Two Shadows Went, Ch. 23
As Lance stepped into the throne room, he stopped. A part of him—he hadn’t believed Kolivan. A part of him hadn’t believed any of it. But looking out—the room was unrecognizable. The clear polished smooth black surfaces made Lance feel as though he were standing at the edge of a lake. The pillar’s around were gone, the room itself had been opened up, the decorative windows replaced with clear simple glass showing the—showing the new empire around them. All barracks and construction and ship yards--the palace was becoming a fortress.
Marveling around him, Lance stepped down from where he stood at the entrance. He—the room, and him... Lance looked down at his pitch black sleeve. Whatever man was designing all of Lance’s clothing—the sharp angles the black and deep purple shades, the details in gold—it had to be the man responsible for the change of direction.
Lance’s eyes drifted forward to the throne.
It had to be the same designer--Lance matched the new empire too closely for any other explanation. It nearly made him want to laugh. Just the thought of Shiro telling a grand architect--design my lover’s cloths. It was ridiculous. At least--for anyone other than a king.
It was a monument. Black and sharp angles protruded. It was—it was a throne to be feared. Llance sucked in breath as Shiro—he stood at the raised dais of the throne, looking at Lance as he entered.
Their conversations the night before replayed in Lance’s head.
He just—he just had to commit to this. His sister could live—Lance just had to—he just had to commit to this path.
Swallowing, Lance pushed himself into a step closer followed by another.
Shiro raised his chin and turned to face Lance as he came closer.
It was then Lance noticed the throne was now accompanied to either side by black chairs, not nearly as tall or massive or terrifying were placed. It wouldn’t be a stretch Lance thought to assume they’d be taking the same positions as the dinner hall. Lance would sit to the left, Keith to the right, and their fearsome king in the middle.
"You came," Shiro’s voice was—gentle.
Lance nodded as he stepped up to his mate, stepping up onto the raised Dias.
"Of course, Your Majesty." Lance lowered his eyes as Shiro took his own step closer.
It surprised him as Shiro cupped Lance’s face, and without hesitation pressed a small kiss to the Altean mark at the tip of Lance’s cheek.
Public affection was something Lance was still trying very hard to get a handle on.
"Come on, this way." Shiro beckoned him and a hand at Lance’s hip guided him back to the throne.
Lance had to gulp down a breath as he ascended the few steps up to the throne. The Galra in the room stared at Lance. He can feel their gazes, it was nearly searing. Eyes low, Lance let Shiro guide him to the seat just at the left of the throne.
Lance looked up to see Thrace, Shiro’s personal advisor was there. He had a data pad in hand, which he was holding out to Lance.
Lance’s outfit that day was embroidered with gold that gleamed even in the dimmest of lights. The sleeves were hooked into his fingers, and as Lance hesitant, and slow, held out his hand, the gold sparked and reflected. Lance sucked in another breath.
"Theseis areis the nobles that have agreed to meet with his Majesty," Thrace stepped closer. His head tipped to Lance. "They agreed once we made it known you would also be here."
He wanted to cry.
Lance looked back to Shiro who still stood close.
Betrayal was something Lance was quite familiar with. But—
Lance’s mouth dropped open. Did he even have it in him to beg again? This was the moment he needed to know—would it pay off?
His options were closing in around him.
"They trust you," Shiro murmured.
Lance swallowed, his eyes on Shiro. He wanted to say he trusted Shiro—but he didn’t...
Was betrayal really the right thing to do?
Lance’s lips pursed. There was no way he could look back then. Every other road led to a confirmed death forto everyone Lance held dear.
"Will you offer me mercy?" The phrase came to Lance’s lips. His gold earrings tinkled as his head turned.
Shiro’s eyes had flicked up. His gaze was steady as he looked to Lance. Through the darkness, Lance could see the shift in his eyes.
"I’ve never intended to be cruel to you." Shiro’s voice was barely above a whisper.
Lance shifted. Lance never thought he’d conspire with a king like that. Lance’s gaze shifted over Shiro’s face and down—the black pearl mark at his neck was just barely visible over his collar.
If Lance couldn’t sway this man—no one could.
"Mercy," Lance repeated, shifting closer. His hand slid between the folds of Shiro’s cloak, and slid in to Shiro’s side. "Please," Lance whispered under his breath. He didn’t look away. "My Kon."
From where his hand was, Lance could feel as Shiro sucked in a breath at the comment.
He leaned in then, and Lance was captured up in his grasp. Pulled in against Shiro, Lance felt his heart beat, slamming through his chest, and his eyes closed as he was engulfed in to the thick storm of his mate.
He felt Shiro’s teeth at his bond mark. Lance’s eyes stared straight ahead. It took him a moment, but Lance breathed out slow and concentrated. His shoulders relaxed first, and then his neck and— he let his gaze still wander as his head easily shifted and his chin lifted for Shiro.
The presentation must have been pleasing, because Lance could see the way Thrace stiffened a step away, Shiro’s hand clambered around Lance’s waist in a possessive statement.
Then it came.
"Exile over death."
The words were barely audible, spoken over Lance’s mark.
It was all he needed though. Lance seized his moment to turn in. Shiro seemed surprised and his head lifted—just enough for Lance to step in. His long gold embroidered fingers pulled at Shiro’s collar, pulling it down so Lance could lean up—and kiss the black bond mark.
The mark of their betrayal. The mark that would never matched Lance’s—But would always mirror it.
Lance could embrace it with this. One promise, one mercy and he could do it.
Big hands framed Lance, sliding over his sides and narrow hips. There was a rumble. It was a growl Lance knew. Deep and nearly purring as Lance breathed in over the mark, his lips closed over it again to kiss.
When Lance pulled away, his breath was steadier. Big hands still framed him, and Shiro, thought straightened seemed consumed with Lance.
Lance breathed. "Have them sent in," he handed the data pad back to Thrace.
They knelt. One by one, Lance had watched as kinsmen after kinsmen, former nobles of the Altean kingdom, went to their knees before Lance’s lover.
There was little hesitation Lance realized, as surrounded by Galra it became clear—there was no way out for any of them. Run, swear fealty or die. Thereose weren’t exactly a lot of options. Lance had stood behind the throne as noble families approached and one by one gone to their knees.
Now as the room was breaking up, Lance was being ushered back into the waiting escort of Antok and half a royal guards platoon. It was nearly gag worthy. Lance had gone from a boy who had refused to have his own guards even trained to constantly accompanied by no less than three towering men in loud, creaking black armor. What a splendid surprise to grow up to.
Lance kept his face neutral as he stepped down from the dais.
"His Majesty has asked you to come to dinner in the great hall," Keith suddenly was stepping up to Lance.
Pausing, it took a moment to fully process.
"What?" Lance knew his expression was morphed a bit into confusion.
He glanced back, his mate already having his attention taken away as Councilman gathered. If Shiro wished something, why had he not just asked himself?
Keith’s face was red and he looked like he badly needed to breath. But he simply blurted again, "your presence has been requested for dinner." He nodded. "In the great hall—with the rest of court."
He wanted to say no. Lance looked back over his shoulder to Antok. The man was always present. Lance had to shoo him out of the bathroom, he had to push him out of dressing rooms, and not a second had passed since Lance’s fall to earth that Antok was not one hundred percent aware of where Lance was at any given moment. The only moments Antok left—and possibly even slept, it seemed, wereas when Shiro entered into the room, and gave a sweeping gesture of dismissal to Antok with his hand.
It had been a very long time since Lance had managed to be alone. And looking around the room, Lance wanted to be at that moment. Even if it meant just Antok.
Lance’s lips pressed together as he gave a small bow. "Anything His Majesty wishes."
Though glancing up--Lance wasn’t sure this was a request from his Kon.
Keith lingered for a second longer, his lips pressed into an uncomfortable line, before in a jerking motion he turned away. "Good." His voice was nearly bitting.
Lance straightened just as Antok stepped up to him.
"Is he alright?" Antok asked.
Lance gave a snort.
"Come on." Lance urged as he looked away. "I’d like a few moments before I’m expected to perform again."
His bodyguard gave no comment and Lance took it as a win as he led the way out of the throne room.
By the time dinner was well underway, Lance had managed on shaking legs to get up the courage to go back into the great hall. He’d urged more than twenty of the former nobles throughout the course of the day to take a knee before their new king. As Lance stepped into the loud, boisterous hall—none of them were there thankfully.
His king was already seated and it wasn’t until Lance approached that he noticed both chairs on either side of Shiro were open and Keith was already seated one chair away on the right—the room suddenly as a whole stood.
Lance stalled, and Antok behind him placed a hand to steady him at his shoulder.
Through the doorway at the opposite of the room moved in a—woman. She was the epitome of a fierce Galra. Her wild hair and violet eyes were held up as she charged through the room. Behind her were nearly twenty men all in well worn lithe black armor.
It was movement from Shiro that caught Lance’s eye. He bowed to her, a pleasant smile on his face as he gestured to his right side.
The woman didn’t hesitate as she took up a seat and the men around her dispersed to around the hall as well, only two flanking and taking up a position behind her.
"It’s alright, Your Highness," Antok urged Lance forward from behind.
Lance gave a nod as he breathed out slow and pushed forward.
"My darling," Shiro’s affectionate greeting as Lance approached gave Lance a measure to keep stepping closer.
He felt fragile as he took the chair offered to him.
Across from him, the woman watched Lance, her eyes deep and narrow as she tipped her head at Lance.
"Your Highness," Keith gestured to the woman next to him, "this is our Kon Karnate."
Lance’s expression as he turned to Shiro must have spoken to his confusion enough because Shiro went on for Keith.
"Krolia was the mate of our last Kon."
That caught Lance as he looked to the woman again. She was—fierce and steady and her gaze still had not faltered.
"My cub tells me you are my nephew’s mate." Her eyes narrowed as she spoke.
Right. Lance had nearly forgotten. This was a family. He doubted this Krolia would ever let Lance forget it though. This was her legacy, her dynasty, that she had seen rise and fall and now rise again. She was quite possibly going to be the worst in-law Lance could imagine. Lance nearly laughed. He had wanted to know so much about Shiro just a short while ago, and now with every morsel revealed he wished for the days that Shiro was just his distant suitor.
He bowed his head to the woman in what he hoped was a respectful manner.
"Queen mother, " Lance addressed, hoping the title would please her.
She quirked a smirk. "You were right, he is very Altean." She spoke to Keith next to her.
"He was their prince," Keith spoke.
"And now," Lance shivered as he felt Shiro’s hand, it dusted over his shoulder and brushed through Lance’s hair. The jewelry at his long ears tinged with the action. "He is my prince."
"They gave him to you, I’ve been told." Krolia looked to Shiro.
Shiro’s gaze lingered on Lance for a moment more, before he looked to Krolia. "The nobles here played quite the games at their courts." Shiro smiled, that devilish smile, that smile that had always seemed sincere at first—but now was learning it was conniving. "His sister insisted I would be satisfied with him, and I’m sure she thought I would be placated as well."
"Is it true?"
Lance was startled as Krolia’s violet eyes shifted to him.
“I’m still alive.” It was out of Lance’s mouth before he could help it.
He was met with a boisterous laugh from Krolia. “Placated in deed.”
Lance swallowed. What could he say?
"Arranged marriages are a common practice among my family." Lance cleared his throat. "It uh, insures strong offspring and in cases like Shiro it was intended to bring him into the family, as the Black Paladin—"
"You tried to make an potential enemy enthralled by the prospect of royalty." Krolia finished for Lance. ShHe still wore a wolfish smile.
There was a long moment. And Lance’s lip trembled before he spoke."He was never going to be king."
"Oh, but my nephew is king." Krolia smiled. “He is more than a king, he is a Kon. He earned his place on the throne.”
Lance stayed silent at that point. What was he to say? Yes, Shiro was King, and Lance for all he had tried, had not managed to save anyone so far but himself.
Suddenly the woman laughed. It wasn’t cruel but it was neither joyful. "Pardon me," she looked down. "You must realize—This has been a long hard war for me and my family."
There was no doubt about that.
"Your father killed my mate," she went on. "All we wanted was freedom, sovereignty, and your father killed him for even suggesting it."
There was another moment of quiet as Lance ducked his head. Each breath from him was measured. He’d committed to this road. He was staying here, if he bargained for escape of his sister it came at the cost of no escape for himself, he was stuck here now--and the last thing he needed was to make more needless enemies.
"I’m sorry for your loss,"Lance e managed. He wasn’t sure what the right thing was to say.
"I put Shiro in the royal guard," Krolia suddenly admitted. "Pulled every string I had to put him there. I got my son here to this planet to support him."
Lance just stared at her. Shiro was chosen for the Black Paladin from there. A stroke of luck? Or the first death toll for a kingdom?
"Shiro will be Kon for millennia to come, and me and the rest of his family will be here to ensure it." She spoke with such assurity there wasn’t even a chance for Lance to deny.
"You care a lot for your family," Lance finally concluded. "That’s an honorable trait."
Krolia’s eyes on him narrowed. "I am a Kon Karnate." she said matter of fact. "The last of my generation in this family. This is my legacy."
She was making it very clear—she was the woman that raised Shiro and Keith, the people that had ripped everything from Lance.
Lance ducked his head again in what he hoped was a submissive manner. He’d only needed one thing. He’d resolve this in time. There was only one goal that mattered and until the remnants of his own family were jettisoned into open space—Lance needed to keep his captors as complacent as possible. If Allura was alive and out there—Lance could fight for any lasting legacy of Altea without fear, but Allura needed to be safe first.
"I’m sure it was quite a feat to accomplish," Lance gave a smile. "I’d imagine raising Keith was the most challenging part."
That earned Lance a chuckle from Shiro. And Keith crossed his arms.
It was slow but Krolia gave a sly smile at last.
Lance felt a wave of relief wash over him as the servants finally approached and Krolia finally looked away. Drinks had already been placed but glasses were all refilled as piled plates of food were presented. There were whoops and exclamations down the tables near the lower ranks. Lance took the opportunity as a servant poured him a glass of deep red wine. He preferred white, but he didn’t have it in him to ask anything else that night, and he reached forward to take the glass once the servant was done.
The shift of clothing brought Lance’s attention as Shiro shifted forward again. As he ran his hand over Lance’s hair again, it prompted him to look over.
His grey eyes were for once quite bright as he looked at Lance.
"I want you to be a Kon Karnate one day," Shiro’s voice was quiet.
Lance sniffed. What did that entail?
"Do I need to rip someone’s arm off to do it?" Lance tried to break the tension.
First the tilt of Shiro’s head made Lance wonder if he’d stepped out of bounds, but a moment later a smile broke. "Antok told me you were asking a lot of questions lately."
Lance took another drink. "There’s no white knight riding in to save me," Lance’s eyes flicked over Shiro. His knight had sentenced him to this. "I need to understand my new world. I know you understand that feeling in me."
Shiro’s gaze on him was long and steady. "You’re worth an infinite amount to me,"
Lance just paused. He’d sworn he would give Lance galaxies. He’d promised Lance he’d always have a place with him.
His fingers skimmed over Lance’s face, framed down to his chin before Shiro leaned in to press a kiss to Lance’s hair.
Without a sound, Lance didn’t move for a moment before he turned into it. He gave a small sound as Shiro kissed his forehead.
Lance turned away from where he’s stood at the balcony railing. He hadn’t left the dining hall, just simply walked away for a few moments, trailing out into the balcony. He was immediately flanked by two impressively tall black guards, as well Antok had sidled a few steps up behind at a languidsh pace.
The gardens below—were uttered destroyed, the mazes had been uprooted and burn scars showed across their face. Lance wondered if that was possibly his doing. If his chase through them had prompted those behind to start hacking and burning their way through in an effort to catch up. None of the people he’d asked would confirm it. But from the looks in the evening light, and stars rising up ahead—the gardens were being entirely uprooted. There wasn’t much to go off of yet, but Lance was fairly certain a training grounds and massive courtyards for troops and regiments were to take their place.
As he turned away from it though, for half a moment he didn’t recognize the man in the doorway to the brilliantly lit great hall.
It wasn’t till Keith took a few more steps forward that Lance realized who had spoken to him.
"Your mother is quite the talker," Lance jabbed. "She’s almost as articulate as you."
"No really," Lance leaned back on the railing. "I mean her threats were veiled just enough that dinner was still pleasantly passing around us as I was completely assured she would not hesitate to slit my throat."
"She won’t hurt you," Keith rolled his eyes as he took the last few steps forward to the railing.
It amazed Lance how easy their conversations could be at times. Maybe... maybe if his life had been different, Lance could imagine that maybe Shiro was right and the two of them could be friends.
Lance’s eyes narrowed. That was an unlikely eventuality as his husband’s executioner.
"She’s held in a place of high honor here,"
"I gathered that," Lance knew he was probably more hostile than he meant.
"Shiro wanted you to meet her," Keith didn’t look up from the stone railing he leaned over.
Lance sighed. This was—so messed up. "She hates me," Lance knew it. Shed glared at him across the table.
"She’s scared," Keith’s voice was quiet. "This isn’t the first time our family has been at this point—we named a Kon before. She’s supported one king only to have to raise another king."
Did Keith want sympathy? Lance looked over. He had little of that to spare as of late.
"Everyone here seems confident in the Altean defeat," Lance finally found words.
Keith looked up. "Call her cautious," He quirked a smile.
Lance gave his own smile. "Pragmatic?"
"Possibly to a fault." Keith concluded.
Lance looked back forward, his back to the former gardens.
"Thank you," Keith repeated.
"Shiro and I had a long talk about—I’m not allowed to make anybody mad anymore," Lance looked down at the heavy bottomed drink he held.
"I know—" Keith tried. "It all sucks. We would have done this differently if we could have..." he swallowed. "It’s just, thanks, we both respect her a lot and she’ll leave soon for space again and it’s just—she’s a pillar for us. And it means a lot that you tried with her."
Lance knew Keith was trying to be sincere—but somehow it couldn’t seem to penetrate into him. He looked away to the stone under his feet. His father had laid that stone, had built that palace. And it was all being dismantled around Lance. His world was constantly being ripped to shreds around him—and Lance was expected to just stand there, to just stand there, to lend his support to not fight back as he watched it all crumble, the black twisting kingdom that was rising in its place was only closing around him tighter everyday.
This was his new reality, Lance mused. The legacy of his father would only be his sins, would only be his wars and his mistakes. The legacy of his mother was her blood spilt to bring to life a war machine.
But that’s not what Lance remembered. His father was kind, and gentle to Lance. He was protective and loving. His mother had given Lance everything of hers, she was elegant and strong—and Lance felt so alone in those memories. His isolation at that moment was chilling.
"Of course," Lance whispered.
"I mean she’ll get used to you too, it’s just ya know—she’s right, you’re really Altean, and like it’s just kind of a reminder ya know."
Oh Lance was very aware what a constant reminder of defeat felt like.
Lance wasn’t sure he could dignify that with an answer so he just looked away. He’d only make Keith mad if he said what he really wanted. Lance straightened from the railing.
Only for Keith to reach out, his hand latching on to Lance’s arm.
"I’m trying to say I know all of this is hard for you," Keith said as he looked over at Lance.
Lance paused. His chin up he blinked a couple times, he gears in his head turning.
Keith’s eyes were trained on Lance.
Lance tipped his head before he answered. "What would you like from me?"
That hit a nerve. Keith’s brow creased as he straightened as well. "Nothing."
That was no way in hell Lance was gonna believe that.
"I’m trying to make this easier on you!" Keith hissed without prompting. "I’ve done everything I can!"
That was... Lance tipped his head as he considered Keith. This sort of anger wasn’t normal.
The questions running through Lance’s head weren’t—he wasn’t sure if he dared ask. He’d only rile Keith up. He’d been told to stop doing that—stop fighting everything so hard. But then again... this was just Keith.
Keith still had yet to release Lance, his fingers gripping tighter in the soft cloth of Lance’s sleeve.
"It was your idea to spare my life then?" Lance pressed, his tone biting.
Keith’s nose scrunched.
"Lance," Keith said through gritted teeth. He took a step closer as well.
Of course he didn’t. Keith probably would have been willing to do it himself. And now he wanted--what from Lance?
Lance could see Keith’s chest heave as he came closer.
"I’ve been there every step for you," Keith lowered his voice. "I’ve been behind every step you’ve taken—I’ve kept you safe. You have no idea how broad loyalties can be here."
Out of one boiling pot and into another, Lance mused to himself. Did Keith really think Lance had no idea? Lance wanted to laugh. He was born a chess piece on the board. The only difference now was Lance had switched pieces. And he glanced over his shoulder to Antok, the few men here that actually had kept Lance safe. Was it odd Lance didn’t believe Keith?
Lance raised his head, his face held serene as he finally let his own venom fly.
"Was that kiss really an accident?"
Keith let go of Lance like his arm was a searing hot rod.
"Was it just hormones?" Lance pressed, his face held innocent. "Nothing behind it at all?"
Keith was glaring at him. His mouth held in a snarl that intensified more as Lance continued to speak.
"Does it physically hurt to feel something?" Lance tipped his head in mock curiosity.
"You’re not prince anymore," Keith hissed under his breath.
Lance raised a brow. "No." He answered just a sweet. "I’m not. I’m on my way to being a Kon Karnate."
This time there was quiet from Keith, his jaw grinding as he glared at Lance.
"All hail the king," Lance murmured low, eyes flicking up to meet Keith eye to eye.
Keith looked away this time. His fist on the railing was white knuckled, the strain visible even up the taught tendons of his arm. Lance wondered briefly—if he kept pushing would Keith hurt him? The conversation had clearly made him irate, but would he lash out at Lance? Would Shiro retaliate? It was food for thought, and Lance tucked the idea away. When he had less to risk he could possibly move on it.
When Lance turned away, Antok was already waiting for him at the door.
"I’m going to retire for the evening," Lance spoke to his bodyguard. He’d had enough of the tenuous game—of tiptoeing on a tightrope and trying to subtly knock his opponents off the same rope without getting caught.
"Of course, Your Highness," Antok ducked his head.
Lance stepped out of the brightly lit halls into the corridors. His palace childhood home looked nothing like he remembered. White was replaced with black. Cool blues with deep violets. There was so little left of the Altean capital only after a few weeks.
When Lance turned the corner he was met with a startling lantern light. I glowed gold in the dark hall and Lance stopped with a start at the sight of it.
Shiro swung the lantern around as he stepped closer, revealing himself from the shadows. Holding the lantern up he nodded to Antok, "Thank you Antok, you and your men are dismissed."
"Your Majesty," Antok acknowledged as he bowed his head.
Left alone, Lance glanced about the dark hall. "Your Majesty," Lance parroted. He ducked his head as well, hoping to look subjugated.
"Come on," Shiro turned.
Terror started to settle in Lance. Where were they going? Why—why was Lance’s almost eternally every present guards sent away? Why had Shiro been waiting for him?
"This way," Shiro called as he started down the corridor.
Lance swallowed, but followed. "Where are we going?" He dared ask.
"I have something for you." Was all Shiro answered.