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Road to Re(dis)covery

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Lance had always loved two things his entire life, the ocean and space. When he wasn’t swimming he was probably stargazing or watching sci-fi films about explorers discovering the wonders of the stars and the creatures that lived on planets lightyears away. When he was little he was certain that only special people could go up in space, so he satisfied himself with a future exploring the depths of the ocean. But then he’d gotten into the Garrison and everything had changed. Suddenly there was a chance for Lance to go up and see the far-off stars for himself. He could help his country and become a hero. It had all been a fantastic dream of his, right up until orientation when he’d been thrown into the bottom tier of his class. It was a major set back, but nothing Lance couldn’t get through, nothing he couldn’t work hard to overcome. And he worked his ass off for the first few years, but it never brought him closer to his goal. He was always the one screwing up, the one cracking too many jokes, the one who wanted too much out of his too-little potential. He was on his way to being a cargo pilot. All of his teachers said as much, and there was no way he would ever get into a ship that went more than a dozen feet off the ground. Instead of giving up, though, it had just pushed Lance to work harder and after that… Everything started to get hazy, which brought up Lance’s current issue.

He couldn’t remember the last two years of his life.

Months at the Garrison and his year in captivity were all just a blank space in his head. He knew time had passed, but it was a matter of what had happened in that time that was lost on him. Hunk had filled him in on some of the vague details when they waited in the shack. He had gone to Kerberos- Lance thought Hunk was playing some kind of joke on him. Seriously? He had been a cargo pilot in the making, what miracle happened that he actually was able to head up into space?- and had gone missing. It took a year to get back, with new hardware attached to him no less. Lance’s crewmates had not returned with him, and Lance couldn’t remember who let alone where they even were. It was frustrating to say the least, but then Shiro and the others came back and it was just more questions after that.

Everything had moved so fast after that, too fast for Lance to let things sink in and actually think. Waking up in a random shack had been a surprise, as had finding a giant war machine in the shape of a cat. The alien vessel had suddenly appeared and Lance was able to shoot it down before it even touched them. The wormhole and the castle, finding two aliens who had been locked in cryosleep. It was all a lot to process in just one day, and even after they’d settled in the castle, it still wasn’t hitting Lance. It didn’t sink in that they were suddenly millions of miles from home, that Lance had left home in the first place only to come back and leave again.

And now they were suddenly being chosen as soldiers to defend the universe. Go figure.

Allura had named them Paladins and had assigned them to their lions within an hour of waking up. Finding the lions was pretty simple, alien attacks aside, and then they’d received their Bayards. Well, Hunk, Keith, and Pidge had received their Bayards; Shiro and Lance were left out of the loop. According to the Princess, the Blue and Black Bayards were lost with the last generation of Paladins. “We’ll make do.” Shiro had said, in hopes of easing Allura’s obvious guilt. Two of the five Paladins without their proper weapons? It was a sad joke, but while Shiro claimed to be confident they could work without them, Lance wasn’t as sure. What could they do with their bare hands that would ever match up to what the bayards could accomplish? Call him paranoid, but Lance was pretty sure Hunk’s cannon could pack a lot more of a punch than his own noodle arms.

“Wait, aren’t there any weapons around here we can use? I mean, I can hold my own in a fight, don’t you worry, Princess… But, um, having no Bayard sucks. There’s gotta be something.” Lance made an open gesture with his hands to show how empty they were, speaking up for the first time since Allura assigned them their Lions when they arrived. The Princess looked unsure for a second before nodding.

“Of course, a Paladin should always be able to make due, whether they are equipped properly or not. You are welcome to use any weapons you see fit on the training deck.” She answered, hands clasped low in front of her. Lance wasn’t too sure how well he would do with any weapons, but it was better than nothing and he was comforting- but only a little. It didn’t help when Hunk nudged him.

“C’mon, man! You did fine taking out the Galra ship back home; you can handle whatever you pick.” He said optimistically, while his hands struggled to hold up his cannon comfortably. Lance grinned, chest puffing out with pride.

“Yeah, I did, didn’t I? That ship didn’t stand a chance!” Keith rolled his eyes as Lance crowed about his first run with Blue, while Shiro just watched silently from the side with Pidge. Allura looked between the Paladins. This was the first she had heard about a Galra ship, especially one that engaged with them.

“You were attacked by the Galra? And you managed to escape?” She asked, though it sounded more like a demand. If the Galra were involved with the Blue Lion’s awakening and arrival to Arus, then there wasn’t much time before they would have company.

“Not really escaped, it’s more like he left the whole thing in shards. There was hardly a piece left after Lance got through with it. Sent one shot to the back near the lower decks and then BAM! The whole thing went up like a firework! He freaking annihilated it!” This was news to the Alteans. They stared at Lance for a few moments, and no one said anything until Coran grinned brightly.

“Well! First run in the Lion and first Galra fighter! Very impressive, for a human!” Lance chose not to be offended by that last bit, he hadn’t been praised like this since he was in elementary school and he brought his little macaroni sculptures home to his mom.

“Actually, I believe it was more like a cruiser. It was at least ten times the size of the Blue Lion and it had this giant cannon at the head of the ship.” Pidge piped up, and Hunk nodded enthusiastically beside them. Coran’s smile morphed back into a look of shocked wonder. Everyone turned to look at Lance, and he was no longer looking so proud of himself.

“You took out a Galra cruiser?”

“Yes?”

“Without any knowledge of its origin and never having commanded the Blue Lion before?”

“Nope.”

“Then how?” Both Allura and Coran spoke the same time, looking at Lance like he had suddenly sprouted a third arm.

“The engines in the lower decks?” Lance answered, leaning back the more Coran kept leaning forward. “There were engines in the lower back decks of the ship, I shot at them and the rest of the ship just went kaboom.” Allura didn’t look too satisfied with that, and Coran was still leaning way too far into Lance’s personal bubble, still stroking his mustache.

“And how did you know that? You humans don’t have some kind of X-Ray vision do you?” The older Altean gave Lance a scrutinizing look, ignoring Hunk’s soft “I wish…”

“Aren’t all ships like that?” It was logical, in Lance’s mind. It made sense and it was obviously true since the ship wouldn’t have blown itself to pieces otherwise. But as he looked around, no one nodded their heads.

“All ships on Earth have their engines near the front or to the sides,” Keith said, glancing at Lance with this look that was starting to get on Lance’s nerves. He just had to correct him, didn’t he, Mister Big Shot Kogane who knew everything. Every time Lance said admitted he didn’t remember something the others were talking about, or if he said something wrong like where the stupid engines were, Keith had a comment.

“Well, it still worked didn’t it?” Lance shot back, giving Keith a scowl before turning back to Coran. “But that’s how alien ships run right?” He asked expectantly, hoping to shoot Keith’s little add in down, but the Altean shook his head.

“Not at all. At least not on Altea. Our engines and the fuel sources for ships are typically in the nose of the ship or in the very center.” Lance sent Keith a sideways glance as Coran continued to ask, “Where would you get the idea that the engines were in the rear lower decks?” Everyone in the room suddenly inched closer to Lance, like being huddled together would provide a swift answer. The Blue Paladin shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t know, man! It just… made sense?” He really hadn’t thought about it when they were all in Blue and a giant cruiser was firing at them. He just acted on what felt right, and what felt right was getting rid of the threat before it had time to get the better of them. He didn’t think about where he was firing until Blue’s laser was piercing through the hull of the Galra ship. After that, everything just fell into place. He’d followed his gut and it got them out safely, so why were they all making such a big deal out of it?

“Do you…” Hunk spoke up, shuffling from foot to foot. He’d deactivated his Bayard, so his hands were left fidgeting in front of him. “Do you think maybe you learned it from when you were… y’know…” He didn’t finish the sentence, but everyone already knew where he was going with that, they were all thinking the same. But Lance just shook his head.

“No idea.” No one pressed him on it, which Lance was grateful for, and Coran seemed pleased, even though Allura still looked skeptical.

“Right then! The point to remember is that your swift-working cranial cave got you out of harm’s way and we won’t have any angry Galra coming after you anytime soon.” He smiled brightly from behind his mustache, eyes crinkling. “‘Course the Empire will be wondering where that cruiser of theirs went, but I’m sure that won’t be for a few more quintants!” The five humans stared at the advisor, eyes wide.

“Quintants? What’s a quintant? If we only have a few of those before the mean aliens come at us, please tell me that quintant means a month? Please?” Hunk was getting a little panicky, though Coran didn’t seem to take notice.

“I don’t know what a month is, but if it’s anything like a decaphoeb, we most certainly don’t have that kind of time!” He was awfully chipper for a guy who’d told them all they would have angry Galra aliens coming after them.

“Then what the heck is a decaphoeb?!” Lance squeaked, while Pidge wedged themselves between him and Coran.

“And how come that’s the only words we can’t understand? You speak English for everything else, is there no translation for Altean time measurements?” They peered up at him, and Hunk nodded his head in agreement.

“Uh, yeah. I wanna know that too- like, we met you and you spoke perfect English. Do Alteans learn English? Was that like a class or did you both do some weird mind-reading when you woke up to learn it.” Keith seemed to perk up at the mention of mind-reading, leaning in a fraction to look between the Alteans and humans with interest. Allura looked at the Paladins, put off.

“We are not doing anything of the sort. We are not speaking English or Altean at the moment either. What we are all communicating with now is-”

“Common Tongue.” Lance supplied like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Some kinda universal language that everyone knows so no one gets culture blocked, right?” He glanced around when no one responded, and noticed that everyone was staring at him, again. “What? I watched a lot of Star Wars as a kid and there was no way all those aliens would be able to know so many different languages without some kind of help.” He defended, and Shiro, for the first time since they found the Blue Lion, stared at the younger Paladin without reservation. He tried not to think about the unopened package of stickers still nestled in the top drawer of his desk back on Earth. Allura nodded her head in confirmation.

“Yes, that’s correct, when you boarded the Blue Lion, it tapped into your minds and implemented Common Tongue. The Paladins of old dealt with a similar experience, seeing as they were all from different species.” Her eyes went distant for a moment before she snapped back to reality. “But that doesn’t matter now, what matters is that the Galra will be looking for whoever attacked one of their ships, and you must all be ready for when they do.”

And just like that, training became the “fun” new group activity, when they weren't eating or talking in the lounge. Allura was insistent about training both with the Lions and without them, so after being shot at for an hour, she dragged them all to the Castle’s training deck for some combat training. As expected, Shiro was the most capable in combat, with Keith always close behind.

Lance himself wasn’t a particularly skilled fighter. He used to get into fights with his siblings all the time, but this was remarkably different. He was used to hair pulling and knocking people out by the knees, not clean combat with practiced strikes. He wasn’t an entirely lost cause, he had just as much trouble learning proper fighting techniques as Hunk and Pidge, but it still felt different somehow. No matter what he tried or how many times he went through a simulation, Lance was always left with a feeling that he was doing something wrong. He should have been doing something else, should have been better but he didn’t know how. Even when he was one of the last Paladins standing, he was struck by the overwhelming feeling that he had done everything wrong. It was frustrating, at best, especially when it led to him getting knocked out the next second. Progress was slow, but they were getting better bit by bit.

“Alright, Paladins!” Coran’s bright voice cut in over the speaker in the training deck, catching the attention of the five humans who were suddenly staring up at the observation deck. It had been almost a week since they began training and trying to work together as a team. They had all learned that whenever Coran cut them off in the middle of a session, things would not end well. “We’re bumping you up to a level one point two gladiator. This one’s a bit more aggressive, but it won’t have any new tricks you haven’t seen before!”

“So we’re fighting a robot with anger issues?” Pidge asked, while Hunk made a low noise of despair.

“Oh no! This is only a training gladiator, it’s not sentient so it can’t have any of those ‘anger issues’ as you put it. You’ll just have to wait, number five!” Coran chimed excitedly. Pidge crinkled her nose at the name.

“Number five?”

“Maybe it’s an Altean thing?” Lance suggested with a shrug of his shoulders. Hunk frowned up at the observation deck.

“Wait, so there is something that can attack us here with anger issues?” He asked warily, looking around the room like it would spring out at him just by talking about it. But no angry robot came barreling at them from the shadows. Instead, a hole silently opened up in the ceiling and a gladiator dropped down from it, looking identical to the others that had come before it. It landed a few feet away from the group, the sound of its feet slamming against the floor echoing off the walls with deafening finality. The simulation had begun. Pidge and Shiro were the closest to it with Keith staggered behind them to the right, Hunk and Lance flanking him. The team raised their weapons as the gladiator regarded them with its mechanical eye, analyzing them and choosing the first Paladin to go after.

Keith didn’t give it the option of choosing. He charged first, sword raised as he aimed for a high strike to the chest. The mechanical opponent blocked Keith with ease as if it already knew where he would strike before Keith did. It pushed back before sweeping Keith’s feet out from under him. Using the tip of the staff, it flung Keith backward like a ragdoll, slamming him into Hunk and Lance. All three went crashing to the floor, though Hunk threw himself down to cushion Keith’s fall and avoid being next to fight while Lance’s forehead got a load of the other Paladin’s knee.

“Owww.” Lance moaned, rubbing the heel of his hand into what he hoped wasn’t a developing bruise. He winced as he caught a glimpse of Shiro getting a staff to the side, knocking the eldest Paladin over with a thud and a loud groan. If it was able to get rid of Shiro like he was nothing then Lance was sure that any attempt from the rest of them would end no better. He rested on his knees and glared up at the Alteans above him.

“Aggressive my left shoe! This thing is- EEP!” Lance yelped when the gladiator was suddenly on him and nearly brought the staff down on his head. Apparently, it was sick of waiting for victims so it was picking its own. He managed to roll out of the way just in time to hear the crack of metal against metal. “That was almost my head!” Lance screeched up at whoever was listening as Hunk took his place. The larger Paladin had a little more luck, using his Bayard as a shield from the staff, but even he was thrown off his feet within a few seconds. Then Keith was back, this time with Pidge as backup, although they were still struggling with whether they should have been using the long range or short range function of their Bayard.

“All those in favor of going back to the nice level one gladiator, say 'Aye'!” Hunk called from somewhere across the room, getting back up on wobbly legs. He had to use his Bayard as a crutch for a few seconds to regain his balance. “I’ll start off. Aye!”

“Aye!” Pidge yelled after their attempt to lasso the staff out from the bot’s grip led to them being whipped around like a fish on a hook. They were definitely going to have some bruises with the landing they had. Lance shouted “Aye!” just before Keith unceremoniously rammed into him again, causing them both to crash to the floor. The two grunted simultaneously, and eventually, Keith let out a reluctant “Aye…” as he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees.

“No! Guys, come on. We can do this!” Shiro was already back up on his feet and was circling the gladiator. “We just need to work together.” Lance bit the inside of his cheek, a comment about inspirational Hallmark cards on the tip of his tongue.

“Well, then what do we do?” Pidge demanded, skittering around the room to stay out of the gladiator’s line of sight. At that, Shiro seemed to falter because he really didn’t have a plan, he just knew that they weren’t going to beat this thing if they kept getting their butts handed to them one at a time.

“Keep attacking all together! Wait for it to turn its attention away from you and then strike!” Shiro ordered, dropping into an offensive stance. Lance and Keith followed suit and Pidge tried to find a good vantage point before doing the same. Hunk was a little more reluctant, but after a sharp look from Lance, he too followed the command. All at once they surrounded the bot, cornering it until it had nowhere to turn without being faced with a Paladin and it actually began to work. It couldn’t select a target without sensing another threat behind it and moving on. It was left confused and distracted, just like Shiro said.

“Now!” He called, and immediately they all dove toward the gladiator, weapons raised. However, in their scramble to attack the bot, they lost sight of each other. Keith reeled back when his sword nearly stabbed Shiro in the arm and Lance almost crashed into Hunk trying not to accidentally ram into Pidge. It became a tangle of bodies not knowing who to hit and who to avoid and the gladiator caught on fast. It caught Shiro by the back of the knees, sending him back into Keith. They skidded across the floor past Lance, but he was too far away for the gladiator to focus on. Instead, it kept its head turned in Lance’s direction as it jutted the staff to the side, right into Hunk’s belly.

It pivoted on its heel and dragged the Yellow Paladin with it, flinging him into Pidge with enough force to send their helmet flying off their head and towards the opposite corner of the training deck. They scrambled, dropping their Bayard in their panic to get their helmet, but it was too late, and the gladiator had locked on the Green Paladin’s sudden lack of focus, and therefore weakness. It adjusted its grip on the staff and ran at Pidge, lifting its weapon to come down on their exposed and unprotected skull.

Pidge!” Someone screamed, but the smallest Paladin was frozen, their whole body seizing up with terror as the gladiator came closer and they had to move. They had to move and get out of the way but they couldn’t. Hunk was still dazed from the hit while Keith and Shiro were too far away to get in front of Pidge in time. They squeezed their eyes tight and their arms snapped upwards, like it would help ease the blow of metal connecting with their head.

“Pidge move! Now!” They couldn’t move. They waited for the gladiator, waited for the painful strike to land.

It never came, and the entire room fell into silence. Pidge took one second, then two seconds to realize they weren’t on the floor and nothing had actually hit them. They opened their eyes and blinked when all they saw was the blue of Lance’s armor, his back straight and right arm outstretched in front of him. They peeked around from behind their teammate and saw that the gladiator was collapsed on the floor, its head blown clean off. The whole team was stuck in stunned paralysis, even the Alteans were silent despite the sudden chaos.

Because Lance’s hand was glowing, stretched out, thumb flexed upward and index finger pointing where the gladiator had once stood. Like when he had played cops and robbers as a little boy and he hadn’t had a toy gun to rob the cardboard box bank, so he’d used his hand. But this wasn’t a game of cops and robbers, because whatever Lance had done, had actually blasted the machine to pieces. What remained of the gladiator began to disintegrate into pixels and fall away into nothing, like it had never been there in the first place. Lance’s eyes were blank and unblinking as his hand remained raised, until Pidge accidentally nudged him in their haze and he slowly came back to himself. The bright purple glow faded, his eyes cleared and he suddenly whirled on the smaller Paladin.

“Holy crow! Pidge, you okay, man?” He asked frantically, like he hadn’t just been there for the last thirty seconds. He looked up at the observation deck. “What the quiznack, guys? That thing almost smashed Pidge’s head in!” He yelled, but no one answered. It took Pidge a moment to regain their bearings before flying backward with a squawk.

“Me?! Lance how did you do that?” The yelled, snapping the rest of the Paladins out of their own stupors to rush to Lance’s side, who just looked confused. “Lance, your hand!” They all looked down at the metal prosthetic, the fingers flexing and still holding a dim shine of energy.

“Your hand just turned into a freaking gun, dude!” Hunk exclaimed, hands flailing wildly. “Did you not see that? Did anyone else see that? Please tell me someone else saw that!” Keith nodded his head dumbly, staring at Lance’s hand with astonishment and trepidation.

“I mean- what?” Lance lifted his hand up, wiggling the fingers experimentally. “Seriously?”

“You mean you don’t remember running in front of Pidge and shooting the gladiator?” Shiro asked, watching Lance with a worried expression that deepened when he shook his head no.

“No. One minute I was standing near Keith and the next… well the next I was here and the gladiator was, you know, not.” He stared at his own hand for a moment before his face broke into one of revelation. “Hunk, do you know what this means?” He asked excitedly, and Hunk suddenly looked very nervous.

“I’m afraid to ask.” He answered uneasily, inching, very unsubtly, behind Keith, who looked confused and annoyed for not getting what it meant. Lance’s face broke into a bold smile and pointed his index fingers at them in a familiar gesture.

“Finger guns, man!” He laughed, making Hunk shriek and dive fully behind Keith (who still didn’t get it).

“Well, don’t point it at me! I don’t wanna end up like the first guy- I won’t clean up as easy!” Using Keith as a human shield, Hunk shuffled back and away from Lance before the Paladin could accidentally make his hand go all laser pistol on him. Pidge was the exact opposite, pulling on Lance’s shoulder to bring him down to their level.

“Don’t joke! You’ve got to show me how this thing works. That was incredible! What’s the trigger mechanism on this thing?” They grabbed his metal wrist and tugged the hand closer, twisting it this way and that to try and find any sort of button or activation pad. Lance helplessly bent to the smaller one’s will, but the more Pidge played with his fingers the more uneasy he got.

“I don’t know, I just-”

“Paladins!” They all fell silent as Allura entered the training deck, looking exasperated, but not as irritated as she usually was when they couldn’t beat the gladiator (this was only their third time, what was she expecting?). Lance pulled his hand away and ignored Pidge’s curious eyes and attempts to reach for the prosthetic again. “I believe that’s enough for today. You’ve been training well, but today only proved that you still have a long way to go in regards to working as a unit.” The humans deflated at that. They’d started to get the hang of it at the end of the simulator, but maintaining it was proving difficult. Even one person losing their footing could throw everything off. Allura picked up on the sudden drop in mood. “That being said, you’re off to a decent start.” She amended, a bit stiffly. “Now, go get yourselves something to eat, you’ve been at work for a while and you’ve all earned it.” Hunk nearly collapsed in relief.

“Thank crow. I’m starving!” He held his stomach to prove his point, leaning against Keith’s shoulder like he’d been wounded. Keith smirked and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Come on, let’s get you some food goo.” Keith nudged him with his elbow, smiling to himself when Hunk’s wistful expression turned sour.

“Oh right… food goo.” The larger Paladin shuddered like it was the stuff of nightmares. None of them were thrilled by the sudden diet change, Hunk more than anyone. He despised the bland, one-flavor one-texture meal every day, but Coran was adamant they’d all grow to love it in time. Pidge stuck their tongue out, making a small ‘bleh’ sound as they finally pulled away from Lance with one last longing look at his hand to follow the other two out of the room. Lance watched them walk on ahead of him, suddenly struck by how close they seemed to be- another thing he had obviously missed while away. He looked over and noticed Shiro watching him from beside Allura.

“Wanna try and spar for a few-” Lance started to say, but Shiro cut him off with a shake of his head.

“We should get something to eat. Like Allura said, it’s been a long day.” He said, stiffly.

That was another can of worms Lance didn’t know if he had the right to look at let alone open. Shiro was their commanding officer, a higher ranking official in every way shape and form. Yet Lance kept getting this feeling like Shiro kept trying to tip-toe around him, almost avoid him. At first, Lance had passed it off as Shiro just coping with the sudden existence of aliens by distancing himself. The more they settled down, however, Lance noticed that Shiro was just distancing himself from Lance. He had no problem talking to Pidge and Hunk after training and he definitely hung out with Keith more than anyone, but not Lance. It stung, but more than anything, it confused the Blue Paladin. He nodded his head slowly.

“Yes, sir.” He said and Shiro blinked at him, like he hadn’t expected it. But Lance had called him the senior officer in the Blue Lion, had waited for his orders in the castle. He still treated Shiro like the high ranked officer he had been on earth, and he figured that was to be expected of him. That’s how he would have had to address Shiro back on Earth. That was familiar to Lance, but he had no way of knowing it wasn’t familiar for Shiro after so long.

“You don’t-” Shiro sighed. “You don’t have to use formalities. I’d really rather you just call me Shiro.” He tried to go for a smile, but even Lance could see there was a tight edge to it. The older Paladin coughed into his fist awkwardly and took a step forward. “We’re teammates now, so it’s alright.” He still wasn’t looking Lance directly in the eyes. “But we should be getting back. Who knows what other training we might have this afternoon.” Shiro turned and quickly made his way out of the training deck before Lance could nod his head. That was the most Shiro had spoken to him since he woke up.

The Blue Paladin made to leave as well but stopped on a dime when Allura stepped in front of him to block the entrance.

“Lance, might I have a word?” She asked politely, even though they both knew there was no way Lance could actually say no. He nodded his head anyway.

“Of course. Anything for you, Princess.” Allura gave a small roll of her eyes and motioned for him to follow her down the hall, briefly glancing down to look at Lance’s prosthetic. It didn’t go unnoticed by Lance and he quickly shifted to her other side so his arm wasn’t directly next to her. She didn’t react to it at all, so Lance couldn’t tell if the gesture made a difference or not. He hoped it did.

They kept walking for a few moments in silence, Allura leading the way while Lance trailed behind. He stole glances every few steps, trying to see if Allura would say anything or if he could somehow tell where they were headed just by a twitch in her expression. He didn’t get either, so he eventually gave up looking at her and started to look at the hallway instead. The lights set into the walls and pillars reminded him of old movies and cartoons about the future. There were always lit up hallways and flying cars, hovering buildings that had the smallest commodity at the push of a button. Granted, back on earth, hoverbikes and instant service features were pretty commonplace, but Lance still felt like being in the castle ship was the closest he would ever get to the futuristic paradise he’d seen on Saturday morning TV. They rounded several corners, walking down halls Lance had barely become half familiar with and ones he hadn’t even known existed. Allura still wasn’t speaking up, not until the quiet finally go to Lance and he opened his mouth. “So… What did you need to talk to me about, Princess?” He asked, halting obediently when Allura stopped in the middle of the hallway they had just turned down.

“To be concise, you.” She answered and Lance ducked his head a little, having half a mind not to reach around and grab his metal arm. Allura didn’t pick up on it, or at least if she did, she didn’t acknowledge it. “You said you can’t remember anything? Not even the slightest detail?” The Princess asked. Lance shook his head.

“Nothing. Like I told the others, I remember being in the Garrison, going to class and all that stuff, then it’s like a dark spot in my head. The only clear thing I remember is waking up in the shack in the desert.” He explained, hoping that he didn’t get dragged through a maze just to be interrogated. How many times did he have to explain that he didn’t know? Allura watched him for a few moments, like she was trying to figure out whether he was telling the truth or not before nodding.

“I believe you.” Lance could have sagged in relief- “But that still leaves a problem.” Allura continued, standing straight at attention with her hands clasped in front of her delicately. “We have no idea what the Galra did to you, save for what we can see with our own eyes. And even then there have been surprises.” She looked directly down at Lance’s metal arm and the fingers twitched in response to the sudden scrutiny. The Blue Paladin looked down to the side, feeling guilty despite having only just found out about it along with the rest of them.

“I promise I had no idea it could do that, Allura. It just… sort of happened.” He didn’t know why he was defending himself, but it felt like he had to tell someone that he hadn’t meant for his hand to turn into a blaster. Allura tilted her head, her expression softening some.

“I know, and I’m glad we could discover it when you were protecting one of your fellow Paladins than in a different situation.” At least they were on the training deck, and everyone was in full armor. Who knows what could have happened if they had just been doing something mundane like eating breakfast or hanging in the lounge.

“I’ll work on my… you know, this.” He offered, gesturing to his hand weakly. It glinted in the light, like it was trying to make itself more prominent than it already was. Allura nodded her head again and laid a gentle hand on Lance’s shoulder.

“I know you will. You’ll have to gain complete control over your arm if you’re to use it in battle and keep it deactivated while in training.” Her expression turned pinched and she pulled her hand back. “Until then, I’ll have to insist you exempt yourself from personal combat training with the others. Today it was the gladiator. Tomorrow it could be something far worse.” Lance paled at the very idea.

“I- I wouldn’t use this on them in training!” He said quickly. There was no way he’d pull something like that. Even if Hunk came swinging at him or Pidge tried to electrocute him with their grappling hook, he could never use his own weapon against them. “Plus, the only reason it activated was because of the robot going for Pidge! I wouldn’t have- I wouldn’t just…”

“Are you sure Lance?” Allura cut him off, her tone soft and inquisitive, but it put him on edge anyway. “Do you even remember how you activated it?” Lance opened his mouth, then closed it. He didn’t even remember moving to get in front of Pidge, let alone what he had done to trigger the weapon embedded in his hand.

“So what should I do? Just not train with them?” He asked and Allura shook her head.

“Nothing of the sort. You’re a Paladin, Lance. You’ll train with our companions, but I ask that you volunteer your personal time outside of group training to work on controlling your-”

“My weapon?” Lance cut her off with a dejected frown, looking down at his hand like he wasn’t sure whether to glare at it or make another joke about it.

“That’s not was I was going to say.” Allura defended briskly, though she didn’t follow up with what she would have said instead. “You are all ill-equipped for this. I understand that more than you think. You are simply ill-equipped for a different reason, and it’s now your job to work around it and use this new development to your advantage.” She said it with conviction, ever the inspirational leader and Lance almost flinched with the sudden weight of responsibility. He was already working as hard as he could while being so out of the loop. Now he had to work twice as hard just so he wouldn’t end up blowing the head off one of his teammates.

“Yeah… My advantage. I’ve got a Call of Duty game attached to me at all times- I’ll never be bored again.” He laughed weakly at his own half-assed joke, dropping his gaze when Allura tilted her head in confusion.

“Yes, this call of duty is constantly upon us now that Voltron is once again a possibility. But I wouldn’t treat it like a game.” She didn’t get it, and Lance was too high strung to explain it.

“Right, sorry, Princess.” They didn’t say anything for a while, both staring awkwardly at their feet or up at the ceiling. Lance wanted to make some kind of joke, maybe use a pickup line or something, anything to break the tension, but considering Allura’s reaction to the first two times, that wasn’t the best idea. “So! Uh… How about that training, huh? What a work out!” He stretched his arms high over his head, yelping a little when his spine popped. The corners of Allura’s lips flicked up into an amused smile.

“That was hardly anything. You’ve barely made it past the first level.” She pointed out, though this time Lance noticed she wasn’t chastising like before. “But I’m sure a more rigorous training regiment is all you need to progress.” She pointed out optimistically and began to move down the hallway once again, Lance falling into step beside her.

“I’m sorry, what? More training? You’ve got to be kidding me!” He whined, slumping forward dramatically. “My limbs are gonna fall off at the pace you’re going, Princess!”

“Nonsense! A few more rounds with the gladiator should leave you well toned and perfectly capable.” She waved him off, a small smirk appearing at Lance’s groan. “Though if you tire of that, there’s always the invisible maze, the endless running track, artificial reality helmets- the fire scythe gladiator is a good training partner if the old one bores you so much.” Lance stopped walking, staring at Allura in horror.

“Hold the phone, a fire what?” Allura kept walking down the hall, filling the hall with her tinkling laughter. “You’ve got to be kidding me, right? That- we’re not gonna be using that anytime, soon, right, Princess?” Lance received no answer, “Allura?” She turned the corner at the end of the hallway and Lance scrambled to run after her. “Allura!”

She still didn’t answer him, but by the time they made it to the dining room, Lance was feeling a little better. Maybe he didn’t remember everything, but that didn't stop the Blue Lion from choosing him. He could do this.

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe it! We formed Voltron!”

“We did it!”

“I’m a leg!”

The entire team cheered as they finally managed to come together after just two days of training and exercises to help them bond as a unit.

“How are we doing this?” Pidge screamed excitedly into the coms but Lance was too busy beaming to wince at how loud they were.

“Who cares? We did it!” He threw his fist into the air with a laugh. “We’re a freaking giant robot, guys!” Everyone responded with varying levels of relief and excitement, and soon enough both Coran and Allura appeared on the video link on their consoles.

“Paladins! Well done! And it only took you two Vargas of being blasted at from the castle! A new record!” The older Altean informed them excitedly and Allura smiled from behind him. After several failed attempts to form Voltron, it was a relief to finally see them come together as a team. It filled her with hope for the future.

They didn’t stay together for long and soon Voltron split into the five Lions again, the Paladins too excited to focus on how long they could maintain it. Allura brought down the particle barrier and finally allowed the Paladins back inside. One by one each Lion landed in their respective hangars, powering down in order to rest. After ten thousand years of being inactive, the Lions needed some time to get back on their feet. Lance sighed and slumped back in Blue’s pilot chair, looking up at the ceiling of her cockpit.

“Way to go today, Blue. We really showed ‘em.” The Lion couldn’t speak to him, but even so, he felt her calming presence wrap around him in agreement. He wondered if the other Lions treated their Paladins like this, encompassing them with the warmth and comfort that usually came with physical contact, or were they all different? Maybe one could actually talk. Probably Green. It was supposedly the smartest and Pidge probably taught the Lion English by now. His moment of peace was cut short as Shiro’s voice came through the com on his helmet.

“Alright guys, good work today. Hit the showers and relax before dinner, you’ve earned it.” He said and Lance arched his back in a stretch.

“Heck yeah, I did~” He yawned and through the com, he could hear Shiro chuckle. Oh. Lance thought his com was turned on the ‘one-way’ setting. He straightened in his seat, cheeks heating up. “I mean! Yes- uh, Yeah! Okay, Shiro!” He tried to recover, but Hunk’s snort in the background was enough to let him know that his attempt had failed. Before Lance could embarrass himself anymore, he pulled off his helmet and set it down on the console. If it wasn’t on his head then they couldn’t hear him. At least Lance hoped it worked like that. He looked up again.

“Blue, do you think he was laughing at me or with me?” The Lion didn’t respond for a while but Lance could still feel her envelop him. When she finally gave him a little nudge in his mind, he couldn’t tell exactly what her answer was, but he chose to think it was the latter one. He got another little nudge for that and he smiled.

“Cool. It’d be cool if he found me funny- or at least like, not annoying.” He said, mostly to himself, but Blue answered anyway with a low rumble. “Do the other Lions talk as much as you?” Another rumble, this time a little softer, uncertain. “I like you talking,” He continued and Blue’s counter was louder this time, “think you could keep talking? It’s really nice, and I wanna wait a bit before taking a shower.” He got one last confused rumble from his Lion before she gave in and draped her presence over him like a blanket.

--------

Shiro tried not to feel guilty as he finally took off his helmet and tucked it under his arm. He hadn’t meant to laugh, and he definitely hadn’t meant to keep listening through the coms, but it wasn’t like he could help it. Lance was Lance, and his antics were always endearing. There was hardly anything about Lance that Shiro didn’t find endearing in some way. He shut his eyes, brows drawing together as he tried to get away from that thinking. Nothing could- Nothing had come of thinking like that other than sad memories and bitter emotions he did not want to deal with.

This wasn’t his Lance, at least not the one who left on the Kerberos mission. This Lance was a different person, an entirely new human being with experiences that Shiro could never imagine. There wasn’t anything between them, not like there used to be. There was no connection, no history; Lance didn’t even remember Shiro as a friend let alone as whatever they could have been. It was now just Shiro and Lance, two totally different people with nothing in common but a few friends and a war thrown on their shoulders.

Still, Lance talked about Shiro to his Lion. He cared about what Shiro thought of him and that put a smile on Shiro’s face. Even if it was bittersweet, he still smiled. He thought of all the times Lance might have done this at the garrison, asking others what Shiro thought, worrying about how Shiro perceived him. It was adorable, really.

The Black Paladin suddenly frowned and shook his head. No, now was not the time to get lost in another ‘what might have been’ moment. It didn’t matter what Lance did at the Garrison because Lance didn’t remember it. And it didn’t matter how much Shiro missed that closeness because Lance most definitely did not remember him. Lance didn’t even remember meeting him in the library almost two years ago. To Lance, Shiro was nothing but a fictitious upperclassman, a role model from the Garrison posters. Shiro wasn’t a friend or a lover; the Shiro Lance thought of was a fake Golden Boy facade and nothing else.

The Black Lion’s hangar grew oppressively silent while Shiro stewed in his own thoughts, the head of Voltron stood proud and peaceful above him while he tried to pull himself in two different directions. He could make Lance remember, it would be so easy to pull Lance in and kiss him, watch as the memories flooded back. But Shiro knew that wasn’t realistic. Whatever had caused Lance’s amnesia wasn’t going to be fixed by a kiss, as much as his heart wished that were true. Doing something like that would only make things worse and Shiro wasn’t willing to lose what little part of Lance he managed to get back. They were teammates now, not a student and a teacher. There was more opportunity here. Maybe Shiro couldn’t get everything back, but he could have this. He could have Lance alive again and that should be enough for him. It would be enough for him, Shiro promised himself as he straightened and walked out of Black’s hangar towards the command deck to debrief with Allura.

Lance didn’t feel anything for him, not anymore, and Shiro would just have to get over that.

Talking with the Princess didn’t take long. They discussed the positives and negatives of the exercise they’d worked on, and the goals they would strive for next. Allura wanted to be battle ready within the next twenty-four hours, but Shiro had been able to convince her that smaller, more achievable goals would boost team morale and bring them all up to speed faster than forcing everything at once. She didn’t seem to happy with taking more time than absolutely necessary, but she didn’t argue with Shiro anymore than she had to to get her point across. Battles were coming, and they would either need to be able to handle themselves as a team or not at all.

The Black Paladin sighed and rubbed the back of his neck as he finally walked out of the control deck. Going from a student aid to the equivalent of a hall monitor to a rebel commander was taxing. He could barely keep up with Allura’s battle strategies and demanding attitude. The only thing keeping him relatively up to speed was the fact that Shiro was human, like the Paladins, while Allura was not and he, therefore, had a better understanding of the team that the Alteans just couldn’t match yet. That and Shiro was already their superior in some respects on Earth.

The hallways were quiet as he walked, the only noise came from the constant hum of the lights and the distant clangs of old castle machinery now back in operation. It really was extraordinary, Shiro thought, how a castle over ten thousand years old could still be so pristine and operational. Anything back on earth would have fallen to dust by now. All the old stone castles and great monuments would never have lasted as long as they did without constant maintenance. Maybe except for the pyramids in Egypt, but then those were still closely monitored. Shiro was pretty sure the castle could go another ten thousand years and still look brand new. The castle wasn’t the only thing that was impressive, everything inside was leagues ahead of anything made back on Earth. Even the clothing was unlike anything Shiro had ever seen.

The Paladin suit fit him well, Shiro had been worried that the last Paladins would be too different in physiological makeup and the armor would not fit right. But he was proven wrong, thankfully. The undersuit was skin tight while still breathable and flexible enough for combat, even the armor itself fit nicely against his limbs. The old Paladins must have all been Altean if they were so close to the human body shape. Though the open stomachs and groin were a bit worrying. Maybe the armor was just for aesthetics.

Shiro managed to find the showers quickly enough, Coran had given them all simple instructions on how to get to certain rooms in the castle to help them until they memorized the different paths themselves and were confident enough to explore on their own. Shiro’s only saving grace was the small sign on the door to the showers that looked like a very complicated shower head with water pouring out.

The door opened with a small hiss and Shiro stepped through. He already had the left clasp of his chest plate undone, eager to strip out of the sticky clothes and clean off the grime of training, when he stopped. He figured the showers would be empty by now, the other Paladins having showered immediately after being dismissed, but apparently not. Lance stood at the far end of the room, near the wall of individual lockers, just next to the door leading into the rows of shower stalls. He was standing in front of the holographic mirror, the black fabric of the undersuit bunched up around his waist and his armor still resting on the bench the lined the wall to his left. He was shirtless, his hair still wet from the shower, but that wasn’t what Shiro was looking at.

It was the scars. Dozens of them littering Lance’s back and arms, one nasty line after another. They seemed to be endless, and Shiro could vaguely see from the mirror’s reflection that Lance’s front wasn’t much better. There was one particular white scar that cut across Lance’s left clavicle and didn’t stop until the bottom of his right pectoral. It was jagged and the skin stretched tightly. It looked like it never healed properly.

Shiro suddenly felt like he was intruding, like he was violating some unspoken rule and that he should go. He really should leave. This wasn't something he needed to be a part of. He could take a shower later and wait until Lance was finished if need be. Shiro almost turned to leave- but then he saw the look on Lance’s face in the mirror and any plans of leaving vanished. He looked terrible, bags under his eyes and a frown that pulled all of his facial features downwards. It was amazing how much Lance could cover up the more he wore that big grin on his face. The younger Paladin’s fingers delicately traced the scars. One hand ran over the scar on his chest while the other brushed shaking fingers over his cheek, over the scar that ran down across his eye.

Shiro really was not supposed to be a witness to this. He wasn’t supposed to see Lance standing there, looking at himself like a child who’d been handed a broken toy and never told what he was supposed to do with it. He looked so lost, like he was drowning in his own confusion and Shiro couldn’t take it anymore. He knocked on the wall beside him loudly. When that didn’t get a reaction, Shiro spoke up.

“Lance?” The young Paladin jumped, his eyes going wide and panicked as he whipped around, his hands snapped to his sides like he had done something wrong.

“Shiro! Hey! Thought you were in a meeting.” Lance greeted him with a lopsided smile that didn’t reach his eyes, Shiro noticed.

“We just finished, I was coming back to grab a quick shower.” He looked at Lance with genuine concern. “You okay?” He asked and Lance looked at him and then back towards the mirror.

“Oh! Uh.. nothing much! Just, uh.” Lance slowly turned around so he was facing the mirror again and looking at Shiro through the reflection. Maybe it was easier for him to talk to Shiro like that. “Checkin’ out the new bod. Who knew I could go from a noodle to this?” He curled his arm and flexed it, that same overconfident grin on his face. It was true, though. Whatever Lance had gone through while in captivity had led to some serious muscle development. He wasn’t hulking, not by a long shot, but his arms were thicker and his shoulders were broad, solid. It was impressive considering how thin Lance had been when he left earth two years ago, but it wasn’t natural, that much Shiro knew, so he didn’t react past a small nod of his head.

“You think the Galra were training me for the Olympics?” Lance continued to joke, even though Shiro could see that the smile on his face didn’t reach his eyes. “I think I could win gold with these bad boys.” He flexed his biceps and puffed out his chest in his best impersonation of a bodybuilder. Shiro saw past it though, he had known Lance too long not to. There was a distant look in Lance’s eyes and the older Paladin was suddenly reminded of when Lance was boasting before he had to head in for the selection exams. Pretending to be confident so no one could see just how unsure he really was. It hurt that Shiro couldn’t comfort Lance in the same way he did last time, but he had no idea how. This wasn’t a test that someone could study for and be done within a few short hours. This was an entirely new beast.

Shiro didn’t say anything and that was his mistake, he realized, as Lance began to falter. “I mean uh- Maybe not? Olympians gotta do all those interviews and tests and…” The Blue Paladin’s arms fell and he stared at his own chest as it deflated, “they have to do those photoshoots and junk. I don’t think anyone wants to see this.” A hand came up and traced over one of the scars and very briefly, Shiro could have sworn he saw Lance’s hands shake. “I mean just…” Lance trailed off again and now Shiro could definitely see his hands trembling.

“What happened to me, Shiro?” The words were quiet and Lance looked so lost as he stared at a body that he didn’t recognize. Before Shiro could think better of it, he walked forward so he was directly behind Lance. They weren’t so close that Lance could lean back and touch the Black Paladin, but there was a new closeness that offered comfort.

“Lance,” Shiro said softly and he placed a gentle hand on Lance’s shoulder. Whether Lance remembered their shared past or not, Shiro couldn’t keep watching the younger Paladin get lost in his own head. The sudden contact seemed to snap Lance out of it and his head whipped around at an alarming speed. He stared up at Shiro with wide eyes. He hadn’t even noticed Shiro come closer.

“Huh? Yeah, Shiro?” Lance asked, as if he hadn’t just been on the verge of a breakdown, his voice high and reedy. He was nervous, like he’d been caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to. Shiro bit the inside of his cheek before answering.

“You know…” He cut himself off before starting again, stronger this time. “You know that you can always talk to me, right? This isn’t something you have to go through alone, Lance. We’re all here for you and if you ever need someone to talk to- I… I’m here.” Shiro would be there for Lance no matter what, for whatever issue at whatever time and it hurt so badly to see Lance look so surprised by Shiro’s offer. It shouldn’t come as a surprise; there had been a time where it wouldn’t be a surprise. Shiro squashed down the feeling of pained disappointment before it could show on his face.

“I mean it, Lance,” Shiro insisted and his grip on Lance’s shoulder tightened a fraction, “anytime.” He couldn’t imagine any situation where he wouldn’t make time for Lance. Shiro hoped that got through to the Blue Paladin, but as Lance shrugged off his hand, his hopes fell away too.

“Thanks, man. I’ll keep that in mind.” Lance smiled up at Shiro before turning away to pick up his discarded clothes. “If I need anything, I’ll hit you up.” He pulled his shirt over his head with a sigh, like he was relieved to be covered again. Lance turned back to Shiro, the same grin plastered on his face. “I won’t keep you. Go get a shower, man.”

Shiro didn’t know what else he could say to make Lance believe him, so he said nothing for now and just nodded his head. Lance nodded and shuffled out of the showers without another word, leaving Shiro to himself. Despite his words, Shiro knew that Lance wouldn’t be coming to him anytime soon.

------------

Breakfast the next morning was uneventful. The same food goo was dispensed onto plates as usual and nobody complained about the still bland taste- at least not out loud. Coran had scolded them all about the benefits of “Goo Nutrition” and no one wanted to risk getting a repeat lecture.

“Hunk? Remind me to remind you to sabotage the kitchen tonight.” Lance said, using his spoon to move his goo around in the bowl to see if it would start to move on its own. Hunk watched him with a half intrigued, half sick expression.

“I’m pretty sure the food’s doing a good enough job of that on its own.” Pidge griped, though they forced themselves to gulp down another mouthful. The first day of training they had all decided no breakfast was better than goo breakfast and all suffered dearly for it. Hunk nearly passed out and Keith became so irritable that even Shiro couldn’t deal with him. After that, they figured that the food goo wasn’t amazing, but anything beats dealing with a hangry Keith and a Lance who would start salivating over imaginary food.

“There’s not going to be any sabotaging,” Shiro said from his place at Allura’s right side, but he couldn’t keep his own mouth from frowning as he looked down at the bowl of goo in front of him. “Though… it might not hurt to see if there’s something on this planet that’s a little more,” Shiro cleared his throat, “palatable.” Hunk immediately perked up.

“Ooohhhh We’re gonna look for good stuff? We’re getting good stuff?” He asked excitedly and Lance’s eyes brightened with delight while Pidge and Keith both dropped their spoons into their bowls with relief.

“Yes! Scavenger hunt for the best tasting alien stuff!”

“No!” All five Paladins got quiet as Allura stood and looked at them all sternly. “Your jobs as Paladins is to train and become a team to defend the universe, not go running off on whatever planet you land on to see what you can eat when you have a perfectly well-balanced meal ready for you in the Castle.” Her voice was high and prim, the authority coming out clearly. Until Keith leaned his elbows on the table and leaned in.

“You haven’t eaten any of your food goo, Princess.” He pointed out and Allura’s ears twitched in irritation.

“I’ve lost my appetite listening to you five complain.” She reasoned, but now all eyes were on her and her untouched food.

“I don’t know, Princess. A well-balanced meal that’s been made ready for you shouldn’t go to waste.” Pidge crooned from their seat, a smirk curling on their lips. Soon the other Paladins caught on and Allura was faced with five grinning faces all posing the same challenge.

“Come on, Princess. We’re earthlings so we don’t understand the Altean pallet yet.” Hunk said sweetly and gestured to the food goo. “Show us how it should be properly enjoyed?” Allura sat down resolutely with a huff, fixing each Paladin with a hard look.

“You humans are ridiculous.” She grumbled before picking up her spoon. “It’s perfectly fine and you are all making a spectacle over nothing.” No one said anything as the Princess took a heaping spoonful and swallowed it in a very un-Princess-like manner, being more aggressive than was strictly necessary to prove her point. Unfortunately, a few seconds after swallowing Allura nearly turned as green as the food on the table and the Paladins winced in sympathy. They had discovered that food goo never went down easy unless you ate it in small portions, something the Princess was relearning the hard way. Allura shuddered before quickly collecting herself and setting down her spoon.

“Despite previous claims, I believe perhaps a… scavenger hunt as you put it would be most appropriate.” The younger Paladins all cheered, only Shiro managed to keep himself relatively calm, though the promise of possible food variety did put a wide smile on his face.

“Did it really taste that bad?” He asked Allura quietly while the others fell into a debate over what alien food would taste like. Keith and Hunk were convinced that alien food would hold certain similarities to earth flavors while Lance and Pidge vehemently opposed them. Allura pushed her bowl a few inches away.

“I may have over exaggerated my reaction, but it was still unpleasant all the same.” She answered, looking up at the high ceilings. “I’m afraid in all the chaos, Coran and I had forgotten to check the food storage. It has been ten thousand years, after all, and this tasted… off. I should have noticed before.” She suddenly stood up again to address the team.

“As excited as you all are, there is still training to be done. So put your energy into a few rounds with the gladiators and you can go exploring later.” Shiro nodded his head in agreement, standing up as well.

“Come on, team. Time to start the day.”

Pidge pulled themselves away from the argument to follow after Allura, but not before noticing that Lance was frozen stiff. Shiro stepped closer with a worried frown. “Lance?”

“She sounded like my mom.” He whispered, pulling off a dramatically horrified expression that had Pidge rolling their eyes and Hunk exclaiming in agreement. Shiro just gave a small chuckled and clapped Lance on the shoulder.

“Come on.” He urged, and if Lance noticed Shiro’s hand linger a little too long on his shoulder, he didn’t say anything. Instead, he followed Pidge out of the room with Shiro trailing a step behind. Keith, on the other hand, definitely noticed and watched the group go with narrowed eyes.

“Oh no.” Keith’s attention snapped to Hunk, who was looking at him in exasperation.

“What?”

“I know that look. That’s your ‘I’m gonna do something really rash and probably dangerous because I don’t wanna think of a better plan’ look.” Hunk said accusingly and point a wiggling finger at Keith’s face. “That look.” Keith leveled his expression.

“I just think it’s stupid Shiro hasn’t told Lance yet.” He defended and Hunk sighed.

“So do I, but I’m sure Shiro has his reasons.” The larger Paladin suddenly narrowed his eyes. “You’re not gonna tell Lance, are you?” Hunk leaned in close so Keith had to start leaning back to avoid having their noses touch.

“What? No! I wouldn’t do that.” Keith said fiercely. “And stop looking at me all squinty.” Hunk still didn’t look convinced, so Keith turned on his heels and started heading for the door. “But there’s no reason I can’t try to jog his memory.”

“Keith, no. Bad idea. Reeeaaaallly bad ideaaaaand you’re gone.” Hunk looked up just in time to see the doors to the dining room close, Keith long gone on the other side. The Yellow Paladin looked up at the ceiling, to anyone who happened to be listening. “Does anyone ever listen to me? Just once- Once!” He started jogging towards the door to catch up with the rest before Allura yelled at him for being late. “Like- Hey! You’re right Hunk! That was a stupid plan. Glad I didn’t do it! Is that too much to ask?”

By the time he had caught up with the rest of the team, training was just about to begin. Allura was already on the observation deck and Shiro stood at the center of the room, facing the other Paladins.

“Alright, team. We’re working on basic hand to hand combat today. You’ve all made progress with your Bayards, but you’ll need to learn to hold your own without them.” He gestured to the thigh guard where their Bayards were stowed. “So pair up and leave your Bayards in their holsters. You won’t be needing them.” Hunk was too late to pull Keith back in before the Red Paladin was stepping forward.

“I call Lance.” He called and ignored the looks of surprise he got from his teammates, especially Lance’s look of disturbed confusion.

“Um, dude. In case you forgot. I’m kinda off limits.” Lance pointed out and stuck a thumb out towards the observation deck. “Space captain's orders.” Keith barely glanced up in that direction before shrugging.

“You haven’t blown anything up since the gladiator, so just don’t blow my head off and you’re fine.” He saw Shiro open his mouth to probably agree with Lance and have them separate, but Keith cut him off, loud enough for Allura to hear. “Shiro can’t help Hunk and Pidge if he’s sparring Lance, and I can handle myself. I’ll knock Lance down if he loses control.” He said assuredly and had the decency to look a little apologetic when Hunk and Pidge huffed in offense. They did not like being considered the weaker links, but it was true, Keith could at least hold his own. And Lance had spent enough time training on his own as it was. The Blue Paladin spent at least an extra hour of training every day just working on hand to hand, alone with the training dummies, seeing what he could handle or what would trigger his hand to activate again. So far, nothing had worked, which both eased everyone’s nerves and put them on edge even more. Without knowing what specifically triggered his hand to activate, there was no telling when it could go off. But since Lance had started his extra training, they were learning more and more about his limits.

There was a long pause where no one said anything, which was then broken by a long sigh over the coms.

“Very well. Today I will allow Lance to train with one of you, but if there is any sign of danger, the training ends and you all separate. Any questions?” Allura asked, sounding just the slightest bit exasperated. Lance immediately stuck his hand in the air and waved it around.

“Yeah! I do! Why am I being talked about like I’m not in the room?” He asked loudly before giving Keith a sideways glance. “Unless you’re just trying to talk big and show off again, Kogane.” If Lance wanted an argument, Keith didn’t give him one.

Instead, he took Lance by the arm and dragged him away to an empty part of the room, leaving Pidge and Hunk to look at each other warily. There was no mistaking that while Keith and Lance were evenly matched body-wise, the Green and Yellow Paladins were about as similar as night and day. Shiro pulled his attention away from Keith’s odd behavior to smile at them encouragingly.

“I know this doesn’t seem ideal, but look at this as a way to unlock your unique advantages. You’re both capable, and you can learn just how capable you are by training with someone very different from you,” he offered. Pidge shrugged while Hunk looked a little less sure.

“I don’t wanna squish you, man.” The larger Paladin admitted Pidge nodded their head in understanding.

“And I don’t wanna get squished. So…” They looked up at Shiro hopefully. “No squishing baby-steps?” The Black Paladin chuckled and nodded his head.

“No squishing baby-steps.” He agreed and began to slowly walk them through proper combat stances and maneuvers. Meanwhile, Lance was looking at Keith like he was waiting for a snake to shoot out from under one of those fingerless gloves and bite him.

“You’re really that desperate to get your butt kicked, Kogane?” He asked confidently before gulping nervously when Keith suddenly turned to him and dropped into an attack position. “Okay- Dude, when did I make you so mad at me- Woah!” Lance jumped back when Keith suddenly lunged, forcing him to get into a messy defense position. “Keith! Don’t just go running at me, you jerk!” The Blue Paladin tried for a lunge of his own to try and knock Keith off balance, but he just ended up grabbing air and nearly falling on his face.

“Your form is sloppy,” Keith stated mildly and Lance’s shoulders tensed. What was with the sudden correction? Keith was here to be trained as much as he was. Lance swiftly regained his footing and turned back to Keith so they were facing each other, circling. “Maybe you should go to Shiro for pointers.”

“Coming from the guy who was jumping to spar with me.” Lance retorted with a frown.

“He’s a good fighter. Took lessons outside of the Garrison.” Keith went on, not paying Lance’s side comments any mind. “He’s a great teacher. He could tutor you, give you some pointers.” He looked at Lance expectantly, and Lance didn’t know if that meant Keith was ready for him to attack or suddenly have a revelation.

“Um, great? How about you finish training with me first, Mullet, before shoving me off on Shiro,” Lance suggested with a frown before rushing forward to deliver a punch aimed towards Keith’s chest. The attack was easily avoided and Lance spun around to face Keith again, ready for a counter attack. “Jesus- okay, karate kid, I get it, you know your shit! Can you dial it back a notch?” But Keith didn’t make a move towards him. Instead, Keith inclined his head towards Shiro, who glanced over at them at the mention of his name.

“Really buff too, he could probably bench you.” That had Shiro turning scarlet and Lance paused, falling out of his stance to stare at Keith like he had grown a second head. A poor move on Lance’s part, because the second his guard was down Keith was running at him and throwing a left hook at the side of his head. “Come on! Don’t tell me you can’t see it.” Keith pressed and the Blue Paladin stared at him, wide-eyed and jaw slack.

“Are you-” Lance asked before ducking his head to dodge a high kick, “Are you trying to flirt with Shiro? Through sparring me? Really dude?” He tried for a right hook and Keith just barely avoided it.

“What? No! I’m not flirting with Shiro!” Keith protested, this time much louder and gaining the attention of the others in the room. Shiro was, for the moment, doing his best not to stop the sparring match just to get Keith to stop talking. They were actually doing very well, which was worrying in some ways because Shiro knew Keith took martial arts classes when he was younger, but as far as he knew, Lance didn’t have the training or experience to fight this well. At least no training on earth. This was the first time Shiro was able to see Lance fight, since he usually left Lance to figure himself out and train without an audience.

“So you’re making fun of me then!” Lance concluded and his next punch had more force behind it. He glared at Keith accusingly and dropped down to try and swipe the other’s feet out from under him. Keith lept back and nearly lost his balance.

“I’m not!” He argued though Lance was already on him again before Keith could defend himself more.

“You are! Just lay off man!” They fell back into a series of sharp punches and kicks, though as they went on, Lance’s were showing to be more coordinated, calculated, and hit with painful accuracy if Keith didn’t get out of the way in time.

“I’m not-” Keith nearly tripped over his own feet when Lance faked out a kick from the left. Just as Keith lifted his arms to block, Lance’s left foot dropped back down to the floor and he pivoted on it to swing his right leg backward at Keith with added momentum. “Holy shit- How did you do that?” Keith gasped, feeling a small spark of jealousy at Lance’s effortless ability. Though that feeling was quickly squashed when Lance faltered, looking just as surprised as Keith.

“I- I don’t know- Hey! I see what you’re doing, stop distracting me!” And then they were back at it. Keith and Lance throwing hits and dodging with movements that alternated between sloppy and articulate, like a dance that didn’t have a consistent beat. Sometimes Keith would take the advantage, then Lance would steal it back or they would fall into a sort of tandem, but that never lasted too long either. Keith was scrappy, looking for quick openings to strike and run, while Lance was more observant. He’d make big shows to make a move but when it came to actually strike, they were fast and unrelenting. It all struck Keith as very… not-Lance. A certain desperate violence that he couldn’t remember Lance ever possessing when they were together back on Earth.

By the time they were both tired out and panting on the floor, Pidge and Hunk were already through their second water break and were looking at them with concerned expressions.

“You machines done now? You’ve been going for a whole hour already.” Hunk sounded both impressed and worried, he didn’t think they were ever going to stop.

The rest of training went on without any more fallouts. Keith worked with Pidge while Hunk and Lance paired off, Shiro continuing to instruct them to the best of his ability. Allura watched them diligently and offered new strategies or exercises when advisable, keeping track of each Paladin’s progress, especially Lance’s. She was pleased to see that there were no signs of his hand activating, which meant that he, along with the others Paladins, were safe from that. By the end, they were all sweaty and sore but satisfied with the amount of work they had put in.

“Anyone else ready to get out of this armor and head out?” Lance asked with a yawn as he stretched his arms above his head. Hunk nodded his head in agreement while Pidge pulled the collar of their suit up to sniff the fabric- and then promptly gagged.

“I vote for a shower somewhere between getting off armor and leaving.” They ran a hand through their hair and grimaced when the gloved hand came back drenched. They quickly wiped their hand on their leg. “Though shouldn't we keep all this on if we’re going outside? We’ll need our helmets for oxygen.”

“I mean, we didn’t have anything when we showed up in the Blue Lion.” Hunk pointed out, his head twisting around when the door to the training deck opened and Allura walked through.

“Hunk is correct, the atmospheric levels on this planet are suitable for humans to be outside without any assistance. You’re free to leave your suits here to be cleaned while you’re out. But be mindful to have your helmets with you when it comes to visiting other planets. The collars of your suits offer personalized atmospheric enhancers that encase your head to protect you from minute atmospheric pathogens, but a helmet will always be more suitable.” She explained and the Paladins nodded in understanding.

“Yes, Princess.” They all said in unison before starting for the door towards the showers. Keith stopped when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around to see Shiro looking down at him with a small frown.

“Can you hang back? We need to talk.” There wasn’t much room for argument, so Keith simply nodded his head and they waited for the rest of the team and Allura to leave the training deck before Shiro sighed. “Okay, what was that?” He asked tiredly and Keith ducked his head a little. He knew that what he had done wasn’t exactly subtle and maybe it was a little rash, but he thought that if Lance was forced to look at Shiro for more than five seconds then maybe he would remember something. But he didn’t know how exactly to voice that.

“I thought it would help.” He settled on, and he felt like he was back on the sand dune in front of the cabin all over again with the way Shiro was looking down at him. It felt like he couldn’t do anything without getting that look lately.

“By talking about how much I can bench?” Shiro asked incredulously and crossed his arms over his chest. “Keith I don’t think that’s the way to make any progress-” He was cut off when Keith suddenly straightened and met his gaze.

“It’s more than you’re doing!” The Red paladin snapped and Shiro’s eyes widened. He hadn’t expected the sudden outburst.

“What?”

“You’re not doing anything! You keep pretending like you never knew Lance before the mission and it’s not helping. He doesn’t remember you and me and- and-” Keith stumbled over the words, his breaths coming out in short huffs. “He doesn’t remember us at all and I’m the only one trying to make him remember.” He sounded so dejected, so lost and Shiro really did feel for him. Keith was never good at making friends, he didn’t trust people enough to make friends easily. Lance and Hunk were the first people besides Shiro who had stuck around long enough to see past Keith’s rough barriers. Shiro could only imagine how it must have felt to finally make a friend and lose them, then get them back and still be left in the dust. Shiro sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Keith… I understand where you’re coming from, but I care about Lance as much as you do.” He said sternly.

“Then why aren’t you trying to jog his memory? You liked him Shiro- you still do!”

“Because I don’t know what to do Keith.” Shiro blurted out and Keith fell silent. “I don’t know what to do, I really don’t. Lance doesn’t remember me or anything that happened between us. And I don’t want to tell him we had something when he doesn’t remember. He’ll think he has to be with me and he’ll force himself to pretend he has feelings he doesn’t even remember having.” He sighed heavily, his shoulders slumping in defeat. “ I can’t take advantage of him like that, Keith. But I don’t know how else to deal with this right now because- he’s alive. And that should be enough. For both of us.” There was no way they could force Lance to feel something he didn’t, that was just too cruel.

“And… Have you seen him shirtless?” Keith blinked in confusion at the question. That was a sudden turn in conversation.

“I don’t usually check him out in the showers, Shiro.” He said warily and Shiro shook his head with a small burst of surprised laughter.

“No, no. Not like that. I mean… Have you seen how he’s changed?”

“You mean the hand? The eye scar?” Keith suggested and he felt uneasy as he realized where this was going.

“Exactly. And there are more scars than just the one on his face. You… You don’t get like that without going through a living nightmare. Whatever Lance went through was probably worse than anything you or I could ever imagine on earth.” There were horrible, horrible things on Earth, Shiro could never deny that. There were some awful, horrible people that did horrible things, but Lance hadn’t dealt with horrible things on earth.

“He doesn’t remember any of that now. None of that pain or suffering and I’m grateful for that. If making Lance remember me means making him remember all that shit he went through, then I’ll be glad if he never remembers me for the rest of his life.” Shiro would never forgive himself if he ever made Lance go through all those experiences again, just for the chance at a silly relationship. Lance’s peace was more important than that.

Shiro reached forward and rested a hand on Keith’s shoulder. “He’s still Lance, Keith. There’s nothing we have to ‘fix’ about him. We’re his friends before anything else, okay? So we have to be there for him however we can be. I know I… haven’t been doing my best with that, but we both will from now on.” Keith nodded his head in understanding. He still wanted Lance to remember him and Shiro, but he could admit that Shiro made a very good point that Keith had overlooked.

“Are… Are you sure you’re okay with that? With Lance not remembering you?” The younger Paladin asked, because no matter how many arguments Shiro made, Keith knew for a fact that Lance’s disappearance had hurt him more than Keith would ever understand. Shiro sighed.

“I have to be.” He said simply and Keith nodded his head again.

“So no more bragging about your muscles?” He asked, and smiled when Shiro let out a snort.

“Absolutely. Never again.” The Black Paladin reached to ruffle Keith’s hair. “The next time you want to play wingman, don’t. Just don’t.”

“What are you talking about? I thought I was doing a good job.” Keith huffed and Shiro rolled his eyes fondly.

“Lance thought you were flirting with me and trying to make fun of him.” The older Paladin pointed out, much to Keith's frustration.

“That’s not my fault! He was the one who wasn’t getting the hint.” If Lance wasn’t so sensitive he probably would have gotten the message loud and clear, Keith was sure.

“Well, maybe it’s because you were throwing punches at him the whole time.” Keith just shrugged in response. The two grinned at each other before Shiro nodded for the door. “Come on, go get changed and catch up with the others. We’re gonna need all hands on deck if we’re going to find some food that actually tastes decent. And don’t get so worked up over what Lance remembers and what he doesn’t. Just be his friend now, and it’ll all work itself out.” He urged and Keith nodded his head in understanding. Shiro just wished he could be as confident in his own words.

Chapter Text

A guard stood before the group of prisoners, blaster held close to their chest in silent warning. Several others were scattered around the holding bay, each looking straight ahead without so much as a twitch of movement. None of them had moved a muscle since Lance and the others were brought in, and that had been hours ago. At least it felt like hours, it was hard to keep track of time when there were no clocks or windows to the outside world. The only thing Lance had to go on were the two meals that each prisoner was given, one at the beginning and one at the end of each “cycle”. Those who remained of the Kerberos team were kept in a holding cell somewhere in the lower decks, along with all the other strange creatures who were just as scared as them. None of them spoke for fear of punishment from the guards, but there were moments where terrified whispering broke out and Lance could have sworn he understood them like they were speaking English, though Matt and Sam still looked confused by their ramblings.

Then, they had all been rounded up after a few cycles and brought to the holding bay. The soldiers had said nothing as they forced the large group into a line for inspection. One by one, prisoners were either yanked out of line and thrown into a separate group or left trembling where they were.

“What are the commander's orders?” One soldier had asked another, close enough for Lance to hear.

“All the old or injured are being sent to the work camp on Zelca-Major. They’re no good for the arena,” the second soldier answered. Lance wasn’t able to hear anymore before Sam was shoved out of line and forced into the second group. Lance barely managed to hold Matt back from reaching out to his father. It wouldn’t help any of them if Matt brought attention to himself, so he held his tongue and watched desperately as the rest of them were inspected and divided into groups. Sam was led out of the holding bay with a number of aliens who Lance could see looked much worse off than the rest of the prisoners. Which left Lance and Matt in the holding cell, waiting to be sent to the arena.

Sometime later- maybe hours or only a few minutes, Lance had no clue- another soldier came into the bay and silently gestured for the group to be brought to a cargo elevator. Everyone was shaking, Lance included, especially since he and Matt were somehow shuffled to the front of the group by the time the elevator stopped and the doors opened. Another holding room, but this time Lance could see a large archway at the opposite wall leading to a set of stairs and a large open arena. The room was lined with sentries, but Lance’s gaze was immediately drawn to the one standing at the foot of the stairs.

It held a long sword in it's hand, but it wasn't anything like Lance had ever seen. It split off at the tip like an axe pick. He didn't want to think of what that feature was used for.

Matt was panicking in front of him. He rambled about his dad and family, and how this was it for him. Lance had no words of encouragement to give since he didn't have much confidence himself. He was just as scared, shaking while he tried to think of any way to get out of this. Was there even any way out of this? He wanted to get both him and Matt out... he needed to think of something but he didn’t have time to think. The sentry silently lifted the sword and pointed the hilt towards Matt. It was a clear signal.

You're next.

Matt shook his head, his whole body going stiff. Words tumbled out of his mouth like a faucet, choked pleads for it to not be him, that he couldn't do this. He sounded so scared, even when he was pushing Lance behind him. He wouldn’t run or force Lance to go first, but the shaking of his knees made his terror obvious. Lance looked between the soldier and Matt. His heart raced as a thought came to his head. He could do something. He could- he just.. had to do something. He needed... needed to...

His feet moved before he could overthink anything. He yanked Matt backwards by the scruff of his prisoner uniform, rushing past to grab at the sword. His hands clasped around the hilt, he hadn't even realized he was yelling until Matt tried to pull him back.

"Let go, Matt!" Lance struggled against Matt’s grip, scrambling towards the droid. Matt wouldn’t let go. He held Lance by his shoulders, and that was the opposite of what Lance needed. He needed to look stronger, meaner. He needed Matt to look weak and be sent away. So Lance wrenched the sword out of the guards hands and spun around.

He swung as hard as he could before he could think about hesitating.

Matt dropped to the ground, crying out in agony while he gripped his leg. Blood spilled out over the floor, more than Lance ever wanted to see in his life. His hands shook, he wanted to throw up and apologize. All at once he hated himself for doing this. But to those around him, it didn't look like self loathing and fear.

It looked like strength.

"I don't need you holding me back!" Lance spat, raising the sword again like he was about to deal another blow. Some of the other aliens backed away, they did not want to be a second victim. Lance wasn't looking at them, though. He was staring at his fellow teammate, someone who Lance had treated like his own brother, and felt his stomach churn. “I’m getting out of here on my own!”

Matt just looked so betrayed. Like Lance had ripped everything he had left from his hands. He didn’t even recognise Lance, and that was for the better, Lance thought. It would be worth Matt hating him for the rest of his life if he could be sent to the same place as his dad.

Lance's family was millions of light years away, unaware of this monstrosity of an empire, and he knew that they only way he would see them again would be if the Galra came to Earth. He prayed that, if that was the only way, he’d never see his family again. Matt's family, at least part of it, was right here, they would keep each other safe in the work camp.

Hands suddenly grabbed Lance by the shoulders, yanking him back and away from the crowd. They were dragging him towards the archway leading into the arena. Tears pricked at the corners of Lance's eyes, he knew he would probably never leave this arena. But this was the only way Lance could think of. It was better this way.

"I-I’m sorry! Take care of your dad!" Lance was able to yell and stole his last look at Matt, crumpled on the floor in his own blood, looking at him with confusion. Lance never knew if Matt heard him before he was shoved forward and the doors slid shut.

The sound of the arena was deafening when Lance was pushed out onto the sand, and the only door to freedom closed behind him. He was trapping in his huge battleground, with thousands of aliens screaming and chanting for carnage. And they were not chanting for Lance. No, they were cheering for the behemoth of a creature that lumbered out from the archway opposite of Lance.

It was massive. Nine feet tall at least and Lance couldn’t see a part of it that wasn’t covered in thick metal armor. The giant glowing flail with sharp-looking spikes that swung above its head wasn’t too inviting either. There weren’t any weak points to be exploited, at least none that Lance could reach with his sword.

The hulking beast was already running at him before Lance had time to think of a plan. He couldn’t even lift his sword. He stood frozen in terror as the monster just came closer and closer- until it was right on top of him and he was snapped back into gruesome reality.

Lance tried to jump back and run, but he wasn’t fast enough and the tip of one of the spikes scraped across his chest, slicing through the skin like a hot knife through butter. Blood spilled out over the sand leaving Lance suddenly blinded by the burning pain that seeped down into his very core. He’d never felt any kind of pain like this. It was like being scalded with boiling water, but instead of cascading off the skin it blistered and continued inward. Nothing compared to it and it took all Lance had to keep moving backwards and try to escape. A flesh wound could be healed, if it was a flesh wound. Lance really hoped it was a flesh wound.

The alien swung its flail down and just barely missed Lance when the human rolled out of the way. He scrambled to his feet before he could be pummeled and pressed his hand to his chest in a futile attempt to stop the bleeding, then he paused when he saw something dark at the edge of the arena.

A gun.

One of the sentries must have dropped it during the scuffle in the holding bay. Lance had no idea if a simple gun could blast through armor, but it was much better than getting close enough to that monster and hacking at it with a sword. Using a sudden burst of energy, the human sprinted for the weapon, fully aware of the very angry gladiator stomping after him. He just needed to grab it without being crushed and he’d be home free. Well. He would able to stay alive for a few seconds longer and that was something. One advantage to being so tiny in comparison to his opponent was that Lance was much faster.

Lance barely got a solid grip on the blaster before something large and angry crashed into his side and sent him hurling into the edge of the arena. His back connected with the stone (or the very hard and unforgiving space equivalent) wall and Lance could almost swear he heard his own ribs snap under the impact. His mouth tasted like iron and his ears were ringing from the blunt force trauma and the sudden roar of the crowd. They knew what was coming. They had all probably seen a hundred other contestants go through this same ordeal. They knew exactly what was going to happen and Lance did too. If he didn’t get his ass moving, that beast was going to deal the final blow and there would be a stain in the sand in the shape of his head. But he couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe and it was a miracle that Lance had managed to keep a grip on the gun.

The ground shook as the gladiator got closer, the flail dragging through the sand like it was showing off. Showing everyone how heavy it was, how much it would hurt. There was a shadow over Lance where the gladiator eclipsed the overhead lights and his pulse spiked with the sudden rush of adrenalin that came with absolute terror. The gladiator raised its arms high in the air at the same time Lance forced his arm to lift the blaster up.

It brought the weapon down with a murderous roar.

Lance screamed as he pulled the trigger…

… and then bolted upright in bed, wrapped in soft blankets and safe in his room on the castle, far away from any imminent danger. It was only a nightmare.

His chest heaved and a heavy sheen of cold sweat made his night clothes and hair stick to him uncomfortably. It felt like his heart was ready to beat itself out of his chest, rattling around like a broken spring in a clock. Lance’s eyes skittered around the room, taking in every inch and he could feel his breathing return to normal as he regained awareness of exactly where he was. But by the time he realized where he was, the dream had already faded away into nothing.

“What the…” Lance shook his head in an attempt to force the post-nightmare jitters out of his system. When that didn’t work, he sighed and pressed a panel in the wall beside his bed. A small screen lit up with the time, 7:09 AM glowing in big, bold font. Pidge had been smart enough (and bugged Coran enough) to set up a relatively accurate time-keeping system. It wasn’t perfect, since none of them had bothered to time how long it had been since they’d arrived, but it provided them with a familiar Earth-based system that made it easier to function. Coran and Allura didn’t understand the concept of minutes to hours to days, but they had held a vote and majority ruled. So now Lance stared at the time with a terse expression. It was too late to go back to sleep, even if Allura was giving them the morning to rest before training, but was also way too early to get away with a nap. Lance wasn’t sure he wanted to go back to sleep anyway.

By the time he had gotten dressed, the dream had faded into nothingness, but the shaky feeling of instability lingered. Hopefully some food would make that go away

As the door to the kitchen opened, every nerve in Lance’s body told him to turn right around and walk away as fast as he could. Coran and Hunk stood at the island, multiple pans and bowls littered the surface. What looked biggest pinecone Lance had ever seen rested in the middle of all the mess. Only this thing was not brown, more like a sickly yellow-green with splotchy patches of dark blue just to add a more unsettling effect. Coran beamed at it like it was his first born and Hunk… well, Hunk tried not to openly gag. Lance couldn’t smell the space pinecone from where he was, and he wanted to keep it that way. Unfortunately, Coran spotted him before he could run for cover and waved him over.

“Lance, you’re right on time! I was just showing Hunk here the klexian bean, a real delicacy in some cultures around these parts.” The older Altean said proudly.

Hunk grimaced, complete with scrunched up nose and hunched shoulders, and shook his head at his friend while Coran looked away. Just looking at it was enough to know the thing wasn't any better than the goo they were already forced to stomach. "It’s not really meant for humans though." Hunk pointed out, taking a small step back from the bean, not entirely convinced it wouldn't try to attack him if he didn’t keep his eye on it. "I mean it could be straight up poison." He pointed out and Coran huffed at him. The Altean clearly did not appreciate his skills in food selection being questioned.

"I'll have you know that klexian beans were regarded quite highly in Altean cuisine! Why, my grandfather would take half a bean for lunch every day while he worked on building the castle. Said the smell of decomposing meat kept him in tip-top shape!" He sounded so proud, chin tilted up and eyes closed while he reminisced. It was a good thing since he missed Hunk gagging.

"I think Alteans have got some pretty messed up taste buds then." Lance slowly came close to inspect the so-called delicacy. The look alone was off putting, but the second Lance caught a whiff of it he paled considerably. Decomposing meat didn’t even come close. "Is anyone else getting some Temple of Doom vibes over here?"

"Yeah, no." Hunk muttered more to himself than to anybody else in the room and used the very tip of his index finger to nudge the bean over to the opposite end of the island so they could breathe comfortably. "We're not eating that." He'd rather have it already in the trash bin, but he couldn't actually bring himself to do it while Coran was standing right there.

Lance saw the older man wilt- hell, even his mustache drooped a little and he quickly jumped in.

"It's not your fault! It's just..." He couldn't think of a nice way of saying the bean looked and smelled rancid. "Humans, we... have a very sensitive pallet you know? Like, evolution-wise, we can't eat anything that seems unnatural." Lance really hoped he was making sense and that Coran wouldn’t see he was totally talking out of his ass. "There's nothing on Earth that looks anything like this, so our bodies instinctively reject it. Maybe we can find something a little more subtle? Like a breading? Can't go wrong with a chicken nugget, am I right?" Coran tilted his head to the side in confusion and Lance realized, a little belatedly, that he had no clue what a chicken was. "Or... some other kind of space-nugget?" He looked over at his best friend, silently demanding some back up.

Without missing a beat, Hunk nodded his head in agreement, gluing a wide and friendly smile to his face. "Lance is right! It’s human nature not to trust anything that we don't know. Lots of prehistoric people died of poisoning because there were things they couldn't digest or were literally poisonous, so now it's like- instinctual for us." He explained thoroughly, though his nervousness showed a little in how his hands started to flail around while he talked. "Something familiar will make it easier for our brains to accept the food rather than reject it. We'd need something like vegetables or meat that at least look like the ones we know from Earth."

And just like that, Coran seemed to forget about his disappointment over the Paladins not eating the food, the mopey expression was replaced with a sudden excited gleam as he learned something new about their peculiar race.

"Well, you lot brought in quite the large selection on your last- scavenger hunt, you called it?" Both Hunk and Lance nodded their heads in confirmation and Coran clapped his hands together triumphantly. He really loved getting earth terminology right without needing help. "I'm sure I can find something your picky brains can handle!" The advisor then turned on his heel and rushed towards the large walk-in cupboard where all the food was stored. Lance sighed in relief and slumped against the island.

"I feel like I should be offended, but I'll take being called picky if it means some good food." He glanced up when Hunk didn't respond and caught the Yellow Paladin staring at him. "What? Do I have something on my face?"

It took Hunk a moment to blink several times and snap back to reality.

"No, your face is a-okay, buddy- I’m gonna look around the kitchen for some non-goo snacks." He quickly pushed himself away from the island to start looking through the various cabinets. Coran had put away all the food, so Hunk was still working on remembering where everything was. If anything, it was something to keep his hands busy. And Hunk needed the stimulation so he could collect his thoughts. He wasn't sure how to explain the situation to Lance, how to tell him the truth without making his friend sick to his stomach. For whatever reason Lance was already unusually pale and Hunk would rather not make things worse. The Yellow Paladin noticed Lance staring at him expectantly. Lance knew when Hunk was fidgeting to avoid talking, and the bigger man sighed. "I'm glad that you're alive." He admitted. It was the first time he’d acknowledged that he had believed Lance wasn’t alive.

Lance just shrugged his shoulders and tried not to think about the chills he'd woken up with. "Come on, man. It's gonna take a lot more than being kidnapped by aliens to get me down." Though he hardly remembered the kidnapping part, or anything between then and waking up in that desert shack. Lance reached over and nudged Hunk's arm playfully. "Don't tell me you gave up on me, man. Thought you had my back."

Hunk shook his head, but not necessarily to assure his best friend that he never gave up, but rather to stop Lance from trying to lighten up the mood. It wasn’t something the engineer wanted to talk about so carelessly, much less laugh at it. "You don't get it." Hunk said softly, head faced more towards the floor and away from the confused blue gaze that was now staring at him. "I had to bury you, Lance. We all did. Keith and Shiro too, all of us... There was nothing else we could've done. Could've said. We just watched an empty casket be lowered into the ground and were forced to let you go."

Lance's eyes widened and his back straightened. He had never really considered the fact that after a year everyone back home would have thought that he was dead. Even if Lance couldn't remember, there was an entire year that he'd been floating in deep space with no way to let his loved ones know he was fine. For the first time, it really hit Lance just how long he'd been gone.

“Hey…” Lance walked closer and rested his hand on Hunk’s shoulder. “I’m here now, aren’t I?” He suggested optimistically and suddenly was dragged into a bone crushing hug. Lance wheezed, but he tried to hug his best friend back as best as he could. “I’m here, buddy. You’re not gonna lose me again.” He promised, and he really hoped Hunk wouldn’t start crying. Because then Lance would cry and no one wanted to walk in on two bawling Paladins. Plus, Lance didn’t really want to dwell on the idea of his own death, not when it would lead to him thinking about his family and how they actually did have to deal with it. Lance could ask but he almost didn’t want to know. After all, if Lance was gone than Hunk had been left behind to help his family.

Lance always knew that Hunk could be extremely empathetic when he wanted to be, but the Yellow Paladin had dealt with so much already, he didn’t need to bring up the past. And how could he? How could Hunk explain that he was the one who held his best friend's mother while she cried her eyes out, or how Rosie couldn’t even look at her plush shark without bursting into tears? Hunk was there as Lance’s siblings all sobbed uncontrollably, too shaken to actually say anything. And later when Lance's memory was spat on by Iverson and most of the teachers and students while Hunk, Keith, and Shiro had to listen to it like it didn’t bother them at all. Hunk didn’t like remembering any of it himself, and he’d rather Lance not know about the heartbreaking details.

Eventually Hunk sniffled and pulled back, eyes watery but valiantly holding it together. “I know, and I’m- I’m really happy about that. We all are.” That last sentence caught Lance’s attention and he decided that talking about his death wasn’t the greatest early morning discussion. He latched onto the chance of a new topic and rolled with it.

“About that, you mentioned Keith and Shiro before. Why were they… you know.” Lance would have finished the question, but bringing up the word funeral would only get them upset again.

"How could they not be? All of us were tight back at the Garrison, losing you took a toll on all of us." Hunk frowned. Lance seriously still didn’t remember anything and while Hunk was glad that Lance still recognized him, he felt bad for Keith and Shiro. Lance snorted in disbelief and shook his head.

"Come on, Hunk. Keith and I? Dude wouldn't remember who I was if I slapped a neon pink name tag on my forehead." He rested his chin on the heel of his hand and drummed his free hand against the table top. "He probably just missed having someone around he could one up." That was unfair, Lance knew, but the idea of Keith and him being friends was just too strange. He ducked his head when Hunk shot him a warning look, shrugging guiltily.

“I don’t wanna sound like a dick, but… It’s a lot to take in, okay?” Far more than Lance needed so early in the morning, but he’d rather have the gaps in his memory filled sooner than later. “ It’s been a year for you, but for me? Everything’s been flipped sideways all at once. The dynamic’s all messed up, man.” Hunk paused in his rummaging through the various cabinets and hidden compartments to rest his elbows on the counter and look at Lance with a curious expression.

“You really think it’s messed up?” He knew that Lance had a tendency to say the first thing that came to his mind without really thinking of a more fitting alternative. It was one of his traits he could never reel in, not even in class. He’d be the first person to raise his hand to answer a question, but his mouth would work faster than his brain and he’d wind up scrambling up terms or phrases and then deny that he had made a mistake to save face. Hunk watched his friend purse his lips in thought before hanging his head.

“No. I guess not. It’s just… so weird, to see how everything is different.” Lance said instead. “Like, you and Pidge seem really tight, and Keith hangs around you and Shiro more than anyone- but apparently we were pals? It makes no sense! Keith and I would probably kill each other before becoming friends.”

"You should probably stop saying those things. It's really disrespectful." And Hunk knew, god did he know that his best friend simply didn't know better. That Lance didn't remember things, that all he had were flat observations from the side. Then again, it hurt to listen to him say such things about people who would give their lives for him. "You and Keith used to be great friends. After you were gone, he... We all had our own ways to cope. His way of coping was just a lot more destructive. He left the Garrison a few months after you disappeared. Rumors were he had a breakdown and Shiro couldn’t pull any strings to help him stay. So don’t go thinking Keith could never care about you.”

Lance ducked his head at the admonishment. Hunk had a tendency to pull the 'Mom Voice' on him from time to time and right now he didn't feel like earning a lecture from his best friend.

"Keith dropped out because of me?" Lance asked. Hunk nodded his head solemnly. It sounded absolutely ridiculous. Keith Kogane barely gave him the time of day when they’d met each other in their first year at the Garrison, and now apparently they had gotten so close that the guy literally dropped out of school from grief. That was definitely something Lance had to talk to Keith about himself, there had to be more to the story than that. His back straightened and he stared at Hunk expectantly. “Okay and what about Shiro? The guy doesn’t even like me all that much!” Hunk’s eyes widened and he leaned against the island again, a worried crease forming between his brows.

“Okay, wait, you think Shiro doesn’t like you?”

“I mean, kind of? Or at least he’s seriously weirded out by me.” Lance backtracked but Hunk still wasn’t convinced. He made a ‘go on’ gesture with his hand so Lance would give him some more clarification.

“Like, okay. He caught me in the bathroom-”

“Dude…”

Not like that, Hunk. No, I mean- well, I was sort of checking myself out in one of the mirrors and he walked in on me. He… He acted weird. Like looking at me actually hurt and… I mean, it’s not pretty,” Lance made a vague gesture to his chest so Hunk had an idea of where the damage was particularly rough, “but it’s not that bad, you know? He just seemed so uncomfortable to be around me. And he offered to help- but it sounded so forced, I didn’t really know how to take it.”

“I think you’re overreacting! Shiro isn’t uncomfortable around you at all. I think him acting weird was just a one time thing.”

“You think?”

“Of course! This is a weird situation, man. Everyone’s gonna be kind of off until things settle. And as for Shiro specifically, he’s probably just worried about you.” They were all worried about Lance, but Shiro was leagues ahead of them in the ‘worried for Lance’ group. He even beat Hunk out for first place, he was just a lot better at hiding it. Lance didn’t seem too convinced.

“Maybe.”

“More like definitely. You two were close back at the Garrison, so he’s probably just as overwhelmed as you are.”

“Wait… What?” Lance watched with wide eyes as Hunk snapped his mouth shut and his hands froze in mid-air for a second before he snapped them to his sides, like he used to do when they got in trouble at the Garrison. "How close?" He demanded because being a student of Shiro's had been a dream of Lance's since he applied to the flight program. Unfortunately, Hunk immediately clamped his mouth shut, like he had slipped up, which was even more suspicious. Lance narrowed his eyes. "Hunk."

But Hunk only shook his head and backed away, raising his hands in refusal. He shouldn't have said that, he shouldn't have said a lot of things. Shiro had been clear when he said he didn’t want Lance to know about their shared past, that Lance couldn't find about what used to be between them.

Before Lance could stop him, Hunk fled the room, already knowing that he wouldn't be able to stop himself if his best friend started to push at him. He could only hope Lance wouldn't go straight to Shiro after that, the older man had enough on his plate already and he didn’t need to deal with the effects of Hunk’s loose tongue.

"Hunk, where are you going?" Lance pushed himself away from the island to follow the other Paladin and as soon as he did, Hunk scurried right into the walk-in pantry. "Hunk!" Running away wasn't going to dissuade Lance's curiosities, but before he could storm into the pantry and pull Hunk out, the door to the kitchen swished open and Keith walked in. His hair was still damp from taking a shower after his morning training, like the overachiever he was. Lance straightened up and was about to throw a weak acknowledgement over his shoulder so he could continue following Hunk, but then the greeting died on his tongue as the Yellow Paladin's words came back to his attention. So instead of running off he stayed where he was and watched Keith stop mid-step at the sight of the klexian bean still sitting innocently on the island. Lance had almost forgotten it was there.

"Uh, morning." He greeted, a little stiffly. What he thought he knew of Keith was silently warring with what Hunk had told him about.

Keith’s eyes moved from the unusual fruit (legume?) to Lance, confused that his teammate wouldn't ignore his presence as per usual and actually start a conversation that wasn't based off accusations. "Hi," he replied, giving Lance a small nod of acknowledgement before turning his head back to the pine cone-looking bean. "So, uh. Not that I'm complaining, but how are we supposed to eat that?" He asked, then watched Lance for a moment to see his reaction, expecting him to make a the kind of joke about Keith not being able to handle it, which would lead them to fighting again.

"Nah, we pulled the delicate human tummy card so Coran's looking for something less... that." Lance gestured vaguely to the bean and Keith walked the rest of the way over to examine it curiously. "Though now that I think about it, I don't even know how we would eat this thing." Lance couldn't imagine grilling it, or serving it raw, maybe he should have been more specific before letting Coran look for a better alternative.

"You wanna poke it, don't you." He accused when he noticed Keith glancing around the island for a utensil to use.

"To see if it's alive, yeah." Keith admitted but now that his hands were being watched he gave up on the concept, deciding that if the klexian bean tried to run away he'd just throw his dagger at it. Now that the topic was dropped though he felt slightly uncomfortable with the way Lance kept on staring. “What?”

The Blue Paladin tried to hide it and quickly turned his head to the side when Keith finally called him out, but it was still a little obvious. "Can I help you?" Keith asked eventually. He couldn't tell what was wrong and all he saw was Hunk quickly running into the pantry with Lance calling after him for some reason. But that didn't give him much of a clue regarding what had happened between the two, or what Keith had walked into.

"Nothing. Nothing, you're fine, just... something Hunk brought up." Lance quickly waved it off when he saw Keith about to pull back. He hadn't meant to stare, but it was hard not to. Even with the explanation, Keith kept looking at him with that look Lance had no clue what to do with. Was he angry? Frustrated that Lance wasn't explaining more? "Guess I still haven't been told everything about what I'm forgetting. That's all." He tried to clarify and that look still didn't go away. So Lance kept talking. "Like, it's like I woke up in an alternate universe. One where you apparently don't hate me and I knew Shiro and it's a lot to take in. And it's kind of hard to believe that so much has changed."

Keith bit the tip on his tongue to stop himself from interrupting, he wanted to hear Lance out fully before saying anything. He had to carefully think his words through since it was a more sensitive matter and he didn't want things to get any more complicated than they already were. "I never hated you." Keith defended himself, crossing his arms over his chest and huffing softly. He knew he couldn't really be offended by the words that left Lance's mouth, but it'd be so easy to get angry at him for that. Still, the Blue Paladin wasn't at fault here. "I was... I didn't want to get close to anyone back then, I had my issues and that was it. We still ended up being close friends though."

"Dude, I introduced myself to you three times. And each time you forgot my name and ignored me." Lance pointed out.

"Look, you were... a lot to handle. You were loud and overly friendly and I didn't really plan on making friends at the Garrison." Keith pointed a finger at Lance accusingly. "And I thought you hated me. After first year you never talked to me again and I was relieved, but then every time you were around me it was because you were picking a fight."

"You were always one upping me!"

"Not on purpose!"

They were starting to argue again. Lance recognized it before he could spit out another counter and he quickly took in a breath to stop himself from escalating the situation. They were close, Keith and Hunk had both said so. So Lance sighed and leaned heavily against the counter. "I didn't hate you, man. But every time I tried to do well, you always did better and it was like you never even tried, you know? I'd work on a simulator for weeks and still get a B while you'd look at it for the first time and break a record or something. It was kind of infuriating."

"I didn’t mean to.” Keith blurted out. “What do you want me to say? I’m good at flying, I can’t help that.” He defended himself and Lance couldn’t really argue with that. “You were mad about it then too… but you got over it once we started hanging out. And I thought we were okay, you know? I thought things were fine and then-”

“I went missing.” Lance finished for him and leaned back a little when he saw Keith’s fists clench up. “I never thought you’d care enough about me to drop out. Thought a prodege like you would have graduated early or something.”

“We were friends.” Keith insisted, his hands shaking a little when he looked Lance directly in the eyes. Lance didn’t dare look away. “You and Hunk were my first real friends besides Shiro. I- I thought you were annoying as hell but I did care about you… Then suddenly you were gone… And I was so angry. You were dead, Lance, and I just needed to let off some steam- do something or else I was just useless. I… hated that I couldn’t do anything.” He turned his face to the side, angry tears blurring his vision. “I’m sorry- I just…”

In all of Lance's life, in all of years of knowing Keith, Lance had never seen him cry. He never even teared up like most people did after getting a verbal lashing from Iverson, but now there were full blown tears and Lance didn't know how to handle that. He wanted to hug him, but would Keith even like a hug? Did he need one but refuse it anyway? Lance was totally in the dark, so he let his instincts walk him over to where Keith was trying to uselessly wipe at the tears on his face and he placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. He felt awful. Two friends had started crying within a span of twenty minutes, all for Lance and the memories he didn’t have. He never knew that Keith could care about him so much.

"Hey, man. I didn't know. I mean, I guess I did, but now I know again. So. You- you're good. I honestly thought you just liked seeing me pissed off." Lance tried to joke, and he got a weak glare for his efforts. Better than tears. Though maybe an angry Keith wasn't any better. "I guess we really were friends if you’re this broken up over it."

“Like I said, we were friends." Keith brought up, wiping any evidence of tears away and giving Lance a quick glare to make sure he wouldn't tease him for it.

"We… We used to hang out. Usually in the Garrison Library if you weren't there with Shiro, you had me for company," Keith continued, every once in a while looking towards Lance to check if his friend was starting to recall anything. And every time Lance seemed to be just as lost as before. "You even helped me sneak out one night." He mentioned and half-smiled when he saw the look of shocked surprise on the Blue Paladin's face. "There was this hovercraft show and I wanted to sneak out to see it, but Shiro was being an ass and wouldn’t cover for me. So you gave me the security patrol schedule and covered for me so I could go. I think that was the first time we actually got along without you causing a fight."

"No shit..." Lance was absolutely amazed. "The great Keith Kogane needed little old me to help him sneak out." That particular comment was met with a sharp punch to his shoulder and it nearly knocked him over. Lance was actually laughing this time as he rubbed his aching shoulder. "Okay, bad joke, I'll own that." He amended and Keith gave a quick nod of acceptance. Lance sighed and leaned against the island next to Keith, who seemed to be loosening up a little bit more as well. "But seriously, you snuck out and Iverson didn't kill you for it?" At the mention of their old instructor, Keith's smile vanished and his small smile turned into a stormy scowl. The shift was so quick it put Lance on edge. "What?" He asked hesitantly.

Keith seemed to be fighting with his own thoughts for a moment before deciding that his friend deserved to know the truth. It wasn’t his relationship with Shiro, after all, so it wasn’t like the topic was forbidden.

"The last time I saw him, I attacked him, wanted to take out his other stupid eye. Didn't work out though." He grumbled quietly, crossing his arms over his chest. It had been a year already and for Keith it was still a fresh wound. "They said it was a crew malfunction. That you never even made it to Kerberos, and you were the one blamed. You and Shiro." He knew he should tread lightly with that information, saying too much would put the Black Paladin in a very uncomfortable position- but Lance deserved to know. "He was the one to tutor you, so they called him a failure for letting you go up. Accused you of cheating your way through. They said your scores weren’t legit. Shiro somehow managed to listen to those things and not blow up, but I'm not him. They kicked me out after the incident with Iverson and I left to stay at my dad's shack, the one we took you to."

That… was a lot to take in. Lance didn't respond for a long while, just stared off into space as the information processed. A failure. He was considered a failure by his entire class, Hell, the whole world and Shiro had been left to be blamed.

"... No wonder Shiro acts so weird around me. He must hate me." Shiro had been a legend at the Garrison, the literal Golden Boy that everyone looked up to. And because of Lance, of something Lance had no control over but was still blamed for, Shiro was stuck being called a cheat and a failure.

"No. He doesn't." Keith interjected hastily. Shiro would never. He loved Lance too much and even if he had to suffer through everyone around him calling him a failure, he couldn't care less now that he knew Lance was alright. But Lance wouldn’t understand that, no yet anyway, not until he remembered. "You two were close, and he cared about you a lot. He still does, he’s just… weird." Lance actually snorted at the awkward attempt at reassurance, but he did appreciate it all the same. “Look, Shiro’s a really good guy, and he wouldn’t blame you for something like that. He’s got a knight in shining armor complex or something. It’s a little annoying how perfect he is.”

“Keith?”

“Yeah?”

“Is this you asking me to be your wingman so you don’t have to flirt with Shiro during training again?” There was silence and Keith blinked very slowly three times, and then promptly threw his hands up in a rage.

I don’t like Shiro!” Keith regretted ever opening his mouth during training, or ever. “We went over this already at the Garrison! I don’t!”

“Well, I can’t remember! And isn’t it so convenient that you can use my amnesia to hide your lies.” Lance leaned in conspiratorially, eyes narrowed and Keith had half a mind to slap him upside the head.

“I’m not lying, you idiot.”

Suspicious.

“Listen, the only person here with a crush on Shiro is-” Keith was suddenly cut short by red flashing lights overhead as the alarms blared and for once the fiery Paladin was grateful for the disruption. He was getting a little too close to the ‘forbidden topic’.

“Paladins!” Allura’s voice filled the room, and out of the corner of his eye, Keith could see Hunk and Coran poke their heads out of the pantry. “We’ve just picked up Galra activity not too far ahead. The scanners have identified it as a cargo ship, but we must intercept it while we have the element of surprise. Get to your Lions immediately!” Pidge was always adamant about checking our transport and cargo ships rather than blowing them up, so any cargo ships were always surrounded and boarded to see if there was anything of value. But they had to be quick before the harmless ships called in the much more heavily armed back up. Lance grinned and pushed himself away from the island. He needed something to distract him, give him a moment of pause after so much emotional talk, and a cargo ship was just the ticket.

“Come on, Keith! We can talk about your repressed feelings afterwards.” Lance ran for the entrance of the kitchen to head to the hangars and Keith was right on his heels.

“No way. After today, I’m never talking to you about feelings ever again.”

“Oh come on! We were bonding!” And if Lance hoped to keep talking about Shiro and what he and Lance had been like back at the Garrison, he was a little too busy to bring it up.

Chapter Text

Lance didn’t know how things ended up like this. Granted, he didn’t know how a lot of things ended up the way that they had. This time was just doubly confusing because he had been conscious and aware the entire time and he still somehow ended up lost.

The team had intercepted the Galra ship, no problem. They snuck on, knocked out some sentries, found some prisoners, and were able to fly away from the scene without so much as a hiccup. Lance and Hunk had played their roles as defensive players flawlessly while Keith went on full offense. And in the rush of blaster fire, Shiro and Pidge snagged some data and loaded up all the prisoners on board Green. Flawless. Fantastic. Coran had managed to scramble any distress signal the Galra sent so that there would be no fleets coming to look for the downed vessel. Even Allura was impressed with how seamless their recovery strategy had become. It was like they had been doing this for years instead of two weeks.

Then the prisoners came aboard the castle and were all ushered to the healing pods so that their malnourished bodies could quickly be back to tip-top shape. By the time that Lance and Hunk had landed back in their hangars and made their way up to the med bay with protein packs and water pouches, most of the prisoners were already tended to, brought to guest rooms to rest, or in the pods. A handful of the newly liberated guests were scattered around with blankets wrapped around their shoulders- and that’s when it all went to shit.

One of the aliens saw him and went deathly pale. They were already a pale green color, but their smooth skin turned ashen at the sight of the Blue Paladin- like they were seeing a ghost. They stood on shaking legs and for a second it looked like they couldn’t figure out whether to take a step forward or away. Eventually, they stumbled closer with one of their four arms outstretched.

“Lance...?”

The whole room went silent. All eyes were on Lance and the alien that knew him by name but he, for the life of him, could not recall. It was like his family’s old family reunions when he’d be thrust into conversation with second aunts and uncles who he hadn’t seen since he was an infant. Sure, the familial ties were there but they didn’t mean anything if Lance couldn’t even remember their name. He couldn’t help it, but that didn’t stop the guilt.

Those situations were much like this current one- only this time it was so much worse.

“I’m sorry… Do I know you?” It seemed like such a lame question once the words spilled past Lance’s lips. Obviously Lance knew this creature he just couldn’t remember and he was getting really sick of constantly hitting that roadblock.

“We were on the same ship, movements ago. You and I shared a cell- along with many others. You and your companion came to the arena with us.”

“My companion?” Lance had been told again and again he had been a part of a team on Kerberos. The alien nodded.

“Yes, you and a much paler creature like you. You were both brought to the arena to compete in the gladiatorial competitions.” Pidge wedged themselves between the others so that they were right in front of the alien.

“What happened to him? The other human?” There was a brief moment of apprehension as the alien internally debated their next words.

“Lance attacked him before he ever got the chance to compete.” They turned back to speak to Lance directly. “You said you would win the arena on your own. I never saw where they took him away. But you never came out of the arena either.”

“You did what?

“Lance, why would you do that?”

“I don’t know! I can’t remember anything!” Lance took a step back when it felt like everyone else was closing in.

“But you still did it.” Keith pointed out and Lance felt his hackles rise.

“How am I supposed to know why I went after some guy? I don’t remember!”

“That guy was my brother!” The whole room fell into a deathly silence. Pidge was livid, their chest rising and falling with angry puffs and their eyes flashing. Lance felt himself grow small at the sight.

“Pidge, I-”

“You attacked my brother and you left him behind!” Shiro tried to defuse the situation and stepped between the two younger Paladins.

“We don’t know that.” There were still so many gaps in information and they couldn’t go off of just one person’s perspective. And it was unfair to

“Then why isn’t he here? Why wasn’t he in the ship with Lance or in that cell. Why isn’t he here?

“Pidge-” Lance tried to make a case for himself but Pidge whipped around to face him with such ferocity that the words died on his tongue.

“It should have been Matt that came home.” Their words were cold and sharp. Then they stormed out of the med bay without another glance at any of their teammates.

“Pidge! Pidge, wait-” Hunk was ready to run after his friend and drag them back to make them apologize, but a hand grabbed him by the shoulder to stop him.

“Hang on, I can handle it.” Shiro offered kindly before jogging after the Green Paladin to do some damage control, leaving Hunk to deal with a very shaken and guilt-ridden Lance. He slowly approached his best friend

“He’s just upset. I know he didn’t mean that.” Pidge would be nasty when they were angry, but they’d as soon as the anger drained away.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure Pidge will come around.” Allura insisted. Her diplomacy skills definitely came in handy; her soft tone and reassuring smile almost made Lance feel better. Almost.

“Yeah, sure.” He didn’t expect Pidge to forgive him for dismissing Matt anytime soon. Lance definitely wouldn’t if someone did the same with Amelia or any of his other siblings.

“Just give them some time alone. Let them cool down. Hopefully the festivities tonight will lift everyone’s spirits.” It was pretty unlikely that a party would make Pidge forget about their family so easily, but Lance could agree with one thing. Space was definitely needed right now.

----------

The feast with the Arusions was in full swing by the time the sun had set, the castle doors left open for the entire village to come and go as they pleased. Lance choked and barely got the mouthful down without spitting it out over the floor and on some poor Arusions standing nearby.

“Coran, what the heck is this?” He covered his mouth to stop himself from gagging; the aftertaste no better than the actual drink. The older Altean preened, taking Lance’s horror for excitement.

“Nunvil! A lovely Altean drink served at all the best events. Also makes a nice hair tonic!” He fluffed his mustache for effect and Lance had to turn away, shoving his cup into Coran’s hands with a small noise of disgust.

“All yours, man.” He said before wobbling over to Hunk. “Don’t.” He shot his and out to stop the Yellow Paladin from taking a cup from a floating tray passing by. “Trust me, your taste buds are too precious.” Hunk dropped his hand halfway, stopped and looked at the drink questioningly. Then he reached with his other hand and took a cup.

“Dude, why? Why would you do this to yourself?” Lance whined, staring at the drink like it had claws and teeth.

“I mean… We’re gonna have to get used to this, why not start now?” Hunk reasoned, though he didn’t take a sip, which Lance grateful for.

“What do you mean?” He asked and Hunked swished the nuncio around.

“I mean, we’re at war now, right? So we probably won’t be going home any time soon. Gotta get used to the space food while we’re up here.” He looked up at Lance, smiling a little sadly. “You’ve got a head start at least, after a year with the Galra, do you even remember what earth food tastes like?” He wasn’t asking to be cruel, Lance was sure. Hunk was just a curious person and usually asked whatever was on his mind. Lance nodded his head.

“Of course I do, man! I remember pizza, ice cream, hotdogs by the water, Garlic knots from that pizza shack on the beach… and mom’s homemade cheesecakes… her hugs…” He trailed off, feeling his bottom lip quiver and the backs of his eyes start to sting as his mind supplied with all the things that he remembered but could not experience. He took a step back and ducked his head down. “I- I gotta go sit down.” He explained hastily before walking past Hunk to head up the stairs. It wouldn’t be very good for Voltron’s image if everyone saw one of its Paladins crying like a baby.

Hunk watched him go but didn’t follow him. He knew from experience that Lance liked to be alone when he started getting emotional. Back at the Garrison Lance kept himself together well, but the first time he had seen Lance crack he had followed his friend into the boy's bathroom. He’s walked in just as the first wave of tears rushed down Lance’s cheeks, long after he was able to hold them back. Hunk had invaded on a personal moment and Lance refused to even look at him for a month after that incident. After knowing Lance for years, Hunk had learned what needed immediate attention and what simply needed time. In an hour Lance would get lonely and Hunk would join him. He blinked when Keith tapped him on the arm.

“Is he okay? Did he remember anything?” The smaller Paladin asked, glancing over at the stairs with a confused, worried expression. Hunk opened his mouth, then closed it again. Okay wasn’t the right word, at least not at the moment, but it wasn’t anything Hunk wanted to unnecessarily worry Keith with.

“Yeah, but not what we want him to.” He answered and Keith nodded his head. With every day that went by, there was less and less of a chance that Lance would just suddenly wake up and remember his time away from earth, but Keith wanted to remain hopeful.

“How’s Pidge?”

“Shiro’s been with him since the party started. Hopefully, he’ll come down soon.”

“Right…” The two of them stayed quiet for a few moments, Hunk swishing the nunvil around in his cup while Keith eyed the Arusions to his left who were trying to make a pyramid for no other reason than they wanted to. Eventually, he cleared his throat.

“Hunk?” Keith asked, his voice a little softer than usual, more uncertain. The Yellow Paladin turned to him with his soft eyes and open expression, his glass half-way raised to his lips for another ill-advised sip.

“Yeah, buddy?” Keith glanced down at the tips of his boots.

“I, uh…” He straightened up and stuck his chin up with a determined scowl. “I’m sorry.” The words came out with a lot more bite than intended, Keith’s emotions pushing through too harshly. Hunk actually took a step back and Keith’s confidence immediately deflated in the face of it. “I just… Before. I never apologized- for leaving and not saying anything. Things were just so much and I didn’t-” He cut himself off before he could ramble anymore. With his shoulders scrunched up to his ears and his head ducked down in shame, Keith took a deep breath. “I didn’t mean to leave you hanging. Shiro said you took it hard and I’m really sorry.”

There was a long pause and Keith was ready to evaporate into the floor to avoid the shame and embarrassment. Then he was suddenly smushed against a broad chest with massive arms crushing him in a bear hug. His feet dangled half a foot off the ground.

“Aw, Keith!” Hunk was a big guy but Keith was pretty sure that counted as a squeal. “You don’t need to apologize! I’m just glad you’re okay, man.” He gently set Keith back on the floor before any of his ribs cracked, but kept an arm slung around his shoulders. “Though I would have liked a text or something, maybe a visit on weekends? You vanished! We heard you tried to take out Iverson and then poof! Gone. You didn’t even tell Shiro and we thought you’d gone rogue.”

“I didn’t go rogue. There wasn’t any reception where I was staying.” Keith defended himself, his voice little more than a wheeze. He had wanted to text Hunk, almost as much as he’d wanted to text Shiro. But things just didn’t work out that way. Hunk thankfully took that as Keith’s awful attempt at humor and gave him a solid pat on the back.

“No matter what, I’m glad we got you back.” Not just glad that him being back benefited them, Hunk was glad Keith was there at all. Keith had forgotten how nice it felt to be wanted for the sake of it.

“Yeah. Glad to be back.” It felt like a huge weight had been lifted from Keith’s shoulders, but he wasn’t one to believe that it was ever that easy without an explicit answer. “So, are we good?” Hunk gave a huff of laughter and gave Keith another one-armed hug.

“We’re good buddy. Now come with me to the hors d’oeuvres table. I dropped my space booze when I hugged you.” Keith was too relieved not to nod his head and follow.

----------

“Lance? Are you in here? You left the- ah! There you are.” Coran strode into the observation deck and over to where Lance had tucked himself on the steps. “You’re missing all the festivities.” He pointed out conversationally as he made his way over to the young Paladin’s side.

“Sorry, just needed a minute away.” There was still a faint redness in Lance’s eyes but Coran didn’t comment on it. Instead, he looked out into the vastness of space with his hands tucked behind his back.

“Something on your mind?” It was an open invitation. If Lance wanted someone to vent to, then Coran was a master at being a good listener. If the young man simply wanted time alone with his thoughts, the advisor would gladly leave him be to rejoin the party. Lance took a long few seconds to ponder the options before sighing and running a hand through his hair in frustration.

“I just want to remember, Coran.” His voice was soft, but in the echoing silence of the observation deck, Coran still heard him clearly. “I can remember school, my family. I talk to the others… It’s like they’re talking to a completely different person! But I’m just- I’m not there. I’m trying to catch up, piece things together, and it’s like trying to put a puzzle together when I don’t even know what the picture’s supposed to look like!” There had been countless nights when Lance had stared at his bedroom ceiling and tried to pull his lost memories from thin air. Unfortunately, though unsurprisingly, he had had no luck.

Coran looked out into the endless stars, silent and serious for once before he stepped up and laid a hand on Lance’s shoulder.

“I understand your memories date back further than the amount of time that has passed. I hold the same feelings for Altea. For me, my home was lost only a handful of movements ago. The rest of the universe has long since moved on and learned to live without ever acknowledging Altea’s existence. It can all be quiet jarring.” Lance’s eyes widened and he pulled away to face Coran properly.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t wanna compare-” Coran shook his head and lifted a hand to twist his mustache.

“Not at all. You’re experiencing pain, loss. Those kinds of things can’t be measured up against one another. Pain is pain. And in the end, we both miss home.” It was logical enough, so Lance didn’t make an attempt to argue. Plus if he did, Coran might start talking in Altean metaphors and Lance wouldn’t be able to follow if he tried. Suddenly, Coran swiveled around Lance to get a better look at the back of his head, as if lance were a specimen in a jar. Apparently, something else had caught his attention because now the somber atmosphere that had briefly settled over the two of them was all but gone. “These markings. Any idea what they could mean?” The Altean asked and Lance opened his mouth to answer before closing it after a second. Then he just shrugged.

“Your guess is as good as mine. I can’t read Galra.” Lance was fluent in multiple languages- French, only because Hunk claimed he couldn’t call himself a ladies man unless he knew the language of love and he was not going to lose his title. Even then, there was no way he was going to try to decipher alien languages. Coran hummed thoughtfully.

“Now that is what’s stumping me. It’s not Galra.” There was a long pause.

“What?”

“At least no Galra language that I recognize. The lines and curves are too smooth- it looks Galra, but like someone’s distorted it to match a different language altogether. Quite a fickle thing.” Coran stepped closer

“So… you have no idea what this is?” Maybe if Lance kept asking Coran the same question, he would have some sort of epiphany and they would realize the markings were a grocery list or something, maybe the Galra ran out of paper. Instead of that, Coran shook his head.

“No. No, I’m afraid not. But perhaps…”

“Perhaps? Is that a good perhaps?” Lance turned around so he and Coran were facing each other again.

“There is a chance that if I ran a scan of the markings through the castle database, we could find a match. Of course, it could take a while.” After ten thousand years, systems certainly weren’t as fast as they could be. It would take some time to work through some of the cobwebs.

“That’s more progress than I’ve made since I woke up. Any chance you’ve got some crazy memory restoration machine while we’re at it?” If his own head couldn’t fix itself, then maybe some alien magic would do the trick. Aliens got him into this mess after all.

“This castle is a marvel!” Coran exclaimed- if there was ever an opportunity for him to brag about the castle, the olde Altean took it, no matter what. “But my Pop-Pop didn’t think of every-” Coran stopped, his fingers mid-mustache twist.

“Coran?”

“Well, there might be something, actually. You don’t remember how you lost your memories, correct?” Lance shook his head.

“Not a clue. Hunk said I crashed on Earth and the fall might have caused some brain damage- or something. I’m no medical expert.” He preferred it if it was something incidental like that rather than someone digging around his head and shifting things around. He felt less violated that way. Coran nodded his head empathetically.

“Yes, so I’d imagine. Memories removed are tricky, but memories blocked by abnormalities of the brain? That’s an Isnacral of a different breed!” It usually took context clues to decipher what Coran’s unfamiliar phrases meant. The Paladins usually got it right eight out of ten times.

“Is that… a good different breed?”

“Back when Altea was at the start of its golden era, a mere hundred generations before it’s demise, the leaders decided that the death was an elder should not mean the death of their knowledge of wisdom.” Books could be written based on their beliefs and teachings, in fact, there were entire libraries dedicated to those books. But they were more likely to have been written by third parties who incorporated their own interpretations and biases. So more purist methods had to be found. “The scientists developed chambers that would extract the very minds of leaders in their last days and preserve them. King Alfor’s consciousness itself is stored in this very castle.”

“Do you think it could work on me?” Lance tried not to sound too hopeful. It didn’t work and Coran tugged on his mustache in thought.

“Difficult to say. The chambers were never used to retrieve lost memories before, at least not to my knowledge.” And Coran was a walking encyclopedia, so anything that he didn’t know was a serious gamble. “But! If we tried and it didn’t work, you’d be no worse off than you are now.” Lance bit his tongue to stop himself from commenting on the unintentional Wizard of Oz reference.

“Let’s do it. Where’s this pod? Basement? Attic? Does the castle even have an attic?” Lance was already turned and heading for the door, too excited to actually wait for an answer. Coran caught him by the back of the collar on his suit and reeled him back over.

“Easy now! Won’t you want the rest of the Paladins to partake in your possible recovery? They’re all downstairs entertaining the Arusians.”

“But we can try? After the party, we’re gonna try?”

“Tomorrow, after training. I’ll discuss matters with the princess and prepare the pod.” Lance couldn’t help it, it was like finding out that he’d gotten the date wrong as a kid and it was suddenly Christmas morning.

“Great. Great! That’s- oh man, that’s great.”

“I’m glad you think so. Now let’s head back down to the-” On cue, as soon as Coran opened the doors to the hallway, there was a deafening crash of plates and silverware, followed by a chorus of guilty voices. Lance tried not to stare but he could have sworn he saw Coran’s mustache twitch in agitation without any other part of his face moving.

“Hooligans!” The Altean barked before storming off in the direction of the noise, leaving Lance to catch up if he so wished. Not wanting to follow after Coan’s wrath, the Paladin stayed behind for a moment to look back at the stars again.

Just a few hours. A few hours and he would be closer to getting back the memories that he ever hoped he would be. Everything would be different after that, but Lance couldn’t care less. He would finally have a clue and that was all that mattered. With a new spark of hope in his chest, Lance turned around to head back to the party- maybe even find Pidge and talk with them. If Lance remembered where the Galra sent Matt, Pidge would stop being mad at him.

Unfortunately, Lance never made it that far. He had someone else seeking his attention.

“Hey, Lance.”

Chapter Text

Lance had a knack for getting himself into situations without meaning to. Usually, it was because of his big mouth, or his over-eagerness to rise to a challenge. Other times, like now, it was because he didn’t pay enough attention to his surroundings. The situation he’d currently found himself in was spinning around too fast and nearly smacking his nose into his leader’s chest.

“Oh! Uh… Hi, Shiro.”

Despite working together seventeen hours a day and living under the same roof for weeks, Lance still felt his throat tighten up every time he was around Shiro. He couldn’t help it. Now was no exception, especially since they were alone. The last time Lance could remember being alone with the leader of Voltron it was their encounter in the showers. Shiro had offered his time to Lance, but the Blue Paladin had never found a good moment to take him up on it. They were so busy with missions and training; they could only interact briefly when they were with the rest of the team.

“Did you wanna run some diagnostics or something? I was just leaving.” Shiro was a workaholic so it wouldn’t shock Lance if the older Paladin wanted to scan the castle instead of relaxing at the party. Shiro shook his head.

“No, I was actually looking for you.”

“Oh.” Oh?

“Yeah, I saw you weren’t at the party. Hunk said he saw you and Coran come up here.” What Shiro strategically failed to mention was that Hunk had grabbed Shiro by the shoulder and steered him in the direction of the stairs because Shiro was planning to let Lance be alone. ’He’s sad, Shiro.’ That was all Hunk had to say to make Shiro go running like a man possessed. “I just wanted to make sure everything was okay.” On instinct, Lance nodded his head.
“Yep! All good here! So good.” Lance tried to lean back against the wall in the universal “all good” pose to prove his point. Unfortunately, by not actually checking behind himself, he missed and nearly fell over. He caught himself just in time and realigned himself with the frame. Shiro, bless him, forced down a smile and didn’t point it out.

“So, are you headed back down to the party then?”

“Party! Right, party, with the people. Yeah.” Something must have shown on Lance’s face because Shiro glanced inside the observation deck.

“Personally, I’ve heard the Arusions like to hang on people and I know I won’t be left alone once they see my arms.”

“Are you just trying to brag about your biceps?” Lance asked through a snort of laughter. Shiro did not confirm nor deny the claim. Instead, he stepped inside the room.

“I know I’m the head of Voltron, but I think I’ll let Allura take the helm tonight.” Especially since Shiro wasn’t present for the start of the festivities anyway. “Hiding from a party gets a little lonely, so I could use some company?” Shiro looked back at Lance, offering an open invitation. It would be the first time they were alone together in a while. Lance could just as easily slip out and rejoin Hunk and Keith. The two of them were probably waiting on him. But they could wait a little while longer.

“Yeah, that sounds good.”

Lance reclaimed his spot on the top of the steps and Shiro joined him a few feet away.
“How’s Pidge?” It seemed like as good a topic as any to start off with before the silence turned from calm to awkward.

“Better, a lot better. We talked and he’s calmed down.”

“How’d you work magic like that? Earlier he wanted me back in a prison cell, chilling with some Galra guards.” And since Pidge was, in Lance’s mind, kind of a super genius, that probably wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

“He didn’t mean it.”

“He sure sounded like he meant it.” For as long as he lived, Lance would never be able to get the look of hatred on Pidge’s face out of his head. No one had ever looked at him like that. At least he hoped no one had.

“Pidge has been looking for his family for a long time. Being so close and still with no leads is making him stir crazy.” And more than a little snappish. Lance nodded his head in agreement.

“And Professor Holt’s his dad?” Lance asked and Shiro nodded his head. “But I thought he only had one son?”

“Why do you think that?”

“My sister had him for a class when he was still a Professor. Amelia would complain about his lectures for hours at home and he only sounded interesting when he talked about his kids. I always thought he had a son and a daughter…” Lance trailed off as his own train of thought caught up with the facts. “Wait- Pidge said his brother. Does that mean he’s-?” Lance’s revelation was cut off by Shiro’s groan. “Is Pidge a girl?” The older Paladin rubbed the back of his neck, weighing his options, before giving in.

“I wanted to wait for Pidge to tell you guys on their own terms.”

“Holy shit, I was right?” Lance’s mouth was agape and Shiro had to resist the urge to tuck a finger under his chin and close it. “Did he- she- jeez. Did Pidge tell you just now?” Shiro shook his head.

“I’ve known since Pidge joined the Garrison. Matt and I were classmates since elementary school, so I’d known Pidge since the day she was born. I recognized her the second I saw her in the halls. She pretended to be a boy in order to stay at the Garrison and find out what happened on the Kerberos crew.” Not because she’d broken into confidential files multiple times, no. Shiro never heard anything about that, and he’d stick with that story until the day he died.

“Right.” It felt like there should have been more weight to that. But Lance only met Pidge when he was rescued from the desert, it wasn’t like they ever met in the Garrison.

“You’re not gonna tell anyone, right?” Shiro asked. It was Pidge’s right to tell them when she was ready. Lance had come to the realization on his own, but that didn’t mean the others had as well. Lance quickly shook his head.

“No! Course not! Pidge is Pidge no matter what.” He’d keep his mouth shut until Pidge was ready- if Pidge didn’t kill him in his sleep first.

“Good.” Shiro sounded relieved, probably because if Pidge found out that Lance discovered the truth by talking with Shiro, he’d be next on her hit list. They lapsed into silence for a while after that. Neither knew how to carry on a conversation, so they fell into a lull in order to stare out at the stars.

Shiro, personally, was glad for the moment of peace. Things had become so chaotic and busy, he had never gotten the chance to just watch the stars. He’d worked his whole life for a moment like this. They all had.

How cruel that one of their greatest goals in life had to be realized in a time of war.
After a long while, Lance spoke up.

“Coran said there might be a way for me to get my memories back.” The words were like a bucket of cold water thrown over Shiro’s head. He turned around in his spot on the floor to look at Lance better.

“Really?” Lance nodded his head.

“Apparently this castle has some fancy AI stuff? There are machines that extract a person’s memories before they die. We’re thinking that maybe we can use the same machine on me- ya know, just without the before I die part.”

“And how do you feel about that?”

“I… I don’t know? Like, I’m psyched! I can get all my memories back! I can remember all that cool junk you guys say I did. But the other stuff? The Galra and the whole…” Lance glanced at his hand. It gleamed back at him. “Yeah. I’m just not sure if I’m ready to meet the guy the Garrison thought could go up in space.”

“You’re still the same guy, Lance.”

“Am I? Because the last time I checked, no one thought I was even gonna graduate.” Lance didn’t mean to snap, but his voice was still clipped. Defensive. Shiro looked more understanding than Lance expected.

“That’s what you thought when I first met you. Do you remember how we met?” Shiro asked gently and that sweet-as-sugar tone made Lance’s frustrations ebb away. He shook his head.

“Nope, and I’m glad because I probably fell out of a simulator in front of you.” Or dropped food on Shiro while passing by in the canteen. Or threw up on his shoes. Something absolutely horrible that would haunt Lance until the end of his days. Shiro chuckled.

“No, don’t worry. You did fall out of a chair in front of me once, but that was after we were already friends.” Lance groaned, covering his face with his hands.

“Splendid.” Shiro watched the way Lance’s knees tightened closer to his chest and the subtle way his face stayed turned away. So instead of calling attention to it, Shiro just scooted closer so Lance couldn’t pretend to be focused on anything else. He learned during their study sessions that the closer he stayed, the less likely Lance was to give his attention to a stray hangnail rather than his work.

“I could tell you how we met? If you wanted. It’s not nearly as bad as you think.” Shiro offered and Lance considered it for a few moments before his hands dropped to hang between his knees.

“Tell me a tale, then.” If there was one thing that could pull Lance out of his own head, it was curiosity. Shiro took a deep breath, drawing on all his grandfather’s storytelling skills.

“So two years ago I saw this kid, sitting alone at the library, looking like he was ready to tear his textbook in half. I felt bad, and I had a minute to spare, so I walked over to check on him. He seemed so down on himself, like nothing he ever tried was good enough. I wanted to see if that self-pity was deserved or not. So I offered to tutor him. And you know what I found out?”

“That he was cheating?” Lance offered. He was joking, of course, but there had been one too many people on Earth who took that lie and blew it out of proportion for Shiro to laugh now. Shiro shook his head and scooted himself a few inches closer because Lance was still looking down and that just wouldn’t do.

“I found out that he was leagues smarter than he thought he was. He was- and is- intelligent, capable, humble, and deserved every good grade he got in class. I found out that he worked twice as hard for half the reward, just because the methods the classes were using didn’t work for him.” Lance finally looked up from his feet to stare at Shiro. He wasn’t prepared for the painfully earnest look on the taller man’s face. “Lance, I found someone worth believing in at that library. And I might have a lot of regrets when it comes to the Kerberos mission,” letting Lance go and not kissing him sooner being some front runners, “but meeting you is not one of them.”

They were so close. Now that Lance had finally matched his gaze their noses practically touched and it made Shiro’s heart stutter. They hadn’t been this close since Shiro sat beside him in the shack, hell, they were probably closer now. There was nothing he wanted more than to lean in and close that gap and show Lance exactly how much Shiro meant what he said.

Thankfully, Lance broke the silence before Shiro could ruin everything with his weak will power.

“Why would you have regrets?” Lance asked, voice barely louder than a whisper. He watched Shiro’s jaw work nervously before the Black Paladin turned away and widened the distance between them.

“I was asked to pilot the Kerberos mission,” Shiro admitted out loud for the first time in two years. “Back then, I was the top of my field. The board wanted me to go up with the Holts as both the captain and researcher. I said no.” It wasn’t bragging, at least Shiro hoped it didn’t come off like that. He was just stating a fact. Lance stared at Shiro’s profile and said nothing for a long while, then he tucked his knees up against his chest again.

“Did you say no because of me?” Personally, it made no sense. Who would say no to such an amazing opportunity for some nameless cadet? Who had allowed him to say no? Shiro shook his head.

“No. I turned down the mission before I met you. But the pilot they got to take my place didn’t have the same research background so much as a military one. The team needed one more researcher on the mission, so they offered the chance to cadets.” Cadets… Looking back on it, Shiro never should have allowed the Garrison to take students on such a mission. They were just students- not even graduates let alone professionals.

At the time, it seemed like such a harmless opportunity for one lucky cadet.
Harmless. Honorable. They had gone to planets before without any problems and the Garrison prided themselves on having perfectly reliable crews and ships. Well, almost perfectly reliable. They hadn’t taken hostile aliens into account.

"You had a flier for the Kerberos mission on your table, but when I asked you said you'd never make it. Call it my competitive nature, but I wanted to prove you, and everyone who gave up on you, wrong." His own ego didn't have anything to do with it. At least it wasn't a prominent factor. "We started studying together, Keith would join us from time to time-"

"Yeah, Keith said we would all hang out together." Lance cut in and Shiro nearly swallowed his own tongue. Oh no.

"What.. else did he say?" If Keith slipped and told Lance anything critical- if that was why Lance had allowed him to stay- Shiro was going to kill him, best friend or not.

"That we were friends, that the three of us would study together and that we were a lot closer than I ever remembered. Apparently, he never hated me, can you believe it?" Lance brought his hands back to prop himself up as he leaned his head back. "I even helped him sneak-" He froze mid-sentence and gave Shiro the absolute worst guilty side glance. "...sssssneak to his room for some extra studying because we were such good students?" The way his voice cracked on the last word was almost cute enough for Shiro to shrug it off. Almost.

"Nice try, but I found out about Keith's little stunt and you being a terrible accomplice." Without much thought, Shiro reached up to poke Lance in the cheek. "You're lucky I liked you so much back then, if I didn't, both your butts would have been in Iverson's office." Lance pouted and smacked the hand away.

"Awww, come on! You would never do that- I'm sure you had your own moments of rebellion."

"I mean, yeah. But I'm never gonna tell you."

"What?! But we're bonding! What if it triggers something? This is top tier memory jogging material!" Shiro chuckled and shook his head with a shit-eating grin. He'd forgotten how much fun it was to have these conversations, this teasing banter.

"I'll ask Keith, we're best buddies, so he'll-"

"Keith doesn't know either."

"Dammit!" Lance threw his hands up in defeat, but instead of pouting and trying to bribe Shiro with something like Hunk's cooking or a written list of his best pick up lines, Lance did the unthinkable.

He laughed. It was a full belly laugh that Shiro hadn't heard in over two years and judging by Lance's own wide eyes, something he hadn't experienced in almost as long. There was a brief moment where everything settled. The laughter died and playful atmosphere fell away. But other heavy or painful replaced it. It was just calm.

"Is this what we were like?"

"Hm?"

"This, bickering and goofing around. We did this a lot?" There was more to the question than that, something lingering in the back of Lance's head that Shiro couldn't get to. He nodded his head.

"Yes, unless I had to be super serious to make sure you studied. Keith never really liked the joking around- said I was being immature." Lance grinned.

"Yeah, 'cause sneaking out to look at a shiny bike made him the mature one." He quipped and Shiro nodded his head sagely. "Did you miss me when I went to Kerberos?" The question came out rushed, hurried like Lance was scared Shiro would reject it if he didn't say it fast enough. Shiro couldn't stop the answer from tumbling out of his mouth before he could think better of it.

"Every single day."

Lance's eyes widened. He'd expected a more vague answer than that. Something along the lines of "we all did" or something more dismissive. But the way Shiro was looking at him made Lance want run away and curl closer all at the same time.

"Wow... If I got Takashi Shirogane to miss me then I guess I can't be all bad, huh?" He scratched the back of his neck nervously, though Shiro could see the excited glimmer in his eyes. Not the mention the faint blush staining his cheeks. "Maybe the old me is worth remembering after all."

"You still nervous about tomorrow?"

"Yes," Lance answered quickly, honestly. Then he shook his head. "But not as much, now."

"Good." Shiro himself straightened up. He didn't realize how much his posture had slacked off. He was practically lounging on the stairs. "You know, no matter what happens, you're gonna have all of us backing you up and supporting you."

"Yeah?"

"Every step of the way." Shiro took a deep breath and, before he could overthink it, opened up his arms. "Any chance I could give you a hug? This is a huge moment for you and I'm proud of you for taking the leap." He hadn't forgotten how Lance thrived on physical contact.

"Are you sure? I promise I'm okay! Like, this talk helped me a bunch, so you don't need to push yourself to make me feel-"

"Lance."

"Yeah?"

"Just get over here."

It took another anxious second of hesitation, but as soon as Lance was close enough, Shiro pulled him close and wrapped him up in the biggest hug he could offer. The reaction was instant. Lance's whole body melted, like all the tension and fear was never there to begin with. He hugged Shiro back and buried his face in the crook of the big man's shoulder.

How long had it been since he'd been given a proper hug? Two years? No, longer. Before he even left for the Garrison when his mother had yanked him into a hug and suffocated him before his Papa had to drive him to the airport. Or maybe he'd been hugged during the gap in his memory. Hunk gave hugs a lot. But nothing... nothing was ever going to compare to being in Shiro's arms. Lance tried to make the moment last as long as he could and held on tight, expecting the warmth to be taken away any second. But after a few moments, it didn't seem like Shiro was planning to pull away any time soon. He was perfectly content to hold Lance and make him feel the safest he'd ever been in years.

"Thank you," Lance whispered in Shiro's shoulder, muffled and barely audible. Shiro heard him anyway and held him tighter.

"You don't have to thank me. I'm here for you. No matter what."

Despite everything, Lance believed him. He believed him with all his heart.