To Catch a Paladin

Summary: It had been a simple experiment, really. All Pidge had to do was collect a sample of the strange algae and return home to run some tests on it. She didn't expect to be fearing for her life in the next few vargas. This was a requested work.

BTHB Prompts: Bounty on Their Head

Timeline: Early season 3, after Keith has adjusted to his role as leader but before Shiro returns to team Voltron. Just right before Hole in the Sky.

Disclaimer: I do not own Voltron: Legendary Defender, hence why I am spending my quarantine writing fanfiction instead of profiting off of original work.

"And you promise you'll be back in a few vargas?"

Keith's demanding voice resounded through Pidge's headset as she gracefully leaped out of her Lion and onto the soft, moist earth. His question wrung with a hint of anxiety, barely noticeable but just enough that she could pick it out underneath his commanding tone. She knew him well enough to be aware of his hidden but distinct hints of care. While his first priority was always the mission, ever since he had become the Black Paladin he had forged a bond with his teammates, a bond not so easily broken.

"Yes." Pidge launched herself through the small, verdant island on planet Krultch and made her way toward the beach, where a vast ocean that made up the majority of the planet's surface lapped at the sand peacefully. "Just like the seven other times I told you so. I'm just going to collect some samples of this weird, bioluminescent algae and cool myself off, and then I'll be back at Olkarion right away." She smiled to herself. "Keith, don't worry so much. I can take care of myself."

She began to strip herself of her tough, metal armor, which would easily weigh her down in the water and make for difficult and uncomfortable swimming. She left the pieces leaning a particularly crooked tree leaning over the water. Though few, Krultch's islands were gorgeous, dotted in tall trees much like evergreens in appearance and speckled with a multitude of different colored flowers. The landscape easily contrasted Kathlys, its neighboring planet, in appearance, which was made up mostly of bland deserts with few oceans. Apparently the wind and extreme temperatures in such a place were so intense that there were few inhabitants. Not that it mattered, as she had no interest in going there and didn't intend to.

"Just stay safe, okay?" Keith warned. "You're the Green Paladin, and with Lotor out and on the loose, we can't lose a vital piece to Voltron. Don't do anything even remotely dangerous, okay? We can always have someone go with you." Pidge sighed. Sometimes it felt like her team just couldn't trust her off on her own, even when she had proven time and time again that she was perfectly capable of fending for herself. The other Paladins needed to understand that she didn't want to be shepherded like a two year old, in fact, she enjoyed being apart from everyone else.

Except maybe Lance. Pidge chased the unwanted thought away before she could focus on it any longer.

"I'll be fine!" She growled, stripping off her final gauntlet until all her armor was off and she was left in her flight suit, except for her helmet. "Don't you have a ton of important duties you need to complete on Olkarion? You wouldn't shut up about them when I was back at the Castle!" Keith made no response. Pidge smirked, having known she had left him lost for words.

"I thought so," she finished, lifting her helmet off her head before he could respond. She was going to collect an interesting piece of data, and then run some tests on the strange organism for the purpose of knowledge. It was science, a favorite subject of her's, and the last thing she needed was Keith's lecturing to ruin it for her. She was prepared for a fun day of experiments and learning, and she wasn't going to let her overly paranoid, hot-headed leader take that away from her.

Pidge pulled a small vial out of her gauntlet's compartment, empty and ready for use. It was little, sure, but there was just enough room to fit all the algae she needed inside. She had especially picked this container so that it would be durable enough to survive the tests of powerful Altean technology. She knew from experience that normal Earth glass cracked under the pressure of the alien experimentation. So, she had made sure to build this one out of material she had found in the Castle's storage room (without the Alteans' permission), making sure to ensure that it was just the perfect substance for her tests.

With a grimace, she bunched her feet and dove into the water.

All at once cold liquid rushed past her face, sunk into her flight suit and wetted her skin. Her hair flew in all directions, spinning with the waves and spreading with every one of the ocean's wild movements. The water was dark and freezing cold, and yet it was strangely relaxing, a break from the cloted air of the Castle of Lions.

She kicked her legs and swam toward the surface, her head emerging as she pulled in air. The water was refreshing, especially compared to the sweltering heat of the radiation from this planet's star. She paddled toward the sparkling blooms enthusiastically, her arm extended and reaching for the nearest clump and-


The water flew over Pidge's head as she was yanked underneath. She forced out a shrill scream when sharp clawed talons dug into her ankles. Water filled her lungs before she could close her mouth, foul tasting and reminding her faintly of oil. She flailed under the waves, but her attacker was quite a bit larger and a much stronger swimmer. If she guessed right in spite of the rising bubbles and clouds of blood from her wounds, she was going down at least ten feet with each of the enemy's strokes.

The depth of that scared her.

Pidge spun around and kicked at her foe's chest with all the strength she could muster, managing to knock the alien off just enough so that she could slip free. She spotted a slight flash of aquamarine scales before she pushed herself upward. There was no way for her to outswim the mysterious enemy, especially since she had never been much of a water person. Maybe Keith or Allura could escape through their strength and stamina, and Lance worked well in the water even after he had left the Blue Lion, but not her. She would need to think creative and fast to escape onto shore.

Her eyes scanned the seabed far below with a shiver. She had always been terrified of the ocean's depths. Lance had offered to help her with her phobia once, but even her childish feelings for him couldn't brush away the deep, dark ocean waves splashing in the back of her mind.

If he was here, everything would be alright. Pidge's mind blanked for a moment. All she could imagine were those deep, blue eyes, like the ocean and yet so different at the same time. She saw him smile, his kind, bright smile, and how his face lit up like the sun whenever he was excited. She was lost in thought, a longing tearing at her skin like wires as she remembered that he was likely trotting behind Allura back on Olkarion like a loyal hound.

Stop it, Pidge! Her conscience got the better of her and interrupted her pointless trail of yearning. You're being chased by an aquatic alien and you start thinking about your stupid little crush? Are you that pathetic? You're in the midst of imminent danger and you-

The enemy bowled into her, sending her spinning closer and closer to the sand and coral below. She just barely looked up to spot a frilled, alligator-like tail and webbed feet, but in seconds her opponent was behind her and had clawed hands on her neck. Pidge squirmed desperately, fighting for the surface that had to be at least fifty meters away from her. She was losing air, and quickly, beginning to tire as she was dragged closer and closer to the bottomless abyss of water.

Her vision was beginning to blur. She was drowning, that she knew. Her attacker was relentless, and so much faster and stronger. Maybe on land she stood a chance, with her armor and Bayard equipped, but not down here. Not when her foe had the advantage. Down here, she was hopeless.

I didn't think I was going to die this way, she thought during her last few moments of consciousness. I should have taken those swimming lessons with Lance. She stopped motion entirely, letting her limp hands reach for the sky, trailing behind her.

I should have told him how I felt-

The last thing Pidge saw were two bright, amber eyes, before darkness finally washed over her, and the waters were still.

Pidge bolted awake. She threw herself upright with such force that the water she had swallowed previously flew up her throat swiftly. She vomited onto the floor, followed by a few wet coughs and the blinking if tired was drowsy, and not quite awakened, but she could tell that her body was numb and that her hands were cold.

Where am I? Her vision was blurred,but as it cleared she could tell that the room she was in was unfamiliar. The walls were made up of red and orange stone, built in such a rugged manner that it brought her to the conclusion that the room was naturally formed rather than man (alien) made. Water from the stalactites dripped into a crack to her right, a stream that led to a much larger body of water farther down. On the other side of the cavern was a collection of growing fungi, the tallest up to twice her size, that were the only source of light in the dimly lit room. Beside the crack was a door built of iron bars, revealing another chamber beyond.

Pidge tried to get up but found the action to be impossible. A tough rope was wound around her chest, keeping her arms tightly restrained behind her back. Her ankles were in a similar predicament, leaving her kneeling helplessly on the uneven floor. She tugged at the ropes furiously, though the only effect seemed to be rashes on her skin from the tight bindings. She hissed, pulling with all her might, but was unable to retain balance and fell on her front. Her chin hit the hard rock painfully, leaving her wincing.

"You promised me payment."

Pidge looked up. She had heard a voice from the next room, accompanied by the light tapping of multiple pairs of footsteps. The speaker had sounded smoothe, and female, but with a hint of anger. Someone was approaching, or more likely, two someones.

"Your payment will be given to you shortly." Another voice, this time deep, serious, and male. She faintly remembered this one, although she couldn't quite discern who it was and where she had met him. Something pulled at her to remember; this was clearly someone important, and no ally, but she couldn't. All she got was that he was a person to be avoided at all costs.

Not that she could do that now, though.

"I must prepare my ship first," the second voice continued. "Meet me there in five vargas, where we will discuss your reward."

"You know I don't feel comfortable boarding your ship," the female challenged.

"Whether you receive payment or not is up to you."

The two figures turned the corner so that Pidge could see them through the bars. The thinner of the two was the female, of an alien species she did not recognize. She was made up of familiar aquamarine scales and deep blue down her back. Her body was covered in bright orange frills: running down her spine, on her cheeks, and the webbing between her clawed fingers. The alien was reptilian in appearance, with a short yet elegant snout and a tail that swept gracefully behind her. This person was surely meant for the water, and without a doubt the one who had attacked her.

But even though the first figure had been the one to nearly drown her and bring her here, it was the second figure that turned her blood cold. She remembered his mauve fur, his cybernetic eye, his prosthetic arm. She still heard the snapping of his lieutenant's bones resounding through the Central Energy Chamber as his body smashed into the floor because of her, still saw his vengeful smile as he held her aloft, his metal claws digging into her skin as he examined his prey.

She never thought she'd see him again.


The Galra Commander pulled out a set of keys and unlocked the prison door, before stepping inside. His eyes were instantly on her, and his lips curled up into a malicious and devious grin.

"Paladin," he addressed almost formally, as if greeting another at a fancy dinner party. "I doubted I would ever see you again, especially not right at my mercy." She glared at him, although he only ignored her, his ears even perking up. "It is pleasing to see you once again. I have so much in store for the both of us." His tone was dark and wicked, a tone she did not like.

"It's a pleasure to see you again, too, Sendak," she snarled, baring her teeth like a feral beast. "Here to gloat about having a bounty hunter do your dirty work for you?" With a bit of struggle she managed to pull herself upward again. "How out of character, for a Galra Commander to be afraid of getting his hands dirty. I wonder what Zarkon will-"

Before Pidge could even blink, Sendak had grabbed the back of her neck and slammed her head against the ground. She was momentarily seeing stars, but she quickly shook the sight away. Her foes claws sunk into her nape, holding her firmly to the floor.

"How dare you insult me?" The Galran spat into her ear, his breath hot on her spine. "I am the Commander of the First Fleet of the Galra Empire! How dare you, you insect, shame me with your foul mouth?!" His talons pressed harder into her back, earning him a gasp from his prisoner. "You should watch that tongue of yours, before I decide to tear it out!"

Pidge snapped her jaws shut, her skin paling suddenly. There was a wrongness to not sending back a vicious retort, but she struggled to keep herself silent anyway. As refreshing and pleasurable as angering her enemies was, she was also well aware that she was in a situation where Sendak had the upper hand, and he certainly was the kind of person who would see no drawback in rendering her permanently mute. Considering the fact that she had been the one to foil his entire plan and send him spiraling out of the Galra ranks, that was probably even in his best interest.

"Good." He smiled, pressing his palm down harder on her spine. "It's good to get you used to following orders; you're going to need it when I've brought you back to Central Command and made you my personal servant." Pidge squeaked. The pressure of his hand was becoming increasingly unbearable, so powerful that the Commander threatened snapping her neck.

"Sendak," a quiet voice called, although the Galran paid no attention to it. His focus was entirely on his hand, and the prisoner he was crushing underneath it. He chuckled as she squirmed, flailing for any method of escape.


The Commander finally looked up at the bounty hunter, who was glaring at him judgmentally. "Yes, Ashxi?" He growled. The weight on Pidge's neck instantly released, and she let out a relieved sigh.

"If you exert any more force, you run the risk of killing the poor girl," the bounty hunter explained. "And from what you just said to her, I'm guessing you want her alive for your return to the Empire."

Sendak glared at Ashxi, but his hand still let go of Pidge as he got up. He approached the bounty hunter furiously, until he stood right before her. "It is your duty to find me my prize and to collect your earned bounty," he hissed. "What I do to the Paladin once she is in my possession is none of your concern." He stepped closer, lessening the space between the two, although the bounty hunter had the guts to avoid stepping out of the way. "Remember Fasli. You know your place."

He turned back to Pidge, who was regaining her strength and had managed to climb back onto her knees. "Five vargas," he reminded Ashxi, not turning away from his captive once. "I need to spend some quality time with my prisoner."

Sendak's ship was small, unlike his previously enormous and well armored Battle Cruiser. The ship he brought her to this time was not Galra, and looked more like it had been built out of spare parts then if it were an official military vessel. From the looks of it Pidge guessed that Sendak had found it broken on the planet, and had pieced it together with any pieces he could find.

The ship was made up of three rooms, with a hall connecting them on the left flank of the vehicle. The room in the front of the ship was the flight deck, a fact she knew from her knowledge of spacecraft and of alien machinery. She had no idea what the inside of the middle chamber was, although she could make a weak assumption that it was where the Commander slept (he had to sleep somewhere, right?). The room she was taken to was the last in the back.

The door slid open to reveal little more than a box in the far left corner and a set of shackles in the right. Sendak promptly replaced the ropes with the stronger, more durable metal, ignorant of the fact that the bands were so tight that they pinched her skin.

The Commander shut the door quietly, before he slowly turned his head to meet her. "You killed my lieutenant," he growled, his remaining eye darkening.

"Yes," she snarled, unable to control herself any longer, "I did."

Sendak marched over and slapped her across the face hard. "What makes you think you get to talk to me like that?" He spat. He yanked on her chin, forcing her to look up into his eyes. "You're already in enough trouble; don't make your situation worse. The only way you'll ever be able to control how I treat you is by obeying your master." He squeezed her cheeks between his claws, drawing the tiniest droplets of blood. "So far, you are not treading the right path."

Pidge felt sick. Her heart was torn between two disturbing scenarios: Avoid getting hurt in the hopes that her friends arrive shortly, and through that letting Sendak break her, or fighting back, and losing the only control she had over the situation. She needed to escape, and fast, but there was no way of knowing whether her friends, or anyone really, were coming to find her. She also had no idea how she would contact them when she was trapped on a mostly unfamiliar planet, surrounded by a merciless Commander and an agile bounty hunter.

Sendak dropped her to the floor and moved toward the chest. He pulled it open so that Pidge could see several objects, and more specifically, Pidge realized with a sinking heart, torture devices.

So this is what it's going to be. Pidge gulped, pushing herself back away from the Galran. If Sendak succeeds, and he manages to bring me to Central Command, he… he's going to torture me as punishment. She shivered. He's going to turn me into a human punching bag, no more than a toy he can play with. And this might be my very first taste.

Pidge froze when she spotted the object he pulled out of the box. A brand. The one he held was electric, sparkling with red zaps that made her stomach churn. This is wrong on so many levels, she thought, jerking back when Sendak grabbed her hair and began to search her body for a place to set his mark. To burn something on a living being's skin, like they're no more than an object… it's perverted. It shouldn't exist.

And it's about to happen to me.

He tapped her left cheek. "There," he said, watching her bite her lip nervously. "Why shouldn't my brand adorn your face, letting every commander, officer, and slave know that you are nothing but mine?"

Without hesitation he pressed the brand to her face and pushed the button. Pidge shrieked as hot pain seared her skin, and her head was permanently marred. The agony was terrible, but not as twisted as the realization that she would never look the same again.

The brand was removed, and Pidge immediately collapsed into a fetal position, clutching her legs with a sob. She couldn't control herself, as horrible and pathetic it was to be shedding tears in front of her enemy. She felt miserable, and she couldn't do anything to change it.

Sendak wound his hand around her neck and held her up so that he could observe her. "You can cry as much as you wish, Paladin," he mocked. "It's not going to change anything." He held up a small glass shard to her face so she could bear full witness to the hideous marking she bore on her visage.

Property of Commander Sendak was marked in black, above the insignia of the Galra Empire.

Pidge let out a choked whimper.

He threw her against the wall without warning, leaving her a bruised, bleeding, shaking mess on the floor. "We will be leaving in a few vargas," he announced, regardless of her wounded state. "I must make preparations for the launch." He smirked. "The next time I see you we will have left the atmosphere."

He left, leaving Pidge completely alone.

Pidge guessed that it was approaching time to leave when the door opened once again.

She looked up to see Ashxi, carrying a bowl of warm soup in her hands. She set the meal before the prisoner, and Pidge was both surprised and delighted to notice that the soup was unlike the disgusting prison food the Galra normally gave to their captives. She looked at the bounty hunter warrily, but could not resist the delicious smell of the warm meal, and swiftly slurped it all up.

When she was done she was surprised to see the reptilian alien still there, watching her steadily.

"What's your name?" Ashxi asked, lacking the menace Pidge would have expected from her kidnapper. She was unsure as to whether to answer or not, but the bounty hunter seemed genuinely curious and lacking ulterior motive, so she spoke.

"Um… Pidge," she replied. It was hard to get the answer from her mouth, as she had been crying and was still extremely weakened by Sendak's assaults when the water dweller had entered. Her observer nodded, resembling more a wise mother than she did a merciless mercenary.

"You remind me of my daughter," Ashxi whispered, her eyes beginning to crease sadly. "Your eyes shine with her same curiosity." The bounty hunter turned away, lowering her head in shame.

"Oh?" Pidge wondered, blinking her wide eyes. "What happened to her?" As much as she didn't trust the older alien, but the bounty hunter didn't seem like an evil person. She just looked… sad.

She was worried for a moment that she had upset the mother, but Ashxi opened her mouth. "The inhabitable planets of the Saklis star system had been free of Galra rule, before Sendak landed on Krultch several phoebes ago," the woman murmured. "There were few of us, and we lacked a sizable military on both planets, so it took no time for Sendak to kill our queens and take control of our government." The sea dweller paused for a moment, then continued.

"My daughter had just reached her eighteenth hatchday when the Commander took over," the mother explained. "Sendak wanted us and the rest of our kind, the Phaklians, to expend all our efforts mining Kathlys's Fher, a poisonous ore used as fuel, and building his fortress and ship back on Krultch. Fasli, my little girl, had other plans."

Pidge watched as Ashxi's eyes began to wet with tears.

"Fasli had fallen in love with a kind and handsome young Phaklian named Thorver. Sure, he lacked my daughters intellect, and his humor was fairly stupid, but at least he made me laugh." Ashxi let out a light chuckle. "Anyway, my daughter and Thorver, in spite of all my admonishments, left for the Danera lagoon to elope." The bounty hunter's smile suddenly faded. "They were the very first to die from the pollution from the Fher Sendak wanted us to mine."

Pidge looked at her sorrowfully. That's so horrible, she thought, watching the mother fold her hands together tenderly. To lose your daughter and her fiancé in one fell swoop, to have your home infested with poisonous pollution because of Galra ignorance-

"About 90% of the planet is intoxicated with Fher and the bioluminescent algae it's producing," Ashxi whispered. "Any longer than ten doboshes breathing the infected water will kill you, and at best leave you paralyzed for the rest of your life. So far, the privileged Phaklians have managed to buy themselves a trip out of the solar system, and the rest…" The Phaklian wiped the tears from her eyes. "I am the only one of my kind left on the planet still living. My people are at the gates to extinction, with not a single chance at escape. My plan, my only plan left, is to earn enough GAK to buy my escape from this planet, before the poison suffocates me, too."

And the GAK she needs to escape from here… is from my bounty, Pidge realized. I'm her last hope, her last chance at survival. It's either me or her. In fact, I'm willing to bet that if she stays even one more quintant she could die. If the poison killed off almost an entire population in a few phoebes… then she could even die later today if she's unlucky.

She's suffered so, so much. She deserves to live more than me. Then at least she has a chance of carrying the story of her people to future generations.

"I grieve for Fasli and Thorver," Ashxi sighed. "Thorver would have been such a good husband; he had such a big heart."

"He sounds like Lance," Pidge added. Ashxi urged her to explain with a brisk nod of her head.

"He's just another human who I happen to have a crush on," the prisoner stated with a saddened bark of laughter. "Not that it matters; he's in love with someone else, and he's not going to see me again, anyway." A single tear slid down her face, from her inevitable predicament, the brand that seared her skin,


Ashxi wiped the tear from her face. "Don't give up, little Pidge," she comforted. "Don't give up." The bounty hunter darted out the door before any more words could be said.

After another vargas, an explosion echoed through the ship, startling Pidge out of her slumber. The thunderous sound was followed by fast and quick gunshots, and then the taps of feet down the metal hall. Her body was weak, and screamed at her to heal more, but she forced herself to look up for the keys clicking on the door, and the silhouette that appeared from the hall's light.


"Pidge!" He cried. He wrapped her up in his arms in a tight embrace, lifting her into the air and spinning her around happily. He was happy, happy to find her. She would have been more gleeful if it hadn't been for all the twisted things that had just taken place. "I was so worried, we all were! I'm so glad that Sendak didn't-"

He stopped abruptly when his eyes caught onto the brand she wore on her face. It took him a moment to even be able to speak and his face turned abnormally white. "No-" he whispered, his breath hitching. "No, no, no, no-" Pidge grimaced as her friend looked over her beaten, bloodied form that was barely clinging onto wakefulness and her tear stained eyes. "I can't believe- I can't have- No, Pidge, please no!"

He grabbed her before she could completely fall down, no longer able to hold herself up. "L-Lance," she gasped, "I… I."

Her eyes locked onto his own, his beautiful ocean blue ones, awash with a wave of terror like she had never seen in him. She wondered how he had found her- no wait, it had to have been Ashxi, it had to. I hope she's okay, Pidge's mind managed to mumble. There was so much she wanted to say, but her strength could only muster a few words, a few very important words that she should have told him long ago.

"I-I love you."


Pidge slipped out of consciousness, leaving Lance to contemplate the terrible things Sendak had done to Pidge and the actions just narrowly avoided… and her words.