Hello, my beautiful, wonderful, incredibly patient and forgiving readers!
I AM SO SORRY!
I know this is so very extremely late, and aaaahhhhhh! It has been pretty insane over here for the last little bit. But you guys have been so supportive and encouraging the whole time, and I just…I can't tell you how much I appreciate that. It warms my heart.
So! I noticed that I had a few discrepancies in the first few chapters. I said that Red was a she in the first two and a half chapters, then switched him to a guy, and I said that Arianwen's facial markings were viridian at first, and then changed it to blue later. I went back and updated the first three chapters, so theoretically, I fixed all of that. But it's also really super late/early right now, so there's actually a high probability that I just published chapter two three times in a row. If I did that, or if you catch any other little inconsistencies, please let me know so I can fix it!
One thing that I have been known to do is write a scene using somebody's request and then totally forget to actually put it in the finished project. If I've done that to anybody, let me know and I'll take the chapter down, write it in, and re-publish it. It's really not a lot of trouble at all, so please, please, PLEASE let me know if I do this.
Also SEASON SIX WHAT THE HECK
I cried a lot.
IT'S REALLY GOOD!
So, all that aside…
SPOILERS: Season 1 Episode Four: Fall of the Castle of Lions
WARNINGS: Serious character death, lots of flashbacks, some happy, some not-so-much. SOME VERY STRONG NIGHTMARE/FLASHBACK THINGS. I'll mark those with a set of ** at both ends, so you can skip them if you would like to. The bad parts are after Ayu has been badly injured, and his mind is really just going all out to torture him.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own Voltron or Junili. Juni is the creation of the fantastic Bubblekins1010, who has been an incredible support and encourager to me this whole time. Thank you so much, my friend!
UPDATE: 4/16/19: I didn't have Allura's mother's name right when I first wrote this chapter. I'm not sure if they just hadn't given her one yet, or if that was just me not bothering to go find it. So that's fixed now. And I actually started working on chapter nine again! That should...hypothetically... be out in the next few days. I think.
But Still So Far Away…
…And Atreyu smiled.
The celebration lasted long into the night, and Lance leaned against the wall, smiling as he watched the Arusians dancing all over the Castle. He was briefly concerned about the state the Castle would be in once all was said and done, but dismissed the thought with a grin.
The King had ordered a play written to laud Voltron's victory over the horrible creature they had faced and defeated that afternoon, and Lance quickly moved over to stand near Keith, at the foot of the stairs. If this was anything like the Dance of Apology, it was going to be hilarious.
"But Voltron was victorious!" the King declared, and Lance almost snorted his Nunvill out his nose as the little actors got totally confused, and "Voltron" crashed to the ground in defeat. Keith dropped his head into his hand, shaking with silent laughter.
"No!" the King glared at the actors. "I said, Voltron was victorious!"
Lance shook his head with a wide smile as they quickly leaped back up, and the "Monster" collapsed instead.
All of the Arusians exploded into cheers, and Allura stepped forward.
"Thank you, Your Majesty, for that…wonderful…production," Allura said, with that face that was somewhere between bemused and delighted. She turned to address the crowd. "It saddens me that we must leave tomorrow! But we must continue our quest to spread peace across the Universe, and bring down Zarkon's dark throne. Your Highness, please accept this gift." She placed a blue and white Altean communicator in the King's hands. "This will allow you to contact us whenever you need help. Arus will be the first planet in the Voltron Alliance!"
The King held it up high. "Hoo-rah!" he bellowed, and all his people answered him with gusto.
"Hey, we oughta get something like that…" Hunk said, walking up to where Keith and Lance stood.
"Something like what?" Lance stretched languidly, feeling his back pop.
"Like, our own cheer or something," Hunk said. "A Voltron cheer."
Lance grinned. "We could do that."
"Did your team ever have anything like that?" Keith asked.
Lance's smile faltered for a moment before he forced it back up. "Ha! Nah. Ari and me got into enough trouble as it was without running around screaming some sort of cheer. Alfor might have actually thrown us off the tallest spire in the Castle."
Keith snorted at the idea while Hunk looked concerned. The big guy quickly shook it off.
"Hey, I've got it!" he exclaimed. "I say Vol, you say Tron!" He pointed at Lance. "Vol!"
"Tron!" Lance crowed. He and Hunk high-fived, and then turned to Keith.
"I say Vol, you say Tron!" Hunk said again. "Vol!"
He pointed at Keith, and the Red Paladin shot a baffled look at Lance before replying hesitantly with, "Vol…tron?"
Lance lost it and started cackling as Hunk tried—and failed—to teach Keith the correct way to do the cheer.
"We'll work on it," the Yellow Paladin finally sighed, taking a deep drink from the cup in his hand. His eyes blew wide, and he spewed it out all over the floor, almost soaking Lance in the process.
"Dude!" he yelled, diving out of the way.
"What is this stuff?!" Hunk gagged, holding the cup as far away from himself as he could.
"That's Nunvill, the nectar of the gods!" Coran piped cheerfully from behind Lance.
Lance stared at him. "You gave them Nunvill? You gave them plain, straight out of the bottle Nunvill?!"
"I did!" Coran beamed at him.
"Ugh!" Hunk shuddered. "It tastes like hot dog water and feet."
Keith looked mildly nauseous. "That was oddly specific."
Coran laughed. "I know! It's also a spectacular hair tonic."
Lance just shook his head as the eccentric advisor sprinkled some on his mustache, and all three Paladins gaped in unison as it actually grew at least an inch instantaneously.
"That…That's not right," Keith muttered, eyes wide.
Hunk was still trying valiantly not to lose his dinner, and Lance was looking at his own cup with doubt. He'd added juniberry juice to his own, unable to stand the taste of plain Nunvill, but even though Nunvill supposedly improved with age, he was starting to wonder if ten thousand years was just a little too aged.
/ "Put some juniberries in it," said a shy, melodic voice from his right, quietly laughing at his watering eyes and burning throat. "I've found that makes it much, much more bearable."
Dark eyes, a thousand shifting shades of brown dancing in their depths with a flash of purple, glitter with amusement.
"Thank you," he choked out, still coughing, and she laughed again, a light blush spreading over her cheekbones.
Lance shook himself forcefully back to the present.
"I think I'm gonna be sick," Hunk said, and Keith grabbed his arm.
"Come on, big guy," he said. "Let's go sit down and find some water."
Lance smiled fondly at the two as Keith led Hunk off. For all his awkwardness and serious temper, Keith was a really good person, and he cared about his team.
He made his way over towards Shiro, arriving in time to hear the tail end of his conversation with Coran.
"Oh, these Arusians won't hurt anything!" Coran exclaimed right as Lance literally had to hit the deck as a couple of younger Arusians careened by on a hovering serving platter.
Coran winced at the sound of shattering dishware. "Much," he amended.
Lance cautiously rose to his feet again, looking around for anymore UFAs—Unidentified Flying Arusians.
"Besides, the Castle of Lions has been on this planet for over ten thousand years," Lance pointed out, leaning against the wall next to his leader. "It only seems right that the Arusians get to actually see inside it. You know?"
"Yeah," Shiro said. His brows furrowed. "But who knows when Zarkon will send another creature, or another commander like Sendak?"
Lance's jaw set.
"I'm gonna do a perimeter check," the Black Paladin said, striding down the entry hall. "Just in case."
Coran looked after him with a sorrowful expression, and Lance sighed. He jogged down the hall, easily catching up.
"Shiro," he said quietly, and the man turned. The Blue Paladin rested a hand on his shoulder. "I'm not saying that you shouldn't stay wary if you feel that it's important, but don't forget that you need some downtime as well, alright? We won a victory today. We saved a planet." His eyes grew a little sharper. "And we are more than warriors. Remember that, Shiro. We are more than soldiers. It's alright to take a little time for yourself. Okay?" he offered a sad smile, and Shiro returned it.
"When you stop sleeping with your bayard under your pillow, let me know, and we can try this discussion again," Shiro joked gently, and Lance laughed, holding up both hands.
"Okay, that's fair enough," he admitted. "Just…try to take it a little easy, alright? We are safe here, Shiro. All of us."
The Black Paladin sucked in a deep breath and let it out. "I know that, I do, it's just…"
Lance smiled at him again, but a little sadder, and a lot older. "I get it." He squeezed Shiro's shoulder before letting go and stepping away, saying, "Just make sure to keep your comms open and on your person, okay?"
Shiro raised an eyebrow. "'We're safe here'," he mocked, and Lance smacked his shoulder.
"Oh, get out of here already," he grumbled.
Shiro laughed and did so, but he was noticeably more relaxed, and Lance nodded with satisfaction before turning and heading back to the party.
Hunk waved him down. "Dude, this space juice is something else," he said, gulping down another mouthful of Nunvill and cringing with a full-body shudder.
Lance bit his lip and tried not to smile. He failed. "Don't you worry, Hunk," he said with a grin. "You'll be home before you know it, and you'll never have to drink it again."
"Oh, yeah," Hunk grinned and swiped a bowl of asidage sticks that were whizzing by on a moving platter. "Hey, do you think we'll get to land on a nacho planet? Or a potato planet? Oh! What about a meat planet?! Like, a planet that's just totally made out of meat! That would be amazing!"
Lance threw his head back and laughed. "I don't know, buddy," he said. "But there's only one planet that has Dialri Bay, and fresh-baked sleitel bread, and…" his smile faded. "And Ari's garden, and Juni's hugs…"
/ "Ayu! Look! I got the juniberries to bloom blue! Isn't this amazing?!" Ari's green eyes were practically glowing with excitement. She was covered in dirt, head to toe, but her smile could have outshone the stars themselves.
And sure enough, the blooms in her hands were as deep and rich as the markings on her face.
"Ari, that's incredible!" he whooped.
She laughed as he grabbed her up and spun her around in victory…./
Lance sucked in a sharp breath at the sudden rush of memories.
/This treaty was driving him mad. If he couldn't get it signed by tomorrow, there would likely be a war. But neither faction could come to an agreement. He dropped his head on the table and groaned. Warm arms wrapped around him, dark curly hair tickling his neck as she propped her chin on his shoulder.
He leaned back against her, and she held him closer for a long moment.
He gave her a grateful smile, and she kissed his forehead.
"Better," he said.../
His heart wrenched in his chest, and he could feel tears threatening as those brilliant green eyes flashed in his mind, accompanied by a dark, shy pair, both shining with love and life and now gone dark forever.
His hand tightened on his cup, putting dents in the metal.
"Sorry," he managed. "I think I've had too much Nunvill. I'm gonna go get some air."
"Yeah," Hunk's brow was furrowed as he stared down at his asidage. "Um, this isn't gonna taste like Nunvill, is it?"
Lance forced a weak smile. "No. You'll love it, promise."
He made his escape as fast as he could.
He found himself in the control room eventually, and activated the star map, tracing out the constellations.
At least there's one thing that hasn't changed, he thought morosely.
Only one? Blue asked indignantly, but he could feel her care and concern.
He managed a smile for her. I don't know what I would have done without you, beautiful.
Gone mad, probably, she suggested, and he gave an unamused snort of laughter.
Probably, he agreed darkly.
The doors swished open, and a moment later, Coran's hand came down on his shoulder.
"Whatever it is you're looking for, Ayu," he said quietly, "you're not going to find it on an old starmap."
Ayu tried to laugh, but tears burned his eyes again, and he couldn't. "I don't think there's anywhere I can go to find what I'm really looking for," he whispered, voice shaking. "She's rather well and truly gone."
"Oh, Ayu," Coran said, and his voice broke. He reached out and pulled the smaller Altean into his arms, and Ayu buried his face in his shoulder and cried.
"I want them back," he sobbed, brown eyes flashing in his mind. "I want her back, Coran."
"Hush, my boy," Coran murmured, running a hand through his hair. "I've got you, lad. I understand. Shh, shh, shh…."
Ayu couldn't have said how long they stood there in the light of the crystal, with Coran's gentle voice and his hitching cries the only sounds echoing in the cold room.
Finally, his sobs died down to the occasional sniffle. Coran still didn't let go.
"We'll see them again someday, lad," he whispered. "They're not gone forever, no matter how long it feels like. We'll see them again." He let go and held Ayu at arm's length, firmly meeting his eyes and not letting him look away. "Remember that, my boy. They are not gone forever."
Ayu gave him a tearful smile and nodded, wiping the last of his tears away. "Thank you, Coran," he said, voice thick.
"Anytime, my boy," the advisor said, giving a tearful smile of his own. He clapped Ayu on the shoulder and then turned. "We'd best be getting back to the celebration. They'll be missing us."
"Right behind y—oh, hey, Rover," Ayu—Lance now—grinned up at the little drone as it buzzed by overhead. He took two steps after Coran before freezing. "Wait…where's Pidge?"
The drone attached itself to the crystal, and Lance's eyes widened in horror as a very familiar beeping sounded through the room.
"CORAN, GET DOWN!" he bellowed, slinging himself forward as fast as he could.
"Wha—" the older Altean went down under his weight, and then everything went white, and there was fire and pain and…
And then there was only darkness.
She snorted, bright brown eyes alight with mirth.
"That was terrible, Ayu, and you know it," she shoved at his shoulder, and he rolled over with a laugh, throwing another handful of grass at her.
"But it was true," he said with a shameless grin. "You are out of this galaxy. You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in all my years. I swear it."
Her eyes widened, and she was blushing so brightly her purple facial markings almost seemed to glow. "Stop it!"
His grin widened. "I can't! You're the light of my life! The sun of my solar system! The stars of my galaxy!"
She squeaked, hands flying to cover her face. "Seriously?!"
He kissed the top of her head. "Absolutely!"
**She looked up at him then, smile gone and warm brown skin pale. "Then why did you let me die?"
His smile vanished, and he stumbled back as her skin suddenly turned to ice. The golden sunlight turned cold and thin and grey around them.
"Wh-what? Juni, I didn't—what?"
Her brown eyes were cold, the purple iris dull and dead. "Why did you let me die, Ayu? I burned."
Fires raged up all around them. The meadow was burning.
Fire all around.
No way out.
"No!" he cried out. "This didn't—this didn't happen!"
"Yes, it did," she said. She didn't move from her place as he staggered away. She just stood there. "You didn't see it because you were safely escaping. Running away."
"Yes," she said, no emotion on her face or in her eyes. "You ran away, Ayu. You left me. You left me to die. You let me burn."
"No, no, no!" he screamed, slapping his hands over his ears and squeezing his eyes shut.
She was suddenly right in front of him, ripping his hands off his eyes with a cruelty that she had never had in life. "You left me to burn. You killed me."
He watched in horror as fire caught her skirt and began to creep up her body.
"No!" he howled, trying to put it out. It just kept climbing, and she didn't seem to care.
"You left me to die," she said again, and suddenly, Ari was beside her, bloodied and mangled, but glaring at him with dead green eyes so full of hatred and rage that he felt sick.
"Why didn't you save me, Brother?" she asked, her voice sounding horribly choked. She took a lurching step forward.
"Ari," he whimpered, reaching out to her.
"You should have saved me," she spat. "Why weren't you faster?!"
"Atreyu," his father was there, fire eating away at his body. His mother was on her knees behind him, cradling the tiny body of Lyren, wailing in grief as the flames swallowed her alive. "You failed us, Atreyu." His father's face was steely. "You failed us all."
"You let us die," Javen said harshly, fire wreathing his face. "We died because of you."
"No," Ayu stumbled, heart thundering as he spun in place.
But everywhere he turned, he saw nothing but fire and death and hate.
It was all his fault.
He spun back and then reeled away from Ari's mutilated body. She stared at him with her raging, hateful, sickly green eyes as she raised her blade and plunged it through his body.
He gasped in agony as he crashed to his knees.
Warm arms wrapped around him, dark curly hair tickling his neck as she propped her chin on her shoulder.
"Oh, Ayu," she crooned, and kissed his forehead. "It's only what you deserve. After all, THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT."**
"No, Junili!" he half-wailed, writhing on the cold metal floor as agony ripped through every nerve. "Ari! I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Ah, he's still alive," said a dark voice above him.
One of his eyes was pried open, and he could see—there was something wrong with his vision. Everything was colored wrong, and everything was blurry. He could barely see the massive Galra looming above him with a savage grin.
"Lord Zarkon will be happy to get his hands on you," the Galra said.
There was a niggling feeling in the back of his head that said he should be concerned about that.
All he could feel was fire, raging up and down his body and so much pain, physical but mostly in his heart and soul.
He moaned, and the Galra laughed before dropping him back down to the ground and his boot was moving towards Ayu's head and—
There was a ring on her hand, and she was smiling, and Ari was screaming in excitement. Mother and Father looked so pleased, and Alfor's smile looked like it was about to split his face.
"Well done, Ayu!" he declared. "I'm actually rather amazed at the sheer amount of death and destruction that you managed to bring down on us."
**Blood abruptly began pouring from his mouth, and Ayu felt his heart freeze in horror as Melenor's face and dress suddenly became a twisted mass of burns and blood.
"Your Majesties!" he gasped, but the king carried on as though he hadn't heard him.
"An entire planet of innocent beings, and he didn't even manage to save a single one!" he said, and the crowd around them burst into laughter as though it was the funniest joke they'd ever heard.
"Alfor, you're bleeding!" Ayu cried, as blood began staining Alfor's pristine uniform in a devastating line of scarlet running from his right hip to his left shoulder.
Alfor laughed, and more blood ran down his chin.
"Ayu, what's wrong?" Juni asked him, concerned.
He turned to her, only to stumble backwards with a cry of horror.
She was horrendously burned, and her beautiful dress was in tatters. Her eyes were grey and unseeing, and her smile was a skeleton's grin.
"Ayu? Are you alright?" Ari pressed close and he cried out again. She was covered in fatal wounds, missing one green eye and bleeding from literally everywhere on her body.
"Small One, your heart is troubled," Yseult rumbled, and Ayu's stomach violently rebelled against the great, bloody hole in the Balmeran's chest, showing clearly that his heart was no longer there.
"Whatever is the matter, Atreyu?" Zarkon asked, his eyes glowing with an unholy purple light as his claws lengthened and the gash down his face dripped blood onto his armor, now black and damaged.
He jerked back to consciousness still screaming out the names that belonged only to the dead.
The Galra was glaring at someone over his head, and Ayu choked out another moan of agony as he was dragged further off the ground by his bloodstained white hair.
"Cooperate, or he will pay for your mistakes," the Galra growled.
"NO!" cried out a strong, steady voice that sounded familiar. "Don't hurt him!"
He moaned again.
"Hang on, Lance," that voice said, urgent and afraid.
Lance? Who the quiznak was Lance?
He pried one eye open, managing to get a glimpse of white and black.
"'m alright, Kon," he slurred. "'m okay."
His mind drifted again.
NO! Roared someone in his mind. Little One, don't go to sleep!
Just a few more moments…
There was darkness all around.
Blue was screaming in his mind, but he couldn't hear her.
Ari was a limp weight in his arms, but she wasn't moving.
'Because she's dead,' a little voice reminded him.
Brace yourself, Little One! Blue screamed, and then there was a massive impact.
He might have been screaming.
He wasn't sure.
But the dark was coming back, and he remembered that it didn't hurt there, so he welcomed it with open arms.
His eyes opened again, and he groaned through his teeth at the agony ripping through his body.
Sounds of battle raged all around him, and through his dim vision, he could see a massive Galra with a prosthetic arm and eye—why does he look so familiar? Do I know him?—holding a small figure in green armor well off the ground and squeezing. Red, black, and pink blurs were trying to attack him, but it didn't seem to be working.
Ari is in danger.
The thought was crystal clear and he felt his bayard come to life in his hand. He forced himself into a sitting position, not feeling the pain as he straightened and raised his bow, pulling it to full draw.
He had to be careful. If he missed his target, he could hit Ari.
The Blue Paladin never missed.
His arrow flew true, slamming into the Galra's back and forcing it to drop Ari. She hit the ground and rolled away, and Ayu choked on a scream as he suddenly became aware of how much pain he was in.
"So long, my friend!" Alfor whooped, shoving him down the banister with great relish, and laughing his tail off when Ayu went flying, landing on the hard floor with a shriek and a crash.
The Galra gave a deafening roar, and there was an answering battle cry from Alfor.
"Stay with us, Ayu!"
Wide blue eyes looked down at him, his King's face a study in terror as he pressed his hands against eh gaping hole in Ayu's armor.
Melenor—when did she get here?—let out a furious bellow of her own as the Galra knocked Alfor aside, and dealt the creature a heavy blow, forcing it backwards.
Zarkon laughed softly as Ari simply curled into him when he lifted her down from the tree she'd fallen asleep in, never so much as opening her eyes.
Ayu found himself yawning where he stood, and the next thing he knew, he was being laid down in his bed, with Kon's gentle, "Goodnight, little brother," still ringing in his ears.
Zarkon let out a hoarse shout as he caught the Galra's prosthetic, bracing his legs on the ground and heaving up, giving Alfor the opening he needed to slice the wretched thing apart.
"Goodbye, Brother," Zarkon snarled, ripping his bayard free from Ayu's chest and watching him fall to the ground far below.
The Galra screamed, but he was pretty clearly defeated now.
They were almost safe, but not quite.
Yseult knocked on the door of the medical wing with a wide grin. "You are awake, Small One!" he said happily. "I prepared you some fresh siehl, just as you like it."
Ayu grinned at him, carefully sitting up so as not to tear his stitches.
Fallwren was an excellent healer, but the girl was a bloody nightmare about her precious stitches.
"Thank you, Yseult!" he chirped.
"It was no trouble at all, Small One."
Alfor laced his fingers together and boosted Melenor into the air, where she spun and lashed out with one leg in a devastating blow that knocked the Galra back several steps.
"Pidge, now!" she shouted.
Who the quiznak is Pidge?
Yseult gave a strangled scream of agony as Zarkon's clawed hand plunged into his chest, and Ayu echoed it, wrenching harder at his trapped leg, desperate to reach the Balmeran in time.
"Oh, poor Yseult," Zarkon purred, eyes glowing in sick delight. "So trusting, so forgiving. That heart of your is a little too big, I think. Why don't I save you some future trouble and just take care of that for you?"
He ripped his arm back, and Yseult's eyes went dull.
His heart was in Zarkon's bloody claws.
As the Yellow Paladin's empty body collapsed onto the cold metal of Zarkon's ship, Ayu's screams of rage and grief and horror echoed over the bloodstained battlefield below.
As the Galra staggered back, a miniaturized version of the particle barrier snapped up around him, and he froze in place.
Alfor came running over and dropped to one knee beside Ayu, reaching out and gently helping him upright.
"Are you okay?" he asked, and wow, the Galra must have gotten a good hit in to his throat, Ayu thought.
Alfor's voice was way too raspy and high.
He nodded with a tiny smile.
Then his eyes rolled up and everything went dark again.
There was just so much possibility for angst, and I just kinda...
Chapter Eight, everyone!
In case it wasn't clear, Melenor is Allura's mother, Alfor's wife and queen. She's awesome.
Also, Junili. She's going to be a wonderful source of pain and angst for everybody's favorite Altean. I'm not telling you who she is just yet, but I promise, you're all going to love her.
She belongs, as aforementioned, to the fantastic Bubblikins1010, who created her for this story and asked me to put her in. THAT'S WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU REVIEW EVERY CHAPTER, GUYS. YOU GET SPECIAL PRIVILEGES.
NOW BE GOOD MINIONS AND REVIEW, SO I'LL WRITE MORE AND TAKE CARE OF THAT CLIFFHANGER.
Till next time!