovers, who knows much more about the map than anyone else on board the Lion at present. At Hunk’s urging, Shiro reluctantly shares what he knows. And it’s not much.

 

But it might make all the difference.

 

“The Fountain of Youth…” Hunk murmurs. His eyes fall to the table, where a map has been spread and marked a hundred times over, dotted with places the ship has visited, some of them doubly marked. There is no Fountain of Youth on this map, or any regular map.

Because as far as Hunk had thought, it didn’t exist.

According to Shiro, it does.

“Keith and your captain are probably trying to get that map back as we speak,” Shiro says. “It’s only possible to find if you know where to look. And from what I know, the location is always changing. Only the map can lead someone to it… If we have the map in our hands, we can find the Fountain.”

“And destroy it,” Hunk finishes before he can stop himself.

Shiro blinks. But then he inclines his head - the faintest nod. “And destroy it,” he agrees.

And if they’re right, they might just be one step closer in taking down the Galra Empire as they know it. This war could end. It could really end.

 

0{}=========>

 

 

It's the wee hours of the morning, and Lance still refuses to shut the hell up.

Coran leans against the wall by the door, clearly ready to call it a night. But he’s here by order of the Queen; if Lance is going to talk, then Coran has no choice but to listen.

“Please Coran, you have to let me go talk to him. I have to get to wherever they’re holding him.”

“You will do no such thing.”

“This is bigger than just me, Coran, why aren’t you listening to me?”

“The Queen has given me strict orders to make sure you do not, under any circumstances, leave your room.”

“Not even to pee?”

“Well I suppose you may pee, however-”

“Great. So let me out of here.”

Coran pinches one of the ends of his thick mustache and shakes his head, a tsk tsk between his teeth. “Lance, I may be one juniberry short of a juniper tree sometimes,” he says, “but I’m not stupid.” He takes a step back towards the door of the bedchamber, the long tails of his blue and white coat swishing with the movement. Lance frowns. Coran crosses his arms and turns his nose up, not unkind but certainly a little weary from the events of the last few hours. “You must stay here.”

“Coran, what do you know about the map that I gave to Allura three years ago?”

It’s a question that has Coran looking back at him with widened eyes. “Why would you ask such a question?”

“I came back to get that map,” Lance says, the explanation right there on his tongue only, he doesn’t know how to make the words come in such a way that they’ll be the most persuasive. Lance is good at being persuasive, but… it normally involves more flirting, and Coran is the last person that Lance wants to try that with. No, thank you.

“What’s so special about this map then?” Coran asks. He’s only doing it to be polite, Lance thinks. To buy some more time while keeping Lance locked away up here. He understands, in a way - Coran’s been put between a rock and a hard place. The rock being Allura, and the hard place being Lance’s probation and keeping him in his suite until the trial come morning.

Will Lance be allowed to attend the trial? Will he be called as a witness?

Or will he be deemed a criminal as well and kept silent?

He’d rather not know. He just needs to talk to Keith.

Lance tries a different approach. “That map could be the one thing standing in Altea’s path to defeating Zarkon and his entire Empire,” Lance says.

It has Coran taking another step back.

“I dare say, what are you talking about?”

“If I tell you why I’m here, will you help me?”

“That… that depends.” Coran raises an eyebrow. "I'd like you to explain that to me a little clearer, if you wouldn't mind."

Lance will take what he can get.

 

He tells Coran everything.

All of it, from the raid, to the storm, to the deal between him and Keith in the brig of the Blue Lion, the trip to Krell and their meeting with Ulaz. The trip to Altea.

When he finishes, he doesn’t feel like more than twenty minutes have passed, but with his luck, Lance has already wasted hours of their time. Time he needs in order to talk to Keith, to stop this before it becomes an even bigger mess that he really can't clean up.

And by talk, he means, help escape.

How?

Good question.

After even more begging, Lance manages to convince Coran to let him down to the holding cells. But only if he accompanies Lance.

Lance gladly agrees to the terms, grateful and he shows it, and lets himself be led out of the room, out of his suite and down the expansive corridors of the chateau. It’s a beautiful place, he feels like he’s always sort of taken it for granted, but now he can’t even appreciate the sheer size and beauty of the chateau with so much looming over his head, and even more weighing down in his chest and in stomach.

It's more than likely Coran takes his story for a lie, but screw it. He's getting to Keith one way or another.

 

0{}=========>

 

Keith wakes to the sound of someone rapping their knuckles against the iron of his new prison cell.

With a tired growl, he lifts his head towards the source of the noise. When he opens his eyes, Lance stares back down at him with a soft frown. Bars partially block him from view, and it’s not so well-lit down here in the cells, but there’s no mistaking that it’s Lance.

“We really need to stop meeting like this,” Keith groans, forcing himself into a seated position on the uncomfortable bale of hay. Really, this is how they treat their prisoners? Keith had expected better, honestly.

“Funny,” Lance says, “sounds like something I’d normally say.” He’s trying to lighten the mood. Just like he always does. Keith can’t help but feel a little bit grateful for Lance at least trying to make light of what might just be one of the worst nights of his life.

When he looks again to Lance, something small but comforting flutters behind his ribcage.

Lance looks worn out, sunburn fading, and his chest rises and falls beneath his waistcoat too rapidly to be relaxed. He hasn’t been sleeping well, clearly. He probably hasn’t slept at all since he and Keith were separated after the duel.

Lance is right on the other side of the bars, barely a foot away from where Keith sits with his hands on his knees, tired and confused and if he’s being honest, a little sick to his stomach. He’s probably going to die tomorrow. Today. Whatever. It’s too early in the morning to think about the logistics - he just knows he's going to die at some point.

Without warning Lance shoots out a hand, snagging Keith’s in his. Keith flinches but the tight grip Lance has him in doesn’t ease up, doesn’t let Keith pull back.

“The trial,” he says. His voice rasps a little, like he’s been yelling. “When you get up there, you need to tell them the truth. All of it. You need to tell them about the map.”

“Lance… you know the Queen will never believe a word of it.”

"She'll have to."

"I'm sorry," Keith croaks, letting his eyes fall to his lap. "I thought we really had a chance there." A chuckle escapes him. Nothing about this is funny - it's just, they'd been so close. "We could've stopped the war. And it's my fault we're here now-"

"No," Lance interrupts firmly, "this was my fault, don't be stupid-"

The man behind Lance clears his throat. “Thirty seconds left,” he says, voice thick with an accent Keith can’t place. Lance nods but keeps his eyes trained on Keith.

“It’ll be okay,” he says gently, nodding almost too hard.

Keith’s brow knits. What the hell? Lance... isn’t acting like himself. What, did they do something to him? Did they bring him here just to rile Keith up before the trial? This isn’t right.

Something’s off.

Then Lance squeezes his hand even harder and the look he gives Keith is so odd, it’s got to mean something.

“It’ll be okay,” Lance repeats, still squeezing with his hand. “Take care of yourself, buddy. Right?”

When he lets go of Keith’s hand it’s only for Lance to reach his other past the bars, coming to cover Keith’s gently and curl his fingers in.

That’s when Keith feels it - the lightest weight in his palm, enclosed in his fingers as Lance pushes them to curl in lightly. Although he wants to be surprised, he keeps his expression neutral. In a heartbeat, it clicks.

Then Lance pats the hand, stands up like nothing happened, and solemnly nods to the man with the orange mustache. The advisor. Keith doesn’t know his name, but the man looks grave as he nods back at Lance.

He must not know, then.

There’s no doubt about it - the man doesn’t know. Lance, on the other hand, has a glint in his eye, even as he wears the somber expression of someone looking into the face of a man on death row.

As Lance is led away, Keith uncurls his fingers and looks down into his palm, where two thin, silver hairpins glint back up at him.

Lance McClain, sailor and trickster, always did have another trick up his sleeve.

.

 

0{}=========>

 

Daylight.

 

Lance wakes to someone shaking him roughly by the shoulders.

Coran.

Choking on air, Lance shakes off the hands and forces himself to sit up, although it makes him nauseated to do it. He groans and doubles over, sheets tangled around his knees and ankles. The curtains have been drawn open and the sun beats mercilessly into the bedchamber. He blinks once, twice, and finally manages to keep his eyes open.

The events from the day before return to him in a heartbeat. He’s not even completely awake, but his brain is already going a hundred knots, full stop.

“Keith,” is the first thing that tumbles out of his mouth.

Then he coughs because he hasn’t said all that much since he shouted at Allura yesterday, and now combined with the grogginess of a restless night’s sleep, his voice is half gone.

It doesn’t matter. What Coran says next has him going silent as the grave.

“Lance… that pirate…” he looks sad. Disappointed, too. Maybe with the situation, but maybe just with Lance.

“His name is Keith," Lance inserts numbly. He can't seem to get a good breath into his lungs.

“Yes, yes, I know.” Something is weighing very heavily on the advisor, and it has a strong sense of dread pooling in Lance’s stomach.

“...Coran?”

Coran sighs, looking down at the floor instead of up, at Lance. Lance waits with bated breath.

No…

But he'd given him the hairpins. He must have escaped.

He throws off the sheets and pushes himself to his feet, grabbing at one of the bedposts for purchase because it's possible his legs have turned to jelly. The words register in his ears as Coran says them, but they’re muffled, a bit like they would be if someone was trying to talk to him underwater.

It’s impossible. Lance thought he'd…

But now-

“I'm sorry, Lance. He’s been sentenced to death for his crimes against the kingdom of Altea.”

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Lance isn’t sure how late he slept, but it must’ve been late enough.

He can't feel his legs. Something's wrong. Everything is wrong.

He's having a nightmare.

Except he's not having a damn nightmare.

“I-I missed the trial?" He shakes his head sluggishly, bringing a hand to rest at his forehead. "That's, that's not right, that can't be right Coran.”

He thinks back on the night, after he left Keith in the cell. He’d returned to his room, taken off his boots, and when he turned back around Coran had already shut and locked the door behind him. Lance had nothing more to do with the outside world for the night, so he’d resigned himself to go to bed, nervous about the morning to come. He’d probably get in trouble, once they discovered that Keith was missing. They’d have no proof it was Lance’s doing, obviously, but who else would have helped Keith escape?

Doesn’t really matter, considering he didn’t.

Escape, that is.

They’d left him a glass of water at his bedside table, which Lance gulped down gratefully, and then… sleep.

He doesn’t know how he slept for so long, without waking up even once.

He’s usually a pretty light sleeper.

The pieces come together. When he turns it’s to find Coran looking shifty, back a little too straight, hands clasped behind his back. Eye contact is nonexistent, although Coran is normally so good about keeping cheerful, always living in the present. Now, though, it's been reeled in.

Lance shouldn't be as surprised as he is. Maybe he's just hurt - no, more like betrayed. This is a freaking betrayal and Coran sure as hell knows it is.

“You... you drugged me,” Lance murmurs. His words are a little slurred, like he's drunk. Except he's not. And here he’d been thinking it was fatigue.

When Coran gives him nothing but silence Lance knows it’s true. His knuckles whiten where his hand grips the bedpost like it’s the only thing keeping him upright. Actually, it is.

“They wouldn’t have let me go to the trial. Would they?” he snarls, trying to back away from Coran, but his knees catch the side of the bed instead and he tumbles down, suddenly sitting, crinkling the deep blue bedsheets. He gets back up in a haste and makes a bolt for the door, only he’s having some trouble with balance; Everything feels like it’s been moved two inches to the right. Not a huge difference, but enough that he feels off and disoriented. Whatever they put in his water, it hasn’t worn off entirely. He stumbles until he’s at the door, hand grappling with the doorknob and then Coran is there at his shoulder.

The man puts a hand over Lance’s gently. His own hand stills.

“Allura... said you aren’t required to attend this afternoon if you don’t want to,” Coran says, softly coaxing Lance away from the door. Lance sags against it instead, hand limp over the doorknob when he processes what Coran is telling him.

The… The execution. Allura hadn’t required that he go. He’s not sure which is more cruel - forcing him to watch, or keeping him locked away while the deed is done.

“I… I have to see him,” Lance croaks.

“Lance, I’m not sure you’ll want to watch this-”

Let me see him, Coran,” Lance all but begs, bringing up a hand to cover his eyes, a finger pressing at each temple.

One steadying breath later, he drops his hand, looks down at his feet, which are bare because he still hasn’t made any effort to get dressed. His shirt lies in a white lump at the foot of his bed, where he doesn’t remember tossing it before he went to sleep. His boots wait for him next to his bedside table and he suddenly doesn’t feel like putting them on.

“I have to go see him,” he says again. His voice is raspy, his tongue feels like someone stuck a feather duster in his mouth and forgot to take it out.

“You’re sure about this, then?” Coran hedges, gentle, perhaps trying to be soothing for the sake of getting Lance to listen to reason.

Lance has reasoned enough. “Let me see him. I have to see him.”

He hears Coran exhale. He doesn’t get an answer at first, just the sound of the curtains fluttering. The windows are open. He can hear the ocean, not even a mile away from here.

Lance walks over to the window and looks out, over the gardens and pathways from his place three stories up -- What he sees from there has him shrinking back away from the window.

It must have been set up in the courtyard overnight. He can see the noose clearly above the executioner’s block. It swings a little in the breeze, unassuming and insentient. It’s just a piece of rope. On its own, it means nothing.

In the context of this morning in particular, it means all the worst things. Lance can see the entire setup from his bedroom window and he swallows drily, nothing in his throat to stop the scratchiness, the ache of a night and morning of refusing to drink anything else, because why the hell would he trust anything else they put in front of him? He has no one to turn to. He feels like he can’t trust anyone anymore, not even Coran.

It disgusts Lance that Allura would continue such a heinous tradition - punishment by death. In all his years as king, Alfor had only ever sentenced one person to death by hanging, and that man had deserved it ten times over. He’d been a murderer and worse.

Keith is a criminal but he’s not a monster. He doesn’t deserve this.

“How much time does he have?” Lance says, barely whispering.

“Less than an hour now.”

Lance swallows around the dryness in his throat and nods stiffly. “There’s no way she’s gonna go through with this,” he murmurs to himself even when his voice pleads for a few minute’s reprieve. “She wouldn’t actually do this, Coran. You know her. I know her, and-and she would never.”

No answer from Coran. Just the curtains fluttering.

There's nothing more he can do except get ready to leave. He's going - he's made up his mind already and he won't go back on it now.

Lance takes his time getting ready, drawing it out, being slow about it. He doesn’t feel…

He doesn’t feel anything.

Lance can see his hands pick up his shirt from the floor, vaguely feels the wrinkled material slip over his head and arms; watches his feet slide themselves into his boots; hazily takes something he thinks might be a coat from Coran’s outstretched hands and shrugs it on, taking his time.

Allura would never do this, how did she become like this? Merciless...

Walking out of his room after changing, a lump in his throat, even now Lance can hear the faint sound of ocean waves beating against Altea’s cliffs. Staying on land for longer than he wants to makes him ache. He never should have come here. Even in the throes of a tumultuous storm, Lance trusts the ocean more than solid ground. The ocean is honest.

Here on land with stuffier air and too many people and locked doors and spiked drinks and death sentences, Lance feels betrayed and disheartened. He doesn't feel like a sailor. He just feels like a prisoner.

 

0{}=========>

 

When Lance arrives at the château's courtyard with Coran close behind, his heart nearly stops.

Keith is already there, the noose already around his neck. They must have brought him up from the cells before everyone else showed up to witness the execution.

Nauseated, Lance watches Keith’s face. He searches the colorless cheeks and pale lips that are pressed tight together. Even from all the way back here, Lance can see Keith’s jaw working.

Remember how waiting is the worst thing ever?

This. This kind of waiting is by far the worst.

All he can figure from the way Keith stands is that he's too calm, at least on the surface, so unexpectedly quiet when Lance had expected him to lash out, to make a scene or try to escape. Instead he’s just… standing there. Like maybe he’s gone off to the happy place in his head to drown out the noises of chattering people and the sight of an audience waiting for him to…

Don’t think about it.

He’s wearing a white linen shirt, the type normally worn by prisoners, coarse and oversized and it hangs awkwardly on him, wide around the collarbone but covering everything else, all the day down to the tops of his thighs. Raven hair falls limp just over Keith’s shoulders, the shine of it gone, but the sight of him never fails to make Lance lose his train of thought, no matter what.

The sun is high in the sky. Blistering.

Many of the ladies in the crowd try to cool themselves with gaudy, silk fans while the gentlemen of the court stupidly decide to tough it out. The courtyard is a mess of people, and it’s too colorful - Lance doesn’t see a single person in black other than himself.

Coran’s idea. It's nice, the coat. Trim, sharp-shouldered, tailored exactly to his measurements which was in itself suspicious when he'd numbly slipped it on. Maybe Allura had sent it up, or maybe it was the only thing Coran could think to give him, to offer something out of respect.

He’s known Lance for a little over five years and Lance will be damned if he doesn’t consider Coran family. So Lance accepted the coat, because he didn’t have the heart not to.

He wears it now. But not for Coran. Especially not for Allura.

Now he stands stock still in the blistering heat in a long-sleeved, black waistcoat cinched at the waist just a little, with sleeves reaching to where his palms begin, and he doesn’t even think about how he might die of heat stroke. All he sees and thinks and knows is Keith on the platform with a rope around his neck, head down in submission as he waits for the inevitable.

Lance stands between two guards, higher up towards the back of the courtyard where he can see above all the heads of the nobility, all the members of the court and some of the gentry who had nothing better to do today than come and watch a man pay the ultimate price for doing what he could to survive, all because life hadn’t dealt him a fair hand.

Not many people in the crowd stand out to Lance. A woman with a particularly large hat stands off to his left, down amidst a gaggle of other ladies with heavy jewelry and bright, feathered fans. There’s an old woman close to the executioner’s block, frail in her muslin smock and grey dress, thinning hair pulled back in a severe bun while a burly man of around the same age in a leather hunting jacket helps her stand, keeping one hand at her back. Lance feels a pull at his heart, watching the quiet display of companionship.

Then there’s another person off to the side, closer to where Lance is standing but still a ways down, mixed in with the crowd.

He’d only stood out to Lance because he’s tall, and the hood of his cloak is drawn up. The cloak is a deep brown, although that isn’t really what stands out. What really catches Lance's eye is the peek of white hair poking out from under the hood. A sharp nose makes an appearance when the man inclines his head, just a little, his profile a jarring sight to Lance more than any other person in the audience. Few people in the crowd are wearing cloaks. Even fewer have white hair.

It must be a coincidence. An uneasy flutter in Lance’s stomach has him thinking it isn’t. But he also has no idea what to make of it, other than wait and watch. The man isn’t doing anything - he seems harmless enough. And it could be anyone, for all Lance knows.

Still...

Without waiting for an introduction, a short, stocky man wearing a cloak that bears the Altean crest in blue and white shuffles up the steps, up the platform until he stands in front of Keith, visible to all.

“Her highness the Queen of Altea,” he nods up to the balcony first, the one that sits a story or so above where Lance is standing. Lance looks upward, craning his neck until he’s practically bending backwards to see up to the balcony. Allura’s only just arrived. Funny, shouldn’t she have been the first one here?

“And our honored guests.” The man on the platform looks back out again at the packed crowd of spectators, who wait eagerly for him to just get on with it already. It’s not everyday you get the opportunity to watch a pirate hang.

Keith Kogane is about to meet his maker, to pay for his crimes against their kingdom - the people of Altea are probably rejoicing this day already.

It disgusts Lance to think anyone could support this sort of punishment.

A pair of drums starts to play. A slow tap, at first, one, two, and-a-three... one, two, and-a-three...

“We gather here in the courtyard of the home of the royal family to bear witness to the execution of a criminal to the kingdom of Altea,” the man barks as he unravels a compact scroll in his hands. He reads it off, eyes trained on the scroll while Lance’s eyes are trained on nothing but Keith, who hasn’t so much as moved this entire time. He hasn’t looked up yet, either. Lance wishes he would. The crowd is silent, listening.

“Keith Kogane,” the man reads, “we find you here today charged, tried and convicted for your willful commission of crime against the Crown. Said crimes being numerous in quantity, and sinister in nature - the most egregious of these to be cited herewith: Piracy, trespassing, robbery, smuggling, looting…” he carries on.

Half of these have gotta be made up , Lance thinks. Impersonating a cleric? Had Keith really done that? It would almost be funny if the situation wasn’t so horrifying.

Lance’s heart races. He doesn’t really think Allura will go through with this. Surely she’ll realize what she’s doing and call this whole thing off before it’s too late.

What shocks him the most is how out of character this is for her. Even with her hot temper and her hatred for the Galra, this is so far beyond what Lance could have imagined of Allura.

The drums speed up.

“Have you any final words?” the man on the platform says. He’s asking Keith.

Lance draws a breath as Keith actually lifts his head, eyes scanning the crowd. The dark, sparkling eyes find Lance in a heartbeat and catch them in his gaze. Their eyes lock and… and are those tears stinging in Lance’s eyes or is it just this disgusting summer heat?

Keith’s lips move to form words.

“Don’t worry.”

Lance swears he hears him say it. Or sees him say it. Keith isn’t loud, but Lance thinks he can make out the words on his lips anyway. Those eyes never leave Lance’s for a second. A few murmurs float up from a few, scattered members of the court. Mostly, they sound confused.

Lance can’t say he feels much different.

The drums stop.

Don’t worry.

Up above, Allura raises her hand, then drops it down.

Don’t worry.

They pull the rope.

Everything stops.

Lance thinks he might have screamed something but his ears aren’t working.

Some people in the crowd might have gasped, turning to the person next to them in horrorstruck awe, but none of it seems quite real.

Lance sees, but doesn’t hear. And what he does see has him reeling back, turning around as he wrenches his gaze from… from… god, god, fuck… please, don’t let this be real...

The most horrible thing he’s ever witnessed and he can’t bear to look another second. The sharp gasps - the twitching and the rapidly fluttering eyes have him openly horrified and before he knows what he’s doing, he’s shoving Coran out of the way.

At first he thinks his legs are going to take him down to the middle of the courtyard, up the stairs and across the executioner’s block to where Keith hangs limp just a few feet above the platform, eyes closed and head lolled to one side with the rope around his neck. To cut the rope with his knife and carry him away, away from the wide and eager eyes of the spectators.

That’s what Lance pictures himself doing in his mind’s eye, but in reality he’s staggering back, shoving through the lineup of guards and running back between the pillars of the courtyard, out into the gardens, also enclosed by walls but separate from the crowd. He runs, pumps his arms even when the tight fabric of the coat pulls at his shoulders, just runs and runs and tries not to think.

 

It’s just him in here, alone.

No one runs up from behind to stop him or take him back to watch. He’s seen enough.

Allura actually did it.

Lance hadn’t thought she would.

He runs without looking where he’s going, just needs to run, to get away, far away. He stumbles through a patch of flowers, accidentally tramples a plot of chrysanthemums and when he comes across the single dogwood tree, heavy with white flowers, that’s where he loses the will to move another inch.

In the end, he doesn’t get very far.

In fact, he can still hear the murmurings of the crowd through the pillars that separate the courtyard from the gardens. He just knows he can’t be there. This is enough. He can run again, when he’s not so totally overwhelmed by everything.

He’s out of breath. Suddenly exhausted, Lance braces himself with one hand against the rough trunk, doubles over and vomits.

When there’s nothing else to empty from his stomach he dry heaves, retching as his thoughts dissociate from the present. His throat and lungs burn. He doesn’t care. He thinks he might be crying since everything is blurry and his cheeks feel hot and wet, but he doesn’t give a shit. Something drips down the end of his nose. Then he’s leaning his entire body against the dogwood, face buried against the trunk and he sobs.

Keith Kogane was a lot of things, but he was not a bad person.

Lance knew it when they rowed all the way to Krell, where Keith got drunk with him and turned into this different, looser version of himself, a beautiful, coy, clumsy mess with a genuine laugh and an even more genuine sense of humor- something Lance had previously thought impossible of him. He knew it when they sailed together to Altea and probably said more than they should have - especially when Keith actually opened up to Lance, actually talked about himself. About his past. Something Lance could grasp onto and understand why. Why all of it.

The rough bark of the tree scrapes into his forehead a little but he welcomes it, the faintest sensation of pain, a reminder that he’s still here and still alive. What is wrong with him?

The dogwood, at least, won’t judge him for being in love with a dead pirate.

Another sob wracks his body. He knows what’s wrong with him.

And it’s perfect, just fucking perfect, that he only realizes it now. Now that Keith is gone.

His legs shake and he sits down, curling his knees to his chest and wrapping his arms around them. He buries his head in his lap, cries until he starts to hiccup and the tears finally run dry. Dry sobbing, he doesn’t move for what feels like hours.

 

When it begins to get dark out, he’s still there, leaning against the dogwood, caught somewhere between a hazy sleep and a painful consciousness.

Someone approaches him from his right, the side closest to the château. He thinks it might be Coran, but then the person speaks.

“Lance…” Allura’s voice. Lance stills, but doesn’t look up when he hears her. “I’m so sorry it had to be this way.”

Lance doesn’t answer her.

He never thought he could ever hate Allura, but he thinks he might hate her now.

“I need you to do something for me.”

“Why… would I have a single reason to do anything for you now?” he croaks, his voice desperate for water. He’s been crying for hours, with nothing to eat or drink, and it’s pretty safe to say his voice is nigh nonexistent. “You--You killed him. You killed him."

"Lance I-"

"No, you killed him, and I can’t believe I ever trusted you.”

“Lance--”

I trusted you!”

It’s the last thing he can shout before his voice is completely gone. He drops his head back to his knees, all the strength sapped from his breath and his bones.

He doesn’t hear Allura move away. She just stands there, watching him. Good fucking riddance to her.

“I’m not the person you think I am, Lance,” she says softly. “This had to be done.”

Lance wants to tell her Like hell it did, but his voice isn’t there. Instead he buries his face deeper into his knees and tenses his shoulders, refusing to look at her. He must look pathetic, sitting wretched against a tree. His mouth tastes like his own sick. He would kill for a glass of water-- drugged or not, he doesn’t care. Maybe he’d rather go to sleep and never wake up, anyway.

“Lance, if you have even the tiniest shred of trust left for me, you'll listen.”

Lance tightens his arms around his knees and groans, shaking his head hard enough to knock his knees apart for a moment.

Allura sighs from above. “Meet me at the docks in two hours. Bring what you need. I promise you will not regret it... although I’m sure you’d love nothing more than to run me through with a sword.”

No, Lance thinks, that’s not what he wants. He would never wish death on anyone.

“Just… trust me, Lance. All I ask is that you meet with me there tonight. Please.”

And then,

“...I’m sorry. This wasn’t fair to you.”

Lance hears her go, then.

When he looks up, he’s alone again in the garden, the sun nearly gone from the sky.

 

0{}=========>

 

The following day

 

Pidge, on the rare occasion that she leaves the crow’s nest, is actually taking a walk.

Just around the market, but still, she usually hates to leave the ship when they’re docked in busy places that aren’t Altea. Hunk told her that this would be good for her, to actually socialize a little bit, maybe grab some food while they’re here, yaddah yaddah.

Well, she’s here, isn’t she? Consider that a success. Now maybe Hunk will let her back on the ship without getting a talk about not being able to ‘interact with people’ and ‘figure out how to be diplomatic with strangers.’

The people here are reserved but chatty, the buildings are all different and all varying ages, some with brick so worn and smooth it could’ve been carved from a single piece of stone, some new and freshly painted on the outside, some with grass roofs and others with tile. Many have their shutters open to let in the sunlight. Streets and little back roads crisscross each other in the most endearing ways, laundry draped over drying lines hung between the higher stories.

She spots a bajillion little shops, a place that sells books, a few street stalls that sell different foods although all of them smell heavily spiced. Like most cities, there’s a trace of horse dung in the air and it’s no surprise, considering how many horses Pidge sees trotting around, riding by with their rich, Arusian owners with carriages, or merchants riding on the saddles of beautiful palominos and pintos. Those horses in particular are enormous, especially to Pidge, who barely stands five foot four when she’s not slouching. One man who might be a farmer ambles along with an old ass in tow, nothing but a rope tied loosely around its greying neck.

Matt would love it here.

She remembers visiting Arus with him and the rest of their family, a long time ago, back before their father was lost at sea. Her mother lives back in Italy now, up north in the Alps just outside of Switzerland. It’s beautiful up there, but nothing like the south. Nothing like Mediterranean, or the Atlantic, the open waters of the Pacific and the tropical, clear waters off the coast of Fiji, the vast enormity of the Indian Ocean, even if it isn’t quite as vast as the others.

She’s always loved the thrill of sailing, the adventure. Her father and brother had, too, but now they’re gone.

Pidge knows they’re alive. They can’t not be.

She’d joined up with Lance and his crew four years ago, a little swabbie with big plans to find her family. She’d stayed because she’d found a second family on the Blue Lion.

Her somewhat uneventful walk through the main square becomes far more interesting when she catches the name “Keith Kogane” in a conversation between a couple of strangers nearby.

Two men, both older, smoking their pipes just beneath the wooden awning of a tavern, the sign so faded it’s unreadable. Pidge stops in her tracks and tries to hone in on what they’re saying. It sounds like gossip, but it must be interesting if Kogane is involved. It’s probably better if she stays updated on this sort of stuff. That’s what she’ll be telling Hunk, anyway-- which is just her excuse for eavesdropping.

“You heard, right?” the one man with a sailor’s cap and thick, salt and pepper mustache goes on eagerly. “The pirate Kogane was hanged?”

“Hanged?” the other man scoffs, beard so heavy Pidge can hardly see a mouth under it. “I heard he was burned at the stake.”

“He ain’t a witch, idiot, he’s a pirate.”

“Y'mean was a pirate.”

Hearty laughter.

This... can’t be good. Did they say hanged? It can’t be true.

That’s not possible, Pidge just saw the guy a week ago on their ship. He and Lance should have made it to Altea by now. Although, if they got caught...

Pidge knows enough about Shiro by now to know how close he is - or… was? - with Keith Kogane. If he’s dead-

 

Without a second thought, Pidge turns on her heel and makes a mad dash back in the direction of Violet Bay, errands forgotten.

It’s not… it has to be wrong. It’s a setup, somehow, to lure them to Altea. It must be.

And if Keith is dead, then what’s happened to Lance?

 

0{}=========>

 

Pidge barges into the captain’s quarters without knocking. Hunk nearly drops the stack of papers he’d been shuffling through, whipping his head around.

 

“Pidge, what the heck?” he looks in alarm to the slamming door, then at Pidge’s harried expression. “Hey… What’s wrong? You okay?”

“We have to tell Shiro,” she huffs, hands on her knees while she gets her breath back.

Hunk watches all this in confusion, a frown growing on his mouth and in the space between his brow.

“Tell Shiro what?” he asks. He stands from his chair, slowly, because right now Pidge looks like anything might startle her. “Pidge...what’s going on? What happened?”

Pidge shakes her head and lifts it, hands still on her knees. Still winded but getting some of her voice back, she looks sadly at Hunk and says, “Keith Kogane. He’s dead.”

This time Hunk does drop his papers on the table.

 

0{}=========>

 

The night before

 

Keith wakes to see the Queen herself, flanked by three guards, standing outside his cell.

Her white hair is braided behind her, a silver circlet perched on her head. Her face is unreadable.

“Can I help you?” he groans, rolling to his side on his pathetic excuse for a bed.

“The legendary Keith Kogane, captain of the Red Sword himself,” Allura drawls, a tight-lipped frown appearing on her face. “You handle a sword well. Last time I saw you was when you stole one of my father’s boats.”

Commandeered, actually. But nice try.”

“Give me as much lip as you want, but you’re the one behind bars,” Allura says sweetly. “You’re here because--”

“Save it,” Keith bites out, because he’s too tired. “You already won. And I know that no matter what I say at the trial, you’re going to hang me.”

“Perhaps not.”

Keith’s head snaps up. “What?” He sits up, staring at her like she’s playing a cruel joke. It is cruel. He’s going to die tomorrow and she’s here to what, make sure he pleads guilty? He’d never pegged the Queen as someone who would stoop that low.

“You’d better explain yourself real fast, your highness,” he grunts as he sits up on the hay bale. He hadn’t been comfortable anyway. “Because I’m getting real tired of listening to the sound of your voice.”

Is it just him, or is he starting to sound a little like Lance?

Allura sighs, flattening out a wrinkle in the skirt of her blue, silky nightdress. She looks a sight more comfortable than Keith feels. “There’s no need for that,” she says, a forced patience making itself known in her tone of voice. “I only came here to discuss something with you.”

“Oh, did you?” It’s not like he necessarily means to sound like an ass. But Allura really doesn’t deserve anything less, he thinks. If he’s gonna die anyway, he might as well live a little. “What’s there to discuss? You have me right where you want me. In prison.”

“Please,” the Queen speaks tersely as she cuts Keith off.

She looks over her shoulder for a moment, and in just a few seconds the guards that had accompanied her are leaving the jail, wordlessly following an unspoken command.

Keith hears the squeaking of unoiled hinges, and then the two of them are left alone in the ill-lit, underground jail.

“I’ll cut to the chase,” Allura says, shoulders sagging a bit once the guards are gone, “I have no intention of letting you walk out of that trial with an innocent verdict.”

“I didn’t expect anything less,” Keith fires right back. “Why are you here?” Then in a moment of what might’ve been weakness - but could very well have been perceived as honest curiosity - he asks, “Where’s Lance?”

That has Allura raising an eyebrow. “Lance has been brought to a room in the chateau. He’s unharmed, although he is the reason I came here to see you.”

That throws Keith for a loop.

Allura’s down here because of Lance?

For what reason?

“When Lance came to speak with me yesterday,” Allura continues, “his heart was set on getting that map. Once he explained why, it was a little hard to wrap my head around at first... ” her eyes meet Keith’s, just briefly before they both pull away from the uncomfortable eye contact, “but I believed him. About the map. I still do.”

A suspicious crinkle furrows Keith’s brow. He doesn’t trust this one bit. “ Do you now?”

Allura hums, thoughtful. She looks like she’s thinking back on it, when she actually spoke with Lance. “He practically begged that I hand it over, and I wanted to. I really did.”

“Wait, wait, what the hell?” Keith interrupts, incredulous. He leaps to his feet and takes a long stride forward until he’s almost pressed against the bars, each hand gripping iron. Then why didn’t you just give him the map!”

“I wasn’t finished.”

“...My apologies, your highness.”

Allura scowls. The torch by the entryway flickers, almost like it’s reacting to her annoyance. “He said something… something that made me suspect he hadn’t come back to Altea alone. And it was only after I sent him away that I discovered from one of my dock workers that he hadn’t come back on the Lion, he’d come back on a sailboat.” The look she gives Keith is all too knowing. “When he actually left after I told him to, without any further argument, I knew something was going to happen. I just didn’t know what.”

“So where do I come into this?” Keith asks, because he has no idea what this whole segue is meant to be leading to.

A few seconds pass in silence between them, before the spell is broken as Allura lightly blows away a strand of hair that’s come loose from her braid.

“Well,” she sighs again. “Believe it or not, I believe Lance. What he said about you, I mean. Last night after our little duel.”

“What..” Keith blinks quickly, attention snatched. “What did Lance say about me?” He didn’t know about this. What the hell, Lance? Maybe he looks more stunned than he should, because the Queen is looking at him in a funny way.

Is Allura… smiling?

No, he must be imagining it.

“A few things,” she answers, carefully. “But what stood out to me most was how strongly he defended you. He told me how you… started in your line of business, so to speak.”

Keith feels a pit in his stomach.

That - That was personal information. Keith doesn’t care if it was done for the greater good, Lance had no right to tell the world his stupid, unfortunate sob story about his childhood. Or how he did what he had to do to survive in a world that constantly beat him down.

“That wasn’t his information to give,” he grinds out through gritted teeth, feeling a flare of anger at the invasion of privacy, but it softens at what Allura says next.

“He speaks very highly of you, for a pirate,” Allura muses, continuing as if Keith had never interrupted her. “It seems he respects you.”

“And you?” Keith asks, crossing his arms, leaning against the bars of the cell with one eyebrow raised expectantly.

“I believe in doing what’s right,” Allura says, practiced and smooth like a natural born leader. Like a Queen. She returns the look Keith is shooting her, but her voice remains professional and cool, although there’s something else there, just underneath. Something warmer. It leaves Keith puzzled.

He still doesn’t really know why she’s down here, if not to just set him free, then?

“I believe in making difficult decisions if it means bringing peace to my kingdom again. You are not loyal to the Galra, I assume?”

“I work - worked for Zarkon,” Keith corrects himself. He doesn’t think he can honestly say he has any loyalty to the Galra Empire, unless he’s talking bloodlines and his link to the Galran woman his father married. Dead now, but she was the one tie he had to any sort of Galra heritage. All of that is dirt under the proverbial rug, now. He has no respect for what the Galra have done.

More specifically, what Zarkon has done.

From the soured look on his face, Allura must have been able to deduce as much. She nods, satisfied. “I’ll take that as a No. Tell me, Keith,” Keith feels weird having the Queen of Altea address him by his first name, “if the Galra ever found out that you had come here with Lance McClain and then sailed away with my map - yes, mine , as I’m currently having it safeguarded in the chateau-"

“Let me guess. It’s under your pillow.”

He doesn’t realize how close his guess is.

Allura rolls her eyes. The torch flickers again. “As I was saying, if the Galra caught wind of your betrayal and heard that you had a map that could help take down their Emperor, what do you suppose they would do?”

“Come after me,” Keith says with a shrug. Because, um, obviously?  "The Galra don’t tend to look the other way when it comes to treason. Or take kindly to mutiny." If anyone heard that Keith escaped Altea with that map - and with Lance McClain, too - someone would be trailing them in a heartbeat. They’d be as good as dead.

“And what do you suppose would happen if they heard you had died at the hands of Altea’s Queen?” Allura asks, inspecting her nails. She looks so self-assured, like she knows something that he doesn’t, and just can’t wait to share. Keith doesn’t like it, but he answers.

“Nothing,” he says.

“Nothing?” Allura repeats, pursing her lips a little but keeping her eyes on her nails. “They wouldn’t wage full-fledged war on Altea for killing one of their citizens and one of the Emperor’s best sailors? One of his most valuable spies?”

“I was hardly a spy,” Keith mumbles, but Allura only ‘Tuh ’s, sounding bored at best and dubious at worst.

“But they wouldn’t care if you were dead?” she says again, for clarification.

“Why do you care ?” Keith asks. It’s terse, and he feels like there’s little left to be said at this point. Honest to god, this has got to be the most roundabout interrogation he’s received in his life. Even Lance was a better interrogator than Allura.

“Because,” says Allura, “you and I appear to have something in common.”

Keith laughs bitterly, highly disagreeing. “We have nothing in common,” he says, rolling his eyes. He’s had enough of this. Sighing, he turns to sit back down on his hay bale, choosing to face away from the Queen out of sheer spite.

“Sure we do.” Allura drops the hand she’d been inspecting and points a finger to herself, “I’m interested in defeating Zarkon,” the finger points to Keith, “you’re interested in defeating Zarkon. Oh,” she lowers the fingers, clapping her hands together decidedly, “and neither of us wants you to have to die. Doesn’t that sound like a much better idea?”

Keith’s head whips around so fast something cracks. “What’re you talking about?”

Allura looks far more real when he looks carefully… regal, of course, but now that Keith is really looking, he can see a little weight bearing down on her shoulders. It may be dark down here but even then, there’s no mistaking how tired she looks. Of course she would, since it’s late at night, but still she looks tired. The sort of tired that can’t be fixed with a few hours’ rest and a glass of water.

“I’m saying you don’t have to die. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is be remembered as the Queen who condones punishment by death. The Galra need only think that."

"But-?"

"-What I mean is, they need only believe the stories that will certainly have spread by this time tomorrow- if you accept my proposition.”

Keith can feel his jaw going slack, letting that sink in. Is this a joke? Seriously, is this a joke?

“How… How?” Smooth, he thinks. Usually if someone was offering him a way out, he wouldn’t touch the offer with a ten foot pole. No one just lets a criminal walk free.

But with Allura… there’s something different about her. He thinks back to the trip from Krell to Altea, with Lance telling him the story about his first (and second and third) proposal to the Queen, back when she was still just a princess. There’d been a couple other stories, too, ones that painted Allura in this warm, familiar light, something that told Keith that Allura was more than just Lance’s friend. She was practically family. Stoic, but not cold. Not really. Forgiving and compassionate, those were words Lance probably would’ve used if Keith ever explicitly asked him to pick two to describe her.

Allura doesn’t move an inch from the cell bars, hands nervously smoothing out her nightdress even though there are no more wrinkles left to smooth over. “I have an idea, but I must ask you for something in return. You may not like it.”

Keith winces, weighing his options. He has to give her something, too? He’s already in prison. There’s nothing more he can give.

“What is it?”

“I must ask that you trust me. I know after everything that’s transpired tonight, it’s the last thing you must want to do. But I have a plan. I need your trust if it is to be followed through.”

The humble request is a shock to his system.

Not a bad one. Just… huh.

The Queen of Altea is asking him to trust her.

Lance trusts her .

Maybe that’s all the reason he needs to trust Allura, too.

“...What do you have in mind.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Compassionate? Genuine? Intelligent? Maybe a little unorthodox?

Sure, those qualities were the first to be brought to Keith’s attention when the Queen approached him at the jail. But now he can see for himself that she’s also, one hundred percent, an actual insane person. The Queen is a crazy lady.

Crazy - but also kind of a genius. Keith wouldn’t have guessed it… although perhaps he should have.

When Allura explains her plan to Keith, all he can think is Fuck, Lance is going to hate him.

 

0{}=========>

 

Lance is a little bit lost.

It’s been over an hour since Allura left him alone in the garden and now he sits with his back propped against the headboard of his bed, not moving. All he does is stare at the off-white wall across from him and listen to the wind rustling the curtains and think about what an idiot he is. The mattress should feel soft, the sheets silky and luxurious, but all he can feel is this gross confusion and indecisiveness. His neck hurts from sitting in the same spot without moving for so long. He had a drink of water not even an hour ago but his mouth is already dry again.

He wants to hate Allura.

More than that, he wants Keith back.

He wants to beg Allura to let him give his… Keith’s body a proper burial. At sea. He doesn’t deserve a criminal’s funeral. Not here, not on land under the scrutinizing eyes of a Queen who wouldn’t listen to reason. He doesn’t deserve a blank headstone crudely fashioned out of a rock that will crumble with time.

Lance is heartbroken, and he doesn’t know what to do.

Well, he figures, he has one of two options:

He can keep himself locked in his room without eating or drinking until he wastes away to nothing, abandoning his ship and his crew in the process (although he’d always pictured it being a little more dramatic than that, maybe getting eaten by a Weblum or something), or -

He can confront Allura at the docks tonight, reject her as his Queen which… yeah, would be fairly dramatic - and sail back to his ship. Make himself a fresh start, maybe sail somewhere farther than he’s ever sailed before. He could return to his roots in Cuba, where his grandparents were born and raised before the war with the Galra began. He could start a new life. Sail the Caribbean. Forget about Keith…. Maybe even find someone else.

He thinks dying might actually hurt less.

With a deep breath, he makes his decision.

He drags himself out of bed - and winces when he feels about five different parts of his neck crack from the movement. With a resolved breath, he gets to the door and swings it open - only to find Coran standing on the other side, a hand raised. Probably about to knock.

“Lance! Thank heavens you’re back." Coran quickly lowers his hand. He tugs at the high collar of his waistcoat and suddenly looks very nervous. Lance gives him a blank look.

“What?” he says.

“Lance, there’s something I must tell you before you meet with the Queen tonight.”

“How did you know I was going to meet with the Queen?”

“She specifically sent me here with a message for you,” Coran answers. He sounds a little out of breath, like he just ran here. “She said - and I quite agree - that things will be much better for all involved if you hear this from me, first.”

Oh, here we go, Lance thinks angrily, feeling a surge of urgency overcome him. He’s here to tell him not to chop Allura’s head off when he goes to see her. No worries, Coran, he thinks, I’m just planning to abandon the kingdom and sail to Cuba. No big deal. Honestly, sailing to Cuba is sounding pretty good right now.

He needs to go now. He has to get away from Altea, before he changes his mind. Not even Coran, someone he considers practically his family by all accounts, can get in his way. Better to just get this over with than draw out any tearful goodbyes.

With a huff, Lance manages to push past Coran into the corridor, taking up a determined stride, feeling set in his decision. All of his things are back on the boat, anyway, other than the clothes on his back. The only things on his mind are See Allura, leave, and never come back.

He can hear Coran speeding along behind him to catch up, making a surprised sound when Lance brushes past him a second time as they round a corner. The slightly raised heels of the man’s dress shoes click click against the creamy tiles.

“Now see here just a minute-”

“Enough, Coran,” Lance says, not sparing him even a glance. There’s nothing kind about it. He’s not feeling particularly kind, though. He raises his voice a bit, and they’re lucky it’s just the two of them here in the hallway. Lance is too impatient and angry to think too hard about the odd lack of guards around.

“Really, Lance, I must insist that you listen to me before you do this!”

Lance finally stops, turning in a semicircle to face the advisor, who slows and looks back with a mixture of hope and fearful anticipation. Maybe Lance should listen. “...What,” he says.

Coran steps forward, closer until he’s near enough to level with Lance, bringing a gloved hand to grip his shoulder firmly. Kindly.

“You might want to sit down, my boy.”

“I don’t have time for this,” Lance shrugs off the shoulder, making to turn back around and leave the château for good. If Coran is just here to stall for time, Lance isn't going to play into it.

The hand returns, holding him there.

Lance doesn’t have the energy to force him off. He stops, and actually listens. Well, he decides, he’s got nothing to lose, anyway.

“The Kogane fellow,” Coran begins confidently enough, but his expression wavers when he catches the look on Lance’s face. The name alone is enough to tear another hole in him, to knock Lance down a peg and rip away his breath a third or maybe a tenth time today. He can already feel the beginnings of more tears threatening to spill over. This is not the time.

He has to look stronger than this.

They barely knew each other anyway.

He tries to shake away the invasive thoughts. If he’s going to leave Altea for good, he really needs to be stronger than this.

It shouldn’t matter.They hardly knew each other.

And yet they learned impossibly too much about each other in just a week. Less than that, even.

God damn it, everything about today has sapped the strength from his bones. He’s not strong enough for this. “What is so important that it can’t wait until I’ve spoken with the Queen?” he asks, tired. “What about Kei- what about Kogane?” He begs the tears in his eyes to not well up like they’re doing.

“Like I said, it’s better I tell you now, rather than wait until later when-”

“Oh my god.” This time Lance really does turn around, beginning to walk away just like he did last time. He doesn’t have time for this.

“He’s alive, Lance.”

Lance freezes.

Coran doesn’t say more. Just stands a few yards behind Lance, who’s hardly gotten far, and Lance… well, Lance can feel his blood boiling.

“Even for Allura...” Lance seethes, collecting himself where he stands, because he will not be made a fool of tonight, or ever, “Even for Allura, that’s just cruel,” he says. He keeps walking.

This time, Coran doesn’t try to stop him.

He can’t believe Allura’s actually begun resorting to mind games now. Trying to get Lance to hold onto a tiny seed of hope, to remain loyal to her even though he saw Keith murdered; he saw it all with his own two eyes. He is not going to be treated like an idiot. He’s finished with that. The stupid, ditzy, obnoxious, airheaded Lance is gone.

A sailor who lost more than the sea can give back stands in his place.

All he sees is red.

Keith is dead. And Lance is angry.

 

0{}=========>

 

The crew pretends to be all ‘business as usual’ on board the Lion, but it’s becoming ever clearer that most of the crew members are going a little stir crazy. More and more people start to ask when they’ll be leaving the bay to go to Kerberos. Few still know about the reason why Lance even left in the first place, and it’s only natural that everyone would be curious. Hunk manages to deflect the worst of the questions, but only just.

The Blue Lion rarely docks in one place for more than a day or two. The longest they went without hoisting anchor was about a week, and that was back on Altea, where most people knew each other and maybe even had some family to go back to.

Arus is an entirely different animal. Beautiful and somewhat exotic, considering it’s an even bigger trading hub than Altea, but it’s still not… what’s the word…

Home .

Arus isn’t home. Neither is Altea, but at least Altea is the crew’s mother kingdom. The sea, though, that is a sailor’s true home.

Right now, these sailors are just itching to get home.

 

Night is well upon them when Hunk calls a small meeting up on the main deck. Half of the crew is asleep in their bunks. The other half is up here, waiting for some answers. Their captain has been gone for almost a week and the news from Pidge earlier doesn’t bode well.

Shiro is there, standing closest to Hunk mostly because if he stands anywhere else, one of the crew might single him out and uh… it wouldn’t end well. Someone might get a dagger in the back - that someone being Shiro. He’ll pass on that one. He’d already been hit with the news about Keith, but like hell if he’ll actually believe it. The little shit is too stubborn to die. Keith is out there, somewhere. In heaps of trouble, probably, but alive at least. Shiro wouldn't doubt it for a second.

Pidge leans against a couple stacked crates with Zack leaning next to her, with the same pose, same expression, and if Pidge didn’t know any better she’d say that Zack was trying to be just like her.

With Lance gone, the kid doesn’t have his usual role model to look up to. It seems he’s decided that Pidge Gunderson will do just fine. Pidge can’t argue. If she could pick anyone to look up to, it would be herself.

Hunk himself stands straight-backed outside of the captain’s quarters - his temporary quarters until Lance returns (which he will), and all eyes are on him. Waiting.

The crew’s newest members look especially eager to hear what’s going on. Plaxum’s attention doesn’t leave Hunk for a second. Florona’s attention, on the other hand, wanders over to Shiro.

And well, it’s not like she’s wrong for paying him as much attention as she does; she can’t help it - she just really appreciates an aesthetically pleasing human being when she sees one.

Plaxum, on the other hand, ignores the younger woman’s obvious infatuation.   

Shay keeps to the side, just behind the duo of tall, tattooed women, taking the opportunity to melt into the background the way she prefers. She likes to watch Hunk talk. To see him look so at ease with being in charge.

Aaand then there’s Klay, who honestly seems very meh about this whole thing in general. Go figure.

There’s too many people talking at once. Hunk keeps waving off questions, asking that everyone ask one at a time; Pidge keeps asking questions anyway, even though she doesn’t really want answers so much as she wants to spread chaos; Shiro insists firmly that Keith is still alive and out there, somewhere, but whenever he speaks, the rest of the crew seems to rise up against him, volume growing until he’s drowned out again and, honestly? The whole thing is a little infuriating.

“Guys, please,”  Hunk begs, “listen, okay? Lance is still out there, and I’m sure he’s just fine. He's Lance. He gets himself in and out of trouble all the time."

“While I do not know your captain quite as well," Shay pipes up from her cozy place out of the spotlight, "I think we ought to agree with Hunk.” The speed with which she stands up for Hunk like it’s perfectly natural draws a few looks. Everyone notices, but no one cares to comment. It’s none of their business.

Pidge, of course, would love to make it hers, but alas and alack, they have bigger fish to fry.

Klay watches, hmph ing to himself. It’s not until Hunk continues to defend Lance that the old sailor decides to toss in his two cents.

“You speak of your captain like he didn’t abandon yeh all to run off with a pirate for god knows what,” he grumbles, and everyone hears.

Hunk looks torn between answering and politely ignoring the jab.

“Lance didn’t abandon us,” Pidge snaps, the first person on the ship to openly stand up to Klay.

“Aye, he did,” Klay shoots back, one eye shutting a little further than the other as he adjusts his tricorn hat crankily. “‘N without a word to his beloved crew, too.”

All eyes are on them as they argue.

“He talked to me,” Hunk says. All attention snaps back to him. “And as the acting captain until Lance returns, you are obligated to listen to me. If I say Lance will come back - and that we can trust his word - then you should probably take my word for it.” Everyone gathered around blinks, stunned. Hunk lost the will to care about how harsh he’s been sounding lately around the same time Lance denied his vague (but definitely existent) feelings for Kogane. He still doesn’t regret what he said to Lance.

The last thing Hunk wants to do now is lose his credibility because of some crusty old sailor, whose only job here is to help raise sails and keep an eye on the rest of the crew. Right now, Klay is acting more like a cranky old coot than Slav. And Slav has been having some bad days lately.

In fact, now that Shiro is on board, it almost seems like he’s gotten worse. The quartermaster, always one to spew theories about alternate universes, has gotten rather fond of questioning Shiro - His motives, his intelligence, pretty much anything that’ll drive Shiro to the brink of mental collapse.

Shiro has never met anyone who just rubbed him the wrong way like this. Not like Slav does. Slav rubs him in the wrongest of ways, from the times when he makes fun of Shiro’s accent (“I don’t have an accent, Slav.” “False! Everyone has an accent. You have an accent. It is hilarious, and it is only fair I now make fun of you, ”) to the times when he pops up from out of nowhere, making Shiro drop a bucket of mucky water on his foot or causing him to spill half a bowl of hot soup into his lap at dinner.

Shiro hates Slav.

Slav apparently adores getting under his skin.

The rest of the crew looks the other way, but only because Shiro is technically a pirate. Altean sailors never took well to pirates. Especially the sailors of the Blue Lion.

“Kogane is with him,” Klay says, ignoring Hunk. “We can’t trust a pirate to lead McClain into anything other than danger.”

Some people actually murmur in agreement at that.

“Okay, so let’s just… be rational about this for a second,” Hunk says, reclaiming everyone’s attention again.

The discussion is more civil after that. The crew has really taken to Hunk (although Klay still has his own issues to work out) and, all things considered, the change of pace has been relatively passive for everyone involved.

In other words, the crew hasn’t attempted a mutiny. So uh, yeah, Hunk will take what he can get.

From what Pidge can see, the only tension on board the ship is from the very real fear that somehow, Lance’s mission went sour. And if that’s the case, they’re going to blame it on Keith.

And, through the transitive power, Shiro.

Pidge won’t lie, she’s already taken a liking to Shiro. He’s really… genuine. If that’s a word you can use for a pirate. Super nice, too. He’d laughed at one of her jokes, so Pidge thinks he can’t be all bad.

But when it comes to Keith, Pidge doesn’t know what to think.

All she knows is, Lance has a massive hard-on for the guy, and if her instincts are right, that pirate’s been pining after Lance ever since they first met three years ago. And don’t even get her started on that one-on-one duel they challenged each other to. Pidge has never seen two men fight each other with so much fire - it was almost disgusting. Not that she’s a hopeless romantic or anything, but watching them duel each other - Lance with a sleazy, cocky grin on his face and Keith with an intense look of his own - Pidge had nearly gagged and told them to get a room.

Honestly, at this point she’s amazed the two didn’t just mutiny and elope years ago.

Then again, they did leave their crews together and agree to sail with each other to Altea. If that isn’t romantic as fuck, Pidge doesn’t know what is. But it’s entirely possible that there are other people on board who know more about it than she does.

Pidge leans over towards Zack, who's gotten tired enough to sit down, cross legged next to her on a pile of old rope. “Hey, we’re friends, right?” she whispers just loud enough for him to hear.

Zack grins back and whispers, “Oh, hell yeah.”

Pidge snorts. “What would your parents say if they knew you were already swearing like a sailor?”

Zack shrugs. “Who cares? Wanna bet on how long it’ll take for Lance to get back?”

Pidge looks down at him like a wise old grandma. Her expression is fond. “You’re too young to be making bets,” she says.

That earns her a dubious frown from the cabin boy. Pidge hesitates.

She can’t resist.

“...All right, swabbie,” she mutters. “How much we talkin’?”

“Three silver pieces,” Zack says in hushed tones, looking both ways to make sure they’re not being overheard. It’s almost adorable. What a kid. “I’ve been saving up!”

“You’re on, kiddo.”

They shake on it.

“One more thing,” Pidge says, an air of nonchalance in her voice to mask the deep desire she holds to win her bet with Hunk. “What do you know about that pirate? Keith Kogane?”

Zack grins.

 

0{}=========>

 

 

Allura is already there when Lance arrives at the docks. No one approached him on his way here.

No guards. No random passersby out for a nightly stroll. Mister Turner appears to have gone home for the night, too.

Compared to the heat of the day, the night air is chilly and almost too cold. Lance shivers even with his coat.

Without a word, Lance descends the steps to the one dock that juts out a little farther than the rest, where the sailboat without a name sits moored and waiting. Allura stands ahead, statue still.

With just a shred of tension, he catches sight of not one but two swords hanging from Allura’s belt. Her hair is down but for the frontmost locks, which are pulled back loosely to keep away from her face - her face, which is quite hard to read. She’s wearing a coat, leather and sturdy. Instead of a dress, she sports a pair of leggings, a tunic, and dirty boots. Like she’s about to set sail herself.

Not even the heavy, salty breeze from the water is enough to calm Lance’s nerves.

He pauses.

Lance stops in place halfway down the dock, just a couple meters away from the boat and from the Queen. She’s already spotted him.

“I’m glad you came,” she says.

Her voice isn’t loud, but it still manages to pierce through the eerie quiet of the docks like a rapier.

Lance doesn’t give her the courtesy of showing any emotion at all. He just stands and stares, his mouth pulled straight, a dull line that hides how much it wants to contort with pain and anger, to let loose however many words it takes to make Allura leave. “I got your message from Coran,” he says instead.

Allura nods like she understands. “I hope you’ve taken some time to mull things over, then?”

“Oh, I have,” he voices the words like a threat. “And I think you’re even crueler than I thought before. What- What the hell, Allura?”

Blinking in surprise, Allura replies, “I’m... not entirely sure we’re on the same page.”

“First you kill him,” Lance says, voice cracking even as the wind that blows across the docks muffles his voice. “And then you try to win me back with some garbage lie that’s supposed to, what, make me believe that wasn’t Keith I saw on the hanging block?” He wishes his voice would stop cracking like it is. “What did you think I would do? Huh?” He forces his feet to move, to approach her. He has to deal with this like a man and the captain of a ship. Not like the kid that everyone sees when they first meet him. Or most of the time, actually. “There was no point in murdering him and you wouldn’t listen to me. Y-You didn’t listen.” The last sentence nearly chokes him. He stops. He’s almost a third of the way down the dock but he’s afraid to go any further. Because once he leaves, he’s not coming back.

“Oh dear…” Allura’s shoulders sag, pursing her lips as she bows her head in the quiet. She sighs. “I was hoping this would go a little better…”

No, Lance thinks furiously, she has no right to think I would still treat her like a Queen, not if she hasn’t given me a reason to see her as one.

“I’m not gonna play your games,” he says loud and clear. “You’re no Queen of mine.”

Allura’s head snaps up. A small sound like a gasp leaves her and she looks almost angry. “Lance, you must understand-”

“No, I don’t have to do anything you say,” Lance snaps right back, almost afraid of how poisonous he sounds as he takes another step closer. “Either get out of my way, or hand me one of those swords and duel me. Right here. Right now.”

“You don’t want to do this,” Allura whispers, shaking her head. “Just give me a chance to explain.”

“You had your chance when I came to you after you arrested him. After I begged you to release him and put me on trial instead. But you didn’t.” Another step closer, and his eyes are on the swords at her belt. In an uncharacteristic wave of sheer impulsiveness, Lance feels the desire to fight someone. If it’s gonna be Allura, he thinks, there could be no better person he’d like to fight against.

He holds out his hand. An invitation. “Either hand me a sword, or step aside.”

“If you’d just-”

“Listen to her, Lance.”

He stops.

All the air in his lungs rushes out of him. Lance can feel the ice in his veins flame up, melting on the spot. It’s not possible.

He looks up. 

Hearing that voice again leaves him paralyzed, but not in a good way or a bad way. Just paralyzed, unsure of what he's seeing.

It’s only then that he sees a figure appear at the prow of the boat, just a dark shape at first, giving enough movement to shift the shadows. They’re wearing a cloak, clasped at the throat with the hood drawn up to cast an overbearing shadow that hides their face from view.

At first, Lance thinks it might be the white-haired stranger from the courtyard earlier today. But then the person lowers their hood, and it’s all Lance can do to keep his knees from buckling.

Because... there’s nothing quite like watching a man rise from the dead, is there?

That would be an Understatement.

Floored, now there’s a good word. He's barely breathing, actually. Barely thinking, either, he can't think, all Lance can do is look. His coat is too warm, too much. His ears ring, high-pitched and deafening. Is he still asleep? He must be, because this is either a dream, or one hell of a brutal nightmare.

It’s Keith looking back at him from the prow, eyes dark and flinty and huge.

It may be night but the sky is clear, the waxing moon almost full, and the light of it paints Keith’s features in a ghostly haze; with the dark cloak spilling over his shoulders, he looks like a phantom come back to haunt these docks.

He’s just... standing there.

He’s waiting for Lance to say something.

Lance can’t think, let alone speak. The ringing in his ears stops.

Don’t worry, Keith said.

But… But Lance saw him. He saw him. He saw it happen. Keith was there and then he was gone.

And he'd said not to worry. Or at least that’s what Lance heard before the rope was pulled.

Is this what he meant?

“I don’t… y-you’re not...?” Lance breathes. Unsteady, he takes one step after another, picking up the pace until he’s closing the distance between himself and the boat. Keith.

He’s alive. He’s here.

Keith is alive.

And Lance is angry.

 

0{}=========>

 

Lance walks fast.

His eyes never leave Keith’s, not even for a second. He doesn’t watch where he places his feet but it seems like he doesn’t need to.

Keith watches with his heart beating somewhere up in his throat. Maybe he should have come out sooner. He gives it a second before he carefully steps down from the boat and onto the dock, readying himself for the worst. Lance looks like he’s ready to punch him in the face. Stab Keith with his own knife, maybe.

Whichever it is, he looks too angered for words.

Lance passes Allura like she’s not even there and stops abruptly right at the end of the dock, barely two feet from where Keith stands close to the edge, heart still pounding.

Lance clearly recognizes the weight of their situation.

But Lance couldn’t have known why Keith did what he did. And Keith shouldn’t have expected him to. So he swallows his pride and opens his mouth to apologize. That’s what you’re supposed to do in this kind of situation, right?

Hey, sorry I faked my own death in front of you without telling you first. No hard feelings?

When he starts, Lance holds up a hand to stop him. “First tell me why,” he says. Keith wonders if he’s reading his mind or something.

He’s quiet, the words only meant for him and Keith. Allura remains a respectful distance away, halfway across the dock with just the slightest waver in her step. She looks a little shaken. Keith can’t blame her.

Without rhyme or reason his throat feels bone dry. When he racks his brain for the right words, he comes up empty. This part of the plan is proving the hardest yet. And he had to fake his own death just to get here tonight.

“I didn’t want to do it,” he says, looking meekly back at Lance with silently pleading eyes. When Lance doesn’t say anything, he takes it as an opening to keep going. “But this was the only way to keep the Galra from following us.”

“What are you talking about?” Lance asks. There’s a bite to his voice and Keith actually flinches at the sound. “Follow us where?”

“To the Fountain of Youth,” Allura takes the opportunity to interrupt the reunion, suddenly standing a couple feet from them both.

Lance rounds on her. “I didn’t ask you,” he spits.

Allura glares daggers at him, but she lets it slide. Lance is probably thinking about fifty different thoughts right now, and the fact that he hasn’t physically lashed out is saying a lot. Anyone else in Lance’s place would be behaving much worse.

Keith knows he would probably be about ten times worse if he was ever thrown into this kind of situation. Lance zeroes in again on Keith.

Keith swallows, trying not to look like a frightened deer.

“We had to get Keith away without anyone suspecting he was still alive. So we improvised,” Allura explains. “If we’re going to take down Zarkon, we have to start somewhere.”

Lance ignores her. Keith doesn’t even think Lance heard half the words she just said.

“Answer me this, then,” Lance says. To Keith, not to Allura. “How are you even here?”

The words are aimed to hurt, but Keith hardly feels them. All he feels are Lance’s eyes scanning him up and down, like they’re searching for a tell. Something that might prove this isn’t Keith, but a doppelgänger sent to replace Keith.

“It wasn’t easy,” Keith answers with the most even tone he can force when his throat is drier than the Marmoran desert. “But it was worth the risk.”

The look on Lance’s face softens - Keith files that away as a small success.

“And it’s not over yet,” Allura adds, sounding a tad urgent. Keith knows they have to get going soon. Meanwhile, Allura hardly seems to care when Lance throws her his most venomous look. It’s really not all that threatening, Keith thinks to himself. Just angry.

Allura's hand comes between them, hovering in the air with an object grasped in it. Keith already knows what it is. Lance, however, appears to need a little more time to figure it out.

His face goes through a few different expressions, examining the object in Allura’s hand, the cylindrical shape and the leather casing.

Of course he’d recognize it, there’s no mistaking it. His eyes widen when they fall on Allura, who smirks back. Finally, some progress.

“You have the map,” he says lamely.

“Yes,” Allura replies, stern, “and if we don’t set a course for your ship by some time within the next few hours, my guards are going to find us all. And this time there will be no getting Keith out of this one.”

That sobers them all up very quickly, especially Keith, who hadn’t exactly loved the idea of an execution the first time around.

Allura puts a hand lightly on Lance’s shoulder. "It had to be done, Lance."

“You could have told me what you were doing,” he hisses, quickly stepping backwards and away from the touch. Allura’s fingers curl around air. “There must have been a better way.”

A wave of yet more hurt punches through Keith's chest. “I told you not to worry,” he says, a little wounded, wondering if there really had been more he could’ve done. “It’s not like I could’ve just walked out of prison to tell you what the hell we were going to do.”

“Still,” Lance breathes, running his hands wildly through his hair like he’s going crazy. Maybe truly he believes he is. Keith just finds it sad. “Allura could have said something. Or gotten Coran to say something. You could have said something.”

“I did,” Allura snaps.

“No way,” Lance says right back, “sending Coran to tell me Keith was alive was too little, too late, your highness.”

Allura bites her lip like she’s trying not to snarl back. “And would you have agreed to the plan?” she asks curiously, glancing between Lance and Keith, who stand close to each other and yet, won’t look each other in the eye. “Even if it was a risk?”

“Of course I would have, what kind of a question is that?”

Allura doesn’t look like she knows how to answer that.

Keith decides it’s his turn to step in again.

“Look…” he says. He cants his head until he can catch Lance’s eye. Blue meets darker blue, almost indigo, and Lance’s eyes are wet. Keith hadn’t been expecting that. “It was either this, or let me go free after the trial. And then what?” When Lance tries to look away Keith follows those eyes, soft, until they lock again. “We would’ve been followed. Word would spread. We’d be caught before we even reached the Blue Lion.”

“And the... the..." he gestures at Keith, just a vague sweep of his hand. "You know?”

It’s ten questions wrapped into one. The execution. The How, the Why, the When. How did you do it? When did you plan this? Why would you ever think this was a good idea?

“It was Allura’s idea,” Keith says quickly, waving his hands in front of him as he explains in a rush, “I wore a harness under my shirt. It hooked to the rope and took most of the fall for me. The bit around my neck was just for show.”

Lance stares. “A harness?”

Keith nods vigorously. “Just some leather straps and extra rope, nothing fancy. Strapped it around my waist and chest and hoped for the best.”

“...That uh, sounds like it hurt.”

Keith watches his face. Looking for any sign that Lance might actually forgive him. But perhaps it's too early to hope for that.

Keith laughs softly, nodding. “Like a bitch. But one hundred percent worth it.” He reaches for the hem of his shirt and lifts it a little, just above his lowest rib. The look on Lance’s face turns horrified, and it stirs something in Keith. Because as hurt as he must be, Lance still cares.

He has to look carefully, because it’s dark and none of them have brought a torch or anything to see by, but there’s no mistaking the marks on his skin. A thick line of purplish red wraps around his middle, and Lance can only assume there’s one or two more where that came from, hidden higher beneath the shirt. Lance can’t seem to look away.  

“It was a little last minute,” Keith murmurs sheepishly, feeling the eyes on him. “We had to make do.”

Lance nods, raising a hand of his own. “Does it still...?” Hurt , he must mean.

Keith shakes his head No.

“Can I…?”

Keith understands, silently gives him permission to touch. Lance reaches out a hand, his jaw visibly tight.

A warm hand comes to rest over his lower ribs, pressing a little. Keith holds back a wince. He’d been lying a little when he said it didn’t hurt anymore. For a beat, both of them are silent. It's strangely intimate, but no one cares to comment on it.

Then a cloud moves out of the moon’s way and suddenly there’s more light, and now that they see each other clearly, there’s no denying that this is real.

Keith finds himself nervous, all of a sudden. Lance looks back at him, but the look on his face isn’t the sort he was expecting.

It’s the same look in his eye that Lance had had just before he’d turned the steering wheel and flung the boom into Keith’s chest. Same evil glint. Same crooked grin.

“If you’re really fine, then you must be okay enough to swim, right?”

Keith doesn’t catch the meaning before it’s too late.

The hand that had been pressing so gently is now pushing .

Keith yelps, but the damage is done.

He falls backwards into the water, with Lance McClain’s trademark smirk burned into his retinas before cold water and the sight of Lance’s grin engulf him.

 

0{}=========>

 

He’s dripping wet and a little pissed by the time he's back on solid ground, but he’d like to think he’s succeeded in getting at least a small part of the old Lance back. Keith offers half a grin, lip pulling up awkwardly on one side, and he rubs the back of his neck. Which is weird, because Lance normally does that when he's feeling sheepish. Not that Keith would know.

“I um, guess I deserved that,” he says, shaking his head like a wet dog. He’s cold from the water and his teeth chatter, but he couldn’t care less, because Lance seems to be feeling better. Marginally. It’s something, at least.

He’s discarded the cloak, tossed back onto the boat somewhere, so Keith doesn’t have much to keep him warm.

Allura only just stopped snorting a minute ago. At least she'd found something to laugh about. Keith wishes his emotions could rebound that easily.

And that was five minutes after Keith actually managed to drag himself back out of the water, landing in a soggy heap back onto the dock. Luckily, he’d been a better swimmer than Lance might’ve expected. Hey, not his problem.

“You guess?”  Lance balks, eyes fluttering rapidly. "Um, I'd say you deserved one hell of a lot worse, princess." Well, at least they’re back to the insults again. Lance is laying them on hard, but Keith can give as good as he gets. With emotions high and the events of the last twenty four hours fresh in their minds, voices have begun to raise a little.

“I’m just saying, maybe go easy on the guy who made sure we wouldn’t be tailed by Galra on the way to actually undermine their entire empire. Now you’re just acting like an asshole.”

Lance's mouth hangs, opening and closing without sound, reminding Keith of a fish out of water. When he collects himself, he looks at Keith with a fresh spark of pure fire, snapping, “Well at least I didn’t FAKE MY OWN DEATH , you fucking-mrmphhrmm!!”

Allura’s hand slaps over Lance’s mouth before he can finish. It's a wonder how she got behind him so quickly without his noticing. “Shut. Up.” she growls in his ear. “Do you want my guards to find us down here?”

He must be fighting the urge to lick her hand like a two-year-old, but Lance sullenly shakes his head No.

“Good. Now get on the damned boat or so help me I will hang you both.”

Ouch. Fucking hell, Keith thinks, maybe that was too soon.

"Come on, we should have left ages ago."

"We?"  Lance stutters, turning to Allura in bewilderment. "You're coming?"

"Of course." Allura holds up the map in her hand, as if that answers all his questions. "Let's move this along, shall we?"

Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard to argue with Allura DelaRoi when she’s got two swords at her hip and a glare deadlier than a viper’s bite. Lance grouses to himself, but he shuts up.

He's relieved, obviously.

Angry as all hell, though. Keith sees it in the way Lance's jaw still works itself and his brow keeps scrunching and unscrunching like it does when he’s deep in thought. He sees it in the way Lance pulls a tight face for Keith but looks at Allura like he's trying to murder her with his eyes.

He's still in shock. Keith knows the feeling.

Well, not exactly this kind of feeling. He's never known anyone who faked their own death.

But Lance- Lance had watched . All of it. He'd seen the whole thing and he most certainly would've thought it to be real.

Christ, Keith would be angry, too.

He's putting on a good show, but he's still furious. With Allura, he's sure, but there's no doubt how hurt Lance must feel because of Keith, too.

 

All of them board the sailboat one by one.

There are no more words for the moment. Just silent cooperation, like they’re all following some unspoken command.

Lance is the first to make a beeline for the cabin, and once he’s in, he slams the door shut behind him.

 

The message is clear: If anyone bothers him, that person loses a hand.

 

0{}=========>

 

 

Morning comes.

Clearly, Lance is better at giving the silent treatment than Keith thought.

He doesn’t speak to either him or Allura for the entire first day of their trip back to Arus. Instead, he stays cooped up in the cabin, and only comes out once to say something to Allura, who pulls a grim face once he stalks away. The cabin door slams shut again.

Keith hurts more than ever.

He offers to take the first shift at the wheel but Allura, who still isn’t entirely comfortable around him (surprise, he’s still a pirate), seems to be making an effort. She even offers Keith her own coat when she notices how much he’s been shivering lately.

Grateful, he accepts the offering without a word and throws it over his shoulders.

Allura had been thinking ahead, because she has a compass of her own with her. Every few hours, she either tells Keith that they’re on course, or suggests an adjustment. Keith complies without argument.

It’s an odd situation, to say the least. But Keith’s experienced weirder. Surprisingly, sailing on a sailboat with the Queen of Altea giving him directions isn’t the weirdest thing he’s ever experienced to date.

 

It’s growing dark out again and Lance still hasn’t come out of the cabin. Keith aches for sleep.

 

“You think he’ll come out soon?” he wonders aloud, not expecting Allura to answer.

“I’m not sure,” she says quietly from her perch at the prow. She’s tied her hair back in a bun, with the wind picking up the further out to sea they get. “But you seem to know him well enough to figure that out for yourself.”

A sigh, and then Keith adjusts the wheel again. He’s too drained to think about it. “Maybe later,” he murmurs to himself. It’s more hopeful than anything. He knows that Lance would never throw away the opportunity to sail, especially after being stuck on Altea for nearly two days.

But he doesn’t come out. Not for the entire night.

When dawn is still a few hours away, Allura offers to take the wheel.

Keith protests, at first.

Rolling her eyes, Allura scoffs, “Oh please, you think the Queen of an island nation never learned to sail?”

...Fair point. Keith respectfully hands control of the wheel over to her. She takes it without a thank you.

"My father used to sail to foreign lands for diplomatic reasons all the time. He thought it only right that I learn early. I was eight when I started getting lessons." She shrugs, and her voice grows quiet, perhaps talking to herself. "I must admit I enjoy being on the water," she sighs.

Keith listens quietly, wondering just how much the Queen is capable of. She'd proven her skill with a sword back on Altea, and her ingenuity for last-minute escape plans is admirable. Keith respects her. And fears her. Mostly fears her.

For a minute, he watches her at the wheel and silently wonders when Lance will be standing there again.

All Keith can do now is find a place on the deck to curl up, the coat still wrapped around his shoulders, and fall asleep. He doesn’t sleep well.

 

 

0{}=========>

 

Lance can only sleep so much before he decides it’s time to face the music.

 

When he opens his eyes for the fifth (maybe sixth?) time since trying to get some rest in the cramped single bunk of the cabin, light finally shines in through the porthole.

Morning. Time to talk.

He takes his good old time stretching first, though. Then takes his time getting dressed. Then takes his time eating the rubbish rations they’d packed and-

Oh, fuck it, he’s going up.

 

When he opens the cabin door, two pairs of eyes turn to look at him. Suddenly there’s pressure. Pressure to do what, he’s not sure.

The tension is thick in the air. Lance can feel it buzzing in his veins and turning his fingertips numb. Maybe he should just turn around and-

No. He needs to get his act together.

“Okay,” he says, then clears his throat loudly because damn he sounds like a frog with a human’s voice. Sleep does not sound good on him. “Okay, let’s talk.”

Allura nods, pushing away a loose strand of hair. She stands by the rail facing the water, but she twists her head over her shoulder when Lance arrives.

Keith just frowns, both hands on the wheel. “Talk about…?” he asks. As usual, he looks utterly exhausted.

“The map? The plan?” Lance says like it’s obvious. Because, um, should it not be? “We need to figure out what we’re doing when we get back to my ship. Allura, are you sure you really wanna do this?”

“Go along with you numbskulls, you mean?” she says. Her eyebrows raise. There are crinkles around her eyes, which means she wants to smile but she’s holding back. “Obviously. I’m going to help destroy Zarkon’s empire if it’s the last thing I do.”

“Okay… so that settles that,” Lance says. “So there’s just the question of the map, then.” Allura nods and pats the leather cylinder hanging from a clasp at her belt. “You said it before, but I wasn’t really uh..”

“Listening?” Allura gladly fills in for him. Lance nods. “Right. Well, if the legends are correct, this map should lead us straight to the Fountain of Youth.”

“You’re… you’re joking.”

Keith interrupts them both, keeping a hand on the wheel while the other plants itself on his hip as he turns around, looking at Lance with a self-assured cock of his eyebrow. “Not even a little.”

Lance shakes his head like he’s got water in his ears, eyes darting from Keith to Allura and back. They can’t be serious.

It’s one thing to go through the ordeal of watching someone you know - and possibly care about a tiny bit - kinda sorta die in front of you.

It’s another thing altogether to have someone tell you that an age old sailor’s tale is the real deal. Like, 'Davy Jones is a real person' real deal. Lance has been made a fool of plenty of times in the past. He’s not sure he’s in the mood for that to happen again.

“The Fountain of Youth,” he murmurs, pinching the bridge of his nose with two fingers. “Seriously? Seriously, this is a thing now? What does the Fountain of Youth have to do with Zarkon?”

“Everything,” Keith answers. Lance thinks he might be joking, but there’s no mistaking the look in his eye. He’s dead serious.

Lance eyes him warily, scanning Keith’s face. Absolutely no way he’s joking. Lance, too confounded to answer, forces the cogs in his brain to turn a little faster, tries to make his brain work a little harder. Now that he thinks about it, maybe it does make sense.

It’s absolutely insane, of course, but if the legends are true… it makes so much sense it’s stupid.

Allura brings Lance out of his dazed discovery, talking slowly for Lance's sake. Perhaps she’s finally picked up on just how overwhelmed he is with all of this.

“The Fountain is known for its life-giving properties,” she starts, fiddling idly with the cylinder now in her hands. “My assumption is that Zarkon was in possession of two chalices - both are meant to be filled at the Fountain, but one draws the life force from the drinker, while the other gifts its drinker with that new life. It’s not quite immortality, but it certainly seems to have helped Zarkon through his reign, without aging a day over fifty.”

Keith looks solemn, turning his head back to face the prow of the boat. Lance looks on, listening to Allura as though he’s waiting for her to tell him it’s all fake. It’s all a joke! Funny, right? Don’t worry, Zarkon isn’t using magic to make himself live forever. Just an old dude with really good physicians.

Lance waits.

The punch line never comes.

“So - So why do we need to find the Fountain, then?” Lance asks. “We have the map. Isn’t that the only way for people to reach it?”

“Perhaps, but it’s always possible that there are other maps,” Allura says darkly. “The water from the Fountain has been called many things. Liquid Life. A cure all for ills. For years, my father and his scholars were trying to figure out what Zarkon meant when he raved about the substance that could cure all illnesses and make someone resistant to aging. Immortal.” She shuts her eyes as though imagining it. Her hands go still around the map, one hand on the lid.

Lance’s eyes flick down to it as well, but he can’t take it back. He’d given the map to her for a reason. That reason still stands.

“Zarkon called the Fountain’s life force Quintessence. If we destroy the Fountain, the Quintessence loses its power. I’ve been doing some digging, and I had my best scholars give it a go as well. We all reached the same conclusion.” Her expression turns dangerous, something sharp and prepared. “As valuable as this artifact must be, the Fountain must be destroyed.”

She opens the lid and tilts the leather case, and out falls a roll of vellum so old it's darkened to yellow. The map.

They're really doing this, aren't they?

"No turning back."

 

0{}=========>

 

"But Kogane is alive, correct?"

"Alive and well, as I suspected."

"If he has the map, he will look for the Fountain."

The water in the scrying bowl ripples a bit as the prince sets it down on the bed, before he leans over it to speak again.

“Yes, and he's taking McClain with him. Allura DelaRoi as well."

The water ripples again with the deep, insincere laughter that rumbles from the Emperor's throat. "That shouldn't be an issue for you, I'm sure. Kill them all. Then bring me back the map. Do what you will with Kogane, it matters not to me."

Lotor inclines his head in humble agreement. "My crew and I are ready to follow them to their ship, and then to wherever the map takes us.”

“We will not be far behind,” Zarkon answers, calm as always. “You are sure it is the right map?”

“Of course.”

“Good. I would hate for you to disappoint me.”

“I am loyal only to you, father.”

The image in the scrying bowl cuts out. Lotor allows his lips to curl in a smug, pale grin. “Loyal until death,” he says. Two silver chalices rest on the bedside table of his quarters on board the Silver Rogue, shining as if they've just been polished. The prince knows better. The chalices are ancient, barely touched.

And they're going to help him take his rightful place on the throne.

His generals are ready on deck. They will not fail in their mission.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

He’s glad to be back at the wheel. Lance rolls his shoulders, breathing in some of that good, salty air, and he’s happy that at least some times things don’t have to be all that complicated. There’s nothing complicated about a captain sailing a ship. Or a sailboat.

Allura went to bed hours ago, muttering something about “subpar accommodations” and what Lance could only decipher as “more tension than a bloody bowstring,” whatever that meant. But she’s down in the single cabin now, which just leaves Lance and Keith. Alone. On deck.

At the very least, Lance is somewhere he’s always been comfortable: behind the wheel of a boat.

It’s their second day, late in the afternoon but the sun isn’t going anywhere just yet. While Lance revels in the familiarity that comes with being back on the water, Keith hangs out at the prow, nothing to do but watch the horizon as the sun beats down on both of them.

 

Keith knows he should say something.

Lance doesn’t look anything like he did earlier, looking refreshed from a full night’s sleep and then some. He looks good. Too damn good, Keith thinks, watching as the hair that just barely curls below Lance’s earlobes flies carefree in the sharp breeze, his eyes intent on getting the boat to its final destination. He looks like a captain. Has he always looked like this?

Keith is beginning to wonder if he’s been missing something.

He.... should really say something.

Keith steps away from the prow, taking his time as he crosses the deck, unhurried, happy for the warmth. He gave Allura her coat back earlier since he hadn’t needed it anymore. It’s really not that bad out, with the heat of the sun mixed with the cool air that comes with open water and lots of wind. His red shirt and open vest are perfect.

He’d pulled his hair back again, with the wind picking up and continuously whipping bits of it into his mouth. Lance had laughed every time it happened, because for some reason he’d started watching for it after the first time he caught Keith spluttering and spitting out strands of hair. Then Lance laughed the second and third time and it got on Keith’s nerves so much that he finally gave in and tied it up. Ponytail it is.

Of course, Lance never would have known that Keith would tie his hair up. Trick Keith into putting his hair in a ponytail, just to show off that long neck and pretty collarbone?

Lance would never.

But even as Keith approaches the wheel, it’s Lance who speaks up first.

Blurts the words out, more like.

“Everything’s a mess,” he says. He has that sheepish look on his face, hesitant and so strange on him.

Lance doesn't need to explain what he means. Keith knows. He might as well just go with it. “Yeah, it really is.”

“I just… it’s a lot,” Lance’s voice gets quieter. His hands are steady at the wheel but his voice isn’t quite as much. “Even for me - and like, I know I’m pretty amazing or whatever -" Keith snorts softly at that but listens, "this has all been a little… much. A lot." Keith can see his adam's apple moving as he swallows, maybe from nerves and maybe it's just because his throat is all dry from the wind despite the ocean spray. "It’s been a lot.”

“No argument there.”

Lance exhales, chest falling as he looks out over the seemingly endless expanse of smaller waves and green-tinged water that would be much clearer if it wasn’t so deep. “What am I gonna tell them?” he wonders aloud, anxious sounding. “My crew probably thinks I’ve actually gone insane.”

“Probably because you have,” Keith remarks, smirking when Lance shoots him an offended look.

“Okay, rude.”

Laughing, Keith answers, “Hey, I’m just being honest.”

“Says the guy who faked his own death.”

“Well yeah but it’s not like I did that just for the hell of it.” He doesn’t notice that with every other word he gets closer and closer to the wheel, drawn in by the argument and held there by sharp blue eyes that just can’t seem to let him go.

“You just live for drama, don’t you?”

Keith throws his hands up in the air, completely mystified. “Wh-what?! You are the most dramatic person I’ve ever met in my life!”

“At least I don’t act all dark and broody about it," Lance retorts, snickering, setting Keith's cheeks on fire. "You always look like you’re about ready to kill someone, my friend. Try a smile some time, yeah?”

“Well now that you mention it, maybe I am about ready to kill someone.”

Lance “Oooooh”s, waggling his eyebrows. He clicks his tongue, admonishing. “What would Allura say?”

“I’m sure Allura wouldn’t mind.”

“Since when’re you all chummy with her anyway?”

“Since she risked her ass to get me off Altea with the map - without raising suspicion," Keith fires back with the ease that comes with waiting for everything to bubble up to the surface after too much has happened. "Which is exactly what you would’ve done if we’d told you anything.”

“That’s not true.” From the look on Lance’s face, though, Keith knows it’s probably true.

“Sure, Lance.”

“That’s captain to you,” Lance says haughtily, throwing his chin up in such a heavy display of perfectly drawn out disdain that it’s clear he’s just doing it to be dramatic - ergo, perfectly proving Keith’s point.

“Well, I apologize, captain Ass McClain.”

Lance huffs, pouting. “Jerk,” he says. A pretty weak insult by his standards. Or anyone's.

Keith smirks. “You started it.”

“Did not…”

They keep it up, throwing jabs at each other from either side of the wheel, with Lance looking at his compass out of habit even though they’ve been well on course this entire time, and soon the argument turns even less serious, less insulting, instead moving on to other things.

Neither of them knows when the argument stops being an argument, but suddenly it’s like they’ve entered the eye of the storm and everything is just… calm. Evened out.

Friendly. But a subtle enough switch that even if they do notice, they don't point it out.

They don’t notice at all until suddenly they’ve gone from disagreeing on the best coastal towns to visit, to swapping their favorite brush-with-death stories that they still look back on way too fondly. And then, in a moment that Keith isn’t quite sure is real, Lance starts talking about his family.

It just sort of pops up as he talks, the words loose and he doesn’t really sound like he even realizes he’s doing it. Just something to talk about.

But oh, Keith could listen to Lance talk about his family all day. The way his eyes just… light up. Really light up. Lance has always been a bright presence, but it’s nothing compared to seeing him like this, so content as he reminisces.

Lance has been talking about his family for about half an hour now, and Keith lets him. Happily. Because he’ll be damned if he dares interrupt Lance’s story about teaching his youngest nephew how to swim. He’ll be damned.

 

0{}=========>

 

Lance has never talked to anyone other than Hunk about his family. Why Keith would be an exception to that rule, Lance doesn’t know.

Scratch that, he knows, he just prefers not to think about it. Because acknowledging it would be disastrous at best. He’s in love with the guy. He already admitted it to himself when he was so sure that Keith was dead.

And Keith?

Keith - Well, Keith doesn’t seem like the type to ever fall in love with anything other than his ship. For years he’s been sailing under Zarkon, because that was his only way of surviving when things got rough. Now that he’s backed out, he has nowhere but to go, except to disappear. They find the Fountain, and then, what?

Keith will leave.

Maybe Zarkon will be dead once the Fountain of Youth is destroyed, but that won’t suddenly erase everything Keith has ever done as captain Keith Kogane, infamous pirate captain of the Red Sword. People around these parts will recognize him. Someone will figure it out, and then he’ll be right back to square one. Surviving on his own.

Would he want to stick around? With Lance?

Of course not. Why would he? Keith Kogane is the type to do things alone, and right now, he’s just here because he and Lance have a common goal: making sure the Galra Empire falls. Saving Altea. Simple as that.

But ‘Simple’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘Not Painful.’

The best thing he can do, Lance thinks, is to not think about it. About how Keith risked his life in the middle of a storm just to come and see him; how he nearly died back there with a rope around his neck and how afraid he looked upon seeing Lance at the docks afterwards; how he really likes watching Keith loosen that ponytail of his to let his hair cascade down and brush over his shoulders; how his heart flutters and chest tightens when, on the rare occasion, Keith actually laughs at something Lance says; how Lance would literally pay all the gold in the world just to watch Keith swing a sword again, because fuck if he hadn’t been incredible during his duel with Allura.

And it’s better to just not think about how goddamn relieved he’d been when Keith stepped onto the docks, alive. Not just because Lance had suddenly started considering Keith an actual friend, but because… because there are things floating around in his head that are better left unspoken. Things are already complicated enough.

Like he said, it’s a mess.

So he just keeps talking. Better to push all that other complicated shit to the side for now because he’ll deal with it another day. Which is what he's been telling himself every day.

 

0{}=========>

 

 

“I wanna sail to Cuba one of these days.”

“Cuba?” Keith’s curiosity is piqued. Because, well, why Cuba of all places?

That’s a long journey, even for a seasoned sailor like Lance.

“My grandparents are from there,” Lance says, answering Keith’s unvoiced questions. He sighs and looks down at his hands, at the wheel, pretty much anywhere but Keith’s face. “I just always thought it’d be something for me to think about. In case this whole working for royalty thing didn’t pan out.”

Keith’s brow pinches. “In case this whole- Wait, weren’t you like... up for a knighthood? Or something?”

Lance snorts. “Or something,” he says. “It’s not really like I’ve been prime material for that sort of thing recently… invading the DelaRoi château, and all that.” The words fall off his tongue in a lilting accent, château and DelaRoi. French. Keith wonders if Lance speaks it, but he’ll ask another time. Lance shrugs. “The future’s a little scrambled now with all… this going on.” All this. Right.

Keith understands that sentiment all too well.

“Can we uh, maybe talk about something else?” Lance asks, making Keith more surprised still. The question is wary, almost like Lance was reconsidering asking halfway through. It’s on the table now, though, and Keith knows the only way he can stay on Lance’s better side is by respecting his wishes. Even if those wishes are to blatantly change the subject and ignore the glaringly obvious issue he still has with all of this. With Allura. With Keith.

“Okay,” Keith complies. He tries to sound like nothing is bothering him. Even though just about everything is. “What did you want to talk about?”

“I don’t know… I guess anything? I just-” he shakes his head and for a moment Keith can see just how confused and out of it Lance is feeling. Considering he spent at least eight hours if not more down in the cabin, he still looks pretty beat. Keith can’t help but wonder if Lance actually slept well, or if he was as restless as Keith had been when trying to get some shut-eye. “I just miss them.” His family, he means. “Right now they’re one of the only things I can actually think about without feeling sick to my stomach.”

Keith nods. “...Okay.”

There’s an openness, a lull in the air that isn’t exactly uncomfortable. Lance knows enough from Keith that it’s his cue to go ahead. To talk.

“My ma used to sing to me,” he murmurs, eyes cast down.

Keith’s eyebrows raise to his hairline. Well, that came out of nowhere. He eyes Lance, who still won’t look back at him, wondering what he's thinking about.

He’d never admit it out loud, but Keith’s gotten a little bit fond of how Lance looks when he’s deep in thought. It’s normally when he’s standing at the wheel - ridiculously pensive like some nautical philosopher, pondering the secrets of the universe while guiding a ship over the vastness of the open ocean. Or maybe just pondering what it might be like to see his family again.

To that, Keith can’t relate. He’d like to, though.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be a family, but having someone to go back to after all is said and done… it must be nice.

There’s Shiro, of course, and Keith could never just throw Shiro under the boat, because he’s been there for Keith for years now and those few years feel like forever. Shiro’s the only family Keith has. But… he just can’t help but wonder if there’s something more, something else worth fighting for. Worth surviving for. Keith looks at Lance and… he kind of wonders a lot of things, if he’s telling the truth.

Lance has gone on, though, talking more enthusiastically about his family. There’s no hint of a smile now, just the full thing, warming his face, almost blinding. Painfully beautiful. Keith wonders if Lance even knows what his smile alone does to him. Lance looks so open and fond and nostalgic, remembering happy times and people he loves, and Keith finds himself wanting Lance to look at him like that.

Now he’s quiet. It’s possible he forgot he was supposed to be the one talking.

“Your mother used to sing?” Keith encourages, pulling Lance back to reality, where the sky gets darker with every hour and the sun is currently hanging over the horizon like an orange hanging from a tree, dangling before it ripens and drops down. There’s enough space between it and the water that if Keith holds up his thumb, he can fit it between the sun and the line where sky meets ocean.

Lance hums, pulled back into a different memory right before Keith’s eyes. “All the time,” he murmurs, finally sparing a glance at him. His eyes don’t lose even a little bit of their shine, not for a second. “Before we went to bed, or before we went sailing, or sometimes during a really bad storm when we had nothing to do but sit inside with each other. Oh!" he laughs, "Every once in awhile the whole family would meet at our house for lunch, and my ma would somehow get everyone to sing with her.” He chuckles softly, the fondest look painting his face. “She’s pretty amazing. God I miss her sometimes.”

“Why don’t you… you know,” Keith hopes he’s not crossing into dangerous territory by asking, but he’s too curious now. And hey, Lance is technically the one who brought it up. “Why don’t you move back home, if you miss your family so much?”

Contrary to what Keith was expecting, Lance doesn’t look offended. If anything, he looks amused. Thoughtful, maybe, but he doesn't bristle like Keith thought he might.

“I could never live like that. For the rest of my life?” Lance laughs again, but it comes out sad. “Nah, not for me.”

Keith nods, agreeing. “I get that,” he says. He stares out over the water with a look far easier and warmer than Lance is used to seeing on him. “Spending the rest of my life stuck on solid ground? Think I’ll pass.”

Both of them hum in agreement, looking out over the water that passes around the little sailboat quickly, little flecks of foam flying up here and there. They’re making good time, better even than when they were sailing to Altea. Lance wonders how Hunk is doing, back on his ship with a crew that Lance left pretty much in the dark. Right now he’s beginning to realize that that might not have been the best idea. But Lance trusts Hunk. He’s sure the guy is just fine. Or at the very least, he’s keeping the crew stalled for the time being.

“I still think it’s ironic that a couple of old rivals like us are actually working together,” Lance snickers, giving Keith a friendly push on the shoulder.

Keith scoffs at that. He looks carefully, trying to get a better read on what Lance means by that. “Rivals?" he asks with a cock of his head. "We’re not rivals."

“Umm, hel-lo ?” Lance folds his arms stubbornly, the wheel forgotten and thankfully the wind isn’t as strong as it could be right now. “Are you kidding? Kogane and McClain? Fiercest rivals to ever sail the seven seas? Red against Blue?" He stares Keith dead in the eye and bats his eyelashes, like maybe Keith will suddenly spill the truth if he stares hard enough. When Keith doesn't say a word, Lance looks appalled. "We’ve been rivals for like, forever!” 

“That’s not how I saw it.”

“Well look again, then.”

“Lance, we’re on the same side. Now you’re just being, I don’t know, really, really stupid?”

“Whatever, princess.”

It’s so natural, the bickering. The admittedly pointless name-calling. When they realize what they’re doing, they go quiet at the same time.

Lance grins first. “...What, no answer?” he asks, hooded eyes and an all around smarmy expression fit for no one other than Lance.  

Keith shrugs, a flicker of a smile warming his face before he knows he’s doing it, but he forces the smile back down, rolling his eyes instead. “I mean, c’mon, the whole ‘princess’ thing? Even you’ve gotta admit that’s getting old.” He chuckles at the affronted look on Lance’s face. Always so dramatic. “Maybe you should think of some better insults.”

“What’ll you do if I don’t, princess?”

That’s when Keith really gets in his face, so close to Lance, standing on the other side of the wheel and it’s honestly the only thing separating them at this point.

“Try me.”

A new spark enters Lance’s eyes. Something dirtier. Definitely not what Keith was going for, but not something he’ll complain about. When Lance speaks again, blood rushes to Keith’s cheeks and… elsewhere.

“Ahhh okay, okay. Back to your feisty old self, huh?” he laughs, low and annoying and sultry as hell. “I see how it is. Do you know that you’re playing a very dangerous game, my friend?” Keith wishes Lance had picked a better time to be like this than late afternoon, on a small boat in the middle of the ocean, with the Queen of Altea in a cabin right below them. He wishes the circumstances were different, that he and Lance had a better history, but you know what, sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

That’s something Lance is known for. And… it irritates him to think about it, but maybe it wouldn’t hurt Keith to learn a thing or two from him.

“Maybe,” he answers, just as low, and much more gravelly - and very much on purpose. Because Lance is being like this on purpose. Why not Keith, too? This has always been their game, after all.

“What?” Lance murmurs. Their noses are so close that a gentle breeze could easily push them together. It takes everything within Keith to not just close that speck of distance himself. Lance seems to be considering the same thing, but he puts on a good show for Keith anyway. “Will my little ol’ rival slam me against a wall if I keep on hurting his wittle feelings? Because if so, I’m very much on board with the idea.”

Keith ignores the pun and grits back, "I swear to god I will slam you against a wall if you so much as say the word ‘Rival’ one more time."

"Ooohhh, is that a promise?" It’s not even smug anymore. Just painfully indecent, breathy and hot, closer to the Lance that Keith remembers on the day they dueled for two trunks of gold, and on the day Keith’s crew raided the Blue Lion and Lance thought he had Keith under his thumb. The cornering in the captain’s quarters, the hushed argument and Lance stealing Keith’s knife. The teasing, god, the teasing. It’s another thing Lance is so good at. And he’s doing it right now.

Their faces are just a breath away from each other.

Two pairs of eyes meet, both unsure but neither caring all that much. It’s late, and they’re tired, and hell if Keith doesn’t appreciate how Lance’s coat fits him really, really well around the shoulders.

“Wh-what?” Keith missed the last thing Lance asked him.

“I said, is that a promise?”

Keith catches Lance’s eyes as they flick from Keith’s gaze to his lips, just for a second, before returning. Keith thinks he might’ve done the same.

“How much do you trust a pirate’s promise?” Keith whispers. He swears he sees Lance give the tiniest shiver.

It’s Lance’s turn to look flustered. Keith can’t help but feel proud of that. Lance makes a quick save, however, clearing his throat as the pink in his cheeks starts to go back down. Could’ve just been the sun, and Keith would have been none the wiser. “Well I’m thinking your word is pretty good. We’re both still here, aren’t we? We have the map, and you’re alive.”

The easy admittance about Keith’s level of trustworthiness in Lance’ eyes speaks volumes. And Keith is taken aback by it.

He’ll take it, though.

“Good,” he breathes, eyes half-shut as he lets himself get caught up in the moment. “Then it’s a promise, you idiot.”

Lance leans forward first, yanking Keith by the collar before crashing their mouths together in the least graceful way possible, wheel and compass and everything else forgotten in the sheer force of the moment. Keith’s arms drop to his sides, before he decides, fuck it, and brings them back up, fisting into brown hair so roughly he thinks it might be painful, but he can’t be bothered to care. He just wants to kiss Lance already, fuck.

Lips meet each other harshly, enough that they both know there will be bruising within the hour. More teeth than anything; It’s desperate and not at all choreographed, nothing even close to coordinated, but they seek each other out like dying men pleading with the gods for an oasis.

When Lance breaks away just for a breath, cheeks now royally flushed, all he does is grin and say, “Damn, I should’ve mentioned the rivals thing a long time ago.”

“Don’t push your luck,” Keith hisses, before he pulls Lance back into it, feeling ten different emotions at once, mostly years of repressed anger and loneliness, and also relief that Lance doesn’t completely hate him for what he did. Long fingers card through his hair to tear his ponytail loose, and his breath catches, heart beating at about ten knots and getting faster with every breath, every press of their mouths and every wonderfully clumsy bump against each other’s noses.

Then there’s confusion - confusion because he doesn’t know what this is, what Lance is feeling or if he even feels the same way - if he’ll ever feel the way that Keith feels for him.

Shit, shit shit. They'd exchanged a couple sob stories and sailed to a couple places and risked their lives a couple times together and for what? They’ve gone from going at each other’s throats to going at each other’s mouths? What the hell? What are they doing?

This isn’t something that comes with the territory of just being ‘friends.’ And it far oversteps ‘rivals’ territory. That rivalry ended a long time ago.

But that doesn’t necessarily dictate that this has to mean anything. Lance McClain is kind of famous for breaking hearts, after all.

It’s that single thought that makes Keith stop the kiss, bringing a hand up between them to press against Lance’s chest, gently pushing them apart.

“I’m sorry…” He starts to apologize, but he’s interrupted instead.

“Any news of when we arrive at Arus? 

 

It’s Allura. She’s up. The cabin door is open and it looks like she's just woken up, stifling a yawn and blinking rapidly. 

Lance jerks backwards like he’s been burned, leaving Keith to exhale into empty air. Fuck… he really hopes that that isn’t disappointment he feels. If it is, it hurts worse than the bruises he still feels spanning his ribcage.

He can feel his cheeks heating up again.

Judging from the way Allura only raises an eyebrow like she’s expecting a simple answer, she hadn’t seen anything… incriminating.

Perhaps they’d been too rash. What they need is to get their act together.

“Yes, your highness,” he answers for Lance, clearing his throat and for what it’s worth, Lance doesn’t immediately strangle Allura like he clearly looks like he wants to do. Keith’s own voice is monotone, emotionless even though he's still a little out of breath. He can practically feel the confused, piercing stare from Lance but he doesn’t look around to confirm it. “By daybreak we should be able to see the bay.”

“Wonderful.” Allura looks from Keith to Lance, who probably doesn’t look very present, and she frowns, hesitant with the next question. “...Is there anything else I should be aware of?”

The pause that follows is like a knife twisting in Keith’s gut, telling him, No, whatever just happened , forget it. That is not something that can be repeated.

"Well?"

The second you find that fountain, he’ll leave you.

Keith can’t bear to have his heart broken again, not after everything he’s had to live through. He’s not dumb enough to get his hopes up.

“No, your highness,” he answers, “nothing else.”

 

0{}=========>

 

When Keith is left alone with Allura again, he takes the wheel without argument. Without a single word, actually. Allura gives him a concerned look but silently leaves him to it, heading over to the prow where Keith knows she’ll be keeping a careful lookout for Arus. Out of the three people on board, Allura's probably been the most level-headed this entire time, and taking into account how much she's done, it's an enviable show of mental strength. Keith would kill to have that kind of resigned stoicism.

 

Lance went to bed an hour ago. Hadn't said a word to Keith, hadn't blown up at him for, y'know, completely and utterly rejecting him (the second time he's done that, although Keith thinks that maybe Lance might not remember the first time) and then Lance was gone. The glimpse of his face that Keith did manage to catch was enough to make him feel more like an idiot than ever.

He rejected Lance McClain.

Twice.

Lance hadn't even slammed the door this time, going into the cabin and normally that'd be a good thing but... all it does is make Keith more worried.

Keith couldn’t find it in himself to even think about sleep, so here he is again, just him and his thoughts, and the water beneath the boat. He’d pushed Lance away by not acknowledging their moment, and in doing so probably ruined whatever chances he might’ve had at actually being happy. Even for a little while. Keith hasn't been truly happy in... more time than he can remember. 

But Lance - captain Lance bloody McClain… well, Keith knows the stories. Messing around with some lucky lady or gentleman one day, and the next, sailing off on a new adventure. Heartbreaker is practically Lance's middle name. Probably. 

Keith doesn’t want that.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want Lance.

He just doesn’t want the heartbreak that is, by all accounts, an inevitable part of it all. What he really wants is to know why the hell the universe likes to make things so goddamn complicated.

 

Chapter Text

 

Hunk doesn't want to leave Arus, but if Lance is in trouble...

Well, he guesses it's not the worst idea to sail in the direction of Altea. Does he listen to Pidge when she shares her fears about Lance being a prisoner there? And about about Keith being dead?

Yeah, of course he does.

He just pretends everything is fine, because maybe everything is. He's not giving up on his captain that easily, come on.

 

0{}=========>

 

Daybreak.

The air is cool but getting warmer, almost pleasant. It would be pleasant. If only...

 

Keith spots the ship first. Apparently, a sighting of the Blue Lion is the one and only thing that'll bring Lance back out of his hibernation from the cabin.

Lance climbs up to the deck with an expression that's rougher than brimstone. It softens when he catches sight of the ship a ways off in the distance. His ship. The look in Lance's eyes is everything, and Keith notices.

But then the three of them are hard at work again, all movement and no eye contact.

For the remainder of the trip, Keith and Lance hardly speak at all.

Allura gives the both of them funny looks when she notices how they interact - Or rather, how they don't interact. They hardly look at each other. Neither Lance nor Keith speaks unless the words are directed at Allura- Never at the other. She knows that Lance must still be rather angry, Keith a bit battered and worn, but for the love of god why can't they get along for the sake of reaching their destination? What is so difficult about interacting? 

In the name of all good things, Allura thinks, she's quite proud of herself for having never married. She loathes to think how it might have turned out. How it might've turned out like this - all sour expressions and really, really shoddy communication.

It's when she catches one shooting the other strangely wistful glances that she grows even more confused.

Until about sixty seconds later, when it all clicks. Gods, she must have been blind not to notice it sooner. The emotional reunion? Too emotional for them to just be partners in crime, that much is obvious the more she considers it. The silent treatments? Odd for a pair who bickered constantly. The longing stares out over the open sea, like they're both yearning for something more?

Oh, Allura knows.

But Allura says nothing.

 

0{}=========>

 

In the early morning light, Hunk sees a little sailboat float into view.

 

What in the blazes...

"Hey! Pidge!" he calls up to the crow's nest where Pidge is contentedly nestled with her spyglass shoved under one arm, the other arm dangling over a loop of rope. It's possible she fell asleep up there. Certainly wouldn't be the first time.

"Piiiiidge!!!!! Hunk tries a second time.

The arm hanging over the loop of rope jerks, and Pidge startles awake. Hunk thinks he hears her hack out a couple swears before she coughs, sniffles, and then grapples with the mast until she's standing upright. Glaring a glare exaggerated enough that Hunk can see it from down below, Pidge leans over the side of the crow's nest and shouts, "Th'fuck d'you want?" Well, she sounds peeved. 

Normally Hunk would let her sleep. But he is in charge, so sleep be damned. 

"Pidge, check your starboard and tell me what you see," he calls back up.

 "Why?"

"I think I see a boat!"

"Like a ship, you mean?"

"No!" Hunk calls back up. "A little one," He holds up a hand and pinches his thumb and index finger together, the way you'd want to describe something re-eeally small. "More like a sailboat, it's just got one sail!"

"In the middle of the ocean," Pidge snorts to herself, but humors him anyway. Hunk's in charge, so she's gotta follow his orders even if she doesn't see how they make a lick of sense. Until Lance gets his ass back here, that is, and even then she's not so sure how soon that'll be. Scratching her chin, she leans down to grab her spyglass and lifts it to her right eye, peering out dead starboard.

At first she thinks she might be looking in the wrong direction. Then she blinks and adjusts the spyglass on her eye, and it's plain as day. There's a goddamn sailboat floating along towards the Blue Lion.

And on the boat? Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but Pidge knows her eyes are good. The person at the wheel is wearing a blue vest. Tall. Light brown hair.

It's gotta be.

"Oh shit." She lowers the spyglass. Then she whoops, leaning over the side of the crow's nest a second time to call down, "Hunk, it's Lance!"

"What?"

Another whoop is heard from the crow's nest and Hunk nearly has a heart attack.

"It's Lance! Lance is sailing that boat!"

"You're kidding!"

"Hell no I'm not! Get up here and see for yourself!" She waves the spyglass above her head like a triumphant madwoman. Hunk thinks he'd rather stay put. 

Whirling around, Hunk stares back over the water, eyes keen on following that little boat. It has to be Lance. Hunk's sick of being a nervous wreck. Being in charge is nice and all, but man, does it do a number on you. The person on that boat had better be Lance, he thinks with fingers crossed.

Come on... Come on...

 

0{}=========>

 

 

Thunk thunk.

 

The little sailboat connects gently with the hull of the Lion, like it's politely asking that its passengers be allowed to board.

Cool wind blows in Lance's face and it grounds him, just a little, before he looks up to where he's met with the enormous grin of Hunk Hale, probably one of the few people Lance is ecstatic to see again.

But then Hunk catches sight of Keith, and he frowns. The look he shoots Lance says, "Is he really coming on board again?"

Allura is belowdeck, not close enough to help Lance out at the moment. But he clears his throat when he sees a few more deckhands peering down with scowls on their faces and knows it's high time he put the matter to rest. His resolve only hardens when he spots Klay in the quickly growing sea of faces leaning over the starboard rail. 

“He’s coming on board," Lance calls up. His holds himself tall and looks Klay dead in the eye.

“The blazes he is,” Klay growls down, scowling at Lance. With Klay imposing like he is with his burly frame and shadowy expression, Lance will admit to himself that he feels a little smaller than usual. He fights the feeling. “We’re letting him on board, Klay, it’s already been decided.”

“On whose authority?” Klay yells back down. "Yours?" he laughs, nasal and ugly. "I hardly think your authority will be enough to allow a criminal aboard this time, captain."

“Then perhaps you ought to listen to your Queen instead,” comes another voice.

Lilting, proper, not Lance’s.

All eyes snap to the other end of the sailboat in shock, followed by deckhands rushing to shove each other out of the way for a better look.

Because sure enough, it's Queen Allura herself who emerges from belowdeck. Lance can hear hushed murmuring from above.

Allura marches to the prow, a sword at either hip, and looks up to face the crew of the Lion head on. Her eyes are fierce and hard. Lance is reminded for possibly the millionth time these past few days that Allura DelaRoi is no less than a Queen. 

Klay’s face pales. Everyone else stares. Some have let their jaws fall and they do nothing to close their mouths again while they witness their very own Queen make an appearance. She peers up at them from the prow of a tiny sailboat, as glorious as if she were standing at the wheel of a warship with all the trimmings.

“By order of Allura, Queen of Altea, you will allow Keith Kogane onto your ship, or may the gods of the sea have mercy on you all!”

It's quite enough to get everyone moving.

Lance tries not to snicker in front of his crew. But he has to admit, Allura's flare for the dramatics is almost enough to rival his own. He can totally respect that.

Klay is shoved aside before Hunk is standing in his place to get a better look at the boat down in the water. When Lance sees, he grins. More than anything, Lance probably missed his sailing family. Hunk is more than a welcome sight after... after however many days or weeks it's been since he left with Keith to retrieve the map to the Fountain of Youth. Which is a thing that exists now. He spots Pidge, too, all the way up in the crow's nest. He thinks she might be waving, but he can't really tell from all the way down here.

It's been a weird however-many-days-it's-been.

Thankfully, Allura's here to do some of the talking, since Lance doesn't think he's entirely prepared to tell his crew anything that will make sense. Not right now, at least. Allura is a blessing and a half, that's for sure.

And, thanks to Allura, Lance's crew has no choice but to let Keith on board. Unharmed.

Within seconds, a rope ladder is flung over the side.

Lance lets Allura go first, although he refrains from saying "ladies first." Now's not really the time to dig deeper under her skin.

He ignores how Keith waits awkwardly behind him with his arms crossed, and Lance starts his ascent up the rope ladder. He can only imagine the look on Keith's face from behind. Then he tries not to think about how Keith is here in the first place. 

Orders are shouted from someone just out of view - Lance immediately recognizes Hunk. He smiles in relief.

It’s good to be back.

 

0{}=========>

 

Lance doesn't sleep that night.

 

He should have slept like a baby, but he doesn't get so much as a wink. He forces his eyes shut, then opens them every few minutes. The porthole reveals nothing but darkness for longer than Lance can keep track of. He hates waiting. He hates not sleeping.

That morning he doesn't wake up, per se, since he was never asleep, but he opens his eyes after another attempt at sleep and decides it's high time he went up. See what's become of his crew while he was away.

He considers checking up on Keith, all alone in that tiny compartment one might call a cabin, but then thinks better of it. If someone caught him...

What would they say? Would it even matter?

Tired but determined to carry on like he never left, he combs his hair, puts on a fresh shirt and his trusty vest, and throws on his doublet - because it is colder than hell frozen over when you're out in the middle of the ocean and it's not even sunrise, but his crew is up and alert. That, Lance thinks, is no small miracle. It's possible that the presence of their Queen on board the ship may have something to do with it.

“I’d like to set a couple new rules,” Lance announces, his expression demure. A mask. Absolute calm. Above deck it's even colder, but the fresh air is welcome and snaps Lance to reality. He doesn't feel too terrible, honestly. Realistically, though, he probably looks like hell. He can see many a deckhand exchange looks. Plenty have seen him tired, sure, but few have witnessed such a strong combination of weariness mixed with this new, unwithering display of determination. Like hell does Lance care if he looks tired.

“Rule number one: No one is to bother Keith Kogane while he’s a guest on board the Blue Lion.”

That earns his more than a few looks. The only people who show even an ounce of support in their expressions are Florona and Plaxum, and perhaps a touch more friendliness from Hunk and Shay. But other than that, at least half the crew looks downright offended. 

Lance can’t really blame them. How would you feel if a sworn enemy of your home kingdom was suddenly welcome aboard as an honored guest?

"Permission to meet with captain Kogane, sir."

Lance whips his head around in time to see none other than Takashi Shirogane, first mate of the Red Sword, pushing through the horde of sailors to get to the front. 

"What're you doing on my ship?" Lance says without thinking. It earns him a stiff look from Shirogane, but Lance is right in saying that this is his ship. He has every right to question who comes aboard.

Hunk awkwardly waves at Lance from the sidelines and Lance frowns minutely. He doesn't glare, but his expression is just as good as. Hunk is standing next to Shay (surprise surprise) and she looks a bit less unsettled. Her hand is hidden behind Hunk's back, and for a brief moment, Lance wonders if he missed something while he was away on Krell and Altea and all that water in between.

Hunk forces a "oh-well-what-can-ya-do?" grin that does nothing to appease Lance. Or his mild distrust for Keith Kogane's first mate.

Lance has seen the guy before, sure, but up close? It makes Lance wonder if he should start climbing more ropes or something. Because, c'mon, this guy's pectorals...

Not that it matters. 

But then... does Keith look at this guy that way, too? He sure has plenty of time to ogle. They do work together and all.

Don't think about it. Just don't think about it.

"I haven't seen my brother in almost two weeks," Shiro says, stony-eyed. "I didn't realize your heart was so set on separating people from their only family?"

Brother? Lance takes a minute to process.

Shirogane is Keith's... brother.

Brother, as in, related? Family?

That kind of brother?

Oh thank god.

Not that it matters. Like, at all.

Lance presses his lips together and shoves away the sudden, inexplicable relief he feels upon realizing that this man and Keith are family. And not - 

You know what, whatever.

"You may speak with him when the meeting is over," he says, daring to look Shiro in the eye. The look is returned full force.

"Thank you." The Sir is either forgotten, or purposely left out.

"And I'm sure I'll be speaking with you at some point within these next few days," Lance adds. It's nothing more than a power play, but he thinks it might have worked.

The silence that lingers for point two seconds is more awkward than anything, though.

Lance coughs to get everyone's full and undivided attention again, before plowing on .“Rule number two,” he says, ignores the muttered complaints and ill-disguised whispering, “No one else is to ask any questions for the next twenty-four hours. Not of me, not of Hunk, and not of Kogane. Is that understood?”

The entire deck is silent as a tomb.

Lance grits his teeth and does his best to fight the sinking feeling in his stomach. But he nods, and says, “I’ll take that as a ‘Yes, Sir.’”

Even the few guilty looks he catches amongst his crew have him feeling discomfited.

He chances a glance at Hunk - the only sympathetic one of the bunch - and jerks his head as if to say, “We’re done here.”

Hunk gets the message and sets to work, tearing his eyes away from Lance’s downcast ones to call out the first orders of the morning.

 

 0{}=========>

 

The day passes like a whisper.

 

Keith doesn't come up from his cabin.

 

Lance keeps to his duties, but he can feel himself dying a little inside.

 

0{}=========>

 

 

The first thing Shiro does after Lance calls everyone back to their posts is to go search out Keith.

What that really means is pleading with Hunk to find out which cabin Keith is in, and Hunk reluctantly handing over the information. Like, super reluctantly. Maybe it's because Lance is back, but Shiro could swear that Hunk is looking at him even more suspiciously than usual. 

You couldn't really call it a corridor.

It's so tight that Shiro can barely squeeze through, but he has no trouble figuring out which door leads to Keith's one-room cabin. All the cabins are single-room, separated from each other by some very thin wood walls, and all of the cabins are just big enough to squeeze in three or four bunks. The crew isn't big, but it's big enough.

Shiro doesn't expect Keith will be sharing a cabin. He doubts any of the crew would be game enough to try.

He reaches the end of the itty bitty corridor with just enough light to see by, and turns to the door on his right.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

No response. At first.

Shiro rolls his eyes and raises the arm with the prosthesis, and thunks against the door with about five times more force.

"Christ, who is it and what do you-?" the door flies open and Keith stops mid-sentence, catching sight of Shiro. "Oh."

The look on Shiro's face is about ten times more terrifying than anything Keith was about to threaten. "Oh?" Shiro repeats, deathly calm. "That's all you have to say?"

"Shiro, please, I can explain-"

"Let's talk inside."

With a gulp, Keith holds the door open and lets Shiro in.

The cabin is small and smells damp, with the only light to see by being two small candles in pewter holders, one on the tiny desk and the other on the slab of wood jutting out beside the bed. Some might call it a bedside table. Keith would prefer to call it a concussion waiting to happen.

Door shut behind them, the first thing Keith feels is an overwhelming embrace. Warm. Kind of overbearing. You know, the kind that hurts your ribs a little?

"You idiot," Shiro mutters, arms tight around Keith even when Keith starts to wriggle a little, clearly trying to escape the death grip. "A note? Really?" The hug falls apart when Shiro backs up, only to put both his hands on Keith's shoulders and shakes him - roughly, but not terribly so. Keith knows Shiro isn't going to hurt him because he's a good person, but he wouldn't be surprised if someone came by in the next twenty-four hours to find Keith's dead body, courtesy of one furiously protective older brother. "I thought you were deadwhat the hell were you thinking running off in the middle of the night like that!"

Keith's eyes are wide and guilty, but he refuses to apologize. He won't. He wanted to do things his way, on his terms, and he did. And he's gonna keep doing it. It's just not going to be easy, because it's never easy.

"I-I-"

"I thought you were dead, Keith, you don't scare me like that!"

Keith doesn't normally react to yelling. Hell, Shiro's barely raising his voice at all, but something about the sheer disappointment Keith hears in his voice, knowing he was the cause, has Keith overly sensitive and unable to process it all at once. He's just so tired. "Shiro I can't do this anymore," Keith chokes out, surprising himself when he feels actual tears coming on. One slides down the bridge of his nose and it hits him all at once. 

You know those cries where it starts with a realization, and then it just sort of punches you in the chest? You realize you need air like you're dying, and that's when the tears start to roll.

Keith gasps before he lets out his first sob. His ribs hurt. He can't breathe, he needs air and he needs closure and he needs... he needs...

He hears Shiro sigh, feels arms wrap around him, a returning embrace that's warmer than he deserves. There are so many things Keith wants to say and so many things he needs to apologize for, not the least of them being abandoning Shiro on the Sword.

"I'm sorry," Keiths croaks into Shiro's shoulder, clinging to the first thing his hands find, which is a random handful of Shiro's leather vest. "I can't do it anymore. Zarkon and the hiding and-and-"

"Shh, it's gonna be okay," Shiro murmurs, patting Keith's back comfortingly. It's not enough but it helps. "We're going to get out of this."

"I know." Keith sniffs, and lifts his head from the shoulder that's now stained with tears. Sniffs again. Breathes. "We have the map."

"I know. I heard."

"And you're actually coming with us?"

Shiro leans back just enough to look down with a soft smile. "Obviously," he mutters, shaking his head like he can't believe Keith would really ask. "We're the only family we have, aren't we?"

Keith tries to smile, too.

 

0{}=========>

 

Shiro is still mad, but Keith knows he can't stay mad forever. At least he's apologized to one person. Now all he's gotta do is...

Well...

"What're you doing out here?" Lance asks. He's leaning with his back against the rail, still tired. Probably couldn't sleep, Keith thinks.

"Looking for you." He keeps his face as neutral as he possibly can. He came here to fix things, not to make them worse.

"Well, congrats," Lance mutters, inspecting his nails. "You found me. You can leave now."

"LanceI just wanna talk." Keith fights not to raise his voice.

Lance snorts and crosses his arms. "About?"

The deck is completely empty. Everyone's gone to sleep except for Hunk, who has the first shift of the night. He's up on the sterncastle deck, hands at the wheel. Lance is tucked out of sight from the wheel, behind a pile of rope, plywood, and stacked crates. Keith's not too sure why he picked this spot, but he will admit it's nice for some privacy. At least no one can find them and knock on their doors, like some people.

"About us."

There's a pause. One that lasts an eternity.

Keith swears he can hear his own heart beating, maybe in his chest but more likely in his throat, or deep in his stomach. Right behind his eyeballs, maybe? Is it from lack of sleep, or is his head supposed to be hammering like this?

"Us," Lance responds, after the silence has lasted long enough. He won't meet Keith's gaze. Just turns and leans over the rail, arms crossed over the wood. No coat, Keith notices, just the shirt and vest. Isn't he cold at all? Keith is freezing, and he's wearing his doublet over the loose sleeping clothes he was offered earlier by the deckhand named Shay. His own leather boots, which survived the entire ordeal all the way from Krell to Altea and back, keep the cold from seeping into his toes.

"Yeah," says Keith. "Us. What happened on the boat the other night-"

Suddenly Lance whirls around and gets right in his face, up close and personal.

Sad and desperate, hurt and betrayed, sure. Keith's seen all of that. 

But Keith has never seen Lance... angry.

"You're here to rub it in my face, huh?" Lance spits, poking a finger at Keith's chest. "Here to remind me to stay away? To tell me how it was a mistake? Or are you here to apologize?"

"Yes!" Keith hisses back, careful to keep his voice down. Lance blinks. "I mean- rrrgh!" he groans, agonized in the way anyone who's bad with words would be, and Keith is so bad with words. Pinching the bridge of his nose he mutters, "Yes, yes, I'm here to apologize."

Lance scoffs. But he steps back, gets out of Keith's personal space a little. He extends his arms out on either side as if to say, go ahead, say what you wanna say.

Now Keith isn't sure he can do this.

"Fine," Lance says before Keith even gets the chance. "You wanna say sorry. For what? For being too good for me, huh?"

"What? No! I-"

"Then what?" Lance doesn't let him finish. "Sorry that this is just a job to you? Getting the map?" he snarls. "That you were only in it for the map and now you want out?" Then he stops and his face goes slack, like he's just realized something and he wishes he hadn't. "Is that it?" he asks, almost whispering. He huffs a disbelieving breath, bringing a shaking finger up to point at Keith again, accusing and full of anguish. "Is that why you went along with all this? To get the map and then return to Zarkon? That's it, isn't it." He grabs at his hair, incredulous, shaking his head.

Keith stares.

No. No, god, that's not it at all.

"Oh my god, that's the only reason you went along with any of this, isn't it?" Lance continues, reaching a volume that has Keith nervous. "Now you know all about captain Lance fucking McClain. Now you can spill mine and the map's whereabouts to Zarkon, can't you? For what?" He doesn't notice Keith stepping closer to him, desperately trying to cut in. "For some reward?" He drops his hands and catches Keith's eyes in his own. 

Keith can barely breathe when he sees how Lance's eyes are glassy with tears.

"Did he offer you your freedom?" Lance asks quietly.  

Astounded, Keith shakes his head and grits his teeth, begging Lance to stop but he can't get any words out.

This is what Lance thinks. 

This.

Could he really?

"Did he offer you gold? A free pass anywhere you want?" he asks, "Retirement and a full pardon for all the shit you caused?" Lance sounds almost hysterical now and Keith knows he needs to do something. 

“Lance, you have to listen to me," Keith forces in through the broken ramblings. "It's not like that." Lance looks like he's pretending not to hear him. "Lance, remember how I told you I wanted out? How I wanted to be free of Zarkon and never look back? He'd never let me go without a catch, don't you get that? He would never let me go. I..." he swallows and steels himself. "I think you know that just as well as I do."

Lance looks like he wants to refute Keith's point but stops himself.

"Don't you think I would've left last night as soon as I had the map? This isn't just about my freedom, Lance. I like you.”

That's enough to give Lance pause.

But then he only looks angrier.

Like me? Oh, that is rich," Lance laughs bitterly, and a little louder than is really necessary. Keith hopes no one can hear them. "You are the one who pushed me away for the second time in a row, compadre," he hisses through his teeth, "Not me."

Keith reaches out to grab his arm but Lance flinches away. His eyes are wide. Sad.

"I told you everything, I would've done anything for you..” Lance breaks eye contact and forces it back to the water.

Keith feels like his heart is going to shatter into a million, tiny fragments if he doesn’t do something about it.

“That was a mistake, and I’m sorry.”

Lance blinks. He straightens, just a little. “What?”

“Are you really going to make me spell it out?” Keith inwardly groans. Maybe this was a bad idea after all. Lance is acting as dense as a brick, is this really worth it? Maybe he should’ve gone to sleep and come back at a better hour. At least his head would’ve been clearer.

“Maybe I am,” Lance snaps back without giving any time for pause, but he sounds unsure. 

“Pushing you away was a mistake,” Keith says. "A huge mistake, and I'm so sorry I did it in the first place." He sounds more sure of himself this time-- feels more sure of it this time. He catches Lance’s jaw go slack again and takes some comfort in knowing he’s not the only one feeling a little afraid right now. “I-I was wrong. To push you away. I didn’t realize that you actually…”

Keith’s eyes have begun to wander away but Lance peers at him, searching out eye contact again.

“That I actually…?”

 

Thud. Thud... Thud thud thud...

Footsteps.

Someone’s coming their way.

Lance's hand slaps over Keith's mouth before he can protest.

“What’re y-? Hrmm! Lrmf, lmm grr!”

“Shh!” Lance quiets his own breath and waits.

“Someone’s coming,” Lance whispers, even though that’s already been made clear by the footsteps. Which are getting closer. He leans left and casts his gaze around the stacked crates. He swears to himself.

It's Klay.

Of all people.

As quietly as he can, Lance breathes, "Don't make a sound and follow me."

Keith, thank god, complies.

They back up.

In an uncharacteristic display of clumsiness and sheer bad luck, Lance’s foot catches a piece of split wood from one of the planks in the deck. He trips - over the rail of the ship.

And, incidentally, takes Keith along with him.

 

0{}=========>

 

Klay, thank all the gods, is either incredibly unobservant, or deaf as a lump of coal, because Keith and Lance are not discovered by him after all. Klay doesn't notice a thing.

Hunk, however, does.

Hunk Hale, bless him, says nothing about the odd hour, or the odd pair that he finds in the water, but he does toss down the rope ladder to fish them out.

 

When the two clamber back on board, shivering like wet rats, Hunk offers them a stern look and a nod towards the captain's quarters.

"Better get yourselves dried off," is all he says, before turning around to return to his post at the wheel.

A beautiful soul, Lance thinks. Truly the greatest friend he could ask for. A no-questions-asked kind of friend. A good guy.

 

“Good thing we w-weren’t moving very fast,” Lance shivers, tugging Keith back into the captain’s quarters and shutting the door behind them, before anyone else can come searching.

“Sh-shut up,” Keith stammers back. His teeth chatter from the cold. Their clothes are soaked (well, obviously). "I should be fine going back to my cabin now-"

"No," Lance says, a little too quickly. When Keith's eyebrows shoot up, Lance only mutters halfheartedly about having better towels and warmer blankets, or something along those lines.

Keith frowns.

But he can’t exactly argue, and accepts the fluffy towel offered him instead of retiring to the damp, unaccommodating excuse he’d been given as a place to sleep. While it was a step up from the brig, the room hadn’t really been Keith’s style. He’s still a ship’s captain, after all.

He wraps the towel tightly around himself without another word. The cold has really seeped into his bones, he supposes they're both lucky not to be dying of hypothermia right now. Seriously, thank god for Hunk.

"Here." Lance offers him a stack of folded clothes. An extra pair of loose sleeping pants, and a white shirt. Keith mourns his completely soaked red one, but knows it'll be better to change into something that won't give him pneumonia.

Worrying his lip with his teeth, Keith examines the clothes but doesn't put them on just yet. Lance is turned with his back to him and doesn’t see. Nor does he see the look on Keith’s face. He just sighs and fiddles with the laces on his blue vest, before tossing that to the side.

“I meant to tell you earlier," Lance says. He's so quiet but, considering the cabin is also quiet, Keith hears just fine.

“Tell me what?”

“I’ve liked you - f-for a long time, I mean. A really long time. I just assumed you didn’t feel that way," Lance confesses. With a sigh he runs a towel the color of sea foam over his head, forcing his hair into all sorts of interesting directions before he combs it back down with a few fingers. "You're a pirate," he says with a shrug, and tosses the towel to the floor. "I work for the Queen of Altea. It wouldn't exactly have worked out very well, would it?" He sounds like he's trying to be lighthearted. It comes out sounding closer to miserable. "I... I thought you hated me."

"What?" Keith sputters, flabbergasted. "Hated -  wait, why?"

Lance just shrugs and keeps fiddling with the laces of his shirt. "I mean, I stole your map. And I was always picking fights with your crew and…" he finally turns around. "Why are you looking at me like that?”

Keith drops the clothes in his hands and takes a good two steps, three, four, covering ground faster than he'd expect of himself. Before he can call himself back to sanity, Keith backs Lance into the closest wall with a hard shove, one hand on Lance’s chest. The towel around his shoulders falls away. He'd shiver, but his shirt is only damp now. He levels with the other man, grits his teeth, leaning his face further in.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he practically groans, pressing their torsos together and grabbing Lance’s hips roughly. Lance makes a choking sound and does not resist in the slightest. “Are you kidding me? Three whole years…”

“Th-three years?” Lance gasps from the pressure digging into his hips. Not in a bad way, though. Just… new.

Better yet, he’s not shivering anymore.

“I never hated you Lance," he rasps, wondering where his ability to breathe ran off to. "I..." You know what? he thinks to himself, to hell with it. "I loved you more than my own damn ship," he says before he can change his mind. "And now you tell me all of this like it’s just some stupid thing…”

Lance looks at Keith, then eyes the space between them. There's hardly any. Smirking, he lifts his head again. “Yknow uhh, we really need to stop meeting like this,” he says with his back to the cabin wall and his nose inches from his unnervingly mesmerizing captor’s. It’s funny though, his voice shakes a little. But he isn’t cold anymore.

Keith won’t lie, he's nervous, too.

He’s never been one to be this forward but… this is Lance. If this is what it takes, then god yeah, he’s going to move things along. He needs to move things along. It’s been three years and he’s been wanting to do this since day one. The idiot just wasn't telling him what he wanted to hear- needed to hear.

Case in point, this... is long overdue. From the steady, heated look in Lance’s eyes, he probably feels the same way.

“Three years, three fucking years I’ve had to wait for this,” Keith pants, dropping his head into the crook of Lance’s neck, nose brushing far too gently over suntanned skin.

A soft gasp. Surprised.

When he lifts his head again, dark indigo eyes locked onto deep blues, Keith feels a hand brush over his cheek.

Lance is staring at him. Staring like he’s seeing a ghost or maybe an angel, but whichever it is, it has him looking at Keith in pure and profound awe. Reverent, like he’s worshipping a deity. The fingers that brush across Keith’s jaw are rough from sailing and pulling ropes, strong from hoisting anchors and steering a ship, and Keith feels a shiver run through him. Lance is looking at him in a way that makes his heart beg for mercy, doing its best to punch straight through his chest and Keith inhales, takes a deep breath because wow is he feeling lightheaded. Dizzy like it’s his first day on a boat and the sea legs haven’t come to him yet. This is the moment.

This is the moment he knows he can finally admit it to himself - Keith is head over heels over heart. In love. With Lance McClain.

Scratch that… just Lance. He’s just Lance.

And he’s everything.

“You say that as if I wasn’t waiting, too,” Lance whispers, and Keith’s mouth clamps shut. “Don’t think I don’t remember what happened back on Krell. And don’t you fucking forget I’m the one who had to watch you die.”

...Oh.

"Don't you ever do that to me again. Okay?"

And it hits him.

It hits both of them, actually - finally. Hits them both like a maverick. Neither is alone in this.

“Stay with me?” Lance asks, voice soft and tickling in Keith’s ear. It hints at something much more than just ‘Stay the night.’

Keith nods.

Lance pulls him closer. “Good,” he murmurs into his ear again with a smile in his voice, sending another shiver down Keith’s spine, “because I’d probably resign as captain if I got rejected by an idiot like you after all that time waiting.”

Keith snorts, burying his face into Lance’s neck again, and this time it’s his mouth that shuts Lance up. Lance makes a garbled little noise and leans more heavily against the wall, shutting his eyes. “And you definitely don’t need to stop doing that. Ever.”

Keith lets out another tiny snort, amused. He doesn’t stop, thankfully, working his way from Lance’s collarbone, nose brushing over skin and tongue poking out slyly to draw a nearly straight line from clavicle to sternum, unlacing the front of Lance’s shirt as he goes. Laces undone, Keith falls to his knees and pale fingers push at the fabric until the left side of Lance’s chest is unobscured. He presses a hand to the bared skin.

A heartbeat, faint and fast, something mesmerizing and a sensation that sends a thrill through Keith’s entire body. It’s real. He’s real. They’re real. He plants a kiss to the flesh that covers bone and a beating, beautiful heart, before taking a deep breath to steady himself.

Then he stands.

Lance reaches up, brushes a finger softly over Keith’s lower lip, feather light.

“I’d kill for you,” Keith breathes, pressing a kiss to Lance’s brow, his cheek, his jaw, so soft they’re barely there. “I’d die for you,” another kiss, to Lance’s temple, behind his ear, to the place where his neck and shoulder meet and then back up to his throat where his carotid lies, and the area is hot and Lance’s breath hitches in his throat as Keith keeps going. Lips claim possession of the tanned skin over his collarbone and beneath his chin, nudging Lance’s head up so that Keith can get a better reach.

“Don’t,” Lance manages to reply. He reaches up to stop the shower of kisses, bringing a hand to Keith’s lips to cover them gently. “I want you alive, Keith. Don’t be stupid.” The memories of very recent events - very unpleasant ones - come back in the blink of an eye. Keith flushes red, realizing that maybe he shouldn’t have said that last bit.

Then Lance lowers his hand- only to reach up with both hands to cup Keith’s face and pull him in for a deeper kiss, full and warm, sharing breaths and making promises without the need for words. When Lance breaks away it’s only to say, “I want you to stay. Please.”

Those words throw them into the thick of it. Skin hotter than metal left out in the sun and souls pulled together by a force stronger than the tides and the raging storm that brought them together in the first place.

They’re shaking. Both of them.

Nearly intertwined, they lean heavily against the wall of the cabin and it has nothing and everything to do with nerves. Nothing and everything to do with the fact that both of them have been wanting this for longer than they care to admit. And now that it’s happening, the world has come to a standstill. Like they've reached the eye of the storm.

It’s just them, their suddenly loud breathing in the quiet cabin, and the rocking of the ship. They’re both sober this time and their blood runs warmer than a summer in Barbados. Both are aware of everything. Neither has any desire to back out now.

Eyes lock.

“Do you…”

“God, yes.”

 

The back of Lance’s head hits his pillow when they both realize where they are.

A familiar scene.

Different, though. Different… but so much better.

Keith’s waterlogged breeches and soaked shirt are halfway off when the two of them hit the soft mattress, softer than either of them has felt in too many nights.

They’re entangled in half-shrugged off shirts and tight breeches, fingers entangled in hair, noses and mouths so close only to break apart for moments, little moments, breathing each other in as if they would die without the other.

Lance, probably aching for a little more control, flips them around with a wily grin and suddenly it’s Keith with his head against the pillow, panting already and smiling in his eyes. Keith’s heart flutters. And maybe he winces at the dull pain in his ribs, but it barely registers anymore. In truth, he can’t remember the last time he felt so relieved and so, incredibly happy.

 

It’s when Lance is helping to remove Keith’s damp shirt the rest of the way that he’s sharply reminded of everything again.

The bruises are still there, darker than ever. Fresh enough to still be purple and blue and rimmed with red, barely a trace of yellow. Lance swallows.

Dropping the damp shirt on the floor, his hands come up to hover just over Keith’s ribs, unsteady. He feels…

God, he feels horrible.

“I’m-” Lance swallows again. He can feel Keith holding his breath when fingers come to rest on the mottled skin. “I’m sorry. God. ” Are those tears in his eyes or is that just the reflection of the candle flames?

A hand wraps around his wrist. Gently.

Indigo eyes are warm and steady when Lance finally looks up.

“Don’t be.”

“Well who else is gonna say it?” Lance murmurs, bringing his hand away only to press it to Keith’s chest, pushing him back until his head hits the pillow softly. Keith doesn’t protest.

Then he drops his head down, lips dusting over the topmost rib, right where the bruises begin. “I’m sorry,” he repeats, presses the most tender kiss to the discoloured skin, and feels a flutter when he hears a hitched breath from Keith. Lance does it again. Repeats the words again. Because he’s sorry. And he doesn’t know what else he could possibly do or say to prove he’s sorry, but he’s gonna do his damndest to prove how much love he has to give. Every once in awhile he looks up to make sure Keith is still looking at him-which he is.

He’s going to prove how much he cares if it’s the last thing he ever does as the captain of the Blue Lion. Lance McClain does not do anything halfway. Ever.

Everything feels so warm. Keith feels warm.

Everything is overwhelming, so much at once and maybe it’s a little confusing--or it was confusing, but now it just clicks.

“God I love you,” Keith gasps without meaning to.

Lance stops abruptly.

Thinking maybe he’s crossed some unspoken line, Keith stutters, feeling his face flush, then bites his lip before he can make it worse.

But when Lance raises his head to look at him, he’s grinning.

And yeah, those are definitely tears in his eyes.

“Likewise, princess,” is all he says, before trailing his hands down Keith’s sides to send another round of shivers through him.

In a bold move, Keith reaches up to grasp at the first patch of hair he can get a hold of and drags Lance (who may or may not have squeaked like a little girl) down, lifting his own head off the pillow to close the gap, where they meet in a kiss to rival even the most romantic sailor’s tale. And both swear that in that moment they can hear a chorus of Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

Clothing long discarded, their outfits consist of soft sheets and soft skin and heavy breaths and everything perfect and right. Masks of sailors and captains shed, all that’s left is them, just the two of them, stripped to the bare bones of their true selves without a sliver of doubt that this is exactly where they’re meant to be.

 

Hallelujah. Finally.

 

The ship rocks like a baby’s cradle, but neither one starts off the night with much sleep.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It’s late in the night, early morning perhaps, and the porthole is dark. They can both hear the water lapping against the hull.

Their course isn’t set, not yet, but it’s nice to just be sailing, no land to tie them down. It’s funny, they both feel so much more grounded when they’re far, far away from any trace of ground.

Lance breaks the silence first.

"When did you..." He doesn't finish. He’s not really sure he can’t say it, or if he just doesn’t want to.

Keith looks over and searches his face, frowning when Lance says nothing more. "When did I...What?" he asks

Lance shrugs. Shifting under the sheets like he’s nervous, he takes a couple seconds to answer.

"When did you know?" He says, falling quiet as soon as he says it.

Keith raises an eyebrow, leaning his head forward like you do when you're waiting for someone to say more.  "Know," he says. An invitation to elaborate.

And is Lance's face turning red? Or is that just the light from the candle flame? "When do you know you um." His Adam's apple bobs as he swallows, suddenly grappling for better words. "When you realized - uh, yknow what? Lemme just start that over." Lance losing his train of thought will never stop being amusing to Keith. Amusing, and so damn cute .

Keith waits patiently, his cheek propped up in one hand while the other rests beneath the sheets over Lance's bare hip, drawing lazy circles there. When soft blue eyes snap back up to meet his they're determined, so focused and a little wild from everything they were doing only minutes ago. Small clumps of chestnut hair stick to his forehead and his cheeks are still a little flushed. Keith doesn't think he's ever seen anyone more stunning in his entire life. It makes him feel like a fish out of water, gasping for air as he's brought so close to death just by looking into such a stupidly wonderful face.

"When did you actually know how you felt?" Lance finally asks. "A-About me?"

No, Keith thinks, it’s not the lighting. Lance’s face is flushed - with embarrassment? Keith never really thought Lance could ever be embarrassed by anything. Lance is shameless. Except…

Right now, he looks so nervous. He couldn’t be second guessing things, could he? Keith would be shocked if he was.

Lance needs to know that this is not a one time thing. It never will be. This is real, they’re real.

Keith loves him. He’s said as much, too.

Keith only has to think for a moment before he finds his answer, and the words are easy because he could never feel embarrassed for something that he’s already taken so long to admit to himself first. Feels not even a hint of regret when he says with absolute certainty:

"The day you stole the map from me. That’s when I knew."

Lance looks like he’s considering that. Weight shifts again beneath the sheets until Keith’s hand no longer rests on Lance’s hip. Pensive, Lance rests his head back on his pillow.

Then his eyes light up. Lance sits up so fast Keith nearly has whiplash.

There’s a look in his eye so filled with affection, so soft and so full of something - something meaningful, something beautiful. A million things that don’t need to be said aloud.

Keith nearly melts into the bedsheets at that look.

"Not… You don’t mean the first time we met ?" Lance says. His voice is so soft it's almost a whisper. It's the same kind of wonder you find in children, incredibly expressive and open. "Th-that was... wh- really?”

Keith can't help it. He can feel his lips tug upwards in possibly the biggest smile he's smiled in years. In his whole life, maybe. The chuckle that involuntarily escapes is soft.

"I mean, it’s when I at least started to fall for you, I guess? The day you swung onto the deck of my ship and knocked out one of my best fighters,” Keith says, huffing a laugh when one of Lance’s hands comes to curl behind the back of his head, then groans when he feels a light tug at his hair. “The day you challenged me to our first duel. Somehow you managed to make me smitten and absolutely furious at the same time.”
“Goddamn, keep talkin’ dirty to me will ya?” Lance jokes - although the soft look never leaves.

Keith rolls his eyes but the grin stays. “Shut up.”

“I’ll admit, it was a pretty close match,” Lance agrees, humming to himself, the fingers that aren’t at Keith’s hair stroking the hand that Keith has let come to rest on Lance’s bed sheet-covered lap.

Keith’s grin is crooked. He feels like his entire body is melting, or maybe crumbling. Like shells on a beach being pummeled by the waves into a fine sand, too easily tossed around by the wind. “The day you introduced yourself as ‘captain Lance McClain, just here to take all the gold you have, please.’ God you were such an asshole. All you ever did was push my crew’s buttons and steal our shit. Sometimes I feel like you were more of a pirate than I ever was.”

Lance flicks the back of his head hard where his hand has been playing with Keith’s hair.

“Still an asshole, I see,” Keith snorts, jerking his head away, “My mistake.”

“You really knew you liked me then?” Lance breathes, leaning forward until their foreheads touch, still a little sticky with sweat but neither one of them cares at all. Keith breathes him in. Like a dying man. Lance does the same.

“Absolutely," Keith says, brushing a crooked finger down Lance’s cheek, soft, then making his way up to the scar at Lance’s temple. “That was the day. No doubt about it.”

Lance’s smile turns wobbly, his eyes flinty.

"Kiss me again..."

Keith does, rolling onto his side so his lips can meet Lance's halfway there. Sheets shift to make way for bare skin, until Lance finally makes the executive decision to just tear the sheets away so that their bodies can be flush together, heated and comfortable. Keith laughs softly as Lance’s lips tickle his ear. His eyes wander upwards, and -

How the hell did his belt get all the way up there?

He wonders idly when that happened, how his belt got thrown over a naked ceiling rafter, but he’s also much too content at the moment to care much.

He’s so freaking happy right now.

Things took a turn that he never would have expected. A lot of turns that he never would have expected, actually, never could have possibly in a million years hoped for because Keith has never been the kind of person who lets himself get his hopes up.

And yet, here he is.

Here they are.

“What’re you thinkin’ about?” Lance murmurs, shifting impossibly closer as he brings a hand to rest over Keith’s naked chest. Right over his heart.

“Just you,” Keith says coyly, smiling a little before Lance surges forward like he’s being reeled in on a fishing line. Already bruised lips kiss his gently, sweetly, patiently. They have hours before the sun rises and nowhere to be. Here is just fine for right now.

They part for a moment, breaths comingling, eyes hooded and lazy and filled with fire.

“If anyone had told me three years ago that this was gonna be my future, I’d’ve laughed in their face,” Lance says, his lips moving just an inch away from Keith’s.

Lance grinds his hips into his - and they both immediately revel in the feeling as Lance grins into the hair that falls behind Keith's ear. They both shiver as one. Keith’s gasp is small, his head falling backwards from the heavenly sensation.

“I love you,” Lance mouths into the crook of Keith’s neck, still grinding relentlessly until he can feel a groan rumble through Keith’s body, chest rising and falling more quickly. “I want you.”

God , Keith wants him too. And he thinks it’s becoming more and more obvious with every second Lance taunts him. Keith just nods, not really focused on answering when Lance is doing that with his hips.

He hears Lance swallow. The grinding slows for a moment. “I don’t… I don’t just want you, though. That’s not - I mean, I’m not trying to freakin’ use you or-”

“Lance,” Keith says quietly as he lifts his head, cupping Lance’s chin tenderly with one hand, “I know.”

“Oh… okay.” Lance laughs nervously, but his expression looks a lot more sure now. “Just uh, making sure you knew that.”

“You know I do,” Keith says.

He finds himself on his back again with Lance over him, chestnut hair tickling his forehead, one arm resting above his head on the pillow and the other looped around Lance’s neck, feeling the sheen of sweat that’s gathered there and not even giving a shit that they’re both in desperate need of a wash.

In the darkened room with just a lamp burning low from a hook, their faces are cast in a haze that makes everything feel worlds from reality. Keith marvels at Lance’s dark tan, his long nose and piercing eyes. His slow smile. All warmth.

Their chests press against each other although Lance is careful to not put all his weight on Keith, their breaths hot on each other’s faces and necks. Keith feels his cheeks flush, his entire body feverishly warm but so good, so perfect, perfect when something within him is hit just right, making him gasp, throwing his head back to press harder into the soft pillow as a hand curls fingers into sheets that smell like salt and soap and musk. He can’t believe Lance loves him back. He can’t believe they’re doing this.

He can’t believe they’re here.

The creaking of the bedframe could just as easily be mistaken for the wooden hull settling against the endless lapping of the waves just outside.

They’re safe here.

Keith never knew a real home, not really. Not when he lived with and worked for old man Stoker. Not when he found the Sword. Finding Shiro had been pretty damn close. His brother was the only family he had. Keith would die for Shiro - he was the closest thing to home that Keith had ever felt.

With Lance, though… this is pretty damn close, too, in a new and different and really fantastic way. Lance is a warmth that Keith had never known before now.

 

Lance’s breath is torn from his lungs when he beholds the sight below, the writhing, beautiful mess beneath him with the loud breaths and smooth skin.

Lance has plundered from his fair share of pirates, but this is different. He’ll be damned if he’s ever found a treasure worth more than Keith’s gorgeous little moans. Dark eyebrows gather together in a crease, and it’s obvious that Keith might be just as perfectly overwhelmed as Lance is.

God, Lance thinks, Keith looks amazing, just like this. He wants to see him like this every night.

Every. Night.

Hair dark and glossy like volcanic sand, rugged to look at but soft to touch. Incredible jaw, how could Lance ever get the picture of Keith’s perfect profile out of his head? Eyes a color he can’t place but he wants to say somewhere between indigo or violet, though it’d probably be easier to just call it purple, even though that’s not physically possible. They’re breathtaking, drawing Lance in like a magnet. When he stares down, watching Keith gasp and groan and clutch at the pillow under his head as his eyes glaze over a little with lust, those incredible eyes half-lidded with desire, he feels like he’s looking into a portal and seeing what existence might be like after death.

Maybe that’s morbid. Lance thinks it’s enthralling.

A little scary.

Mostly just beautiful.

Keith rolls his body up into Lance to meet him and they both groan, each repeated motion making him feel headier. He rocks into him, savoring the slow movements and the way Keith breathes deeply, ribs expanding as his lungs fill with air, legs spread to wrap around Lance’s waist as Lance lazily rocks into him. Keith’s letting him do more of the work this time.

And hey, he’s allowed. He practically died after all, he can let himself be taken care of just this once.

But oh, how he could get used to this…

The first time was heavy and a little rushed, a little rougher than it should’ve been, filled with awkward sounds and a little emotional crying and a lot of laughing. Once they’d actually gotten started, it was over in minutes.

Now they move together slowly, take their precious time, cherish every little second as it comes. The next moan escapes Lance’s mouth from the back of his throat, rumbling low as he noses below Keith’s chin - Keith lets him, happily. Chestnut hair brushes over the curve where his neck and shoulder converge as Lance lets his head come to rest on the pillow, cheek brushing with Keith’s. Out of everything, that little sensation, the feeling of such closeness in such a soft and small way, feels almost more intimate than the sex.

Everything about Lance is so gentle . Like if he moves too fast, pushes too hard, he’ll shatter Keith like he’s no less fragile than a stained glass window.

Keith would protest the careful treatment if he hadn’t just gotten the life fucked out of him ten minutes ago. Right now, gentle treatment is… very much welcome. Not to mention the bruises on his ribs haven’t exactly disappeared in the last hour. He wonders if he’ll have even more bruises to go along with those by sunrise. He thinks he could live with that.

 

*

 

Later, once they’re truly exhausted, legs and bedsheets tangled together without a care, Keith finds himself staring at the ceiling of the cabin lost in his thoughts. Lance is a warm presence beside him, one arm curled around Keith’s waist like it’s meant to be there. Like it was made just for this.

Keith glances over.

It’s at times like these when Keith wonders if somehow… if somehow Lance was born not of human parents but of ocean gods and goddesses, shaped by sand and water and power, sculpted by storms, chiseled by cliffs upon which the ocean’s waves beat like thunderclaps. Wonders if his eyes are not eyes but pearls painted by the sea, blue and deep, mirrors into the unknown. Terrifying. Beautiful. Lance could drown him with those eyes and Keith would thank him for it.

God I feel like I’m drowning.

Keith is either drowning or he’s falling in love harder than he ever has before.

Out of desperation or something else Lance suddenly surges forward and up, and kisses him hard like they only have minutes instead of forever. Like if he lets Keith go without so much as a touch for too long he’ll disappear. Just float away, into nothing. Keith wishes he could read minds. But maybe not.

"I missed you," Lance half whispers as he pulls just a hair's breadth away, voice shaking with tears that slide down to wet his trembling lips, "I missed you so much. God I thought you were dead but-"

“I’m here,” Keith finishes for him.

Keith grasps at Lances hair, tugging softly. He can still feel the bruises on his ribs, just the faintest sting and sensitivity to pressure when Lance presses against him, but it’s worth it. It’s so worth it.

The hiss that escapes him isn’t something he means to let slip, but the press of Lance’s fingers are just a little too firm on the tender skin there. Lance hears it and quickly eases up as his eyes widen.

“Shit, shit I’m sorry,” he stammers as his expression turns concerned. Hands fall from Keith’s sides, curling into themselves. Keith quickly shoots out a hand to grab at one of Lance’s.

“N-No, you’re fine. It’s… it’s fine,” Keith insists as he scoots closer. He shoots Lance a wry smile, reassuring. The hand on Lance’s guides it back to his skin, brushing over mottled blue ringed with shades of green. Signs of healing already. Swallowing, Lance glance’s nervously back at Keith, whose eyes never falter.

“I trust you,” Keith whispers.

0{}===========>

 

Sunlight filters in through the porthole. Mother Nature's kinder way of waking people up.

 

Lance wakes to a very pleasant tickling beneath his chin.

When he cracks an eyes open, a lazy grin spreads over his face.

Yeah, last night really happened, didn't it? He feels his smile grow wider.

“Well hello there, gorgeous,” he says, voice low and rough from sleep. Maybe he’s just groggy from waking up, but he swears that the look in Keith’s eyes gets about ten times more heated at the sound.

“Hey,” Keith murmurs back, planting a chaste kiss to the side of Lance’s jaw. “Was hoping you might wake up soon.”

“Yeah?” Lance says with a crooked grin already pulling at his lips, which are a little chapped right now.

With Keith’s body pressing into his side, one leg slotted between Lance’s, he’s reminded that neither of them bothered to get dressed last night after… well, everything.

“Yeah,” Keith answers. Then goes right back to kissing all the way down Lance’s throat, down his chest, his stomach and the little trail of hair, and then Keith is far down enough that he’s shifted a little and his hair partly hides his face, but Lance knows exactly what Keith is doing when -

“Oh f-fuck,” Lance swears, back arching off the bed.

Keith doesn’t answer. His tongue is busy doing something else.

It’s funny, Keith remembers fantasizing not all that long ago about having the famous captain Lance McClain at his mercy.

He never really thought it’d actually happen .

The incredible sensation deepens, which is what prompts Lance to realize just how hard he already was. Of course, it’s not abnormal to wake up like that, but oh Jesus Christ Keith is… Keith is really making sure Lance is wide awake, now. So awake.

But of course, Lance can’t really do anything more than pant and hiss and whine, covering his mouth with one hand while the other scrambles to claw at something, anything. He gets a hold of the wrinkled sheets beneath him and holds on for dear life, and -

The door swings open, almost immediately followed by an ear-piercing shriek.

Both of them freeze.

It’s just a split second - before Keith is quickly pulling off and scrambling backwards to cover himself while Lance does the same as he grabs at the first bit of sheet he can find, yanking it over his lower half like his damn life depends on it. He isn’t looking at the doorway but shit Keith knows it must be bad .

Keith whips his head around to the open doorway just in time to catch a glimpse of a shadowed figure before he’s locking horrified eyes with - oh for the love of fuck - Hunk.

It’s Hunk.

 

Hunk .

 

Lance’s first mate and best friend.

Hunk.

Just saw that.

And it’s not like they’re not allowed to be here or whatever but fuck this is not good. Not good, very bad.

Hunk, promptly pivoting around with a hand clamped over his eyes, all but slams the door shut behind him as he exits, as if pursued by a bear.

They can both hear more yelling, a string of “Shit I’m sorry I’m sooo sorryIdidn’t mean to I didn’t know shitshitfuck gahhmyeyes!” The string of apologies and cursing disappears within seconds as the footsteps thunder away, until they fade, until it’s clear that Hunk is long gone. And probably won’t be back for a very, very long time. If at all.

Keith has never seen someone move so fast in his entire life.

They are so fucked. And not in a good way.

 

Yeah. Not exactly a shining moment for any party involved.

 

0{}===========>

 

Hunk owes Pidge money.

 

“Well it was pretty obvious that they were gonna at some point,” Pidge points out, although she looks like she’s trying really hard not to break into tears. She’s already laughing but Hunk knows she’s holding back. He, for one, feels a little bit shell-shocked. He can even feel a twitch beginning just beneath his left eye. Why is life so darn unfair??

“What?” says Zack, i.e. the very-very-young deckhand who shouldn’t have been eavesdropping in the first place. “What happened? Is it interesting?”

Through a heavy snort Pidge manages to choke out, "Ohhh, let's just say that captain and mister Kogane-” she wipes a tear from her eye, “they made quite the connection last night." She slaps Hunk on the shoulder and bites her cheek to try and stifle the laughter, to no avail.

"What? How?"

Hunk makes an unhappy sound, shaking his head. The look in his eye reads, Nuh uh buddy, you do not want to know this. Trust me.

Pidge snorts again. Then hiccups. Finally she pulls herself together enough to shoot the little deckhand a knowing look, and says, "Tell you when you're older, swabbie."

"Hey, not fair!" Zack stomps his foot, petulant enough to prove his young age. Pidge smirks.

"You'll thank me later," she says, patting him on the head with a know-all grin.

It’s enough to send Zack stomping away as quickly as he showed up.

They wait until the kid is out of earshot.

"I still cannot believe I walked in on that." Hunk cringes, running a hand down his face. He does not get paid enough for this.

“I can’t say I’m exactly surprised,” Pidge says with another, less mirthful laugh.

When Hunk looks down it’s to find an extended, expectant hand. Pidge is wearing a shit-eating look on her face. “Pay up, my man. I won the bet.”

Hunk groans. “You little… you little - ”

“Hey, watch it. Unless you wanna pay double.”

“I really don’t.”

Damn, why’s he always have to get the short end of the stick? He could really use a nice break when this is all over with.

But he pays up.

 

They find out later that they’re not the only ones on the ship who made bets.

 

0{}===========>

 

Lance and Keith get dressed in a hurry.

 

They bump into each other a couple times as they try to pull on their shoes, then realize they’ve got the wrong pair, then laugh (not as awkwardly as expected) and switch boots.

Regardless of the thirty seconds of drama with Hunk walking in on them - ohh man, Lance hopes there will be no more repeats of that - the silence between them now is not uncomfortable. They’re both happy, and it’s showing. After the first few moments of shock after Hunk’s graceful exit, the tension wasn’t all that bad.

And it definitely helped that Keith got to take in the sight of Lance bending over stark naked to pick up his shirt and breeches from the floor.

There’s no doubt that Lance knows he’s ogling because he takes his damn time.

Keith’s heart thumps a little too violently behind his ribs when Lance pops in front of him, fully dressed, and gives him a little peck on the cheek before turning to fix his hair in the mirror.

Keith is starting to wonder if this is all just a dream after all.

“Nice bedhead,” Keith snicker at the rat’s nest on Lance’s head.

Then Lance turns his head around to stick out his tongue out at Keith when he realizes he’s being stared at, and waggles his eyebrows with a look of absolute filth.

Nope. Definitely the real Lance, Keith thinks. Still not dreaming.

Still perfect, though.

They both make sure to clean up enough that no one would suspect anything ever happened. Keith combs his hair back with his fingers and ties it up with deft hands, while Lance uses an actual comb and manages a decently neat look, before they’re both acceptable enough to be seen in public.

When the coast is deemed clear, Lance shuts the door behind them as they leave the cabin. The two of them quickly clamber up the steps from the captain’s quarters, Lance leading the way.

When they reach the main deck, the crew is already up and working. The deckhands closeby catch sight of Keith and Lance, stop what they’re doing, and smirk. Lance can’t help but groan a little to himself when he sees the whispers begin to start.

Nothing stays secret on this ship for very long. He would know.

What Lance and Keith have going is really meant to be top secret.

 

Naturally, the entire crew knows by lunchtime.

 

“So,” Pidge says, sidling up to Keith and Lance during one of the few breaks she’s managed to get. The two stand next to each other by the rail where they’ve been discussing the map, the Galra, and Zarkon for nearly an hour now. They’re close together but not too close, although it doesn’t really matter. They must think it’ll be enough to pass for casual, like they’re no more than acquaintances, but honestly it’s such a poor attempt that Pidge can’t even pretend to humor them as she approaches.

“So, how was the sex?” She asks.

The reaction is instantaneous and exactly what she’s hoping for.

Lance immediately chokes on nothing and sputters “What-the-fucking-what-exCUSEYOU-you can’t just-!”

Meanwhile Keith has managed to take half a step back until he’s practically hiding behind Lance’s shoulder, face a fabulous shade of red, making a noise like someone drowning but without the water.

Lance looks like he’s suffering.

Keith just looks like he’s in pain.

And Pidge...

Pidge is living.

"H-how did you -?" Lance manages a half-formed question, but then goes back to making noises not even Keith can understand.

"My feminine wiles, obviously," Pidge says dismally. She’s barely batted an eye so far.

Keith stares at her in shock.

Pidge rolls her eyes.”I could hear you two bitches going at it when I came up to get some fresh air last night. Maybe keep it a bit quieter next time, yeah?” Pidge’s expression has gone from appropriately amused, to marginally annoyed. Borderline bored, even. “Happy for you and all, but like, damn . Are you guys, like, okay?"

"Shit ," Lance half-whispers nervously, running the back of his neck. A nervous laugh escapes without him meaning for it to. He doesn't have to look at Keith to know that his face is already turning red again. "I um, geez, Pidge, I didn't think anyone was gonna be around..."

"You just don't think in general, Lance."

That switches up Lance’s demeanor very quickly. In the past hour he’s been both embarrassed and uncomfortable, but now he’s just pissed. Who does she think she is, anyway?

"I swear to all that is holy, Pidge, I WILL make you walk that plank. I’m still your captain!" he barks, pointing a stern finger to make a point.

Pidge looks at the finger, frowns, and then bats it away with a hand. "Pfft, like you don't desperately need me on this ship,” she deadpans. Lance pouts and angrily pulls his hand away. “Also hunk told me about.... This morning."

All of them make a face at once.

“Sh-shit!" Lance repeats, cheeks suddenly pinker than before. He waves a hand in front of Pidge's face and makes obnoxious shushing sounds. “Hunk told you about that ? Jesus what hasn’t he told you?!”

"Don't worry, I won't tell anyone."

“I should really, really hope not,” Keith mutters from his place next to Lance. His arms are crossed and his face isn’t red anymore. Just perturbed, like Lance.

“If it makes you feel better, you helped me win a bet with Hunk. So uh, yeah,” she grins a wide, forced grin. “Ya made me five silver pieces richer.”

Keith raises an eyebrow.

They made bets on this? What, had anyone else besides Hunk and Pidge assumed things? Then again, Keith reminds himself, this isn’t his crew. Why should he care what anyone else thinks? He’s still a pirate. Scandal is kind of in the job description, he can deal.

As Pidge turns to leave for her usual lookout post up in the crow’s nest, she looks over her shoulder with a knowing glint in her eye. “Oh, and I meant to tell you earlier - Allura told Hunk to tell me that she’d like to meet with you about something reeeally important in about..." she looks up at the sun, already high in the sky. Must be noon by now. Pidge nods thoughtfully. “Hmm, yeah, I’d say right about now.”

Now?”

Lance is already running for it, long gone before he can even hear the belly laugh that Pidge gives him.

Keith, on the other hand, remains. Just stands right there with his arms still crossed. He’s glaring.

Pidge shoots the glare right back.

“Same goes for you, boy toy,” she says, lifting an eyebrow.

Keith’s glare switches to questioning. “Uh, wait what?” He ignores the jab about being a so-called “boy toy.”

“You’re needed at the meeting, too. Something about ‘useful alliances’ or some shit. I dunno. Just get there.” Pidge shrugs and it’s too late for Keith to argue because Pidge is already swinging away on a rope, her smug laugh swept away by the wind.

Keith supposes he’s got no choice. Besides, if Lance is there, then Keith will happily go.

He breaks into a jog, ignoring the looks he gets from some of the nearby crew, and follows the sight of a blue waistcoat flying up the steps.

 

0{}===========>

 

The map is spread out carefully, smack in the center of the long table of the navigation room. Allura stands at the head of the table, lips pursed in tight focus, hands clasped behind her back.

It's been five minutes. So far, they haven’t been able to figure out a thing.

She’d given Lance a stern look when he finally entered, a little out of breath, and flashed Keith a knowing eye roll when he entered close behind.

Now, though, there are far more pressing matters to attend to.

"I have pored over this bloody map for years, hired the kingdom's top scholars and paid them just to keep quiet,” Allura pinches the bridge of her nose. The simple silver circlet atop her head, tastefully finished with a small but elegant crystal, glints with the sunlight streaming in through the big window behind them. The signature white tresses have been pulled back into a neat bun today. “And yet I can't for the life of me comprehend how the thing works." She’s frustrated. Lance can understand, he's known Allura for years, and he for sure knows that Allura is no quitter. But she can also be very impatient when she doesn't understand something immediately.

The map shows Altea, Arus, the Galra Empire and the Marmora Desert. Most is Galra, but then there are patches missing in a few places. Unclaimed territories, islands or swaths of land that haven’t been traveled to - or aren’t worth claiming. Some of them, Lance doesn't recognize from any regular he's even seen before.

But the very center of the map is the odd part. It’s nothing but open water, not a speck of land marked, and right in the middle of the emptiness is an empty circle about the size of a large walnut.

Allura’s not wrong; the answer’s not exactly obvious.

“Have you already spoken with Shiro?” Keith asks, looking quizzically at the Queen.

Allura raises an eyebrow. “Shiro? Who is - oh, you mean Shirogane.”

Keith gives a curt nod.

“No, I’ve not spoken with him. Is there a reason I should?”

Keith blinks, looking positively baffled and just a little put out. Lance eyes him carefully from less than a foot away.

Shiro,” Keith says, and it’s obvious he’s trying to keep his tone even-keeled, “is the one person I know in all the Galra Empire other than Zarkon himself who would know what to do with this map. He’s seen things…” his gaze drops to the floor, eyes dark. “He’s been punished for seeing things he shouldn’t have seen.”

Lance’s eyebrows lift. He's never heard this part of the story before. Keith's told him a little, but...

“I assume Zarkon only let him live because he was a valuable piece on the game board.” He laughs without humor, adding, “And I don’t think Zarkon ever anticipated that we would ever disobey his direct orders. I hope you all realize that what my brother and I have done - Shiro more than I - is as good as suicide if we don’t find what we’re looking for before the Emperor does.”

The cramped chamber falls deathly silent.

At least Allura looks a touch sympathetic. After a pause that had certainly lasted too long already to be comfortable, she turns to face Plaxum, who’s been shadowing her like the most loyal bodyguard since the Queen’s arrival.

“Find Shirogane, please,” Allura says evenly, not one to rudely snap orders. “It appears we need a pirate’s assistance far more than I ever would have expected.”

Without a word Plaxum bows and leaves to find the pirate in question, sturdy boots thunking at an even pace against the floor panels.

The silence as they wait is only just tolerable. No one says a word.

Minutes pass. Perhaps five. Ten, maybe.

Finally, the door reopens and Plaxum enters again, followed by the first mate of the Red Sword.

Shiro.

Lance catches a small smile on Keith’s face when he looks his way. It's then that he has to remind himself that the two are brothers, there’s nothing going on between them, and there never was.

Geez… is Lance really the jealous type after all?

Shaking away the invasive thoughts, Lance - along with the rest of the small assembly in attendance - gives Takashi Shirogane his full and undivided attention.

The first few minutes are spent with just Shiro and Allura discussing the Fountain of Youth, Zarkon and their general shared interest to take down the Galra Empire.

It’s only when Keith clears his throat that they finally change the subject to something more pertinent. The map.

With a quick cant of her head towards the table, Allura looks at Shiro, and asks, “Please, tell me you know how this bloody thing works?”

At first, Shiro only turns his head, eyeing the map with something like caution. Maybe even dread. Lance, for one, would read it as fear.

But as quickly as it came, the expression is gone. Shiro steps toward the table and Lance knows he can’t be the only one who notices the way the man makes a light fist with his metal prosthetic, before letting it fall loosely to his side.

A few uneasy seconds pass.

There aren’t many people in the room, but it must feel like a large enough audience when so much is at stake. Allura stands just off to the side mere feet from Shiro, while Plaxum and Florona stand attention by the door. Shay fidgets next to Hunk, both of their expressions wary. Slav is seated in a corner, fiddling with something in his hands but otherwise remains quite silent. Klay is thankfully nowhere to be seen, Lance notices.

Finally, the quietness is broken again, as Shiro raises his flesh hand and points his index finger, tapping it on the blank circle drawn in the center of the map.

“I need a compass,” he says.

Immediately he’s offered three different compasses. Shiro looks around and accepts the one held closest to him, offered up by Keith, of all people. Lance vaguely wonders where Keith ever managed to find his own compass in the last couple days. Then notices that the one in Shiro’s hand looks way too familiar.

Lance quickly pats around the pockets of his doublet. He stuffs a hand into both pockets of his breeches for good measure. Nothing.

“Hey!” he hisses quietly, leaning inconspicuously towards Keith.

Keith shushes him without even looking.

What a little shit.

Pirate,” Keith whispers back, earning an unsubtle glare from the Queen.

"Pirate my ass," Lance mutters under his breath.

"Later."

Everyone looks down at the map, where Shiro has placed the compass. Right in the circle.

“I… I don’t understand,” Allura says, frowning at the compass. “What will that do? The map is what it is, it’s not like the compass will work any differently with the map, will it?” She says it like it’s obvious, but something in her tone sounds unsure. Shiro shrugs.

“Maybe not,” he says, “but with a little help, it might. This map is ancient. It was made to show the way to the Fountain of Youth, not to lead some fishermen to the nearest trading port.” His finger taps the compass thoughtfully. “Zarkon has the compass that was made for the map, we don't. The needle is embedded with a crystal. Extremely rare and hard to find. They only come from a place completely secluded from the rest of the modern world as we know it. And," he adds, "the only way to reach it is by sailing.”

“An island?” Plaxum suggests.

“Not exactly.”

Everyone in the room suddenly looks more confused.

“Balmera isn’t exactly a place,” Shiro tries to explain, searching for better words. “It has no set location, because Balmera is not a piece of land - it’s a living thing.”

Allura is the first to look like she actually understands. Her mouth falls open in a small ‘O.’

“My father…” her gaze grows distant, like she’s remembering something. Something buried deep within her memories. All eyes snap to her. “He once told me of a mythical creature that carried a city on its back. The city was incredibly wealthy, because the Balmera carried with it a host of living stones. Crystals.” Everyone's attention is on her as she tells her story. Even Lance has never heard this story, and he’s talked with Allura and Coran plenty over the last few years. “Legends said that this great creature held such power that, if you ever found its source, you could gain enough life energy to live for…” the hush is deafening. Allura lets out a breath, almost a small gasp. “To live forever.”

It becomes all too apparent when she says those words, that this legend may well be much more than just a legend.

“But - But if that is true, and Balmera is truly a living island without a set location, this is going to be far more difficult than even I imagined,” she bemoans, letting her face drop into a raised hand. Lance can practically feel her frustration.

“Your highness, I hope you don't mind me asking this but um.... may I see that circlet of yours?” Shiro looks sheepish, but still much more at ease than the rest of the people shuffling uncertainly in the navigation room.

“I - excuse me?” Allura looks taken aback. She lifts a hand to the circlet sitting delicately around her head, a band of silver, the symbol she wears on the ship to signify that while Lance McClain may be the captain, Allura is still their Queen. "What use is it to you?" she asks, casting Shiro a highly suspect look.

Shiro holds up his hands, placating. “If you want this map to be of any use to us," he says calmly, "I’m really going to need that circlet. Or... the stone that it holds, rather. I realize it’s a bit of a strange request but I need to try... Your highness.”

The Queen’s expression grows marginally more guarded. “...I should hope this is strictly for the map, considering I’m being asked this of a pirate.”

Shiro only shakes his head. The look he gives her is one of understanding, but he extends a hand all the same.

Reluctantly, Allura removes the circlet, and holds it out in offering. Her brow is pinched unhappily as she hands the precious thing over.

Shiro thanks her and accepts it. With one deft movement, a metal hand reaches to pluck at the crystal in the silver circlet deftly, exerting a bit of force before the shining blue gem gives, and comes away. He holds the crystal up and examines it with a close eye.

“Something tells me this is no ordinary crystal,” Shiro practically whispers, holding the crystal up so that it catches the ambient light.

All watch with bated breath as the clear lid of the compass is opened, as the crystal is lowered in, and then…

 

A light fills the cabin.

 

As if the sun was about to explode, hot white light that’s almost blue bursts forth, creating a ripple in the very air. Everyone shields their eyes from the intensity of the light, although it doesn’t burn as expected. The room just feels warm. Almost pleasant.

And then just like that, the light pulls back. The warmth fades.

There, embedded in the needle of the compass, is the crystal. And it’s begun to spin faster and faster like a top, uncontrolled.

Allura’s eyes widen. So do Lance’s and Keith’s. The three lean in for a better look while the rest of the people in the room step forward to crowd around the table and gaze in awe at the strange sight.

Finally, the needle comes to a stop.

It wavers a little, but there is no question of why it has stopped.

Allura whips her head around to Lance.

“Set a course,” she says. Her eyes are more alive than Lance has seen in a long time. “It appears we have ourselves a fountain to find.”

 

0{}===========>

 

Everyone leaves in higher spirits than they arrived, their whispers muted a bit when Allura ardently advises that, should anyone let the true nature of this voyage spread, that person will very quickly be tossed overboard. Everyone else will find out eventually.

...In good time, of course.

For now, though, perhaps it is better if this journey’s final destination is kept under wraps. The less people who know, the less dangerous.

Keith is the last to leave the room besides Allura. He makes to trail Lance but before he can make it out the door, he’s stopped.

“Kogan- Keith,” Allura says. Her voice sounds a bit strained, and perhaps a little bit resigned. Keith can only imagine how backwards this all must feel to her, how against her nature it must be for a Queen to help a pirate. An enemy of her own kingdom, as far as most of the crew are concerned.

But when he turns Allura’s expression is a hair softer than he’d expected.

“I believe I um, I owe you an apology,” she says. With a small sigh, she holds something out to him. Keith eyes it, and immediately his gaze turns shocked.

His knife.

She’s giving him back his knife.

If this is her way of making a peace offering, Keith thinks, Allura's doing a spot on job. She's done more than enough already. She bloody came with them to follow the map herself, rules be damned. Doing something he never thought he’d find himself doing, ever, Keith smiles at Allura. Carefully, he takes the knife in his hand, immediately reveling in the familiar weight. He feels a little less out of place, now that he has it back. It hadn't even been something on his mind, the entire trip back from Altea, but he does suppose there had still been something just a touch off. But it doesn't matter now, because everything is back in its rightful place.

“Thank you,” he says.

“What for?” she asks innocently.

“Well for starters, not killing me.”

Allura actually laughs at that. “Well you’d better watch yourself, captain Kogane. You can never be too careful these days.”

She passes him before he can respond, her boots clunking softly against the wood.

Honestly, Keith doesn’t doubt her. But he’s pretty sure he won’t go doing anything that would be bad enough to make Allura quite so lethal towards him in the future. At least, not again.

 

0{}===========>

 

 

When Lance told Keith that he wanted him.... He really fucking meant it. It’s been a day. One day. And Keith is already back here in the captain’s quarters.

Not that there’s a problem with that.

 

“Nhh yeah, fuck, nnn! Y-yeah yeah, like that, oh God.”

Lance’s voice is more air than substance, too busy getting the wind knocked out of him again and again and again.

Keith pounds into him with as much force as he can manage, arms hooked under Lance’s knees for a little extra support while he stands between firm, incredibly tan legs.

Lance, currently, is seated at the edge of his desk and is very quickly losing the ability to breathe evenly when Keith won’t even give him the chance. His arms are wrapped around Keith’s waist, his head thrown back as he leans backwards so Keith can thrust into him dead on.

"S-So is this - God - is this gonna be our new routine?" His nails drag down Keith's back as he tries to do his part, attempting to follow Keith's rhythm but he's got such little purchase on the desk as it is that if he winds up too close to the edge, he'll absolutely fall.

"Huh?" Keith digs his fingers a bit harder into the skin of Lance's toned upper thighs, leaning closer, going deeper, neck and neck with Lance now, close enough to hear the soft breaths and tiny moans that Keith will happily take full responsibility for.

Lance gasps into Keith's neck before biting down - soft enough that it won't leave a mark. He wants to litter the pale skin with red and pink, but right now might not be the best timing.

The crew don't trust Keith or shiro, save perhaps the few people present at the meeting earlier.

If Lance wants the rest of his crew to respect Keith, it might - he hates to admit - be a good idea to keep their relationship a little more... Discreet. Sure, the entire crew probably knows they're buggering each other by now. But at the very least, Lance wants to at least try not to make a big show about it. 

 

There can be no emerging from the cabin every morning with sex mussed hair and disheveled clothing. No sucking face while up on the main deck in front of the deckhands.

And, of course, no marks, although he'll plant as many kisses on that pretty collarbone as he pleases.

Lance almost wishes he could just say to hell with it. He's the captain, after all. And yeah, he's super respected (for the most part). But bringing two pirates on board an Altean ship does complicate things a bit.

Keith's pace is unrelenting, desperate and almost harsh, and Lance sounds like he's enjoying himself so much that he would never go out of his way to ruin that. "You were saying something about a routine?" Keith pants, not letting up even a little.

 

"Y-Yeah- oh god yeah, right there, fuck - every night - yeah, mmmph - wanna see you like this every night. Wanna feel you. Wanna do th-this every night with you."

"Shit..." Keith almost whispers, watching from the corner of his eye to catch Lance biting his lip. Keith jerks into him with a particularly hard thrust of his hips and then stays there, the heavy thrusts replaced with an enthusiastic grinding, so damn deep it makes them both feel like they're looking up at the night sky, there are so many stars. Keith can feel the thighs in his grip quaking.

Lance throws his head back with a wail, voice cracking, before Keith claps a hand over his mouth, stifling the sound.  "Lance, I love you, but for the love of god do you want pidge to hear us?"

The air is warm in the cabin and they both know it’s not because it was a hot day today. The legs of the desk scrape and squeak a little but it’s reeeally hard to care when they both feel like they’ve just reached a higher plane of existence.

 

0{}===========>

 

Happy and tired beyond belief, they collapse into a heap on the bed, toweled off and actually clothed this time around.

 

Lance cards a hand through Keith’s hair softly, smiling a small smile to himself.

He wants to believe that everything really is perfect. But there’s just something that he can't get out of his mind, nagging like a buzzing fly trapped within his skull. 

He just can’t stop thinking about the note they found on Krell.

And the hooded stranger with the white hair.

And how those two separate appearances were too eerily similar to be coincidence.

“Hey,” he says, soft in the silence of the cabin.

Keith looks over. “Hey,” he says. There’s a smile hidden somewhere, eyes sparkling a little when they they connect with Lance’s.

“You remember back on Krell, that note we found?”

“Mmmm, yeah? Why?” Keith shifts to rest his head in his hand.

“I didn’t tell you this before... I wasn’t even sure if it was important or if it was just a coincidence, but I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Okay… what?”

“I saw something. Someone. On Krell, and on Altea. I dunno, it almost felt like… like I was being watched. Like we were being watched.”

Keith’s mouth pulls down at the corners, brow drawn in confusion. “You think we were being followed? That wouldn’t add up, no one could’ve possibly followed us from Krell to Altea unless they were really, really good at being invisible.” The small lamp in the cabin flickers. Like a warning. But more likely just the wind, although Lance has always been a little superstitious. Most sailors tend to be.

Lance knows Keith is joking, but he still can’t help but feel a nervous prickle spread up his back.

“Yeah I know, I know, but just like… it felt wrong. And this person - not sure if it was a man or a woman, so I’m sure I might just be looking to into things - but this person definitely gave off weird energy. Always wearing a cloak with the hood up. Long hair. It looked almost white to me, kind of like Allura’s - Keith?”

Keith has gone still.

“Uhh, Keith?” Lance tries again, reaching out to tap Keith on the shoulder.

All of a sudden Keith shoots up, realization painting his features.

Lotor ,” he hisses, clawing his fingers through his hair as his expression pinches. “Shit! God damn it...”

“Whoa whoa, who? What are you talking about?” Lance hurriedly swings his legs over the side of the bed and stands, fixing the lacings of his trousers before reaching out to put his hands on Keith's shoulders. Keith shrugs them away, a darker look in his eyes. He looks like he's about to snap.

"We're being followed - shit, I should've known, I should've guessed, but I wasn't careful and -"

“Keith," Lance cuts in, looking worried, "Keith please tell me what wrong, you can’t just start saying stuff and not t - ”

“We need to adjust our course. Immediately.”