It's the first time they've been allowed in the same room all together. But no one is happy. The dark arena is empty except for Zarkon's inner circle lounging in the seats, four prisoners stiff with wide eyes on the two in the ring.

Zarkon had wanted to assess the abilities of his paladins accurately.

And for a proper test…Zarkon made sure that they each have the appropriate incentives.

Out of all them, this test might be the vilest, which is saying a bloody lot because Lance's and Hunk's were…pretty monstrous.

For Lance, Zarkon had ordered for ten prisoners to bound around the neck with long thick ropes. The ropes were connected to a pulley on the ceiling. Lance then would be given ten seconds to shoot the ropes before Zarkon gave the signal to pull.

Nine out of ten the ropes snapped quickly under Lance's desperation, but the last shot was a bit wide. He fought recklessly when his bayard was torn from him, screaming, "Wait. I hit it. I know I hit it. STOP."

But that didn't stop Zarkon from giving the order. That didn't stop the choked whine and full-bodied squirm when the rope jerked its victim off the floor.

Five feet. Ten feet.

Luckily Lance shot off enough of a piece that the rope broke under the prisoner's weight.

Zarkon complimented Lance on his marksmanship as he started to hyperventilate. "Congratulations, you're still their hero." Only Pidge, rubbing his back over and over, could get Lance to fill his lungs with a solid breath.

Then it was Hunk's turn.

Hunk's task was different. "You are meant to destroy." Zarkon said trailing a claw on the yellow gun. "To obliterate your foes in a blast to protect your team and meet your objective."

A group of five is escorted in the center of the arena. Similar in facial features and form. It's a family. No, please, please no. "The father tried to steal from one of our venues, after we gave him an opportunity for his business to flourish. He has been taken care of…but I will give you a chance to spare his family. I will give you a chance to save them."

He snaps his fingers and it feels like almost a hundred drones flood the arena to surround the family on the outskirts of the ring. The largest of the figures, perhaps the mother, wraps her arms around as many of the others as she can. "All you have to do is stop the drones from reaching them." Zarkon's voice is so soft but the next snap is so unbearably loud.

The family drops to the floor on their knees as Hunk shoots and shoots and shoots. The gun rips into waves and waves of robots as they get close, but not too close to the group. The smallest of the family is crying, wailing as the flashes sizzle over their heads. Sometimes a shot would graze one of the family members as it annihilates an assailant making their way from behind. Hunk's face is wet, but somehow he's still able to aim as Zarkon commands more to enter and attack.

"P-please s-stop." Hunk's voice is the shakiest thing. "I-isn't it e-enough? S-stop."

"You can stop anytime you like. But I cannot guarantee their safety if you do."

"YOU MONSTER!" Lance cries, his eyes flashing and his spirit revived. How dare they hurt his friend, his bro like this? A Galra guard butts him with the end of their weapon, stunning him momentarily.

Pidge holds up an arm and swallows, "Zarkon…We all know that your droids are expendable pieces of garbage, but your current loss is 254."

"Hmm," the pause is disgustingly long, "I suppose that amount is an adequate show of skill." He waves a hand to end the onslaught. "You succeeded in your goal, well done."

Hunk doesn't say anything. Just stares blankly at the family his finger still on the trigger, just in case.

"They are no longer in danger, I swear. I promise. Yet I would not be opposed to you seeing them home. Their colony is not far from here, would you like that Paladin?"

"Y-yes." Hunk says hollowly. If he can do right by this family, these people, maybe he could be all right.

The emperor nods, "Then I will make arrangements." The colony is one of their finest. With the right silver-tongued general and a few orchestrated events the Yellow Paladin could be an excellent icon of the empire.

So yeah, the first two tests are brutal, but this one? This one is personal.

A sword shrieks against metal and a grunt echoes in the silence. One of the combatants is tiring. The white streak in his hair is matted with sweat. At the beginning of the match, he had landed some hits that brought the two opponents close enough for a whisper to be shared. But it doesn't seem to have softened the blows of the Galra soldier at all.

No. The person who could only be Keith had only fought harder. More viciously.

It was starting to get cruel as Shiro went on the defensive, dodging right and left to gain an inch of space. He refuses to hurt Keith. The new Galra screamed in frustration at the lack of action, showing a set of sharp fangs. He possessed the same lavender fur, the same glowing yellow eyes, but the mullet made him stand apart as one of their own.

Like some kind of prized dog, he was last paladin to be brought out. They finally got to see him and…

"Would you like to know what the Red Paladin is fighting for?" Zarkon savors the expressions of his captive audience members. He can taste how close they are to that edge. Once their pride is broken, they'll be much more malleable. "If he wins, the Champion will be transferred from Haggar to his own cell unit. She will unfortunately be unable to continue her research on him," He shrugs nonchalantly, "Yet that's what she waged in our little bet."

"A bet?" Despite the bruise on his chin, Lance hasn't lost his smart mouth. "You twisted piece of-" Zarkon turns towards him and Hunk lunges over to cover his mouth. Barely muffling the end of Lance's extremely important sentence.

"A-and what does Shiro get if he w-wins?" Hunk manages to push the words out.

Zarkon smiles benevolently. "Then I must allow Haggar to attempt to find a way to restore the young Galra to his previous state."

It's a lose-lose situation that no one can root for. No one wants Shiro to stay under Haggar's knife, but if Keith isn't careful, he's going to accidently cut Shiro in half.

"You know, the Red Paladin is truly determined. He's already proven to be a perfect soldier, yet he even suggested to fight for the crowd tomorrow." Zarkon's eyes seem to glint in contemplation. "A tad sentimental to be sure, but he aims to earn the right to transfer you all. To reunite you all together. He has nothing to be ashamed of, yet he possesses the notion that he needs to prove himself to each of you."

"He doesn't need to prove anything!" Lance violently interrupts. "Keith's fine the way he is, freaking batty purple ears and all."

"Of course. Too bad he won't hear you say that until he wins you."

"You-" The guttural response is cut off by a cry in the ring.

The sound makes the paladins jump to their feet. Shiro and Keith dart back and forth, the end of the fight is nigh.

"Please take your seats," Zarkon demands with a gesture, "The match isn't over yet."

With a look to the guards, Hunk and Lance do. Pidge doesn't. She remains standing, hands tight on the rail in front of her, even when her guard comes to reprimand her.

Placing a claw-tipped hand on the back of her neck, Sendak growled.

Pidge growled back. She tried to shake it off, but the grip remained firm. Slowly Sendak began to press down.


"I prefer to stand," Pidge grits out teeth bared as her legs starting to shake from the pressure. How she longs to dig her nails into his stupid purple hide. Yeah, they're not exactly talons, but Pidge had been biting them ragged and sharp. Surely they could make a groove or two. Surely they could do something. Anything to rip off his filthy, patronizing hold.

"Katie." her father softly calls in the seat next to her, "Please…sit down." Two drones shift behind ready, always ready.

And she folds like a palace of cards.

Disgusting. Her eyes feel hot, but Pidge blinks rapidly. Just because the Galra have exactly what they need to play her like a fiddle doesn't mean she'll let give them the satisfaction of seeing her break. Pidge manages not to flinch when Sendak rubs a proprietary thumb over her collarbone possessively. She snarls and hears a sound that could possibly be called a purr.

She hates and waits.

Zarkon watches the exchange and nods. When Sendak made the request to place the Green Paladin under his care, he had been somewhat apprehensive. After all, the pilot is the most fragile of the group. Even compared to other females of their inferior race, Ms. Holt would be considered petite. Not that her size matters, they truly met the Green Lion's requirement of a fascinating mind and already Zarkon is becoming quite fond of them. The possibilities of Galra technology advancing further, the campaigns the Empire will be able to pursue with the use of cloaking, are delightful.

A few months with the…right motivation will produce marvelous results.

Zarkon admits he did consider placing the Champion as Ms. Holt's bodyguard, Haggar has finished the safety measures on him after all, but Sendak has proven to be a pleasant alternative. The Galra Commander puts the future of the Empire beyond anything else, even his abused pride. Then again, what better revenge than for the girl to replace Sendak's dead technician? To be able to force her into cooperation?

It is a good match. His strongest with their smartest.

A flash and Shiro falls to one knee a hand pressing his leg. Keith stands over him panting as he points his sword at Zarkon. It's bloody.

"I've done my part, now you do yours!" He shouts.

The Champion is still conscious." Zarkon blankly states.

Shiro mutters something only the two can hear that causes Keith to turn and glare. Then he raises his weapon and sends Shiro crashing down with the flat of the blade.

The team flinches at the sight and Pidge's heart hurts. Hurts when Shiro is dragged off the field. Hurts when Keith turns to them, his mouth tight daring them to say something. Anything. But he follows the Galra that takes their leader away, hopefully making sure that Zarkon keeps his part of the bargain.

"It is our turn, Paladin."

"Us? Alone…Finally." When Pidge pushes up, Sendak's fingers tighten slightly and then let up. As if showing that the only reason Pidge can get up is because Sendak allows her to do so.

What an asshole.

She marches past her frozen father and Zarkon, who's always watching, when a warm hand grabs hers and tugs softly. It's Lance.

"Be careful." He croaks. Lance's bronze skin is drained to an unnatural pallor. His eyes dart to the arena and back to her face.

"I will." Pidge twists her expression into something more reassuring and squeezes his fingers. "Besides, I'm gonna wipe the floor with him."

"One can only hope," Sendak approaches with her bayard. He tosses it to her and she snatches it in midair. "I have no patience to give you rudimentary training."

"What? Cutting off your arm the first time didn't prove anything to you?" She mocks scornfully.

"Tch, as if anything from that battle could be considered a measure of your competence."

"It's a shame the same couldn't be said about your abilities, Commander." They walk down the stairs to the ring. Stepping over the robot debris that's spewed across the arena to stand face to face.

"You mean my ability to best four paladins until you cheated by containing me?" His smirk twists, "Zarkon isn't the only one who enjoys a wager. In fact, if you somehow manage to land three hits on me, why don't we collect your dear brother?"

Pidge chances a glance at her worried father. If they could get Matt back…if they could get Matt here…

"That is of course, if your brother is still alive. The dust from the mines can be quite toxic."

He snaps his arm up quickly, but her hookshot sings as it hits his armor.

"One." She says and activates the electric feature.

The shock sizzles; the smell of burnt fur puts a smile on her face. "One? Fine, one you little brat." The fight begins with a roar.

They spar rapidly, the two almost dancing around the ring. Sendak is strong, has years of military experience and can snap her like a twig. His mechanical hand crashes hard making craters only inches away from her.

But Pidge is fast and small. Small enough that she's learned to play dirty, which she excels in.

She feints right and slides underneath his leg to aim for the joint on the back of the knee. If she had a bit more muscle she could dislocate it. Dang it. But punching the tip of her bayard in that soft flesh is satisfying enough.

"Hey look? Two." And tries to dart away…unfortunately Sendak has some moves of his own to share. He pivots and brings back a leg to punt her over ten meters. Wow, so that's what a bruised rib feels like, how fantastic.

"Perhaps, but do you really think you can beat me?" He scoffs rushing her. He enjoys batting the child across the floor to land in more machine parts. She'll be valuable to the empire one day, but for now how fitting it is for trash to lie with trash.

Pidge meanwhile almost has what she needs. "Nope, but I don't have to. I just need one more hit, remember?"

"One that you will not get." His moves become so liquid she can't duck out of the way in time. Sendak sends her bayard flying. His prosthetic grabs her, engulfs her and she tries not to scream at the way her ribs are in agony.

"Pidge!" Lance and Hunk screech from their seats. Aw, and she had wanted to look cool here.

"Ah. I've dreamt of this." His metal hand tightening, "Of squeezing until there's no air left in your lungs. To watch you gasp until your eyes plead for a relief I will not give."

"Fuck. You." Pidge wheezes, if she could just get a hand free.

"I cannot believe I'm saying this, but I'm glad Zarkon captured you before I could kill you." Sendak leans down until he can breathe into Pidge's ear. "This technique leaves little lasting damage and I can watch this precious expression over and over again every time we spar-"

Pidge's teeth snap close, but he jerks away before she could land a bite.

"Adorable." He patronizingly coos. Then let's out a surprised grunt.

Her arms are pinned but she was still able to turn her wrist to stab a broken metal shard into a bare shoulder just fine. The field is riddled with droid parts after all. Very convenient.

"Three." She spits in his face.

His grimace goes from annoyed pain to amusement. "Ha. Three indeed. Very well, we'll make plans to chart our course when you finally wake. Congratulations, Ms. Holt."

He lifts the hand around her up a few inches only knock her body, her head sharply down on the ground. It's effective. His ugly mug is the last thing in her vision as it goes dim…and black.

She really hates that guy.

When she comes to, the cell remains the same as she left it. Bare metal on all sides like a box without even a pallet to rest on. Any small comforts, according to the Garla, must be earned. The only light comes from a tiny slot in the door that's used by the guards to view their prisoners. It's the same violet that's starting to make Pidge want to throw up.

But she's alone. Her father is kept in a cell far from here, only brought to her for 'good' behavior or for persuasion. Sometimes he'll even prompt her to work with those freaks. Probably threatened into it but still...

Yet there are some perks of being absolutely alone. The Galra do not put surveillance in the cells, waste of resources as they have too many prisoners, therefore she can work without fear of being watched.

She reaches into the cavity of her chest that her bodysuit usually covers. The space there is small, she can almost hear Lance – shut up Lance, but perfect if you need to shove something in there to hide.

Like droid parts.

It'll take a while. A while for Keith to get them all together. A while to make a plan. A while for certain devices to be prepared. But for now? Pidge has her part to play.

Huh, what is it the Galra always say? Her grin flashes in the gloom.

Oh yeah, Victory or Death.

Hmmm…She could get behind that.

Notes: I've been playing with this idea in my head a while. Where Zarkon needs the paladins in order to form Voltron so instead of killing them…he strives to break and convert them. I even wrote a post about it that you can find here: post/147736338488/dark-paladins-au Of course in this fic, I wanted to leave a bit of hope of either the gang escaping or destroying the Galra from the inside.

This is probably the darkest thing I've never written, but dunno writing a different genre for me is freaking. hard. I might continue but this could be a good stopping spot too.

Oh. And my friend pointed out that it almost sounds like Sendak and Pidge are flirting at the beginning of their scene? Well….no? Not exactly? It's more of Pidge coping with snark and Sendak (and Zarkon) find the paladin somewhat adorable in her tiny bloodthirsty glory. Sendak basically wants to control and own her cause she's the sharpest tool in the shed.