Actions

Work Header

The Bet

Work Text:

Keith sits in Allura’s study as she mulls over documents on her halo-pad. It’s one of his usual visits to Altiran, the newly minted capital of New Altea, after a Blade of Marmora assignment in the quadrant. The room rests at the top of the spire of the New Castle of Lions and overlooks the city. 

In the time since the war’s end, the universe has been measurably more peaceful than Zarkon’s reign. But, there were still pockets of the galaxy still strife in violence. It keeps the Alliance busy, and Keith always on alert.

His leg nervously bounces as he sharpens his knife for the hundredth time that day. Eventually, it proves too much for Allura’s nerves, and she slaps the desk hard enough to startle him. 

“Keith, what are you doing?” Allura hisses at him.

He looks at his knife and then up at her. “Sharpening my blade.”

“Is there a reason you must do it right now while you’re sitting in my office?”

Keith pauses and glances down at his blade again. “It’s smart to keep my blade sharp in case there’s an attack.”

“An attack where ?”

He gestures around them and Allura sighs. She places the halo-pad on her desk and leans back into her chair.

“Keith, I’m perfectly capable of defending myself from any hooligan who wishes to invade my office in broad daylight,” she assures him. “I certainly didn’t heal the entire universe with just my wit and charm, you know.”

Keith knows the joke is meant to be self-deprecating, but it still stings. While the end of the Galra War brought a new wave of peace and prosperity to the universe, it did come at a price. 

The amount of Altean alchemy needed to heal Lotor from the rift and mend reality from Honerva’s influence was astronomical. The final battle at the Source of All Realities left Allura magicless, her connection with quintessence permanently severed. After months of recovering in the Garrison infirmary, her cheeks remain gaunt, and her hands tremble. Even so, Allura is still one of the best hand-to-hand combat fighters Keith has ever known.

She tilts her head to the side, her short hair brushing against her cheekbone. “Kolivan didn’t assign you to protect me, did he?”

“I don’t have to be assigned to you to want to hang out with you,” Keith defends bashfully, ducking his head as he returns his blade to its sheath. “Is it so hard to believe I enjoy it here?”

“You don’t enjoy anything,” she retorts, her voice laced with skepticism.  

Allura swivels her chair towards the window, watching the sun and moon stain the parliamentary buildings within the Altean capital, all shades of pink and orange. She’s been cooped up in her study working for what feels like hours, and that’s just how long Keith has been here. 

It isn’t the first time he’s dropped by Altea between missions simply to keep Allura company as she digs into the policy and diplomacy of leading a freshly revived planet. In the shadow of their Voltron days, what was once the most combative relationship in Keith’s life has blossomed into one of his most cherished friendships.

Without a war to fight or a team to lead, Keith and Allura were just two workaholics trying to figure out their places in the new universe.

He knows Allura well enough by now to instinctively sense that her complaining about minor annoyances (like harmless blade sharpening) means she’s bored. And when Allura gets bored, she starts asking questions.

“Where are you living these days?” Allura asks, rolling her head to face him without needing to turn her chair away from the lingering warmth of the sunlight.

“Daibazaal, mostly. But my apartment is too small for Kosmo to stretch his legs,” Keith replies, thumbing towards the window. “He loves the fields here and on Earth when we visit L—” 

Allura cocks an eyebrow when he stops himself abruptly. Keith struggles to keep a straight face when he corrects, “People.” 

Fortunately for him, that’s not the detail she presses. “So, why don’t you spend more time on Earth?”

“Are you trying to get rid of me?” Keith demands, and she rolls her eyes in a way she would never do in the presence of any other company.

“Ancients, no, don’t be so dramatic. I’m simply curious as to why you’d choose to spend your few days off-duty lingering around my office like a Grels that’s lost its pack,” she huffs, kicking off the window ledge to spin her chair, so she’s fully facing him again. “It can’t be as interesting as other pursuits.”

Keith shrugs. “I really do just like hanging out with you. It’s relaxing in the New Castle of Lions.”

“It’s boring, and I know it,” Allura argues, leaning forward to rest her elbows against her desk. “You’re avoiding something, and I am going to find out what.”

Keith stares into her eyes, and already he can sense his willpower begin to slip. Aside from being the Queen of the second most influential planet in the entire Galaxy Alliance, Allura can be extraordinarily assertive when she wants to be. Coran once labeled the trait as “nosey,” but Shiro had kindly rebranded it as persistent.  

Between years of being an emotionally stunted orphan and his training in interrogation resistance by the Blade of Marmora, Keith manages to dodge her prodding. He leans forward, rests his elbows on Allura’s desk and his chin on his fist. “I feel like you’re projecting here.”

“No, I’m not.”

He presses his index and thumb together closely. “You are a little bit.”

“What the stars could I possibly be projecting onto you ?”

“When was the last time you went out and did something that wasn’t related to governing New Altea?” Keith asks, his voice smooth and playful. “Little miss homebody?”

She bristles like a cat dangled above a bath. "That question is hardly appropriate!"

“Every time I visit, we just read over our reports together in comfortable silence,” he explains, motioning to the various screens and devices opened on Allura’s desk between them. “How could this not be relaxing? We’re like a study group.”

"Are you suggesting that we're both enabling the other to be boring homebodies?" Allura demands, and Keith nods.

"That's exactly what I'm saying — and there's nothing wrong with it! We saved the universe and all reality. It's okay to enjoy simple things like reading briefings reports or balancing budgets."

Allura smacks the desk again, sending Keith reeling. "Unacceptable! We must rectify this at once!"

Before he can get another word in edgewise, Allura is on her feet, blue dress flowing out behind her as she blazes past Keith. She clears her office in a few large strides before craning her neck out the doorway to call, "Coran?"

Within ticks the older Altean is in the doorway, obviously concerned by the manic energy that’s descended on the study. "What is it, your majesty?"

"Cancel the rest of my meetings for the day, please." She orders, before tapping her chin and mumbling to herself. “Now, where did I put those spectacles…”

Coran's eyes go wide. "What?"

“C'mon, Allura, don't cancel all your appointments.” Keith groans, rising to his feet to follow her around the room. Tablets and holopads are thrown around in a flurry as Allura tears through her drawers like a hurricane. "You're actually busy. Kosmo and I can head home, it’s really not a big deal."

"Nope! I've committed," Allura huffs, pointing at him with a perfectly manicured finger.  "Now, you're stuck with me for the entire afternoon. Take that!"

“Take what?” Keith’s voice cracks as he flounders like a beached fish, utterly baffled. “Is this supposed to be some kind of a punishment?”

She arches a skeptical brow. “Keep that attitude up, and it very well could be.”

“Your majesty—” Coran shakes his head. “Allura, where is this coming from?”

“I called us boring, and now she wants to prove me wrong,” Keith explains, rubbing the bridge of his nose in hopes of stopping the oncoming headache. Coran looks exhausted at both of them.

“You’re making me rearrange your meetings regarding the gala for Tralfan Helper Monkeys over a bet ?” He motions wildly at Keith. “With the paladin?”

Keith squints at Coran. “I don’t know if I should be insulted by that.”

“Well, do let me know when you figure it out, my boy,” Coran says, patting him on the back good-naturedly.

“Don’t be absurd; it’s not a bet. I’m making a point,” Allura smiles sweetly before ducking under her desk.

Behind them, the office door flies open and Romelle enters, looking as confused as Keith feels.

“The space mice were getting stressed,” she explains, pointing to the four mice on her shoulder before turning to where Allura’s hair is peeking out from behind her desk. “Is everything alright in here?”

Coran huffs and mutters, “Does it look alright?” 

The mice leap from Romelle’s shoulder and scamper across the rug to where Allura is still hunched. “Oh! Hello, friends. Do you mind helping me find something?”

After some conspiring, Allura stands back up and the mice scatter around the office. Keith doesn’t miss the way her ribs heave up and down as she takes deep breaths. Within ticks, two of the mice reappear on her desk with a squeak, each holding an earpiece of a pair of plastic sunglasses. 

“There they are!” Allura cheers, leaning down to kiss the mice on their heads before snatching the glasses. When she leans back, the exertion brings on more breathlessness, like the air around her is devoid of oxygen. 

“Your majesty, this gala is only a phoeb away, and there are key details we still need to finalize,” Coran tries to gently reason, making his way across the room. “Between that and your condition, I don’t think it’s wise to overexert yourself.” 

“Coran, I’m fine,” Allura insists and something sparkles in her eyes when she follows it up with, “And Romelle can handle the gala preparations. Isn’t that right, Romelle?”

“O-of course, your majesty.” Romelle bows her head, before turning to Keith with a scowl and mouthing, “What did you do?”

Allura hums when Romelle meets her eyes again and offers a weak smile to Coran. “See? The gala is in very capable hands.”

Keith fights against the urge to argue. He’s learned the hard way how relentless Allura can be once she has her mind set on something. Still, Coran’s hand rests on her arm, just for a moment, before he folds them behind his back again. 

He clears his throat. “If this is what you wish...I will see to clearing your schedule, then.”

“Thank you.” Allura nods. She turns to leave her office to head to her chambers, albeit slightly slower. She pauses midstep. “Oh, Coran? Please don’t move my nightly call.”

Coran’s marks crease with a knowing look. “Wouldn’t dream of it, your majesty.”

“A nightly call?” Keith repeats and glares at Allura when she passes him. “With who?”

“No one of importance!” Allura waves at the air as if physically swatting away the question. It’s an Earth mannerism she’s picked up from Lance. “Now make sure you change — your blade uniform is too conspicuous! Coran, make sure to provide Keith with some fun clothes.”

“Fun clothes?” Keith asks before looking down at his Blade Commander uniform and then back to Coran and Romelle. “What the hell am I supposed to wear?”




 

The dual sun and moon rising in the sky over New Altea gives the afternoon a soft glow like spun sugar at a carnival. Together, Allura and Keith stroll through the wide avenues of the capital, the sunset staining the city of Altiran in all shades of pink and orange.

As promised, Coran came through with dressing Keith in more casual clothing. On his face rests a pair of dark sunglasses, while on his head sits a baseball cap that reads Altea Lions, and his Blade uniform has been replaced with a graphic t-shirt, bomber jacket, and acid-washed jeans. His disguise isn't as nearly as elaborate as Allura's, who has tucked her silver hair underneath a blue beret, a cropped sweater, high-waisted jeans, and a pair of sunglasses shaped like hearts that Lance gifted her during her stay on Earth. 

"Isn't this lovely?" Allura beams, hooking their arms together as they walk. Her knees were beginning to wobble, and it’s easier to hide by clinging onto Keith under the guise of being slightly obnoxious. "The two of us! Outside! Partaking in recreational activities!"

“Yeah, it’s great.”

Allura groans. It doesn’t take an empath to sense that Keith is still finding it hard to relax as aliens of all different species go about their day, overcrowding Altiran’s narrow sidewalks. The planet is different from the one she remembers, and sometimes it even throws Allura for a loop. Especially when she’s referencing a plant or animal that no longer exists on the planet she rules. 

She shoves him playfully in the shoulder. “Now, Keith, when was the last time you’ve been out on a proper date ?”

Keith snorts. "As if you’ve gone out with anyone since the war ended."

She opens her mouth to defend herself but stops. The statement is technically incorrect. Allura has been out since the war ended, but it was on the beach date with Lance where she had ended their relationship. It's been months since then, and while her relationship with Lance has slowly readjusted to being just friends, that didn't make things any less awkward.

While Shiro, Hunk, and Pidge appeared to view their breakup from a place of neutrality, Keith almost seemed personally affronted when the news hit him. Allura is aware of the deep bond the two paladins share, and the last thing she wants is to evoke Keith's protectiveness over Lance because they're no longer dating.

It's one of those things that is best swept under the rug.

They fall into a comfortable silence as they walk down the avenue together. Allura enjoys viewing the city from a new vantage point. From the spire, the most she can see is the tops of buildings and clippings of trees. Proof of the planet, but nothing tangible.  

As they walk, the sky towers in the southern district are visible. Pink mourning banners flow softly in the wind, a reminder of the war that's only been over for a few phobes. What once would have covered thousands of acres of land now takes up less ground space than an old swap-moon district. They had focused on parks and wild areas during the reconstruction of New Altea. Allura wanted her people to have a chance to walk among nature and enjoy the trails on solar-powered hoverbikes or animals that look like horses. 

Yet perhaps the city's most magnificent aspect is a river that flows through the city center, flowing under the bridges and overlooking the Castle of Lions, which sits amid all the reconstruction. 

When she hears Keith sigh for the seventh time in ten doboshes, she knows she has a problem.

“Keith, what’s wrong?” she asks bluntly, squeezing his arm affectionately. “You look like a man facing his execution.”

“Look, it’s just — there’s a reason I don’t feel the need to waste my time wandering around a city. There are better things to do.”

“Such as?”

Keith is quiet for a moment as Allura leads them down one of the city’s vast, intricate labyrinths of noisy alleys. “We could be training, or preparing for the inevitable attack we know is probably coming from Sendak’s loyalist, or — ”

“Or we can do none of those things and instead,” she stops in her tracks for the sake of drama, pointing at the marquee that hangs from the front of a building across the street. “We can see a movie!”

The theatre before them has only one title listed:

 

Now Playing

Voltron! Legendary Warriors!
The Movie!

 

Keith groans. “Absolutely, not.”

“Please, Keith!” Allura begs, pushing her sunglasses up onto her head. “This is the movie Hunk was telling us about that’s based on that awful Earth cartoon. We must go and support our fans!”

She clasps her hands in front of her face, pressing her bottom lip out and blinking rapidly.

“What are you doing?” he demands.

“I’m dog-eyeing,” she explains, blinking faster. “Lance taught me this expression. He said it makes humans do whatever you command because you look like a small dog. Is it working?”

“No,” Keith replies, standing his ground for only another tick before walking towards the box office. “Ugh, fine. We can go, but not because you made that face.”

Allura beams with pride. “If we’re going, it means my dog-eyeing worked!”

“No, it doesn’t.”

They reach the ticket booth that’s being run by a bored-looking young Unilu woman with ear pods. Into the speaker, she snaps her gum loudly. 

Allura doesn’t wait for her to greet them before she excitedly orders. “Two tickets for the next showing of Voltron! Legendary Warriors! The Movie! Please!”

The Unilu woman pauses, snapping her gum before she flicks a switch that opens her mic. A wave of static preludes, “The next showing is in three doboshes. That’ll be 45 GAC.”

Allura turns to gaze at Keith with an expectant look. He raises an eyebrow at her like she's grown a second head. “What?”

“You must pay the worker, Keith,” she explains, motioning to the ticket attendant. “I don’t know how Earth labor laws operate, but on New Altea, we are a society that exchanges credits for goods and services.”

Keith makes an ugly squawking noise. “Why do I have to pay?”

“Well, I certainly don’t have any credits,” Allura grumbles indignantly. Why are they suddenly arguing about this? “Besides, Lance would always pay when we went out together.”

“Because you were dating,” Keith says, making sure to elongate every syllable in the word. “That’s what people who date do! They pay for each other!”

“Shiro pays for me when he and Adam visit, and we certainly are not dating,” she shoots back, placing her hands on her hips and mimicking his pronunciation. Two could play at this game.

Keith stares down at Allura, and she stares up at him. This back-and-forth goes on until the Unilu woman behind the glass flicks the mic on again.

“Um, the movie starts in two doboshes. Are you guys gonna buy tickets or not?”

She thinks about dog-eyeing him again but Lance did mention she shouldn't use it too often.

“Fine, I’ll pay,” Keith groans aloud, shoving Allura softly to the side. She cheers and nearly tugs his arm off as she hurls them into the theatre.

“Oh! We must get corn pop!”

“Allura, no!”

 


 

"Personally, I think the film took a lot of creative liberties."

"Which part? Pidge being a boy or us dating?"

Keith catches how Allura can't hide her smile behind her spoonful of gelato (which he also bought.) They’re sharing a cup with two scoops of a flavor that Keith can only describe as how he thinks the color purple would taste.

"Obviously us.” Allura rolls her eyes, twirling her spoon in the air flippantly. “Pidge's gender can be as malleable as she wishes it to be."

"True.” Keith hums, dipping his spoon into the gelato for another bite. “You’d think someone would’ve reached out to one of us for research before they made the movie.”

“I have a feeling that Lance called them to ensure he was perceived in a positive light,” Allura jokes, and Keith can’t help but laugh. 

“Oh, he totally did.” He twists the plastic spoon in his hand in thought. “Although, given your track record, if I was into women, I think you’d be interested in me.”

“That’s funny,” Allura says, and then whips her head up, eyes narrowing. “Wait...are you serious?”

Keith takes a generous scoop of gelato into his mouth and around his spoon asks, “Do I look like I’m joking?”

“How are you so sure?”

“Well, your last two boyfriends were,” Keith’s brows furrow as he counts on two fingers, “Half-galra and the Red Paladin. I am both of those things, so statistically speaking, I am your type.”

Feeling vindicated, he takes his spoon out of his mouth and goes to take another scoop before Allura can scold him for getting backwash on it. 

“You are not my type,” Allura says with finality as she extends her spoon toward the gelato.

“What’s the saying? Once is happenstance. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is —” Keith stops instantly, his eyes glued to where Allura’s spoon is shaking. Her hand trembles so intensely that she’s unable to hold the utensil still enough to lift the gelato. 

Her brows pinch together as if she’s concentrating with all her might to keep the small bit of plastic steady. The expression almost looks pained. Her blue eyes are fierce, welling with hot tears as she stares at the gelato with so much anger, Keith is surprised it doesn’t melt on the spot.

Keith lowers his spoon and sets it on a clean napkin. “Hey.”

Allura freezes but doesn’t pull away when he touches her wrist gently. Her hand is sweaty, and her long, thin fingers curl around his palm. 

“C’mon,” he urges softly, steadying her hands. “You can do it.”

“No, I can’t,” she says with a waver in her voice.

His hold tightens. “Yes, you can. I got you.”

“I don’t care!” Allura hisses when the spoon drops. She rips her hand from his hold and pulls it to her chest. She cradles both hands against her chest. “Don’t you see? I’m broken! My hands won’t stop trembling, and I need someone to help keep me steady when I walk.” 

“Allura, you mended all of reality,” Keith argues, hoping that his logic can break through to her. “Your body’s not broken; it’s still recovering. It hasn't even been a year.”

He watches as Allura takes a deep breath to collect her thoughts and emotions. Even as she steadies herself again, Keith can tell there's still something lingering in the back of her mind. Probably the same degrading little voice Keith experiences from time to time that refuses to quit no matter how much you try to push it down.

“It doesn’t matter how much time passes,” she hisses, gripping the napkin between her fingers. “I simply remain useless.”

Anger floods him and his voice rises louder than is appropriate for a gelato shop. “You’re not useless!”

“But I am, Keith. It’s why I stay cooped up in the spire study and do all my addresses via hologram. How can I expect the people of New Altea to believe in a ruler who can’t even hold a tablet stylus?” Allura shakes her head and wipes away the tears that came on too suddenly for her to stop. “I’m sorry, I know I should be used to this by now. That I can’t—”

“Stop,” Keith interrupts and glances down at her to find her brows creased in confusion. With a defeated exhale, he sighs, “If you want to talk about yourself like that when I’m not around, that’s your business. But while we’re together, I refuse to let you beat yourself up like this because you’re healing.”

Keith watches her for a long moment. He isn’t one for supportive speeches, that’s more Shiro’s department. Even while leading Voltron, most of his rallying of the team was through him barking orders. But in losing so much in his life, Keith does know a thing about accepting help from others. Especially when healing from a soul-deep pain that feels impossible to overcome.

He reaches out to her again but doesn’t take hold of her hands. Instead, he keeps his palms open, fingers outstretched. Ready to guide her whenever she’s comfortable. 

“Allura, you saved the universe. Every living thing around us owes you its life, and if they have an issue with your hands shaking or you using a touch screen, then they can deal with me, the entire Blade of Marmora, the Garrison, and every paladin,” Keith urges. 

Allura won't meet his gaze, her face scrunched in self disgust. If he was any of the other paladins, he'd wrap her up in a hug but even now he's not completely comfortable offering comfort. Lance would— his thoughts derail as something occurs to him. 

"Is this why you broke up with Lance?" he blurts out. "Did you think he wouldn't still love you?"

She stares at him with a flustered, deer-caught-in-headlights look that sends Keith’s heart plummeting to his feet. 

From that last night on Earth when Lance told him that he was going on a date with Allura to their final days at the Garrison hospital while she recovered, Keith used every ounce of willpower he had to smother the monster of jealousy in his chest. He couldn’t even be surprised, as the visions he saw on the back of the galaxy’s slowest moving space whale all but confirmed the inevitable — Lance and Allura would be together. 

But there were other prophecies he foresaw, too.  Visions of Shiro crying at a memorial with Adam's name listed. Allura tearfully hugging them all farewell before walking into a bright light. Images of Honerva looming over the mangled body of her son in the pod of Sincline’s ship. Lance handing a grieving Coran Allura’s pink helmet. All of them celebrating the end of the war at the foot of a massive statue erected in her likeness on the very soil where she now rules, but without her.

Visions from a future that never came true.

“There wasn’t any doubt that Lance could still love me,” Allura admits, her tone slightly solemn. “I ended our relationship for different reasons.”

“Can you tell me why?” Keith asks, his brow pinched with curiosity. “I know it’s not any of my business, but...I need to know.”

He follows her stare as she glances over toward the shop window. As the moon begins to rise and the light fades, Keith catches a glimpse of her in the glass, plastic sunglasses resting against her temples like a tiara, strands of white hair peeking out from under her beret.

“I had to be here, and I knew Lance couldn’t. Even if he said he would, I knew in my heart that asking him to permanently live on another planet so far away from his family would be cruel. He realized as well that there was no real compromise,” she admits. “It felt nice to be loved like that, especially during my recovery, but at times it was suffocating. He was a geyser, and I couldn’t contain it. I love him dearly, but I couldn’t be in love with him no matter how much I tried.”

“How are you so sure?” Keith asks, suddenly desperate to know how she managed to do the one thing he hasn’t been able to do since Lance McClain shoved his way into his life.

Allura smiles, the pink corners of her marks crinkling. “Because I’ve been in love before, and it wasn’t the same.”

Keith flexes both his hands into fists, rising from his seat. Allura’s eyes follow him as he swings around the table and takes a seat beside her in the booth. He engulfs her in a hug, holding her tight. It’s no signature Hunk comfort hug, but it’s the closest Keith can muster.

He reaches down and swipes a tear from her cheek with the pad of his thumb. His touch is feather-light, so painfully gentle that he almost panics when more tears follow. 

“Wanna get something from my ship that’s way better than this weird tasting gelato?” he offers, pressing his cheek against the crown of her head. “They’re in cookie form, and we can take them in your bedroom, so nobody bothers us.”

“Yes,” she agrees with a sniffle and a nod to his absolute shock. “That sounds lovely.”

 


 

Three vargas and two edibles later, they’re sprawled on opposite sides of Allura’s bed higher than a yonker's ass. She has her legs up the wall against her headboard while Keith is mindlessly scrolling through a dating app.

“How about this one?” he asks, words slightly slurred when he tilts the phone toward her. She squints when the light of the screen hits her eyes, and it takes her a solid four ticks to realize Keith is holding the screen upside-down.

“He looks hideous. But turn the phone so that I can say for sure.”

Keith spins his phone around, and Allura hums in thought. The man in the picture is shirtless and holding a dog. He’s tall, covered in lean muscle, and judging by his irises’ color, part Galra. His ears are small, with no tip.

“Alright, I’m sure. Swipe left.”

“You don’t like anyone.”

“I liked the one with the gray shirt! He was very brawn.”

“Eh, guys who spend that much time at the gym usually have a complex or no personality,” Keith explains, flipping through more profiles. “I don’t need that much baggage for a hookup.”

Allura twists her body, facing him. "If you only want a hookup, why does my opinion matter?"

"You have good taste." He shrugs going back to swiping through the app. Allura reaches out to cup his face in her hands, squishing his cheeks hard. "Ow! Allura!"

"You really think I have good taste?" she asks, voice far away. Keith stops struggling in her hold, and his lips plump out like a fish. 

"Sure," he replies. "Why are you acting so weird?"

“I’m not acting weird!”

“Yes, you are!”

Keith shakes out of her hold, and Allura pauses before answering, "Actually, I think I'm higher than I thought."

"Oh my god, the Queen of New Altea is a lightweight!" Keith laughs meanly. She hits him a little too hard in the chest. "Ow! Stop hitting me!"

"Why don't you look for a relationship?" Allura urges, gripping his shirt. She gasps, running her fingers against the fabric. "This is so soft! Where did you get this shirt?"

Keith chuckles. "I got this from your castle, remember?"

"Why aren't my clothes this soft…" She pouts, then instantly, her train of thought comes back to her. "Wait, don't distract me!"

"I'm not distracting you!"

"Yes, you are!" Allura accuses, kicking off the wall and slowly adjusting herself so she's lying across from him on her stomach. She pokes him in the chest, not as hard as before, but enough to get his attention. "I can set you up."

Keith scoffs. "No, thanks."

"Why not? I'm quite skilled in matchmaking. I set Romelle up on a date just last phobe!"

"Oh yeah?" Keith raises an eyebrow. "With whom, your majesty?"

She leans her chin on her hand. "Lance!"

"What?!" Keith sits up so fast he nearly elbows her in the face. "Lance and Romelle went on a date? "

"Why are you so shocked?" Allura asks, pulling herself up to sit. She has to grab onto both of Keith's hands to keep the feeling of vertigo from overtaking her. They sit cross-legged across from each other on the mattress, fingers intertwined.

"I'm not shocked," Keith argues in a tone that still sounds pretty shocked. "I’m just surprised."

She gives him a deadpan stare. "That's the same thing."

“But Lance is your ex-boyfriend.”

“That’s how I knew he was available!”

“Whatever.” Keith lets go of one of her hands to push his bangs back with a sigh. “How did it go?”

“Alright, I suppose. One can never know for sure,” Allura replies, reaching out to touch her toes with her newly freed hand. Her pedicure is a dark pink hue. Is it time for a different color? 

“Did they go on a second date?”

“No, it seemed to be a one-off.”

“Then that’s all you need to know,” Keith presses on, brows still furrowed. He turns away, staring off into space. “I can’t believe he didn’t tell me. I was just at the farm, too.”

“Not everyone kisses and tells, Keith. Even Lance.” She nudges him in the arm as he flops back down on the bed, pulling her down with him. 

The conversation seems to have drained him, and Allura can’t help but feel slightly guilty. She didn’t mean to upset him, even though she isn’t sure exactly what she said that triggered him. 

“Give me a chance with you, and I can find you a better match than any app," she says. "Trust me.”

“Alright,” Keith relents, snuggling into a pillow. “You can set me up, but on one condition.”

“Oh?”

“I get to set you up, too.”

Oh.” Allura twists a short strand of hair around her index finger. It’s been so long since she's been on a proper date. The idea of meeting anyone new in her condition is unfathomable. “Keith, I’m the Queen of New Altea. You can’t set me up on a blind date. The entire galaxy knows who I am.”

“Yeah, sure, they know that you mended reality and are the great leader of New Altea, but that’s all surface-level crap,” Keith argues, bringing their hands between them on the bed. “There’s so much more to you than that.”

Allura breathes a laugh, batting her eyelashes playfully. “Like what?”

“Are you really going to make me list them?” Keith groans. “Stuff like that you hate milk, but love milkshakes, and you get mad when people pronounce teleduv like ‘tela-duvey,’ and that you hide packets of choco asteroids candy all over the place because you get tired during long meetings.”

The amount of small details Keith knows about her is surprising. During the darkest of their paladin days, it sometimes felt that Keith and her were two words away from snapping the team in two. Their relationship was never as easy as her friendship with Shiro, though she was more than happy to step back and allow him and Lance to figure out their own co-leadership style when the time came. This list isn’t just fun facts, but aspects of her personality that only one of her closest friends could pick up. 

She nudges him lightly in the leg, fighting down a smirk. “You only know that last one because you gift them to me after Kolivan’s missions."

“Every planet I’ve been on has them. It’s super weird.” Keith yawns, kicking a blanket over himself. “I’ll get you a guy who’ll want to get to know you as well as I do, but is exclusively into women.”

Interesting that Keith would default to that criteria. 

She smiles, pushing his fringe away from his forehead. “Maybe that’s why Lance and I broke up. He isn’t exclusively into women.”

Allura stiffens. In her hazed state, she can’t remember if that is information that Lance has shared broadly with the rest of their friends. Romelle was not the first suitor she approached Lance about dating, the other being a handsome Altean man who worked in the gift shop at the Galactic War museum. Similar to Romelle, it was only a single date. Nevertheless, this may not have been her secret to share. 

Fortunately for her, Keith doesn’t seem phased by this revelation. “Lance would go for anything that stood still long enough and gave consent. No offense.”

“None taken.” She exhales in relief. “Still, finding me a proper suitor isn’t as easy as swiping through an app on your phone. There are processes to follow and books of potential suitors to court a Queen such as myself.”

“Then give me the books. I don’t care,” Keith snaps, waving his arm around. “Swiping an app, or turning pages, I’m going to find you a great guy. Probably better than any guy you’d find me.”

And trust Keith to bait her into a challenge. 

“If that’s the way you want to play this, then fine,” she bites back, letting go of his hand to sit up. “I bet I can find you a better match than you can find me.”

“Oh, really? Then you’re on.” He extends his hand out for her to shake, his eyes still closed. She obliges, although it takes a moment to grasp his hand. “What does the loser get?”

Allura taps her chin in thought for a moment.

“The loser will have to pay for non-work-related fun with the victor for an entire quintant,” she announces. Keith gives a noise of agreement from against the pillow.

“You better start carrying credits then. Gonna think of the most expensive non-work-related fun after I set you up with your soulmate.” Keith snickers, opening one eye to read the clock on her bed stand. “Hey, don’t you have that call to get to or something?”

“Oh no, that’s not for another —” she checks her watch and screeches. “Quiznak! I’m late!”

Allura jumps off the bed with a stumble, her knees nearly buckling at the impact of even such a small height. She tries not to remember the way she used to easily hop up and down the counters of the Castleship to watch Hunk cook or talk with Pidge while she translated a piece of technology. 

Once balanced, she snatches her communicator and her robe off the edge of the bed. Fighting with her hair, she tugs it back into a small pony-tail. Keith yawns louder, unbothered by the spectacle.

“Do you know how undignified it is for you to be in the Queen’s bed?” Allura scolds, gliding her feet into her slippers. “If anyone saw you, it’d be an intergalactic scandal.”

“Stop whining. The only thing I’m going to do in your bed is sleep in it.” Keith yawns again, finality laced in his voice. “Go take your weird late-night call in the closet if you’re so worried.”

“I will!” Allura huffs, pulling the door open to her closet. 

Granted, by the size of it, her closet would be considered a small room for most people. The walls are lined with shoes, jewelry, and outfits for any and every occasion. She takes a seat on the ottoman in the center of the closet and opens her phone. She has missed two calls from the now-familiar extension code. Allura fluffs her hair one last time and sheepishly hits the dial button. 

It takes him a little longer than usual to answer — three whole rings — meaning he’s probably given up on Allura calling tonight with how late it’s gotten. When the call finally connects, familiar golden eyes light up the whole screen, the camera at an awkward half-hearted angle. The eyes widened almost comically the second the owner registers who he’s looking at.

Just seeing Lotor brings a smile bright and quick across her face. 

"Queen Allura," he greets with a warm smile of his own. "I hope you didn’t feel obligated to call me back. The time difference between New Altea and Neo Daibazaal can be difficult to accommodate, and I assumed you had retired for the evening.”

Underneath his eyes, sit a set of pale lilac Altean marks, bleeding down over his cheekbones. He’s taken a liking to braiding his long hair to the side, as it hides the scars along his temples and neck. 

Similar to Allura, his connection to any quintessence was severed after their final battle with his mother. However, his years trapped within the Quintessence Rift had eroded his body, and even though Allura had managed to resuscitate him when the ATLAS rescued him, there are some scars that no amount of magic could heal. Together, their sacrifice repaired reality, but just like her, the war had not been kind to his body. 

“Nonsense!” She laughs, swatting the air between them with her hand. “I was simply entertaining a guest and lost track of time.”

“Entertaining?” Lotor echoes, resting his chin in his gloved hand. During one of their earlier calls, he had confided in her that his hands had both been scarred to the point of losing his sensation of touch. The gloves allow him some semblance of feeling while also masking the scars. “How wonderful for you to be finally seeing guests, your majesty.”

Not an ounce of sarcasm laces his tone, and Allura’s cheeks bloom with a blush from the sincere compliment. Although these nightly calls started as a means for the two of them to track how their new reality was stabilizing, it’s quickly morphed into a daily-check for how the other is recovering. It’s allowed Allura the one thing she’s never had before, someone to heal with.

“It’s certainly nothing worth making much of a fuss over,” she urges. “It’s only Keith.”

“Progress doesn’t need to be perfection,” he counters, leaning back into his chair. His eyebrow raises. “Are you in a shoe closet?”

“Keith is borrowing my bed,” Allura admits, the fluttering of guilt rising in her stomach. “Not in a romantic way. Keith is not romantically interested in female-presenting species of any kind.”

“So, the opposite of my former generals? Fascinating.” Lotor taps his cheek as he appears to mull over this new bit of information. “Is that why he’s always standing so close to the blue one?”

She tilts her head to the side. “The blue one?”

“The tall, gangly paladin with the hair like this.” Lotor mimics a short fringe against his forehead with his fingers. “He was always quite loud when we worked together? And sent one of my sentries off into space with the green one and the yellow one?”

“I still can’t recall who you’re talking about,” Allura says, knowing precisely who Lotor is talking about but devilishly curious how far he’ll go before —

“The one who courted you,” Lotor finally states, a hint of a blush barely visible through the comms. 

“Oh, you mean Lance! ” Allura smiles too wide to be natural, the lingering effects of Keith’s edibles still moving through her system. “No, I think that’s mostly due to the nature of their friendship.”

Lotor dips his chin in acknowledgement, gaze drifting away as he shifts in his seat. Allura still isn’t sure how he feels when either of them tries to dip a toe into topics slightly outside the safe zone of diplomacy. The newly crowned Emperor of Neo Daibazaal knows damn well who all the paladins of Voltron are. His masquerade didn’t fool her in the slightest. If he wishes to be petty, he can do it on his own time.

“Seems rather co-dependent for a simple friendship, but I’m certain you know best,” he relents, tapping on something off-screen. “In any case, would you be interested in seeing how the moons around Gaphara are faring?”

“Oh my stars, Gaphara has moons now?” Allura gasps, bringing her communicator close to her face. “Those had been lost for centuries!”

Lotor’s smile crinkles the corners of his eyes. “Seems we were not the only ones given a second chance in this new reality.”

 

When Allura ends the call a few vargas later, she tip-toes back into her chambers to find Keith snoring on the other side of the bed. Between their day exploring the city and the edibles, he was probably more tired than she’s seen him since their paladin days.

Climbing in beside him on the bed, she kicks him with her foot. 

“Keith,” she whispers, jabbing him in the side. “You’re stealing all the blankets!"

Grumpy even in his sleep, he huffs and turns away from her to his other side. He does release his death-grip on the fabric long enough for Allura to snatch them. With some slight adjustments, she manages to tuck herself into bed as comfortably as she can.

“Allura?”

She turns at the small voice, laced with sleep. Rubbing Keith’s back, Allura replies, “Yes, Keith?”

“You’re here,” he exhales, deep enough for her to feel his body decompress beneath her fingers. She can’t help but giggle.

“Of course I’m here, silly. It’s my bed.”

Keith rolls over so he’s facing her. His eyes are still shut, but he reaches out for her hand, taking it tightly. “I’ve had dreams where you weren’t...here…”

Something akin to guilt sinks into Allura's chest at the sudden reminder of how narrow their victory was in the end. She may have been ready to sacrifice herself for the good of the universe, but that didn’t mean the people she cared about most were ready to let her go. 

“Those are just dreams, Keith. I’m here,” she assures him, running her fingers against the calluses on his hands. “I’m right here.”

“Good,” he mumbles, digging back into his pillow. “Lance...would be sad if you were gone...again.”

She holds his hand tight, a wave of guilt lapping at her like flames. “You care about him very much, don’t you?”

Keith’s only response is soft snoring as he tumbles back to sleep. His grip on her hand loosens enough for her to slip away to turn off the lights.

She leans over and plants a soft kiss on his forehead. Before she repaired reality, she could weave her alchemy to send him into a dreamless slumber. Now her magic is gone and all she can offer is a small wish. “Sweet dreams, Keith.”

 


 

“You better not be using all of my printer ink!”

Shiro props himself against the doorway of the room where Keith is currently bunkered, surrounded by pages of headshots of random men. On the wall, there are full-body portraits of both Lance and Lotor with notes and circles in black marker. Keith’s handwriting lines the images and red string connects Lance and Lotor to headshots of other men and a picture of a planet. Somewhere in the madness, peeks a bit of Hunk’s face with the note, “ If single?” in Keith’s curly scrawl. 

“What even is all this?” Shiro demands, staring down at Keith, who is holding two nearly identical headshots up against the daylight shining in through the window. Beside him are binders of even more men

Keith swings around. “Shiro! Good, you’re here. Which of these guys looks taller?”

He frantically shoves the pictures in Shiro’s face, nearly breaking his nose. The lack of sleep has messed up his depth-perception and sense of personal space. Shiro, ever the patient soul, still humors him.

“One on the left,” he replies, before gently lowering Keith’s wrist with his nonmechanical hand. “What is this for?”

There’s a crash of the front door closing and the familiar thumping of Kosmo’s heavy tail. Adam’s voice echoes through the apartment. “I’m home, and I got donuts, coffee, and a space wolf!”

“We’re in the office,” Shiro calls, not looking away from Keith. When Adam appears behind Shiro's Altean arm, he lets out a low whistle.

“So, I’m not gonna ask what’s going on there.” He hums, handing Shiro his coffee and kissing his cheek with a loud smack. “And now I’m going to leave before someone tells me anything more about this! Bye!”

“Babe, c’mon.” Shiro groans, rubbing the bridge of his nose as Adam lures Kosmo toward the door to the backyard. He’s following up on his promise and is completely ignoring them.

“Let’s go play, baby,” Adam coos to Kosmo in a sing-songy voice. “Your dad is losing his mind and creating some kind of murder vision board!”

"Don't call me that!" Keith yells after Adam.

When the backdoor shuts, Shiro turns back to Keith, who’s already pinning more pictures up on the wall. “Seriously, Keith, what is going on? Are you alright? Is there some search and rescue thing you don’t want to tell me about?”

“Stop doting, Shiro. I’m fine.” Keith pins the headshot to the wall before he yells out the window where Adam is playing with Kosmo. “And it’s not a murder vision board!”

“How many times do I need to tell you not to yell about murder when you’re here?” Shiro whines. His arm zooms across the room to shut the window. “We live in a co-op, and my neighbors can hear you!” 

“As if your co-op board would throw out the captain of the IGF-ATLAS,” Keith huffs, searching the ground for his missing marker. He still needs to capture his notes before he forgets them. “Allura and I have a bet, and I need to win.”

“A bet?” Shiro repeats, handing him the marker that’s fallen from Keith’s pocket. “What are you betting over, and why does it need to turn my home office into a conspiracy shack?”

“It’s not a conspiracy. It’s research,” he spits back. The amount of questioning is getting on his nerves. “I need to find Allura the best match possible to win.”

“Like a date?”

“No, a tennis partner,” Keith quips, tossing paper in the air. “Of course, it’s a date! Either help or get out.”

“It’s my house!”

Keith ignores him, even if he is correct on a technicality. Standing and crossing his arms over his chest, Keith peers at the wall. “Do you know how tall Lance is?”

“I dunno — 5’10? Maybe 6 foot?”

“Ugh! If you’re not gonna be accurate, you’re no use to me.” Keith pulls his cellphone from his pocket, dialing a familiar number. Shiro rolls his eyes and walks away toward the kitchen, where Adam left the box of donuts. The phone barely finishes its first ring before Lance’s face fills his phone’s screen.

“Keith!” Lance greets with a big, dumb, goofy smile that still makes his heart do somersaults. “How’re you, man? It’s been a minute.”

He can tell from the background that Lance is in his office at the Garrison campus. Most likely still grading papers before the term ends next week. Usually, Keith would drop by during the break between semesters to hang out with him and Pidge, but since hearing about Lance’s secret date with Romelle, he doesn’t feel like hanging out alone together. 

Even though it’s none of Keith’s business, he can't shake the annoyance he feels about Lance going on a date and not telling him.

Why didn't that idiot tell him?

"Woah, are you back on Earth?" Lance asks, adjusting his phone. "Why didn't you tell me?

"It's only for a few days. Now listen, I need your help," he orders. Lance's brow creases and the smile dissipates from his features. 

"What's up?" Lance asks, and he has his game face on. Keith could ask him to blow up the moon right now, and he would do it. Sometimes he hates how well he knows Lance. It's both his favorite and least favorite part about being in love with him.

"How tall are you? And be honest."

Lance blinks for a second and then answers, "6 '1."

"Cool," Keith says, taking note of the height on Lance’s printout pinned to the wall and his own mental note. Keith's 5 '11, and those two extra inches are making his heart twist in his chest. "Bye."

"Waitwaitwait !" Lance yells as one long word as Keith’s thumb hovers above the end call button. Keith stops, raising a curious eyebrow. Once Lance realizes they're still connected, he grins. "Whatcha working on, buddy?"

"Nothing that concerns you.” 

“Well, it concerns my height.”

“That’s just one detail in a much larger plan. Go back to work."

"It's spring recess, so I'm just catching up on grading. Nothing that can’t wait a few days." Lance rests his chin on his fist, looking more mischievous than ever as he wiggles his eyebrows. "Maybe I can help with this master plan of yours?"

Keith takes one look at his research board, which includes a full-body portrait of Lance and very little logical explanation. "No."

Lance whines louder, "C'mon, Keith!"

He doesn't hear Shiro come back in until he's crouching behind him, chewing a chocolate donut in his ear. "Oh, hey Lance!"

It startles Keith, and he swats behind him with a chop, but Shiro catches his wrist easily with his mechanical arm. 

"Don't creep around!" Keith scolds, and Shiro casts him an exasperated look.

"It's my house."

"Hi, Shiro!" Lance greets, waving excitedly like he doesn’t see the other man almost daily at the Garrison. Shiro turns back to the phone, still chewing. The noise is making Keith want to rip the donut from his hand and hurl it out the window.

"Are you helping Keith find a date for Allura?"

"What?!"

Keith smacks himself in the face in frustration as Lance gasps, scandalized. It's bad enough that he’s doing intensive research on his best friend's ex-girlfriend, but of course, Shiro has to go blurting it out like Keith is up to something sinister.

"You're trying to play matchmaker for Allura and I wasn't your first phone call?" Lance screeches, his voice pitching through his phone.

Keith rubs the back of his neck. "Technically you are. Shiro just lives here."

"Again, because I think this is getting lost, this is my house. "

Lance lifts his phone, carrying it around his office as he grabs his bag and jacket. "I'm coming over."

"You really don't have—" Keith starts, but Shiro shoves him out of the way of his own phone.

"Please come over and get this conspiracy board off my wall!"

"You got it, Captain!" Lance laughs, giving him a two-finger salute before ending the call. Keith shoves his phone back into his pocket, shooting Shiro a glare that could freeze vodka.

"Why are you meddling?"

Shiro rolls his eyes. "I don't need to meddle. That's how obvious you are."

"Obvious about what?" Keith barks as Shiro leaves the room, shaking his head.

"Don't make me keep the office door open so I can supervise you two,” Shiro calls over his shoulder, and Keith’s ears warm in embarrassment.

"Oh my god, shut up!"

Lance enters the house a half-an-hour later, still in his Garrison uniform. Albeit, his jacket’s unbuttoned, giving Keith a full-display of lean muscle stretching the fabric of his undershirt. A dark flush creeps across the bridge of Keith’s nose at the sight, and he rubs his face in a lame attempt to cover it up. Luckily, Lance seems to take it as just another sign of his exhaustion and doesn’t ask questions.

Instead, he claps his hands and rubs them together as if what they’re doing is somehow conniving. “Where’s your conspiracy board, love detective?”

“Stop calling it that,” Keith scolds, already growing irritated with Lance even though he’s barely taken off his shoes. 

He leads him into Shiro’s office and gingerly moves the binders of suitors so he can make room for Lance to join him on the floor. The gesture goes ignored, however, as Lance is transfixed by the board. More specifically, the picture of him standing next to Lotor. 

“Don’t ask how I got that picture,” Keith says in a tone he hopes gets his point across.

It’s enough to gain Lance’s attention again. He blinks, turning to where Keith has set up a comfortable sitting spot with pillows on the floor. “Don’t worry, that’s literally one out of one million questions I have about this setup.”

Keith flops down onto the floor with a defeated sigh.

“I get it, this looks crazy. But it’s just how my mind works,” Keith explains, using a much gentler tone as Lance takes a seat next to him. “I’m a visual person and only good with names if I see faces.”

Lance hums, leaning his head back against the sofa that’s covered in papers. “Well, I’m terrible with names and faces. But I’m good with dates and major events. We can probably put our brains together to figure out someone for Allura.”

"That's...actually not a bad idea," Keith admits, and Lance throws his head back with a bright laugh. It's so effortlessly handsome and distracting that when he extends his fist for Keith to bump, he almost misses the cue.

"Duh," Lance teases after Keith completes the fist bump. "This is why we're the best team."

Keith’s hands curl into fists at his side, resting against the thighs of his jeans. He stares back at Lance, and is met with a genuine look of hope. 

It’s baffling to him that Lance is working to be this helpful in setting up his ex-girlfriend with someone new. Keith is stingy by nature; he was an only child before he was orphaned. Nobody taught him what it means to share or let things go. Instead, he keeps what he cares about close to his chest, and lashes out at anyone who dares to try and take it away. 

“Did Allura give you any hints in what she’s looking for in a partner?” Lance asks, flipping through one of the binders. Keith shakes his head.

“Just that royal arrangements need to be approved,” he replies, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. “She doesn’t seem to have a clear type, either. The only things you and Lotor have in common are that you’re both tall and your names start with L.”

Lance snorts, placing the book of names carefully aside and getting up to look at the board. “Talk about an understatement. We can’t all be a Space Prince.”

He begins to quietly evaluate Keith’s research board. His normally relaxed features tensing slightly as he reads over the notes that Keith has scribbled, lightly touching the red string that connects it all together. Lance doesn’t ask Keith any clarifying questions, somehow able to decipher the method behind Keith’s madness. It’s a relief that he doesn’t need to explain anything to Lance. He always just knows.

“Given her history, I’m trying to find someone for Allura who’s a mix of smart and handsome.”

Leaning back against the desk in the room, Lance turns to wink at Keith. “Aw, you think I’m handsome?”

Keith’s chest tightens, fighting the blush on his face. “Don’t push it.”

Lance tuts, a smile curling up his lips. “You worked on this all night?”

“Yeah.” Keith nods, still feeling caught by the knowing glint that flashes across Lance’s blue eyes. He’s thankful that most of the notes about Lance’s best qualities are not on the board, since he knows them all by heart. “I gotta get this set up before I head back to Kolivan’s ship at the end of the week for my next assignment.”

Lance makes a noncommittal noise, grabbing a picture from the board. “You’re also exhausted and burning yourself out, so you’re missing key details.”

“Like what?”

“Well, for one thing,” Lance says, flipping the headshot. “This dude died 10,000 years ago.”

Keith cocks a brow. “I’m guessing that’s a deal-breaker?”

Lance laughs, loud and all-encompassing. Maybe it’s the fact he’s overly tired, but Keith swears he can feel the joy radiating from Lance. It’s a warmth that he wants to curl around like a bonfire on a summer night.

“Dead men can’t take anyone out on dates.” Lance takes a few big steps back to the sofa. He picks up the papers off the seat, moving them elsewhere on the floor. He then turns to Keith and pats the cushion. “C’mon, Sherlock. Take a nap. You’re no help to me when you’re wrung out like this.”

“Since when do you get to tell me what to do?” Keith huffs petulantly, and Lance laughs at him. Still, he follows Lance’s hand and considers the offer being presented. “You won’t slack off while I’m asleep, right?”

“Me?” Lance gasps theatrically. “Slack off?”

Lance.” Keith scowls at him, and Lance just grins, toothy and wolfish

“Relax, it was just a joke.”

Keith relents, giving in to his own exhaustion and climbing up onto the sofa. He grabs one of the throw pillows and sticks it under his head to get more comfortable. He’s about to bark another order at Lance when instead he’s covered by the small throw blanket Adam keeps folded on the arm. 

Mindlessly, Lance tucks him in, running his hand across Keith’s forehead and pushing back his bangs. Keith freezes, and it’s enough to pull Lance out of his trance.

“Whoops, sorry about that,” he apologizes quickly, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. “Must’ve gone on autopilot there — years of putting my nieces and nephews to sleep, yeah?”

Pulling the blanket up higher, Keith hopes it hides the flush spreading across his face. Or suffocates him. Whichever comes first. “It’s fine.”

“Right. I’ll just get back to all this.”

“Cool.” Keith turns away from Lance and curls towards the back of the couch. Even though he’s hyper-aware of Lance’s presence, he’s only able to fight the urge to pass out for a few minutes before he’s out cold. 

When he wakes up an hour later, he turns to see Lance still sitting on the floor in front of the sofa. His long arm extended out, fingers fidgeting with the frayed cuffs of Keith’s jeans as he studies another picture of some prince from a planet Keith can barely pronounce. 

Keith pretends to be asleep a few minutes longer.




 

Allura is wrapping up her afternoon meetings when a messenger meets her in the hallway to inform her that she has a guest waiting for her in the spire study. Though she’s not expecting anyone, she can count on one hand the number of people who the royal guards would be willing to allow inside the castle and into her private office without a fuss.

She isn’t surprised to see Shiro, but he isn’t usually the type to drop in unexpectedly. That title goes to Hunk, who usually stops by New Altea to give Allura a sample of his latest culinary creation between his catering jobs. Shiro sits politely in one of the armchairs in front of her desk and smiles brightly when he spots her.

“Sorry to drop in,” he says standing and wrapping her in a tight hug. “I know you’re busy.”

“Never too busy for you,” she beams, until Shiro’s eyes land to her hands. The frown that flashes across his features makes her feel peculiarly guilty. As if she’s letting down a parent.

“Where’s your cane?” he demands, motioning to her empty hands. 

She sighs. “Shiro, I’m fine,” she assures, motioning to herself. “See? I’m standing without an issue.”

He shoots her a look of disbelief. “Doesn’t mean you aren’t pushing yourself, though.”

“If I wasn’t feeling well, I would use the cane,” Allura assures as she makes her way to the chair behind her desk, plopping down as gracefully as she can. Bringing her hands in front of her, she folds them on the surface. It helps hide the tremors. “Now, what brings you here?”

“At first, it was so I could ask you what the heck is going on between you and Keith, but now I’m gonna find your cane,” he says, already heading to the coat closet at the other end of the room. Allura can’t hide her humorous chuckle, leaning back in her chair.

“You mustn't keep fussing over me, Shiro. The rest of the Alliance is going to catch on that I’m your favorite.”

“As if anyone had doubts,” Shiro calls from deep inside the closet. “Woah! This closet is way bigger than I thought.”

“Don’t get lost,” she advises, pulling up a file on her holo-pad to review the notes from this morning’s meetings. “As for the wager with Keith, it’s just some harmless fun. Keith thinks he can set me up with a better match than I can for him. It’s nothing worth taking off work to make the trip over.”

“The Garrison is on Spring break, and I was told by Iverson to use my vacation days ‘or else,’ so this beats staying home,” Shiro says when he escapes the depths of the closet, her cane in hand. He frowns. “Allura, this is gathering dust!”

“Because I do not need it,” she reiterates, glaring at the object like it personally offended her. “I would snap it over my knee if it wouldn’t send Coran into a frenzy.”

Shiro stares at the cane and then back at Allura. “Have you been rotating the hiding place so he doesn’t catch on?”

She looks away, mumbling under her breath. “I haven’t not not been doing that…”

“Allura!”

“I won’t apologize for it,” Allura argues with a pout. She turns her head away, crossing her arms. “You have no idea what that cane symbolizes to me. It's a sign that I'm a ruler who barely survived the war.”

“And so what if it does?”

She gasps, turning back to Shiro. Not that she's someone who goes fishing for praise, but the rudeness in his tone is damning. He sighs, and takes a seat across from her desk.

"You are a Queen who nearly sacrificed her life to mend reality. It’s thanks to you that everyone else in the universe can live in peace," Shiro continues, his gaze never wavering. "The cane isn't a symbol of weakness, it’s your strength. It’s nothing less than a miracle that you're here and leading your people on a revived planet."

Allura swallows hard, caught off-guard by the earnestness of Shiro's words. Of course, this isn't about the cane. It never really was. It is about her

"It's selfish, I know," she admits softly, glancing down at her extended hands. They tremble before her eyes. "But some days I wonder what the world would be like if I hadn't come out the other side of the rift. If I instead left this new reality in the hands of those who came behind me. You and the other paladins. Maybe it would have been easier?"

“We would've done so for you, but it wouldn't have been easier,” he reassures, voice soft. 

It’s difficult to argue about a hypothetical reality that never came to be, but it’s not lost on Allura just how unlikely her survival was at that moment. Honerva sacrificed her own Quintessence and spared what she could for Lotor and Allura, ensuring they survived the process. The two of them reappearing before sacrificing the lions was a small act of mercy after centuries of destruction.

Shiro reaches out, taking her hand with the mechanical one she made for him. The one that's powered by what was once thought to be the last remnant of her planet. It was her gift to him. It allowed him to become captain of the ATLAS.

"Before you knew me, I was sick. Really sick. I had a degenerative nerve disease that left me in a similar state. My hands shook, I couldn’t stand without getting dizzy — but I didn’t let it dictate how I lived my life,” Shiro’s eyes are steely underneath his white bangs. “But I was also selfish and made the people in my life worry about my health because I wasn’t. If I could go back, I would handle so many things differently. It’s thanks to you that I even had a chance to make it right.”

“I never knew that,” she says, voice softer than she would’ve liked. “I truly never meant to upset you, Shiro.”

“It’s alright, this isn’t easy,” Shiro squeezes her hand gently, and she returns the gesture. “Never lose sight of how strong you are, Allura. The universe is so much better with you here with us.”

“Even though I’m shaky and should probably be using my cane?”

Especially because you’re shaky and you should absolutely be using your cane.” Shiro smiles kindly, taking the cane back into his hand and tilting it towards Allura. She slowly accepts it, long fingers clutching the handle.

“Thank you, Shiro,” she says, and the relief floods his face and softens his features.

“How many times do I need to remind you that you never need to thank me for anything?”

She smiles, sitting back in her chair, her cane safely at her side. “Now, why are you so concerned about the bet? It’s simply a date.”

Shiro sits back in the chair in front of her desk, crossing his arms over his chest.

“I know that, but you know how Keith gets,” Shiro huffs, puffing his bangs away from his eyes. “He can get obsessive when he’s given a task like this. It’s been two days and he’s completely turned my office into his own personal research den. There are so many pictures of men on my wall, Allura.”

She considers this information for a moment, tapping her chin in thought. “Are they attractive men?”

“Allura!”

“Right, right.” She waves his concerns away with her hand. “I understand your frustrations regarding your living quarters, but I assure you it’s nothing—”

“He pulled Lance in.”

“He what?!” Allura slams her hands on her desk so hard it makes Shiro jump in his seat. "That's cheating!"

"Did you two agree on any ground rules?"

Allura adjusts in her seat, her anger slowly petering out as realization dawns on her. Perhaps setting this wager while they were under the influence was not the best decision. "Well, not really."

“All’s fair in love and war, and this looks like both,” Shiro hums, pretending to inspect his finger nails. “Not that this has anything to do with me—”

“But?” Allura urges, knowing the words are coming before Shiro even says them.

But maybe there’s a sign here? Something a little obvious about Keith and Lance working together?” Shiro gestures at her with his hands, eyebrows so high on his forehead they blend in with his bangs. “ Something you can work with to your advantage?”

He stares at Allura frozen like a statue, waiting. It's probably too late to establish any rules now.  Lance can be as tenacious as Keith with the right motivation, and the possibility of matchmaking would definitely entice Lance. Shiro blinks, and it occurs to her like a Rupra Eel sting in the Yagrars Sea.

“Of course,” she slaps her forehead lightly. It’s so simple she’s almost annoyed she didn’t think of it sooner. “I can use your insight to find Keith a suitable match!”

“Exactly, set up Keith and La— wait what?” Shiro says, but Allura is already pressing the button on her desk phone for Coran, the receiver pressed against her ear. “Allura, that isn’t—”

“Thank you so much, Shiro.” She grins widely, covering the receiver with her hand as the call connects. “There’s nobody who knows Keith as well as you do.”

“Which is exactly why I’m trying to tell you that he likes—”

“Coran?” Allura says byways of greeting. “Please ask Romelle to go in my stead for the meeting on the Tralfan Helper Monkeys Gala. She’s more than equipped to speak to how the decorations should be presented.”

“Alright, I’ll have the staff inform Romelle at once. Would you like me to reschedule your call with Neo Daibazaal as well? It doesn’t seem to be an appropriate meeting to send Romelle to, all things considered.”

Allura fights the urge to roll her eyes. Even after the war and the truths that came out about the Altean moon colony, Romelle and Lotor still get along as well as one would expect — which is not at all. Although Romelle has proven herself to be a valuable confidant and friend to Allura, the second Neo Daibazaal is mentioned, she completely shuts down. It’s a pity, and one of the only barriers in their otherwise refreshing friendship.

“No, that’s alright,” she replies and then thinks for a moment. “On the contrary, do you think you can make a request with the Emperor’s royal scheduler?”

Coran agrees and within a few ticks, everything is in motion. Hanging up the phone, she turns back to Shiro, clapping her hands together.

“We’ll also have a secret weapon on our side,” she announces, excitement lacing her words. “Someone who can really speak to the nuances of half-Galra relation—”

“Keith likes Lance,” Shiro deadpans.

A heavy silence falls between them like someone’s thrown a weight on her desk. Allura swallows against the knots forming in her stomach, folding hands in her lap to avoid fidgeting. 

She's known Shiro long enough to know that he's deadly serious. He's usually a steel trap when it comes to Keith and his feelings, so for him to blurt something like this out means he's at the end of his rope.

Still, if he's correct then that would mean...

“You shouldn't spread rumors, Shiro,” she insists. "Especially to the crown monarch of New Altea."

Her tone is serious, stern — regal. She hardly ever pulls rank on her friends, especially Shiro, but the notion of what he’s attesting is downright nonsense. His stare, however, never wavers.

“I would never spread a rumor about Keith. Do you think I'm not telling the truth?”

“It’s not a matter of the truth, Shiro. It’s simply…” she pauses, chewing on her bottom lip as she tries to find the right words. “If that were to be the case, then I would surely know about it.”

“Would you?” Shiro challenges, and she can’t deny that she’s a bit unsure.

Keith and Lance's friendship, albeit rocky at first, has always held an unbounding sense of loyalty. It first occurred to Allura during her early days piloting the Blue Lion alongside them that the two had an unwavering connection. She felt it when they formed Voltron and saw it during their missions. 

Selfishly, it’s something she took advantage of while she was preoccupied chasing Honerva, knowing that every time she brushed off Lance’s emotional needs, Keith would always swoop in to take care of him in her absence. She had assumed it was simply Keith returning the support Lance had shown him when he had first become team leader. If there had been more serious feelings involved, it would make that situation even more heartbreaking.

Now, it wouldn't surprise her if Keith and Lance ended up together. They always did have a certain electric chemistry between them that Allura felt she could never reproduce in her relationship with Lance. But if anything romantic was to occur between the two, it surely would've spouted already. It’s not as if Lance is ever shy about telling someone he found them attractive, as Allura knows from experience. And Keith is always direct in what he wants. Wouldn't the two of them have just gone for it by now?

Unless there is a reason neither of them has acted. 

“Keith is my friend,” she insists, stubbornly. “If he does have feelings for Lance, why would he agree to this silly bet instead of simply telling me outright? It makes this entire endeavor a waste of time.”

Shiro shrugs, rising from his seat. “Or a distraction.”

She watches from her desk as he makes his way to her office door. “You won’t be helping me, I assume?”

He shakes his head. “It sounds like you have enough to work with here.” He pauses in the doorway, throwing her a knowing grin over his shoulder. “Oh, and tell the Emperor I say hi.”

She doesn’t miss the glint in his eye, the tilt of his smile. Shiro chuckles at the sheepish way she hides behind her hand, blushing deep and wanting nothing more than to hide behind her desk for the next century.

 


 

“Okay, buddy it’s all on you.”

“Lance, I really don’t think I’m the person to ask—”

“Hunk, c’mon!” Lance whines into the video call, holding his cellphone in front of his face. "We're at a stalemate, man!"

Keith has resigned to sitting behind him on the sofa, eating a bowl of grapes. In the doorway, Shiro leans against the frame while Adam hands him a steaming mug of fresh coffee.

Shiro has finally come back from whatever trip he was on and thankfully brought more food. Keith knows he should probably be a better houseguest, but with his mind so preoccupied with finding Allura the perfect date and Lance spending a lot of time with him, these past few days have been a blur. He’ll get him an edible arrangement before he leaves.

"I don't know why you guys don't just listen to me," Shiro sighs, taking a long sip from his mug that reads, #1 Space Dad. It was a gift from Pidge on his last birthday. "There’s one obvious answer here."

"Shush!" Keith hisses, tossing a grape at him. Adam slaps it midair and it smashes on the linoleum tile of the hallway with a wet splat. Kosmo appears in less than a nanosecond to eat it. Shiro groans as he watches the scene play out.

“Guys, I know you’re very stressed about finding a match for Allura, but I honestly think all three of these candidates are strong choices,” Hunk concedes, rubbing the back of his neck. “They’re all aliens, royalty, smart and haven’t used a kromar to destroy the universe. Any of these dudes fit the bill.”

"Why doesn't anyone ever ask for our advice on this stuff?" Adam asks, turning to Shiro. "We're the married ones."

Shiro's sigh is loud and obnoxious. "I'm telling you, there's only one choice. Allura likes Lo-"

He's interrupted when Keith throws another grape, hitting his brother in the middle of the forehead. It bounces off, and Kosmo licks it off the ground like a vacuum.

It's not that he doesn't appreciate Shiro's opinion, 99% of the time he values it above all else. But pushing the notion that they should throw away all this research just to hook Allura up with her ex feels like a terrible idea. Especially since he’s partly responsible for their break up in the first place. 

It makes his stomach squirm.

Keith throws another grape, and Kosmo snatches it before it hits the ground. Shiro frowns. 

"What are you? Seven?"

"What are you? Seventy?" Keith teases back. Before Shiro can respond, Adam makes a T with his hands, stopping them. He's used to their bickering by now.

"C'mon Takashi. You can lead a horse to water, but if it's too stubborn to drink, that's its problem," he says, taking a hold of Shiro's good arm and tugging him into the living room. "Let's go watch TV and let them stew in their own stupidity."

Shiro allows himself to be dragged away, but not before yelling, "I'll be vindicated in the end! You'll see!"

Kosmo tilts his head at them before following Shiro and Adam into the living room. Most likely figuring there'll be more pets and snacks for him there.

Lance groans overdramatically, flopping back on the couch next to Keith. He hands Keith the phone to grab a handful of grapes, shoveling them into his mouth in a move that should be unattractive, but Keith is too much of a gay disaster to be bothered. “I still think number three is our best bet.”

“Nah,” Keith says, shaking his head. “Number two.”

“Keith, c’mon,” Lance whines, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. “We’ve been between these two for hours.”

“Two?” Hunk repeats, turning to try to see the wall from where he is on the video call. “Then why did I need to rate three guys?”

“I was hoping you could break our stalemate by voting for number one,” Lance explains, slowly lifting himself up to rip the headshot label #1 off the board. “Goodbye Prince Zanosie, we hardly knew ya.”

He crumbles it into a paper ball and shoots it like a basketball into the wastepaper basket. It lands with an unremarkable pat on the top of the pile. That doesn’t stop Lance from throwing his arms up in the air like he’s won some kind of pretend contest. Keith can only shake his head, turning back to Hunk.

“Do you seriously not have any preference?”

Hunk shrugs. “I told you, they both seem fine. Why don’t you just submit them both to Coran and have him choose?”

“No, he already knows too much,” Keith says, looking up at the ceiling in thought. “He could sabotage us to ensure that Allura wins.”

“You’re really overestimating how much anyone cares about this bet, man.”

Lance climbs back onto the sofa, crouching on his haunches like a wild animal ready to attack. He digs into the back pocket of his jeans. “In that case, I think we need to go with an old classic.”

He pulls out a quarter and holds it between his fore-finger and thumb. Keith scoffs.

“A coin toss? Seriously?”

“Do you have a better idea?”

Keith pauses. Instantly furious at himself for not having a better idea. “Fine, just make it quick.”

Lance preens, turning to take the phone from Keith’s hands, showing the quarter to Hunk through the screen. “Hunk, you’re the judge.”

“Yeah, sure,” Hunk agrees, looking off-screen and making a motion of writing a note on the chalkboard he keeps in his kitchen. It seems that in the years of putting up with Lance’s aggravation, Hunk has developed a type of armor when Lance is on his peak bullshit. “Happy to judge a coin I can’t see while off-planet.”

“That’s why you’re the best!” Lance grins, adjusting the coin on his thumb and flipping it high into the air. “Call it in the air, Keith!”

“Tails!” Keith shouts, and the coin soars and spins just as Lance catches it expertly. He covers it with his hand so neither of them can see the outcome.

"I feel like I should have a drumroll or something?" Lance notes, and over the phone, Hunk starts rattling on the kitchen counter. The noise sounds tinny through the phone, and Lance snorts a laugh. "Thanks, big guy."

"Stop being a drama-queen and show us!" Keith pushes, kicking Lance and nearly knocking him off the sofa.

"Fine, fine," Lance relents, removing his hand and revealing the coin has landed on heads. He woos so loud, even Hunk winces on the phone. "Take that, Keith! I won!"

"That literally required zero skill," argues Keith as Lance jumps off the couch for an impromptu victory dance. "You flipped a coin."

"Doesn't matter." Lance grins, mid-moonwalk in his socks. He spins around, flashing finger-guns at him. "Still won. I'm luckier than you."

"Is that so?"

"Yup! Now let's see if Prince Hoanez of Planet Sker-08 is lucky too." Lance hums flopping back next to Keith on the sofa. He’s now at the shoulder shimmy part of his victory dance.

Keith hates how much that cocky expression has come to affect him over the years. It’s not even obnoxious as much as it’s attractive with how confident Lance is about being his goofy self. In the months since they’ve landed back on Earth, he’s finally stopped worrying so much about what other people think of him. It’s a great look on him.

He's been hoping time would kill this stupid crush, but like a good pair of jeans or fine wine, Lance just gets better with age.

“If you guys are done, I’m gonna go back to work,” Hunk says, turning to look off-screen again. “We have to prepare the catering for this Tralfan Helper Monkeys gala next week.”

Keith raises a thick eyebrow. He was under the impression that the Tralfan Helper Monkeys gala was just some stuffy Altean party. “You’re working that?”

“Yeah, Romelle got us the gig,” Hunk explains, finally turning to look at him through the comm, hand rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m a bit understaffed, though. Shay has family stuff back on her Balmera and can't join. She's usually in charge of the wait staff.”

“Do you want help? I’m off next week,” Lance asks, now leaning so far into Keith’s personal space, he’s practically in his lap. He’s on all fours, and Keith blushes, averting his eyes and quickly shoving Lance back to the other side of the couch. 

Hunk’s shoulders fall in relief. “Yeah, that would be awesome, actually.”

“You got it, buddy! I can even bring Pidge along." Lance grins and leans too close to Keith again, turning to ask him, “Are you gonna be there too?”

“No, I’m not working the party.”

“I meant as a guest.”

“Why would I be? I don’t even know what a Tralfan Helper Monkey is, and I doubt Kolivan wants to waste manpower protecting a random dinner.”

“Well, if you’re not working, why don’t you go as a guest? Then you and Allura can both bring your dates to the party,” Hunk offers, as if the solution should be obvious. “That way you can see who won the bet in real-time.”

He steals a glance at Lance to check if he has any reaction to Keith going on a date. Unsurprisingly, Lance seems unfazed. If anything, he looks excited for him to attend this party with someone else.

“You can really put yourself out there,” Lance says, patting Keith’s back in support.

It’s enough to make Keith want to scream, but he swallows it down with the rest of his feelings. 

"That's probably a good idea," Keith mumbles, reluctantly.

Hunk huffs. "Don't act so surprised."

"I don't think anyone is surprised by your emotional IQ, chief diplomat." Lance chuckles, taking the phone from Keith. "We'll let you go. Make sure to send me the deets for the monkey party, okay?"

"You got it." Hunk smiles, waving goodbye. "Good luck, Keith!"

The call ends, and Keith exhales heavily, leaning back against the sofa in emotional exhaustion. Beside him, Lance lands so hard on the other end of the sofa that it sends Keith bouncing. He lazily turns his head to see Lance shifting in his seat, almost nervously.

“So, I guess that’s it,” Lance says, picking his nails as he reviews the faces still pinned to the wall on the opposite side of the room. “Are you gonna give Prince Hoanez’s info to Coran so he can set up the date for the gala?”

“Yeah, I got it,” Keith grunts, snapping a picture of Hoanez’s headshot before sending it over. He pockets his phone for good and frowns when he sees Lance still picking at his fingers. He slaps them hard enough to echo, but not to really hurt. “Stop doing that!”

"I'm nervous, I can't help it!"

"You're getting dead skin all over Shiro's sofa," he scolds, and Lance instantly bats at the fabric to swipe away any evidence. "What are you nervous about? I'm the one with the bet."

"I just want Allura to have a nice date," Lance says softly, almost wistfully. "She deserves it."

Keith winces and leans back into the sofa, hoping the cushions will eat him whole. He instantly hates himself because after all this time, he thought he'd finally stop feeling so envious of Allura. Even now, when they aren’t in a relationship anymore, she manages to grab Lance’s attention in a way he’s never been able to.

It’s not like he doesn’t understand where Lance is coming from — Allura is the whole package. Keith wasn’t kidding when he told her that if he was straight, they would totally be into each other. The same stupid conversation that got him locked into this ridiclous bet. At least if he was into girls, he could’ve just taken Allura on a date and saved himself a whole bunch of trouble. 

Although, knowing Lance, he’d fume with jealousy, and it would never be over Keith.

He feels a tap on his foot and he’s ripped from his thoughts when he sees Lance’s toe still poking his ankle. He turns and is met with Lance's sparkling blue eyes. God, how is he always so goddamn handsome?

“Where’d you go?” he asks, softly. The question makes Keith smirk.

“Just remembering that time when Allura and I were in that escape pod and you panicked because you thought we were eloping ,” Keith teases smugly, knowing how much the memory still embarrasses him. "Idiot."

Lance pouts, lightly hitting him on the arm. “You were two very attractive people alone in a pod together! What was I supposed to think?”

“You’d think after years of stalking me at the Garrison, you’d pick up on the little detail that I’m a fucking homosexual.”

“You fuckin' some homosexuals?” Lance teases back, and in an instant Keith lunges and squashes Lance face-first into the couch. Lance wails loudly and tries to shove Keith off. “No, don’t sit on me! When was the last time you showered?”

“I dunno, maybe thirty Princes ago?” Keith grins, and Lance fake-gags, dramatically gasping for air. 

“Gross! You smell like a gym locker!” Lance counters loudly as Keith curls over Lance’s back to thoroughly pin him to the couch. “I take back saying you were attractive! Only Allura is attractive!”

“Aw, my feelings,” Keith cooes, hoping the sarcasm is enough to cover how deep the petty jab truly cut. He continues to press down between his shoulder blades to keep Lance where he was. “You should call Allura and tell her to get me a hot date, too.”

Lance huffs, and with a power that could only be honed by growing up with four older siblings, manages to shove Keith away. Keith loses his balance and falls backward off the sofa. By instinct, Keith grabs Lance by the front of his pull-over, tugging him forward.

“Keith!” Lance squawks when they both tumble to the ground with a loud thud.

Keith hits his head against the hardwood floor hard, missing the cushiness of the area rug entirely. It's not enough to concuss him, but his vision blurs and immediately he's seeing four sets of worried sapphire eyes staring back at him. Lance had landed on top of him, with Keith taking most of the impact.

"Keith?" he hears, but it sounds muffled, as if Lance is talking to him through water. "How many fingers am I holding up?"

Lance straddles him and raises two fingers in front of his face. The position is overwhelming and Keith's vision is slowly adjusting, but he sees four — and okay, maybe he's a little bit concussed. But he can live with that if he can keep Lance in his lap for a little while longer.

Then he notices.

"Do you have writing on your hands?" Keith demands, grabbing Lance's wrist so hard he nearly bruises the skin beneath his grip. Lance stumbles, flopping forward into Keith's shoulder. The contact is short lived as Lance squirms out of his hold and crawls out of his lap. Keith tries not to mourn the loss. 

"Yes, don't make fun of me!"

Keith frowns. "I wouldn't make fun of you?"

Lance gives him a knowing look, and Keith relents.

"I mean, I wouldn't make fun of you for this, " he turns Lance's palm in his hands, his scrambled head trying to decipher the meaning of the smudged ink stains like he's determining his fortune. "Do you always do this?"

"Look, you know I'm bad with names and faces, and better at dates and numbers. But sometimes I still get confused." Lance sighs, his shoulders dropping as he glances to the side in embarrassment. "The notes just help me keep things straight. You can’t blame me, we were going through a lot of Princes, okay?"

Against his better judgment (he'll blame the head injury), Keith squeezes Lance's hand in his. "Lance, that’s—"

Clever. Resourceful. Adorable.

"Annoying, I know," Lances finishes with the wrong word, but he doesn't pull his hand away. Keith feels like he's walking a tightrope. "Pidge used to give me crap for it, and Allura always told me to stop because it looked unprofessional. I tried for her, but then I would forget things, and I didn't want to make it obvious that I'm you know...the dumb one."

Keith frowns, and twists Lance's wrist inward. Not enough to hurt, but enough to break Lance from the unhelpful ravine his thoughts are flowing through.

"Dude, seriously! You're gonna break my arm!"

"You're not the dumb one , Lance," Keith says in the most authoritive tone he can muster. The way Lance instantly stills and finally seems to listen turns his heart into butterflies. "Pidge is an ultra-genius but still didn't know they made honey flavored almond butter."

Lance snorts at the memory. "Her mind was blown when Hunk showed her that in the Garrison kitchen."

"Exactly." Keith smiles, releasing his hold on Lance's hand. Somehow Lance lets him still hold onto his finger, probably because he hasn’t noticed yet. "And you know how bad I am at reading a room and knowing when someone is joking."

"You're getting better. At least now you know what sarcasm is," Lance quips, and the jab is a sign that he's starting to feel better. Keith raises an eyebrow.

"Was that you being sarcastic?"

"No, I was being —" Lance argues, but stops mid-sentence when it's obvious Keith’s just yanking his chain. Keith's head is still a bit scrambled, but he thinks he sees a blush creep along Lance's nose. "I hate you."

"You don't," Keith volleys, and tries to appear ambivalent when he adds, "And Allura doesn't think you're dumb. She cares about you a lot, you know that."

Lance looks down at their hands, jaw clenching tightly. It takes every ounce of willpower Keith has to keep from over-explaining Allura's feelings like a terrible messenger. 

Aside from Shiro, Keith is the only one from their group who regularly visits New Altea. In those early days, Allura would ask about how Lance was doing with so much concern in her voice. Keith would attempt to lie and say he was doing great, when in reality his friend was far more devastated by the breakup. He still isn’t sure if her stiff upper lip was a defense mechanism or part of her being royalty, but it made it frustratingly difficult for her to be vulnerable with them.

During those days, Keith made Hunk promise to regularly check-in on Lance post-breakup in exchange for fresh orange cabbage from the Planet Canaorivia. Keith knew hearing about the two sides of his friend's relationship was not a conversation he was emotionally equipped to handle.

Lance lets out a long exhale, and Keith is relieved to see his expression relax. “You always know what to say to make me feel better.” He smiles. “You’re one of the good ones, Kogane. That’s what I love about you.”

Internally, Keith does everything in his power to keep his heart from beating out of his chest. The words flow so easily from Lance’s lips are so close, yet so far from what he yearns to hear. “Anytime, Lance. You’re my best friend.”

A heavy silence falls between them like a lead wall. Keith isn’t sure if it’s something that he’s said, or if Lance is generally embarrassed about their conversation. Either way, Lance pulls his hand away quickly and jumps to his feet with an anxious energy.

“It’s getting late and I need to help my niece with her homework,” he says, gathering all his things and shoving them into his backpack. “Be careful with your head, yeah?”

Keith can only nod as he gets up and follows Lance to the front door. They stop and Lance turns around and smiles at Keith.

“I’ll see you tomorrow?”

“I’m leaving in the morning,” Keith confesses, and feels a little guilty. This was always going to be a short break between missions, but he would do anything to spend the rest of Lance’s time off on the McClain Ranch instead. The memory of seeing Lance in his work clothes and boots, easily tossing jokes as they gather eggs in the mornings makes his chest tighten.

“Ah, that's a bummer. Well, keep me posted on who Allura picks for you!” Lance wiggles his eyebrows. “I wanna creep on you both during the Monkey Party.”

Keith shakes his head and pushes Lance toward the door. “Bye, Lance.”

“Wait!”

Keith freezes in place. Lance turns, and in one motion, wraps his long arms around Keith’s shoulders in a tight embrace. Keith doesn’t know how to react, as hugs aren’t exactly his thing and the sensation of Lance’s warmth surrounding him is threatening to send him into a conniption.

Nevertheless, he returns the hug, letting himself enjoy the feeling of being held. Lance’s breath tickles his ear.

“Come home safe, you lunatic,” Lance orders.

Keith can’t help but smile. “Always.”

 


 

Taking a deep breath with her legs crossed and heels kicked off, Allura feels confident about her options.

Resting on a small coffee table in her office is a list of possible candidates on a holoboard. Each card is a growing hologram that is organized by a flick of her wrist. 

Most of the men are part-Galra, and some Earthlings from the Garrison, as a key indicator of a relationship's success is distance.

She would know.

"There are still several names left. Do you expect they will all want to be courted by the Red Paladin?"

Allura turns from where she's leaning against pillows on the floor, curls of her hair tickling her ear when she faces Lotor. He had a scheduled visit on her calendar to review details for the gala, which she happily adjusted to recruit his help in finding Keith a date.

He sits beside her on the carpet, his scarred hands covered in sleek black gloves and his prosthetic leg extends underneath the table. She's only seen it once (because she’s nosey and wanted to know how Galra prosthetics compared to what she designed for Shiro) and its sleek design was entrancing, but seeing it connect to the tissue of his thigh was a jarring reminder of what he’s lost.

The guilt still sits heavy in her heart, knowing that she was the one responsible for his wrongful punishment inside the chasm between realities. Although Lotor’s forgiveness was readily forthcoming, Allura’s sense of duty keeps her from fully forgiving herself for being so easily compromised by Honerva.

“Your majesty?” Lotor offers, pulling her out of her head. He looks at her with such unearned tenderness. "Did you hear me?"

"Yes," she lies, turning back to the names and faces of various men in front of her as if undergoing a tarot reading. Maybe if she is lucky, a drip of lingering quintessence still resides in her body and will allow her to summon the perfect match for Keith. 

Lotor seems amused. "Then you're fine with what I requested then?

Her ears warm at the tips, knowing she's been called out, but too stubborn to admit defeat. Allura clears her throat, "Of course!"

"Then it's settled. Altean mice will be served as hors d'oeuvres for the gala," he says with a playful grin, his tone lighthearted and obviously in jest. "I'll send word at once."

Allura’s chest tightens and against her best efforts, he gets a smile out of her. It's remarkable that they can still read each other so well after all this time. 

His grin is a slow one, living mostly in his eyes and the relaxed features of his jaw. “I knew you weren’t paying attention."

"Apologies, my mind was elsewhere,” Allura admits, and Lotor adjusts his posture, sitting straighter against the plump cushions behind him. 

"Would you like to be left alone?"

"No!" Allura gasps, grabbing his wrist tightly. When the action dawns on her, embarrassment spreads from her ears to her cheeks, burning her scarlet. She doesn't let go, though. "It's nothing. Let's continue before—"

Her words are left dangling as a beep from her office monitor indicates that she has an incoming call coming via her personal line. The number of people with access to that particular number is limited to Coran, Romelle, the Paladins, and the man currently sitting beside her.

Allura answers the call, and within ticks Keith’s face fills her holoboard. He's in his Marmora uniform, seated behind the controls of his ship. Behind him, Kosmo's large head leans against the headrest of the pilot seat. No doubt the wolf is drenching the interior upholstery with slobber.

"Keith, what a surprise!" Allura greets, making an effort to cover the names of men on the table. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"It's more for me than you, to be honest," he says, and she can tell he's trying not to look smug. It's not working. "Did Coran tell you I picked your date?"

Allura fights the urge to groan. She can't let him know he's ahead. "He did, but I haven't had time to see who you came up with. I've been too busy setting up your courting!"

Keith's eyebrow arches up into his hairline. "Oh? Is that so ?"

"Yes, that's so." Allura quips and next to her she catches the baffled look Lotor shoots her.

"So, you got a guy for me?"

"So, I have so —" Allura stops when she realizes he's tricked her into a circle. Irritated, she clears her throat. "I have his name right here."

"Cool. Show me."

An icy panic settles deep in her gut, and she scans the table like a sentry searching for a name — any name — she can provide Keith.

"Er, well...you see his name...his name is…"

Beneath the table, she feels a warm hand slip her one of the names of the men. She glances down and sees it's a member of the Blade of Marmora who's been assigned to Lotor's personal guard. 

Judging by the headshot, the man is of mixed Galra origin as well, with swooped back violet hair, emerald eyes and an easy smile. He's handsome enough, but looks so familiar to Allura that it's distracting. Although for the life of her she can't quite put her finger on where she could’ve seen this man before.

Still, Allura relaxes her face in an effort to keep Keith from discovering her ruse. "His name is Xadrion! I'll send you his information now."

Keith's eyes widen as the personal information of the man appears on his screen. "Woah, didn't expect it that quick." He considers it for a moment. "He's a Blade? I don’t think I’ve ever met him. Is he a new recruit?"

"He's part of the Daibazaal royal guard, so you’ve probably haven’t overlapped."

"I see,” Keith hums, eyes skimming the information on his blind date. “Is that why Lotor's with you?" 

Embarrassed heat rushes through Allura.

"He's not with me!" She squeaks, shoving Lotor out of view. The man tips over to the side of the table with a thump

In the monitor, Keith rolls his eyes. "Hey, Lotor."

There's a beat of silence before Lotor lifts himself back into his seat against the throw pillows and groans. "Hello, Keith."

Allura winces, feeling significantly more uneasy than she had a moment ago. Between Keith’s standoffish nature and Lotor’s dry-wit, the mood of the call turns awkward.  

Keith waves his hand dismissively as Allura regards him with skepticism. "Anyway, since we both picked our candidates, Hunk had an idea for us to meet them during that Monkey Trainer Party next movement."

"Monkey Trainer Party?" Allura echoes, furrowing her brows. “Are you talking about the Tralfan Helper Monkeys Gala?”

“Yeah, whatever it’s called. You can get me a ticket, right?” 

“Of course, I’m hosting it."

The sound of engines hums through the speakers, signaling just how disinterested Keith is in this conversation if he’s talking and piloting. 

“Great, so you bring Prince Hoanez of Planet Sker-08 and I’ll bring this Xadrion guy,” Keith says, shifting in his pilot chair. “Whoever has a better time at the end of the night officially wins the bet. Deal?”

Allura crosses her arms over her chest, tapping her nails against her forearm. While hating to commit to Keith’s terms, she can’t deny he has a point. Both of them meeting their blind dates at the same party does make it easier for them to determine a winner. In Allura’s case, it also means she could get it over with quickly. Still, she doesn’t want to agree to Keith’s terms without getting something in return. 

“Only on the condition that we must remain with our dates for the entire night,” Allura points at the screen with a perfectly manicured nail. “I’m serious, Keith. No fighting and no disappearing acts halfway through the dinner claiming to need to attend to any –” she lifts her fingers in the air mimicking quotes. “Cosmic disruptions.”

“Quiznack, that was one Voltron dinner!”

“Or Kosmo space pet hospital excuses!”

“He ate a radiator!”

Keith!

“Okay, okay,” he relents, throwing his hands up in surrender, obviously knowing better than to push her to bring up more examples of his bad behavior. While Keith has matured in some capacity, getting him to stay still at any gathering consisting of more than ten guests remains a logistical nightmare. “I’ll stay the whole time with Xanadu.”

“Xadrion!”

“Whatever! Do we have a deal or what? I’m about to go through an asteroid field and I don’t wanna hear your nagging as I do it.”

Allura huffs. "I’m not nagging, I'm negotiating."

"Seven ticks and then you forfeit the entire bet!" Keith isn't even looking at her now, his attention focused on the asteroid field in front of him. "Actually, make that six ticks."

"I certainly do not forfeit! "

"Now it's five. You better stop stalling or you're about to be a very poor woman.” He grins, and a hint of his sharp canines peeks through. “There's a Galactic Poke place that Hunk raves about with five dollar signs on Space Yelp.”

Lotor gives Allura a truly baffled stare. "I didn't understand a word he just said."

“Fine,” Allura sighs, her earrings jangling as she shakes her head in exasperation. "We have a deal. Now stay safe, alright?"

"As safe as I can be," he promises. "I'll see you at the Monkey Party."

"It's a Gala !" Allura attempts to correct him, but he's already cut the line dead. With another huff she throws her head back against the cushions. "Typical."

"I never noticed it before, but you two are quite close," Lotor says, collecting the names from the table diligently. He organizes them into neat piles before the files disappear from view, clearing the table top. "It must be nice."

"I suppose," she sighs, twirling the card for Xadrion in her fingers. She manages to raise herself up to her feet, taking hold of the chair for balance. "When he's not driving me crazy, that is."

"Considering how close we came to living in a universe where you wouldn't have been around to drive crazy," Lotor says, taking a seat on the armchair across from her. "I think it's worth it, don't you?"

"Yes." Allura smiles slightly as she takes her seat, allowing the soft cushion to support her aching muscles. She takes a moment to read more about the man she has blindly set up with Keith. It appears that Xadrion is an expert marksman, spoken highly of by his peers but is often the one to get into trouble. It quickly hits Allura why he seems so familiar. 

"Lotor, are you aware we've just set Keith up with Lance's Galra doppelganger?"

Sitting up at his full height, Lotor shrugs. "You mentioned that Shiro had disclosed that Keith could have feelings for him, and I used that as a strategy to find a match that could help you win your wager."

Allura bites the inside of her cheek. While the gesture itself isn't inappropriate, there's still a knot in her stomach about the set-up. If Shiro was right, then Allura may be doing more harm than good by setting up Keith with someone who reminds him so much of his best friend.

Not that there is much she can do about it now.

She picks up the file on Prince Hoanez of Planet Sker-08 and flips through it lazily. "Apparently, this is my date."

Beaming through her holo-tablet, the screen opens between them. It lists key details about the man as well as notes regarding his interests, occupations and backgrounds. Allura watches from the corner of her eye as Lotor glances at the man, skimming the details. 

Lotor rests his chin on his hand, his brow quirks curiously. “He’s fluent in Ouduri. That language hasn’t been spoken for centuries.”

“Until this new reality,” Allura notes, leaning back in her chair and flipping deeper into the file. "Now it seems Oudurian never fell victim to the Kromar."

Lotor stiffens in his seat and the air grows tense at the mention of their new shared reality. More often in diplomatic meetings, Allura must now not only explain her own lack of Quintessence magic to heads of state who believe she was completely untouched by a war, but also an alternate reality that no longer exists.

Lotor’s and Allura’s effort left a strange tapestry behind—a revived universe where the paladins of Voltron defeated Zarkon’s tyranny, but entire galaxies that had never heard of the Galaran Empire were also reborn. 

This reboot allows Lotor the rare benefit of a true first impression with new allies within the Galactic Coalition, but makes it harder for Allura to explain that the war that shattered her is one for which they have no reference.

As always, Lotor is quick to charm and ensure the help of several other allies. Allura is secretly envious of the skill, but she knows it's one he has honed through survival. Decaphobes spent gathering strategic relationships in order to survive the next battle, the next war, the next level of power.

Even now, as their new relationship tangles together, Allura still can't truly pinpoint where their friendship begins and alliance ends.

"Seems like a waste to spend your night with someone who doesn't have the sense to realize you're the reason his people still exist," Lotor notes drily, putting far too much concentration into reading whatever note came through on their holopads about the Gala. 

Although it's been years since they were together, Allura enjoys knowing that within Lotor's heart a small ember still burns for her. She knows it's selfish to stoke it, but that doesn't stop her from testing the limits. To see just how far she can push before she is either burnt or the flame consumes them both. 

Allura rests her chin against her fist, elbow balanced on the arm of her chair. "Emperor, are you jealous? "

She waits for Lotor to say something, but he does not. He flicks the braid of white hair to one side in what Allura knows to be an unconscious act. It still makes her look. Dragging from the lobes of his ears and down, disappearing under the collar of his shirt is the hint of a lilac scar, accentuating the length of his neck. 

It's been sometime since either of them dressed in full-armor, unlike the old days where everyone was ready to be deployed at a moment's notice. Now, in these slow days of peace, their royal attire is more for leisure and diplomatic meetings. These decadent fabrics reveal peeks of skin that Lotor has never shown before, much of it scarred. Though, the one on his neck appears older than what was left behind from the rift. Allura fights the urge to run her fingertips along the jagged skin, to see if the edges have gone soft. She wonders if it was caused by his mother's magic being used on him while she was still under the guise of Haggar.

Lotor clears his throat, and Allura realizes she's held his gaze too long. His expression is one of satisfaction, and Allura does not have the decency to be embarrassed. But then why should she? There's nothing romantic between them. It's harmless teasing.

"He's not my type," Lotor says, trying to sound humorous but she can tell by the tone of his voice it’s forced. 

“I think he's rather handsome," she preens, smiling wider as she leans against the arm of her chair. 

“His ears have much to be desired,” he replies, closing the file with finality.

Allura reaches for the tray of drinks, barely holding back her laughter. She's already got him, and knows any further questioning will just be cruel. She leans forward to top off both their glasses of wine. “You’ll still be at the Gala this weekend, yes?”

Lotor's shoulders drop, visibly more at ease with the topic change.

“Of course." He nods, taking his glass. "I’ll be there to represent Daibazaal and pay my respects to the Tralfan Helper Monkeys.”

“Is this Gala for their respect or to celebrate their work?” Allura's nose wrinkles as she takes a sip from her glass. 

Lotor’s brows pinch together in exasperation. "Please tell me you're joking."

Allura places her glass on the table, and swipes over the floating keyboard. Between them appears a chart, and she flips through in a last-ditch effort to catch up on the details from Romelle she’s been ignoring. “The more I hear about this party, the less I understand it.”

“Isn’t New Altea co-sponsoring this event?”

Allura ignores his question, pointing to a paragraph. “Ah, here’s the bit that explains it!" 

It only takes a quick skim for her to learn that the Tralfan were recently recruited as support within the Blade of Marmora Organization. Their planet is known for its humid forests, home to monkey-like creatures that are expertly trained by the Tralfan's scholars. It turns out they were a massive ally in the latest Blade of Marmora search and rescue mission. 

"The Tralfan Helper Monkeys were first responders during the seismic activity on planet Huubudore.” Allura wrinkles her nose again, taking a larger sip of her wine than necessary. “I feel like Keith should’ve known more about this.”

“I feel like you should’ve known more about this, as your court is co-sponsoring the event.”  

"Romelle is handling things, and I trust her to put together a small gala," Allura shrugs, closing the file and leaning back in her chair with newfound ease. "You know how difficult my schedule has been since we wrapped trade talks with the new Olkari leaders. They nearly left the Alliance."

Lotor turns his gaze away from her. "I still can't help but feel somewhat responsible for that."

"Nonsense. The Alliance is stronger with both New Altea and Neo Daibazaal. They can't get one without the other, and their leaders now see that," she assures, glancing at her wrist to check the time on the dainty silver watch she wears. It’s an old gift from Lance during their courtship, and while they’re no longer dating, he’s always had good taste. "It is getting late, though. I hope I haven't kept you for too long with this silly project."

"I'm sure if there was anything sincerely at risk, Kolivan would've called at least half a dozen times," Lotor assures, standing up. Allura stands to follow him out, but rises too quickly and is hit with a dizzy spell. The head-rush sends her stepping back, and she nearly loses her balance. Luckily, Lotor's sturdy arm holds her steady.

"Easy," he says gently, allowing her to slowly find her balance. "Are you feeling alright?"

She blushes, warmth spreading across her nose and up to the tips of her ears. "Yes, my apologies. I suppose we had far more wine than I thought."

Lotor's eyes rest on the half-empty bottle that sits between them. "Well, you're not wrong."

"Let me see you out." Allura pulls herself from his hold, and reaches for the handle of her cane. Lotor follows her motions with soft eyes.

"It's nice to have a match," he says, grabbing his own cane from the other side of the chair. He doesn't look troubled, if anything it’s the most relaxed she’s seen him in a long time.

They stand together, two sides of the same coin, with bodies that have survived the trauma of war. Two living scars of the violence that once tore the universe apart. A universe they managed to save together.

"I like to think everything has its pair," Allura says, gripping the handle of her cane as the warmth of the wine travels through her veins. "Being alive can be lonely."

He takes her hand in his, squeezing it softly as the fabric of his gloves grazes her skin. “Any life with you in it isn't lonely, your majesty.”

She laughs. “Thank you again for your help today.”

“You only need to ask.”

Lotor waves goodbye with a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. She watches him leave, and soon spots his ship soaring into the teleduv through the window of her office.

Slowly, she makes her way behind her desk and takes a heavy seat. When she looks across the room, an empty office stares back. She wraps her arms around her torso in a hug, leaning into the soft cushion of her chair.

 


 

Keith hurries through the hangar of the Blade of Marmora base looking for Hunk’s catering ship. Even though Keith told him at least fifty times that he didn’t need a ride, Hunk has never been someone to ignore a good opportunity for gossip. Apparently, Allura and Keith’s bet has become the most talked about topic in their friend group since Adam informed them that Shiro was considering getting glasses. Keith also doesn’t like saying no to Hunk, so there’s that.

This is what he tells himself when he meets Hunk on his catering ship at the loading dock and spots his friends dressed in what can only be described as the most god awful outfits he’s ever seen in his goddamn life.

Aside from Hunk, Lance and Pidge stand dressed in matching mustard button-downs with pink bow ties and navy slacks. Keith has never worn clothes much lighter than a dark gray, but even he can tell the whole uniform clashes worse than their orange Garrison uniforms from the academy. 

“Not a word,” Pidge threatens as he approaches.

“Wasn’t gonna.” Keith shrugs as he makes his way up the ramp in his Blade leader uniform. It's his least favorite since the armor is more decorative than defensive. He nudges them over to make room for him to sit in the ship. “But if you’re wondering, you look ridiculous.”

Pidge groans in annoyance and punches Keith in the arm harder than truly necessary. 

Lance just rolls his eyes. “Any fashion advice coming from you will be ignored, Mullet.”

Keith can’t blame them for having to follow Hunk’s dress code, they are working an event that’s being hosted at the New Castle of Lions. Although he's a former paladin and will out-rank half the attendees in the room, Hunk’s business is still new. Garrett Gourmet currently consists of only Hunk, Sal, and Shay. Finding their footing in the world of culinary excellence is a lot harder when the world is now a universe. It doesn’t seem to get Hunk down, though, and Keith is happy to see his friend pursuing his passion.

He just wishes Hunk could do it without Lance. It feels like no matter what Keith does, someone is always pulling Lance back into his orbit. The catering ship is small and jammed with equipment and food. Keith is trapped between Sal’s elbow and Lance's side. The constant press of Lance’s thigh is enough to make him want nothing more than to escape to the date he has no desire to go on. Lance is already far too invested in it working out, and it’s making Keith feel worse.

“Sit up, you’re slouching.”

"So what?"

“If you slouch, he’ll think you’re not interested!”

Keith huffs, elbowing Lance out of his personal space. “Would you stop nagging me?”

“I’m not nagging you. I’m trying to help you not look like you’re having a miserable time before you even go on your date,” Lance argues. “I didn’t spend all that time finding the perfect match for Allura just so you could ruin tonight because you have the manners of a caveman.”

Pidge climbs over the back of the passenger seat, nearly elbowing Sal in the head. “Who is this mystery guy anyway?”

“That’s what I want to know,” Hunk says from behind the controls. They’ve exited the last teleduv and are now entering the orbit of New Altea. There’s a line of other personal ships ahead of them, most likely filled with other party guests. Leaning back in his seat, Hunk glances over his shoulder to meet Keith’s gaze. “Do you have a picture or something we can see before we meet him?”

“No—”

“Yes!” Lance interrupts, pulling out his cellphone, and Keith groans dramatically. “Unlike Captain Misery over here, I actually did some pre-op research on this Xadrion guy. Turns out, he’s very active on Space Instagram so it wasn’t that hard to find him. He takes a lot of selfies.”

“How did you find his account?” Keith sputters.

“Oh, so he’s an extrovert?” Pidge hums, leaning over with an outstretched hand. “Lemme see.”

Lance pulls his phone back. “Nuh-uh! You see with your eyes, not with your hands!”

“Why are you being so weird about people seeing your phone lately?” Pidge puffs her bangs out of her eyes. Lance doesn’t budge and it makes Keith curious. He isn’t typically one to be shy, so it’s weird to see Lance so secretive.

Maybe he’s been talking to someone. It wouldn’t be the first time Lance hid who he was dating from Keith. Feeling his chest tighten with jealousy, Keith adjusts himself in his seat as Lance shows the pictures of Xadrion from a safe distance.

While Keith has never overlapped with Xadrion on any of the Blade of Marmora relief missions, it’s clear from the pictures that he’s not fully Galra. His skin has a lighter lavender hue than most other Galra, and his swooped dark hair is close cut except for a strand that’s braided and hangs over his left eye. Judging by the number of pictures Lance was able to find of the guy, he definitely isn’t camera shy.

“Aw, he seems cute!” Hunk says as Lance flips through more photos. "Allura did good."

Pidge shrugs half-heartedly. “Eh. He’s alright. But doesn't he look a little bit like—”

She’s interrupted by Hunk throwing a not-so-subtle elbow into her side. 

“...like he’ll be a decent date!” Hunk hurriedly finishes, ignoring the death glare Pidge throws his way. Keith is too annoyed to even ask what that’s all about. He has to mentally prepare for a night with this stranger. 

“Allura does have good taste,” Lance jokes, leaning back in his seat, and Keith shifts so he’s leaning against a case of space tomatoes.

“Sure does.”

When Hunk lands on the private landing pad behind the castle, they’re met with an exhausted looking Romelle, clipboard clutched tightly in her hands.

She’s in a form fitting pink satin gown with a halterneck top. Her blonde hair is twisted up in elegant braids with loose strands framing her face and the azure marks underneath her eyes. In her ears are rose quartz studs that she’s about to tug off her lobes as she nervously fidgets with them.

“Quaz-nak, finally! I thought you would never get here!” Romelle groans, not even sparing any of them a greeting before making a bee-line for Hunk. “Please tell me you have enough food for a hundred extra guests.”

“A hundred?” Hunk echoes, rubbing the back of his neck as Pidge and Lance help Sal unpack the ship. “I mean, I’m sure we could make it work. But how did you undercount a hundred guests?”

“The Helper Monkeys brought plus ones,” Romelle groans, rubbing her temples. “This has been the most annoying party to put together, it changes faster than an Ostarien Wind. I’m going to lose my mind by the end of it.”

As Hunk takes stock of their supplies, Keith catches Lance’s eye as he passes him with a crate of vegetables. He throws an easy smile over his shoulder that makes Keith’s heart skip a beat. 

“Are you ready to meet your Prince Charming tonight?” Lance asks.

“Not really.”

“Why not?” Lance asks, adjusting the crate so it balances on his hip. “I know this is just a bet between you and Allura, but who knows? It could be a good time. You should go in with an open mind.”

Keith snorts and shakes his head. “I’m sure this Xadrion guy won’t have much of an open mind once he meets me. I’m not exactly the most interesting person.”

He starts to follow Hunk and Romelle toward the castle when Lance takes hold of his wrist, tugging him to stay behind. It’s such a casual touch, but Keith is hyper aware of it. If Lance wanted to, he could move his hand just a little further down his arm and thread his fingers between Keith’s and hold his hand. The fantasy is enough to make Keith’s face warm.

Keith glances up so he meets blue. It’s like seeing the sea at the edge of the beach. A blue that’s so Earth-like, it feels like coming home every time he meets Lance’s eyes. Lance looks almost as unsure and confused as Keith feels. He glances over at Pidge and Sal to see if they were watching, then clears his throat to speak under his breath.

“Listen, Xadrion wouldn’t have agreed to Allura setting you up unless he liked you. The cranky, emo, half-Galra version of you. So don’t worry, yeah?” Lance says so hurriedly it comes out a rushed, jumbled mess.

Keith can deal with bratty Lance, flirty Lance, angry Lance – but sincere Lance makes his heart hurt, and Keith can’t look him in the eye for too long without feeling stripped bare.

He knows Lance is just throwing his own advice back at him to make him feel better, but it makes Keith feel worse. It reminds him of all the times when Lance picked Allura over him, and even now years later, he still goes on dates with Romelle and who knows who else. It reminds him how he’ll never be the person Lance chooses, no matter how much he wants to be. 

It lights up an ugly anger within him, and Keith shrugs off Lance’s hand from his wrist.

“Yeah, well you’d know all about that wouldn’t you?” he spits bitterly. His voice is full of venom, and Lance’s brows crease in confusion.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Allura told me how she’s been setting you up on dates," Keith does a double-take to make sure Romelle and Hunk were out of earshot before hissing, " Romelle ? Really, Lance?” 

"We went on one date," Lance protests, eyes narrowing. "And?"

They make pointed eye contact for several long seconds before Keith snorts, shaking his head. “Just gonna go through our whole circle. Who’s next? Pidge?”

“I would rather eat gravel and die,” Pidge says over her shoulder, glaring at Lance over her glasses. “Full offense.”

“Noted,” Lance says slowly as Pidge marches past to meet up with Sal and the others at the end of the dock. He turns back to Keith, a mix of hurt and annoyance pulling at his features. “Dude, I’m allowed to go on dates with people. Why are you being so weird about it?”

"I'm not being weird. You're the weird one because you didn’t tell me about it!”

“Because it wasn’t a big deal!” Lance argues, his temper beginning to flare. 

“Sure it wasn’t.” Keith shakes his head. “Forget I said anything, this is stupid.”

“Yeah it is, considering you’re literally going on a date right now. I don’t know what crawled up and died in your ass, but get it together. Allura deserves you giving this date a decent shot.”

“Of course you’re worried about what Allura thinks,” Keith mumbles, and Lance shoulders past him as he stomps off to meet up with Hunk at the end of the runway. 

Good, let him get mad at Keith. If enough of his friends are pissed at him, maybe Romelle will kick him out of the party and he can end his bet with Allura at a draw.

Not wanting to deal with anyone else, Keith takes a sharp left and heads toward the main courtyard to enter the castle’s foyer. Allura’s guards are used to him by now and a simple nod is enough to ease their security precautions. Once inside, he wonders where he can hide for the remainder of the night. Unfortunately for him, Coran spots him.

“Huh, I didn’t realize you were coming with the catering. Figured there'd be some Blade tribute to be done before the festivities.”

Keith shrugs. “We were all going to the same place.”

“Works for me, that’s one less person to wrangle!”

Keith doesn’t have the chance to ask what he means before Coran hooks his arm around him and tugs him down one of the many corridors. 

“To ensure that the bet is fair, Allura has asked me to set up an introduction to both your dates at the same time. Both gentlemen are waiting for you in the sun room. You can head over there while I grab Allura. Then you can get started with your little wager in two shakes of a fraggle’s tail!”

Keith huffs in frustration as Coran gives overly complicated directions to the sun room. Not feeling very cooperative, Keith drags his feet as he ambles down the hallway. He’s still irritable from his spat with Lance and the last thing he wants to be is sociable.

The castle is relatively empty this late into the afternoon, though there are a few staff members lingering behind as they prepare for the gala. Each and every one turns to stare as Keith walks past their stations, and it makes him feel even more out of place.

Maybe he should just leave before anyone else spots him. He can forfeit the stupid bet and let Allura have the victory.

He’s just in the midst of his self-pity spiral when he walks right into someone, too deep in his zombie-like state to notice. Staggering back, the person reaches out to steady Keith on his feet before he tumbles backwards.

“Woah, sorry, man! I didn’t see you there. Are you alright?”

Keith blinks and looks up to see emerald eyes and an easy smile. The man is quite handsome, and judging by his uniform is a fellow member of the Blade of Marmora.

The man brightens up considerably as his gaze sweeps over Keith, a smile flashing across his handsome features. “I think we’re supposed to be meeting under better circumstances. Names Xadrion.”

“Keith,” he replies, taking the man’s hand before a wave of embarrassment washes over him. “Which you already know...right.”

Xadrion laughs, and it’s breathy and deep. It makes goosebumps rise on Keith’s arms, reminding him of someone else. Someone he’s trying to forget.

“I think we’re supposed to meet in the sun room,” Xadrion says, pointing down the hallway. “If we keep going this way I think we can pretend to meet there before the Queen notices.”

Keith smiles, allowing the man’s easy vibes to calm his frazzled nerves. Even if he isn’t looking for anything serious, Xadrion is handsome and good-spirited enough to be decent company for the night. 

He motions ahead and replies, “Lead the way.”

 


 

Allura frowns as she stares in the mirror in the hallway, her own reflection glaring back at her, almost mockingly. 

Her short hair is pinned back, her bangs brushing against the shining tiara across her forehead. The pink marks under her eyes that once went unnoticed now twist along the sharp arch of her cheekbone. 

She grips the handle of her cane tightly. Her body wears the royal garb like a mannequin. Only for show with no substance. The confidence that once lifted her sapped away like the rest of her energy.

While Coran and Romelle run around the castle for the final details on the gala, she mentally prepares herself to meet her mystery match. It didn’t take much to find out more about Prince Hoanez, although none of what she found seemed particularly interesting. Still, she is anything if not true to her word and will give Keith’s match a decent chance.

"Queen Allura?"

She turns when she hears a familiar voice, and spots Lotor at the end of the hall. His hair is pulled back in a low braid, and his uniform isn't his formal armor. He's in a royal purple, double breasted tuxedo coat with a dark magenta cape pinned to his left side. It's a stylish way to hide where he's suffered most of his nerve damage. His leather gloves grip the handle of his walking stick. 

Its tip is shaped like an Azure Morningstar, one of ancient Altea's royal birds. She should know, it once belonged to her father. There isn't much left of King Alfor in this new reality, but leave it to Coran to still carry the most important items across the universe.

After the war, the cane was a gift of goodwill and peace from her to the Emperor. A piece of his own heritage and a keepsake from one of his heroes. It seemed like such a small token in comparison to all Lotor had sacrificed for a peaceful universe.

“Hello there, Emperor,” she greets, pushing down the fluttering of butterflies threatening to escape from her chest. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you at a royal affair without armor.”

Lotor looks down at his suit, and then catches her gaze, looking a little sheepish. “Romelle was very particular about the dress code.” 

“Does this mean you’re both on speaking terms?”

His expression sours like he's bitten into the bitter fruit of an unripe Moon Melon.

“It’s a work in progress, but we’re getting there...slowly,” Lotor informs her. “She’s actually the one who sent me looking for you. It appears that you have a visitor waiting for you in the sun room.”

The location is no accident. The sun room is in the same hallway as the ballroom, making it an easy walk to the party. Even though Allura told Coran it would be fine to meet in a less formal audience room in the palace, he was dead set on ensuring she didn’t overexert herself.

“Right. Prince Hoanez,” Allura says before straightening her dress again, squaring her shoulders and putting on a strong face. She does her best not to let her disappointment show, though she can’t be sure how successful she is. “Were you able to get a look at him?”

Lotor smiles and nods. “He seems nice.”

Allura turns away from the mirror to face Lotor, but his expression is unreadable. Almost solemn, but he smiles all the same. Her eyes rest on the full glass of Altean wine in his hand. “Is that for me?”

“A bit of liquid courage. It may help considering the circumstances of your wager tonight,” he says. He holds the crystal wine glass out to her. Allura mulls it over for a moment before taking it and helping herself to a healthy sip. “According to Romelle, the Tralfan leaders are quite excited for tonight.”

“As long as it’s better than the celebration on Carvis after they joined the Alliance. Their version of nunvil was stronger than anything ever brewed on New Altea. Poor Coran had to hold my hair back more times than I bet he ever bargained for while I—" She feels her face slowly burn a deep rosy shade. "Oh, I'm sorry. Surely, you don't need to know any of that."

Lotor chuckles. "Please. I've heard much worse. Ezor and Zethrid are particularly prone to their own shenanigans during our excursions."

“It sounds like you and the generals are enjoying what our new universe has to offer.”

“I figured what’s the point of a second chance if I don’t take the opportunity to see the new universe we’ve created, right?”

Allura can’t help but smile, swirling her wine in her glass. Since the end of the war, she’s been grateful for Lotor’s companionship. Considering everything that had happened between them and her own recovery, she wasn’t sure at first if they would be able to have a friendship at all. When she had ended her relationship with Lance, it was hard because although she’d always love him, she knew she’d never be able to be in love with him.

Lotor on the other hand... 

She swallows the last of the wine in one gulp and hands the glass back with a heavy sigh. “Thank you, Emperor.”

“You only need to ask, your majesty,” he tells her with a disarming smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. He places the glass on the edge of a credenza in the hall. “Are you ready to go?”

She forces a smile as well. “As I’ll ever be,” she replies, adjusting her stance with her cane. “I can’t let myself get wrapped up in my own restlessness. And I can’t neglect my duties either. It’s been too long since I’ve had an audience with those outside of Voltron, hasn’t it?"

“I’m sure your match will be happy to wait for you as long as he needs.”

They walk in silence for a few paces.  

“I don’t know why I’m so nervous. It’s certainly not my first time meeting a possible suitor.” Allura huffs, a stray silver hair falling into her eyes. “It’s been hard to focus these last few movements.”

“Is everything alright?” Lotor asks, gently brushing her hair out of her eyes with his hand. Such a simple action is enough to have her heart beat in her ears.

"Yes, yes. It's nothing serious. I've had a lot on my mind recently is all."

His face softens with understanding. “This is your first time meeting someone new since the war, isn’t it?”

Allura waits to answer, realizing she’s worrying her lip. It’s one of her tells, as Shiro often warns her, and she’s been mindful not to do it in front of others. But Lotor’s always been different, hasn’t he?

When Allura doesn’t respond, his eyes flicker down to her hands where she grips her cane. She’s started wearing white, lace gloves in an effort to hide the scars from her quintessence poisoning. It also helps distract from her tremors. 

She considers what to say, not wanting to come off as nervous as she feels. While her duties as Queen have managed to keep her busy, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t also been a welcomed escape from the public eye. Her condition is well known in her private circle, but she knows she can’t keep it secret forever.

“It’s not as if I haven’t been busy,” she replies, glancing down at her hands. Hopefully it doesn’t come off as moody and petulant as she feels. If Lotor notices, he doesn’t show it. Instead, he takes hold of her hand, his sharp claws dull hidden by the fabric of his gloves.

Silently, he squeezes. Wordlessly, he acts as her anchor.

They make their way down the rest of the corridor, across the open-air bridge connecting the central castle proper with the public audience wing. The bridge overlooks the grounds, glistening in the moonlight across the water. They walk slowly and take in the view.

If Allura closes her eyes, she can pretend that it's Lotor who is accompanying her to the gala. 

Not for the first time, Allura wonders what their lives could've been like if she had listened to him when Keith had discovered the colony. Would the galaxy still have been thrown into turmoil in Voltron’s absence? Would they have been able to defeat Honerva and revive the universe of its lost quintessence? 

The what if’s buzz around her mind and fizzle like sparks. She knows she's being selfish, taking up so much of Lotor's time and attention. Eventually, there will be a time when he will need her to let him go to someone else. To accept the things she cannot change and the reality she's set for them.

So she'll let herself be selfish for a moment longer.

Once outside the sun room, Lotor lets go of her hand.

“Ah, there you are!”

Allura turns and catches Coran making his way over to them. 

“Oh, Emperor! I wasn’t expecting to see you here so early,” Coran notes, giving the man a quick once over.

“Romelle requested my assistance in bringing her majesty to meet her match for the night,” Lotor replies, an easy smile back on his face. “But I should be going. I’m sure the Tralfan Helper Monkeys will be looking for an introduction.”

“Thank you for your assistance, Emperor.”

He offers a bow, looking as if he was hoping to hide a flush creeping up his own ears. "Of course, Queen Allura," he says, "You have my word – anything you may need for tonight, resources or otherwise, I'll freely give them. But in the meantime…" He straightens up again, grinning. "Please, enjoy yourself. I daresay you've earned it."

Allura waves him off, and Coran glances between her and Lotor’s retreating figure. With an arched brow, he clears his throat loudly. 

“We’re certainly seeing a lot of the Emperor these quintants. Almost old hats at this, aren’t we?” Coran muses as he watches the doors open and close behind Lotor, and he drops his voice lower. “May I be blunt, Queen Allura?”

She sighs, turning away. “As if you’ve ever asked before, Coran.”

“Is there something going on between you?” he asks. There’s a furrow between his eyebrows, wrinkling as frustration etches itself onto his face. “ Again ?”

Allura nearly chokes on air. “Ancients, no!”

The look Coran levels at her shows he's not convinced.

“I want you to know I’ll always respect your decision,” he assures her. “But I do have to advise you, don’t I? It’s part of my job description.”

Allura stands at her full height, clasping her hands tightly in front of herself. “It is,” she says, her voice drenched in sarcasm. “Alright then. Advise me.”

Coran’s arms cross stubbornly over his chest. “Oh, don’t look at me like that!”

Allura tilts her head to the side, fluttering her eyelashes coyly. “Like what, Royal Advisor?”

“Like you know just what I’m going to say. I’ve still got plenty of wisdom to impart, missy.”

“Missy?” She laughs. “That’s a far cry from your majesty , don’t you think?”

“Y-yes, well I— ” Coran falters only for a moment, then catches himself. “I know you and Keith have this wager, but I’m more than happy to send Prince Hoanez packing if you rather not go through with this.” 

“Yes, well ,” she echoes, rolling her shoulders back and glancing over at Coran. “I trust that as my advisor, you would tell me if you thought I was making a poor decision.”

“A poor decision? No, not at all.” He pauses a moment. “It's just that there are times when addressing rumors head-on can do more good than you’d think. Bringing another person into your affairs will probably lead to more…. interest in your friendship with Emperor Lotor."

“Are there rumors doubting my friendship with Emperor Lotor?” 

"I'd be surprised if there weren't, to be honest." Coran studies her, one brow slowly rising as his fingers twirl the end of his mustache. "There are still those who don't fully trust Daibazaal becoming a self-governing power. Even if he claims to only hold the title as a figurehead, you can't expect the universe to forget centuries of war."

"And yourself?"

“I don't mind Lotor," Coran says, rather defensively. "If anything, the last decaphobe has proven that he’s one of the Alliance’s most dependable members. It’s just…"

He stops, and Allura arches an eyebrow. Coran is not someone who usually struggles with what to say. "Just...what?"

He exhales, long and pained. "You’ve always been prone to being quite… charmed by him.”

Charmed , she muses as she chews her bottom lip. Yes, perhaps she is. Perhaps she has always been since the war. Surely that isn’t a bad thing – not when Lotor is indeed so very charming.

It would be a lie to say that she doesn’t look forward to her calls and visits with Lotor, but it’s all been from a more cordial place than years prior. Since their recovery after the war, Lotor has become one of her most trusted friends and confidants. He has a quick mind and a splendid gift of repartee.

Even if she does enjoy their playful pleasantries, she isn’t foolish enough to entertain the idea that Lotor can ever hold any deeper feelings towards her again. Especially given their complicated history.

For now, she’s allowed herself to enjoy the innocent and playful banter that may sometimes toe into the territory of light flirting. But she can afford a bit of pleasure amidst their business, as long as she doesn’t take it seriously. As with many things, moderation is key.

“There is nothing left to talk about.” She smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. 

Coran nods. “In that case, Prince Hoanez is waiting for you in the audience chamber. I asked the kitchen staff to bring some tea and tarts,” Coran informs, motioning down the hallway. “He looked like he could use something sweet.”

“As attentive as always,” Allura says with a smile, grabbing the handle to the door. “I’ll see him now.”

“I’ll make sure to find Keith and Xadrion,” Coran assures before backtracking through the hallway. He then stops in his tracks. “Oh, and one more thing!” 

“What is it?” Allura asks when Coran comes back to her, leaning forward to whisper in her ear.

“You should probably stop biting your lip. It’s your tell when you're lying.”

“That will be all, Coran!” Allura hisses, physically pushing him away from her before he can catch the blush blooming across her face. The older man yelps, but takes the order and hurries off to find Keith.

“Quiznack.” Allura sighs, grip tightening on the door handle. She can’t forget her goal now. Bet or no bet, she can’t let temptation cloud her judgment. She and Lotor are long over, and it’s time for her to move forward with her life.

With a broad smile painfully plastered across her face, she pushes the door open to greet her date.

 


 

After showing up to the sun room late, Keith can’t help but notice Allura’s annoyance. She most likely assumes he’s trying to sneak out of their deal, but for what it’s worth Xadrion is a surprisingly decent date. Aside from being handsome, he’s outgoing and friendly, which is a relief since Keith takes a while to warm up to new people. It’s one thing when it’s a quick hookup between missions, but actually dating? That’s not Keith’s thing.

Still, Xadrion is making their time together easy. Even sitting at what should be the most tense tea time with the Queen of New Altea and her date, he appears effortlessly comfortable. Keith even finds himself laughing at jokes and being more sociable than he thought possible.

Prince Hoanez, however, ends up being just as much a soppy, milquetoast noble as Keith thought he’d be. 

When he speaks, time flows like wet cement. Keith checks the grand clock on the wall for the time. A minute has passed since he last checked an hour ago, or so it seems. He occupies himself in tying his hair back to avoid just sitting there with nothing to stare at but his cooling tea. The encounter is excruciatingly boring, and there's no telling if Prince Hoanez even notices. 

Somewhere during a story about his various food allergies, Keith contemplates how easy it would be to stab his own hand to get out of this situation. Xadrion is the only one humoring the prince, asking follow up questions about the different ways someone can contract an inflammatory bowel disease. It's kind of impressive.

Across the table, Keith doesn’t miss the knowing eyebrow arch Allura sends him while sipping her tea. He ignores it until Coran gathers them all to make their way to the ballroom so Allura can greet the Prime Minister of the Tralfan. 

When Allura reaches for her cane, Prince Hoanez seems confused.

“Will you be bringing that with you?” he asks, voice laced with skepticism and mild disgust. 

“Oh,” Allura responds, looking torn as she grips the handle. She stares at her hands, seriously considering something in her mind before shaking her head and releasing her cane. “No, I was just leaving it here.”

Keith interrupts, “Allura—”

She stops him with a cold glare over her shoulder. At that moment, Keith catches a glimpse of the old Allura, the one they first met on the Castleship. It’s a flashback to the young woman who always accepted the burden of leadership with courage and poise. The vulnerability she's learned to trust the paladins with is shoved to the side. A glint of uncertainty burns in her eyes, fear she’s kept well hidden for the sake of her people. It's the determination of someone willing to sacrifice anything – and take on any burden – for the good of her people. The heart beneath the crown.

That spirit is valuable for a paladin and a Queen, but she deserves so much more than sacrifice. She has sacrificed enough for this universe already, and it bothers Keith that Hoanez doesn’t recognize that. Using her cane is nothing to be ashamed of, especially considering the circumstances of her injuries.

After sitting through his extensive medical history, even hearing Prince Hoanez mention Allura’s cane in any tone is enough to make Keith want to deck him.

Nevertheless, she slowly makes her way across the room without it and ignores Keith’s glare when she passes him. Prince Hoanez offers his arm to her. She takes it graciously, hooking her own around his elbow. Beside him, Xadrion offers his arm out to Keith, and he can’t help but groan. Luckily, Xadrion finds it funny instead of insulting.

“Yeah, it felt weird after I did it,” he admits, before taking hold of Keith’s hand. “Is this better?”

Keith fights a losing battle to keep himself from blushing. “Uh...sure. Yeah, that’s better. Much better.”

Once they make it to the ballroom, it's like stepping into another world. For all her anxiety, Romelle has truly outdone herself with the preparations. The palace feels like it’s a festival of lights. Along the ceiling shine hundreds of floating lamps illuminated with flickering candles. The panes of the lamps are tinted, casting the ballroom in deep purples and bright pinks, and Keith can’t help but be reminded of cotton candy. It’s as if the ballroom itself is made of sugary treats.

Romelle and Coran have set up an orchestra to play traditional Tralfan music as the guests enter. It’s upbeat and jubilant, flowing out of the windows like a cool breeze. Tonight the windows of the castle are open despite the cold, as Allura believes the New Castle of Lions should be the people’s palace, especially during its celebrations. 

While it’s spring on Earth, the weather on New Altea is brisk and chilly. Guests are dressed in long dresses, woollen jackets, and glamorous scarves and shawls. The Helper Monkeys are taller than expected, and walk on their hind legs. 

“The Tralfan are deeply pragmatic and hold a strong sense of duty that rivals even the Galra,” Xadrion explains, swinging their hands playfully between them as he speaks. “If you can believe it.”

“Hard to imagine,” Keith mumbles, trying to fight against the hyper-awareness of the soft warmth of Xadrion’s hand. There are hints of callouses on his fingers, a sign that he must favor a gun to a blade during missions. “I’ve seen Kolivan in some pretty intense meetings.”

“Not surprising since you’re trying to start the humanitarian wing of the org,” Xadrion says, the easy smirk flowing back on his face at Keith’s suprise. “Yeah, your secret plans aren’t all that secret.”

“It isn’t a secret,” Keith insists, pulling his hand away. “That makes it sound like I’m ashamed of it.”

“Oh! I didn’t mean it like that,” Xadrion attempts to recover, swatting the air between them. It strikes Keith just how familiar the gesture is, like he's seen it a hundred times. “It’s a good idea! Great, even! I’d love for the Blade to do more work that helps people, but it’s not like we’re known for our pacifism. Our motto is literally knowledge or death.”

“Which is why there’s an opportunity to diversify the type of work we take on," Keith insists. "This isn’t a joke."

Xadrion’s face falls. “Keith, I didn’t mean to insult you.”

“I’m not insulted,” he replies through gritted teeth. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

“Okay,” Xadrion says slowly. “But you’re getting defensive.”

“I’m not.”

“...right,” Xadrion says, fidgeting with his hands nervously. An uncomfortable silence settles between them. Keith crosses his arms over his chest tightly, quietly kicking himself for his prickly attitude. 

Xadrion isn't the first person to question the viability of using the Blade of Marmora for relief efforts. The idea isn't popular. But how he so easily dismissed it gets under his skin. 

There's a flippant disregard within their ranks that anything positive can come from an organization sprung from war. Nearly every person Keith's gone to with the idea has brushed him off the same way, no matter how passionately he argued. The only one who took him seriously was Lance, and even that support came after a few too many beers shared on the front porch of his house.

“Xadrion, look —” Keith attempts but is interrupted by an eruption of horns blaring near the entryway.

From where they’re standing, Keith and Xadrion have a perfect view of the entertainment and easy access to the dance floor. 

“I’m going to find the restroom real quick before the party really gets started,” Xadrion announces, throwing a smile over his shoulder as he walks off. “Don’t have too much fun without me.”

He nods, and once Xadrion leaves to go to the bathroom, it takes less than a tick for Keith to spot Lance. It’s not hard considering the bright colors of his catering uniform.

“Good choice pulling back the mullet,” Lance says when he passes with an empty hor d'oeuvres tray. He reaches up to flick the braid tied at the nape of Keith’s neck. “Looks like you put in some effort.”

Keith scoffs, trying desperately to play off the way his whole chest fills at the compliment. Lance gives him a strange look, stopping, and leaning back to look Keith over once more. A hopeful flutter rises in Keith’s chest. Finally, Lance points his head in the direction of the quieter part of the party, and Keith follows after him like a puppy dog.

“What is it?” Keith demands, walls already up and barricaded.

“Xadrion seems nice,” Lance teases, tilting his head towards where Xadrion has left. 

Keith groans, just barely managing to hold back his irritation at the playful tone of Lance’s voice. He turns as if to curse Lance out, which would’ve surely devolved into a dumb fight with the weird mood they’re both in, but instead Keith throws a smarmy reply.

“Yeah he is nice,” he huffs, eyes narrowing. “Really nice, actually.” 

He doesn't take the bait.

“Wow, that’s awesome! It means Allura did a good job then,” Lance grins, rocking on his feet excitedly. 

Keith tries to suffocate the monster of jealousy that rumbles in his chest. If Lance wants to be his supportive best friend, who is Keith to challenge that? He needs to get over himself and accept that Lance just doesn’t feel the same way as him. 

“You’re icing him out though, and he can tell,” Lance urges. “Look, I know you’re not exactly the warm and fuzzy type, but Xadrion is into you, man. Relax a bit, and maybe take some advice from the guy who’s been on more than his fair share of blind dates.”

“Advice? You’re such a desperate idiot, you probably fall in love the first time someone is nice to you,” Keith challenges. Maybe he’s more of a masochist than he’d originally led himself to believe. He sees the irony in his words, acknowledges it, and then goes on to say it anyway.

Lance takes a step back. “Why are you being such a dick? I’m trying to help you.”

“I didn't ask for your help, Lance,” Keith growls.

When he turns to Lance, the briefest flash of disappointment flickers across his face before dulling back into the carefully practiced mask of indifference―the one that's becoming more and more transparent to Keith by the second.

I didn’t ask for your help, Lance, ” Lance mimics in a high-pitched voice, flapping his hand like a mouth. Keith fights against the new round of fluttering in his chest with his own annoyance at Lance’s mannerisms. “Newsflash, you’re about to lose your bet 'cause you and Xadrion are getting along a lot better than Allura and Prince Hoanez.”

He points behind them before floating back into the crowd and Keith turns to look over his shoulder at the scene across the dancefloor.  

In the middle stands the leader of the Tralfan, a tall man who goes by the name of Kampo. His body is covered by brown hair, but the fur by his eyes is a weary gray. Even in his old age, he stands at his full height. Behind him stand Lotor and Allura, gracious hosts. Lotor loudly taps his cane against the ballroom floor three times, getting everyone's attention. 

“Thank you all for attending tonight’s celebration,” Kampo says, his deep voice echoing through the ballroom once the chattering stops. “We are thankful for New Altea and Neo Daibazaal for being excellent partners. The Tralfan and our Helper Monkeys are collaborative people who take great pride in the work we’ve accomplished alongside the Blade of Marmora for the good of our new Alliance.”

“As are we, Prime Minister Kampo.” Allura nods, smiling at the crowd. “While these early days of our new reality have been uncertain, it is times like these that remind us all of the peace and prosperity we’ve worked so hard to obtain. I am thankful to everyone here tonight and do hope New Altea is as welcoming to you as you have been to our return.”

Cheers and applause erupt from the crowd. Allura always knows what to say, and it’s times like this when Keith is the most proud of her ascension to the throne. Especially after all she’s been through, she’s continued to prove herself to be a fair and just ruler.

Kampo motions for the crowd to settle down. “Now, with all that being said, I believe we are all here for a party, correct? As is tradition, the Talfan ask for our hosts to be the first ones to have the opening dance. Will you oblige?”

Lotor and Allura exchange a surprised look, obviously not expecting such a request. To the side, Keith catches the way Romelle flips through her holo-tablet to find where she’s missed the memo. Luckily, Lotor isn’t nearly as frazzled.

“Of course, Your Excellency,” Lotor replies, handing his cane to one of the aides. Even though his mobility has diminished, he’s sturdy enough to stand and walk on his own. Albeit, slowly.

Keith watches as Lotor takes Allura’s hand, leading her to the ballroom’s dance floor. Music flows from the orchestra station in the corner of the room. A soft but upbeat tone that matches the mood of the night’s celebrations.

Lotor leads their dance, and even to Keith’s untrained eye every movement is full of poetry.  With each poised stride Allura takes, it becomes crippling obvious just how demanding and rigorously punishing the movements are on her body. Lotor holds her steady, supporting her as they circle the ballroom. They advance, retreat and spin with their arms waving from side to side above their heads, their heads swaying, their royal garments fluttering.  

Their movements aren’t perfect, since it’s not easy for either of them to dance given the grave injuries they both suffered melding reality back together. 

It reminds Keith of when he had first found Shiro when he crash landed on Earth, arm amputated and face scarred, but still alive. In the early days of Voltron, he discovered that while his brother’s body had healed in mismatched patterns, the most pressing damage was invisible. At the other end of the ballroom, he spots Shiro with Adam by his side. Both men openly wear their scars from the war, and have managed to reignite a love that seemed extinguished.

Keith’s gaze lands on Allura’s smile and the way it is a little bit wider than usual, and Lotor’s eyes a bit softer. The scene shifts an ache inside his chest, painfully reminding him of the months where Lance had all but begged Allura to look at him the way she’s looking at Lotor right now. Keith finds Lance amongst the crowd, and sees that he’s returned to his catering duties.

His heart drains through his boots as he’s faced with the staggering realization that he’s in way over his head. In all his teasing of Allura and fretting over Lance, he’s been too thick-headed to realize what was happening right in front of him. Shiro may be right, and Keith might've made the grave mistake of setting Allura up with Prince What’s-His-Face instead of the now obvious choice. The guy probably didn't even have a chance.

The music slows as Lotor and Allura conclude their dance. There's an eruption of applause from the Tralfan and their Helper Monkeys. Off to the side, Romelle seems to exhale a sigh of relief before she’s pulled in another direction by Coran.

Lotor bows to Allura before exiting the dance floor, and Keith watches as Allura makes her way to Prince Hoanez. He feels slightly relieved, but still uneasy.

“Keith?”

He’s drawn back to reality, regrettably, when Xadrion calls his name. He’s returned from the bathroom and seems only slightly concerned at Keith’s space-out. His posture is casual with an easy-going smile forever on his face. Xadrion is handsome and charming, that's for sure. Even if he's obnoxious, Lance has a point. Allura did a way better job matching him than the other way around. 

The only thing holding him back is his own selfish desires. 

"You alright?" Xadrion asks, and his eyes narrow with concern. “I’m really sorry about before. I didn’t mean to hit a nerve.”

"No, it’s alright. You were right, I was being defensive." Keith shakes his head, hoping it can hide his discomfort. “I just got caught up in watching everyone out there.”

“Looks like the dance floor isn’t that full yet,” Xadrion notes, tilting his head to the side in excitement. “We should take advantage of it!”

“What?” Keith sputters, and Xadrion bends at the waist, hand outstretched toward him. Keith doesn’t know how to react, so he just blinks at the gesture in confusion. 

“Let me be the one to ask you to dance,” Xadrion offers.

Keith’s ears warm. “Uh, I’m not really sure…”

He glances between Xadrion and the dance floor. While these aliens had come across as a little pretentious and stiff earlier while their leader was speaking, they seemed to be a happy drunk crowd while celebrating. Around them, Keith catches sight of several couples dancing and swaying across the dance floor. Many while holding glasses of Altean champagne, even though Romelle looks ready to burst a blood vessel over the possibility of it spilling on the ballroom floor. 

“You’re not going to back out on me, are you?” Xadrion laughs, raising his head and smiling handsomely with his hand still outstretched for Keith to take. “C’mon Keith, I’ve seen you in a fight. I know you’re good on your feet.”

The music shifts and is suddenly loud, fast and bouncy. 

Keith makes a feeble attempt to break away, turning to anyone for help. He manages to make eye contact with Pidge who passes by with a plate of drinks. At his suffering, she smirks a shit-eating grin before mouthing, “Have fun!”

At being so easily sold out by his so-called friend, Keith hides his devastation as he’s hauled by Xadrion out to where the other guests are gathered on the dance floor.

“Sorry in advance if I suck,” Keith warns, and Xadrion chuckles as he takes his hands to hold him steady.

“I’ll lead. And don’t worry, I won’t let you make a total fool of yourself,” he assures, taking his hand and twirling him slowly before pulling Keith to him, whisking them off.

Xadrion makes good on his promise, and all Keith needs to do is follow the other man’s lead as they sway together to the music. It’s easy enough after a few steps, and soon Keith finds his footing, his anxiety melting away.

“There you go!” Xadrion says as they sway together. Keith can’t help but laugh, feeling his cheeks warm under the lights of the ballroom and attention from Xadrion. "You're a natural."

They continue to dance and spin, the music around them floating away like air. Keith wonders to himself if it’s possible for him to move on to someone else. To give up the ghost and admit defeat when it comes to Lance’s affections. Sooner or later, he’s bound to realize the truth, and he’s not sure their friendship would survive such a revelation. 

Across the room, Keith catches sight of Lance standing between the bar and the guest tables. He’s staring right at where Keith and Xadrion are dancing, but the distance makes his expression unreadable. Then Lance walks away, most likely called on by Hunk or Romelle.

“Is this pace alright?” Xadrion asks, bringing Keith’s attention back to him.

“Yeah, it’s great,” Keith replies, almost on autopilot. He tries to hide his blushing face, chin tucked down close to his chest as he thinks about Lance watching him dance with a stranger. 

As the music slows, the dance floor empties and Xadrion takes hold of Keith’s hand and leads him back to the tables to hydrate and recover.

“I’ll go grab us some drinks,” he says thumbing towards the bar, and Keith can only nod dumbly.

“Sure.”

Keith finds an empty table top tall enough to not need chairs. Leaning forward, he buries his face in his hands.

He didn’t expect to have such a good time. Somehow, it’s making him feel even more guilty. Peering through his fingers, he catches Lance handing out hor d'oeuvres to famished guests. Even in his mustard colored catering uniform, he’s handsome and charming to each of them. Light glints off something in his ear, and Keith realizes he’s pierced it with a simple silver hoop. He’s missed that new detail, somehow, but it’s enough to cause him actual agony.

When Lance floats toward the standing table Keith is saving for Xadrion, Keith makes an effort to look blasé.

Lance leans over with his hor d'oeuvres. "Would you like a swedish space meatball?"

“Leave me alone, Lance.”

“That’s not a yes or no,” Lance hums, pushing the tray closer to Keith. “Try again.”

“I don’t have time for your games.”

“Who says it's a game?”

Keith doesn't answer. Instead, he pointedly stares at the table to try and broadcast just how much he wants to ignore Lance’s entire existence. It's the move that's always been the easiest way to rile him up, because if there's one thing Lance can't stand it's being ignored.

Lance clears his throat and dips deeper into Keith's personal space. "I said, would you like a swedish space meatball, sir ?"

He sticks his chin out when he says it, as if sir is meant to be a delicate euphemism for a much ruder insult.

The tray is literally under Keith's nose but he refuses to give Lance the satisfaction of his attention. He finds a focal point — a weird facial mole on one of the Helper Monkeys across the room — and hyper-fixates on it.

This stand-off lasts for a solid minute until finally Lance makes an irritated noise in the back of his throat. Keith assumes it’s a sign that he's won until Lance dips the tray of food just enough for every single meatball to roll off and splat dead center against his chest.

"Oops," Lance deadpans, flipping the now empty tray under his armpit. "My hand slipped."

Adding insult to injury, Lance tosses a handful of napkins on the table before turning to head back into the kitchen.

Keith growls, the temperature rising in his face as he snatches the napkins and wipes the dripping food from his uniform. Luckily, the Blade of Marmora's suits are made to withstand even the most intense weather conditions, so a little meat sauce is no problem. That doesn't stop at least three Talfan Helper Monkeys from making a beeline to his table to assist him, to his displeasure.

Goddamn it, Lance.

After he's assured the guests he's fine and finding a new, clean table to lean against, Keith takes a deep breath. All he needs is to last a few more hours and then he can go back to his ship, take his wolf and fly as far away from this mess as possible.

From the corner of his eye, he spots Allura making her way toward his table with a drink in her hand. He frowns at her through his fingers, hoping it’s a grumpy enough expression to send her away. 

It isn’t, and instead, Allura perks up immediately, leaning against the side of the table and grinning.

“So, what do you think of Xadrion?” Allura asks, big doe eyes blinking up at Keith, undoubtedly invested in the answer. Allura twirls a strand of her hair around her finger, trying so hard to appear casual that it hurts. She’s always been a terrible actress.

“I don’t think anything of him just yet,” Keith replies, refusing to give Allura an inch to work with. “I’m neutral.”

“I think you’re a little more than neutral,” she hums. She scoots to his side of the table, and Keith frowns, not appreciating where this line of questioning is heading. “I saw you both dancing earlier. He’s quite graceful.”

“He’s fine.”

“Do you mean fine or.” She lowers her voice, raising an eyebrow. A move he knows she picked up from Lance. “ Fine.

Keith knocks her gently with his shoulder, and she giggles behind her glass. It seems the celebration has loosened her up. Still, it’s bothering him that she’s spending far more time with someone who isn’t the guy he set her up with.

“I think you really like him,” Allura stresses, tapping her fingers against her glass of wine. “Why are you holding back?”

“I didn’t want to show you and your not-date up,” Keith says, motioning with his head toward where Lotor chats casually with one of the Tralfan Helper Monkey’s leaders. Allura leans away, her cheeks darkening into a blush she attempts to hide. She quickly glances over his shoulder, looking anywhere but at Keith.

“It is formal procedure for the co-sponsors of a gala to kickstart the celebration,” Allura explains, still avoiding his eyes. “And I’m having a great time with Prince Hoanez.”

"Is that so?"

"Yes, it is very so."

"Alright then, if you don’t mind me asking," Keith leans in close, speaking in a hushed whisper. “Why aren’t you with him right now, your majesty?”

She huffs in annoyance, crossing her arms over her chest before taking a deep sip of her wine.

“I would be, but I just lost him in the crowd, is all,” Allura insists. Keith can respect that, even as he turns to see Prince Hoanez himself standing just a few steps away from the snack bar, looking confused like he isn’t sure why Allura isn’t with him instead.

“Look at that, I found him for you!” Keith points him out, giving Allura a pat on the back with a smile. “Don’t let me keep you crazy kids from having your fun and completely ignoring Emperor Lotor, yeah?”

Allura glares at him, blue eyes piercing with a fury he knows she’s holding back in front of company. Instead, he grins wider, hoping it’s enough to let her know that he knows just how pissed she is. With a growl, she hands him her empty wine glass with a dismissive air.  

“You won’t.” Allura huffs, turning on her heel and heading for her date. She pauses before tossing over her shoulder with a bitter smile, “If you see Lance , tell him I say hello.”

Keith throws her a grin laced with malice. "I will, but I won't see him."

They stand in that smile stand-off, ignoring the nervous glances from guests as they pass. Eventually, Allura relents.

"Whatever. You smell like Spiced Krossi Sauce," Allura jabs, and she floats away in a huff. Keith clenches his jaw, gripping the wine glass so hard it shatters in his hand sending shards of glass stabbing into his palm. 

His uniform typically comes with gloves, but he’d taken them off during the party. Now he’s paying dearly for it.

“Damn it,” he hisses, looking around for any of the napkins Lance threw at him to clean up the mess. When he doesn’t find any, he storms toward the nearest bathroom.

 


Allura grits her teeth as she fights against the desire to lean against the table top. Her muscles are beginning to cramp with the added strain of not only dancing, but navigating the party without her cane. Every joint in her hips and legs feels like there’s molten lava between her bones.

Prince Hoanez noticing her cane had wedged a seed of shame inside her, ready to blossom red upon her cheeks at the mere mention of her lack of stamina. She wanted nothing more than to sit down, but to do so would admit defeat.

Allura grinned through her conversation with her date, half-listening to whatever long winded story he was trying to impress her with. Being the host of the event, she was often pulled away for sidebar conversations and more schmoozing from diplomats looking to ensure themselves into New Altea’s good graces now that her planet was back. 

She’s barely gotten out of dancing due to being pulled in every direction by guests. Her popularity is not lost on Prince Hoanez.

“You certainly are in-demand,” he says when he appears at her side with a fresh glass of wine. “If I didn’t know better, I'd think you were taking all these conversations as a means of avoiding me.”

“Avoiding my lovely date? Never!” Allura laughs loudly, borderline obnoxiously, trying desperately to mask just how much the idea has affected her. “What would make you think such a thing?”

“Because for this entire time you’ve been looking over my shoulder at someone else in the room. If it’s the same person from earlier, then it’s Emperor Lotor,” Prince Hoanez says, raising a suspicious eyebrow. “Unless there’s someone else I should be annoyed with?”

All the pain in her body couldn’t stop her from avoiding that particular topic. Allura gulps her wine loudly against the flip in her stomach and holds her glass to avoid fidgeting. 

“I’m unsure if there’s anyone to be annoyed with, your highness. As this celebration’s hosts, it would be rude of me to ignore my co-sponsor for the gala.” Even though a smile is clear on her face, she can’t deny she isn’t bitter. Perhaps a little more than just bitter.

Prince Hoanez shrugs, taking another sip of his drink. "It's no secret that the Galra Emperor is a broken man. Watching him drag you around for that dance was pitiful."

"Were you embarrassed?" Allura demands, flickers of her temper licking at her words. 

"Not for myself, but for you. The way he led you was jerky and uncouth," he insists, motioning to the dance floor. "Certainly a woman of your experience has the grace and poise for a simple waltz."

"I danced as I saw fit," she says, voice steely. "But no need to worry about my embarrassment any longer, as I will not be dancing again tonight."

Considering the topic dropped, she whisks across the room to speak with one of the Talfan leaders. Prince Hoanez follows, albeit slowly. He doesn’t seem to be interested in the conversation taking place, his ego obviously bruised from Allura’s berating. It doesn’t make her feel bad in the slightest. 

It’s during this conversation that something cool slips beneath her hand. Grabbing hold, she recognizes it as her father’s old walking cane, the very one Lotor was using earlier that night. Glancing up, she sees Lotor has casually inserted himself in the conversation, as naturally as a tide rolling into shore. 

“I believe there are seats closer to the bar that could be a better spot for conversation,” he says, leading the group to one of the open tables. He doesn’t take his cane with him, leaving it with Allura to hold onto for support instead. Prince Hoanez doesn’t notice it, too busy talking about the latest changes in intergalactic trade tariffs. 

When they sit together, the relief is nearly instant. Her seat is between Lotor and Hoanez, but they’re so deep in their conversation that they don’t notice she’s too exhausted to partake.

Her fingers curl around the smooth, polished marble of the cane as she lets her thoughts drift away inside her head. While not the most engaging match, tonight is making her heart feel heavy as an uncomfortable truth rears its ugly head once again.

It doesn’t matter who she’s matched with, her heart knows exactly where it belongs. Glancing up at Lotor, the guilt sinks not into her chest but inside her brain. Any semblance of calm she’s gained since sitting down has vanished.

Before their final standoff against his mother, Lotor had let Allura know that he had forgiven her even though Allura had sent him to rot within the confines of the Quintessence Rift. At the time, it felt like a small mercy before a battle they may not have survived. From there, he joined her within the Blue Lion and together they confronted Honerva at the Source of all Reality. 

Since then, she’s worked to make amends toward Lotor in subtle ways with the hope that their former romance could sparkle into a stronger friendship. It’s what happened with Lance, and now they’re even closer than when they were dating. But Lotor was different. Deep down, Allura knows what she did to him is not something she can ever undo. The pain she had inflicted upon him was monumental, and even if he did still harbor feelings towards her, she doesn’t deserve that love now.

She’d hoped that one day she would feel removed from her sin, washed clean of it, but the guilt is a stain on her. An ugly scar like the ones that line her body and hands. When she had used the last of Voltron’s powers to create a singular reality, destroying even the lions themselves, she did so with the belief that this new reality would be a redemption and rebirth for a war-torn universe. 

That doesn’t mean she’s completely left her deeds in the past and moved on. Like a melancholic wave, Allura is overcome with a deep sadness. The kind that still lives in her bones and reminds her of her own loneliness, even in this sea of people.

Pidge appears at their table with a cart full of plates of hot food. “I hope you royals eat, because there’s more where this came from.”

Allura watches with disinterest as Pidge places her dinner in front of her and makes small-talk with Prince Hoanez and Lotor. When she glances at Allura, she can barely pull together a friendly smile. Her heart is too heavy in her chest. 

“Apologies, but I must excuse myself for a moment,” she says to no one in particular once Pidge leaves, more out of habit than anything else. Instantly Lotor is on his feet, Prince Hoanez doesn’t even bother to look up from his plate. She motions at both of them. “No, please continue enjoying the feast. Hunk’s Bharud steaks are delicious.”

Prince Hoanez nods. “Of course, your majesty.” 

She doesn’t take Lotor’s cane with her, and instead leaves the ballroom on her own without a backward glance.

 


 

Keith shoulders his way into one of the palace’s hundreds of guest bathrooms so quickly it’s a wonder he doesn’t slip over the tiles. He manages to remove most of the glass and wrap his bleeding hand in a cloth napkin. It’s still a bloody, disgusting mess that he doesn’t want to subject anyone to witnessing, especially Xadrion. Even if he isn’t in love with the guy, that doesn’t mean he wants to traumatize him with body horror on the first date.

He runs his hand under cold water, gently cleaning his hand to avoid any infection. There should be a first aid kit somewhere, but the thought of asking Romelle or Coran for one now would only lead to more of a headache. The both of them are so frazzled managing the party, they’re a hairpin trigger away from having a conniption.

There’s a creak, and Keith’s quickly ripped from his thoughts by the bathroom’s door opening. This section of the castle appeared to be largely deserted when he entered, but he could be mistaken. He’s prepared to ask whoever’s entering to give him some privacy when he’s instead met with a face full of Lance.

The bathroom is so small that it's really only meant for one person to be inside at a time, unless someone actually stood on the toilet itself. 

“Keith?” Lance asks, and without hesitation he’s through the doorway and pressed so tightly against Keith that Keith needs to take a step back to give him room. Lance catches sight of Keith’s injury and his eyes widen. “Oh, shit. Are you bleeding?”

There’s something about Lance’s voice that immediately settles heavy in Keith’s gut. It’s both jarringly unfamiliar and eerily similar at the same time. He’s suddenly struck by the memory of Lance as a blubbering, anxious mess. It’s a particular Lance that he’d only met a few times when one of them had gotten seriously hurt. 

More frequently, Keith’s heard this voice during his visits to the farm when the night terrors would overcome Lance, his anxiety getting the better of him as he dreamed he was on the brink of losing one of them. Those nights, Keith would climb up from his sleeping bag on the floor to curl against Lance in his bed until his shoulders relaxed and his breathing evened out. He couldn’t always understand what Lance was mumbling, but whenever he heard Allura’s name, Keith would plaster himself against the wall to give Lance more space.

“I’m okay,” Keith quickly reassures, lowering his hand under the water to keep from triggering Lance any further. “It’s just some broken glass.”

“I’ll grab a first aid kit from the kitchen,” Lance says and is out of the washroom before Keith can even stop him. Always quick on his feet, he’s back in the doorway in less than a minute. He steps inside, plastering himself against the door the moment it closes behind him. “C’mon, lemme see.”

“I’m fine,” Keith argues, and Lance flinches at the tone. Keith immediately regrets it and curses himself for not being a gentler person. Still, Lance persists and steps closer to where Keith is huddled by the sink.

He glances up at Keith quietly, as if he’s a skittish animal caught in a trap. It’s endearing in a small way. Keith sighs and relents, extending his hand out for Lance to access, and he winces when Lance’s long fingers brush against his skin.

“Sorry,” he says softly, picking up a pair of tweezers from the kit. “There’s still some shards stuck. I gotta pull them out, so sorry in advance if it stings.”

Keith nods and glances up at the bathroom ceiling, allowing Lance to mend his hand in silence. The walls are a busy mosaic of white and blue, and Keith tries to keep his mind occupied by counting the ceiling tiles. Even in the palace, the light in the bathroom is bright and sterile, lacking even a trace of warmth. Keith is sure that the imperfections on his skin shine like a beacon, meanwhile Lance looks just as radiant as he always does. 

Given how often he’s sent on missions to far away galaxies, Keith is always extra indulgent when it comes to getting attention from Lance. The hours he’s spent staring at him over the years are an embarrassingly high number by this point. All the times he’s gone out of his way to be closer to Lance, to get to know more about Lance, to come up with an excuse to fly back to Earth just to see Lance at any cost is a long list. He holds onto the quiet moments when they aren’t teasing the other, but enjoying the peace of a galaxy post-war.

Even now as he’s wrapping Keith’s hand in a secure bandage with so much care, Keith’s feelings threatened to overflow. It feels like he’s suffocating, and Keith isn’t sure how much more of this their friendship can take before Keith truly ruins it.

“And there we go,” Lance announces once he’s done wrapping Keith’s hand and putting the supplies back into the first aid kit. “Leave it to you to get hurt at a party with Helper Monkeys."

Keith examines his hand while he waits patiently for Lance to announce his departure and leave the bathroom, but he doesn’t move. He just stands there, pressed up against the counter with barely any space between them. Eventually, Keith tears his gaze away from his hand to stare at Lance in exasperation.

He’s expecting Lance to say something stupid, maybe even stare at Keith just to weird him out until he caves and leaves the bathroom first. What he isn’t expecting is for Lance to look so concerned. 

“Keith, did you smash a glass into your hand to get out of this date?”

“What? No, of course not,” Keith insists hurriedly, even as he frantically studies Lance’s face wanting to alleviate his worries. "I was just being clumsy.”

“You’re a space ninja, Keith. Since when are you clumsy ?” Lance deadpans, unimpressed. 

Keith’s cheeks burn at being called out so bluntly, and he simply shrugs his shoulders, not trusting himself to speak. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s been called out by Lance, and it wouldn’t be the last. 

Lance sighs, leveling Keith with a scowl. “I was hoping you were doing this to win your bet with Allura, but instead you’re just going Full Keith.”

Full Keith? What’s that supposed to mean?” Keith challenges immediately, and Lance gives an ugly snort.

“This is how you always are, man. The second anyone gets a little bit close to you, every wall you have goes up. This isn’t new.”

“Right, because you know best,” Keith says, quickly growing more defensive than he should at the comment. 

"Yeah, actually I do."

He places his hands on his hips and gives Keith a critical once-over, like he’d somehow lost his mind in the last thirty seconds. His blue eyes glimmer in the bathroom light, sparkling between amused and annoyed, but at least it isn’t the same irritation from earlier. Still, Keith glares, gritting his teeth together in hopes it’s a mean enough face to give Lance the hint to stop while he’s ahead. It doesn’t work. 

Deep down, he knows that Lance isn’t wrong, but he doesn't like hearing it. “You don’t know the first thing about me.”

Lance laughs obnoxiously, even snorting a little bit in a way that Keith might have found cute in any other instance. Now it’s just infuriating. “Are you kidding me? I know everything there is to know about you, Keith. It kept us alive for years, and like it or not, you’re an open book.”

When he makes no immediate effort to defend himself, Lance takes a bold step toward him and continues his analysis. Keith blinks, standing ramrod straight, uncomfortably aware of how Lance is pressed up against him, closer than ever before. 

“As a kid you got dealt a bad hand and you’re still using it as an excuse to be an asshole years later,” Lance says, prodding Keith in the chest with his index finger at every word to make his point. “But you’re not tough, you’re hurt. Even though the war’s over, you still can’t get over your baggage and think everyone is just one bad day away from leaving you. It doesn’t matter what anyone says or does to prove you wrong, you run away right when things get serious.”

“You don’t know th—”

“It’s what you did to me,” Lance interrupts, short and to the point. The bluntness hits Keith’s heart like a bullseye.  

Somehow, it manages to make Keith feel even worse about the situation. After he’d come back from the space whale with Krolia and they made their journey back to Earth, he started to wonder what had happened in his absence when Lance seemed to be so out of step with the rest of them. 

He’d come to look for the brightest and boldest person in every room, and suddenly that shining star of a person had been dulled to nothing. It took days of prodding and Keith cornering Lance behind the Red Lion during one of their supply runs, but eventually Lance cracked and confessed his loneliness after he left the team. It was one of the first steps they’d made in changing the dynamic of their relationship for the better, to not just be equals on the team, but friends. 

It hurts to hear that even after everything Keith's done to make up for it, Lance still holds it against him. Even though the reason he’d left in the first place was to make sure Lance always had a place on the team and knew that he was irreplaceable.

“Wow, sounds like you got me all figured out. I feel so special being analyzed like that,” Keith deadpans, rolling his eyes. Lance steps back, but he’s far from done with their argument.

“You should!” Lance insists, stubbornly. He stares up at Keith, his petulant pout giving way to an expression of genuine concern. Something gentle, meant only for Keith. 

It’s a painful reminder that when Lance has his sights set on something it’s impossible to do anything but give in, caught in the eye of the sniper. Since the war, he’s become more confident and compelling, the perfect mix of sexy, goofy, and endearing. 

“I care about you a lot and want you to be happy. This bet between you and Allura is just for fun, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to be yourself with Xadrion,” he says. His voice is full of shaky emotion when he asks, “Why aren’t you allowing yourself to even try?”

“Because I’m scared,” Keith admits, and it’s the partial truth. He’s tried to give up hope that their relationship is strong enough to withstand it changing, but all it’s done is made him think of a universe where Lance is no longer his friend.

“It’s okay to be scared, I’m always scared in relationships,” Lance says, breaking Keith out of his stupor. “Mostly because I tend to mess them up.”

“That’s not true. You always bring your whole self when you’re dating someone. I’ve never had the guts to do something like that with anyone before.”

“Considering my track record, it’s probably for the best,” Lance admits with a small bittersweet smile. “The closest thing I have to an honest relationship with anyone is what we have. It feels good to just be myself around someone. Even with Allura, I got so used to toning it down, but with you, I can always just be me. I love that.”

“I love it too,” Keith breathes, words so close to what he really wants to say but still so far. He curses himself, even as he leans over the bathroom’s sink, chasing the closeness he so desperately craves. 

He feels drawn in like a moth to a flame, every part of Lance calling out to him. He wants to memorize this feeling, being able to touch, hold, and to almost have the person who’s held his heart for nearly a decade.

It has to be a mutual feeling, right? People don't take care of their friends like this, he is sure of that much. He’s seen romance movies, he’s seen Shiro and Adam together… how could this be anything different when it looks exactly the same on the surface? Lance has to realize there’s something between them, right?

And Keith dares to hope that maybe he already feels it, that they're in the exact same place and both too scared to admit it.

“Look, all that aside…” Lance trails off, sounding insecure all over again. Keith feels his shoulders slump lower, the feeling of defeat settling over him like a dark cloud. “I saw you leave upset, and so I figured I’d follow to make sure you were okay. But you have to be honest with me about what’s been going on with you.” 

Lance does that thing with his hands, waving it between them like Keith knows what the hell he means. It makes him so furious because he does know exactly what he means because he always knows what Lance means. He’s the most emotionally constipated being in the galaxy, but apparently, Lance is the one person he just gets. And it sucks because Keith doesn’t get to have him.

When Keith doesn’t answer, Lance fills the silence. “Shit, did Xadrion try something? Do I need to kick his ass?”

Keith groans. “No, he didn’t try anything. He’s been fine.”

“If he’s so fine then why are you still in this cramped bathroom with me instead of out there dancing with him ?” Lance asks, closing the gap between them again and gently taking hold of Keith’s bandaged hand. 

Lance is touchy feely with all of his friends, this is hardly out of the ordinary for him. This is a whole new world for Keith though, who never dares to let his guard down around other people no matter who they are. He feels vulnerable and dependent, two things he hates to be. Lance is standing in front of him caring so much, and it makes Keith want to cry. He doesn’t care about winning this stupid bet with Allura. Especially if it means the person he really wants is standing in front of him and encouraging him to hook up with a stranger.

The breath Keith is holding whooshes past his lips in an embarrassing wheeze when Lance reaches out and settles a hand on his face, soft and sure of himself. He strokes Keith cheek, running a thumb over the slightly raised skin of his scar. Keith chokes back a pained noise, unable to look away from Lance’s face at the close proximity. His expression is definitely still concerned, but now it almost looks amazed, like he’s staring at something so much more valuable than Keith.

“Leave me alone, Lance,” Keith practically begs, pulling his hand away and crawling over Lance to leave the bathroom even though he knows that in the future he’ll kick his own ass for not relishing every second of Lance’s attention. 

But he can’t help it. He’s jealous over Lance not being jealous. He’s mad at Lance for being a supportive best friend.

He’s hurt because Lance will never love him like he loves him.

“Keith, wait!” Lance demands, grabbing onto Keith’s arm to stop him. “Why won’t you talk to me?”

“What part of leave me alone don’t you get?”

“I’m not leaving you alone when you’re upset like this,” Lance fights, eyes narrowing. The volume of his voice bounces off the tiles of the bathroom. He’s getting worried now, Keith can tell by the way his forehead furrows. “Please, you can talk to me. I’ll understand.”

“No, you wouldn’t!”

“Stop assu—”

“Just let me go—” Keith is cut-off this time instead of Lance. 

One second he’s speaking so fast that his worried words blur together into something unintelligible and messy, then the next second his thoughts do the same as soft lips smash against his hard enough to bruise. 

He flinches as their noses bump, too shocked to realize that he is leaning away from the feeling rather than into it until he stumbles back into the wall.

Lance backs off in a heartbeat, eyes wide and frantic, apologies already tumbling past the lips that’d just been pressed to Keith’s. “Oh my god, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I shouldn’t have done that!”

Now it’s Keith’s turn to leave reality. He barely registers Lance’s words, head swimming with the knowledge that Lance just kissed him. The object of his affection, the only person that's ever made him feel anywhere near what he is apparently capable of feeling, the one person in his life that has always hovered so close but still out of reach. Lance kissed him.

But now he’s apologizing for it.

Keith is left, once again, all alone in a sea of confusion and vague heartbreak. This is starting to become a pattern, one that he hoped desperately wouldn’t keep repeating itself. He's only one hopelessly and stupidly smitten man, he can only handle so much. 

Not knowing what else to do, he turns tail and runs out of the bathroom to get as far away from Lance as fast as possible.

 


 

Allura turns a corner, finding an empty staircase. Unlike the previous Castle of Lions, she’s yet to uncover all the secret nooks and crannies that had become second nature in her old home. 

Another thing that’s different now. Another thing she needs to learn. 

So much of her life feels unfamiliar that it’s impossible for her to find her footing. At least during the war, she could recognize herself and her castle. Her home was her ship, her family were the paladins. Now she’s the Queen of a planet that is similar to the one she grew up on, but completely unfamiliar. 

She’s covered in scars and even her own body doesn’t obey her anymore. Why is so much still out of her control? Now she can’t even handle her own feelings. All she wants is stability. Isn’t that what winning the war was supposed to do?

Allura’s eyes drip with hot tears. The walls that were holding her up, the ones that kept her sturdy start to collapse. Moment by moment, they fall. Salty drops fall from her chin, drenching her dress. Leaning against the cool granite of the banister’s edge, she slowly slides down to the bottom step.

The muscles of her chin tremble like she’s a child again, and the uncompromising loneliness drops on her like a weight. It’s all so painfully familiar.

“Allura?”

She looks up. Keith stands in the hallway looking just as lost as she feels. Sniveling, she tries to hold back her sobs, but she’s already been caught. Wordlessly, she extends her arms out for him, and in two large steps, he’s at the base of the staircase. Taking her hands, he kneels in front of her and meets her eyes. It makes them burn as fresh tears stick to her eyelashes, smudging her mascara.  

“Are you okay?” Keith’s upper lip curls into a sneer, his thick brows pitched together. He inspects her face in that doting way that usually irritates her, wiping away the dark streaks of her makeup rolling past her cheekbone. “Did that stuck-up son of a bitch hurt you? I swear on my fucking life, I’ll find him and rip his—”

She throws herself forward, wrapping her arms around his neck in a tight embrace. Burying her face in his shoulder, Allura tries to catch her breath to keep another snotty, wet whimper from escaping her lips. 

“He didn’t,” she hiccups, shaking her head. “I’m alright.”

Relaxing slightly, Keith firmly wraps his arms around her trembling frame and tries to hold her steady. She feels him go rigid when she breaks and sobs brokenly into his shoulder. Keith hugs her tighter, letting her cry all over his suit. Her salty tears dampen the dark purples of his Blade leader uniform, and her makeup is no doubt staining the fabric. 

“You’re alright,” he repeats, rubbing her back in small comforting circles.

Allura continues to cry, and Keith holds her with an uncharacteristic amount of patience. It takes a long few doboshes until she’s caught her breath and can form full sentences again.

“I saw how he reacted to your cane, and was ready to kick his ass just for that bullshit,” Keith exhales, only slightly relieved when Allura pulls back to meet his eyes. “I knew he was going to be bougie, but I didn’t think he was going to be such an asshole, too.”

Allura can’t help but snort, covering her face with her hands. “He was kind of bougie and not a great choice.”

“I’ll take the L on that one,” Keith admits, shifting back to look at her and brush Allura’s hair back from where it is plastered to her forehead, sticking to her tiara. “Finding you a date was way harder than I thought. You’re a tough lady to satisfy.”

She shrugs, lamely. "You weren't much easier. I quite literally pulled Xadrion’s name from a pile when you called. You knew as much about him as I did."

"Wow. Sounds like we both lost this bet, huh?"

“Seems that way,” Allura mumbles, biting her lip. “Although, I really thought I was ready, but Hoanez was just as embarrassed about my condition as I feared.”

“Screw him, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” Keith fights, taking her back into his arms and letting her bury her face into his shoulder. He shakes his head and mumbles under his breath, “I knew we should’ve gone with Prince Zanosie.”

She can’t help but giggle as Keith’s usual stubbornness shines through even in a moment like this. Pulling away slightly, Keith glances down at her with a heavy stare.

“It’s just that…” Allura sighs, trailing off before finishing her thought. In the light of the hallway, she catches Keith’s eye.

The expression on his face makes her feel even worse, hating being the cause of his worry. It’s an open secret that out of all of them, he’s the one who frets about each of them the most. Deep down, Allura knows that he blames himself for her condition, somehow thinking if he had been a better leader for Voltron that Allura wouldn’t have had to stitch together the reality that Honerva had torn to pieces. 

“What?” Keith urges, and Allura shrugs her shoulders.

“Tonight made me remember how hard it is to be in this body. I thought that when the war was over, the next steps would be obvious for me. Ruling New Altea and protecting my people is my sworn duty. But how can I when I can’t even go on a simple blind date or stand without using a cane?”

“Allura,” Keith sighs again, long suffering, and carefully pries Allura’s hands away from her face and replaces them with his own. “That is the dumbest shit you’ve ever said to me, and you’ve said some really dumb shit to me.” 

It’s so blunt and rude that it takes her by surprise, she pouts as Keith leans up to press their foreheads together. 

“You don’t need to be so crude about it!” she whines. "Don't forget who outranks you. "

Keith raises a single eyebrow. “Makes you listen doesn’t it?”

Allura huffs, shifting away slightly at being so easily called out. Keith just laughs and pulls her back against him. Her arms cross stubbornly over her chest as he continues.

“It’s okay if you change your mind, you know,” he says gently. “No matter what I said, this isn’t my decision to make. Only you know your limits. So if you don’t want to date anyone, don’t force yourself. I’ll tell Coran and Romelle what’s going on, and they’ll have Prince Handwash or whatever thrown out of here like he’s last week’s trash.”

The mental image is enough to brighten her mood slightly. Leave it to Keith to believe every problem has a simple solution. He never was one to overthink things.

Being angry about her failure of a date comes a lot easier to her than admitting the truth. There is nothing stopping her except for the very real feelings she harbors and the simple knowledge that her entire life may fall like a house of cards if she lets herself indulge again.

“He was a bad candidate, but there is someone,” Allura admits and relaxes back into Keith, like her body is relieved at finally letting go of the truth. “Lotor.”

Keith hardly looks shocked. His brow arches as he asks, “Oh yeah?”

She wrings the hem of her dress in her hands and stares at the new wrinkles she leaves there. “It’s ridiculous, lingering on it like this. It’s not healthy. I’m trying to move forward, to…to focus on what lies ahead for us. But ever since returning to New Altea, he’s been there with me every step of the way. It’s been nice to have someone...a confidant...a…”

“Partner?” Keith offers, his tone solemn and carefully measured. Allura can do nothing but nod. She leans forward, pressing her hand against her temple. She stays that way, trying to calm her heartbeat, until Keith hums, “I know the feeling.”

Her eyes snap open. “What?”

Keith has his palms flat against the pants of his suit, his eyes fixed on the ground. His knuckles are white, like he’s trying to physically hold himself down from floating away. The tips of his ears are pink, peeking out from where his hair is pulled back into a braid. “It’s…it’s nothing. It’s dumb. Forget I said any—”

“No.”

He glances up at her.

“No,” she says again. Pleading. “Tell me.”

He draws in a breath and lets out a long sigh. “It’s just…” He taps his fingers against his knees, like he’s trying to gather his words. “Since we won the war, I noticed how close you’ve both gotten. Maybe that’s how it was when I was gone, I don’t know. But you seemed happy, and I didn't want to ask about it. Especially after everything that happened.”

“You mean with the Altean moon colony?”

Keith nods sadly. “After that battle, I couldn't get rid of the feeling that I was missing something. It all felt so clear at the time. Everything made so much sense when my mom and I found the colony and, like, Romelle’s story fit all the pieces together. But the more I thought about it, the more I wasn’t sure. Acxa felt it too.” 

Allura’s mouth goes dry. They didn’t often talk about this part of the war. Lotor’s rescue had been a last ditch effort to stabilize the rapidly decaying universe, there was never time to mull about the past. Even with the success, the scars Lotor wears aren’t just from them mending reality from Honerva’s damage, but from his penance in the quintessence rift.

The moon colony, ignored by Honevera when she had discovered the planet Lotor had founded to keep the Altean refugees shielded from her wrath, was full of stasis pods identical to those in the Castle of Lions. When first discovered, the obvious conclusion had been something sinister. What Keith and Romelle had missed was that the Alteans inside the pods were alive, but suffered from poisoning from living in the Quantum Abyss. 

Decaphoebs without a proper connection to the quintessence field had made the people’s Altean alchemy unstable. Their bodies and minds had become so fragile that almost nothing could be done to help, and they had withered away. Those who had shown signs of the poisoning were sent to the moon colony for quarantine, including Romelle’s brother and parents. She had been the only one who had not shown signs of the degenerative disease.

Lotor's hope had been to keep the colonies separated to lessen the risk of infection without causing panic. Those who were able had lended their alchemy to Lotor as long as they could in order to build the Sincline during his banishment. Never under his direct order, but entirely of their own free will as they had aimed to heal a broken universe. His goal of using the transreality rift to mine its quintessence had been to heal any of the Alteans he could still save and finally end the war his parents had waged seeking infinite quintessence with the Kromar.

After rescuing his mangled body from Honerva’s corrupted Sincline and healing him in the medical bay of the ATLAS, all Allura had been able to see on his face was the pain and agony stemming from being forced to watch, over and over, as the last of their people had deteriorated and slipped away. The torture of knowing his father had been the cause of so much suffering. When Honerva had overtaxed the universe's quintessence in her search for a perfect reality, that same poison threatened to destroy the entire universe.

“Then when we found out what had really happened, I couldn’t shake my guilt,” Keith continues, his fingers tangled in his hair. “You were with Lance though, and even though it hurt to watch, it was an excuse that I wasn’t the reason you were unhappy. But I knew it was my fault that you...that he...” 

His voice cracks, and he lets his head tilt back toward the ceiling with a long and tired breath. Allura rubs his back, knowing that he’s trying to keep himself from crying. 

“You’ve never told me this before,” Allura says softly, and he turns back to look at her. “Have you been holding it all this time?”

Keith shrugs and it’s so childish it rips a laugh from her chest. It wasn’t just Keith who had misread the situation. Allura had seen the truth as plain as day, and she hadn’t realized. She hadn’t understood. She hadn’t listened, even when Lotor had pleaded with her.

“We made a mistake leaving Lotor in that rift, that is the truth,” she says, and wipes the back of her hand under her eyes. If Keith sees the fresh tears then he doesn’t mention it and she’s thankful for that. “But that doesn’t mean everything that followed is entirely your fault. Please don’t force yourself to carry such a burden, especially not on my part. I care about you, and the people I care about are more important than anything. That’s something I learned during the war.”

Keith swallows. “It’s just that...from what Kolivan told me about the power vacuum that Lotor left in the empire...it was chaotic. And we’re still trying to pick up the pieces.” He sounds like he’s lost all certainty in what he was saying. “It’s all such a mess and why I’ve been pushing to shift the Blade of Marmora into doing more humanitarian work.”

“Even in this singular reality, we strive to undo the damage from the war. I’m unsure if the work will ever be finished,” Allura admits. "Transforming the Blade of Marmora would be an excellent next step."

"You think so?"

"I know so, but you mustn't blame yourself for what happened between Lotor and myself." She lowers her head and stares down at her hands as she folds them in her lap. "Our choices led us here, and I've hurt Lotor in ways not even Zarkon had. His willingness to help us end the war and the sacrifices he made to mend reality came from a place of selflessness I couldn't even imagine."

Ironically, it is her friendship with Keith that has taught her the nuances of people who inhabit their universe. All connected by specs of cosmic dust, there is nothing inherently good or bad in Galra or Alteans. Both are capable of great cruelty and unimaginable kindness. Lotor had lived in that nuance his entire life.

"To now ask not only for his forgiveness but his heart as well is too unfair. We were both given a second chance at life, and I doubt Lotor would wish to spend his with me. And that’s something I’m going to have to accept," she finally admits, letting a few stray tears fall from her eyes. "But that doesn't mean my feelings for him will ever change. I'll always love him."

It's a confession she's never said out loud before. Love was such a misunderstood emotion for her that when Lance had first said he loved her, she thought it was something complex. But in the end, being in love with the right person, is quite straightforward. While she never fell in love with Lance, the affection and trust they shared is a type of love they now carry in their friendship. 

There will never be someone she loves like she does Lotor.

Keith extends his hand out to her, his palm open, fingers outstretched. She reaches out, her fingers finding his hand. Her trembling fingers curl against his sleeve, thumb brushing his wrist. He doesn’t pull away, and she hadn’t expected him to. He’s grown more than she realized. They both have.

“Why Lotor?" Keith finally asks, as her fingers slip away from their hold. “As someone who nearly went insane trying to find you a date, I’m curious what it is that actually pulls you in.”

“Because of all he’s done, not just for the Galra, but for the universe,” Allura replies, twirling a short strand of her hair around her finger. She can’t hide the small smile that creeps through. “For all the planets once under Zarkon’s control. He’s fixed so much that seemed like it was impossible to repair, and if my father had lived to see the extent of his accomplishments he would have been thoroughly impressed. And I am too. Lotor is a phenomenal leader. The kind I hope to be, and the kind worthy of this new reality we built together.”

The emotions that flicker across Keith’s face would’ve been comical any other time. His eyebrows climb toward his hairline in obvious disbelief and effort not to voice as much.

“Well, I’m happy you have the good sense to be surprised,” Allura sighs, feeling a lump form in her throat as she admits it. 

“It’s not that I’m surprised, it’s just that I didn’t know that’s what the tension was between you.” Keith shakes his head slowly, staring at Allura, eyes glinting in the dim light of the hall. “I should’ve just set you two up. It would’ve spared me the headache.”

“It’s a little more complicated than us being in a loving relationship and hiding it from you for the sake of a bet!" Allura interrupts, arching an eyebrow. Keith squints suspiciously back at her. It’s a silent call out that makes her feel anxious all over again, and she taps her fingers together in an awkward dance. "As I’ve said, I doubt my feelings would be returned after everything that’s happened.”

Keith grunts as she leans back into him, but he doesn’t say anything else. They lapse into silence and for once in her life, Allura isn’t putting any effort into breaking them out of it. Still, she fidgets, and Keith stares at the floor.

“I don’t think your feelings are as unrequited as you think,” Keith says softly, after the quiet stretches a little too long.

Allura blinks. “What do you mean by that?”

“Not many people, if any really, have chosen Lotor for himself. From what I know, he’s been seen as important for influence, or his armada, or his title. But it sounds like you fell in love with his actions. For everything he’s spent his life trying to achieve, even when people expected the worst of him,” Keith says, reaching behind his head to fidget with his braid. “If that’s how you feel, then you should tell him that.” 

“Since when are you so wise?” she asks, leaning closer still until she can smell the Altean wine from the party on his breath and his shampoo. It’s the same brand Lance uses.

He dismisses her with another grunt, waving his hand through the air. He winces though, and Allura inevitably catches him. She reaches up, grabbing Keith’s wrist and dragging his hand closer, inspecting it closely.

“How did you get injured during a gala for Helper Monkeys?” Allura demands, more shocked than anything. “I told you not to get into any fights!”

“I didn’t fight anybody, your glass broke and some shards got stuck in my hand,” Keith informs her, staring up at the ceiling as he speaks. “I went to the bathroom to clean up and…”

She arches an eyebrow, “And?”

“And...Lance followed me,” Keith sheepishly raises his hand, exposing the bloodied banaged he’d been hiding. “He made a big fuss about it and bandaged me up, even though it wasn’t a big deal.”

Looking at the bandage and how meticulous it's wrapped around Keith's hand, Allura is reminded of Shiro's warning.

“You said before that it hurt to watch when Lance and I were together,” Allura says slowly. Deliberately. Even in the dark, she sees how his whole face flushes a deep scarlet. “So what is going on between you two?”

Keith sputters, indignant. “I told you—”

“You aren't telling me the entire truth, Keith.”

Allura doesn't lower her gaze, and she watches the fight start to leave him like a long exhale. Then Keith just shrugs, dropping his eyes and his hand to rest in his lap.

Keith ,” she repeats, her patience beginning to wane. It’s been a long night, and she’s too tired for his stubbornness. 

He glares at her. Allura glares back, folding her arms. He squints at her, and she wonders for the thousandth time if he needs glasses. He’s always squinting.

“You don’t have to hide your feelings from me,” she promises, threading her fingers with his and squeezing. “I won’t get angry or upset. I’ll still be here after you tell me. You won’t lose me.”

Keith’s shoulders slump and he sighs. “You’re annoying, you know that?”

“In my line of work they call it tenacity,” she preens. 

“I...I have feelings for Lance,” he blurts, his usual grumpy self shining through. “No, not just any feelings. Love. I’m in love with him, okay? You happy?”

Frankly, she’s surprised by how unsurprising this revelation is. Even though Shiro had told her about this weeks ago, he made Keith’s feelings sound like a boyish crush when in reality it appears much deeper than that. 

“How long?” she asks, more curious than anything else.

Keith blushes. “I noticed him at the Garrison. But I didn’t—I didn’t realize until I left to join the Blade.”

"That's...a long time." A lightbulb goes off in Allura's mind. “Oh my stars. Is that why you started working with Kolivan? Even though I tried to get you to stop?”

“After we got Shiro back, Lance...didn’t want to take Blue from you. And he worried about me wanting Red back,” Keith explains, the remorse from years ago reflecting on his face, as if he is taking a time machine back to their Voltron days and reliving the moments. “Even though Shiro said he was done being a paladin, I knew he was a better leader. I didn’t want you or Lance to fight over Blue...and I was replaceable.”

Suddenly she can see it all playing across his face – the hint of insecurity that always lingered like a chip on his shoulder from when he was reluctantly trusted to become the Black Paladin.

“You were never replaceable!” Allura argues, but she’s not as angry as she once was about the situation. Back then, she had been furious at Keith for putting not just Voltron in danger, but the entire coalition. Time has made her more compassionate. 

She figured there was something more to the story, something Keith didn’t want her to know about. Part of her always feared that when she replaced Lance as the Blue lion’s pilot that she had broken the fragile balance Shiro and the team had worked so hard to achieve. It's almost a relief to know it was an accidental love triangle instead.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” she asks, and Keith looks down. He won’t meet her eyes.

“He didn’t feel the same. It only would have made things more complicated.”

“How did you know how he felt?”

Keith finally looks up, startled. “What do you mean? Allura you—”

Allura sighs and leans away, pushing Keith back against the staircase so he’s sitting next to her. Ever since Shiro’s visit, she’s known deep down they were going to have this conversation. It’s one they should’ve had decaphobes ago, to be honest.

“I was with Lance,” she says slowly, wanting him to hear every word she’s saying to him. “What we had was real, and I don’t regret it at all. It’s what I needed at the time, and we’re always going to mean a lot to each other, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t notice you. I loved him, but I was never in love with him. And I don’t think he was ever truly in love with me, either.”

“You don’t know that for sure.”

She smiles. “Yes, I do.”

A deep frown etches its way onto Keith’s face, wrinkles forming between his brows and at the edges of his mouth. “How?”

“It wasn’t direct, but since our break up, it's clear to me he has some unresolved feelings about you.” She shrugs, still smiling. “He never seemed ready to broach that topic with me, though. I was curious why the two of you had such a charged relationship. It felt bigger than any rivalry I’ve ever seen."

"That stupid rivalry was always one-sided, and he knows it," Keith murmurs.

"When he speaks about you, it reminds me of when we were part of Bob’s intergalactic game — do you remember?”

Keith groans. “Unfortunately.”

“Don’t be grumpy,” she chides, knocking his shoulder slightly. “It was before I took Lance’s affection seriously, so I chose Pidge from a strategic standpoint. It only dawned on me that there could be a deeper reason for us to pick each other after I heard Lance’s answer for choosing you. It always bothered him that you disregarded him then, y’know.”

“I know.” Keith sighs, shaking his head. “Not that it matters now, but I did it because he hates games. He's awful at them, and I didn’t want him to keep getting hurt.”

“He was terrible. I nearly threw him to the Snick myself,” Allura remembers, leaning her chin in her palm thoughtfully. "If not for Pidge, he might've been boiled alive in that vat of oil."

“It’s not Lance's fault. He's not dumb, he just talks before he thinks when he’s nervous. He can’t help it. I thought you were going to pick him too because of, well,” he motions to Allura with his hand. “What ended up happening with you two. So, I figured if I chose him too, then he’d be able to escape. Lance is resourceful, he’d find Shiro and Coran to save us.” 

“You had all those thoughts? I remember you filling out your answer so quickly.”

“I love him, I didn’t even have to think about it. I just knew,” Keith explains with a vulnerability that is almost painful to hear. "When you didn’t pick Lance, I was bracing myself to be embarrassed. I thought he was going to pick you — and let’s face it, you probably were the best bet to get us out of there — so when he said my name, it felt like a joke.” 

“And then he said such nice things about you,” Allura hums, leaning back and staring at the ceiling. “As long as we’re both being honest, I thought you two were together when I first met you at the castle. It was part of the reason I never reciprocated Lance’s terrible advances. I just thought you were hiding it.”

“I wasn’t hiding shit,” Keith snorts, shaking his head. “Lance called me his rival, and I was just trying to keep my feelings in-check.” 

“Did you tell anyone?”

“Shiro knew, and although I can't explain it, I think Red knew, too.”

“She took good care of him after you left," Allura says, softly. "When he was critically injured during one of our missions, she held his life long enough for me to reach the cockpit to heal him.”

“Lance told me that story, and it sounds like a fucking fairytale. You had that going on and I’m just…” Keith motions at himself with his injured hand. “A troubled kid who grew up into a slightly less troubled adult. It wasn't meant to be."

"Oh, Keith," she says, gently holding his other hand. "You have no way of knowing that."

"I do though."

"What?"

“When I was in the Quantum Abyss, I’d catch glimpses of time. Like, I saw a lot of my past, of my parents before I was born and when I was a baby. But I also saw bits of the future, and it was weird there, because realities were all jumbled, and it would show you infinite possibilities. And in so many of them, you were dead." Keith swallows, loud in the quiet of the room. "I think I watched you die a thousand times, and every time I couldn't stop it. Even though I was the leader, I couldn't keep you safe."

Allura wishes she could be shocked, but she isn’t. The state of her body is proof enough how unlikely her survival had been, she doesn’t need Slav’s calculations to figure that out. 

“In the flashes where you were with Lance, I knew those were the timelines you survived the war. When I came back and saw you two hug on the bridge through the video call I—" Keith chokes around the words as tears stick to his eyelashes. "I was never going to lose you, Allura.”

Void preserves her, she finds herself speechless for the first time in a long time. Her heart falls and shatters like glass in her chest, utterly gutted. If she ever doubted the power of her friendship with Keith, this simply blew any shred of doubt away. 

Never in her wildest dreams would she think she’d have someone care about her enough to break his own heart so she could be happy. To be loved by Keith Kogane, as a friend or otherwise, is such a gift. It makes her feel even more awful that she could’ve been keeping Lance from experiencing it.

“In a few of those glimpses, I was with Lance and you survived. It was a single reality, but that’s what got me through it all.” He shrugs, emotionally drained. The tears are falling freely now, rolling down the purple scar on his cheek and dripping off his chin. “That somewhere, sometime, in some reality, there was a version of me where it all...worked out in the end.”

"Shh, it's alright. Come here," Allura hushes as she pulls Keith towards her, letting him rest his forehead against her shoulder. Gently, she cards her fingers through his bangs as he starts to cry in earnest. "I'm still here. Right here. Safe and sound."

Another sob wracks Keith's body, and it strikes Allura at her very core. All of these feelings should’ve been dealt with, but instead the two of them have been wrapped up in assumptions and tripped by miscommunication. It’s sunk them like an anchor, keeping them from going for their heart's true desire. All because of terrible memories, and she’s tired of this. She’s so, so tired.

It’s time to move on.

“We were given a gift when the war ended — a new life. We could have died so many times, but we didn’t, and now we have our whole lives ahead of us. I never thought I’d have that, especially after all that has happened to me,” Allura says, softly as Keith’s tears begin to subside and he relaxes. “We shouldn’t spend that gift unhappy. Even if I didn't survive, I'd never want you or Lance to waste that gift making each other unhappy because you were forcing yourselves to ignore your feelings out of grief. I love you, Keith."

"I love you too, Allura," Keith says, voice cracking.

"I know," she replies, pushing his messy bangs back to kiss his forehead. "Don't forget that you deserve to be happy. Both of you. There’s nothing I’ll ever want more than your happiness.”

Keith laughs wetly, slowly pulling back to meet her eyes. “Guess I’m not the only wise one.”

Allura can’t help but smile, brushing his stray tears from under his eyes. “That is why they made me Queen.”

There’s an echoing of heels clacking against the floor and quickly Romelle appears from around the corner of the corridor. Her hair has fallen from its earlier style, and she’s holding her holo-tablet like it is attached to her arm. She looks like a woman on a mission, to the point that she’s slightly surprised when she spots them huddled on the staircase.

“Your majesty, there you are! What are you doing out here?” Romelle gasps, her shoes echoing even louder as she closes the gap between them. When she notices the streaks of makeup no doubt staining Allura's cheeks, she looks positively scandalized. With a feral growl, she turns to Keith with gritted teeth. “What did you do to her?”

“Why’re you assuming I’m responsible?” Keith balks.

Romelle wags a finger at him. “Because you’re a troublemaker!”

“Don’t worry, Keith is not the cause of my tears." Allura releases her grip on Keith’s sleeve, letting out a breathy little laugh. " This time.”

“Hey!” Keith pouts, and Allura sticks her tongue out at him playfully.

Romelle rolls her eyes and shoulders her way between them on the staircase. Gently, she takes Allura’s chin in her hand to inspect the damage to her makeup. On her hip sits a purse filled with everything from headache medicine to a sewing kit to emergency mascara. 

Keith stands up from the stairs, stretching his arms above his head. There’s still a hint of redness around his eyes, but not enough to tell he was crying. Probably for the best, considering his ego.

“I guess I’ll go find Xadrion,” he hums. Romelle winces at the name. Keith catches it instantly. “What?”

Romelle leans back with a cringe. “Well, the reason I went to find you both is that it appears Prince Hoanez and Xadrion found each other to be pretty good company.”

Keith’s eyebrow arches. “How good?”

“Coran found them in a compromising situation in one of the broom closets,” Romelle admits, somehow looking more guilty. Given they were only gone for half a varga, Allura can’t help but be impressed by how little time it took for their dates to find comfort in each other. Good on them for not letting an opportunity slip by, apparently. “I hope you aren’t too disappointed.”

“I certainly am not, and I know Keith still has some unfinished business to conduct elsewhere,” Allura says, meeting Keith’s eyes. He blushes in embarrassment, turning away with a cough. “It’s probably time you go find Lance, don’t you think?”

Keith sighs, rolling his shoulders before turning to them with a fond smile. “Yeah. I’ll go talk to him.”

Romelle helpfully informs Keith that the last time she saw Lance was in the galley kitchen with Hunk. As he listens, Allura catches how his nails are already bitten down to the quick. Keith always nibbled at his nails like a famished mouse when nervous. Still, she sends him off with a thumbs up, which he returns before setting out for the kitchen.

Allura lets out a heavy sigh and leans against Romelle’s shoulder. “How much longer until I don’t need to pretend to care about Helper Monkeys?”

“Only a few more vargas,” Romelle hums, rubbing her arm gently to comfort her. “Are you holding up alright?”

Allura nods and allows Romelle to fix her makeup enough to look presentable. Romelle checks her watch, turning her inner wrist to read the face. 

“We should go back inside before anyone notices your absence,” she says, motioning down the hall. “Coran has done a good job covering. Prime Minister Kampo may be the only creature alive who cares that much about historic Altean architecture."

“A formidable rival,” she laughs, and allows Romelle to help her stand back up. “Thank you again for pulling this all together last minute. It’s been a wonderful party, even if my blind date was found in a closet somewhere.”

“I’m taking it as a compliment, to be honest.” Romelle says as she extends her elbow for Allura to take as they make their way down the hall towards the ballroom. They walk in comfortable silence, the soft sound of music wafting through the castle.

Through the windows, Allura glances upward and catches the pink of the mourning banners still draped across the archways.

“The old traditions say that after a war, the mourning banners should stay up at least three decaphoebs and two nights,” Allura says, staring up at them thoughtfully. The deep pink tapestries arch above and flutter in the cold night air. “I always thought that was a bit too long, but my mother would tell me they were a good reminder.”

“A reminder for what?” Romelle asks, raising a thin eyebrow. 

Allura is about to reply, but her attention catches when she spots a familiar figure leaving the sun room. If the cape wasn’t enough to spot him, Lotor has always been one of the tallest men in any room. He’s in such a hurry, he nearly collides with Romelle and Allura.

“Your majesty!” He gasps, holding Allura to make sure she doesn’t fall and drag Romelle down with her. “I’m so sorry! Are you alright?”

“Yes, we’re fine,” Allura says once they’ve all regained their footing. Her heart skips a beat when she sees him, her eyes fixed on the way his brows pinch in concern. Still so handsome. “But what are you doing here?”

“You’re supposed to be schmoozing with the Talfan leaders,” Romelle points out, looking slightly irritated. It’s obvious to Allura that she isn’t the only one not minding her itinerary. 

“I was retrieving something from the sun room,” Lotor replies, his cheekbones flushed under the scars of his Altean marks. 

Romelle hardly looks convinced and seems more irritated by the response, if anything. Even though he’s trying to pick up the pieces of the empire to turn it into something honorable, Romelle and Lotor’s relationship is still rocky. It is improving — albeit slowly.

Allura glances at what Lotor holds in his hand, and he’s not only gripping the walking stick she had gifted to him, but rather… 

“Is that my cane?” she blurts before she can help herself, and even in the darkness she notices his blush deepen. In his hands, he grips the cane she had left behind after Prince Hoanez ridiculed it. A dark violet makes its way up to the tips of his ears.

“I...um...thought it would help...since it’s been a long night,” he stammers, uncharastically frazzled as he holds the cane up uselessly. Knowing him, his goal was most likely to bring her cane to her seat so it would be waiting for her when she returned. No hints left behind of who was responsible.

Her heart swells with an emotion she can’t quite name. The gesture is small, but the kindness sends her heart racing. Throughout the night, he’s been watching her, even though she was with someone else, but he made sure she was supported. Literally and figuratively. For a man once known for his ruthless pragmatism, these small acts of kindness are done not for a grand reward, but simply because he cares about her wellbeing. 

She thinks of the ease of their relationship. Always chattering on about strategy and diplomacy and whatnot. Always pushing each other forward —  keeping each other grounded. For so long, she’s told herself that she lost her chance, but Keith is right. She’s the one who gave up on herself, but Lotor has never given up on her. 

“Romelle, can you give the Emperor and I a moment?” Allura asks, though it’s clear by her tone it’s not so much as a request as an order. 

Romelle nods and relaxes her hold on Allura’s arm. When she passes Lotor, she makes sure to point at her eyes before pointing back at him. Allura fights the urge to roll her eyes at the display.

Once they’re alone, Allura turns back to Lotor and extends out her hand. Wordlessly, he passes the cane to her, their fingers brushing at the contact. A spark of electricity, similar to the Altean magic that used to run through her body, hums through her veins like a circuit. It’s been some time since she’s felt that.

Flexing his hand, Lotor’s first reflex is to pull away, but Allura stops him with her free hand. She notes that with his gloves, his hands feel like worn leather. Still, he slides his fingers, interlocking them with hers. They fit like lost puzzle pieces. Glancing upward, she meets his eyes.

For a moment, she loses herself in drinking in the sight of him, the lines of his face so familiar, although gaunt; the spark in his eye shining through the confusion. The solidness of him holding her hand as tightly as when they created a new start for their universe.

She would stay here forever, just holding his hand, if she could. It’s the one place she never wants to leave again. 

“Do you think...we can take some time to speak?” Allura asks. Now it’s her turn to blush, feeling her ears warm. “About the possibility of...us?”

Allura is ready to kick herself. How can she be the Queen of an entire planet, a coalition leader, a diplomat, but can’t even tell someone how she feels in a coherent way?

Though the rest went unsaid, he seems to sense it anyway. And that gets a reaction out of him – eyes wide and lips parted into a shocked little o. Allura prepares herself for rejection, but before she can even muster up the strength to apologize, Lotor’s eyes soften and a smile spreads across his face. The first true smile she’s seen from him since the war ended. 

“I would love nothing more, Allura,” he finally says, squeezing her hand comfortingly. Allura bites her bottom lip to keep herself from crying. She was so sure she’d never get this chance again. 

“Thank you,” she sighs, breathlessly. Her eyes are burning now. With a soft chuckle, Lotor pulls her in towards him and wraps her in a warm embrace. 

“You only need to ask," he reminds her softly against the crown of her head. 

Outside, the deep pink banners sway in the winter wind, and Allura makes a mental note to have them removed in the morning. She’s tired of remembering. She’s ready to forgive and move forward.

 


 

Keith cranes his neck as he slides through the double doors of the galley kitchen. He hardly sets foot into the room before Hunk notices him, warm and welcoming as he throws his flour-covered hands up in greeting. 

“Hey, Keith!” he greets, smiling wide. Obviously now that the gala is in full-swing, he’s less nervous and enjoying himself. Hunk always is the most joyful in the kitchen. “I haven’t seen you all party, buddy. Where've you been?”

By the looks of it, the extra hands were a huge help for Hunk's catering. Every plate is clear, most likely licked clean by very satisfied guests.

“Around,” Keith explains easily, hiding his injured hand to keep Hunk from pestering him. He doesn’t want to bring attention to it, not wanting to get into what happened with his friends. Hunk will only disapprove of how Keith treated Lance and probably tell him that the only right decision is to be honest and truthful about his feelings. He already got the lecture from Allura and doesn't need a repeat. “Where’s Lance?”

Sitting on the counter next to Hunk, Pidge is perched with her legs crossed tight. With a knowing smirk, she extends her hand out to Hunk.

“You owe me 20 GAC,” she proclaims, and Hunk groans, clapping flour against his apron like a gymnast with chalk.

“Nuh-uh, we don’t know for sure if he’s looking for Lance because they fought,” Hunk scolds. Keith can’t help but groan, trying to hide just how uncomfortable he is by the callout.

“We actually...may have had a fight.”

“Quiznak!” Hunk shouts, and Pidge nearly falls off the kitchen counter in laughter. Keith doesn’t know if he should feel supported or embarrassed. Instead he feels a weird mix of both. “I thought they were over this!”

Hunk digs into his back pocket, pulling a few loose bills from his wallet and slapping them into Pidge's palm with annoyance.

Pidge hums happily, slowly counting the bills in her hands. It isn't even that much, just enough to brag about obnoxiously. “Don’t underestimate the power of two pining idiots.”

Keith’s cheeks burn. "There's no pining!"

Hunk and Pidge throw him an unimpressed look. A long stretch of silence follows where they both stare at him, no doubt silently judging him and trying to analyze him for any more information about his argument with Lance. Still, Keith stays put and refuses to meet their gaze. Eventually, his stubbornness wins out, and Pidge gives up, jumping down from the counter and brushing off excess flour from her waiter uniform.

“Lance is out on the balcony. Sulking,” she informs, thumbing toward the glass door on the other side of the kitchen. Hunk slaps her with a cooking towel. “ Ow! What? It’s true!”

Through the double-doors, Sal peeks through and calls, "Chef! We need more help on the floor to hand out the double chocolate brownie sundaes for dessert."

"Pidge is on it," Hunk answers, handing Pidge an empty tray and pushing her towards the door. "Go run dessert."

"Why doesn't Lance have to run dessert?" Pidge whines when she makes it to the doors. 

"He's on a break."

"Being a dumb baby about his stupid crush does not warrant a break!" Pidge calls over her shoulder before being yanked away by Sal. No doubt trying to get as many extra hands as he can before Romelle finds them.

Keith groans, rubbing the bridge of his nose. In less than four hours he's managed to upset nearly every paladin of Voltron. It's like a flashback to his early days as Black Paladin when he got them all stuck on Thaseryix.

Hunk sighs and tosses the towel over his shoulder, leveling Keith with a serious stare. “Lance was really upset after he came back with the first aid kit. I don't know what went down, but I had him go get some fresh air. He hasn’t come back yet. Figured it had something to do with you." 

“What gave you that idea?” Keith asks.

“He was grumbling about a stupid, emo, mullethead when he stormed in here,” Hunk explains with a shrug, turning back to the stovetop where something delicious is brewing. It smells like vanilla and roasted hazelnuts. “I can read between the lines by now.”

Keith groans again, and marches to the other end of the kitchen to the sliding glass door. He squeezes through to the balcony and is greeted by the cold breeze of evening air. It blows through his bangs, chilling his nose and stinging his eyes. 

There’s an outdoor light sitting over the door, creating a spotlight where he stands. On the other end of the balcony, he can barely make out where Lance is huddled in the darkness. He’s sitting on the ground, long legs dangling off the edge of the ledge. He’s still wearing that disgusting catering uniform, although his bowtie is undone and hanging from his collar lazily. Even in this context, Lance looks so rumpled and soft that it makes Keith’s chest tighten. 

He’s so gone for this man.

Not wanting to startle him, Keith taps on the flashlight on his phone and slowly makes his way over to where Lance is sitting. When he reaches him, the brightness makes Lance squint, and Keith lowers the light. 

“Hey,” he says, pocketing his phone. 

“Hey,” Lance replies, but he doesn’t look up at Keith. Instead, he buries his head against the iron rod fencing lining the edge of the balcony. Another gust of cold wind blows between them, and Keith catches the way Lance shivers. The catering uniform is probably made of just as thin material as one would expect. 

In less than a tick, Keith unclips the violet stash from across his chest. It’s a removable piece from his Blade uniform, and rolls out to a decent makeshift blanket. With a quick crack, he gently places the stash across Lance’s shoulders. When Lance glares up at him, he attempts to hide his consideration with a shrug.

“You looked cold,” he reasons, before taking a seat next to him on the balcony. Lance sighs, pulling the stash tighter across his shoulders. A familiar feeling of protectiveness washes over Keith. Even after all these years, he can’t help but take care of Lance.

“Thanks,” Lance mumbles quietly, his voice distant. Keith’s throat tightens, his own guilt stirring as he recognizes the pain in Lance’s voice. 

He looks sleepy and soft, vulnerable even. Keith stares out at the castle grounds cast in moonlight before them. He has no idea how to fix things between them after the earlier kissing disaster. Lance must care deeply about him for him to go out of his comfort zone and basically being his wingman just to win a stupid bet. 

Then it occurs to him.

“It was never about helping me win, was it?” Keith asks meekly, drawing his bottom lip between his teeth. Lance watches the movement, eyes flickering to Keith's suddenly. 

“I wanted Allura to have a nice night, and for you to have a good time too,” Lance answers, shrugging nonchalantly. “Even if it meant…”

Lance hesitates, which isn't something he’s prone to do. Stopping to think through his thoughts and words has never been his strong suit, but Keith still bites his tongue. Interrupting Lance would break his train of thought, something he’s learned during their partnership and friendship. It required a type of patience Keith didn’t know he was capable of, but with all things Lance, he was willing to learn. 

Lance sighs and leans his forehead back against the guardrail of the balcony. “Even if it meant losing you.”

“Losing me?” Keith repeats, and Lance blushes a deep crimson across his nose all the way up to the tips of his ears. He looks like he wants to smother himself with Keith’s stash. “You mean like…”

“Yeah,” Lance says, and doesn’t elaborate.

The confession sends Keith’s spinning. The whiplash hits him. It feels similar to the way he’s been jerking back and forth between wanting Lance to succeed and wanting him to fail in his own relationships for years. 

Watching Lance be with Allura had felt like being stabbed in the chest everyday with a thousand pieces of broken glass. Each individual shard punctured a new wound when he would catch the way Lance would go to reach for her hand or smile at her even when Allura wasn’t paying attention. Keith has always felt selfish, no matter how badly he wanted to be selfless. He always wanted Lance to be happy, but he couldn’t honestly say he wanted Lance to be happy with someone else. Even if it was Allura.

In the time since their breakup, Keith has slid himself into Lance’s orbit with the fruitless hope of maybe becoming the most important person in his life. 

During Voltron, it wasn’t often that Lance shared anything meaningful or private with him. That spot was reserved for the best friend position that Hunk had scooped up long before Keith had even realized he wanted it. That changed once the war had ended and Keith discovered that without a giant robot to pilot, if he wanted to keep Lance in his life, he was going to have to make an effort.

Keith wasn’t delusional. He knew he’d never have Lance like he wanted, but he’d at least have him in his life. He’d be important and he’d matter. He’d be the person Lance called in the middle of the night after a nightmare, mumbling over Keith’s comms until one of them (usually Keith) couldn’t stay awake. He’d be the person Lance would meet at the Garrison teleduv every visit, always beaming and welcoming Keith home with a warm hug. He’d be the person who Lance would stick too like glue during his visits, dragging him around the McClain family ranch to sleep on his childhood bedroom floor even though Shiro and Adam had a perfectly good guest room. 

That Lance could think Keith would ever let that go makes his heart twist and his stomach sour.

“You’ll never lose me, Lance. Ever,” Keith vows, his voice genuine. Their eyes meet for a brief moment, the first time they’ve really looked at each other since Keith came outside. “I’m sorry if I ever made you feel otherwise. You’re my best friend.”

“But what if I wanted more?” Lance says, turning back to the city below them. “I came to help Hunk with the catering gig, but there may have been ulterior motives involved.”

Keith’s heart rabbits in his chest. “What kind of motives?”

“Jealousy, mostly.” Lance shrugs with a humorless chuckle. He pulls the blanket closer, snuggling into its warmth. “My therapist tells me it’s a byproduct of being the youngest of five kids and part of my lifelong battle with my own insecurities. That’s probably right, but I’m also a little bit selfish.”

"If that was the case, why did you even help me with Xadrion?" Keith asks.

"When Allura was first with Lotor, I was an asshole," he says after a moment of skirting around it. "I thought just because I had feelings for her, she somehow owed me attention, and Lotor was my enemy. It's embarrassing when I think about it now, and I didn't want to make that mistake again."

Since their relationship had caused Keith so much personal heartache, sometimes he forgets just how much Lance has grown since then. It forced him to reconsider how he behaved with a partner and drop the possessive boyfriend shtick. It also taught Keith how to wait patiently for someone instead of running away.

Allura was right, her relationship with Lance was real. Even though it was short-lived, that didn't mean they were worse people for it. If anything, it's taught them all the difference between understanding what they wanted versus who they needed.

"When you talked about the bet and this Xadrion guy, I figured I'd be your wingman. I thought I could do it, but I ended up behaving like a jerk anyway and ruining your night," Lance's voice is shaking, and when he turns to him, Lance's eyelashes sparkle in the moonlight with unshed tears. "I was scared, but it was stupid. I'm sorry, Keith. Really, really sorry.”

“We can both be sorry,” Keith decides, reaching over to grip Lance’s thigh, squeezing it. “And you didn’t ruin my night, Lance. I’m happy you’re here.”

Keith stares at him, feeling his resolve crumbling away piece by piece. He loves this Lance, the playful, honest and self-assured man who drove him crazy and inspired him to be better. The man who still struggles with all the insecurities and self-doubt that sometimes creep in, but leans on Keith for support when he’s feeling weak. The man who effortlessly grounds Keith when he feels himself floating away, directionless and alone. 

He wants to be selfish. He wants Lance to be selfish, because for the first time, it sounds like Lance may want him just as much. With a loud gulp, Lance turns to face him.

“Keith...are we okay?” he finally asks, low and wobbly, trying to fight back his tears. “Did I just mess things up between us?”

“No! I kissed you just as much as you kissed me. Don’t put the blame all on yourself,” Keith blurts, a hint of self-directed annoyance in his voice. Lance stares at him, slowly blinking a few times and a few stray tears to break through. Keith turns away to avoid his gaze, feeling his ears burn. “This isn’t as one-sided as you seem to think it is.”

"And I don't think you get how big this is, man," Lance breaks. "Don't you get it? Keith, I am in love with you."

When he looks back, Lance is still staring at him. His tears flowing freely now like thin streams down his cheekbones. 

"You...you're in love with me?"

"Yeah, and it turns out watching you hit it off with someone else directly after accepting how desperately in love with you I am may have been the worst possible thing I could've done to treat my bleeding heart. It sucked so much," Lance cries. "It was worse than when Allura was with Lotor, cause at least then I knew she was happy. But you were with a guy who just tripped and won the fucking lottery."

For a long moment, Lance closely studies Keith’s expression as if to determine whether he’s going to try to bolt like a trapped animal now that Lance has confessed. He doesn’t. Keith is more tethered than he's ever been in his entire life. 

Lance’s legs swing around the ledge of the balcony, and he reaches over, taking hold of Keith’s uninjured hand. His touch is feather-light and a bit uncertain.

“You're the most important person in my life, Keith. It took Allura and me a long time to get to where we are after we broke up. I don't know if I could risk that with you. I don’t want this to ruin things between us,” he confesses, his eyes wide and wet with tears. For a painful moment, regret fills Keith to the brim. "But after tonight, it hit me that even if this blind date didn't work out, there's eventually going to be someone who steals your heart and...that'll be it."

“What if I told you there isn't anyone else?” Keith asks, trying desperately to get through to Lance what he’s feeling. What he’s been feeling since Lance passed out in his arms on Arus and again when thought he lost him forever on Earth. He slides their fingers together and squeezes. "And that I want this, too? With you."

“You’re serious?” Lance asks, hesitancy laced in his voice. “After all that crazy rambling and the meatballs and everything else, you actually want me?"

Before Keith can stop himself, he reaches out to cup Lance’s jaw in his bandaged palm. He wants to kiss him so badly. Stars above, he wants to kiss Lance more than anything in the world. 

Keith's self-control is already a thin sliver, and he's not a strong enough man to try to fight his desire. He's a weak man with an even weaker heart. 

"I love your crazy, Lance." Tenderly, he brushes his thumb across Lance's lower lip. “Because I love you too, and I’ve wanted you for so long that I don’t think anything could change my mind now.”

Lance's shoulders relax, just enough for Keith to notice, and Lance leans into his touch. Allowing himself to fully indulge and exhaling a content sigh. "Then show me."

Lance tilts his face up as Keith drops a soft, lingering kiss to his sublime mouth. In that moment, their chemistry becomes an ever-bright flame. Kissing Lance is unlike anything he’s ever dreamed. It’s steeped in a passion that ignites a fire within him. It’s the promise of realness, a confirmation of trust. An embrace of himself rather than hiding. It’s just them, Keith and Lance, crashing into each other after orbiting for so long.

It's one thing to want someone. It's a whole other thing to know that person wants you back. Was waiting for you to catch up, while you thought you were chasing them the whole time. Keith thinks of every second, hour, day, month and year that lead them to this moment. An almost unbelievable reality that had to be personally stitched together from cosmic dust to be made possible.

Lance shifts their positions, breaking from him only long enough to climb into Keith’s lap. He goes to drop the blanket, but quickly stops when a cold gust of air blows up and over the balcony making him yelp.

“Blanket stays on!” Lance announces, wrapping it around his shoulders like a cape before leaning forward in Keith’s embrace. “Even though it smells like meat sauce."

"And who's fault is that?"

"...and I wanna keep making out with you. If we head back now, Romelle’s gonna put me on dish duty.”

Keith snorts, burying his face in Lance’s neck. “Wow, so honored to be your excuse to be lazy.”

“Lucky for you, I was born a procrastinator.”

Keith glances up, knowing just from the cheery tone that Lance is wearing one of those thousand-watt smiles that he wouldn’t miss for the world. Sure enough, Lance beams brightly at him, warming him like the sun.

“I’m going kiss you again before you say something stupid.” Keith groans, averting his eyes quickly no matter how immediately he misses Lance’s smile. 

“Something stupid,” Lance teases with a wolfish grin, and Keith rolls them over with an irritable grunt, ignoring Lance's splutter of protest. Instead, he shuts him up with a long, enamoured kiss, that Lance softens up for, wrapping his arms around Keith's neck and giggling as he smiles against his mouth.

 


 

Allura sits by the window, watching the sunset stain the city of Altiran in shades of pink and orange. In her lap, she gently strokes the tiny, furry heads of the space mice as they snore softly in the sunlight.

She's been waiting, statue still, in the spire study for what felt like a good varga at least, watching day turn to dusk and doing her best not to let her mind wander too far outside of the double doors. Several things have changed in the phoebes since the Tralfan Helper Monkeys gala.

Allura reckons the eagerness of the Tralfan officially joining the Galaxy Alliance was in large part due to a desire for more of Hunk’s delicious cuisine. And after outdoing herself at managing the party, Prime Minister Kampo was so impressed by Romelle’s skill, he requested her assistance for Tralfan’s upcoming festivals. It’s since led to a natural team up of the two, with Romelle now working full-time with Hunk’s blooming catering business. While Allura misses her best friend’s presence around the castle, she takes her busyness as a sign of prosperity.

One of her attendants pokes her head into her office, offering a curt bow. “Forgive the disturbance so early, your majesty,” she says. “But your visitors are here.”

Allura smiles, leaning back in her chair. “Thank you. Have you made sure they’re settled?"

“Of course,” she bows. “They’ve already gone and set themselves up in the audience chamber.”

“The audience chamber?” Allura blinks. “Why there? The sun room is gorgeous this time of day.”

“Um...well, Captain Kogane needed the larger table,” her attendant says, with a hint of hesitation in her voice. Allura fights the urge to groan. If that’s the case, then she has a pretty good idea what this week’s game is going to be.

“And is Coran with them?”

“He was the one who suggested the audience room, your majesty.” 

She can’t say she’s surprised. Coran always is one to get carried away when it comes to game night.

“Very well, tell them I’ll join them in a moment.”

Her attendant bows again before leaving, and Allura takes a deep breath. It’s enough movement to wake the mice, who squeak and squint up at her in slight annoyance.

“Sorry, friends. We have guests.”

Taking hold of her cane, she allows the space mice to climb up to her shoulders before heading out of her study.

She takes her time going to the audience chamber, not pushing her body any more than it needs. They'll all be waiting for her, no matter how long it takes.

Pushing through the double doors, she's greeted by the flurry of commotion she's come to expect from game night. By the looks of the layout, Coran has already started the new campaign of Monsters & Mana. Across from him, Lance leans over to where Keith is squinting at his tablet.

"I don't get how I keep dying," Keith complains, pointing to something on his screen. "I have a high attack stat and the Enchanted Knives of Ellenton!"

"And super low defense, baby. You need to be more well-rounded to survive one of Coran's campaigns," Lance notes, resting his chin in his hand. It's a typical squabble, and while Keith’s stubbornness never fully erodes, Lance still holds his boyfriend's free hand as he tries to explain the game for the hundredth time.

Usually, Coran would be jumping in to over-explain more rules, but he's currently captured in another conversation.

"This game is full of such complexity," Lotor marvels, and Coran twists his mustache around his finger. “The lore alone is deeper than I could ever imagine. I must admit, it’s quite impressive, Coran!”

"As the Earthlings say, this isn’t my first rodeo! I've been a dungeon master longer than a Dagnor’s tail,” Coran chuckles. The tip of his mustache twists between his fingers. He looks positively ecstatic to be able to explain the intricacy of the game. 

After their long conversation during the gala, Allura had taken Keith’s advice and finally confessed her feelings to Lotor. It was a kind of honesty she wasn’t sure her feeble heart could handle.

“I understand if I’m asking too much of you, and will continue to uphold our partnership as members of the Alliance,” she had said as they sat together on a bench in the indoor atrium on the palace’s grounds. “But...if you could find it in your heart, to consider it...I promise to give you my heart in full.”

Her heart had raced so quickly she wondered if he could hear her pulse thudding in her ears. He had reached for her hand, and he’d let her fingers track over his palm and felt it flex as his claws peeked out against his gloves. 

“I will consider it,” he had vowed.

Allura had left the gala that night certain that Lotor had softly rejected her feelings. After finishing her duties hosting the gala, she had excused herself to her sleeping quarters where she had planned to spend the rest of the night curled under her blankets, crying.

She had just changed into her nightgown when there was a knock at her door. When she answered, she had been greeted with Romelle, Keith, Lance, Hunk and Pidge holding a full chocolate cake and a blender of fresh vanilla milkshakes.

“The mice squealed and told us what happened in the garden,” Lance had said before motioning to Keith with a tilt of his head. “So Keith called code red.”

“I didn’t call it that, you called it that,” Keith had pouted, a pink blush visible on his face. Tearfully, Allura had taken both of them into her arms. 

“Thank you.”

They spent the rest of the night in her room, eating cake and drinking her weight in milkshakes. Halfway through, Shiro and Adam had found them before they left for Earth. After retelling the story for the hundredth time, Shiro had wrinkled his nose as he took a forkful of what remained of Hunk’s cake.

“Look, I get why you’re upset but that doesn’t sound like a rejection to me,” he had said sagely between bites. “Lotor’s direct, he would’ve just told you no if that was the case. Maybe don’t write him off just yet.”

As much as Allura had wanted to believe him, she just couldn’t hook her hopes into such a thing. However, having her friends by her side had made her feel stronger than she’d thought possible. These were the people she cared about, and they were more important than anything.

The next morning she was woken up by one of her attendants, most likely sent up to her room to clean up the mess left behind by everyone. When she had informed Allura who had come to visit, she was sure she had misheard.

It wasn’t until she’d made her way down to the sun room where she saw Lotor sitting across from a very stern looking Coran she believed it. He was dressed in royal armor that looked more Altean than Galra. Between them had sat a parcel, carefully wrapped in lavender paper with the royal seal of Daibazaal etched in gold underneath the burgundy ribbon holding it securely closed. 

She had stared at Lotor as he had risen with the parcel in hand, one gripped tightly to the cane she had gifted him. He smiled. “Queen Allura. You look well.”

“Um...yes, thank you,” she’d said, already wanting to run back upstairs over her own awkwardness. “As do you, Emperor.”

Coran had cleared his throat as he stood behind Lotor. “It appears that the Emperor came with a gift for you. I was just keeping him company while he waited.”

She’d drawn a breath and leveled her shoulders, turning to face Coran. “That’s very hospitable of you. Usually, you’re the last person I would find waiting with a guest. You have a habit of ending every meeting early with a tour of the east wing of the castle.”

“Well, when given the right conditions, some habits can change, your majesty.” He’d bowed before stealing a gentle glance up at Lotor. In a gesture she never would’ve thought she’d see, he goodnaturedly patted the man on the back. “I’ll leave you two to it, then.”

“Coran...thank you,” Lotor said, and Coran nodded as he turned to leave, closing the door behind him.

Allura turned to him, hands clasped in front of her. “I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon. Especially given how last night's conversation ended rather…awkwardly.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” he had replied with a playful grin, obviously trying to keep his tone lighthearted. It got a smile out of her, her chest buzzed with a stubborn optimism. He handed her the parcel. “This is for you.”

Allura blinked and took the gift from his hand. She tugged on the edge of one ribbon, pulling the paper back to reveal a smooth, supple aqua rind. “Is this...an Altean Ekku Fruit? These haven’t been seen since the planet reappeared.”

“I worked with Colleen Holt at the Galaxy Garrison to recreate them similar to how she was able to reanimate the junniberry flowers,” he had explained, and she noticed a splash of dark violet spread across his cheeks. “It took longer than I would have liked.”

Allura had gripped the fruit tightly, her heart pumping blood in her ears as she looked at it. “Lotor...in ancient Altean culture, the Ekku Fruit was one shared between houses when one was requesting a courtship with a member of the royal family.” 

She faced him again, fully. His eyes were suddenly clear of any hesitation. They had blazed with determination instead. Finally, Lotor stepped forward, and even as Allura felt the tears burn in her eyes, she bit her lip to keep from crying as he slowly knelt before her. Removing his glove, he freed his right hand and had taken hold of her trembling one. 

“Queen Allura,” he said, voice shaky with nerves. “I would love nothing more than to court you, properly. That is...if you would still have me?”

It had been enough to make her wobble on her feet, knees weak under her own weight. His hands shook as he watched Allura drop to her own knees. She lunged forward to kiss him passionately, fingers tangled in his hair as the Ekku Fruit rolled away from them. He’d kissed her back, and she swears she saw a nebula of stars burst behind her eyes.

Since then, Lotor has been a near-constant presence on New Altea. It hasn't been very long, but Coran has not been subtle in reminding him of the grand traditions he expects in a royal engagement.

Allura is broken from her thoughts when the mice jump from her shoulder and scamper across the room to climb onto the game board. The hologram flashes a bright, angry red before an X appears over Keith’s tablet.

“Oh, too bad, Keith,” Coran tsks, shaking his head. “Looks like you died again.”

“No way, the mice don’t count! They can’t kill me!” Keith screeches, and Lance doubles over in laughter. Allura can’t hide her own giggles as she takes the empty seat next to Lotor.

“This is what happens when you start without me,” she says in a playful sing-song. The tablet with her usual character is already booted and ready to start. At her side, Lotor leans over to press a kiss to her temple. 

"Hello, love," his voice rumbles in her ear. It’s a chaste sign of affection, but still makes her cheeks and ears burn.

“Aw, look at you getting blushy at your big, strong, Galra boyfriend,” Lance teases, and Allura playfully kicks him under the table. He yelps. “I’m kidding! I have a big, strong, Galra boyfriend, too.”

He leans over, and Keith easily lets him into his space, running a hand across Lance’s back while he frowns at his tablet. “Yeah, and I’m about to throw this shit into the sun.”

“Now, now, enough of that,” Coran says, waving off Keith’s concern. “With Allura here, we have everyone we need for a proper game night.”

"And not a single bet required," Allura hums playfully.

“Fine,” Keith huffs, resting his chin in his hand as he sends Allura a knowing look across the table. “You ready, little miss homebody?”

A happy, childlike grin rapidly overtakes Allura’s usual air of regal professionalism. She meets his eyes and picks up her tablet. “With you all? Always.”