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And So I Dub Thee Unforgiven

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“Shiro!” Keith cried, panting, as he ran to the Black Lion. Lance and Pidge weren’t far behind and Hunk, Allura, and Coran were only seconds slower, pounding footsteps echoing in the hangar bay while they approached. Black was mostly unresponsive, but was apparently aware enough to open her pilot doors; it was empty. The Black Bayard was stuck in the weapon’s slot, but the rest of the cockpit was desolate and empty, devoid of even the lights Black should have on whenever there was life in the cockpit.

“He’s gone,” Lance breathed, shocked and terrified. Whatever he had been expecting, this was worse. If he had been hurt, they could fix him. If he was dead, then at least there would be a body. This was… nothing . Shiro was missing, and there was nothing any of them could do about it.

“How can he just be gone?!” Pidge demanded, shock and rage warring in her voice. “I-I mean, that’s just not… not possible, right?!” Her voice cracked, but no one responded. “C-Coran? It… it’s not possible, right?”

“I don’t know,” Coran said, voice hushed as he watched the empty cockpit with a broken expression. “I… I don’t know, I’m sorry.”

Hunk was silent, and Allura seemed too shocked to respond. Lance turned, planning on saying something to comfort her, when the princess whirled around soundlessly and left the room, shoulders trembling as she left. “Someone should… someone should go after her,” Hunk murmured, still looking rather shell-shocked.

“Right. Right, I-…” Keith spoke up, then fell silent, turning from the cockpit of the Black Lion, unshed tears in his eyes and fear on his face warring with something else, though Lance couldn’t pinpoint what it was. His footsteps didn’t falter as he left the hangar, and Lance knew that despite that, he was struggling to keep going. Shiro’s disappearance was sure to be a huge shock to Keith, since he knew that those two were close, almost brothers.

Before long, Pidge and Hunk had left, too, and Coran was left standing next to Lance, both equally lost. “I’m going to go check up on the others,” Coran said quietly, squeezing Lance’s shoulder before turning to go. “You should go get some rest, Lance. It’s been a long day.”

Lance nodded in response, but he stayed still, watching the Black Lion until he heard the door shut behind Coran. He sighed, straightening before stepping into the cockpit. “I know I’m not Shiro,” he mumbled to Black, “but I’m gonna take the bayard out. I guess that it can’t be that comfortable.” Lance removed the weapon, putting it on the seat. “I…. I’m not your paladin. But I know that this has to be as hard for you as it is for the rest of us. I hope he’s safe, girl. And I promise we’re going to get him back.” Lance didn’t even know if Shiro was alive, but it was too much to think about not being able to get their leader back. He needed to say it aloud, just as much as he was sure Black liked to hear it.  “We’ll get him back, I promise.” He pressed his forehead to the lion’s jaw, sighing softly before he left the hangar.

The next day, or the next few hours that seemed to stretch on into a day at least, left them despondent. None of the paladins interacted with one another, nor they with either Altean. The first time they were all together in the same room, Allura spoke up. “I know that this is a difficult time for all of us,” she began, looking towards Keith and sharing a look with the red paladin. “But we cannot let Shiro’s disappearance become common knowledge. This means that, as unfortunate as it is, we must make… changes.”

“What kind of changes,” Pidge asked, brow furrowed as she rubbed at her sleep-circled eyes. “Like… piloting the Lions? Or… who pilots the lions?”

Allura hesitated, a frown tugging on her lips and furrowing her brows as she nodded. “After the wormhole collapsed,” she started, twisting her hands nervously. “After the wormhole collapsed, Shiro came to me and admitted to a scare that he had. Being injured made him realize that any one of us could be… could no longer be able to assist in fighting the Galra. Including him. He told me that… should something happen to him, he wanted Keith to take his place in the Black Lion, and as the leader of Vol-“

“No! No way,” Lance cried, standing abruptly and shaking his head. “No. Shiro doesn’t get to do that, he’s not here right now. Besides, if anyone should lead us while Shiro isn’t here, it should be you, princess-“

“No, Lance.” Allura’s voice was stern, and her eyes glistened in the light. “This was… It was Shiro’s decision. And there’s no guarantee that the Black Lion would even accept me as a paladin. Instead, I will need to take over another lion. As the Blue Lion is the most accepting of a new paladin, you will move to the Red Lion until we find Shiro and I will take over as the Blue paladin,” Allura said.

Lance stared at her, eyes hollow. Already standing, he shook his head, turning. “No. No way.”

“Lance, you’ve got to admit that you’re more like Keith than any of us,” Pidge reasoned, sympathy in her voice – or was it merely pity that sounded like sympathy?

“More like- Are you kidding me?! The princess is more like Keith than I am,” he protested, anger in his eyes, though they were empty of any real emotion. It was a hollow sort of anger, a resigned protest that he knew would make no difference.

“Lance, you are a paladin of Voltron. I expect you to be able to make sacrifices just like the rest-“

“Whatever,” Lance said bitterly, taking his bayard off of his hip before tossing it to the table. “I’ll just replace him again,” he muttered under his breath, leaving the room and holding back tears. Was he destined to always be a screw-up? To always be runner-up, second best to Keith? Was he truly the seventh wheel he had fearfully admitted to thinking he was to that ‘yupper’ while trying to rescue Slav?

The fact that no one came after him to say anything seemed to hurt worse than being told that he wasn’t allowed to stay in Blue. He knew that it had just been the other paladins and Allura in the dining hall, that Coran wasn’t there and that of all of them, he would be the most likely to come after Lance for anything. But he had hoped that Hunk would care, at least. They had been best friends since they were kids. To know that he didn’t care enough now… Well, Lance supposed he had seen it coming. Ever since they’d gotten to the Garrison, everyone was so much better than him. It wasn’t surprising that Hunk would want to find another friend, a better friend – he supposed that Hunk was due for an upgrade.

Lance kept walking, brow furrowed as he traveled through the castle until he was in an area that he’d never been before. His echoing footsteps faltered in the empty hall, and dust swirled around his feet as he stepped a little further from the problems that were threatening to break the dam holding back a breakdown. He furrowed his brow, looking at the trail of footsteps bleeding off into the distance, only visible because of the thickening layer of dust on the floor. “How long have I been walking…?” Lance asked himself in a hushed voice, the whisper managing to sound like a scream in the still silence.

He wondered just how long it had been since someone entered this part of the hall; clearly it had been a long time, maybe since the time Allura and Coran were put into cryostasis. Maybe a little later, Lance reasoned internally, since there was clearly a shift in time from when the castle left Altea and ended up on Arus. It wasn’t likely that only moments passed, or that only Alfor was left awake on the ship when it landed on the small planet.

Continuing to look around, Lance tried not to think about how bad things were going to get for a while. He could ignore that and explore for a bit, he supposed, but he would still have to go back. Instead, he simply found an empty-ish room, sitting down in a corner and hiding his face in his knees. He could spend a few minutes, right? There was nothing wrong with getting in a nap to try and rearrange his thoughts.

Despite his resolution to calm himself, guilt kept building, piling further and further on top of him until he stood with a pained grunt, walking through the halls until he was back in an area of the castle he recognized. Lance trailed through the empty areas of the castle, both relieved and saddened that there was no one around; it would be a hassle to explain running off, but it was depressing to realize that no one cared enough to look for him. Lance headed to his room – he couldn’t bear to go to the hangar and see Blue, not now that he wasn’t going to be her pilot anymore.

Though it hurt that no one bothered looking for him, Lance was relieved to find that he didn’t run into anyone on the way to his room. It meant that Hunk wouldn’t try to comfort him when he saw his raw, reddened eyes. It meant Pidge wouldn’t complain about having to deal with a crybaby teammate. It meant that Allura and Keith couldn’t lecture him about working as part of a team, since the priority was saving Shiro. Lance knew that, but Blue was one of the few things that he had left of Earth. It had hurt enough when he’d had to wash away the last of his family when his jacket grew too dirty to continue wearing it two weeks before. Leaving Blue was like forgetting who he was, the guardian spirit of water, the Blue Paladin of Voltron. Because leaving Blue meant that... well, he wasn’t anything. He was just Lance, the screw-up, the annoying flirt... he wouldn’t even be the sharpshooter anymore.

Lance curled up in his bed and tried not to cry. It was only lunchtime, he’d be expected to get up and go train soon, to try and connect with Red, but he didn’t want to go, to show himself to the other paladins like this, let alone try to introduce himself to the hardest lion to get along with looking like this. Somehow, he summoned the energy to clean himself up, though he didn’t bother with his skincare routine before straightening his shirt and making his way toward the hangar. He wasn’t hungry enough to eat, anyway, even though it was about time to eat. If Hunk asked he’d just say that he would eat later.

The hangar was empty; either Allura hadn’t come to talk with Blue yet or she already had and already left. He hoped it was the first – he wanted a chance to say goodbye to Blue before Allura could come in and do it for him. As such, he headed towards the lion, putting a hand on her metal paw as he took in a deep breath.

“Hey, Blue,” he mumbled, pressing his forehead against her foreleg. “So... there’s a whole lot of a mess going on right now, huh? All this with Shiro missing and... well, Shiro said he wants Keith to lead Voltron, which I think is complete bullshit. He’s just biased because he and Keith are basically brothers, he doesn’t even know any of the rest of us, except Pidge because she’s Matt’s brother.” Blue seemed to purr in his mind in response; a comforting sound that Lance was pretty sure he wasn’t imagining.

“So, since Keith is supposed to lead us now apparently, that means he’s moving to the Black lion. I’m sure that Red isn’t too happy with that, either, especially since they bonded so much over the last few weeks,” he said morosely. “That means Allura has to pilot a lion. None of them want to admit that she’s more like Keith than I am, so they all want me to pilot Red until we get Shiro back. Allura wants to pilot you because you’re the most accepting of new paladins, apparently.” He sighed, and Blue’s purr in his mind had quieted to a low rumble, soft enough that he couldn’t tell what she was feeling. “I feel a little bad, actually. I shouted at her – the princess, I mean. I shouldn’t have,” Lance mumbled. “It’s not her fault that I’m all screwed up in the head. Besides, I’m sure you’ll like her much better. She actually knows what she’s doing,” he added with a wry grin, though there was little amusement in the expression.

Sighing, Lance pulled away from Blue. “I guess I should try talking to Red now, huh? I promise I’ll play nice,” he joked humorlessly. “I know you’ll like Allura, Blue, she’s amazing. Badass, good in a fight, smart, pretty – just like you! – and she’s an amazing leader. I honestly think she should be leading the team, but everyone’s pretty insistent on going with Shiro’s plan, so I’ll... I’ll see you later, girl.” Lance leaned in once more, pressing his forehead to her leg in the semblance of a hug.

He stepped back, worrying at his lower lip as he moved towards Red, where she stood in her hangar. Lance wasn’t quite sure how he should approach the lion – he knew that she liked to be impressed, that she was finicky and reckless and adventurous and confident . Lance was only a few of those things – one, really. Red was fire where Blue was ice, close-up and in-your-face where Blue was distance and control, reactive versus proactive. Hopefully she would understand that he was just trying to help, that he was doing everything he could.

Her shield was up, so Keith had already clearly come through. She was doing the Lions’ version of pouting, refusing to talk to any of them. Black had finally moved from her supine position, so she had probably accepted Keith as her temporary paladin already. Lance looked back to Blue and rubbed at his eyes, though they were still dry, before turning back to Red. “Hey there, girl,” he started nervously. Red remained still and silent, her forcefield still secure. “So... I take it that Keith already told you what’s going down. And I want to say that I don’t think this should be... how things are, either. Keith and I should stay where we belong, and Allura should pilot Black. But they’re insistent – you and Keith and Allura have that in common. You’re stubborn, and I mean that in the best way.”

Red didn’t respond in the slightest, so Lance moved to sit down just outside the forcefield, legs crossed as he looked up at the lion. “I know I’m not the paladin that you want, or the paladin that deserves you, let alone the paladin that you deserve. But if we want to have any chance at going back to how we’re supposed to be, then we need to work together, because you and I are... well, against Allura and Keith we can’t do much, since once they get something in their heads they’re not that willing to listen to arguments, no matter how logical or reasonable they are,” Lance pointed out. “I already tried that one. It didn’t work. So maybe instead, we could learn how to work together. We’re both stuck with how this is going to be, so let’s make the most out of a bad situation?”

There was no growl or comforting purr in his mind, but there was a response – a small spot opened in Red’s forcefield, right by where Lance sat. Standing quickly, he slipped inside, a small grin on his face as she closed it right behind him. “Thanks, girl.” He approached, patting her leg lightly. “We should try bonding a bit, I think. I know you don’t want to, because the thought doesn’t appeal to me either, but who knows? Maybe it’ll make forming Voltron easier when we’re done, too. Hopefully, at least. I’m no swordsman, but I can learn for you.”

Lance made his way up to the cockpit, settling not in the pilot’s seat, but on the ground next to it. “You know, Red, you’re very pretty. I say that not to sweet-talk you into bonding with me but because it’s true,” he said bluntly. “You and Blue work a lot differently, and I don’t think like Keith. He’s all... rash actions and split-second decisions. I prefer to hang back and plan, I’m not as up-front... There’s a reason that my bayard formed a rifle,” Lance said aloud, knowing Red was listening. “I don’t even know if I’ll be able to use your bayard.”

The Red Lion seemed to chuff in response to Lance’s words, making him grin. At least it was a response. “Alright, alright, I’ll trust your judgement on that one. But do you think that we can at least try to make this work? The sooner we’re able to work together, the sooner we get Shiro back and everything goes back to normal.”

Red chuffed again, though the sound was decidedly more pleased this time. Her bayard lay on the seat of the cockpit, and she shone a light on it, signaling that Lance should take it. Smiling sheepishly, he stood to do so, taking the weapon with a grimace. It felt lighter than the blue one, though that may just be his mind playing tricks on him.

“Alright. This will be fine. I’ll be fine,” he said to himself, voice soft. He didn’t want to admit, especially to Red, how afraid he was. “I’m going to go... try and get the hang of this, okay? Thank you for working with me, girl. I know it’s hard.”

Red purred softly at him, making Lance smile as he left the cockpit, glad to see the forcefield down already. He left the hangar, casting a sad glance towards Blue, before heading towards the training deck. He hoped that Keith wasn’t there, but knowing the former red paladin’s habits, he would be, trying to get in as much practice as possible with the black bayard.

Lance was proven correct – not only was Keith there, but Allura was on the deck as well, manifesting the blue bayard. It was less of a gun for the princess, more of a high-tech crossbow, but to each their own; Lance wasn’t going to judge her when he didn’t even know how the red bayard would manifest for him. He stayed silent as he made his way towards the wall, stripping off his jacket and baseball tee, leaving him in a muscle shirt and his jeans. Just the thought of trying to manifest the red bayard had anxiety churning in his belly, but Lance cleared his mind and closed his eyes, holding the bayard firmly and out from his body. He let out a deep breath and opened his eyes, focusing on manifesting the weapon the bayard allowed him.

There was more of a flash of light this time than there had been with Blue’s bayard; it was as though the weapon were taking longer to manifest because he wasn’t meant to wield it. Lance didn’t disagree with that thought, though he did his best not to think about that possibility. Once the form settled, Lance twisted the long weapon in his hands. It had formed something akin to a bo staff – he would never admit to knowing about it simply because of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phase when he was younger. However, it was a bladed staff – both ends held wicked blades that looked like steel, glinting in the artificial lighting of the training deck.

Each blade curved at the end, coming to a deadly point at each end. The staff was taller than he was, and though the main length of it was in the darkly glistening metal of the blades, shining a bloody red interspersed with a silvery metal and black, a good portion of it was a handle that Lance could hold onto with one or both hands. It reminded him of the flags that his sisters had taught him how to twirl while they practiced their marching band routines at home. Smiling at the memory, Lance put his hands in place, starting to spin the staff and get a feel for it. It was one thing to twirl a giant flag, quite another to use a potentially deadly blade with ease.

The blade made a whistling sound as it cut through the air, spinning in a beautiful arc that painted the air red and white and black with the colors of the weapon formed by the bayard. He felt oddly at ease with the weight of it, and while it still felt foreign and strange in his hands, it was something he knew he could learn to work with. As Lance worked with the staff, he didn’t notice Keith and Allura turning to look at him, shocked by not only the ease and grace with which he wielded the intimidating weapon, but the look on his face. There was none of the joy or excitement that had filled his features while he practiced with his rifle, none of the seriousness that kept his face solid while they trained as a group. Lance’s face was simply blank, and to see the odd lack of emotion was startling to the new Black Paladin, and to the princess.

The pair watched as Lance cut intricate designs into the air with his bayard, half fearful that he would hurt himself and half in awe of the ease with which he hefted the weapon. When Lance stopped, he was panting with exertion, sweat dripping down his face. Allura looked between Keith and Lance, unsure what to do  –  she was unsure whether it was the right time to confront Lance about his earlier words and actions, about his disappearance, but for the time being she would let the subject drop. He was practicing with the red bayard, after all.

Turning, Lance spotted the two watching him, and the flush on his cheeks started to spread a little broader, making it clear he was embarrassed at the attention. The room was silent as Lance shifted the staff in his hands, tilted at an angle so that neither blade was digging into the metal floor or ceiling.

“That is an interesting weapon,” Allura spoke first, breaking the silence. “What is it called?”

“I... I have no idea,” Lance admitted sheepishly. “I’m not really a blade guy. All I know is that the staff part of it reminds me of the handle of a flag  –  you know, the kind that they have at the front of a marching band. My sisters did flag-twirling in high school and taught me,” he explained, perking up as he got to talk about his family and, for once, no one was brushing him off in light of other things.

“The staff is called a bo staff,” Keith spoke up, stepping a little closer. “The blades look kind of like... Like, a polearm. But those normally only have a blade on one side,” he explained. “You’ll have to be careful not to get cut with that, it’d be a nasty one.”

“I’ll do my best,” Lance said dryly, still a little bitter about Keith’s “Because Shiro Said So” leadership. “Blades and short-range weapons aren’t really my thing.”

Allura sighed with exasperation. “Lance – “

“Sorry. Don’t... I didn’t mean that.” He sighed heavily, hands dropping as he adjusted his grip on the bayard. “I’m trying.” Lance turned around, lifting the staff to start getting a feel for it once more. If Allura or Keith said anything further, he didn’t notice, too engrossed in his training to pay attention to the sounds around him.

The next few days progressed in much the same way; eat, train, talk with Red, eat, train, sleep. He hardly spoke to the others in that time, apart from at meals, and even then he avoided any mention of what was going on with the team. He even managed to bond with Red enough that she let him fly her, which was good; he knew that Red and quite finicky. When the team formed Voltron for the first time, Lance had to pretend that it didn’t hurt to feel Blue and not be able to sense her directly. Red’s thoughts were soothing, but it was a heated soothing feeling, not the cool, gentle comfort that Lance wished for.

“Focus, Lance! ” Keith’s voice came over the com. “ You need to concentrate on the task at hand.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Lance said in response, a pang going through his chest. He refocused, the team finishing the training and Lance sighing heavily when he was alone in Red’s cockpit when they all returned to the castle.

“Come on, Lance,” Hunk called up to him. “Coran helped me make lunch. We need a recharge meal.”

“I’m coming,” Lance called back, the Red armor feeling oddly heavy as he got up. “You did good today, Red. Sorry I keep getting distracted.” Red seemed to purr in his mind.

“What was that, Lance?” Allura demanded when he got out of the cockpit, arms crossed and eyebrows twitching with irritation. “You can’t be getting distracted! The Red Paladin is meant to be the fire of Voltron, the drive to keep going forward! Voltron cannot function if the Red Paladin is not focused on our goal.”

Lance’s eyes went wide, but he managed not to cringe in response. “I’m sorry, Princess, it won’t happen again,” Lance promised, swallowing thickly. “I – “

“Just... do better, Lance. Focus, don’t get distracted. We need to be able to depend on you.”

“Of course, Princess,” Lance confirmed, voice low and solemn. He was watching the ground, fingers tight on his helmet as Allura left. He listened to the footsteps echoing as the princess left the room, and looked up once it was silent. He was alone –  Lance took that moment to sigh, biting at his lip before casting a longing glance to Blue. “I’m sorry, girl. I’m trying.”

He walked out, heading to the kitchen to find Hunk. As expected, his friend was already in there cooking up a storm. “Hey, Lance! Are you hungry? There’s plenty to go around,” Hunk said, noticing Lance’s grim expression and hoping to cheer his friend up.

“Not really. I, uh, I’m gonna skip lunch and go train. I’ll come and get some food goo when I get hungry, it’s no big deal,” Lance said with a small smile. “It smells really good in here, but I don’t want to let the team down. If there’s any left after the rest of the team gets to it, I’ll definitely get some!”

“Lance, you should eat,” Hunk said, frowning lightly. “At least have a bowl of this, okay? Here, this is done already, you get to be my taste-tester,” he insisted, sitting Lance down and sliding a bowl in front of him. Lance gave him an easy smile, shaking his head in amusement.

“Alright. Thanks, Hunk. You’re the best, buddy.” Lance grinned as he picked up the bowl, humming at the flavor as he spooned it into his mouth. “Amazing as always, Hunk. I keep telling you  –  you could go head to head with mama and I’d be conflicted about who’d come up on top.”

“You’re such a dork, Lance,” Hunk said, smiling back at Lance. “Finish the bowl, then you can go. Then at least Coran won’t worry. You’ve been training a lot. I wouldn’t mind hanging out a bit more often.”

“Yeah, I can... I can try that. No worries, bud, I’ll come and hang out sometime soon. I just... need to get more of a feel for Red.” It was unfair that Allura and Keith both seemed to be having an easier time adjusting to their lions; part of it, he was sure, was that he and Red just weren’t compatible. Part of it, too, was that they both missed their own other half. He simply didn’t understand how Keith was able to bond with Black so easily when he had Red waiting for him. Still, he knew he needed to do better  –  be more like Keith.

“Alright. Thanks, Lance. Maybe tomorrow we can work on that recipe we were talking about before Shiro...” Hunk glanced over at his friend, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, we can do that,” Lance agreed, smiling again. He stood when he was finished, moving to leave and heading to the training deck. He didn’t want to interact with anyone, instead just losing himself in what he was doing. They wanted him to be more like Keith? He could do that. It didn’t seem hard, after all –  just be rash, train a lot, and be rather distant. Well... He was pretty sure he could do that. He could try, at least.

Lance trained, and he meditated, and he connected with Red, and all the while Blue and Allura seemed to bond nicely. Black and Keith, too, seemed to be having no problems. Still, he could be himself still, cheering and trying to make sure the rest of the team stayed optimistic. “Come on guys, we can do it!” and “Did you guys see that shot I just made? Awesome, right?!” often filled the comms when Lance got nervous or excited. One particular battle with a Galra ship had him cheering them all on more than usual; it wasn’t until the end of it when things had calmed down when he heard it.

After most left their cockpits, Keith made a comment  –  muffled enough that Lance could tell that he’d already taken off his helmet. “Out of all the people in the universe, the Blue Lion had to pick the most annoying one .” He heard Pidge’s laugh, too  –  Hunk didn’t laugh, which  was something, but it still hurt. Putting his helmet aside, Lance patted Red’s dashboard before leaving the cockpit, going straight to his room. He wasn’t going to annoy them anymore.

Lance kept himself hidden away for as long as possible, only showing up to meals if he absolutely had to and overthinking Keith’s words. Was he really that annoying? Allura’s piloting proved that, even though Blue had chosen him, anyone could do just as well  –  maybe even better  –  piloting her, better than Lance had. Maybe she didn’t even need him, when Shiro came back Allura could keep piloting Blue and Keith could go back to Red and then Lance wouldn’t belong anywhere. Blue was probably happier with Allura, anyway.

It was easy, Lance found, to lock himself away and distance himself from the rest of the paladins. He didn’t talk with Coran when he helped the Altean to clean out the cryopods, didn’t bother Pidge while she worked, didn’t ask Keith to help him train or flirt with Allura or even go to the kitchen to join Hunk while he cooked. He focused on training, thoughts constantly churning in his mind. Was he truly that seventh wheel? The odd one out? Allura seemed to tolerate him more now that he didn’t even look in her direction, Pidge seemed less irritated now that he wasn’t trying to prod her into eating or looking away from her computer screen for ten minutes. Things did seem like they were improving now that he was talking less  –  bothering everyone less.

Missions went more smoothly, too, when Lance started working more like Keith used to, being rash and going in without really thinking about it. Oh, sure, Allura and Keith would rant at him about it later, but it was what Keith would do  –  and wasn’t that what everyone wanted from him in the first place? They were able to form Voltron more quickly without Lance talking to anyone, and hiding his feelings from the bond.

That reluctance to speak with anyone, though, was leading to some difficulties. Lance hardly spoke up over the coms, simply confirming orders and letting the others know where he was going to be while the lions were separate.

“Lance, I need you over here to cover me,” Pidge insisted over comms, aggravation in her voice.

“I’m on my way,” Lance said, lips in a firm line as he directed Red to move towards Pidge, tearing apart the drones between them and giving her cover as she did her thing. It was hectic and busy, and once Pidge’s area was clear, he went to help Hunk and Allura. The two were managing things rather well, but Keith was on such a frenzy that there was no way Lance could go to back him up. Soon enough, the Galra were on retreat and Hunk and Pidge were sharing pleased cheering. Even Allura was congratulating them, not paying attention to see that a beam was coming towards them. Lance barely managed to put Red in the way of the blast, between it and Allura, and cried out in pain before everything went black.

Chapter Text

Lance woke to the hiss of the cryopod and a deep ache in his bones. Blinking slowly, he pushed the door the rest of the way open, stumbling out of the pod and groaning at the stiff pain in his limbs and joints. A quick glance around proved that the medbay was empty, which was as much a relief as it was painful to realize. Lance knew that he was never anyone’s first priority.

He stumbled his way out of the pod and to the console, unsure why he felt so horrible. Probably something to do with whatever ray or beam or whatever he had been shot with; Lance didn’t want to think about the odd exhaustion being permanent as he scrolled through the list of what had been wrong with him. Part of his training had been going through the Altean dictionaries, mostly children’s books to help him learn the language. He was sure that Pidge was much further along, but he didn’t want to ask her for help. He didn’t want to seem foolish to the Green paladin.

The list was simple; injuries that would have had him in a hospital for weeks back on Earth (a serious concussion, broken ribs, dislocated shoulder, broken leg, serious bruising) had taken less than a day to heal completely in the pod. That was probably why no one was there  –  it wasn’t serious enough to worry about, not like the time he had almost died. And even then, by the time he came out of the pod none of them were waiting, instead arguing about whether ticks or seconds were faster. Ever since coming into space, it was a familiar feeling, he realized now. Everyone was focused on something else, something more important. Hunk was focused on Shay, or on working with Pidge on some new tech. Pidge had never wanted Lance’s company to begin with, but now that she had space to get away from him, it seemed like the only time they interacted was in training or at meals, or when Lance stumbled over her when he took walks when he couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night.

He had tried to interact with Keith at the Garrison, but the former red paladin hadn’t even bothered to react when Lance tried to talk to him. Now, the only reason he talked to Lance was to direct him or to reprimand him. There was no communication like they had had on the Balmera, no chance of another.... Bonding moment. Lance had given up hope of ever feeling like Keith respected him as an equal; the way that he had slipped into the ‘commander’ role by taking Shiro’s place had confirmed that. And Shiro... Shiro had been his idol ever since the man was first selected to pilot the Kerberos mission. The way he had been brushing Lance off ever since they met only hurt, and it was only the fact that despite that pain Lance still wanted the man safe, especially now that he knew him personally, that kept him wanting to fight to find the man. Well, that and his desire to return to being Blue’s paladin, but... Well, would they still want him now that they knew Allura did just as good, maybe even much better, piloting the Lion?

His silent musings were interrupted by the hiss of the door opening from the hall, and footsteps entering the room, a low humming accompanying them. “Oh! Lance,” Coran greeted, smiling at the paladin. “You’re out of your pod a bit early. Are you feeling alright?”

Lance looked up, smiling weakly at Coran’s question. “Yeah, I guess. Just tired and sore,” he replied, wondering if the soreness was from the bruises. “I was going to go do some yoga to loosen up and see if that helped.” Coran’s face took on a concerned expression that was quickly brushed off, and the Altean stepped forward to put a hand on his shoulder.

“Let me run a quick scan to make sure that the pod didn’t malfunction and release you early,” Coran insisted, looking Lance up and down. He was clearly not anywhere near as badly injured as he had been, but he looked weary and worn, and that was no fit state for any paladin, especially not the one Coran had bonded with most. Lance looked far more tired than he should, by any rights, and Coran didn’t want that to hinder his healing process.

“Alright,” Lance agreed, not wanting to argue or put up a fight. He let Coran run his scans, doing his best not to wobble in place. He just wanted to stretch and lay down and maybe even manage to get some sleep. He looked at the Altean, plenty of words that he had never seen before and didn’t understand flashing over the screen. “What’s it saying?”

“The pod is just fine, you simply seemed to heal faster... Or to the point that the pod could no longer heal what was wrong with you,” Coran explained. “You’re completely healed of anything life threatening. There’s likely going to be some bruising left, or some muscular aches, but you should be fine.” He turned slightly, frowning as he mumbled to himself, “It’s odd. It was scanning almost like it would an Altean... Ah, no matter. The pods are likely just getting more used to your human gene structures,” he assured Lance, turning back to the teen. “Go on and get some rest. You never know when the Galra will attack again, and you need as much as you can get!”

“Alright, I will. Thanks, Coran, it’s good to know that I’ll be okay,” Lance said with a smile. At least Coran seemed to be fine with him, not minding his presence or his questions. “I’ll be fine by the time we have to clean out the pods,” he added as he started walking away. He liked spending time with Coran, so he wasn’t going to let a bit of soreness get in the way of that.

On the way to his room (thankfully he had been allowed to keep that, and the Blue Paladin pajamas), Lance pondered the last few days. Red hadn’t bonded with him or even acknowledged him after that first day, not aside from growls of irritation in his mind when he went to do something that she disliked. He missed Blue, and he wondered if she missed him. Well, he wouldn’t, not if he got a paladin change from him to a princess, especially one as amazing as Allura at that.

He was pulled out of his internal pondering by the sight of Keith waiting outside his door, arms crossed as he leaned against the wall. “Lance, we need to talk,” he said, voice stern.

“Oh. Alright, what is it?” Lance didn’t have the energy for this. He was far too exhausted to deal with Keith at the moment.

“You can’t do what you did again. The lions are too important to lose for a risky maneuver like that. I get that you were trying to make sure no one got hurt but  –”

“No, I get it,” Lance said softly. “You don’t have to keep going, I get it. I won’t do it again. I don’t have a desire to keep coming out of healing pods,” he assured, smirking at Keith. What was he if not a joke, to them? That was a mask he had been keeping up for years. It was no trouble to keep it up now.

“...Good. I’ll hold you to that. Coran said that you should get some rest, so I’ll have Hunk bring you something to eat, you should get some sleep.” Keith gave Lance a look that was somehow more of a grimace than a smile, but patted his shoulder (Keith shouldn’t be doing that, that was Shiro’s thing , just because he was leading the time didn’t mean he had to become Shiro) before turning and leaving.

Great , Lance thought, frowning as he stepped inside his room, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. Now they don’t even want me to eat with them. What did I do wrong this time? He sighed heavily, flopping onto his bed without changing out of the pod suit. He didn’t have the energy even for that.

Laying on his bed, Lance started going over his new mental list. It was ever-growing, especially since Shiro had disappeared.

 

  • Don’t let the others know when you’re upset It was the easiest. Just flirt with someone or make a joke.
  • Be more like Keith. It was harder. Lance liked to analyze situations, to think of plans, to be cautious no matter how naive or gullible the others thought him. But he could manage it, with some effort.
  • Don’t talk about missing Blue or the Lion switch. It was hard, but Lance knew why he shouldn’t. None of the others could relate; none of them were having the same problems that he was. Black was tolerant of Keith enough to work with him, and Allura and Blue seemed to love each other.
  • Train more. Train as much as possible. Lance had to live up to being the Red Paladin, a master of bladed footwork and short-range fighting. Before this, the closest Lance had ever gotten to using a sword or a polearm like the bayard turned into was a kitchen knife, so he had a lot to work through.
  • Don’t eat with the others. They don’t want you there. This was the new one. Lance didn’t know what he’d done but it was enough to  make them want him gone while they ate. He supposed he could keep up with it, since he planned on training more anyway. No reason to be a bother to the others.  

 

Going over his list, Lance started falling asleep, worries and fears and rules amassing while he drifted off to form a nightmare that Lance wouldn’t remember the next morning but would feel the results of for weeks to come.

Lance was alone. He didn’t know why, or where he was. He didn’t know what time it was, only that it was dark and the sky above him was starless, the ground below him hard and slightly sandy. If he were to hazard a guess, he would say it wasn’t unlike an inverse of when he connected with Blue, though normally there was an ocean and far more sand and the sky was so full of stars and constellations that Lance could read in the light.

“I’m so glad to be back, guys,” Shiro’s voice echoed towards him, but Lance couldn’t see where it was coming from. He whipped his head around, seeing if he could pinpoint the origin of the sound.

“It’s good to have you back, Shiro. We missed you so much.” That was Keith’s voice, and Lance already knew that Hunk would be hugging the man.

“And now Keith can go back to the Red lion,” Pidge assessed, voice bright with happiness. “But the Princess...”

“Well, I have bonded with the Blue Lion quite a bit. Lance often talked about going back home. He did not seem as dedicated to the cause as the rest of you,” Allura said, making Lance’s heart constrict in his chest. He was dedicated – was it so wrong to be homesick?

“Well, we can always bring him back home if he wants to go,” Hunk replied, and Lance had to disbelieve it for a moment. Hunk wouldn’t say that, would he?

“We don’t have the time to bring one human back home. Finding the Holts is more important, as is continuing to free the universe from Zarkon’s reign. He can find his own way home, I’m sure,” Allura insisted. “You humans are very resourceful.”

“She’s right, Hunk. I mean, Lance can get himself home. It can’t be that hard.”

“Guys, I’m right here,” Lance tried to call, but no sound escaped his mouth as he made the attempt. Eyes bulging with fear, he ran towards the source of the voices, and after a few steps, he was in the lion’s hangars. “Blue?” He was able to speak that time, but the Blue Lion remained unresponsive, not shifting or purring or even growling in response to his voice. “Blue, I’m right here, it’s me. Shiro is back, we can be partners again...”

There was only silence.

Blue slowly responded, but it wasn’t in the way that Lance wanted. She shifted, giant head turning away from him as her robotic tail curled around her front paws, blocking any way Lance had to get to her.

“Y... You too?” It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and Lance felt tears filling his eyes, nose running and stuffing his head. “W-what did I do wrong? I’m doing my best,” Lance whimpered, falling to his knees .

With a gasp, Lance jolted awake, heart pounding with fear and an odd ache in his chest, separate from the stiff soreness from before. His cheeks and eyes were wet with tears which still poured down his cheeks, but Lance was at a loss for why  –  probably the same nightmare that had set his heart pounding. Groaning, he turned over, wondering if he would be able to fall asleep again after that. He doubted it.

Lance stared through the dark and counted his breaths, still trying to calm down after the nightmare he couldn’t remember. The texture of the bed underneath him was grating; his skin felt oversensitive and he was sweating under the blanket. It wasn’t heavy, not like he normally wanted, but right now even this was too much.

“Ughhhh,” Lance groaned, rolling onto his back and throwing his arm over his eyes. He wanted to sleep; he was exhausted and he was still sore, but he knew that sleeping was the best way to get over that pain. Still, though he knew that sleep was the best way to finish healing, the stiff soreness was what was keeping him from sleeping.

After laying in bed for almost an hour (or at least what felt like an hour; Lance wasn’t quite sure how much time had passed), Lance got up, groaning in pain at the pounding in his head. Silently debating his options for a long moment, Lance moved towards the kitchen to get himself a plate of food goo. If he wasn’t going to eat with the others there was no need for Hunk to go out of his way and make extra for him, after all.

Walking seemed to help, surprisingly enough. Oh, sure, Lance was all for hair-of-the-dog, “fix your problem by suffering through it to make it better” kind of solutions, but he hadn’t expected it to be the same for injury recovery like this. At that point, Lance decided to go to train after he ate. Best to wear himself out if he wanted to be able to go back to sleep, and it was late enough that not even Keith would still be in the training deck.

With a full plate of goo, Lance sat down on the counter, picking at it. He wasn’t really hungry; he just knew that he had to eat if he wanted to have the energy to train. The castle was eerily silent. Not even the mice made noise as they moved around  –  and Lance knew they were moving around. How else would Allura know what was going on everywhere, all the time?  –  so being alone felt even more disquieting. Without even realizing it, Lance started humming under his breath, hurrying to clean his plate before making his way to the training deck. He tried humming the James Bond theme to calm himself, as it was easier to walk around in the dimly lit halls of the Altean castle in the simulated night while pretending he was actually sneaking around .

He had hardly gotten into it when he got to the training room, and Lance sighed in slight relief as he realized that he would be able to train alone. A quick search revealed his most often-used yoga mat (or whatever the Altean equivalent was), and Lance laid it out, running through his normal routine to warm up. It was more necessary than ever now that he had to use a short-range weapon rather than his rifle, since he would have to be more active and in the fight now. He focused his breathing, slow and gentle as he worked through the poses.

Downward dog. Breathe. Hold. Three-legged dog. Breathe. Hold. Switch legs. Tabletop. Breathe. Hold. Switch sides. Breathe. Hold. Cobra. Breathe. Hold. Forward fold. Breathe. Hold. Warrior I. Breathe. Hold. Switch sides. Breathe. Hold.

The ritual was calming; it kept Lance focused when his mind wanted to buzz with worries and fears and intrusive thoughts. It helped him now, trying to recover from the soreness the pod had left him and the unnerving anxiety that the silence of the castle save from the odd creak of metal settling aroused within him. Gently moving into a pigeon position after a few minutes of a dragon pose, Lance let out a low breath, closing his eyes. Even if he didn’t train that night, it was fine; just doing yoga on his own, while it was quiet and dark, helped to focus him, and Lance felt like he was actually doing something. At least his sleepless night was being done to further his training.

By the time Lance’s routine had finished (almost an hour after beginning) he was feeling rather limber and ready to take on a gladiator  –  only at level one, of course. He wasn’t able to beat Pidge, so how could he expect to be able to beat any of the gladiator levels? He knew that Allura had said it was simple enough for an Altean child, but... well, he wasn’t exactly Altean, was he? After all, Allura was his size and able to throw Shiro across the room.

Shiro , Lance thought, face firming as he rolled up the mat and pulled the red bayard. This as all to get him back. The sooner they got Shiro back, the sooner he could go back to Blue... if she even wanted him. “Level one,” he said in a firm voice, summoning the bladed staff that he had yet to come up with a name for. The gladiator rose from the floor  in front of him, and Lance swallowed back his fear, narrowing his eyes at the robot. He could do this.

The first few blows were jarring; Lance had to wonder just how Altean children managed hits of this force. Perhaps Allura had been exaggerating? Though she didn’t seem like the type to do that. Before he knew it, though, Lance had fallen into a rhythm, batting away blows until he was able to swipe through the gladiator’s defenses, blade splitting the robot in two. “Level two,” he said immediately, not even taking a moment to breathe. He needed to get better  –  stronger, faster... He needed to earn his keep.

Before Lance knew it he was on level eight, which was higher than he had ever gone. He was sweating and panting with exertion, but he wasn’t stiff any longer, and he was actually feeling pretty good, if tired. Weighing his staff in his hand, Lance debated going for another round, but this was only his first time doing extra training. He didn’t want to do too much and overexert himself, hurting himself in the process. That would just mean an extra visit to the pods and questions he didn’t want to answer. He knew that the team knew he was useless, but he didn’t want to confirm it by seeing the derision on their faces if he admitted to doing extra training in the middle of the night.

Sighing once more, Lance let his bayard return to its dormant form, straightening and making sure to end the training sequence before doing a few cool-down stretches. No need to cramp in the morning because he got careless. When he was done, Lance moved back to the door, casting one last look inside before hurrying back to his room, not bothering to hum this time. Once inside his room, Lance curled up in his bed, yawning hard enough for his eyes to squint shut. He was exhausted again, and worn out enough from training that sleep came almost as quickly as it had the first time he laid down that night.

No nightmares accompanied this sleep, remembered or not. In fact, Lance didn’t dream at all, and woke with a start at the sound of Allura’s voice over the intercom, summoning all of the paladins to a group training session. Lance felt off with no face mask to wash away, but he was able to change more quickly and hurry to the communal area, arriving on time despite his messy hair. He hadn’t taken the time to brush it  –  he didn’t want to disappoint Allura or Keith or Hunk or Pidge. None of them would take kindly to him being late, he didn’t think.

“So, what’s the training session today, princess?” Pidge asked once the paladins were all gathered, one hand on her hip as she looked up at the Altean princess for an answer.

“We will all be working on trust exercises not unlike the ones Coran had you run through when you initially arrived. I thought it best if we began with the shield exercise. It seemed to bring you all the most difficulty from the beginning, and we have not attempted it since then.” Allura smiled at all of them, though Lance could swear her expression tightened slightly as she passed over him. He did his best not to cringe back, and he was fairly certain that he managed.

“Alright! I think we can do way better this time,” Hunk said optimistically. “Right, guys?”

“Yeah, definitely,” Lance said, trying to sound as perky as usual. He didn’t want anyone to think that he was tired or nervous, or worse, unable to do the exercise. “Let’s do it. I’ve got your back, guys!”

Hunk smiled back at Lance, knowing something was off but glad to see his friend acting a little more like himself.

“Yeah, we can do this,” Pidge agreed, a firm grin on her face as she took her position, somehow reassured by the pressure of the others against her back.

“Alright. Let’s start it up, then,” Keith said with a nod, activating his shield. He had to hope that everyone had his back, especially Lance  –  he knew that the current red paladin hadn’t been feeling well the night before and he’d noticed a three hour addition to the log for the training deck when he came in in the morning. It wasn’t good to overtrain, especially not while exhausted.

The lasers came quickly and thickly, enough that while blocking the lasers the paladins were at more and more risk of getting hit, themselves. A quick glance behind him told Lance that Pidge was across from him, and he came up with a plan easily. “Pidge, duck!” He had to hope that Pidge would follow his command, and ducked, waiting for the clattering sound of one of the gladiators being taken out by the shot. An instant later, he grinned  –  it had worked. “Guys, if we time things – “

“If we time things right, then we can take down the gladiators without getting hit!” Pidge cried excitedly.

“Wonderful idea, Pidge,” Allura said brightly, casting a quick glance behind her. “Hunk, jump on three! One, two, three!” Lance felt Hunk jumping as a laser went under his knees, cutting the gladiator off at the same point.

Within moments, the rest of their opponents had been taken out, and pleased cheers filled the room. It was easy to celebrate, after all  –  it was one of the first team exercises that they had successfully completed, other than simply forming Voltron. And even then they were only able to do it during a real fight, when tensions were high. But for Lance, it was a little harder. Once again, Pidge got the credit for his idea, simply because it was so easy for her to talk over him. He hated it.

“Great job, everyone,” Lance said brightly, grinning between Hunk and Pidge. “That went really smooth.” Even angry, it was hard not to congratulate his team. He wanted everyone to know that he was supporting them.

“Yeah, great job,” Keith agreed, nodding in agreement. “Let’s go hit the kitchen, get some breakfast before we do a bit of hand-to-hand. Everyone needs to work on that a bit, especially you guys, Lance, Pidge, and Hunk.”

Lance’s smile faltered. “You guys go on ahead, I’m going to get in some extra training. I’m not hungry right now, anyway, and I know that I’ve got to put in some more work because I’m still getting used to my bayard.”

Hunk frowned in response to Lance’s words, but his friend missed the expression. Keith glanced up and down Lance’s figure, then nodded. “Alright. Just make sure that you eat something sometime today. Don’t want to collapse because you don’t have any energy.”

Lance nodded in response. “Of course. I’m just gonna... work on this. I’ll get something to eat before we do the team training for hand-to-hand,” he assured. It hurt to know that the only reason they were concerned was that he might collapse in the middle of training, but he supposed he should have expected it. “I’ll see you guys in a bit.” He gave them a tense half-smile, watching as the other paladins left the room before slumping his shoulders and sighing heavily. He just wished that the others would care for once. “Hah. Too unrealistic,” Lance muttered to himself, calling up the training program and summoning his bayard, letting out a deep breath as the gladiator rose from the floor.

Chapter Text

The next few days passed similarly. Wake, train, eat, train some more, bond with the team as much as possible, fall asleep, wake in the middle of the night, train, and then pass out. It was something that he used to assume Keith did, but he knew better now. Keith wasn’t there training when Lance couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night.

Of course, Lance knew that it was only a matter of time before his sleeping problem grew to more than just a sleeping problem; eventually, there would be an attack they would need to respond to in the middle of the night, and Lance would end up exhausting himself. But until then... Until then, Lance would do what he needed to do in order to get any amount of sleep at night.

His newfound insomnia had only further distanced him from the rest of the team. On top of being forced into being the Red Paladin (and miserable in the role, again a replacement for Keith), he was having trouble sleeping, having trouble bonding with Red, and he was even beginning to lose his appetite. Even hating the taste of food goo, Lance would have easily been able to finish off two plates of the stuff after training... before. Now, Lance had to force himself to finish even one, and he wasn’t sure what the cause of it was. It didn’t taste any worse, and it didn’t make him nauseous or anything, he just... wasn’t hungry. It was an odd feeling, never being hungry, and one that he was sure would come back to bite him in the ass someday soon.

Training so often had brought about plenty of improvement, though. It had only been about two weeks since Shiro’s disappearance. The Blade of Marmora had left the ship rather soon afterward, taking Slav with them, though they stayed in contact with both Keith and Allura. That was lucky for Lance, given that he hadn’t wanted to get drawn into any of the ridiculously long training the Blade of Marmora put their members through, that Keith had wanted to start running the paladins through before the group of Galran warriors left. Lance felt that he was improving enough on his own, though. After about a week and a half of training with the red bayard, and a week of getting in extra training at night, Lance was up to level 24 on the Altean gladiator, and he was very near to consistently beating it enough to move onto the next level.

Being himself, though, meant that Lance had to hide just how much he was excelling  –  the others would simply think he was fishing for compliments, and it was easier to take critiques on fighting skills he knew he already had then complaints about showing off. He often forced himself to stumble while training with the others; not enough to ruin the simulation, but enough to make them think he was only improving at a moderate rate.

In addition to improving while fighting at night, Lance had taken to humming under his breath while he fought as a method to improve his concentration, even though he had a feeling Red didn’t like it. The lithe robot didn’t seem to like much that Lance did  –  it was less that he displeased her, and more that he wasn’t Keith. It left plenty for Lance to brood over while he trained, and meditated, and fought with the others, keeping his head down as best as possible. The only person he really got along with anymore was Coran. He still loved Hunk  –  he was his best friend!  –  but he knew that trying to be friendly like always was simply burdening the rest of the paladins, slowing them down. So he brooded, and trained, and meditated, trying to bond with Red and ignore the progress that Allura and Keith were making with Blue and Black.

The late night training sessions were doing wonders for Lance’s proficiency with his bladed weapon, but they weren’t doing much for his mood. Lance wasn’t keeping up with his skin routine (not that anyone cared) and he was more irritable than not lately. Any training that they did to form Voltron worked, but barely  –  the bond was hardly stable, and none of them were particularly comfortable with the new setup. It was enough to fight off a Galra attack, so long as they remained as disorganized as they currently were after Zarkon’s defeat.

During the day, in the free hours that they had (for no matter how hard Keith and Allura pushed, there simply was not enough training to fill the full day) outside of training, Lance had taken up studying Altean. He was far from fluent, but he was getting good enough to actually read the words flashing on the screens as they moved through space.

The past few days, Coran, Allura, and Pidge had all devoted their free time to fine-tuning the search for Shiro. And on the lunch hour of the day marking Lance’s second week with the Red bayard, a sharp squeal of surprise sounded from the engineering bay, where the three had taken up residence. “I’VE GOT HIM! WE FOUND SHIRO!”

Pidge sounded elated, and who could blame her? Having Shiro back would put things to rights. They all missed the eldest paladin, and his leadership. Lance found himself running towards the engineering bay, the Altean dictionary still in his hand. He met up with Hunk, grinning at the yellow paladin as they skidded into the room. Keith was already there.

“Where? Where is he?” Keith demanded, face flushed with nerves and excitement.

“We have determined that in order to keep him safe from Zarkon, the Black lion sent him to one place that he would never go,” Allura said smoothly, though her expression faltered at the end.

“Where is that? For the, ah, humans. In the room.” Lance didn’t miss the glare that the princess shot him in response.

“The Galra’s home planet,” Coran said grimly. “It’s now considered uninhabitable, to most species. But it still grows plant life, and has a high enough oxygen and nitrogen content in the air to support human life.”

“How do we get there?” Hunk asked, concern twisting his features. “I mean, he may be able to survive there, but he can’t be there for too long.”

“It will take several warp jumps. And it’s likely that there will be Galra ships surrounding the planet,” Pidge explained. “Even though they can’t live there anymore, the Galra’s home planet is where Black was made. It holds a lot of history for them.”

“Well, then why don’t we just go now? The longer we wait, the longer Shiro is stuck there,” Lance suggested.

“It’s not that simple,” Allura said with a frown. “We’ll have to ensure that we can all... function properly during the rescue mission, otherwise this will never work.” Lance didn’t cringe in response to her hesitation, though he knew it had been directed towards him. He knew that he looked bad; tired, for certain, and probably not as nice as he normally did. But that didn’t mean he had been slow.

“Well, then, why don’t we just keep training? It will help us work together better than just working on our own.” Pidge’s suggestion was a good one, and Lance knew that it would help to assuage Allura’s fears. “Besides, we work well enough with the lions. We just need to work better with each other.”

“...Alright,” Allura conceded, nodding at the green paladin. “Everyone should be in the training room in ten doboshes. Be ready to work together; teamwork is something that we all need to be able to do with ease. And don’t worry, this won’t be forever. We will have Shiro back soon.”

Lance nodded, watching out of the corner of his eyes as Hunk, Pidge, and Keith did the same. While Keith was the leader in name (and lion), it was clear that Allura held the authority within the castle still. He went to his room to freshen up a bit, ignoring his reflection in the mirror. He didn’t like what he saw lately. He was tired, with bags under his eyes and rashy acne on his cheeks. He was paler, and thinner, too, since his appetite had disappeared with his restful nights. There were half-eaten plates of food strewn around his room from when he ate on his own. He ignored the signs of his worsening condition, simply pulling on a fresh shirt and putting on the red armor, grabbing the bayard and heading to the training room. He held back a yawn as he arrived a few minutes early, though Keith, Pidge, and Allura were already there. Hunk was probably taking a few minutes to clean up the kitchen.

“Cutting it a little close, weren’t you, Lance?” Keith questioned, watching Lance’s face with concern. He had been worried about the teen, but there wasn’t much he could do. Lance didn’t want help from anyone, he’d made that clear when he stopped coming to meals and started avoiding everyone but Coran. Allura didn’t think that anything was wrong; she was too worried about getting Shiro back and trying to bond with Blue enough to form Voltron. The lion had made it clear that she wanted no paladin but Lance, but would allow Allura to pilot her until Shiro had been rescued.

Lance didn’t respond verbally, just scowled in response to Keith’s words. He didn’t hear the concern in the black paladin’s voice, just the criticism it had been phrased in. “I guess,” he muttered, looking down. He couldn’t stand to see the judgement in their eyes.

“I’m here,” Hunk called, panting a little as he ran into the room. “Sorry, I had to clean up the kitchen.”

“It’s no worry, Hunk, you got here in time,” Allura assured. “I believe we should begin with some teamwork building. It is something similar to the first exercises that I put you through. The goal is to keep your other teammates safe using communication and any method you can think of.”

The paladins nodded, keeping their bayards on their hips as they summoned their shields. Lance blinked hard, trying to force his eyes to feel more alert as he took his place, glaring at the gladiators surrounding them. Keith’s voice was sharp as he called out, “Begin!” and within seconds the gladiators had begun firing.

Lance did his best to keep the lasers from hitting the others, and he trusted that the others would keep him safe as well, if only for the sake of the team’s success. He knew that he was expendable. By the time the exercise was finished, by Allura’s command, Lance had come close to being hit a few times but only through his own carelessness. Allura deemed it a success, and then set them to training with their bayards, supporting each other as best as possible with different techniques.

Lance was paired with Hunk; Hunk’s long-range cannon required him to be still while he shot, and Lance’s mid-range bo staff was good enough to protect him. Pidge was able to work on her own, as something not unlike a scout, moving ahead and taking down the gladiators on the fringes of the group. Allura and Keith worked well together, Allura’s weapon (something that looked like Earth’s double-barrel shotguns) backing up Keith’s new sword, a hand-and-a-half sword that was larger than his previous one.

The battle was going well  –  Lance had a good handle on what he was doing with his weapon now, thanks to all of his late-night training  –  until Lance felt dizzy for a moment, stumbling as he dogded a shot taken at him. Shaking his head, Lance tried to ignore the sensation, readjusting his grip on the staff as he charged the gladiator and dispatched it within a few seconds. Black spots danced across his vision and Lance tried to fight them off, but they slowly encroached his vision until it was tunnelling, and he fell forward, muscles feeling gone.

“Way to go, Lance,” Hunk cheered, grinning for his friend as he continued shooting at the group of robots in front of him. His cheer was cut off, though, when Lance stumbled again, then collapsed, the sound solid and sickening as it resounded through the room. “...Lance?” He knew that his friend had been in no joking mood lately. This wasn’t likely to be a prank or practical joke, not with Shiro’s life at stake.

“End simulation,” Keith called, alerted to Lance’s situation by the sound of the paladin falling and by Hunk’s concerned call a few seconds later. He rushed over, pulling the bayard away from his hands and turning Lance over. Seeing him from afar had led Keith to believe that, while Lance was tired, he was relatively alright. Seeing him up close like this, however, told Keith that there was something much worse going on.

“Hunk, has Lance been sleeping?” Keith demanded, turning to the yellow paladin with concern in his eyes.

“I... I don’t know,” Hunk admitted shamefully. “He’s been avoiding me, and he barely touches the food on his plate when he does eat with us. And he’s been skipping his daily routines since the lion switch,” he told Keith. “I’ll go check his room, unless you need my help with something.”

“No, but I need Allura’s help to get him to the medical bay. There’s some kind of weird rash on his face and he’s got a fever.”

“Isn’t that just acne?” Pidge questioned, frowning at Lance’s pale, drawn face.

“No, that’s not acne. Trust me, I’ve got plenty of experience,” Keith said seriously. “And besides, even if he hasn’t been keeping up with his skin routines, he showers often enough that acne shouldn’t be a problem.”

Pidge wanted to tease Keith about knowing Keith well enough to comment on his daily showering and skin routines, but decided against it. “Oh. Alright. Well, I’ll go see if there’s anything on any of the logs to tell us what’s wrong with him,” Pidge suggested. “You and Coran and the Princess can get him into a pod.”

Keith nodded, and the paladins separated, going to find out what they could about their friend’s sudden illness.

 

Hunk was a chronic worrier, his friends throughout middle school and at the Garrison constantly told him. If he wasn’t worrying about his grades or his health, he was worrying about his friends or an upcoming event. And right now, Hunk was worried about Lance.

For the past two weeks, Lance had been withdrawn and morose, and Hunk could understand why. At Galaxy Garrison, people treated him like Keith’s replacement. Iverson had made a point to rag on it every chance he could. And being in space, finding the Blue lion, was the first thing that Lance could feel he had done specifically to be recognized for. Shiro’s disappearance and the subsequent lion shift had simply made him feel like Keith’s replacement again.

But in those two weeks, Lance’s appetite (normally healthy enough Hunk would wonder how he could eat so much and be so thin) had dropped to almost nothing. He had stopped his daily skincare routine, too, and more often than not he was up and training even earlier than Keith, even though Hunk knew his friend was a heavy sleeper. It was... concerning, to say the least.

As he approached Lance’s room, Hunk braced himself for what he would find, though he didn’t know what that would be. Though it was clear Lance was having trouble, he didn’t think his friend would resort to hurting himself. Letting out a deep breath, Hunk opened the door, stepping inside.

There were plates half-full of food goo, all in varying states of decay. Hunk made a face at the mess, and then at the smell. Ignoring the plates for now, he moved to the bed. It was mussed, as though Lance had slept in it, but the sheets were still damp from sweat and kicked away, as though he had panicked and pulled himself out of bed. Lance had never had nightmares before, he had always been more of a solid, sprawling sleeper.

His clothes were all put away, too  –  the jacket his brother had gotten him hung up neatly in the closet, gathering dust. The shirt and pants he had worn on their first trip, folded and put away. The only clothes that were pulled out were old Altean clothing, things that he was sure Lance wouldn’t miss if they were destroyed. Pulling the clothes from the drawers, Hunk happened upon a pad, a message typed out in English. Several lines were crossed out.

This is Alejandro (Lance) Matthias McClain’s last will and testament. I don’t have much to give away, so it’s mostly just goodbyes, and one message. I want to be buried in the clothes that I wore when I first got here, if I can’t be brought home. I want my mama and papa to know that I loved them, and that I died doing something that I believed in. I want my siblings to know that I never stopped thinking of them. And I want any neices and nephews that I have to know that even though they never met their uncle Lance, he loved them with everything he had.

I want my team  –  Hunk, Shiro, Keith, Pidge, Coran, and Allura  –  to know that I’m sorry I was such a burden. I’m sorry that I slowed you all down and had a hard time accepting things sometimes. I want you all to know that I tried my hardest and that I wanted to make you all proud. I wanted Allura to know that she and Blue make a great team, and that even though she never really listened, she was a great leader despite a lack of experience. I wanted Hunk to know that he should man up and ask Shay out, and that even though he’s afraid a lot, he’s braver than he knows. I want Pidge to know that, if we haven’t found the Holts yet, you will. They’ll be just fine, and they’ll be so proud of what you’ve accomplished. I want Shiro to know that he was a great leader, and that he holds the team together. Also, he should man up, too, and ask Allura out. I want Coran to know that he reminded me of an uncle that I have, and even if I seemed a little fed up sometimes, I really did feel close to him and enjoyed every story he had to tell. And last but not least, Keith. I want you to know that, even if being a leader was thrust on you, you did a good job. You should try to stick up for yourself a little more, though, instead of just letting Allura run everything. I’m really proud of you, Keith, you’ve come a long way. You’re someone that I’m proud to have looked up to.

The ‘will’ ended there, and Hunk found that there were tears streaming down his cheeks as he put it back down. He felt like he’d read something that he shouldn’t have. But this was something to tell the others about. The food, the nightmares, and the will.

 

Pidge rushed up to the training room’s console, deciding to run a few checks. She knew that Lance had been getting in extra training when there was no one else in there, so she wanted to check exactly when that had been. And she was in luck  –  there were video records of the logged training times, starting from when someone walked into the room until they walked out. The first account of Lance being in the room alone was the day he had moved to the Red lion, and he had the red bayard in his hands, twirling it in his hands with ease and experience. Pidge wondered where he had learned to handle it like that, since he made so many comments about being the ‘sharpshooter’.

Pidge fast-forwarded through the video, skipping to the next time Lance was alone. It was later, and he looked tired, like he had woken up and decided that he had nothing better to do. He trained until it was nearly morning, leaving just before Keith arrived. The next time he showed up was the next night; Lance had come a little sooner that time, and trained for a little longer. This continued every night for the last two weeks. By the time Lance had finished, he had been on level 24  –  Pidge was shocked. She had only gotten to level eight so far, and that was training on her own as often as she could, around looking for Shiro and looking for Matt and her dad.

Frowning, Pidge got up, looking at the pad that Lance had left to the side of the room  –  it looked like it was all in Altean. It was like the program she had started and promptly quit because it tried to kill her  –  except this one looked like it was just about learning how to read the language, not speak it. She had no idea Lance had been trying to learn Altean. She had never tried to really be friends with him or Hunk while they were at the Garrison, though they had been teammates. She had grown closer to Hunk once they were in space, though, since it proved to her that Hunk could help her with the practical parts of her interests. But she hadn’t made any efforts to make any closer connections with Lance. She hardly knew the teen.

 

Keith was grateful for Allura’s help in lifting Lance off the ground. The teen may have been lanky and tall, but he had recently developed some serious muscles, and that made him even heavier. “Do you have any idea what’s wrong with him?” Allura asked as the pair carried Lance to the medical bay, Coran having run ahead to prep a pod.

“No. But I think it might have something to do with not sleeping. I wasn’t really close with him before we got out here, so I don’t know if he has a history of things like this happening. As far as I’m aware, the first time any of us met was at Galaxy Garrison, and even then some of us didn’t interact much,” Keith explained. “I just hope that he’ll be okay. I’ve never seen him like this before.”

“I... feel as though I have been too harsh on him,” Allura said after a long moment. “It... Piloting the Blue lion has taught me much about most of the team, but I have still kept Lance at an arm’s length. And the Blue lion has made it clear that she is only tolerating my presence until Lance is able to pilot her once more.” She looked over at Keith, then sighed. “I have been too harsh on all of you. The previous paladins all signed up to be defenders of the universe, and they were all adults. It is unfair to ask you all to shoulder this burden when you are all so young.”

“Well, most of us have really good motivation to continue,” Keith assured her. “For Shiro at the moment, if nothing else. He’s the only family I have, so as long as he’s motivated, you know I’ll be here. And Pidge has to find her family. Hunk... I know that he wants to protect his family. The fact that he likes Shay doesn’t hurt. And Lance... He’s wanted to go home. He doesn’t say as much, but I know that he feels it. But he doesn’t want to let us down, so he won’t. I honestly don’t know how long that will last, though.”

Keith sighed, shaking his head as he helped take off Lance’s armor to get him in the cryopod. “When will we know what’s wrong with him?” Allura asked Coran, not wanting to think about the fact that Lance may wish to leave them.

“In just a tick, princess. The pod needs to calibrate –” Coran went still, eyes widening in response to what he was reading. “This... this cannot be right. The pod must be malfunctioning.”

“What does it say?”

“It’s... the pod is registering Altean genes,” Coran explained, shocked still. “More Altean than Human.”

Chapter Text

“Guys! I found something in Lance’s room,” Hunk called, running into the medical bay, holding tightly to the pad, Pidge only steps behind him. When he looked around, though, he went still. “What... what’s going on?”

“It’s Lance,” Keith said, frowning. “He...”

“He’s Altean,” Allura continued. “Or at least, that is what the cryopod is saying.”

“That would explain why he’s been whipping through the training levels for hand-to-hand and close-range weapon combat,” Pidge mused aloud. “He’s been spending his nights in there for the past two weeks, almost constantly.”

Hunk was silent still, looking up at his friend’s face in the cryopod, dark bags under his eyes and raw spots on his cheeks. “But... how? How could Lance be Altean?”

“We... don’t know. It will take some time for the pod to finish running a diagnostic and to give us a direct line to his ancestors,” Coran said, fiddling with something on a panel. “But... this... this is something that we can handle. What is it that you found in his room, Hunk?”

“Oh, that. Um. Apparently Lance has been preparing for something bad to happen, because... well, he wrote out a will.” Pidge and Keith gasped in response, though Allura and Coran remained silent.

“What is a ‘will’?” Allura questioned, looking between the three humans. “You make it seem like something bad.”

“A will is... well, almost exactly what it sounds like. It’s a backup plan for if you die. You’re ‘willing ’ your worldly possessions to... surviving family and friends.” Keith was the first to speak in order to explain. “They’re formally called a ‘Last Will and Testament’. Legally binding ones require at least two witnesses.”

“So Lance was... prepared to die. Even though he did not want to be here?”

“That’s probably why he was prepared, Princess,” Hunk said morosely. “He seems like a really optimistic guy most of the time but he has his serious moments and sometimes things get really... heavy. He’s been thinking about it for a while, I think, there were a lot of crossed out lines before what’s actually written.”

“But there’s nothing to prove that he was planning to... you know?” Pidge seemed concerned, which Hunk could understand. The two hadn’t been close before, but it was hard not to worry when one of your friends, close or not, straight up collapsed in the middle of training.

“No, nothing like that,” he confirmed, relieved that he was able to say so. “But he hasn’t been eating a lot, and I think he’s been having nightmares, which might explain him being up all night.” Hunk let out a sigh. “I’m not... I’m not gonna read it aloud. It’s... I think it’s too private. But I’m not sorry I found it.”

“Oh so you’ll read my journal aloud to everyone but you won’t – “ Pidge cut herself off, then sighed. She wouldn’t want anyone to read her will aloud, not if she wasn’t dead. “Yeah, I get that.”

Silence fell between the group as they looked up at Lance, then over to Coran. “When can we expect those results?” Allura questioned, looking hopeful.

“I don’t know,” Coran admitted. “It’s been quite some time since the pods have needed to do this much work. But I’ll let you all know as soon as I find out,” he assured.

“That’s all we can ask for,” Keith said with a nod, cutting Allura off when it looked like she wanted to argue. “For now, I think we should take a break. Maybe get some food and talk about what we know. I think that we’ve been putting it off for too long.”

“You mean, about... about Shiro? Or about Lance?” Pidge asked. Both subjects were sore and painful to think about, let alone talk about.

“Both. Shiro’s disappearance is what started this downward spiral with Lance. It’s only going to get worse if we don’t talk about it.” Keith didn’t want to broach the subject, but after this, he knew it was necessary.

“I... yeah, okay,” Pidge agreed, though reluctantly. Anything was better than wallowing in misery and guilt.

Silence reigned throughout the halls as the paladins made their way to the group sitting area, taking off armor and making themselves as comfortable as possible as they seated themselves a comfortable distance from each other. It was a long period of silence, and it felt like an eternity. Again, Keith was the first to speak.

“I know that Shiro’s disappearance was hard on all of us for varying reasons,” he started, feeling unsure of what to say. “I get it. Not only was he our team leader, he was like a brother to me. Pidge, he was the last connection to your family until we get them back. It’s going to be hard until we get him back.” Keith took in a deep breath through his nose, thinking about Shiro’s words of wisdom. Patience yields focus . “We should have talked about this two weeks ago before anyone decided that we needed to switch lions,” he added, avoiding looking at Allura.

“I still stand by that decision,” Allura said firmly. “We need a black paladin, and Keith, you were closest to Shiro. You and Lance are much alike, so it only made sense for him to pilot the red lion.”

“Yeah, but-” Hunk interjected, then froze. “Lance and Keith aren’t actually all that alike, princess. They both seem hotheaded and reckless at first glance. But... Well, Lance isn’t like that at all, not really.”

“What do you mean?” Allura seemed confused. Not that any of the paladins could blame her –  she didn’t spend time with any of the paladins save Shiro, not more than giving orders or passing conversation. Certainly never enough time to get to know them.

“Well, Lance puts up a front because that’s what people expect. He’s really smart  –  just like the rest of us. How else would he get into the Garrison?” Pidge pointed out. She’d never been really buddy-buddy with Lance, but she knew that he could keep up her technical conversations with Hunk. Not to mention that she’d found his Altean dictionary work. “And I was in the same Strategy class as him. He was the top of the class, even though all he ever did was goof off.”

“Oh, really? I didn’t know that,” Hunk said with a light laugh. “He hates schoolwork, so he never talked about it, really.” Pausing, Hunk turned to Allura again. “I’ve known Lance for a while, Princess. He’s actually really insecure, even if he puts up this huge front of being overconfident in himself. And he’s... really good at hiding things. He...” Hunk trailed off, frowning as he looked at the pad on the seat next to him.

“He hated me for a little bit, I think,” Keith spoke up again finally, having had enough of the silence. “I figured it out a while ago. I mean, now it’s just turned into teasing, but... Me getting kicked out is the only reason he got into fighter class, isn’t it?”

“Well, not the only reason, but it’s a big one,” Hunk confirmed. “He’s got a big family, so he was going to the Garrison by scholarship. He worked himself sick just before the final day of testing to get into the fighter class and got stuck in the infirmary, so he wasn’t able to get in. When you dropped out, Lance was the first choice to replace you, simply because he had top scores in every other portion of the test and good enough grades in all of his classes to keep up with the makeup work.”

“And knowing Iverson  –  he’s the reason I got kicked out  –  he took every chance he could to rub it in Lance’s face that he only got in because I dropped out. So...”

“Having to take your place as the red paladin probably didn’t help that.” Pidge sighed as she realized what had been hurting Lance so much.

“And the Blue lion was his only connection to his home,” Allura reasoned, eyes wide. “No wonder she wants Lance back as soon as possible. The Blue lion is very upset with me for taking Lance’s place, though she is willing to work with me until we have Shiro back.”

“Lance doesn’t think that, though,” Hunk blurted out after a moment. “It was in his will. He thinks that you and Blue make a great team, Allura, he doesn’t know how much she wants him back. Oh my god, do... do you think he was going to try and leave the team when we got Shiro back? He said in his will that he wanted Blue and Allura to work together, do you think that he thought... that we didn’t need him?” The simple act of even stringing those words together made something in Hunk’s chest ache.

There was almost as much horror in the expressions of the other paladins, so Hunk was relieved that it wasn’t just him who found the idea terrifying. There was silence for a long time. “We should go eat something. There’s not a lot we can do just dwelling on things,” Allura said firmly. “And if we want to support Lance then we have to have our own strength.”

“Right. Um, there’s plenty of food in the kitchen, so...” Hunk trailed off, brow furrowed and eyes distant. It was clear that he was still thinking about what he had read.

The paladins filed out of the room, heading towards the kitchen, though Hunk stayed sitting, the pad held tightly in one hand as the other gripped his knee, the touch almost painful. Hunk flinched when a hand touched his shoulder, and looked up to see Pidge.

“He wasn’t giving up, or anything,” she said after a moment, sitting down. “He’s learning Altean in his spare time, not that he has much between all the training he’s been doing. And.. he’s up to level 24 on the simulator.”

“Woah, really? Keith isn’t even there yet.” Hunk was impressed  –  why hadn’t Lance told any of them about this?

“I know, right?” Pidge grinned at Hunk for a moment before her expression faltered. “I’m amazed that he’s been learning Altean. I tried, but I gave up after the teaching program tried to kill me.”

“Well, Lance does have a knack for languages. English isn’t even his first language. He grew up speaking Spanish and he only learned English a year or two before he came to the Garrison.”

“That’s why he messes up his words sometimes? Not just because he’s trying to be funny?”

“Yeah. Lance is... he’s a genius, really. But the things that you and I do, they’re completely different in Spanish. He can’t keep up when we’re talking about everything in English, because he has to translate everything in his head, and then translate his response back, and by then we’ve moved on.” Hunk sighed. “I guess that’s part of why he hasn’t been hanging out as much. If he thinks that we don’t need him, then he’d... well, he’d do exactly what he did.” Hunk paused, then turned to Pidge. “Come on, let’s go get something to eat. There’s no point in just sitting around, waiting.”

“Right,” Pidge agreed, walking with Hunk back to the kitchen, where Keith and Allura were already waiting. “I really hope that he’ll be okay. I have to apologize. I’ve been.. I haven’t been a good friend.”

After almost an hour, to the paladins’ reckoning, Coran’s voice came through the speakers. “I have the results, paladins. You may come to the infirmary to discuss what I’ve found,” he said clearly, and the paladins dropped their discussion, leaving their armor and rushing to the medical bay to learn what Coran had found out.

“Well?” Allura all but demanded as they entered, gathering around Coran as he looked up at them. “What did you find?”

“The previous Blue Paladin was a close cousin of your father,” Coran began, looking at Allura. “She took the Blue Lion to Earth when the paladins scattered, and apparently she was well enough to survive the trip after escaping. She must have began a family on Earth,” he explained. “Lance’s human family eventually moved from where the Blue Lion was hidden. It appears that finding the Blue Lion was what had initially triggered the gene shift, but spending so much time in the cryopods, which are geared towards Altean DNA brought it forth more prevalently.”

“The short version?” Keith asked, having a hard time wrapping his head around what Coran was saying.

“Lance would be considered a distant cousin to Allura, and... essentially a part of the Royal line.” Coran looked at Allura once more. “You’re still first in succession, obviously, but unless you have an heir at some point, then upon your death the crown would go to Lance.”

“I.... would need to discuss that with him.” Allura looked torn between elation and confusion. “Would Lance even want to take the throne? He knows nothing of Altean politics.”

“But he could learn, if he wanted to,” Keith reminded the princess, their very recent conversation coming to mind. “Lance is more than just flirting, Princess.”

“I... yes. I’ll discuss it with him when he wakes up,” Allura decided with a firm nod. “His ears and hair, though?”

“The healing pod is making the changes much easier,” Coran explained. “His ears are changing even now. And his hair will begin to grow out white, so he will have brown hair for some time yet.”

“What color will the marks on his face be? Do those have any special meaning?” Pidge asked, stepping closer to the pod and looking up at Lance’s face. He didn’t look that different, just tired.

“The colors often hold meaning to each person. There is no way of knowing what color Lance’s will be until they finish forming.”

“Oh.” Pidge seemed disappointed. “And I guess the colors are supposed to be really personal, so it would be considered rude to ask about the meaning, then.”

“Generally, yes,” Coran confirmed, but he sounded amused. Probably because they didn’t have to be as worried about Lance. “They actually form all over the body, but are most commonly seen on the face. Most Alteans choose to wear long-sleeved clothing that hides the markings.”

“How come?” Keith asked, frowning. That seemed odd  –  like hiding freckles, or something.

“I... don’t actually know the answer to that,” Coran admitted. “It’s just something that we’ve done for hundreds of years.”

“So how long will it be before he wakes up?” Hunk asked, still concerned for Lance, even though they knew he would be okay.

“It shouldn’t be too long, since the biggest problem was exhaustion. He’ll need to get some sleep outside of the pod, though, since there’s only so much that the pod can do to heal that.” Coran softened slightly as he looked up at Lance’s tired face in the pod. “He’s been avoiding everyone, hasn’t he?”

Keith, Pidge, and Hunk looked sheepish before nodding, and Allura watched their response before giving a firm nod of her own. “We didn’t realize just how much we’d been pushing him away,” Keith admitted. “All of us had some of the picture, but we hadn’t worked together to see all of it. We need to work on communication, as individuals and as a team.”

“And we need to make sure that if we see something off, we confront it. I had noticed that Lance was acting odd, but I figured he would work it out on his own or come to me if he wanted to talk. And it... didn’t work out like that,” Hunk said after a long moment. “I want to make sure that he knows that no matter what, I’m there for him. I didn’t do enough to prove that to him.”

“Hunk, I’m sure –” Whatever Coran was about to say was cut off by the hiss of the pod opening, and Lance stumbling out, groggy and disoriented.

“Lance!” The paladin’s name was called by every other person in the room, and Lance looked around in confusion, brow furrowed as he looked at the concerned faces focused on him.

“Guys? Wh... what’s going on?”

“You passed out in the middle of training,” Keith said, deciding to get it out of the way as soon as possible. “We had to put you in a pod, since you weren’t waking up.”

“And we discovered something wonderful!” Allura added, cutting in. “You’re Altean, Lance! See, your ancestor was a cousin of my father’s, who piloted the Blue Lion to Earth and made a life there!”

Lance blinked slowly as Allura gushed, trying to process her words. He was... Altean?

“Wh.. Are you serious? You guys are just screwing with me, right?” Lance demanded, eyes wide, dark circles emphasized even more by the unreadable emotions in his expression. “Th-there’s no way. I’m just a boy from Cuba,” he insisted.

“Lance, you’re my cousin,” Allura said, slowly and clearly. “You’re second in line to the royal throne of Altea!” She missed the glare that Keith, Hunk, and Pidge sent her  –  she was supposed to ask about that in private for a reason, not just push it onto him. But Allura was Allura  –  she had a habit of pushing duties onto others who may not be ready to accept those duties.

“No way. No. Not... I’m not doing this right now,” Lance said, frowning and pushing past Allura, glancing at Hunk, Keith, and Pidge on his way. “She... she’s not serious, is she?” His expression was begging them to tell him that he was right, that Allura was lying, that this was just a misunderstanding. “Hunk?”

“Lance, I... she’s not lying, it’s... Coran confirmed it himself and... well, the evidence is kind of impossible to ignore,” he said, hoping to soften the blow.

“What do you mean, impossible to ignore?” Lance’s voice cracked as he asked the question, fear now obvious in his eyes. “It’s... oh, no,” he said, sudden realization dawning over him as he raised a hand to touch one of his ears. It wasn’t round anymore  –  it felt more like Allura’s looked. “I... This isn’t... this can’t be right,” Lance breathed, voice a hushed sound.  

“Lance, it’s –” Keith started, but he was cut off by the red paladin turning and dashing out of the room, the door open and shut before anyone could react.

“Shit, go after him,” Pidge said, already starting to run to the door. She hardly got a few steps, though, before an alarm started going off.

“The proximity alert!” Allura said, shocked. “We can’t have gotten so close to another world already...”

“We need to focus on that. If worst comes to worst, we can fight without Lance. For now... Coran, can you look for Lance? The rest of us need to get to the lions,” Keith said, making a decision.

“I can do that,” Coran agreed, looking at the Paladins. Hunk looked torn, and he gave the yellow paladin a small smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll find him.”

“Alright,” Hunk agreed, following the others out of the infirmary. Coran stood in the infirmary alone for a long moment, then sighed, turning on the sensors to find where Lance had disappeared to. Not any of the common areas, or the library... Ah! His room.

“Lance,” Coran muttered, brow furrowed as he walked while twisting his mustache. “I realize that this must be hard for you. You didn’t ask to be Altean and you certainly don’t need to feel the need to take up the responsibility of being a prince. No... No, that doesn’t sound right.” He sighed, shaking his head as he continued to Lance’s room, knocking on the door and frowning as he received no answer. “Lance? It’s Coran. May I come in?”

The response was silence, but after a moment, the door slid open, and Coran stepped inside, frowning again as he saw Lance leaning against the wall next to the door, knees curled to his chest as he glared morosely at the floor. Lance looked lost, almost scared... not that he would ever admit to it.

“Lance,” Coran started, rethinking his earlier planned words as he sat down across from the teenager. “I’m sure this is hard. It’s a big change to get used to,” he offered lightly. “Allura is... overexcited. I know that she goes too far sometimes. You certainly don’t need to feel obligated to become a prince  –  being royalty is not your responsibility.” Coran hoped that Lance would respond to that at least, but silence was his only answer. “I just want you to know that I’m here for you to talk to, my boy. I thought that you would come to me earlier, but I want to make sure that you know I am here now.”

Lance finally responded to that, turning watery eyes on the older Altean. “Why don’t I matter to them?” He asked in a hushed voice, fingers curled in the legs of the bodysuit. “They didn’t care until now. Until they find out that I’m.... that I’m not Human. What is it about being Altean that makes me so special that they suddenly give a damn?”

Coran hesitated, then reached out, putting a hand on Lance’s shoulder. “We all care,” he said softly. “I know that Allura is not good at showing it. She has never had personal relationships like this before, and Humans are very different from Alteans in how praise and affection is shown and received. And I know that even I am not the best at doing so  –  I probably don’t seem very approachable,” Coran pointed out. “But your fellow paladins are caring in their own way. They all ask about you over dinner when you don’t show up, and when they go to meals while you hide away, they comment on how much you’ve improved. They want to interact with you more, but they have been so concerned about making the situation worse that they haven’t acted.”

Tears started to roll down Lance’s cheeks as Coran spoke. “But they... they pushed me away,” he whispered, brow furrowed with confusion. “Keith told me that they wanted me to eat in my room, that...”

Coran thought, wondering about the last time Lance had eaten with them. “That we all wanted you to get some rest, and recover before you stress yourself by trying to socialize,” he explained, squeezing Lance’s shoulder. “We have all been worried. And I will make sure that Allura apologizes. It was wrong of her to have an outburst like that. I don’t know if you saw, but Hunk, Keith, and Pidge were all glaring at her as you left. It seems that, though you have not been socializing much, the three are still very much on your side.”

“Oh,” Lance said quietly, sniffing wetly and wiping at his eyes. “I heard an alarm. Is everyone okay?”

“They all went to their lions,” Coran said, pulling back a little to give Lance some space. “They wanted me to make sure that you were alright.”

Lance nodded, wiping at his face again and then reaching for his armor, giving Coran a tight smile. “I’m going to go help them. I’m.... I’m still Lance, I can still do this,” he said, taking a deep breath and nodding.

“I will leave you to it, then,” Coran stepped out of the room as he spoke, smiling. “I’ll inform the others that you are on your way.”

Chapter Text

Lance was still wearing the suit for the healing pod as he rushed to the Red lion, stopping only to grab the red bayard and his helmet from the training room before heading to the hangar and getting into the lion. This existential crisis of his or not, he was a paladin of Voltron, and he had to help defend the ship and his teammates from whatever threat they faced now.

Red purred as she let him into the cockpit, and while Lance felt a pang, missing Blue’s constant contact in his mind, he smiled at her. “Hey, pretty lady,” he said, taking his place and pulling his helmet on, ignoring the fact that he hadn’t had time to put on the rest of his armor. “Let’s see what’s going on with the others. Let’s head out, Red.”

“-aren’t any Galra, what was the purpose of the proximity alert?” Allura asked, confusion filling the comms.

Maybe it’s something that’s passed on already?” Pidge suggested.

Hey, guys. What’s going on?” Lance asked, looking around as Red joined the other lions. “Something about a proximity alert?”

“Lance! Are you okay?” Hunk asked, almost frantic. Lance felt bad at the concern in his friend’s voice, realizing just how much he’d screwed up.

“I... I’m fine,” he said, brushing it off. “Do we know what’s going on? Maybe whatever it was is cloaked or something.”

“Lance... we know you’re not fine. We’ll talk when we’re all back on the ship. But for now, that’s a good point. Pidge, can you scan for the same kind of cloaking tech that you installed on the Green Lion? ” Keith asked, serious solemnity echoing in his voice, reminding Lance of Shiro.

“Yeah, I’ll do that now. But if there is something here, then why hasn’t it attacked yet?” Pidge fell silent as she started running scans, then swore suddenly. “Quiznak! Lance was right, this guy is big. Let me see if Green can share the image with you all.” The screen changed from the blackness of space to an infrared scan of another robot, this time cloaked and only visible through Pidge’s thermal scan.

“Shit. That’s a big one,” Keith swore. “ Let’s form Voltron. That way we’re going to be able to protect the ship better. And Pidge, you can share the continued scan while we’re connected, right?”

“Right!” Pidge confirmed, “ Great suggestion, Lance. I’ve missed your input like that on missions!” The five formed Voltron, the cloaked robot remaining motionless, as though it were waiting for something.

“Guys, I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Lance said softly, frowning as he watched the robot, shifting uncomfortably in his cockpit.

“Well, it’s not like we can solve that. Let’s approach with caution. Be prepared for any kind of response,” Keith said over the comms. “Pidge, be ready with the shield. We don’t know what kind of a punch this thing is packing.”

“Got it,” Pidge replied firmly. “It hasn’t moved yet. Do you think we should strike first?”

“I think that’s our best bet,” Lance pointed out, “If this thing is really powerful, we may not get a chance to get in a hit afterwards.”

“Alright. I’m gonna form the sword. Allura, Hunk, get ready to put out a speed boost. We want to rush it so it doesn’t have time to get out of the way.”

“Got it,” Hunk said, knowing that at the same time Allura was preparing to dart forward.

“Form sword,” Keith cried, likely more out of habit than anything else as he used the Black bayard to form a sword. “Now! Go!” Voltron rushed forward, nowhere near as fast as the Red lion, Lance realized. As the sword was about to cut through the robot, it seemed to almost flicker from view, reappearing in front of them to stop the strike before it could complete the swing.

“Pidge, shield!”

The shield was put up in an instant, just managing to block the hit in time, though it did jar Voltron from their stance. To Lance, still reeling from the news of his heritage, the battle became a blur; he responded to orders, though the chatter over the comms became a dull roar in his ears. He was aware that they had taken hits, and Allura had gotten injured when being knocked around, but she insisted she was well enough to continue fighting.

“I’m fine. Lance, are you alright?” Allura’s concerned voice was enough to snap Lance from his stupor, at least enough to reply.

“I... I’m fine. I’m not injured. Have Coran look at your wrist as soon as this is over,” he said, dismissing the question. “Keith, what’s our next move?”

“We know that this thing’s got two flaws: a hit limit before needing to recharge, and it has to stop to hit us. I think we need to hit it right as it hits us at the end of that limit with everything we’ve got.” Keith’s reasoning was sound, so Lance gripped his controls, ready to swing the sword with everything he had

“Pidge, keep the shield ready until I say so. Hunk, Allura, don’t dodge the hits. We can withstand them until it needs to recharge.”

“Got it!”

“Understood!”

“We can do it!”

Lance waited through the jarring hits, his hands tightening on Red’s controls as she purred with pride in his mind. As the robot prepared the last blow of its current cycle, his eyes narrowed. “Now!”

“Form sword!” Keith bellowed, and Lance was swinging even as the blade was formed in the space between them. The crunch of metal echoed even through the soundless vacuum of space, and though Lance wasn’t truly the one holding the sword, he could feel the rebound of it up his arm as it cut through the robot, splitting it in two, fueled by the full emotions of the situation that not only he felt, but the rest of the paladins did.

Lance panted heavily as the swing ended, knowing that the job was done but not taking pride in the victory like he normally would. When the explosion of the robot’s power centers rocked Voltron in its place, the others cheered, but Lance found no motivation to do the same despite cracking a small smile, sitting still in Red’s cockpit and breathing heavily.

“Alright. Break formation, guys, let’s go make sure there’s no one out there still. I think Voltron would be a little overkill for a single soldier piloting that thing,” Keith said decisively.

Guys, I think I can recover the brain of this thing. If it’s another robeast then we can recover the last memories they had, and if it’s just a robot then I might be able to hack into its data storage,” Pidge suggested as they broke formation, flying around to ensure that there would be no danger from the debris.

“Allura?” Keith asked, deferring to the princess.

“...Retrieve the brain. We may be able to discover information about your family or about Shiro. It could be that it was sent to keep us from approaching Shiro’s location. It’s possible that they’ve discovered his appearance on Daibazaal and have stationed a fleet around it.”

“Alright. Pidge, pick it up. Hunk, Lance, stay on her and then head back to the ship. Allura and I will return and brief Coran on what happened.” Keith spoke decisively, and Lance was glad for the reprieve before they all had to talk, as he knew needed to happen.

Silence reigned over the comms as Pidge sifted through the debris left by the robot they’d fought. Lance could tell that Hunk was itching to ask questions, to determine if Lance was okay, but he was grateful for his friend waiting for him to speak first.

“I’ve got it, guys, we can head back now,” Pidge said, breaking the silence and making Lance jump in surprise after being lost in thought.

Alright. Pidge, you take point, Lance and I will cover you just in case. Any information we can find will be great.” Hunk’s words were uplifting to hear. Though, the reminder that they were so close to getting Shiro back was not only uplifting, but also terrifying. Lance wasn’t ready to give up his place as a paladin, but he wouldn’t dare tell Allura she couldn’t pilot Blue, and he wouldn’t hold Keith back from returning to Red. While he worked well enough as the interim Black paladin, it was clear that Red missed him.

So... how far out are we from Daibazaal?” Lance questioned after a moment, knowing that Pidge would know, at least.

“Not far. We should be there in another few hours,” Pidge said in response. “ Lance...”

“Yeah, Pidge?” Lance questioned, guiding Red into the hangar.

“I.... nevermind. It can wait a few minutes, I want to say it in person.”

Lance frowned, but sighed. “Okay. I’ll see you guys in a minute, then.” As Red landed, Lance stood, stretching and pulling off his helmet, gently patting the console. “You did really good out there, Red.”

Red chuffed in response, as though to say that she would do nothing else, but Lance understood; he wasn’t Keith, and Red was amenable to working with him until Keith could come back, but it didn’t make them best friends. Lance pulled his hand back before leaving Red in the hangar, meeting up with Hunk as the Yellow paladin approached Green’s hangar to help Pidge with the robeast’s brain.

“Hey, Hunk,” Lance said quietly, rubbing sheepishly at the back of his neck. He expected his friend to smile, maybe respond  – he didn’t expect to be swept up in a hug that lifted him off his feet. He squeaked in surprise, then sighed softly, returning the hug. He didn’t realize how much he had missed this. Tears welled in his eyes at the realization, and he buried his face in Hunk’s shoulder, squeezing his friend tightly in a hearty hug.

“I’m so sorry, Lance,” Hunk murmured, gently making sure his friend was settled on the ground, not releasing the hug until Lance began to pull back. “I was an awful friend to you these past few weeks. I don’t know how I’m ever going to make it up to you.”

Lance sniffed, wiping at his eyes before he smiled softly at his friend. “No, it’s okay. I was trying to make myself as.... Well, as little of a problem as possible.”

“That’s what I mean, Lance! I should have noticed.” Hunk’s shoulders slumped and he sighed, shaking his head. “I’m gonna do better from now on, I promise. You’re my best friend, Lance. I mean it.”

Lance was somewhat at a loss for words; he’d spent.... A long time, for what they’d been through so far, thinking that he was mostly a hindrance. A bit part of him was wondering if Hunk was being honest, if he really was Lance’s best friend... Lance wanted to believe him.

“Thanks, Hunk,” Lance said after a moment,  leaning his forehead against Hunk’s shoulder and speaking more loudly than he had in weeks, but not nearly so robust as he had before things started going downhill. “I’m gonna try to be better, too.” The pair continued walking towards the Green lion’s hangar, Hunk beginning to take off the outer shell of his armor so that he could move easier, when the person-sized door opened and Pidge barrelled through, practically throwing herself on Lance in a hug somehow tighter than Hunk’s had been.

Lance stumbled back in response, blinking in surprise as he adjusted to the younger paladin’s weight and gingerly lifted his hands to return the hug. “Pidge?” Lance asked hesitantly, frowning at Hunk before he looked down at Pidge’s head again. She looked up, meeting his eyes with an earnest, honest expression in her own.

“You’re my family too, Lance,” she said, her voice wobbly but sincere. “I know that I’m not going to stop looking for Matt but you’ve treated me like a little sister and I’ve been taking advantage of that and it’s not fair to you at all, and I just want you to know that I’m really sorry!” The words came out in a rush, and Pidge flushed as she finished speaking, as though she’d thought of what to say beforehand and it ended up being not quite what came out.

Watching her for a long moment, Lance lifted his hands to her shoulders and separated them, considering the Green paladin’s expression  – she had bags under her eyes as though she hadn’t slept in a few days (quite possible, since she was good at hiding herself away where Coran couldn’t find her to get her to sleep and Lance hadn’t really been around to make her take a break for some time) and she looked more than a little distressed. Not the same kind of distress that she showed when the discussion turned to Matt and Shiro, but distressed all the same. Sighing, Lance nodded. “Okay, Pidgey,” he said easily; the road to forgiveness was a long one and he and Pidge didn’t really have a lot of trust built up in the first place, but he had a feeling that she was being sincere about this. “Come on, let’s get this brain for you.”

Pidge sniffed, but smiled and nodded. “Yeah.” There was a long pause as they entered Green’s hangar together before she spoke again. “...Can you give me some tips on reading Altean?”

The question was so unexpected that it managed to pull a startled laugh from Lance, and he grinned at the girl before he nodded. “I think I can do that,” he said softly after a moment, scratching at his cheek under his right eye. “I... the change isn’t too obvious, is it?” He turned to Hunk, something like fear hidden under layers of bravado in his eyes.

Hunk smiled softly. “No, it’s not too obvious,” he promised. “The ears aren’t that bad, way more subtle than Allura’s. And... well, the face marks haven’t come in all the way yet but I bet they’ll suit you.”

“Huh,” Lance mused, frowning. “That’s probably why it’s so itchy...”

“Maybe you’re shedding!” Pidge called from further away, grinning as she adopted a teasing tone. Lance huffed a laugh, shaking his head.

“Who knows? Maybe I am,” he agreed after a long moment, grunting with exertion as he helped Hunk move the robeast’s mechanical brain, or storage, or whatever to a workstation so Pidge could hook it up. “The others are going to want us all to talk, huh?”

“...Yeah. We’re all worried, Lance. Even Allura’s worried, even though she doesn’t really... get how it’s affecting you. None of us have been fair to you, and it’s even worse that it’s all coming out right now because...”

“Because we just found out that you have Altean ancestors and we don’t want to make you feel like we only care because you’re Altean,” Pidge explained. “Allura made it seem like that in by the pods but that’s... it’s not... Ugh.” She shook her head, frustrated that she didn’t know how to explain herself.

“You’re still Lance. You’re my best friend, you’re Blue’s favorite paladin, you’re Keith’s right-hand-man and you’re an important part of this team,” Hunk said firmly. “Just because you’re piloting Red right now or have Altean genetics doesn’t change any of that.”

Lance didn’t even realize he had started crying until his vision blurred and didn’t return to normal until he blinked and hot tears slid down his cheeks. He gave a sharp nod, then cleared his throat, wiping the tears away before he spoke. “Right. I... I guess we should go and, um. Do that. But our priority should be on finding Shiro. Do we know where he would be on Daibazaal?”

“Not yet, but I think Keith and Black are working together to find out,” Pidge said, taking Lance’s hand in her own as they walked up to the command center, where the others should be gathered. The simple contact made Lance smile, and he slowly relaxed as they made their way through the ship.

Once in the command center, Coran gave Lance an understanding expression, Keith gave him a relieved look, and Allura seemed focused on the mission.

“Status report?” She questioned as they approached, focusing on Pidge.

“We got the brain, or data center. Still haven’t figured out which  – it looks like it’s bio-mechanical. No casualties, injuries, or even scrapes on the lions.” Pidge squeezed Lance’s hand, glancing over at the teen and at the rashy, flaking skin under his eyes. It looked uncomfortable, and Lance too seemed uncomfortable  – this time from the scrutiny Allura was giving him.

“That’s good,” Keith said before Allura could say anything else. “We’ve got a course plotted to an uninhabited moon near Daibazaal. From there we should be able to tell if there’s any kind of Galra presence and further pinpoint Shiro’s location. Until then... We all need to talk.” Keith fixed each of them with a look that prompted no argument, even managing to keep Allura silent  – it was clear that they had spoken about it before the Garrison trio had entered. “Lance, are you hungry at all?”

Lance hesitated for a moment, thinking about it before he nodded. “Yeah. I haven’t, um. Eaten in a while.”

The expression on Hunk’s face made it clear he was holding back a comment on that, but Lance was glad that he didn’t say it  – he knew that what he’d been doing wasn’t exactly healthy but he hadn’t been in a very good space – he still wasn’t. Right now, though, hunger won out over discomfort.

“Alright. Let’s all go take a break, maybe get something to eat, then,” Keith suggested; they hadn’t properly been able to do so while Lance was in the pod. “We can talk while we eat. Because if we’re going to function properly as a team then we need to communicate. It’s a miracle that we’re able to form Voltron at all, because... we haven’t been doing that.” Coran nodded sagely as he followed the paladins to the kitchen, almost making it feel like he was there simply to ensure everyone did, in fact, go.

The room was silent as they dished out food goo enough for each of them, until Lance’s skin was crawling from the awkward silence (and from the look of it, most of the others were just as uncomfortable).

“So,” Lance said, frowning as he spooned up some goo, looking fixedly at his plate. “I’m apparently Altean, huh?” His tone was light, a drastic contrast to his expression, which was enough to make Pidge snort inelegantly.

“Yes,” Allura said easily, putting her spoon down. “We are distant cousins if we’re correct. The first Blue Paladin was my father’s first cousin, and we believe she made a life for herself upon hiding the Blue Lion on Earth. You are her descendant, and we believe that your Altean genes were activated when you began interacting with the castle and the Lions.”

“Not to mention all of the times you’ve been exposed to quintessence since you’ve been here. Altean genetics have always been highly susceptible to quintessence-based reactions,” Coran added.

“So... what kind of changes can I expect?” Lance asked after another moment, glancing around at the other paladins. Hunk had an encouraging smile on his face, and Pidge looked just as curious as him, while Keith was brooding into his food goo, like he was trying to figure out what to say.

“Your hair will begin to grow out white, the same as Allura’s,” Coran told him. “I’m sure you already noticed your ears and where the marks are beginning to develop. Normally it’s far more instantaneous, so I can only assume that it’s taking so long because the gene was not only recessive, it was buried deep in your genetics. They’ll begin to appear all over your body eventually, most prominently on your chest and arms.” Coran took another moment to ponder it before speaking again. “There is also a chance you’ll be able to operate the teludav, as well as manipulate quintessence, but those are skills that will likely develop with time.”

“Huh. So mostly just cosmetic changes then.” It hurt, to know that his face would no longer be his own, not really, but it was better than he had initially expected. “So...”

“We need to talk about how we operate as a team,” Keith said after no one spoke for a long moment. “We’ve all been doing a lot of things wrong. Focusing too much on ourselves, too much on fighting. Even with Shiro...” Keith trailed off for a long moment, biting at his lip before looking up confidently. “We haven’t been a team. We’ve worked together, sure, even formed Voltron, but I don’t know anything about you guys. I haven’t told you guys anything, either. And because of that, at least one person on the team thought that they weren’t needed, weren’t important.” He looked over at Lance, giving him an apologetic look.

“Guys, I –” Lance started, then cut himself off, looking down in shame. “That’s not on you guys.”

“No, it kind of is, Lance,” Pidge said with a frown on her face. “I mean, we were a team at the Garrison and I didn’t try to bond with you or Hunk then, not really, because I was too focused on looking for Matt and my dad. And I haven’t really made an effort since then.” She paused, shoulders slumping as she put her spoon down. “Actually, it feels like you’re the one that’s been making all the effort with it.”

“Yeah, it’s not fair of us that we keep shutting you down when you’re being yourself or trying to lighten the mood. And we haven’t bonded as a team at all,” Hunk agreed.

Allura frowned. “We have done team bonding exercises,” she countered, shaking her head. “Are we not bonding when we work together in training? Do we not get to know each other?”

“Not really,” Keith said, shaking his head. “I mean, Princess, could you honestly tell any of us our favorite colors? Favorite foods? Favorite kind of music?”

Allura faltered, brow furrowing before she shook her head. “No, I could not.”

“I want us to get to know each other. We’re going to be saving the universe together... I think we should be able to be a family while we do it.” Keith looked to Lance, giving him a small smile. “And every member of this team, of this family, is important. Whether they’re human or Altean, Paladin or not.” Keith smiled at Coran as he spoke the last bit.

Lance’s fingers tightened on his spoon as he looked around the table. “Why now?” He asked in a sharp voice, eyes hard as he looked at Keith. “Why are you bringing this up now? It never seemed to matter before.” Don’t get him wrong, he was more than happy that it was happening; it was something that needed to be done for a long time. He just didn’t like the fact that him breaking down seemed to be the catalyst for it.

“It did matter before, but I was ignoring the problem,” Keith admitted after a moment. “I thought that if we could manage the same way as we had with Shiro as leader then everything would work out. And I was wrong. I didn’t realize how bad it had been, sure, but this has been a problem from the beginning and we need to fix that problem. I’m sorry that it took you being hurt so badly for us to realize it,” he apologized, ducking his head at Lance.

Lance felt his anger draining out of him and he slumped slightly as he sighed. “Thank you,” he said after a moment, looking around at the others. “I... the apology helps. It doesn’t make things right, but... it helps.” He spooned out another small bite of food goo, then looked over at Allura. “Princess, I’m not going to just dive into Altean politics right away. I’m going to need to get used to the fact that I’m not fully human first. Thank you for being so enthusiastic about it, though.” He gave her a small smile, looking incredibly tired. “Hunk, Pidge... thank you for making me feel better and for apologizing earlier. I’m looking forward to getting to know each other better.” Lance smiled at the two, then turned to Keith. “Keith, I... I don’t know what to say, honestly. I want to... I want to believe that it’s going to get better from here on out, but... It’ll take time.”

“And well it should!” Coran agreed brightly. “You’ve been hurt, my boy, you have every right to take time to recover. “Now, Keith... What sort of bonding did you have in mind?”