Lance hummed quietly to himself as he looked out at the city. The setting sun painted the world in array of reds, golds, and shadows; reminding him just a bit too much of home. All this place needed was some colored houses, columns, and an ocean; and it’d really feel like home.
Not that this place wasn’t beautiful or anything, because it was.
It was like nothing Lance had ever seen before, even when traveling with the other Paladins. Then again, a lot of things out in space were like nothing Lance had ever seen before.
The terraced buildings blended nearly seamlessly in with the mountainous terrain despite being a very populated city. Lush gardens and parks covered nearly every roof, and it was almost impossible to tell if one was walking on a roof or actual ground.
He was on the second highest level of the tallest building in the city, giving him one of the most gorgeous views of the valley-city. The bars of the railing were spaced wide enough that he could sit with his legs dangling over the edge and still feel secure.
The burble of a fountain echoed behind him, along with the quiet murmur of voices from the semi enclosed porch. The laughter of children playing echoed on the breeze, a stark comparison to the talks that had led to Lance coming out here.
He laughed once humorlessly to himself. After all the work Voltron had put into destroying the Galra Empire, and here it was, doing exactly that all on its own. Well, not entirely on its own. He was partially to blame for this. Him and…
There was new noise from behind him, and the person Lance had just been thinking of – speak, or in this case, think of the devil and he shall appear – approached the railing, his gaze distant on the horizon. He was clearly as lost in thought as Lance had once been. He rested his hands on the railing, heaving a sigh as he looked out at the city like Lance had just been not even moments before.
Lance’s heart fluttered every so briefly as he looked up at his personal hero. The man who had rescued Lance from the evil clutches of Zarkon’s pet Space Witch and saved Lance from experiencing the countless indescribable horrors that Shiro had known under her ‘care’.
Yet despite how fairytale-esque it was for a legitimate – Did it still count if he was exiled and banished? – prince to come save the damsel in distress, it hadn’t been for Lance’s sake at all. Oh no.
No. Mr. Prince Charming had rescued Lance completely by coincidence. He heard that Zarkon’s pet Space Witch – her name started with an ‘H’, but Lance couldn’t for the life of him recall what it was – was transporting something important and had decided to antagonize her by stealing it out from under her nose.
It was just a happy coincidence that the ‘something important’ had turned out to be Lance.
He hadn’t expected Lance any more than Lance had expected a rescue.
And neither of them expected the fallout.
“A civil war, huh?” Lance asked, using the railing to swing himself back up onto his feet. He smiled at Lotor, trying – and failing, he knew – to convey friendliness to possibly the prickliest of his new traveling companions, to the man he owed his life and sanity to.
Happy accident or not, Lance still felt that he owed him.
As per usual and expectation, Lotor ignored Lance. Most of the time when they interacted, it was with the Generals as buffers, but even those interactions were stilted.
Lance tried not to take the not-so-subtle rejection to heart. He guessed that he just didn’t have the right personality to appeal to royalty, if his interactions with Allura, and now Lotor, were anything to go off of. In any case, Lance was just happy and thankful that Lotor was willing to go through the hassle of attempting to reunite Lance with Voltron; and was treating Lance like a person despite being technically Lotor’s prisoner.
“Looks like you’re a hero to these people too if they’re starting a civil war over you.” Lance continued in lieu of a response.
Finally, Lotor gave him a response, even if it was just the tightening of his lips and the slightest down turn of the corners to create a frown.
It wasn’t like Lance was being sarcastic when calling Lotor a hero, so he wasn’t exactly sure why Lotor grimaced like that anytime Lance brought it up. He didn’t get a chance to ask as their conversation was interrupted.
“I tried telling him that his hands-off approach to governing was gonna be a problem when he first started doing it.” Ezor sighed dramatically behind them.
Huh, if both Ezor and Lotor were out here, then the meeting must have either a) drawn to a close or b) taken a break. Either way, the information was interesting, and Lance physically perked up at it.
“You let the planets under your control keep their OG government?” It was interesting to Lance that despite his parentage, or perhaps in spite of it, Lotor had allowed that. Given how tightly he ran his ship, Lance had kinda imagined that he was just as strict with the planets under his care.
Apparently Lance had assumed incorrectly, which was totally cool. In at least this situation, Lance preferred being wrong.
“Within reason.” Lotor replied. “It’s easier to let them manage themselves within set guidelines of the Empire than try to force the Empire’s ways onto them completely.”
Well, that made sense. With something as wide spread as the Empire and with as many people and cultures there were… it only made sense to enforce a guideline and certain rules. Kind of like the United States Federal Government verse the individual state governments.
The planets were states, and the Empire was the federal government.
“What he means, is that it was less work for him.” Ezor stage whispered to Lance, rolling her eyes.
Lance laughed. Out of his newest traveling companions, Ezor was by far his favorite. She reminded him more than a little of his sisters, although, perhaps not physically. She was the most friendly and lively of them. Colorful both physically and in personality.
It didn’t hurt that she had been the one to find him, even if Lotor had been the one to actually rescue him.
He had vague memories of the rescue thanks to the gas that his containment chamber had been filled with to keep him sedated and pliant, but the moment where Lotor opened the chamber and caught his body was forever etched into his mind. He was about seventy percent certain that Lotor had carried him at some point as well.
Lotor narrowed his eyes at them before spinning on his heel and marching away from the area.
“What’s his problem?” Lance huffed, watching him go. Ezor was silent and Lance glanced over at her to see her also staring after Lotor with a speculative gaze.
“I think…” She started, pausing as she tilted her head. She hummed a long flat note. “I’m not sure. It’s hard to tell what’s going through his mind.”
Lance wanted to shake her and demand she finish her first thought, but he didn’t. Instead he pursed his lips and turned to face the city again, leaning forward on the railings with his forearms. There was an urge to pull out the data chip that put him in this situation in the first place, to play with it to keep his hands busy while his thoughts ran rampart in his mind.
He resisted the urge.
“It’s hard to tell what you’re thinking sometimes too.” Ezor said, coming up on his side and leaning against the railing.
Lance didn’t have much of a response to that. For as much as Lotor was Lance’s hero, he was also his enemy. Everyone on Lotor’s crew – including Lotor – were Galra, even if they didn’t look it. They all served the empire, some more than others.
Lotor was a prince after all.
Emphasis on was. Zarkon disowned him and declared him a traitor to the Empire when he rescued Lance. Except, a good portion of the Empire liked Lotor, and didn’t take the news of his disownment and exile well. They had rallied up for Lotor in a shocking display of loyalty that had Lance really questioning Lotor.
What kind of man was he to incite such loyalty among the colonized planets of the Empire?
He seemed so different from his father, from Zarkon. Was the difference from his mother? Or perhaps the desire to be different than the tyrant his father was? Or… was he a reflection of the type of person Zarkon used to be.
Zarkon was once the Black Paladin; and Lance couldn’t see that being a thing if Zarkon had always been a tyrannical dictator asshole. So, then what had changed? What caused him to become the emperor he was now? Lotor seemed to harbor a healthy distaste and distrust of the witch… could she have been involved?
Too many questions and not enough answers. Like the empty data chip that he was nearly tortured and experimented over.
“Maybe it’s because my head’s full of air, dead flies, and bits of fluff?” Lance joked.
Ezor scrunched up her nose, clearly finding fault with the imagery Lance provided with his words. “I don’t think that’s it.” She disagreed lightly a moment later. Lance half shrugged in response. She hummed another long low note before letting it die off. Silence reigned for a good few moments.
Lance usually did his best not to let silence go on for long periods of time. Too much silence gave him too many opportunities to think about things he didn’t want to think about. Things like Earth, his family, and most recently… Voltron.
Lotor’s group had tried – and failed – countless times over the past couple weeks to get him back to the team, but… as it turned out, getting in contact with Voltron was a bit more difficult than Lance thought it would be.
Some part of him poisonously wondered if perhaps that was on purpose.
Which, to some degree, he knew it was. If it was easy to get in contact with Voltron and the Coalition, then Zarkon would have destroyed them already. He nearly did the last time they did battle. Of course, at the time, they only had the support of Olkarion and the Blade of Marmora.
Now they had countless planets pledging their support. An entire resistance and coalition at their beck and call.
Taking that into consideration, it should have been easy for Lotor to find Voltron and return Lance. Yet it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. There were politics and diplomacy, and alliances, and negotiations and a whole slew of other things that made Lance’s head spin and spin and spin.
Not to mention the doubts Lance had about Voltron…
Once more his mind strayed to the data chip and mission that got him here in the first place. Some part of him thought it was all too convenient how things just fell into place during the ill-fated mission, but the implication of that… Lance didn’t want to entertain.
“You’re Voltron’s sharpshooter, right?” Ezor’s voice cut through the melancholy fog of his thoughts, and he looked over at her, considering his options.
Part of him felt like he should lie and say he wasn’t, but just about anyone who had seen the Voltron Show would know him to be the sharp shooter. There was no point in lying.
Lance half shrugged again, not meeting her gaze as he stubbornly continued to look out at the city. “I don’t have a weapon.” He replied.
It wasn’t an answer, but it wasn’t not an answer either. Almost automatically his hand fell down to the energy storage compartment where his bayard used to be. It had been lost during the mission at some point, presumably after he lost consciousness.
Best case scenario, it was left at the Galra base where the team would find it. Worst case scenario, the Galra had it. Actually, scratch that. With the questions floating around in his head, it probably was best if the bayard just wasn’t found at all.
It was best left at that base, the supposed ‘data center’ where his mission had taken place. Forgotten and lost both to the team and the Galra.
He hated that he was without the bayard, but at least he still had his paladin armor. Small mercies, he supposed.
“That’s alright!” Ezor chirped. If she noticed the movement of his hand, she didn’t bring attention to it. “Acxa might be willing to let you borrow one of her blaster pistols.”
“Pluh-ease.” Lance scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Like she would let me anywhere near one of them.”
“She might!” Ezor argued. “You’ve got to be a decent shot if you’re the ‘sharpshooter’!”
The emphasis she put on ‘sharp shooter’ grated at Lance in a way that tempted him to prove himself to her. To demand a firearm to put her doubt to rest.
A large part of Lance was tempted to argue against her. To bring up points such as him being Lotor’s
prisoner guest, and therefore not being allowed a weapon. Lotor didn’t trust him with one, and frankly, Lance didn’t blame him.
If team Voltron had one of Lotor’s crew as a ‘guest’ on the castle ship, he would guarantee that they’d be stripped of their weapons too. They’d probably also be contained somehow, like they had contained Sendak.
Just thinking of being contained again, like how the Galra had contained him before his rescue via Lotor, made Lance mentally shudder. Every night since his rescue, his dreams had been full of the terrifying darkness and isolation that he experienced during his time with the Galra.
He might have technically been a prisoner, but he was utterly thankfully to have been allowed the relative freedom of movement.
And it wasn’t like Lotor had been the one to strip Lance of his weapon. He hadn’t expressly forbidden Lance from having one either. He hadn’t expressly forbidden Lance from much of anything, actually.
Ever since Lance had woken up on Lotor’s ship, he had been free to wander around it – granted he didn’t cause trouble or go in obviously restricted areas. He hadn’t been tortured or interrogated. The most he had been asked about Voltron was all in the interest of finding Voltron to return him.
Despite all of Lance’s skepticism, Lotor did seem true with his intent there. But why? That was a question Lance had yet to discover.
The only thing he could think of was that Lotor planned to either a) use Lance as a good faith gift to get on Voltron’s good side, or b) he was a bargaining chip to get something specific from Voltron.
But what would he want? He had the loyalty of a decent portion of Galra Empire, he had four kick ass generals – even the creepy blind one that never spoke was awesome – and was a generally handsome badass.
He didn’t give Lance the creepy bad guy vibes of wanting Allura or Pidge for nefarious reasons. So what was his aim? His goal? What did he want?
It was something Lance was determined to discover, hopefully before Lotor and Voltron met.
“Alright!” Ezor chipped, taking his arm in a frog march. “Enough of that! I thought the Red Paladin was the grumpy quiet one, not you!” She tugged him along. “I wanna check out these ‘sharpshooter’ skills for myself, even if I have to steal a blaster for you.”
Lance stumbled along with Ezor, stunned from being so abruptly taken from his thoughts. “What? Wait, where am I gonna show off these skills for you anyways?”
“A shooting range, duh.”
A shooting range? Man, he hadn’t been to one of those in ages. The last time was at the Garrison, unless he counted the makeshift range on the castle. He didn’t need proficiency with firearms to get into the Garrison, but it certainly didn’t hurt one’s application.
Although, visiting one was a good idea. It would give him a chance to familiarize himself with additional weapons outside his missing bayard. Once more he thought to his possible arguments, and sighed. “Alright.” He nodded, “I’m game.”
Blasters, Lance was pleased to find, were almost exactly like what he had been already using. There were some differences, of course, as Blasters weren’t tailored exactly to him as his bayard would be, but Lance was fairly certain he would be able to handle himself if it came down to it.
If he wanted to be at the standard he had been at, then he would need to spend time with the blaster. He would have to practice and practice and practice, until he knew the firearm just as well as he knew himself.
Each firearm was different, and while skill and talent could make up for a lot, knowing the weapon could make a definite difference.
That being said, Lance would make do with what he had.
There was something calming about being on a range. The outside world just seemed to blend, blur, and melt away, taking with it all his questions, troubles, and worries. On the shooting range, he could just take a moment to focus on the shot without having to fear about someone sneaking up behind him or worry about how his teammates were doing.
It was just him, his firearm, and the target. Nothing more, nothing less.
He finished, putting down the blaster – not one borrowed from Acxa but from the range itself – and looked to where Ezor should have been standing alone. Except she wasn’t. At some point, without his notice, a small crowd had gathered around her to watch him.
A few of the faces were familiar, like Acxa and Zethrid, but a majority of the crowd was comprised of inhabitants of the world. Ezor immediately broke into applause, whistling in appreciation. “Sharpshooter indeed!” She cheered.
Lance wasn’t prone to blushing, but he felt his entire face flush with heat at her praise. When he was training in the castle, it was almost never with an audience. To suddenly have one now – and one that assured him that he was good – it was unreal.
Usually Acxa’s gaze was dismissive anytime she looked at him, but this time, he could tell it was speculative and heavy. Likewise, Zethrid was giving him a look that said he wasn’t just a bug for her to stomp on anymore.
He wasn’t sure how he felt about these changes. Part of him was excited at having the approval of these exceptional ladies who could all kill him with basically a thought, but another part of him was just… unsure.
“What do you know? The runt’s got some tricks up his sleeve after all.” Zethrid commented as he approached, stepping forward to give him a congratulatory slap on the back. Lance stumbled forward an extra step from the force.
“You certainly know your way with a blaster.” Acxa considered him. “How are you with other firearms?”
“I haven’t messed with much space weapons besides my bayard, but on Earth, I practiced with several rifles, shotguns, and handguns.” It felt oddly impersonal to explain his capabilities, and in hindsight, he realized he probably should have either a) flubbed up and shot poorly, or b) underestimated his skills.
These people, while friendly for now, were still part of the Galra Empire – even if not from the part that sided with Zarkon – and therefore, were still potential enemies. They could change their mind and imprison Lance at any time. They could torture him. They could…
Give him a weapon?
“Keep it.” Acxa pushed the firearm back into Lance’s hands when he tried to return it, and then nodded up at an observation deck. Lance saw the trailing tips of white hair, and he didn’t need to be a genius to know who else had been watching from up there.
His stomach twisted, and his heart did the weird little flutter thing at the thought of Lotor watching him. An unexpected crowd was one thing, but the prince as well?
Lance’s gaze fell back on Acxa and he was startled to see her giving him the faintest of smiles. He accepted the firearm, and she nodded curtly before stepping away and heading off to do whatever she did when not around him.
“Oooo, you’re so good with firearms!” Ezor hip-checked him, grinning wildly. “How about other stuff? How’s your hand-to-hand?”
“Any other weapon skills?” Zethrid added, crossing her arms as she considered him. “You look like sword would be a good fit.” She tilted her head, her gaze heavy with contemplation. Lance fidgeted under it. “Maybe a… broadsword,” She paused, her gaze turning to Ezor. “What’cha think?”
“A broadsword?” Ezor furrowed her eyebrows, tilting her head just a tiniest bit in confusion. She looked between Lance and Zethrid a few times. “Wha… oh!” Her face literally lit up as whatever Zethrid was implying finally seemed to register to her. “Ohhhh… Oh. Okay, yeah. No, I see it now.”
Well, that was more than little concerning, especially when Ezor’s manic grin could have rivaled Pidge when she talked about pranking someone or purposefully trying to confuse Allura or Coran. Feeling eminent danger, Lance gulped audibly and slowly began to edge away.
Zethrid’s arm shot out, wrapping around his back, her fingers curled around his upper arm in a grip almost tight enough to bruise even through the armor. She smiled at Lance, and he felt himself pale.
“Why don’t you come with us and give a demonstration of your other skills?”
She phrased it like a suggestion or an offer, but… Lance knew there was only one reply. He smiled widely, laughing nervously in a ‘what the fuck’ kind of way.
“Yeah!” He nodded. “Sure. Okay.”
Ezor laughed, and the sound sent chills down Lance’s spine. “This is going to be priceless.”
Lance wouldn’t say that his only skills were with firearms. He was talented and skilled at other things, like acting, dancing, aerial silks, maneuvering a social function, or braiding hair. He was a good enough pilot to get into the Garrison, so he had skill with that. He was good at being loud and annoying, and catching people’s attention, but also at being quiet when it was needed, and reading the atmosphere.
He was skilled with a lot of things… Just not the types of things that the Galra typically expected.
He lamented this fact as Ezor put him back on his ass for the umpteenth time that day. Not the first time, he was thankful of the paladin armor’s gloves for protecting his hands from being scraped against the ground.
Firing a firearm would be unpleasant if he had scratches and scrapes on his palms.
“Wow… I didn’t think Team Voltron would leave their sharp shooter so…” Ezor waved a hand at him, as if she could just encompass what she meant with his bruised aching form.
“Weak?” Zethrid suggested. “Indefensible, vulnerable, easy to crush?” She listed off, tapping her fingers at each suggestion with a sharp click against the wall separating the training yard from the rest of the world. She rested her head on her folded arms on top of the wall as she watched them. It had become apparent to her very early on that Lance was in no shape prepared to take her one in one-to-one hand-to-hand combat.
So Ezor had stepped in to thoroughly kick Lance’s ass in Zethrid’s stead.
“Mmm,” Ezor hummed and tilted her head as she considered Lance. “Pathetic.” She nodded her head decisively as she offered him a hand to stand.
“Hey!” Lance protested. And speaking of protesting, he could feel his muscles protest against him as he forced himself to stand again without Ezor’s ‘help’. Last time he accepted that hand, she yeeted him across the training ground and reminded him not to trust people on the battlefield.
He was not interested in a repeat of that.
Ezor seemed delighted by his rejection – as she had the past two times he had rejected her ‘help’ – and clapped her hands joyously. “Oh, don’t worry little Paladin, we’ll take care of that since Voltron is so incapable.”
She did not have the right to sound so flipping happy while basically declaring his doom and death. She just didn’t have that right. She didn’t. Yet she did it anyways.
He groaned. “I don’t doubt that.”
Both Ezor and Zethrid exchanged looks and broke into laughter. Unease prickled along Lance’s spin, “Oh, you have no idea, little Paladin.” Ezor practically sung before she threw herself back at Lance with what he was certain was intent to kill or at the very least maim him.