"Lance," Shiro’s desperate voice rang through his senses.
The rush of breath filling his lungs, had Lance gasping, his fingers curled as he gulped down breath after breath. There was a hiss as the airlocks around him broke and Lance’s eyes scrunched at the light.
Wh—-What? Where was—
The door was already swinging open though and Lance lost any hope of retaining his balance
His stagger forward wasn’t enough to catch him and Lance’s hands clawed out at the chambers walls only to slow his descent to the floor as he sank down.
When his eyes cracked open, Lance blinked up before him...
What—-Lance’s brow furrowed as he looked over the faces staring at him. This couldn’t—who were these people? They looked almost Altean and yet not? Were they Galra?
Would it be better for Lance if they were Galra?
"I—" Lance wasn’t sure what he would say. ‘I am your Kon Karnate?’ ‘I am the mate of your Kon?’ ‘I am an Altean prince?’ Did any of those titles mean anything anymore? His head swam with memories and an explosion--? Lance couldn’t place, what had--happened?
Lance starred up.
One of them stepped forward, before—
A shadow, a so familiar shadow stepped over Lance and hands were at his shoulders, pulling Lance up enough to get his feet under himself.
Lance’s face broke into a smile as he turned, his own hands clutched to the familiar large hands at his shoulders till— Lance stopped. He looked at the hand he caressed with his own.
Antok’s fur had always been a deep purple, a vivid deep purple. And the weathered cracked hands at Lance’s shoulders—had faded in color.
He leaned back as his face shifted up and he looked to the old, grizzled Galra that was stooped over him. FOr once he didn’t wear his helmet. His face had aged, but it was still the same in so many ways. His long mane of hair, once a blacked violet was now grey. His face markings were faded and his deep purple skin was now a lilac hue.
His voice hadn’t changed.
Lance's expression broke as he realized. His mouth dropped open. “Shiro ordered me to be placed in hibernation.” He concluded out loud. "How long?" He reached to run his hand over the long, braided locks, his hand settling at Antok’s face.
It felt—-like safety. It felt like something Lance had so rarely felt as Antok adjusted, letting Lance lean back into him.
"It’s been a very long time, Your Highness." Antok’s voice rumbled.
"Your face..." Lance trailed, his eyes running over the man before him. Antok had been in his prime the last Lance had seen him and now—it was a veteran that stopped before him.
"You’ve changed as well," Antok indicated to the reflections in the cryopod.
Lance shifted, his interest peaked as he turned.
The crisp white tumble of locks he saw in the reflection was nearly matte it was such a bright white. It was a white so pure it didn’t even have a sheen to it. It wasn’t even the prismatic gleaming of his father or sisters' hair—it was just white. Like snow, Lance realized as he turned his head.
It must have been a long time indeed, Lance thought as he turned back. His soft, young face felt out of place to see, especially now with such a startling shade of white over his brow.
"Where is he?" Lance's voice was quiet. “What’s happened?”
It felt like family he realized as he looked back. The warmth from Antok, the heavy comforting hand at his back, the deep way his voice grated over gravel—like he was on the edge of purring or growling was unclear, but it was an edge Lance now knew so well, an edge he counted on from every other man in his life. The Galran tone of voice felt familiar and the slight accent was a comfort.
There was an exhale over his head. "Things—have changed. The universe has changed."
Lance glanced around him, gleaning whatever information he could. They were in space. There were three hibernation pods activated. Lance’s clothes had been washed--he’d been cared for.
“Where are we?” He asked Antok.
The old Galran opened his mouth to answer but before he could--
The long form of Allura stepped forward.
She still wore the clothes she’d been sentenced to death in. Lance’s eyes narrowed. She hadn’t been cared for.
Her face—Lance had never seen her look like that. It was a desperate look. A look of—a desperate need for hope.
With a push up, Lance let his guard guide him up to stand.
"Baby brother," Allura’s hand went to her mouth as her brow furrowed and her eyes—she was breaking. Her frame shook and wet glean of her eyes held Lance enraptured for the smallest moment.
Until his brow lowered.
Was this friend or foe? His feet moved to a wide steady stance.
"You saved us," Allura gasped.
Lance looked around then. The Castle of Lions—was all he could see.
It was another familiar voice, and Lance’s head jerked to the side. There was a difference in Antok’s voice now. Sorrow. Antok held sorrow in his own voice.
“Where are we?” Lance repeated.
As Lance’s gaze cut across to Antok again his question remained unanswered as at Lances sid he noticed--
“Your Highness!” Coran stumbled forward to him, it was only a sliver of a blink before Lance felt the rush behind him and Antok had drawn his black blade. The brilliant vivid neon streak down the sword left tracks in everyone’s vision as it stuck out.
It didn’t even feel out of place. Lance tipped his head to his former manservant.
"Coran," he spoke.
The man’s gaze shifted from the sword pointed at him, to Lance.
The cream of armor in Lance’s ear told him, though his guard had aged—he had not faded.
"I’m afraid Antok has short limits," Lance spoke. "He’s not the generous type when it comes to trust." A memory surfaced then, Pidges still, paled face as she lay lifeless on the cold marble. Antok hadn’t hesitated.
The room quieted.
"Lance." It was his sister's voice.
Lance’s head turned slowly.
"The lions," she asked.
He nearly wanted to crumble.
Still the lions?
After it all and she still brought them up?
“Where are we?” Lance turned away from his sister to Antok.
“We are--” Anotk started.
"The goddess can bring forth a new set of chosen," Allura cut in as she gestured to the people around her. "One of the lions must have woken to a new paladin. They may not be Altean but—"
"I—" Lance's voice rang out in the vast tall room, silencing his sister. "Am not the generous type either." He stared his sister down.
Her eyes—were so fragile at that moment. Tears still streaked down her face and she looked pleading to Lance.
Lance had worn that look. And even as he looked at it, his own expression hardened, his mouth a still line and his eyes narrow. He didn’t have anything else to break.
"The Black Lion?" He inquired over his shoulder.
"She sleeps," Antok’s growl this time rumbled through the room, his sword still drawn though he stepped back, his lumping broad form had in no way deprecated. "Sealed away in the heart of the Castle, she hasn’t stirred since you entered sleep"
He didn’t know if she would wake with him as well.
“Where are we?” Lance articulated each word this time before his gaze drifted up to meet Antok’s.
“We are in the 74th quadrant of the Galran Empire.” Antok frowned. “Our nearest habitable planet is Arus.”
Lance lifted his chin. “Altea is the Galra’s 1st quadrant?”
“Altea…” Antok paused, before his gaze darkened and he shifted his gaze to Allura.
Even Coran looked away at that moment.
“I didn’t know.” Allura for once in her life didn’t lift her chin.
Lance narrowed his own gaze. “Daibazaal?” Lance knew how important the tiny home planet was to Shiro. The man would do anything to protect it.
Antok’s face remained as stone, his narrow gaze on Allura.
“What has become of our home?” Lance pressed his sister.
“I thought--” Allura was picking her words carefully.
“You will tell him,” Antok’s growl throughout the room was visceral. “Or I will do it.”
“I didn’t know what you were doing.” Allura pointed out. “I couldn’t have guessed that you had put the lions back to sleep.” Allura swallowed. “I wanted it all to end.” Her voice took on a desperate tone. “This is always happening! This has always been the cause of so much pain in our family! And I wanted to end it!”
Lance’s hand pressed over Antok’s. His face slack with an expression of shock he waited for more to come, for Allura to admit her wrong to him.
“I am so sorry, my Kon Karnate,” Antok whispered next to him. “I was ordered to get you into a hibernation pod immediately and by the time I could get you secured and up to the bridge--I could not stop your sister.”
Lance looked up to Allura again.
“Altea--” It was Coran that spoke. “Is no longer inhabitable.”
“Allura,” Lance hissed immediately. He had to hear it from her. For once in their god damn lives he had to hear her admit to her own shortcomings.
“I never thought I would harm Altea.” Allura’s chinwas tucked as she spoke. “I just wanted Varr gone.”
Altea needs its moons. It was a mantra Lance had heard ever since he was a child, over and over and over again. WIthout them there were no seasons, there was no tide in the ocean. And with the thought of that--Lance remembered standing at the bay doors, and how Mai had risen through the clouds so close to them, her milky volatile atmosphere a cloud before them.
“Mai.” Lance said it aloud.
“It was only meant to bring down Varr!” Allura shouted out.
“You ignited Mai.” Lance clarified for her.
“I was going to save us--” Allura broke then, as tears streamed down her face. “I never meant--none of that was supposed to happen, and the explosions just kept coming and…” She trailed off.
Antok’s flippant despise was open in his voice. “You blew apart Daibazaal and flung Altea out of orbit--with in a few minutes all atmosphere was destroyed and all life died.”
She had strangled their home. In a struggle for power--she’d slit the throat of every Altean.
Eyes wide, Lance couldn't look at his sister any longer.
“I’m sorry.” Allura whispered.
It was the first time in his entire life, Lance had ever heard his sister apologize to him.
The room was silent for a long moment, Lance choosing to ignore his sister.
"How long have I kept this castle asleep?" Lance asked with a heavy swallow. He looked down. He was dressed in a stiff high collared cloak. It was Galran, though for once in a deep blue. Antok no doubt had looked after Lance meticulously how ever long it had been. The symbol of his Kon was still embroidered across the front. He turned his head to Antok.
"Why have you aged?" Lance shook his head.
Antok looked down to Lance then, his own face softening. "I—When you launched the ship, there was no way I could leave. Shiro’s last orders to me were for me to retain my place as your guard"
Lance frowned. He never—he never meant to trap his beloved friend.
"I have a direct charge to protect you—from all sides. So to stay, I set one of the pods for myself," Antok gestured to the pod next to Lance. "And I woke, every few hundred years, to make sure the castle would still be left unfound, to make sure you were safe, the lions still slept, and that his Majesty was still unaware of your location."
Lance tipped his head. A man so loyal was such very few in a lifetime. "How long have you hid me from my beloved?" Lance asked as if to gage the possible couples quarrel ahead.
Antok inhaled deep, before he exhaled, and he confessed. "Ten thousand years."
“I will right this,” Allura’s voice was hoarse.
Lance looked up from where he still rested on the floor.
“I am the Queen of Altea.” Allura lifted her chin this time. “I will rebuild our home. I’ll make everything different this time.”
Unmoved--Lance didn’t react from where he still sat on the floor. Reaching up, Anotk took the cue and helped Lance up to his feet.
“I’m tired,” Lance murmured to Antok.
“I will see you to your rooms,” Antok assured.
“Lance,” Allura bit out at her brother.
Looking at her, Lance wasn’t sure he knew what to say.
Why did she think any of this would sway him?
“You’ve given us the key,” Allura stole forward. “We have the Black Lion. We can rebuild again--”
The metallic slash as Antok pulled his sword and blocked Allura from advancing any further on Lance stilled the room.
Maybe it was the first moment Allura realized she wasn't the only royalty standing in the room.
“That is my brother,” Allura spoke. “You will step aside.”
Antok’s eyes narrowed but he looked back to Lance.
Standing on his own, Lance didn’t see any reason to pull his guardsman back. He didn’t want Allura any closer to him.
Hands fisting at her sides, Allura went to take another step forward--
Antok pointed to the jagged blade at her heart with a visceral snarl. He held the same resolution Lance had seen before. He’d had no hesitation when he killed Pidge and Lance doubted he’d have any now.
Fear flashed in Allura’s expression as she stalled.
“You are not my queen.” Antok hissed.
If anything proved how desperate his sister still was, clinging to any sort of power she could, her face as Antok had told her she wasn’t his Queen was proof enough. Lance simply did his best to brush his sister off as he turned away.
“The King’s chambers are this way,” Antok directed.
Lance expected nothing different.
“Lance!” Allura screamed after him.
At the massive carved archway of the doors Lance looked back over his shoulders.
“I’ve heard far grander promises than yours,” Lance spoke. “And I’ve trusted in far less for the last time.”
Turning back, the symbol for the Galran empire at his back, Lance let Antok direct him away.
It was so glaringly obvious now—he’d never trusted her.
He couldn’t sleep.
Lance tossed in the enormous bed. It was draped with thin fabric of galaxies and cosmos. How forbidding Lance had thought, just like in the Black Paladins chambers.
A few feet away, Antok’s breathing suggested he was sound asleep on the couch. Lance had requested he stay. He needed someone to count on, to lean on. He’d have a servant's bed moved in once Lance had his own wits about him.
How ironic was it all?
Lance had never expected to wake up. He’d thought he’d blast his sister into exile, sentenced himself to death and it would be over. He’d fall asleep with the lions, or he’d managed to get himself sentenced to death. He had thought he might have even died in the strong warm embrace of his lover if he was lucky.
But now—Lance couldn’t get warm.
The bed felt chilled. It felt empty and cold.
As he blinked, his eyelashes brushed the pillow. It felt—like a long nap. That’s all ten thousand years had felt like. Like a long night's rest of fitful tossing and turning, not real rest, just empty time held suspended. His body shivered again.
He pulled the sheets up closer but it didn’t help.
His eyes fully open he turned again, this time to the edge of the bed.
As Lance pushed up to sitting he heard the Galran growl across the room. It was a comfort, like hearing a familiar hum or whisper.
“Your Highness,” Antok’s voice was thick with sleep, it like any dutiful servant he was already sitting up as well.
Lance didn’t say anything. What did he really have left to ponder, he asked himself. There was little left to be done. His feet stretched out to the floor as he pulled away from the covers.
“Your Highness,” Antok stopped as well, retrieving his helmet, he’d slept in the rest of his armor, sword close at hand.
Lance started to pull off his nightshirt and reached for the finest he still had. His arms fit through the black and gold embroidered cloak. The Galran symbol of a Kon at the chest.
“I need to see him,” Lance simply murmured.
The bridge was lit only with the whirling stars around them as Lance entered.
Coran stood at the bow of the ship at a control panel overlooking the nose. At Lance’s subtle foot falls and the resounding thumps of Antok’s boots, Coran looked up.
He seemed frozen for a moment, like looking at Lance’s snow-white appearance was like seeing a ghost.
“Y-Your Highness,” Coran finally ducked into a bow. He probably wasn’t sure how to address Lance anymore.
“Coran,” Lance gave his own respectful greeting.
There was a long pause and Lance strode forward again, not waiting for Coran to get over his presence.
“Uh, her Highness asked me to check over the ship—“ Coran said.
Lance nodded. “I will only be a few moments.” He stepped up onto the raised platform at the center of the room.
Like a wolf, Antok prowled around the raised circle, eyes on the former Manservant. Antok’s hand was at his sword as his ghostlike hollow eyes of his helmet scanned the room.
Coran made no move to stop them as he stepped back away.
He didn’t need instructions. Lance reached forward and the ship responded with vigor to him.
It was a war machine. Unlike the lions—the ship felt different. It felt—he hated it. If running his hand over a lion was like touching a star—this was like smoothing his hand over a coffin. Lances brow furrowed. He’d make sure that’s what it ended up.
His fingers alighted over the controls that presented to him.
“Ah—y-your Highness!” Coran squawked as he finally seemed to catch on.
Antok was already there though, stepping between Lance and his former manservant.
“I don’t know if this is wise,” Coran tried.
Lance lifted his eyes. “You’re dismissed,.” He waved.
The action seemed to catch Coran off guard. Surprise crossed his face.
Had Lance ever dismissed the man before?
Lance wasn’t sure—but he also couldn’t find it in him to care.
Tapping in the code, Lance knew only he would have, he slid his hand over the controls sending out his call.
The room stayed silent for a long moment, then over them the massive screen opened and the hologram flashed to a deep purple, a connection established.
When the picture finally ushered in, the black armor of the man before Lance was such a stark difference to the opulent white Lance was surrounded in. For a moment Lance wasn’t sure if he’d put the codes in correctly. What sort of monster did he enter into conversation with? As the massive armored figure shifted, his movements stalled for a moment like a machine processing before from base programing. Lance wondered if he was speaking with a mechanic atronok.
But through the black ghoulish helmet, Lance would always recognize that voice. He’d follow it across universes if need be. The bond thumped through him as the voice of thunder washed over him.
“I’ve missed you, my love.”
“Zar Kon!” Before the raised platform, Antok snapped down to one knee, his fist to the ground as well as with bowed head he greeted his Kon.
Lance watched for a moment before lifting his own eyes. It was suddenly hard to breathe. This—it felt so different. Like Lance wanted to greet him as he’d greeted him every morning, tangled in bed and bathed in the early morning sun. But that—was so distant now.
“Your Majesty,” Lance didn’t bow his head as he said it.