How To Drown In the Desert

Summary: Conducting a diplomatic mission on a nearby planet, Shiro and Allura have to pretend to be married to build rapport with the locals. Easier said than done―especially when they just happen to be secretly in love with each other. Fake relationship AU
Rating: High T for possible sexual scenes later on, possible language, etc.
Timeline: post-season 1 finale, about a year later. Disregards all of future season 2, obviously.
Pairings: Shallura, very mild Klance

for rolierose,
who's comic inspired this story.


Allura, like most Alteans, respected privacy. It was an important component of any relationship, having sturdy boundaries. One would never walk in on another Altean cleaning their ears, after all, and many acts like changing and bathing that were commonplace among many species―but now being one of two Alteans left, she couldn't help but wonder how Earthlings could be so incredibly comfortable with each other in those private acts.

Lance and Hunk kept the bathroom door open when it was the two of them, and Keith would wear Lance's baggy shirts whenever they were doing laundry and had none of his own. And the whole team, Shiro included, would carry Pidge back to bed when they fell asleep, the blue glow of their tablet illuminating their face. It was a kind of intimacy, a show of vulnerability, that was nearly foreign to her by now. She couldn't always let her guard down around Coran, even, when he looked to her for leadership the way he did, even though he was technically her advisor. How was it that the Paladins did so with ease around one another?

Coran didn't seem to share her curiosity. "They're Earthlings, princess," he had said in regards to her questions. "Of course they're going to do things differently than we do. Besides," he stroked at his mustache, "it just means they're comfortable with each other. A bonding experience of sorts."

If it was team bonding, she'd just have to get used to it. And she did.

She got used to finding her Paladins piled on top of each other, snoring and sleeping peacefully after a long day. They stole each other's food and clothing―there wasn't much to go around, in that regard―in between missions and training. The closer they became, the easier time they had forming Voltron, and the stronger their bond was, the stronger Voltron could fight.

She had no complaints, even if her curiosity never really went away.

"Have you noticed it?" she asked Shiro one day.

She had found him wandering the castle, as they were both prone to do on sleepless nights. They had gotten used to staying up with one another in a gentle kind of silence. This night was no different, sitting side by side in the observatory room, the outer ceiling peeled back, revealing all the glory of the stars behind thick layers of see-through glass.

"The bond between you and the other Paladins is getting stronger," she told him.

"We're getting better," he confirmed, sounding relieved. He tore his eyes away from the stars. "I guess if anyone knew how to measure strength, it'd be you." A soft smile played at his lips as they both thought to the time she had thrown him across a room to safety, even if the circumstances had been hardly humourous when it was happening.

She didn't know exactly when it had started, but she had been paying a lot of attention to his lips lately. It was rather distracting.

She smiled at him. "You're a good leader, Shiro."

A light pink dusted his cheeks, easier to see in the dark because of the untouched line of his scar across the bridge of his nose. "Not as good as you."

"I was trained for it since birth. You were thrust into this rather suddenly..." Her eyes dropped to his arm, and the white shock of hair that fell across his forehead. She had never known him as anything else, but it was still all too easy to imagine the man he had been, a tad less serious and far happier, without the weight of the universe on his shoulders. A weight she had given him. "Do you ever regret it? Becoming a paladin of Voltron?"

Shiro studied her for a moment. "No," he said quietly. "I wouldn't be able to rest anyway, knowing that Zarkon and the Galra are hurting more people the same way they hurt me. After what they did to Pidge's family. At least I'm doing something, now. Besides, if I wasn't a paladin... I never would have met you."

Her breath caught in her throat.

"Or Coran or the boys or Pidge," Shiro added hastily, but it didn't make the blush on her cheeks fade. He forced his gaze back up to the sky, his eyes shining with starlight. He gave a huge yawn, burying it in the crook of his arm. "It's late," he said drowsily, moving to his feet. He offered her a hand. "We should probably get to bed."

She let her fingers linger in his before letting go. "Good night Shiro. Thank you for speaking with me."

"Always a pleasure, princess."

So yes, Allura respected privacy, and boundaries, and reputations, and everything else that she was supposed to, keeping up barriers between herself and the other paladins. She was their leader in equal regards to Shiro, after all, which was maybe why it was a little easier to let him in and see her as something other than the strong, capable woman she usually was. She was safe with him, and she appreciated it more than she could ever tell him.

Still, letting him escort her back to her room teetered on a kind of intimacy she hadn't had for a very long time, and she wondered if he knew it. If he cared.

Her hand rested on the doorknob for a moment, and he smiled at her. Her heart fluttered like butterfly wings, swooping and soaring over fields of juniberries.

"Sleep well, princess," he said happily.

She returned the smile. "You too, Shiro."

So yes, Allura respected privacy, and the boundaries she had set for herself―especially in regards to her relationship with Shiro.

Which is why she couldn't believe she had forgotten to knock on his door the following morning. She simply barged in like a madwoman, her hair swept away from her eyes in a large bun, a tablet in hand.

"Hey Shiro," she kept one hand on the doorway of his room once the doors slid open for her. She could go anywhere she pleased in the castle, the whole ship tied to her life-force. She kept her eyes glued to the tablet, going over the information written on it. "Coran gave me some coordinates from a planet nearby, and we need a little more information about it." She lifted her eyes from the tablet, quickly scanning his bedroom. He wasn't asleep, or on the floor doing pushups the way he usually was. "So we need you to―"

Shiro was standing next to his bed, shirtless, with a towel draped over the back of his neck. He must have been training, as there were beads of sweat collecting on his jaw and chest, one hand rubbing the damp towel into the back of his sweaty neck.

Allura's brain short-circuited.

"―" Her voice died in her throat and for a second she just let herself gawk at him. He was far more than lean muscle, his body well defined and chiseled, the lines of his stomach and chest and arms hard and strong.

Shiro blushed furiously, eyes widening in alarm once he caught sight of her. "Princess? I'm sorry," he choked out. "I-I didn't hear you calling. I'll be ready in a minute."

Still, she stared at him. Self-consciousness crawled up his throat. Was it his scars? He knew there were scattered all over his body, long and pink and ugly, risen lines of marred flesh. A sign of his torture at Galra hands. Or was it his arm, completely barred, and she could see the place where metal met skin?

"A-Allura?" he very nearly squeaked. "Princess?"

She seemed to snap out of it, her cheeks reddening as she held the tablet up to cover the lower half of her face, and he realized she was embarrassed, but not disgusted. A wave of relief broke over him, despite everything. He didn't think he could stand it if Allura looked at him as though he was ugly.

"Oh yeah!" she said quickly. "It's okay, I just wanted to share some muscles with you, but if you are busy, it's abbs―" She caught her second slip up, even as her heartbeat just kept on increasing. She plastered on an easy going smile and hoped she didn't look as flustered as she felt. "Absolutely fine by me." She started edging back into the hallway, and out the door. "Anyway―take your time, I'll be in the main hallway if you need something, goodbye!"

She couldn't have gotten out of there fast enough. Cheeks burning and head spinning, she speed-walked down to the main hallway, and held the tablet up to her flaming face. Muscles? Abs?! What was wrong with her, babbling like an idiot? What had she been thinking? It was just Shiro―Shiro, all tall and broad shouldered, skin taut with muscle and―

Stars above, she needed help. Shiro was her friend, and the leader of the Voltron, and her friend, and that's all he could ever be, all they could afford to be. They had so many other things going on. She had thought her feelings were small enough that she could just let them out in small ways, but clearly, they were far stronger than she had realized. She had to bury them, deep down.

But first, to get herself, under control so she wouldn't be so flustered the next time she saw her friend.

By the time Shiro met her in the main hallway of the palace, Allura had done her best to compose herself, even if she couldn't quite look in him eye. Nor could she really look at him at all without remembering the view she had walked in on, a broad, strong chest and stomach and arms, finely defined with muscle. There were hardly anything that could render the princess of Altea speechless, but Shiro's―what was the Earthling term Lance had used (even if it had been grumbled in regards to Keith)? Oh, yes―Shiro's hotness was apparently one of them.

The tips of her ears were still burning as he joined her, his gaze downwards instead of the friendly greeting she was used to. Well, maybe it was better for her own self, but it still rubbed her the wrong way. Was he ashamed she had caught him in an incriminating state? She didn't know how much Earthlings were affected by things like nudity; perhaps there were large differences between them and Alteans. Or had she embarrassed him by her reaction, staring and stuttering like a fool? Why hadn't she just knocked? What was that saying about Alteans and privacy again?―oh yes, The fool who doesn't knock is always taken by surprise.

Stars above, she was a complete and utter fool. Now she couldn't even look at him without turning into a blushing mess!

"Ah, Shiro," Coran greeted, smoothing over his mustache, with a tablet in his other hand. If he sensed the awkwardness between his two friends, he didn't show it. "Excellent, now that you're here we can begin. We're looking at a planet not far from here, less than a day's journey. It's an extremely hot atmosphere, full of sand and little water. Does Earth have any similar terrains?"

"In smaller amounts, yes," Shiro answered. Allura tried not to watch the way his mouth moved, or the broad muscles of his arms as he crossed them over his chest. His shirt was awfully, wonderfully tight. "We call them deserts."

Coran looked pleased. "Marvellous. The people in question are known as sand-dwellers nowadays, and well―their physical form is hard to describe, so I'll let that be a surprise―and their planet has been drained of all water by Zarkon so his massive empire can survive without leaving their war ships while travelling. So we're going to try and take over one of the last water supplies ships, and return the water to the people. With Lance's ice powers he'll be especially vulnerable, and Keith's lion's fire powers will be especially powerful, so I trust you'll know how to work that into our advantages. Now, Princess―"

The princess perked up, trying to make it look like she had been listening. And she had, just perhaps not as attentively as she should have been. How could she, really, when Shiro was barely an arm's reach away, and so incredibly distracting.

"The sand-dwellers are mistrustful of any and all foreigners, so with your diplomatic expertise, it would be wise for you to accompany the Paladins on this mission. I'll stay back at the castle."

Allura nodded. "The plan you have proposed seems to be the best way forward, Coran."

"There's one more thing: the locals are incredibly traditional and we need to build our trust. In their eyes, the rest of the Paladins, Pidge excluded, are nearing marrying age. You two are well over, so in order to establish a bond, it would be best if you two were, to well," Coran's voice teetered, "act like a married couple with the paladins as your charges."

Allura's throat went dry and she felt her cheeks burn as she stared at Coran. She quickly cleared her throat. She was a professional, a trained diplomat and the princess of Altea. She could do this. She would just bury her feelings deep down and put the mission ahead. Hopefully it would be a rather short time period, anyway, and then everything could go back to normal.

"I have no problems with the suggestion, so long as it is for diplomatic purposes," she said, pleased with how smoothly it came out. She turned to the other half of the plan, and her voice faltered a bit. "S-Shiro?"

She could see red colouring his own cheeks and felt a little relieved. At least he was a tad flustered, too. "Like you said," he shrugged. "I don't have a problem with it."

At least he didn't find the idea of being with her revolting, she thought hopefully, and then squashed it. She wasn't supposed to be hoping for anything―she was supposed to be ignoring her feelings, not encouraging them. Whatever those feelings were, exactly. She still hadn't quite figured it out.

"For the good of the mission, right?" Shiro finished.

Coran smiled and clasped his hands together, looking far too pleased with himself. "Then it's settled. You'll be leaving in the morning." He picked up his tablet, closing down the hologram of the planet, and tucking it under his arm, standing up to take his leave. He started striding down the main hallway when he paused and turned back. "Oh, and you two, I don't know why you're so embarrassed―it's not like they actually expect you to have intercourse."

He chuckled at their stricken, red faces, and Allura buried her face in her hands. She forced her fingers apart, not looking at Shiro as she spoke. "I think it would be best if we never spoke of this again?"

Shiro cleared his throat. "Agreed," he whispered, a deep rumbling sound that did nothing to help her current situation.

Allura slowly removed her hands from her face. "I suppose I better go brief the team on what's been decided. We'll need their help to keep up the charade."

Shiro frowned slightly. He had a feeling Lance would be all too helpful.

"I will find you later, alright?" Allura said before leaving, and Shiro nodded.

They couldn't look at each other during dinner.

At quarter to midnight, the Black Paladin heard a knock on his door.

Everyone else in the castle, even the mice, and Pidge (he had taken away their electronics just in case they decided to stay up hacking instead) was fast asleep, except for him. For once, it hadn't been nightmares running through his mind, but far more pleasant thoughts: Allura, with her flowing hair soft like starlight. He hadn't known she could blush that much; and just when he thought she couldn't get any cuter, she proved him wrong.

And now they were going to pretend they were married. For who knows how long.

God, he was so completely screwed.

The quiet rap of knuckles across his door almost came as a relief, if he hadn't already known who was on the other side. Not that he didn't want to see the princess―he always wanted to see her!―but he wasn't sure he was ready for it yet.

Still, he opened his door and greeted her with a small smile. She had never visited him in his room before, but it was as tidy as could be. Some nights he didn't use his bed at all, his back too used to the cold floors of prison cells to relax on such a soft mattress.

"Is there anything I can help you with, princess?" Shiro asked.

Allura walked briskly into his room, wringing her hands. "I think so, yes," she said, sounding nervous in a way he had never heard before. She wouldn't look at him. "Given our mission tomorrow, and what it asks of us, I think it would be wise to make a plan. To lay down some boundaries."

"We may have to adjust, however," Shiro said, far more calmly. "The sand-dwellers actions of intimacy may be different than humans or Alteans."

"Yes of course," said Allura absentmindedly, "I just think―" She caught sight of his face, scrunched up in quiet alarm, and faltered. "I'm being quite foolish aren't I?"

"Not foolish," he said gently. "Just nervous. I'm nervous too. I think some ground rules would be smart too. So, um... handholding. Is that okay?"

Allura nodded, the tension slowly ebbing away. "Yes. Yes, I'm alright that. And―and kissing?" She hoped she wasn't blushing.

"We could probably get away with just cheek kisses," Shiro said softly. "Or maybe brief ones in public once in a while? I doubt they'll want to see people―er, aliens, making out in public anyway."

She smiled nervously. "Yes of course. And, in Altean culture, married couples wear rings, fairly elaborate with matching colours."

"Humans wear rings too," he explained. "Although they're more simple. I'm sure we can find a compromise." He smiled a bit. "Is there anything else you want to go over?"

Finally relaxing, she grinned broadly at him. "I believe I will be at ease, now. Thank you Shiro." Her eyes crinkled, and she felt affection swell up inside her. "If I had to be fake-married to anyone, I am glad that it is you."

Shiro looked at her with an odd, somehow fond expression. His throat was tight as he replied, "Yeah. Me too."

If he was lucky, maybe he could get through this week without falling more in love with her. And if he wasn't stupid, maybe he could get through this week without blurting it out.

His heart sank as she left.

Luck had never been on his side in anything but the gladiator ring in Zarkon's prison, and even then he had been knocked out far too many times. He knew how it felt, the wind getting knocked out of him, his heart pounding. Except rather than fear, Allura made him feel safe and electrified all at once.

And despite having never fallen in love before, he knew when he was around her, it felt an awful lot like drowning. Forgetting how to breathe and think, and not wanting to remember. (And he was an expert at knowing what he wanted to forget.)

Then again, he thought to himself, lying on his bed and trying to doze off, it would be difficult to drown in a desert.