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“Lance!”

The Cuban boy’s head snaps around, away from where he was jovially elbowing Hunk near Yellow, at Allura’s shout. She’s power walking, almost jogging, down the ramp out of the Blue Lion’s mouth. The smile on his face withers and fades as he catches the tell-tale twitch of her eyebrows, uh oh.

“Lance. Please remove your… creature, from the Blue Lion.”

Lance opens his mouth and then snaps it shut, eyes widening in realization. He smiles, sheepishly, at the princess before speed walking towards the Blue Lion. Holy crow, he’d put kaltenecker in the Blue Lion.

How the heck did I…  Blue hasn’t let him near her in months.

Every time he entered the hangar, down came her shield. She’d let Red near enough, but only if the two of them snuck up on her (like during the Omega Shield, ouch). Considering they were supposed to form the whole right side of Voltron, Lance was sort of shocked things hadn’t gotten more awkward. But then, the Lions were thousands of years old. They’d had a lot of time to learn to compartmentalize. Lance? Not so much. Blue’s rejection… hurt. In a way he wasn’t sure he’d felt before. His lips twisted into a small scowl. He just hoped the rest of the team couldn’t feel anything when they formed Voltron. He hoped Allura couldn’t feel it. She’d been distant since their hug. Maybe that was why? 

A pit of dread opened up in his stomach as his foot touched Blue’s ramp.

Nothing happened.

No shield. No growling, no rumbling, no images flashing behind his eyes. Not that that had happened since the cave back on Earth but... Lance sighed and started walking.

Well, at least she hadn’t knocked him off. The idea that Blue let him near based solely off Allura’s permission curdled low in his stomach. Echoing footsteps had him looking away from his feet,

“W-woah!”

Romelle nearly knocked him off the ramp as she came flying down. Her hair whipped behind her like a blonde flag and, for a second, Lance thought about saying something about her running through his dreams… but the impulse didn’t kick and the line died somewhere between his head and his bruised heart.

Not worth it.

He pulled a hand through his hair and winced at the collection of curls and tangles he could feel even through his gloves. Great. Meanwhile Keith steps off an apparently deserted whale-asteroid looking like he rolled off a cover of Vogue.

He starts to shake his head, but Coran beats him to it. Gloved fingers clamp down on his shoulders and rock him back and forth so violently that the thought actually does shake right out of his head. 

“Lance! Oh, thank goodness.”

“Hey, Coran. So… I hear there was a little mix-up?” 

The ginger altean nodded frantically, mustache twitching spasmodically as he points down deeper into the hold.

“We managed to corral it down there.” 

Lance sighed, a little frustrated with how the Alteans are treating Kaltenecker but mostly rolling with it. He’s not sure, nor does he think he’ll ever be sure, why she freaks them out so bad. But it’d be pretty cruel of him to leave her in there just ‘cause he’s stuck on these feelings for Blue and Allura. Both to Kaltenecker and the Alteans. He clicks his tongue twice and smiles as she moos and begins to lumber after him. She’s a sweet animal. He’s glad he took her with them, who knows what would’ve happened to her if she’d stayed on the swap moon.

Eh, some idiot would probably have mixed her up for a beef cow.

Kaltenecker reaches the end of the ramp and wanders off to rest under the Black Lion, thankfully away from the sudden surge of activity. Lance scanned the camp for a moment before making a beeline for the small huddle of electronics and a broad back in a yellow shirt. 

Hunk smiles up at him and pats the conveniently empty space on his left. Lance can’t help the warmth that wells up in his chest at his best friend’s regard. He leans down and starts to settle in, long legs crouching to bring him closer the asteroids loamy earth,

“Hey, buddy, which line did you use on Romelle? She ran out of the Blue Lion so fast I thought she was being chased!”

and freezes, warmth flickering out. A cold swirl kicks to life in his gut and his knees lock up underneath him. Lance stands back up stares at the side of Hunk’s head, momentarily struck dumb. Pidge’s laughter crashes against his ears like waves in the distance. Background noise. Anticipated and familiar and like everything else he expects nowadays it pulls at the aching swirl of cold inside of him.

“I didn’t say anything to her.”

Pidge leans over Hunk as he starts to mime a kissing face, “That’s right, guess you’re saving them for the princess, eh eh?”

His fingers feel cold. Lance swallows against the lump in the throat and walks away. He’s not sure if his former flight crew call after him or if it’s just more laughter. He can’t hear anything over the roar in his ears.  

He looks down as a hand touches his elbow. He’d almost knocked into Allura. Then he looks up past her concerned eyes and goggles at the number of crates she’s casually balancing on one arm over her head.

“Ah, Lance.”

She looks a little awkward, her eyes avoiding his own, though her smile seems genuine enough.

Yeah, well, so did Nyma’s.

Lance shakes himself as the thought crashes through his head like a bullet. Where the heck did that come from?

“I’m afraid that we’re going to need to rest here for the day. We have a lot of work to get done.” She gestures over his shoulder at where Pidge and Hunk have eagerly camped down in the towering camp of electronics he’s just vacated.

“We’ve begun to make some repairs to the Lions and Pidge has kindly started to unravel some of the data from the,” she pauses and adjusts the boxes. Lance leans in to place a hand on her unburdened shoulder. She covers it with her own, still not looking directly at him but not pulling away either.

“From the rift. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to reuse some of those abilities again in the future.”

“Yeah, that’d be pretty sweet. Some of them were a little weird, thinking on it, but…”

He pauses. There’s something she’s not saying.

He sneaks another look around the camp over her unburdened shoulder. Coran and Romelle have off-loaded an obscene number of crates and boxes, he doesn’t even want to know how heavy they all are, and have now got some sort of three-dimensional map running in the shade of the Yellow Lion’s bulk. It looks sort of like the one from the castle... Allura’s gone completely quiet. 

“Alright, what’s wrong?” 

He doesn’t expect her to blurt out, “Would you mind terribly going after Keith and Shiro? I know he’d never allow harm to befall him,” Lance flinches involuntarily “but Keith was never the most… restful... paladin. And transferring quintessence like that... I’m worried.”

He doesn’t even have to think about it. He’s itching for something to do and if anyone tells him that he “has nothing to contribute” or “it’s just not his thing” he thinks he’ll scream.

“Must be that Galran blood. They just don’t seem to know how to relax.”

He nods at where Korlia seems to be half swallowed by the Altean pod, clearly tinkering with something or another. Lance hopes Pidge hasn’t gotten her hands on that one, he remembers what happened with her modified fuel cell. He glances back at Allura. The joke looks like it fell flat. He hurries to reassure her,

“Yeah, of course, Princess. But if I scream, you come and rescue me yeah? I didn’t last this long to die by angry mullet!”

She chuckles and Lance feels that twist in his gut loosen, just a little. He smiles and shoots a pair of finger guns over his shoulder as he heads off in the direction she was pointing.


 He breaks into the edge of a small clearing and Lance instantly knows that he hasn’t thought this through.

The sound of bubbling water gurgles loudly through the clearing. A series of interconnected pools, varying in depth and color, fill the air with an almost sweet humidity. Some of the bubbling water runs down smoothed rocks, spilling into nearby ponds or puddles in small waterfalls breaking through the odd silence of the forest. 

Sure, he thinks he’d scream and die a bit inside if one more of them reminds him just how little he contributes to the team - but this?

Yeah, he forgot just how much this could hurt him too.

Lance stares at the pile of armor a few feet away, studiously not looking at what he can see of both Keith and Shiro - because there’s a comparison he knows he’s not going to measure up against - before shrugging and shucking his own.

He ignores Shiro’s look when he stops after the armor. He’s confident the bodysuit will dry out. He’s not nearly as sure how his pride would fair between these two. He stares at the pool like it holds the answers to all his problems within its lilac depths. That's probably a lot to ask from an alien hot spring, but he's beyond caring at this point.

He rolls his shoulders and decides he’s just gonna go for it.

He keeps his eyes set above the others’ heads, still sort of stuck on how white Shiro's hair is now, and jumps into the steaming tide pool, wincing a little at the flash of hot hot hot that lashes up his limbs and leaves them tingling. It’s a nice change from the roiling coil of ice in his insides, though.

“Lance, seriously?”

Water splashes over the rocks as the tanned boy settles in, his arms spreading along the ‘rim’ of the spring. Keith glares at the fingers lingering dangerously close to his shoulder, biting down on the growl he can feel building in his chest. 

“What?” 

The glare intensifies. Lance must have felt it through the silence because he rolls his head to slant a look back at Keith. Shiro sighs soundlessly, certain that his fifteen minutes of peace are at an end.

The halfling’s eyes narrow, pupils contracting and expanding ever so slightly. He jerks his chin between his shoulders and the offending hand.

The Blue, no, Red, whatever, paladin sighs and flicks water off his fingertips into Keith’s face. The expected rage… doesn’t quite ensue. Lance flinches minutely backward, palm quickly opening in the simultaneous gesture for ‘stop’ and ‘surrender’ at the end of the flick in an effort to fend off Keith’s inevitable anger.

Keith snarls, gearing up to rip lance a new one only to halt mid-coil, the older boy stuck blinking in surprise, previously slitted pupils blown wide as his nose bumps into Lance’s spread palm. A flush settles across the bridge of Keith's nose, scattered across high cheekbones. It was hard to tell if the cause was the heat from the bath or…

Lance stares suspiciously at the still Keith for long moments, hand held steady and open. Fingertips flexing gently as the older boy’s hot breath tickles at his damp palm. 

“Guys.”

Shiro’s voice cracks through the silence, guilt lashing at the pair in equal measure. They were supposed to be resting.

Lance grimaced apologetically, not noticing how Keith’s gaze continued to flip between the Cuban’s elbows and still outstretched palm. The calloused hand was still spread wide, palm near the end of Keith’s chin, long fingers able to touch the crown of Keith’s head were they just a few centimeters closer.

He sighs and pulls his elbows in, dragging his arms along the smooth rock closer to his body. Keith’s gaze never waveres, purple eyes blown wide. Lance looks up and flinches beneath his now older friend’s gaze.

“What?!”

Keith recoils backward, the motion jerky as if he’s been snapped out a trance, away from Lance.  

“Nothing…”

Shiro sits up, water rippling around him as Keith crosses his arms and ducks lower into the hot water, lips pressed together beneath the slow bubbles. He swings his grey gaze between the two boys. Lance was easily three, maybe three and a half, feet away from Keith. Shiro’s brow scrunches in confusion as the math points in one odd direction.

“Hey, Lance,”

Said boy perks up at being addressed and Shiro has to swallow a grin at the way the kid lights up under the smallest amount of attention.

“Yeah?”

Shiro mentally re-counts the distance between the two boys across from him. “How long is your wingspan?”

The Cuban looks confused at the question. He drops one arm into the water and stares at his palm. “‘Dunno.”

Shiro scoots a little towards the dark-skinned boy and extends a hand. Lance raises his for comparison, his arm easily meeting Shiro’s across the pool without him having to move. Shiro’s palm was broader, but not by all that much. The oldest Paladin let out a low laugh as Lance wriggled his fingertips, trying and just failing to ‘cap’ his fingers over the top of Shiro’s. 

“You double jointed there?” 

Lance sank back towards his side of the pool with a laugh, “Yeah, there and a little in my spine, I think?” 

He pauses as the water laps at his collarbones. His mouth closes down around his own smile and Lance, the one most likely to gabber in the group, says no more.

Shiro frowns and tries to exchange a glance with Keith, but the other seems to be off in his own little world. “You alright, Lance?”

“Wha- uh, yeah. Thanks. Heh, guess this means Hunk’s got the largest mitts.”  

Shiro smiles a little, subtly trying to catch Keith’s suddenly elusive eyes. “Uh huh, guess so. Hey, Keith-”

A concussive blast erupts overhead. The trees around them shake, the water goes choppy, and distantly the screeching crack of an earthquake scrapes down their spines.

All of which pales compared to the horror above their heads.

The sky looks fractured.

Flashes of distant stars streak the daylit sky, peeking through jagged lances of white energy. They pulse, growing and shrinking in place, before another cacophonous boom rattles the planet. The lines disappear with a blinding flash, only to reappear seconds later, tearing through the fabric of reality. Sections of the sky seem to sag, blue spilling into black as though the seams of the atmosphere were ripped open.

They dash for their armor.


 A morose sigh echoes down the comms.

“Lance,” Pidge bites his name out in a mix of exasperation and irritation. “Cut it out already.”

Keith winces in expectation as he picks up on the tanned boy’s unsubtle inhale. 

He cut across it, “It’s been a long day-” and winced again as Shiro’s hand pressed against the lingering bruise on his shoulder. He hopes the others haven’t picked up on that. The audio comms were more sensitive than he’d realized.

Maybe they’ve always been crystal clear through the lions. He was used to only utilizing them mid-battle, was all. The sensitivity must be enhanced by the lack of vid screens, a side-effect of trying to conserve the lions’ power. It had nothing to do with those flashes of clarity he’d had fighting not-Shiro. Nothing at all.

“Oh come on, we go through all this and what’s waiting for us? Right! More work! It’s not-”

Lance,” And that was Shiro. Somehow commanding, disappointed, tired and resolute all at once. It was such a relief, having him back. Keith scowled, trying to avoid biting the inside of his cheek. Shiro had been dead. It didn’t matter how many bizarre references and weird accents everyone kept throwing around, he’d died trying to keep them all safe. And here they all were, getting him riled up when he should be resting. If Keith could bear for his surrogate brother to be out of his sight for more than five minutes, he would have left him back down on the planet. 

He has no idea how Shiro made himself walk back into Black. Maybe next time, he’d see if Pidge would keep her video comm up and take Shiro in Green. That’d solve a few things with one stone. Green and Pidge tended to fight from a distance, were moderately quick, and as Voltron’s Shield they had surprisingly tough armor - second only to Yellow. Shiro’d be about as safe as he could make him and-

Aurgh! He was getting distracted. Really, they just need to get out there, take a look at the remaining quintessence residue around Diazabaal, and get going. Why did Lance feel the need to make a production out of everything!

“I know this isn’t what any of us want to do, but it’s our responsibility to make sure those rifts don’t reopen once we’ve left. The castle…” There was a catch in Shiro’s voice. No one needed the video comms up to visualize Coran’s flinch. “Most likely did the job. But we need to be certain.”

“With that many quintessence rifts…” Allura seems to struggle with the memory of Lotor and that bland white world.

Keith’s knuckles tighten over Black’s controls. Yeah, he could relate. There was just something wrong with that place, the quintessence field. Why the Galra, and the Alteans for that matter, were so obsessed with it was beyond him.

“Let’s just get this done.” 

The lions wheel around and soar towards their destination. The comms blessedly silent, filled only with soft breathing and occasional moo from the kaltenecker. Then,

“Great pep talk, Mullet. Really missed having our fearless leader around to build us back up.”

This time every comm went off at once, “Lance!”


 The lions hung suspended in the darkness of space.

“Okay, that’s…”

The zone ahead of them flashed, almost as if in warning. White lines of energy pulsing before disappearing. They reappeared about a dobash later, fading and flashing like strokes of lightning across the star-laden sky. It looked sort of like a jigsaw puzzle, if you tilted your head to the side and ignored the absolute chilling terror the image inspired.

“That’s not closed. Or sealed. Or really even gently shu-eet!” Hunk let out a squeak as one of the flashes ripped open next to the Yellow lion. The leg’s massive bulk rolled smoothly over Green and Blue, nudging into Red for reassurance out of what looked like sheer habit. The smaller lion rocked into space before Lance corrected her path.

“Woah! Cool your jets, Hunk! I’m sure there’s a way to fix this!”

The entire area seemed to flash and pulse at his statement, white lines of energy appearing and fading seemingly across their entire horizon. Lance cleared his throat and finished his comment,

“...So, uh, is there a way to fix this?" 

Bizarrely, the sound of frantic clicking poured through the comms from Green.

“Well, based on the energy signatures, I think most of these happened earlier on in the fight.”

 Lance jumps in, voice surprisingly dry, “Oh, so from Lotor, you know, kicking us around.”

 “Right. These all opened up before we went into the quintessence field. But on the upside, Lotor’s ship was designed to slip in and out. So even though there are more of them, these rifts shouldn’t spill open like the one we had close once Voltron tore back through.”

 Allura hums, thoughtful then pleased, “Lotor was using Voltron’s quintessence as a target in order to travel through the rifts,”

 Pidge jumps in “Sort of like a homing beacon,”

 “Yes, as such, while these rifts are not keyed to Voltron’s quintessence, we should be able to match the residual tellarum and seal them shut!”

 “What, like, matching their energy frequency? Create destructive interference? Can we do that?”

 “Exactly Hunk!”

 “So… we can just fire on the rifts and that should close them?”

 Keith was privately glad Lance had asked the question before he had to. He had a feeling that-

 “No, Lance.”

 Pidge pauses, sighs, their voice dropping back into more level tones, “Here, I’m sending the appropriate frequencies to your lions - now.”

 -it was a little more complicated than it first sounded. 

Still, his eyebrows raise at the harsh tone.

He cuts a glance to the side at Shiro, but his brother seemed unconcerned, if not in agreement. That was... interesting. As far as he could tell, Lance had cut to the quick of it.

The data from Green and Pidge rolls up on Black’s view screen and sure, they needed to be firing for certain lengths of time and at specific frequencies, but for the most part? They needed to fire on the rifts to close them.

Keith slants one last look at his brother and shrugs, deciding to let it go. He’d been gone for… ok, well, a few months from their perspective he guessed. Whatever. They had work to do.

Purple eyes rove over the many jagged tears. A lot of work to do. “We’re going to need to split up. Let’s divide the area into quadrants and,”

A bark of laughter zips through the comms from Red.

“Lance, seriously-”

“No! Sorry, sorry - it’s just. There are five of us, right? So wouldn’t that make them quintants, not quadrants?”

Allura sighs, sounding mildly amused. “Lance, a quintant is a measurement of time. Not distance-”

“Actually Princess, back on earth there’s an archaic language for numerals that-”

Keith tunes the conversation out as Hunk and Pidge eagerly start up about time metrics and record keeping. He guides Black through those deep looping turns the lion seems to prefer and sets away at a comfortable pace. He’ll choose his zone and wrap up whatever the others end up leaving.

“It’s good to hear them all getting along.”

His eyes slide away from Shiro’s soft look out into space. He sees Red’s tail out of the side of Black’s view screen. Lance has already flipped around, away from the now cluster of Yellow-Blue-Green, and started off in the opposite direction. At least he won’t have to worry about Lance starting up some ridiculous competition.

He just wants to get this done and get moving. 


 Once the frequency was uploaded, which admittedly took some guessing, button pushing, and muttered pleads to Black for this to just work, dangit, the task turned pretty monotonous.

Keith knows it’s not just his own focused nature either, because the comms flash with idle chatter.

Hunk is already making plans to practice with the rocket boosters on Yellow.

Pidge wants to update cloaking on the rest of the lions, an upgrade that’s long overdue frankly.

Allura is talking with Romelle about the cultural practices back in the rift colony. From what he can tell, they’re comparing notes while Coran bridges any of Romelle’s confusion with anecdotes from his own life.

Shiro’s wandered to the back of Black’s cockpit and has laid down for a short nap. His soft snores buzz through the small room and blend with the not-quite-purr the Black Lion’s taken up in the back of his mind. The Black Lion is quieter than Red. He pulls the lion along to the next section of his quadrant. Quiet’s not the right word. Reserved, maybe. Not cold, but not the searing warmth he’d grown used to and then missed.

Red’s affection was like a brush-fire; sudden, unexpected, ripping away the old to burn a path for new life.

Black feels patient. Like they could wait out all the stars in the sky, watch them burn into nothingness, if they needed to.

He tried to wrack his mind for what Allura had said to Shiro the first time the Lions had been revealed.

Red’s was easy to remember; “a pilot who relies more on instincts than skill ”.

Not the most flattering summary, but it was accurate. He winces a little as the phantom feeling of wind in his hair and Shiro’s garrison leased vehicle grumbling around him washes through him.

Thanks for peeking, Black.

A nudge pushed his thoughts back to Allura standing in the control room that first day in the castle. At the time, he’d felt the description fit. Attack over defense, speed and instinct over waiting around for someone else to decide his fate. It was nice, too, being a sum of a whole. At having some of that pressure, to be perfect, to be the best, to have to earn his right to breathe the same air, off his chest.

But there had been more to Black’s than Red’s. Something low in his gut pulled ominously just thinking about it. He’d listened, of course he’d listened it had involved Shiro, but the specifics were fuzzy. Something about nobility, integrity, leadership. His stomach still squirmed away at that thought, leading.

He tried not to focus on it, trying instead to recall the cadence of Allura’s even, accented, tones.

Ugh, the words were right there, Black’s humming growing in pitch as he wove between rifts. He shifted gently and fired the cannon, holding it for the slightly offbeat of three and a half. He paused on the trigger, eh, four. The rift closed, someone dropped an idle comment through the comms, Shiro snored and Keith moved on.

Another rift opened. Keith fired.

And again.

Fire, weave, hold.

And again.

Hunk is stressing that they’ll need to prioritize a larder over maintenance parts, especially now that there isn’t a castle to maintai-oh, sorry Coran. Pidge’s dismissal is swift and cutting, something about kaltenecker if things get hard? Lance’s answering squawk is a good accompaniment to his own wince as he wonders about the compatibility of celestial wolves and intergalactic cattle. Probably best to keep the two apart as much as possible.  

And again. Fire, press, hold. Three ticks, four.

Hunk starts comparing Lance to his cow which is, well, a little uncalled for. But Pidge quickly joins in and their comparisons are funny and he can’t really help the chuckle that escapes him at the observations on cud-chewing and Lance’s lamentation of failed bubble gum substitutes.

Weave, fire. And again.

They’ve moved on from the animals, something about Pidge smuggling in knockoff tribbles - whatever that means, and onto one of the fights they’d had with Not-Shiro, as the others have taken to calling him, against the Galran Empire. Lance is leading the rambling over the comms this time, voice annoying clear.

“Dogfights- Huh, no, that doesn’t work, does it? Giant cats. Wait, does that make all of our intergalactic battles catfights? Wow, I’m not sure how I feel abou-”

Another rift, another shot, another breath of counting ticks.

Monotonous.

Eventually, even the comm chatter fades into nothingness. If not for Black’s occasional rumbles Keith’s not sure he wouldn’t’ve given up and joined Shiro in his nap. At this point, it felt like the Lions could practically do this job on their own.

 

Allura!

 

Keith’s head snaps up as the hoarse shout echoes through Black. It takes him a few seconds to place the voice as Lance and then his stomach drops out as Blue’s comm line vanishes from his screen entirely. He shouts over the cacophony coming from the other three lions, 

“What happened?”

“A rift opened up on Blue! The energy -”

Keith grimaces, lets Pidge’s report wash over him, and fires two more extended shots into the rifts in front of him. The energies collide and seem to almost lock before the cracks in space snap shut.

He can feel his teeth grind together, the hairs on his arms standing on end because those two rifts took seven ticks to close instead of three.

The pulses had been slowing down. The tears, at least on his end of things, had been showing up less frequently. Three ticks, four ticks, done. He’d cleared a good 70% of his quadrant, stitched space and time back together and welded it shut.

Now they were everywhere. It felt like they were boxing him in. Keith starts to turn Black, growling under his breath as more jagged flashes of quintessence bar his way.

“Keith! Be careful! Don’t move through the rifts!”

It looked like the rifts had other plans. “Hold on,” a wolfish yip cracked through the cockpit as Black rolled around the flashing streaks of energy.

“Pidge! What happened? The rifts over here are going crazy!”

A small grunt, Pidge struggling with the mental and physical recoil of firing the Lion’s beam sequentially.

“Allura… she and Blue were caught in one as it opened. It fried Blue’s comms, and then everything else.”

“I can see her. She’s gone dark.” Hunk, that time. Not that Keith could verify it for himself, the others were all behind him and scattered and the quiznacking rifts were -

“Two more on your left. One on the right.”

Krolia’s level voice helps smooth out the tattoo beating in his chest. She’s not telling him what to think, just where to fire. She’s also not putting pressure on his bruises and he’s more grateful than he really wants to examine for that. He tries to subtly shrug Shiro’s hand off to a more comfortable place. He flicks Black to the side, wincing as Shiro clamps down for balance, and gives it up as a lost cause. He’s got more to do right now, and, anyway, a little pain will help him keep focused.

Two more beams, each held for a solid five ticks, and he can start to move.

“Lance! What are you doing!?”

It takes Keith precious seconds to spot Lance against the dark backdrop of space. A flash from his left illuminates Blue’s position. He feels his hand spasm on the controls as Shiro starts talking down the comms.

The idiot is out of his lion, still out of his armor for the most part. The bulk of white padding nowhere to be seen. Just the smooth black undersuit and blue helmet, nearly invisible in the maw of space. Keith watches him brace against Red’s muzzle before launching out towards Blue’s immobile form.

“Idiot!”

He pulls on the controls. Black turns differently from Red. More of a rotation, like coming out of a corkscrew, than a sharp end-to-end flip.

Lance’s voice is filtering in through the comms, but its just noise against the anger in Keith’s head. He’d always thought the armor had something to do with their ability to go walkabout in space, but it looked like the helmet sealed on its own. Still, if Lance missed Blue he’d have nothing to correct with. No jets to slow himself down or change direction.

He wonders why Red let Lance out in the first place. Wonders why Lance even had the idea to launch out of his lion - the other hates open space. Can’t stand the vacuum since he was nearly sucked out the Castle’s airlock. Another rift flashes open on his far right and he ignores it.

Allura was just knocked for six while inside of her Lion. There’s no telling how Romelle or Coran faired. The field wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. It was a simple in and out mission. One trip of clean up before they headed to Earth. Before he took the others home.

He leans both his will and weight on Black’s controls and it’s because of his deeper turn that he sees it happen.

Lance hangs suspended in the black of space, floating towards Blue hands and head first. One second he’s stretched between the lions, a slightly darker patch of ink against the stars. The next, he’s slightly blurry silhouette. His whole form illuminated by the heart-stopping flash of white energy soundlessly roaring through the gap of Red and Blue.

Keith doesn’t know which of them screams first. It doesn’t matter. Before any of them stop, it’s already too late.

Lance is gone.

Chapter Text

He’s cold. 

It’s dark. Well, for the most part. Stars dot the stretch of nothingness around him. A few are bright enough that he thinks, if he squints and does his best to ignore the odd sense of pressure surrounding him, that they might be planets.

There is a planet beneath him. Close enough for him to differentiate between the colors of its landmass and bodies of water. Close enough to spot atmosphere generated clouds and a cluster of what looks like nomadic storm cells. Close enough to know that whatever planet it is, with its red landmasses and purple points of light, it’s not Earth.

Like most planets he’s seen, and isn’t that trip to think, there isn’t a lot going on around its atmosphere. He’s always thought that odd. All these space-faring planets, and yet their homes are almost entirely undefended.

He tries to focus on that train of thought. On fleets and maneuvers and the ancient histories of earthen empires. Maybe it’s more of a power supply problem? Eh, probably not. Given what he’d seen Pidge and Hunk pull off with half an hour of time and a Balmera chip... Still, you’d think there’d be satellites or outposts or - 

His breath mists against his visor. A wide swath of white momentarily obscuring his vision. He can feel his stomach shaking, his fingers and jaw ache in pursuit of friction against the seeping cold. He closes his eyes and ignores the weightless, empty feeling it brings.

His comms are dead. That was the first thing he’d tried. Buzzing the lions; Hunk, Allura, Pidge, Keith, in silence. Waiting to hear feedback... and then hoping to hear anything at all. 

He doesn’t know how much air he has.

Which is why he’s kept quiet, even as he triggered the signal over and over again. Worry rattling impotently in his head. Words locked in his throat and behind his gritted teeth. He can’t risk saying them, can’t risk using the air he’s got left. He has no idea which of these breaths is going to-

 

 He rips his eyes back open. Nope.

 

 -the stars aren’t recognizable. Not, he makes himself think, that any of the stars have been since they sped past Kerberos. But he’s been paying some attention. Had Coran drag out a few charts, blew the dust of the holograms in his room when he couldn’t sleep at night. He at least tries to pick one or two out as ‘landmarks’. A giant octopus of stars over Olkari. A curled ram’s horn somewhere to the left of Arus...

 

Why am I alone?

 

Voltron left him.

 

His comms click and then nothing. Not even static. He triggers it again, just for the sound. Click. No dial tone.
Please leave a message after the neverending silence in this void!

The just-before, before being beyond this endless void of nothingness, was almost fuzzy. He’d been reaching for Blue, trying to get to Allura. Stepping out into space filled him with the heebie-jeebies, but there hadn’t been an alternative. Blue was down. They had no way of knowing if any of the alteans within were alright. Coran, Romelle, Allura - the odds of any of them being in armor were slim.

He sure as heck wasn’t. He’d been right about the suit drying, but kaltenecker had chewed on part of his jacket so he’d set it aside to sew up later. He’d slid on his gloves and boots before tearing off ahead of Shiro and Keith, but hadn’t bothered to put on anything else. In the end, there hadn’t been time.

He was glad he’d kept his helmet nearby. He saw the bolt of quintessence rocket down out of nowhere and then - well then he was already inside Red’s maw, staring out at the limp form of Blue and the flickering nightmare of space-time rifts between them.

Allura had risked her life for him when the omega shield failed. He and Red might’ve been toast, literally, if Allura hadn’t put herself at risk to help him. He didn’t regret taking that hit for her. He’d do it again in a heartbeat. Maybe that’s what he’s been doing, since they’ve gotten into space. Taking hits. This one though...

Blue and Red hadn’t been close together.

They were in adjacent quintants and he’d had to stifle a swell of happiness that she’d chosen to work near him when he’d noticed. Not that he was staring or anything! He’d started away, far away, from the rest of them and then stayed that way because really, that whole conversation about him and kaltenecker was just uncalled for. He’d ended up facing her, Blue and Allura, thanks to the crazy patterns of those flashing rifts.

Red wasn’t the fastest of the lions for nothing, though. He was moving the second the energy faded, had probably slammed the sticks forward before that. He was so scared. There hadn’t even been a scream.

The nothingness behind his eyelids is starting to mesh with the darkness of space.

Allura saved his life that day. He doesn’t doubt that. There was no way he wasn’t going to try and save them. He winced, recalling the limp form of the Blue Lion (not his lion, not anymore). There had just been a sense of inexplicable dread and then light. Then Blue was still. Quiet and lifeless and... he swallowed. He hoped Blue was alright, wherever they were.

Click.

Why would they leave him?

He can’t tell now if his eyes are open or shut and he so alone.

Emotions swell and he begins to shiver. An oily rip of everything he’s been pushing away since Lotor first appeared laps at his mind like a rising tide. It’s a never-ending chorus of not good enough and runner-up and you’re just a nuisance, can’t you take this seriously?

Ripples of how Hunk has been pulling away, of Pidge’s increasingly cutting remarks. Of how he couldn’t reach Shiro in the astral plane and that Keith almost died because of his failure.

He’s breathing too hard, too fast, too much and...

 

He’s alone. They left him behind.

 

His comms are dead.

 

No one is coming.

 

There’s nothing around him but the ink of space and a strange planet below and why did he ever imagine they’d come for him.

 

Blue?

 

His throat hurts.

 

Space, he remembers, is silent.

 

He thinks he’s screaming. He can’t hear anything.

 

His visor is fogged over. A solid wash of fading white against the still spinning backdrop of empty space. His lungs are starting to burn, bile churning in his stomach with nowhere to go. He thinks back to the oldest joke, the sickest one about death and pilot errors and that, in space, no one can hear you scream. 

He is screaming. He thinks. Was. He might have stopped. He can’t tell. He can’t hear his heartbeat. Can’t feel his toes.

He’d always thought of space as alive. Teeming with life and mystery and power, like the ocean floor. Volcanic subspace rifts and coral reefs of galaxies painting the black with their wonder and life.

 

It’s not. It’s cold and dark and crushingly silent. 

 

The cold feels like its seeping into his suit as every precious breath rattles through him. He tries to slow his breathing again. He can’t panic. If he panics, he dies. That’s how all the lessons go, how they’ve all ever gone. A pilot cannot panic. He’ll get people killed. He’ll fail the mission.

 

He’s alone.

 

He can’t not panic.

 

If he panics he loses air, if he loses air he dies and if he thinks about dying, he panics. He can feel the swell, the tide, the fear, reaching him. He can’t push it back any longer. It rises through his throat to grip his mind like a fist.

 

His visor clears and then fogs back over. He’s shaking.

 

The stars are far away and the sucking chill of space is slowly crushing his bones. It feels nothing like the airlock and exactly the same.

 

The panic wins out. His fingers start to tingle, then his legs. He can’t tell if he’s breathing.

 

He’s started to spin, some sort of sick side effect of the shaking that’s taken over his nervous system. The stars are blurring together as he rotates helplessly in place. Planet, no planet. Planet, empty space. Around and around.

 

He can’t feel his heartbeat.

 

The puffs of white against his visor are shrinking. There’s not enough air. 

 

He’s going to die, alone, surrounded by cold stars and a planet that’s not Earth watching on in apathy.

 

No one is coming. 

 

He pretends he can't feel the hot trail of his tears track down his face. It doesn't matter if he does, they chill before the next set spill over.

 

Lance closes his eyes. 

  


 

A gasp escapes him, crushed from his lungs as he seizes in place. The next breath doesn't seem to be coming, but he can't focus on that because every part of him is suddenly impossibly warm. 

He's burning from the inside out, blood boiling in his veins, and it is hauntingly, uncomfortably, silent as fire erupts in his core. 

The heat scorches his mind and he thinks for a moment, without question, that his heart has given out. Exploded. Splattered against the inside of his ribs, leaking down through his core, stinging and ripping through his still rotating remains.

He waits for it to recede, for the shock of cold and death to match the silence surrounding him.

It doesn’t. The dripping heat slowly curls into simple warmth, spreading through the numbness in his limbs. Simple, but potent. Familiar. Comforting. Like the shock of a hot bath or the burn of coco on aching teeth. He swallows convulsively. 

The tips of his fingers burn.

His heart is splattered against the inside of his ribs and is running down his spine and in its place there is a star, burning against the cold.

He is shaking. He is warm. The pressure around him seems to mount and he just can’t bring himself to care. The tide of fear that was lapping at his soul is gone. Crashed against something immovable and implacable. It’s evaporated. The star pulses inside his chest.

There’s something - not a sound. But like a sound. He falls into it. Lets it shake him from the inside out.

His eyes slide shut and he knows they’re closed because he doesn’t see his next breath.

Like falling asleep, he thinks. 

Chapter Text

Lance wakes up.

It comes in stages. He can feel a weight dissolve from the tips of his eyelashes. Something slowly releases pressure around his knuckles, ankles, shins, knees, elbows. Until his whole body feels caught between a sneeze and a flinch. A stirring, a need to move, but the inability to do so. Just, physical reflex. It’s itchy and irritating and he hates the deep sense of familiarity he has with this obnoxious sensation.

It’s not until he feels a tell-tale trickle of wet-then-suddenly-dry sneaking down his spine that he puts it together.

Holy crow.

He’s in a pod.

There’s a hissing noise. A sense of vertigo swoops through his stomach. Correction, he was in a pod. Lance does his best to brace for the inevitable impact, limbs still useless and partially locked up,

“Ah, there we go.”

He’s… not on the ground. Which, frankly, is where he usually ends up when it comes to the cryo-pods. The surprise is strong enough that he takes a moment to just enjoy not having new bruises for once. Seriously, falling out of those things sting like heck.

There’s a warm arm around his shoulders and what he thinks is a knee under his back. Someone is cradling him to their chest. They’re wearing armor. It’s... not the most comfortable. But, like the pod, there’s something nostalgic about it all.

“Hello, there.” The voice is nice, friendly sounding with an accent that pricks at Lance’s memory.

“Do you think you can open your eyes for us?”

Well, yeah, he could. But he was sort of reveling in the whole ‘being alive’ thing. The ice is melting off his brain now and he knows the second he opens his eyes, he’s in for a lecture.

...He wasn’t sure what for, yet, but there’d been a lot of yelling. He thinks there was, at least. It doesn’t matter. There’s always a lecture after the pod. Just how it goes. The arms around him shift a little, which is nice as it means he’s no longer being smooshed right against that pesky armor. At least it isn’t cold.

Lance sighs, mostly inside his head, which aches unfairly given the pod and not falling out of the pod thing, and starts to pry his eyes open.

A shock of white hair is the first thing in his sight.

Well, that can’t be right. Allura’s never in the room when he gets out of the pods. Besides that, he can tell that the voice is too deep for Allura’s, even at her angriest. His eyes flutter closed. The hair is too short.

“Ah, there you are!”

His brain is definitely warming up now, which means that his next thought, after another go at opening his eyes, is that Shiro has caught him. He was really managing to rock the whole ‘white hair’ look. A little unfair, but sort of a given. Shiro made everything look good.

But… well, there are two arms holding him. Unless something went way worse than he remembers, Shiro was down to one arm. He couldn’t have been in there long enough for Pidge to have made him a new one… could he?

Ah, fiddlesticks. He’s gotta open his eyes. It takes immense effort, but he manages. The world forms in front of him in too-bright too-clear clarity.

Uh. Well. That’s… Not Shiro.

Not Not-Shiro, like the clone Shiro, but really not Shiro as in not the person and yeah, alright, the headache was definitely his own fault. That’s on him.

It’s probably not going to get better, the headache, anytime soon though. Because the guy holding him has some really amazing eyes and he’s got a sinking feeling that he’s not gonna like where his brain takes him at the end of all this.

The man doesn’t have any pupils. And there are two distinct colors there. Even through all of space, he’s only seen that in two other people.

Lance drags his now almost open eyes down to the man’s cheekbones.

Quiznack.

The guy (man) is still talking to him. Frown lines pull at those blue altean markings and wrinkle his otherwise unfairly pretty face. Lance’s is mostly awake at this point and he was right. He was so, so right.

Altean man’s got Allura’s rolling accent, and hair, and dark skin and the picture clicks into clarity with enough speed that Lance can feel the skid marks form between his ears. (He gets the feeling someone is laughing at him.)

He didn’t age well.

He hadn’t gotten a great look at the hologram in the castle, he’d been a little more preoccupied with how it was trying to kill them all - but, yeah, he nearly didn’t recognize the man holding him compared to the one that tried to steer them into a star.

There a shock of silence, which is odd as Lance had felt like it was pretty quiet for a while there, and then that rumbling noise is back several fold. It sounds different, this time, but he can’t think of that too hard because the Altean, Alfor, is shaking him and sputtering in indignation.

“Well that’s- that’s just rude!

Alfor, cue screaming, turns to look over his shoulder at something.

“Stop that! It’s not funny!” **

Or someone, as it turns out. A pair of yellow eyes appear over the altean king’s shoulder. Lance blinks up at them before narrowing in concentration. They’re not solid gold like he’s seen on some galra. They actually look a lot like Lotor’s. Sort of a sulfurous yellow with two points of red staring down at him. He stares back, ignoring the conversation that’s flowing around him. He’s really only aware of it because of how Alfor’s chest rumbles beneath him.

Cripes the man is warm. It’s nice. Lance feels himself relaxing without really meaning to. He can almost hear Keith and Pidge and Shiro shouting at him for that. He should be alert! This could be a trap! Blah blah blah, jeez. Who cares? Lance hasn’t been this warm since before he left home. A pang of longing rings though him like a struck bell. Even if it was a trap, it’s not like he’d be able to rush these two. The heat sinks through his chest, circling his heart and seeping into his bones. It’s sun on his face and sand on his skin. Just… warmHome

Alfor’s voice rumbles through him. Ah. Right. That’s a… thing.

Distantly, Lance is sure he should be panicking. Whether the panic ought to be induced by the dead man cradling him or by the largest Galra he’s ever seen staring him down is a toss-up, but it’s just not coming. (He has the feeling that it's all the heats fault, but he also can't, won't, fight it.)

 

Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he’s dead too.

 

Dead or not, though, he’s finally managed to focus on something other than the jewel-like eyes floating above him. Most of it logs without any shock. He’s mostly staring at the alien, which yeah okay that’s definitely a galra, to keep his brain away from the dead Altean king holding him. The purple dude staring him down over Alfor’s shoulder is more lizard than cat, his shoulders are wide enough to cover two Alfor’s over and he’s pretty sure there’s more teeth in that maw than strictly necessary. Still... Nothing special. Sendak had been way weirder. He’s still not sure what was up with that eye-patch thing...

But, see, then the guy leans back, affronted to something Alfor’s said maybe, woof the guy was seriously rocking Lance’s boat now with all the commentary - not helping the headache, and now, now Lance is stuck on the monochrome armor the crouching, cripes the guy had to almost sit down to look over at him without looming, massive galra is encased in.

He’s fallen out a pod into Allura’s Dad’s arms, he’s still sore, got a headache pounding against the back of his skull like it wants out of his head, and the galra, despite all of the aforementioned conversation, is still staring him down.

Despite all of that, God as his witness, Lance just can’t muster any terror. Nothing is getting past the ringing question of how this hulking galra squeezed into the limited space last occupied by Shiro’s ass. Because that is definitely the black paladin’s armor.

Lance blinks, not noticing the galra smirk, clearly still in some sort of shock because he blurts out; “How did you even get him into that suit.”

Alfor, who has had to adjust his crouch as he argues with his taller friend, almost over-balances as he tries to contain his snort of laughter.

The galra’s eyes widen in offense before narrowing at the choking Alfor.

Lance feels the stirrings of mortification. He hadn’t meant to say that. That was supposed to be an inside thought.

“Oh my, I think we’ve pulled you out a touch too soon.”

Had he said that out loud too?

The galran rumbled, “Yes.”

Oh. That wasn’t good.

Warmth surged through him, a fond rumbling that wasn’t Alfor’s muffled laughter or the galra’s growling. Lance winces, cringing unintentionally into Alfor’s bracing arms.

“Sorry?”

“No, no! Don’t apologize. It’s amazing you’ve healed as well as you have!”

 

What.

 

Some of Lance’s abject horror at the announcement must make it through onto his face. The galra behind Alfor lets out a gusting sigh and shifts closer to them.

“Alfor.”

He sounds long-suffering. Those weird eyes refocus on him and Lance is surprised at the lack of chill present in them. He thought galran eyes, Keith’s included, were just permanently set to ‘grumpy’ or ‘intimidating’ but it looks like some of them can do ‘concerned’ pretty well.

“Hm? Oh! Oh, sorry. Still! It’s a new precedent, very exciting! I wasn’t even aware that others would be able to bond to the lions - they were made with the five of us in mind, you know. This means that they contain a degree of sentience beyond what I ever-”

It’s just not computing. He’s pulled a full blank and, somewhat absently, he finds himself ‘yanking’ at the sensation around his heart - wanting that searing, impossible heat to come back and burn this fever dream right out of his head.

“-it’ll be interesting to see what qualities Red’s chosen possess! I wonder what she thinks of-”

His toes feel warm.

Someone is laughing. Rumbling, inescapable amusement suffuses the entire room. Alfor sighs, his chest moving enough for Lance’s short attention span to snap back to him.

"Ah. Well, at least Red seems to be in good spirits?”

Lance ‘lets go’ of the heat in his chest out of sheer shock reflex. The sensation bumps up under his chest-not-his-chest. Something nudges him.

 

Oh.

 

...Red? 

 

The warmth surges through him and an honest to god roar rattles through his head from the inside out. 

The Galra raises his scaly brows as Lance’s eyes roll back into his head.

Chapter Text

He wakes up, again.

He’s mostly on the floor, again.

Aaaaand, yep, there’s Alfor, holding him up. Again.

It’s really not fair , Lance thinks, this time certain that his mouth is gonna stay shut, What is it about space that makes everyone, like, exponentially more attractive?

He’s got a freak out to get through and a giant lion in his head. Plus there’s the whole ‘which one of us is dead, are we all dead’ question that he hasn’t quite worked out how to ask. Yet here he is, distracted by a blinding smile and glinting eyes.

It’s infuriating.

Stupid pretty space people.

It dawns on him that Alfor is talking. He tries to focus in on what the man is saying, if only to be polite, but he can’t seem to focus.

“Really it’s…”

Lance finds himself nodding along, admittedly not paying much attention to the chattering monolog being held over his head (literally). It’s… something is off. It’s bugging him. There’s a sort of twitch in his jaw and he tilts his head a little to loosen it. The change in angle helps get rid of the ache but it also… He goes rigid in Alfor’s arms as the obvious finally registers.

Alfor looks odd to him, beyond the whole being-alive-thing, because he’s wearing Keith’s - the Red Paladin’s - armor.

It’s - it’s wrong seeing those colors on someone else.

Lance glances down, suddenly aware of his own state of dress. Or lack thereof, really. He’s been stripped into the white cryo-suit. His black under-armor, gloves, boots, and helmet nowhere to be seen. He’s… not sure he wants to know how he got into the skin-tight suit. When he glances back up, Alfor is staring at him with a sheepish expression.

“Sorry about your armor. Your helmet didn’t quite survive Red’s… enthusiasm in collecting you. Good thing you were wearing it though! She really wasn’t wasting any time in getting you back to the castle. Cornered like a sleasthsh! Thought we were going to slam right into the bridge at first.”

Alfor paused, weighing something in his head before shrugging. “I wouldn’t really put it past her. Luckily for the castle, Red settled for the nearest airlock!”

He muttered something beneath his breath that sounded a lot like, “...think Coran wouldn’t’ve forgiven me if she hadn’t.”

Then, louder; “It’s the most curious thing! The design is very similar to our own, but your armor was completely white... I’ve never seen a set like it. Won’t again, I don’t think. You really put it through the wringer.”

There’s an ominous note Alfor is talking around. Something Lance really ought to call him out on, but none of it is registering to Lance at the moment. Because something far, far worse has dawned on him. He swallows, a phantom ache rattling his healed throat. Alfor piloted the Red Lion. That’s why the possibly-dead king is in the Red Armor. But the galra he’d seen yesterday… had been dressed in black.

Which made him the Black Paladin.

A feeling of dread creeps up on him, sluicing through the warmth.

The galra had been large. Huge. But he’d knelt next to Alfor on the ground without hesitation. Had kept eye contact as Lance panicked himself back into the cryopod.

Had only huffed as Lance openly wondered how he fit into his armor. He’d been calm, collected, even, Lance’s mind tripped over the next c-word; concerned.

That Galra was dressed in Black’s armor, so that made him the Black Paladin and that just doesn’t make any sense because Alfor’s Black Paladin was- The door swishes open, closing down all of Lance’s higher thought process. Alfor perks up and turns, absently dragging Lance along with him. (Which, okay, wow he knew alteans were strong, but seriously?)

“Oh! Zarkon! Look, he’s awake again!”

Because Alfor’s Black Paladin was Zarkon . Emperor Zarkon. Genocidal-on-a-galactic-scale Zarkon.

Lance feels totally justified in the scream that rips from his chest as he desperately shoves his way out of Alfor’s startled grasp. His butt hits the floor, hello pod bruises, and his hands smack sharply against the cool tiles as he frantically paddles away from Emperor freakin’ Zarkon .

Naturally, this is when the door swishes open a second time. Two others, also dressed in the colorful paladin armor, enter the room behind the stunned, and alarmed, galran murderer.

“Uh… We interrupting something?”

Lance realizes he hasn’t been attacked, beheaded, or had any other nasty evil thing done to his person. The Black Paladin, Zarkon, what a trip , has actually stopped a few feet away from him.  He stops screaming.

They’re all, all four of them, staring at him. Expressions ranging from mute horror (Alfor) to sardonic amusement (the land shark guy in… oh, no way, the blue paladin armor).

Great first impression, Lancey-Lance.

The silence that descends is… really sort of unavoidable.

He appreciates it though, gives him time to get his breathing back under control. Embarrassed, he slowly levers his weight off of his elbows and untangles his ankle from Alfor’s loose grasp. The king releases him with the same laconic speed Lance pulls away with. Alfor rocks back to sit on his heels as Zarkon sinks into a more regal seat than the frantic crouch he’d lunged into when Lance had started screaming.

 

He can’t bring himself look at any of them in return. Embarrassment a churning star in his chest, searing and swirling until he thinks he’ll either be sick or immolate right then and there. He pulls at his hair nervously instead, forcing a laugh; laughter is always better than silence.

“Ah-ha-ha… don’t sneak up on a guy like that!”

The staring continues, this time a little disbelieving and a lot suspicious. Which. He deserves that. He was facing the door. But what was he supposed to say? Oops? Sorry - I mistook you for a genocidal maniac? Please don’t murder me in cold blood on Alfor’s floor? Bloodstains are hard to get out of white tile?

Lance had a feeling that wouldn’t go over well either. So here they are, staring.

In silence.

 

Yup.

 

He does his best not to snicker at the memory of the Beta Traz yupper. Guy had been a good listener. He wonders if yuppers and celestial wolves would get along? The sting of embarrassment allays slightly under the left-field thought. Helps him manage his startle-reflex when Alfor pats at his ankle soothingly, yanking his attention back to the strangers. The king catches his eyes and smiles reassuringly at him, even as Lance breaks his gaze to stare briefly at the floor instead.

“Gyrgan, Blaytz,” he gestures towards Lance’s sprawled form, “This is our young guest.”

The king eyes Lance but makes no move to stand after he chooses to remain seated on the floor.

“These are my friends and fellow Paladins.”

He pauses to gesture towards the shorter of the two, “Blaytz, Paladin of the Blue Lion, Guardian Spirit of Water, Prince of Nalquod and self-proclaimed,” he paused and affected a rolling tone, “‘attractive long-term on-call lover’ to the universe at large.”

A rakish grin spread across the shark-man’s face. Lance grinned nervously back. It was more of a grimace, Blayt’z sharp teeth were less charming and more threatening from his seat on the floor.

The big guy in yellow rumbled. Alfor’s hand moved, “Gygran, Paladin of the Yellow Lion, Guardian Spirit of Land, Hero of Rygnirath and the most honorable among us.”

A flush softened the giant’s chiseled features at Alfor’s words. Lance stared up at the two strangers peering down at him. This… wasn’t possible. His gaze slid unbidden back to Zarkon.

...ok so Possible and Impossible were maybe on a break.

Fine.

What were his facts? He couldn’t ignore the giant yellow elephant… alien… dude in the room.

Lance took a breath to wave up at Geargone? Whatever; he waved at the first Yellow Paladin, mind reeling through what he knew to be true. Yellow had been empty on that mining planet… or, like, Lance assumed as much. So unless there was something Hunk just wasn’t telling him, which he seriously doubted, the big guy in front of him was definitely dead.

He swung his gaze back over to the blue-shark guy, Blast? Ballast? The first Blue Paladin looked back at him with narrowed eyes. Um, rude. It wasn’t like he’d said the wrong name aloud (yet). What was this guy’s damage?

...then again, in the long run, did it matter? Blasty was a dead dude for sure.

Blue had been empty. Blue had been on Earth . (Lance wondered, not for the first time, how she wound up buried in a Texan desert of all places...) The glare intensified. At least he hadn’t been humanity’s first contact, yeesh.

Oh man, wait, wait, wait, bad thought ; did that mean Keith’s mom had been humanity’s first contact ?!

Lance looked away from his own thoughts and wound up staring into the face of the devil himself; Zarkon.

Well, score one for patricide because that was kill confirmed. There had basically been a queue to poke that particular body with a stick (once they’d, you know, finished screaming at Shiro [Not-Shiro, as it turned out] for handing the black bayard over to the questionably genocidal prince).

That brought the weirdness up to a total of three dead guys. And Alfor. Who either looked a lot better in death or… nah!

Four dead guys and the castle (could a place even go to heaven?) made an easy riddle.

Lance latched on to the obvious answer, “Aw, man, am I dead?

Alfor has the gall to look amused. Lance doesn’t let him start, “‘Cause I’ve tried this before. Wasn't a fan. Also, don’t remember any of you being here.”

The Blue Paladin looked genuinely curious, “‘Tried this before’? What, you took out a free trial on death?”

Nah, fam, that’s called sleep - but, no, as much as he wanted to, now wasn’t the time for jokes.

“No, but as I said he certainly gave it his best shot!”

...or maybe it was. Thanks, Alfor. Good to know there was someone else out there that could appreciate his sense of comedic timing.

Lance shrugged, “Sort of. Got electrocuted or irradiated or whatever. Woke up to a beautiful Altean channeling quintessence like no one’s business.”

Blaytz’s grin turned toothy before letting out a whistle, “Nice! Gotta be in the top ten ways to wake up!” He finished his comment off with a wink at Alfor. The king was too busy staring at Lance to notice.

“I’m sorry, you what? ” Lance flinched, Alfor had gotten a little too close for comfort when he leaned in to demand an answer.

“I, well, uh we, we never talked about it, so…”

A rumble echoed through the room. If Lance had to guess he’d say it was displeased? He didn’t really know. He’d only recently started speaking Keith grumbles before the guy had left , there were way too many new variables here for him to parse.

“Of course you didn’t.”

Lance wasn’t sure what to say to that. They really hadn’t talked about it. Allura had never mentioned it and Lance did his best to make sure she wouldn’t have to. The princess had enough going on, she didn’t need to fuss over what had or hadn’t really happened above the Omega Shield.

The big guy was staring him down. And man was it a long way down, dude was huge. Which… really wasn’t helping his focus. The growl hadn’t abated. Lance could feel sweat starting to gather around his hairline.

“Uh… did I, did I do something wrong?”

The staring continued. Lance slowly looked to Alfor, careful not to lose sight of the Yellow Paladin. Alfor blinked before staring up into the baleful gaze, granting Lance a brief reprieve from the questioning glare. “Gyrgan, is there something you wish to ask?”

Gyrgan, Lance tried really hard to commit that name to memory - if only to tell Hunk about it later, crossed his arms and, shockingly, let out another low rumble. What was it with aliens and rumbling? He took pride in his singing voice, but dang, he was starting to feel like his vocal cords were missing a few key features.

“I do not trust this.”

...that didn’t bode well.

The guy’s biceps bulged as he gestured with one large arm, “He comes from nowhere with nothing around him. There are no reports of vessels in this system and yet there he was in close space. As though he were waiting for something...” Gyrgan trailed off with a significant look pointed at Alfor.  

The blue paladin jumped in, his sudden appearance on Alfor’s left making Lance physically jump too, “Yeah, yeah, good point Gyr. Some kid lands basically on top of Diazabaal and Red, of all lions, breaks away with Alfor to go pick him up? Seems hyxu to me.”

Alfor’s brows draw together, “That should not-”

The land-shark continued, “Come on, Alfor. You don’t think it’s a little strange?” His gaze dropped on Lance like a hammer. “Hey, kid,”

Lance reluctantly dragged his eyes up to meet Blaytz’s. The Nalquod prince loomed over him, “So... what were you doing out there?”

“I,” Lance opens his mouth but is interrupted,

“I mean, Diazabaal - that’s one hell of a planet to end up near.”

“I didn’t-”

“Someone with a nasty, suspicious mind might wonder what brought you to the doorstep of the Galran homeworld,”

“We weren’t-”

“Oh, we , huh? Doesn’t look like there’s a ‘we’ around, just a you.”

Lance feels that comment hit somewhere beneath his ribs. The Nalquod’s eye lit up, catching the weakness, “Only a you. No ship, no ‘we’, no nothing.”

Every comment stings like a lash against his fragile confusion.

“What’d you do, crash the entire ship? Against what? There isn’t even any wreckage out there - much less anything that could be a ‘we’.”

“Blaytz,” Alfor tries to intervene, but the prince ignores him too.

“I mean, come on, that’s a little odd, isn’t it? Most are smart enough to not take a walk in the black.”

Lance’s hackles rise, terror and doubt swamped by the memory induced rage of nearly getting sucked out an airlock, “I’m not that -”

“But hey, maybe you didn’t. Maybe there were more of you. Maybe they left you out there.”

Maybe they just left you rings through Lance’s head, ricocheting off insecurities he thought he’d buried in the halls of Beta Traz.

“What’d you do, kid? Why’d they drop you just shy of orbit?”

“I didn’t-”

No one interrupts him this time, but the sentence dies all on its own. “I don’t…” Alfor slowly reaches out towards his ankle again. The chill strips his veins.

 

I don’t know… I don’t know !

I don’t know why I woke up alone. A traitorous, awful, thought sinks through his head. I don’t know why I woke up at all-

He doesn’t finish the thought. Pain burns through his diaphragm, that star of embarrassment suddenly going supernova. Lance lets out a gasp and sags forward. His strings suddenly cut. Alfor’s hands were somehow already open to catch his trembling shoulders, strong fingers clenching down in reassurance.

His chest hurts like someone knocked the wind out of him. It’s hard to breathe. His ears are ringing.

Through his swimming vision, he can see a purple blur back a blue and white one up the stairs away from them. Conflicting, thrumming growls bounce through his head and he squeezes his eyes shut, tears slipping down his cheeks.

“This is not helping. The Lions-”

“Blue isn’t saying ch’quise about this and you know she’s never quiet,”

“I don’t imagine the others ever have much to say about their bretheren’s-”

“Like Black’s any sort of-”

“You must accept that bringing him pain currently endangers-”

A hand smooths down the top of his head. His forehead bumps against Alfor’s shoulder for the second time that day. He tries to shut out the dead men’s (not so dead?) voices. The burning in his chest slips back into a mild simmer, his lungs inflate and the ringing in his ears slowly fades out. Lance flexes his fingers, wincing at the residual stiffness and zips of pain.

A scary thought slips into his head as the pain starts to ebb. There... really shouldn’t be any pain at all. If he were, you know, dead. Properly dead, he guesses. Lance swallows and puts the thought away for a moment.

He doesn’t even have the energy to be embarrassed about being cradled in front of an audience. Eventually, though, it dawns on him that this maybe isn’t the best place to have his chain of meltdowns. The thought feels a lot like his battered pride. It sounds eerily like Keith. Which, annoyingly, doesn’t make it wrong.

He takes a breath, another, and pulls back away from Alfor. The Altean’s expression is tight, almost as though he’d been in pain too. Lance shifts to look up at the still arguing paladins.

His voice was quiet, “There wasn’t anyone else?”

The conversation, whatever it was about, cuts off.

Blaytz exchanged a glance with Zarkon, shoulders raising defensively against whatever he found in that red-yellow gaze. After a moment the Blue Paladin sighed and turned back to Lance. He pursed his lips for a second before his expression smoothed out, suspicious glare almost gently tucked away.

“No,” Lance feels his breathing hitch. Alfor braces his sagging shoulders as Blaytz hurries to finish his sentence, “No, kid. There - there wasn’t anyone else around.”

Lance squeezes his eyes shut, something small and fragile in him broken by the concrete knowledge. The gulf of emotion between feeling abandoned and actually being on his own leaves him floundering between anxiety and grief. Alfor’s hand tightens on his shoulder, comforting and grounding; hauling him back away from that edge.

Something must show on his face, again, because they give him a moment this time. Their stares don’t avert, but neither do they pelt him with more questions. He’ll take it.

Oddly enough, it’s the lack of questions that makes him realize he doesn’t have a clue how he wound up here. He feels like he’s been rolling with the crazy pretty well… but having it all pinned down and pried apart? He might be sick.

Alfor’s synced up their breathing, a sneaky trick Lance recognizes from his Garrison days calming down Hunk. He lets the tempo ground him as his mind reels, pulling at snatches of events but mostly turning over blanks.

There’d been a planet. Hot springs. Something… something happened? They got in the lions. He can’t remember why though. It’s all just… dark. The blackness of space. The cold of the vacuum, or maybe that was the chill of the pod, and then warm nothingness.

There’s nothing else.

The silence is stifling. The staring is worse, but he figures he can’t do anything about that. He’s made that bed and now he has to lie in it. He swipes at his eyes, strangely unafraid of brushing whatever dirt could be on the floor across his pores. He’s got bigger things to think about right now.

Alfor’s breathing doesn’t falter. In and out. In and out and very much real. The thought comes swimming back to the surface; Alfor’s breathing is pretty real and so is the still receding pain.

Which means… it’s all real. And if it’s all real, then he’s either been the victim of false advertising or… Lance takes a deep breath, centers the shaking, scary, thought; or he’s not dead.

That… that’s good. Isn’t it? Not much he could do if he was dead.

He feels like he ought to be happier about this revelation, but he’s just… tired.

“So… Uh, I guess I was - dying?” (His voice breaks over the word. That’s a thing, then. Great.)

“Oh no. You were pretty much dead!”

Lance feels his eyes bug out of his head. That? That was an unnecessary amount of cheer.

Al for.”

...he’s rejecting these feelings of camaraderie. Rejecting them strongly and with all he has. He refuses to feel even vaguely sympathetic towards Purple Space Hitler.

“Ah. Um… only mostly dead?”

Lance can feel his eyebrows drop. “That tiny space between your fingers? Doesn’t make me feel any better.”

Alfor chuckles awkwardly and hides his hands behind his back, like a little kid. Cripes.

“You were alive enough for Red to haul ass out to get you.”

“Blaytz!”

“What?” The… whatever he was, seemed almost appeased by Lance’s tears. His behavior back to the jovial devil-may-care it was upon entry. “I thought it was great. Alfor gets dragged through his own ring of fire, crying, as Red tears off over Yellow’s back into the void. Hysterical. 12/12, would listen to Gyrgan scream like that again.”

Gyrgan knocks Blaytz over the head with a loosely closed fist. There wasn’t much of a wind-up, but Blaytz staggers all the same. Either the guy has heavy hands (uh, they’re bigger than Blaytz’s head so - likely) or a lot of torque coming off those elbows (they’re the size of tree trunks, Lance is gonna hedge his bets on this one).

Alfor, strangely, perked up at this commentary, “No, no! It was incredible! I had no idea the lions could transmit emotion like that!”

“...what?”

That... sounds unsettling like Alfor had witnessed the meltdown he can barely recall. Something something screaming until his throat bled something something panic attack and, oh yeah, his untimely death.

I died. Again.

“I mean, it was horrible. You’ve a remarkable depth of emotion.” Alfor shudders, taking the praise out of the would-be compliment. “I thought I was having a heart attack, at first. Then Red jumped in and the next thing I know we’re half-way through the atmosphere!”

The worst part about Alfor was that he did, genuinely, look excited about all of this. As if he hadn’t just outed Lance’s frankly embarrassing panic attack for the other paladins to hear. Like it was some sort of breakthrough on an experiment he’d been running and gee these results were gonna get him published for sure!

He was, at least, not alone in his disbelieving stare. Alfor’s smile slowly fell into a moue. He crossed his arms against his chest and hunched his shoulders up around his ears. The guy had a lot of ear to hunch around.

The galra, freaking Zarkon, rumbled in… agreement? It was getting easier to tell. Which was a totally different type of worrying. Lance wasn’t equipped for this much worrying. This was Hunk’s job.

“You felt all of that?”

Alfor blinked, evidently confused. “Well, yes.” Then, almost to himself, “I’m pretty sure I just said that…”

Lance, almost compulsively, turned to stare up at Zarkon. He nearly got up to kick himself half a tick later, but, well, look - if anyone was Alfor’s handler, it was apparently the Not-Yet-Evil-Emperor. Zarkon didn’t quite sigh, but it looked like a close thing. Lance once again rejected those creeping feelings of sympathy.

“Umm...” voice crack 2.0, he powers through anyway; the need to know more potent than his embarrassment, “How?!”

Alfor crossed his legs and propped an elbow on the flat of his knee, “Well, as Red’s Chosen-”

“Red’s what ?”

Alfor peered up at Blaytz, “Red’s Chosen?”

Zarkon sighs from somewhere off to their left, “Tell me that’s not what it sounds like.”

The galra sounds as though he’s placed his head in his hands. Lance sort of wants to look over, if only to figure out what that would actually look like, but he’s a little preoccupied with not wilting under Gyrgan’s refocused attention.

“Red’s Chosen . Her next paladin. Her first choice to fly after I-” Alfor sounds almost annoyed.

Blaytz raises both hands in front of his chest, cutting Alfor off once more with a sharp gesture, “Wait, wait, wait. Let me get this right, you want to put him,” he pointed both hands at Lance, “the random child, who didn’t know better than to wander off into space - no offense” Blaytz talked right over Lance’s indignant squawk, “in one of the galaxies most awesome and terrifying war machines?”

Alfor’s ears twitched. “She’s bonded to-”

“Bonded? What bond? There wasn’t any bonding,” He gestured to Lance again, “He’s been in a pod for quintents-”

Alfor was through being interrupted. Lance had no idea how he managed it, but somewhere between the start of Blaytz’s sentence and Alfor straightening his spine, he was suddenly reminded that the man seated on the floor before him was a king.

The Altean paladin shifted and, without ever moving from his seat on the floor, became the nexus of attention. Every eye riveted to his position.

“The Lions are more than mere weapons, something each of you well know. They are alive. They are, without question, sentient. And as sentient beings we work with them as their partners; as their paladins. We do not command them.” He looked at each paladin before him, “The Red Lion has made her decision. She will take the boy as her next Chosen, or she will not fly at all.”

A hush fell over the room.

“Have you lost your pointy-eared mind?” Blaytz crashed right through it, shattering the regal atmosphere along with the silence. Alfor grinned the smile of a man who knew he was going to get his way.

“Have you seen it wandering about somewhere?”

Gyrgan patted Zarkon’s shoulder consolingly before turning to face their dear friend, “Alfor, surely you cannot expect us to simply accept this.” He eyed Lance, “We know nothing about him. His intentions are a mystery. On what basis does Red found her claim?”

That… hit a little too close to Lance’s own insecurities.

It had been so long ago that Allura had listed off the characteristics of each Lion. He’d never learned what Blue’s were, but Red’s… Well, Red’s had been so cool. Something about instinct and skill; he’d wanted to know more the minute he’d heard about the smallest lion. Knowing, somehow, that they were just the best ; loyalty to Blue be darned. It had stung more than he’d let on when Allura just presented Keith with Red. Something within him bridling furiously when the princess just announced the other as the new paladin, before they’d even found the Lion. Like it was a foregone conclusion.

He’d… never really had the chance to ask again. Once Keith’d, well, left it just hadn’t felt right. It wasn’t like he was actually the Red Paladin or anything. If his heart was beating faster everytime Alfor called him Red’s choice, well, that was between him and his dumb expectations.

He leaned forward, almost eager to hear what Alfor would reveal.

“What basis has Yellow revealed to you, Gyrgan?”

Lance almost groaned. Of course, it wasn’t going to be that simple. Going off Gyrgan’s face, he wasn’t amused by Alfor’s dodge either. The Altean king laughed and waved his hands, fending off the sighs and glares of his companions. He glanced down at Lance, the genuine warmth in the man’s eyes catching the teenager off guard.

“I don’t mean to sound [flippant], my friend. But all of us know how personal the paladin bond is,” Lance tried to swallow back the ache that revelation caused. “Each of us have been made more by their presence in our lives.”

Lance caught himself nodding along. There was no refuting that point. He’d said as much to Keith himself… without Voltron, he hardly knew who he was anymore. Even if that felt tenuous most days, it was at least something.

A chuckle broke through his wallowing thoughts, “Personal revelations aside… It is not as though Red is in the habit of allowing just anyone to pilot her.” He cast a somewhat sardonic look over at Blaytz “Or near her.”

“What? Red loves me! All the ladies do.”

“She nearly stepped on you last you were in her hangar. I do not think it was an accident.”

The prince rocked back with a huff, “S’not my fault that Lion doesn’t know a good thing when they see one.”

Gyrgan dragged them all back on track, “There is still the matter of the boy’s arrival.”

After a moment the tallest paladin seemed to come to the realization that no one else was following him. He sighed, “Would it not be safest to guarantee that he means us no harm?”

Lance felt sweat break out along his brow. He didn’t like where this was going. Alfor squinted up at his friend.

“And pray tell, how would you go about gaining that guarantee?”

Gyrgan blinked, “With the crowns, of course.” He looked down at Lance, sweating and scared on the floor before them. “...perhaps with one of the pods so he need not be awake through the process.”

It was likely offered out of a sense of kindness, but Lance felt his stomach fall out at the suggestion. He didn’t need Pidge to spell this one out for him. The Paladins of the past rifling through his memories of the future? That wouldn’t end well. For any of them, probably, but definitely not for him. Not with the universe as he remembered it. Namely, with everyone in this room dead and the tatters of the universe crushed beneath Zarkon’s heel.

Given how close the four seemed, he couldn’t see that going over well at all. He eyed the galra in question, surprised to see him shaking his head already. “That won’t work.”

“What? Why not?” Blaytz seemed to have no issues asking the questions Lance desperately wanted voiced.

Zarkon pressed two gloved fingers against the armored ridge crowning his head. It looked like he was staving off a headache. “We have been over this already." Blaytz and Lance continued to look at him in confusion. "Surely you’ve noticed that the Red Lion is acting as a bridge between the pair of them.”

Every eye in the room snapped to Alfor. The King managed to not flinch under their scrutiny, but this close Lance could tell that he was somewhat sheepish beneath the sudden attention.

“Yes, well, she’s feeling a little protective of the boy. He did nearly die on us not terribly long ago…”

That… couldn’t mean what he thought it meant. Thankfully, he wasn’t the only one confused.

“Wait, what? Spell that out for me, that can’t mean what I think it means.”

Alfor nodded, almost amused at Blaytz even as Lance cheered for the shark's lack of shame once again. “It likely does. He’s suppressing it rather well, I think, but unfortunately Red is quite the vigilant companion.” He cast a grin at Lance, “There’s no fooling her.”  

Gyrgan held up both large hands as if to stave off the answer to his own question. “She’s pressing on you whenever his emotions rise?”

Alfor shrugged, “A few physical sensations as well.” The king eyed Lance again, “There may yet be something amiss with his throat.”

“Well there go the fun methods of extracting information,” Gyrgan swatted Blaytz as he grumbled.

“The pods would not be able to stifle this response?”

“Not in this case. The stasis effect of the memory process won’t be enough to stop the transference back to Alfor.” Zarkon paused and leveled the pair seated on the floor with a look, “Especially if she decides to simply take offense with our methods.”

Lance let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.

“The crowns, however…”

And sucked one right back in again. He was pretty good at compartmentalization, had to be really, but good enough to hold up under interrogation? He’d had a hard time focusing on Voltron the last time the Alteans had pulled those crowns out. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep his thoughts filtered away from the looming, genocidal, elephant in the room.  

Alfor winced. “That… might actually be worse. Without the stasis to act as a buffer…”

He paused, seeming to weigh his personal comfort against his friends’ peace of mind. It didn’t take him long at all.

“Frankly, I’d rather not go through it again. But a controlled test shouldn’t be so bad?”

No!

Alfor flinched as four voices bellow back denials at him.

Lance does his best to not move, at all, as Zarkon and Grygan both tilt their heads in his direction. Not only does he genuinely not want Alfor routing through his head (...is it his head? His quintessence? Isn’t that supposed to be like someone’s soul? Ugh, space science sucks. He doesn’t understand any of this) he also fully believes that no one deserves to feel what's knocking about in his chest every minute of every day. Never mind the panic stewing in there right now. It’s not a nice feeling. Even at his most jealous he wouldn’t, and hasn’t, wish it on others.

...Maybe once, okay twice, on that Griffin jerk back at the Garrison. But he was a special case. (What kind of pesado gets on people about their dead parents ?)

“Well, alright then.”

Lance jerks out of his thoughts. The king seems to have come to some sort of decision. Alfor raises an eyebrow at Lance and wiggles his fingers invitingly. Lance reaches up and clasps his open palm, yelping as he’s hauled off his feet with one smooth jerk of Alfor’s arm. Freaking Altean super strength!  

“If you’re feeling up for it, I have consulted with Red. I think we know a way to help settle everyone’s minds on the matter!”

Chapter Text

The paladins guide Lance out of the command room, down the hall, two abreast with Lance in the middle. The young man almost feels as though he’s being escorted, like an important dignitary or politician, except that instead of feeling secure; he just feels pressured to move. Alfor and Zarkon lead the parade, the two engaged in a frenzied series of whispers. They pay no mind to the child at their backs, so Lance does his best to eavesdrop. It’s harder than he anticipates. Zarkon’s low rumbles sounds both patient and accusatory. Alfor’s higher breaths hiss back in what Lance assumes are fast and pithy rebuttals. He’s always too many steps behind to make out any real words.

Blaytz and Gyrgan bring up the rear of the party. They too seem to be chatting, but the aura of hostility Lance can feel licking at his heels encourages him to not to dawdle or try the same on them. After a few moments, he’s almost forced to jog. His usually languid gate pressed up into an awkward half skip as their longer strides, cripes they’re all over 6ft, force the youngest to walk swiftly or risk being overrun by the Blue and Yellow paladins. Lance can feel Blaytz’s eyes dig into his back.

He walks faster.

The white hallways pass without much fanfare. Lance is surprised to see several Alteans and Galra milling about the castle, all of them clad in specific uniforms. The first time he slowed down to try and see where they were headed, however, Blaytz jabbed the butt of his sword into Lance’s back. He yelped and jolted forwards, rubbing his back and shooting dirty looks over his shoulder.

He’s so caught up in keeping pace, and heckling Blaytz, that by the time he recognizes the hallways they’ve led him down, it’s too late. Lance swallows nervously as they come to a halt outside of one of the larger doors on the ship. Zarkon glances at him over one armored shoulder as the galra rests a hand on the keypad.

The door whooshes open. No one moves. Blaytz, unsurprisingly, is the first to lose patience with the child staring between them and the door.

“Oh for-”

He takes three steps forward and plants a foot in the boy’s back. Lance goes flying with a high pitched yelp, barely managing to turn his landing into a tumble as he skids across the training room floor.

Lance’s head pops up to stare at the paladins, blue eyes wide and frightened, just in time to watch the door woosh shut.

Alfor turns, a grin already lighting up his face, and races around the corner towards the control window. Blaytz cackles and speeds after him leaving Zarkon and Gyrgan to follow them up at a more leisurely pace.

“Gotta good feeling about this.”

The black paladin doesn’t look over, but something like a smile tugs at his maw. “About him or for us?”

A tusky grin splits the other’s face. “Both.”


 "Uhhhh, hello?”

Lance turns in place in the bare room, trying to figure out which drop-port the bot’s going to use. On his second rotation, he catches a shadow move behind the large window in the leftmost wall.

Well, at least I’m not alone.

Then the curdling realization of where exactly he’s standing and that they’re all there to watch sinks in and panic starts to bubble in his stomach. He licks his dry lips and tries to still the nervous twitches starting his in arms. He hates, hated, no, hates, this room. And that’s on a good day.

Today, Lance reflects, is not one of those good days.

He wonders which program they’ll activate on him. He almost hopes its the invisible maze; the worst he’ll have to worry about then is a set of bad directions. Frankly, it feels like he’s already suffering from those; so a few more can’t hurt.

He hopes it’s not the murder robots. He didn’t like them before the castle tried to kill him and he sure as cheese didn’t after one nearly took off Keith’s head outside The Airlock. ...Um, yeah, he remembered which airlock. Hard to forget. Man, he avoided that hall at all costs, even when it meant being late the first few days after the incident. He had no problems watching that part of the castle blow up.

Lance kicks ineffectively at the ground, scowling as his bare feet bump along the smooth surface with unpleasant friction.

He’s barefoot in the training room.

Laughter burbles up, sudden and sweet. He relishes it, not caring that he probably looks like he’s cracked. 'Barefoot in the training room', jeez. It sounds like some sort of domestic fantasy Keith might have...

The sweetness sours. Keith isn’t here.

Heck, he’s not sure he’s here - the castle blew up. None of this, from the people to the floor that’s weirdly temperate against his soles, should exist.

He puts his head in his hands and squeezes his eyes shut. There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s - he’s weightless. He opens his eyes and pain bursts through him like fireworks.

 

Are you kidding me?!

 

He rolls across the ground, again, putting as much distance as possible between him and the freaking Gladiator Bot that someone dropped on him without warning!

“Ah. We have your attention! Good! If you’ll look to your left,”

Lance remained petulantly on the ground, belly down, scowling for all he’s worth. The gladiator standing before him finally drops out of its combat stance, or rather the ending pose of whatever it did that sent him sprawling, and is almost slouching at ease. Miserable plastic doll.

“You’ll see we’ve scrounged up some pieces of gear that ought to fit.”

Lance finally looks. He expects to see a spare set of Paladin armor, maybe even the pink set Allura started rocking. He could live with pink. It complimented his skin tone and, hey, it was basically Altea’s black so double win. Instead, a few tiles flashed blue and then a platform rose up out of nowhere.

Uh… since when could the training room do that?

Falling through the floor, he remembered. Having the floor raise up towards the ceiling? That was new. New and bearing really uncomfortable visions of his death. Then he caught sight of the armor.

You have a sweet voice Alfor, but all you bring me is pain...

Pink armor this was not. A plain white helmet rested on the table next to equally white boots and gloves. Lance plucked at the white cryo-suit still clinging to his chest. This isn’t gonna flatter me.

The helmet was the same bubble style as the Altean paladin gear, but the gloves had an almost serrated edge to them and the tips ended in little claws. Once he pulled them on, careful around the sharp edges and tips, they ended just past his wrists. He started as the material shifted over his skin. It pulsed, tightened, and sort of sealed shut around his limbs as soon as he had them settled. Lance flexed his fingers, watching as the little claws moved perfectly with his actions. They didn’t seem long enough to mess with his grip, but given all he knew about Alteans he really didn’t want to test how sharp they could be either.

As if in direct opposition to the short gloves, the boots looked like they’d stretch to reach above his knees. They were also bulky by comparison; the toes were plated, the soles were nearly platform thick and some sort of armor crept up the rest of his legs as he slid them on, mindful of his new clawed fingers. It almost looked like plate mail, the edges folding over each other in a spine-like pattern, until pieces started to shrink. They shifted around, sort of tickling, for a moment before they suddenly smoothed out all at once into raised shapes that interlocked up his legs in a sort of fractal pattern. All in all, the white armor was surprisingly light and not at all reassuring.

Someone, probably Blaytz, let out a whistle through the comm as Lance finished smoothing the now thigh-high boots into place. Lance smirked as a very obvious smack noise cut the whistling short.

He eyed the last piece on the table with deep suspicion. It was a short cylinder that had managed to not topple over as it rose through the floor with the rest of the gear. It didn’t seem malicious and thus far nothing on the platform had hurt him. He chanced a look at the bot. It had yet to twitch. Curiosity winning out, Lance shrugged and reached over. He picked it up. Nothing happened. He rolled it gently between his fingers. It was short, more of a baton than anything useful. It reminded him a little of track and field and he spun it around in his palm carelessly, lost in the memories of his childhood.

The cylinder seemed to pulse. Without any other warning, (like a beep or a flash of color maybe? Jeez, Lance really hates Altean developers. Super unfriendly interfaces) the baton springs apart into a long staff. The recoil from its extension, dumb altean interface! , launches it out of his grasp. He scrabbles wildly after it, glove tips tick-tick-ticking against the metal, hissing under his breath as each swipe sends the pole spinning through the air. Finally, he manages to get a grip on the darn thing.

Lance scowls at the gloves, not liking the noise they’ve made this entire time. He flips the staff over one arm before spinning in in front of his body, letting it fall over his wrist into his other hand. One, two, three, he passes it back and forth over his wrists until-! One bulbous end of the staff taps against the ground and sends the whole thing clattering right out his hands.

He recovers the staff and clutches at it nervously, waiting anxiously for any more surprises. After a few seconds of nothing, the boy sighs and actually looks over the cylinder’s new form.

Oh, no.

Lance falls stock-still and stares at the ominous weapon in his gloved hands. He slowly looks at the gladiator opposite him. No. It’s holding an identical staff.

Lance looks back down at the one in his hands. His stomach jolts, acid chewing away as the worry sinks inside him.

He checks, ridiculously hopeful, that the floor has opened up beneath him.

No such luck.

Oh, he doesn’t like where this is going…


“Well, at least he managed to activate it.”

Blaytz was still laughing, “He almost hit himself in the face! Oh, Deyas, this is gonna be good. I can just tell.”

Alfor turned to Zarkon, bracing for whatever unimpressed look might be on the other’s face. He wasn’t disappointed.

“Are you certain this is what caught Red’s attention?”

Alfor stifled his responding sigh with the ease of political and personal practice, “Well, it certainly wasn’t for the view.”

“I’m not saying that saving him was wrong,” Zarkon paused, looking down to meet Alfor’s eyes “it’s why you brought us together, to save lives. But to claim he belongs to the Red Lion… Are you certain?”

They turn their attention back to the young man in time to see him flinch away from the clattering staff, clearly having dropped it in the last few seconds.

“...well, Red’s certain.”

Zarkon, who perhaps had the strongest bond with his lion of them all, nodded. “Let us see her judgment put to the test, then.”


Gyrgan flinched and opened their fingers a smidge, peeked, and lifted their second hand up to cover the minute gap not half a tick later.

Blaytz winced again, “Oooh, that’s going to bruise.”

“This does not bode well for Red.”

Alfor sighed, still standing with his hands braced along the window ledge, and allowed his head to dip lower between his shoulders. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected from the boy, and he was just a boy - that much was obvious now, Red had Chosen… but this certainly was not among his expectations.

“Zarkon, my dear friend, could you please not -”

Another startled yelp echoed through the training room, the boy just barely scrambling out of the way of another strike. Alfor sighs, eyes closing in a sympathetic wince.

Half-grown and hardly trained… You certainly don’t like the easy way, do you dear one?

The Red Lion rumbled back down the bond, amused and determined and perhaps the slightest bit irritated by his mounting doubt.

The boy flies through the air, once again having mistimed a rather simple dodge. Alfor allows his head to thud back against the glass. He thinks, very pointedly, about the last half hour; of the child getting knocked on his ass, thrown through the air, shot, smacked and generally bruised to high hell.

This one? You’re certain it’s this one?

Red’s response was an insurmountable wall of confidence, the curling satisfaction of a solution found, the clean burn of a strike executed just so.

Alfor dropped his head back against the wall. He closes his eyes, taking a moment to recite elements and think thoughts of rust and wear and really swampy planets at Red as hard as he can for a few peaceful seconds.

A scream cuts through the thick glass, a few discordant ticks ahead of the actual speakers. He looks up.

“...Zarkon.”

“Yes?”

There was a long pause, punctured only by Gyrgan and Blyatz’s poorly stifled giggles. Alfor’s voice was flat, “...You activated the swords.”

Zarkon smirked, his voice pitched a little higher with a familiar lilt to it, “Might’ve done.”

“Don’t mock me-”


“-Ahhyeee!”

Lance staggered frantically backwards, panting through his mouth as he desperately tried to avoid getting slashed to ribbons. He knows, he knows alright, that he’s being backed into a corner. It’s not that big a room and spacial awareness has always been something he’s prided himself on. Applying it though, inside a craft and without, under fire though… He ducks, the sword whipping over his head with an alarming amount of force, well his track record with that wasn’t the best.

The murder machine brings the sword back down. Lance plants his feet and holds the stave above his head, grunting as he tries to lock his elbows against that heavy downward swing. He pushes back, staff shaking under the opposing forces.

After a second of this stalemate, the bot drags the edge of the blade down the staff and cuts across the back of his hand. The edge digs into his gloved fingers. He has half a tick to grunt at the awkward pressure before he realizes that the short gloves have left his usually armored forearms completely bare.

The white cryo-suit splits apart, peeling backward as pain lashes up his arm. Beads of blood wick up and roll off the white suit as the bot’s blade cuts past his shoulder. He hisses in pain, staggering that last critical step back into the corner.

The staff rips out of his hand.

“Oh, COME ON!”


Alfor’s breath catches as the gladiator disarms the boy. He pushes back from the glass, preparing to manually override the system, as the blade stabs downwards.

The boy jerks once, a full-bodied flinch, and rolls backward (of all things) - miraculously away from the attack. He slams into the wall, of course, bouncing from one edge to the other. He scrabbles his way to his feet, clearly favoring his uninjured arm to lift his weight from the floor. The gladiator lunges. Alfor watches in disbelief as the boy barely manages to move out of the sword’s path. The blade strikes off the wall, raising sparks and digging a deep trench, and the boy runs under the gladiator’s extended arm.

He’s almost clear before the training bot kicks out. The metal foot catches him just below his ribs. Once again, the child tumbles through the air and onto the training room floor. He crashes to the ground and rolls, once, twice, before sliding upright into a half kneeling crouch.

The gladiator lunges, blade first.

Alfor’s hand hovers over the kill switch, frozen in place; Red shaking him from the inside out. Pay attention.

He can see Blaytz bite his tongue. Gyrgan has yet to lower his hands. Zarkon steps towards him, whether to press the switch himself or to stop him from ending the simulation he will never know.

The blade clatters to the ground.

It skids past the boy’s feet and shatters into blue sparkles. The bot sinks to its knees. The still-glowing hole in its head visible from the window of the balcony. The boy straightens up, shoulders settling into a controlled line, lazy slouch evaporated off his person like evening dew.

Alfor closes out the command switch, hand falling reflexively to his hip. He pulls, half expecting nothing, and can feel the disbelieving stare of the others fall upon him as he closes his fingers around the Red Bayard.

Well, a Red Bayard.

Two more sword-wielding gladiators drop down. They fall, one directly after the other, through the floor before they can do more than stagger towards the still crouching boy. Smoking, coin-sized, holes glowing in their heads.

Alfor steps back from the window, gaze riveted on both his reflection and the bleeding child. He flexes his will and with a flash Red’s version of the Altean broadsword glows into reality before him, the blade a familiar weight in his grip. The red rifle firing on the arena below him as strange to him as the boy wielding it.

Three gladiators drop down.

“What the…”

Blaytz reaches over and pokes at the blade. Their collective attention swinging back and forth between the bayard in the Altean King’s hand and the one in the boy’s bloody grip.

Alfor shifts his bayard back to its inert form.

The boy’s gun doesn’t waver. Doesn’t glow or shift along with Alfor’s.

Red thrums in satisfaction. The moment replays in his mind’s eye. The sudden glow of quintessence as the boy summoned, and it really did look like the fantastical summonings from the stories of his youth, what was unmistakably a Red Bayard. The shift in his stance seemed just as absurdly summoned, the confidence of his shots so different from the flailing youth just moments prior.

There are then three gladiators circling.

Two take shots to the chest. They deactivate in the same blue fractals as the first. The third’s arm is blown off at the elbow, but it simply summons a second blade for its remaining limb.

The boy sucks in a deep breath and drops to one knee. The bayard shifts once more. Before the form even settles, into a sniper’s rifle of all things, the boy lands a shot, smooth as Xenarian silk, slightly to the left of center in the remaining gladiator’s head.

Four gladiators rise up through the floor. 


The first dodges around the boy’s now frantic shots.

Blaytz winces as the kid once again tumbles to the ground to avoid being impaled. The novelty of the bayard has worn off, the experienced warriors all too aware that the kid doesn’t seem to have any combat training. He’s a good shot, there’s no doubting that. That secondary form was one hell of an ace up his sleeve, but the kid’s played it and now it’s time to either win with that hand or… the two gladiators in the back shatter into fractals. Two of the shots he’d counted as frantic misses puncturing their chests over the shoulders of their comrades.

Gyrgan raises his hands back up over his eyes.

Blaytz sympathizes. The kid’s trick shots might work on a shooting range but in a melee?

The remaining bots charge his position. The kid still hasn’t moved out of that corner and he pays for it with precious time and energy as he’s forced to race around the two remaining gladiators. He nicks one of them in the leg and manages a sliding shot into its’ lowered head.

It bursts apart just in time for the remaining bot to fly through its downed twin, sword held high.

The kid comes up swinging, actually swinging, and for a confused moment even Zarkon winces; sure that this stupid, lost, child is about to try and brain the metal foe with the end of his delicate sniper rifle.

A flash of white startles a curse out of Blaytz and, for once, Zarkon forgets to reprimand him for it. The bayard elongates a few inches more and the boy’s full arm swing comes to a stop with the top half of the gladiator’s head sliding off what looks an awful lot like an Altean broadsword.

Gyrgan slaps one large hand over Blaytz’s still running mouth, halting the stream of disbelieving oaths.

Zarkon ends the training sequence. The galra stares, transfixed on the bloody and bruised boy in the arena below him. He drags his gaze back to Alfor’s blade and follows its’ edge back to its’ master’s piercing eyes.

Even from the viewing deck, the blades are a visible match.

There’s really no arguing now. The red bayard appeared in the boy’s hand. He flipped through two long-range forms without hesitating and, when cornered, summoned a red replica of his predecessor’s favorite weapon.

“That’s it. We’re done here.” Blaytz shrugs off Gyrgan’s hand and throws his hands in the air. “The kid is Red’s. Blue and I are out .”

He wanders through the door, final comment hanging ominously in the air behind him as the boy’s red blood drips down to the floor.

Zarkon scowls. The child is the Red Lion’s. Irrefutably Chosen and presented to them as untested and unpolished as a Balmearan Grandidierite (and, with work, perhaps as equally precious).

Blaytz was right. There was no more value in questions or doubt. Now it was only a matter of training in order that the boy should, as the Nalquod prince so eloquently put it, ‘live long enough to actually make it into the cockpit’.

Chapter Text

“Well, what do I do if I get lost?”

She smiled and warmth spooled through him; love like warm milk in his stomach or the steam wafting off a hot bath chasing his fear away in an instant. Brown eyes crinkled down at him, one smooth nail tickling down the bridge of his nose.

“Is that all? Oh, my baby, that is simple. The first thing you do... is sit down.”

He pouted up at her. That didn’t make any sense. The finger tapped his nose again.

“Do not run faster when you don’t know where you’re running! You sit down and you look, and you look, until you find your way.”

He gnawed on his lip, “Like with Clark and the stars?”

“...yes, exactly like the stars.” Another concerned pause, then, “The store isn’t that far away, conchito.”

Lance wrinkled his nose, the mirror image of his mother, and began to out line his many and valid concerns. “Yeah but what if…”


Lance winced as the device whirred over his bloody wrist. Turned out healing pods weren’t the only kind of medical tech onboard the castle. Also turns out that using the pods outside of emergencies was frowned upon for various, incomprehensible, medical reasons. Go figure.

It was probably for the best. Lance had never liked them much after the castle went crazy and cryo-froze him. Thinking on it, he didn’t have many fond memories of the castle…

He sighed and shifted awkwardly, staring at the shreds of suit now dangling away from his healed forearm. Another thought dawned on him, sigh spilling tiredly out of his bruised chest.

Right. No clothes to change into… A throat cleared a little above his head. Lance looked up into the yellow-pink eyes of the altean, um, medic? He realized that Ifrin hadn’t really told him what he did on the castleship, just that he could help with Lance’s injuries. Ah well, it wasn’t like he’d lied. The little puzzle box worked great, even if Lance had no idea what it was actually doing.  

Ifrin followed Lance’s gaze down to his partially bare wrist and made a little ‘ah’ sound as Lance crossed his bootless legs beneath him. They smiled, “Perhaps we should detour before showing you to your quarters, hm?”


Alteans, as it turned out, had some weird concepts of what constituted fashion.

The pants, at least, were comfortable. They were sort of like sweatpants, baggy around his thighs but oddly tapered near the end of his shins. Plus, they looked amazing. There was, however, a concerning lack of t-shirts. As in, there weren’t any at all. Heck, there didn’t seem to be any sweaters either. Never mind a hoodie or zip-jacket. Instead, it was nothing but variously sized and cut, well, tunics, he guessed. They reminded him of things he’d seen at cultural festivals and in history books.

“Are you nearly done?”

Lance turned to wave a hand back and nearly crashed to the floor as his bare foot slipped over something lying on the ground. He shrugged off Ifrin’s concern, blinking down at the guilty bit of fabric.

It seemed out of place with the cooler colored pastels in the room. He shrugged it on, just about desperate to be done already. It wasn’t the softest thing he’d tried on, but the more he looked at it the more he got the feeling it was supposed to go on over the top of something else. He tapped his fingers against the almost lacquered front as he cast another glance around the room. Over the top of what, exactly, he had no idea.

He ran his fingers around the collar and then trailed down to tug at the two strips of cloth hanging off the ends and - oh - huh, they just… Hm.

After a moment of fiddling, the two strips wrapped easily around his waist and folded comfortably into a sort of makeshift belt. They pulled some of the slack out of the shirt until it finally felt like it fit him better than Louis’ old hand-me-downs. It didn’t look half bad, actually. He’d like to take credit for it, but, well, the fabric shifted into place so easily he had to chalk it up to yet another alien thing; just like the boots and armor.

The color was a bit odd… it left him in sort of the reverse of what he’d seen the alteans wearing (whether that was due to their light-color topped shirts and dark pants being part of a uniform or just culture was up in the air).

Still, the collar wasn’t as ridiculously low cut as some of the earlier shirts and the sort of high back and loose folds behind his neck reminded him of his jacket enough to make it nostalgically comfortable. The lack of sleeves was a little concerning, but at least it didn’t need a belt or feel like he was trapped in a too-large dress.

“Oh that’s…” Yellow eyes blinked at blue, comment slowly falling into silence as the altean circled Lance.

“May I?” Lance shrugged and nodded. He lifted his arms at Ifrin’s prompting and did his best not squirm when the altean accidentally tickled him a bit as they tugged at a few before unseen fastenings along Lance’s flanks. After a few moments and several more tugs, Ifrin seemed satisfied.

“It suits you. Wait here,” and then they disappeared into the rows of clothing before Lance could get a word out. A series of muffled crashes and clattering had Lance’s eyebrows raising. He bit down on a smile as the tall altean stumbled out next to him from a different direction than they’d left. They brushed themselves down and shoved a coat towards Lance. “For when you get cold.” Lance ran his fingers over the very deliberate stitching, there was something about the cut...

“Hey!”

Their heads snapped up at the loud shout. Ifrin tucked a hand behind Lance’s waist and started pushing him towards the door as sinuous curses echoed back towards them from the other side of the, now quite messy, room.

“Time to go!”


Clothes found, with a promise of a few more pieces and copies to come once things had settled, Lance was quickly escorted to his room as promised. Ifrin had dropped him at the door, fiddled with the doorpad for a few seconds before slapping Lance’s hand to it almost violently.

He stared into the dark, painfully familiar, bunk like space that almost felt like home.

It was… pretty much identical to the room he’d claimed - would claim? Lance sighed, glad he hadn’t turned on the overhead lights. His head hurt. He staggered forward and fell on the bed. His everything hurt. It seemed like yesterday he’d sent the missive home to his family.

He wondered what they thought of him after seeing the video. Wondered what they’d thought happened to him, what the Garrison had said. If Veronica had done any digging or if Louis came home when the news broke. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed on earth. How much he’d missed. If Rachel had asked Sam out yet, or if she was still waiting. Did he have any new nieces? A baby nephew for Sylvio to gang up on Nadia with? What did his mother think?

A hiccup built and broke at the thought. Lance had always been the most adventurous of his family, but, quiznack, he missed his mother. Another hiccup bubbled up from him and spilled past his lips in a wet catch of breath.

He tried to imagine what she’d say about this adventure...

Well, Mami, I’m pretty lost this time.

Ha! Jeez, nice one, time. Ha. Lance starred up at the empty ceiling, thoughts racing.

Ten thousand years.

Just listening to Allura say it had been… well, more ridiculous than tragic.

Ten thousand years.

It wasn’t a metric that got a lot of mileage. He pulled the pillow to his chest.

10,000 years ago, Earth was fading out of its ice age. There were, like, woolly mammoths 10,000 years ago. Humans were using stones and sticks and maybe, big maybe, had started domesticating wolves. Jeez, they were living like Keith.

Lance’s breath caught. Ten thousand years. His family was gone. They didn’t even exist yet. Or if they did, they weren’t anything like the family he missed. Being away from them was like having a hole in his heart. He ached.

The boy presses his teeth down on his tongue.

Something presses gently on his chest, kneads at the ache like its a tangible wound. He screws his eyes shut and ignores the tears leaking down his face, pretends he doesn’t feel the tiniest bit better. Lance places a hand over his ribcage, splays his fingers out and tries not to have too much of a reaction as he finally accepts that the something he’s been feeling is Red.

It’s just… doesn’t seem possible.

Sure, Red let him fly and sure they let him use the bayard. And, ok, fine, maybe the sword was pretty sweet and different enough from the one that Keith used that he didn’t feel like a cheap copy with its weight in his hands.

But he can’t.

He doesn’t understand.

A whine finally escapes him, teeth cutting into his tongue. His fingers curl into angry claws as he feels Red knead at the confusing pulse in his chest.

Blue hadn’t felt anything like this. Hadn’t felt like anything, really. He’d felt them purr, felt Blue direct him that first crazy, wonderous flight into space. But his lion, his ex-lion? His former Lion who won’t take his calls? Ach! Forget it, Blue - had never reached out. There was no life saving, no bonding, no sudden epiphany between them. Even when he’d discovered their sonic cannon… which Allura had activated so easily...

Tears spilled down his face.

He hadn’t felt Blue until they were gone. The barrier had been horrible. More than just a physical blockade, it was an inescapable rejection. It’d been a shove inside his chest and under his hands until suddenly… he was cold. Like someone’d ripped the covers off his bed in the night. Stripped him of his jacket and shoved him outside. That normal, comforting weight, that sense of security - abruptly snatched away. It’s absence more of a feeling that its presence.  Cold and alone and unwanted.

Absolute rejection from the one place he’d never expected.

To be a paladin was a lifelong bond, right? Even Zarkon had retained a bond with the Black Lion.

But Lance… he felt nothing from Blue. It was as though she were dead, or he was. He’d never felt so lost, standing in Blue’s hangar. Never felt so small, not even when he’d failed to make Fighter Class again.

Those first few minutes over the desert had tasted like more than freedom; they’d hinted at belonging. At being a part of something greater than himself, at being chosen to be a part of something else. It was like a dream; the five of them in Blue that morning. Felt like the start of something amazing… Standing in the hangar, Blue silent and unresponsive to his most desperate pleas? Not so much.

He shivered at the very memory.

Being chosen by the Red Lion… hadn’t felt like much of a choice at all.

Red had stormed a Mamoran barrier for Keith. Had snatched him from the void of space, let him in on the Lion’s special moves, their Bayard forms, earlier than any other Paladin. And then - Black had chosen him. Shiro had chosen him. Shiro had reached Keith in the astral plane and Keith saved Shiro in return. Again. Just another mark of how Lance just didn’t, couldn’t ever, measure up.

There had been nothing. No judgement, no hesitation. Just a frantic pulse of need and desperation as he heard his friends scream around him. Red just as silent as Blue, barrier or no.

Something thrummed under his sternum. His fist thudded futility against the mattress

So what was this?

He got letting him in so they could form Voltron, letting him play at being a part of the team. At being needed. Maybe he had been, during those first lost weeks.

But Shiro and Keith were back.

He wasn’t needed. Wasn’t the sharpshooter, wasn’t the diplomat, wasn’t even anything at least one of the others didn’t already excel at.

Keith had returned to them older, more confident, and more dangerous than he’d left. And then he’d lead them to an impossible victory after saving Shiro’s life. Again. Despite nearly dying in the process, again.  

Lance spent the whole evening after just waiting for someone to tell him to get out of Red’s chair. Thanks for playing, they’d be glad to drop him home, but they didn’t have room for him anymo- ouch!

The kneading in his chest turned to sharp pain, Red digging their metaphysical claws into him.

Lance was halfway off the mattress, bristling with pain and indignation, when the vibrations rocked through him. The air punched out of his lungs in a gasp, forced him to fall back; limp and shaken and soothed as Red growled and purred and prodded him out of that spiral.

He could feel them. Feel Red. Their concern, their possessiveness, their lov- He slammed his palms over his ears to block out the unspoken words.

Something snapped in his chest, broke apart and cut into him in its breaking. Maybe it'd already been broken. Maybe he'd been carrying it, splintered and fractured and fragile, inside of him all along. A time bomb, a tumour, a plain glass heart.

Either way, curled on his side in the center of the small bunk, ten thousand years between him and anyone he'd ever loved, Lance closed his eyes and let the sobs wrack his body until he gasped for air. 

He was so lost.

Chapter Text

Lance wakes up in the Castle of Lions, tears and snot and bad breath all too real to have been a part of the fever dream that was Alfor and Zarkon and the freaking Red Lion of all people (ugh, wrong word) worrying over his mental health.

He opens the tap in the sink, grateful that dental care was, apparently, still universal.

His dreams had been... weird. Weird was a good word. Lance shuddered, shaking out his limbs as he walked back into the bland room he knew no longer existed.

What had been up with that game show host? Wiggle-Wormel-Snorf? Warfle-Garfel-Doo? He shook his head, snickering under his breath. Dreams were weird. A tank full of acid that just cleaned up his skin? And Keith trying to draw with a pacifier in his mouth? Not as strange as the idea that Zarkon was married to Haggar but man, it was still pretty bizarre.

Something pricked beneath his own amusement. Lance scowled, tugging the tunic over his head forcefully as a tickling feeling tingled near the back of his ears. Mind. Quintessence… whatever. It’d only been a few hours, but Red wasn’t exactly the most subtle of the Lions. He was already starting to get a grasp on the way they felt when they started poking through his head and feelings.

It was weird.

How did Keith put up with this all the time?

He couldn’t see the other handling it well. Guy liked his space and solitude. And heart to hearts? The last time he tried to be open with the half-galran paladin he got told he was bad at math and then Keith literally ran away from him-err, them. He ran away from the team . Across the galaxy away . And then he stayed there. It was, like, three years on Keith’s timeline before he came back to them and even then, it was only to confront Lotor.

Lance huffed under his breath as he re-tied the top, not liking how sloppy it’d looked the first time. He’d been, dare he think it, excited to see the other and Keith… ( I don’t have time for this!) had blown him off so quickly. He finished the knot with a harsh tug. It was hard to remember sometimes that they were friends.

Well… almost friends.

Lance dragged a hand through his drying hair. They’d been getting close before Not-Shiro had shown up. It wasn’t like the guy’d had any choice in the matter but things had basically all gone downhill from his arrival. It was hard to not blame him.

He shook his head, reminding himself, again, that dwelling on ‘could have beens’ solved no problems. It didn’t matter that Keith didn’t have time for him anymore. It didn’t matter that Hunk was always busy working with Pidge or Coran. It didn’t matter that Pidge’s jokes had stopped feeling light-hearted and started to cut deeper with every comment.

It didn’t matter.

A gnawing sensation chews away at his middle, the hollow feeling spreading until he nearly felt queasy.

“Red, you invasive-”

His stomach growled.

“...Sorry.”

He sets off in pursuit of breakfast. 


Lance hopes, desperately, that it’s not going to be goo. He wonders what the others are eating for breakfast. Scrunches his brows in confusion. Will eat for breakfast? A temporal headache starts to form. He’s so busy trying to rub it out of his temples (cripes time travel was going to give him wrinkles ) that he walks right into Blaytz’s chest.

Fantastic. The first Blue Paladin. Mr Accusatory, torture-happy, glare-y himself. Just who he wanted to see first thing in the morning...

He can almost hear Red growling, scorching along his thoughts of Blue and everything from last night squirming in his stomach.

He’s not terribly hungry anymore.

Not that his opinion, as it turns out, matters.

The nalquod finished brushing his hands down his front, “You lookin’ for dreokfotd?”

Lance let out an awkward chuckle and glanced up at Blaytz, “Uh… what?”

The Blue Paladin looked at him like he was a bit slow, “Food? Nalvavk nour?”

Lance blinked. Blaytz sighed, “Breakfast?”

“Oh,” Why didn’t he just- Lance eyed Blaytz, remembering again the accusations, glares and interrogative glee. Not worth it. He considered lying for a moment but decided against it. It wasn’t really worth the effort and, besides, he knew where the kitchen and paladin dining hall were. This wasn’t really something Balytz could screw him over with. He shrugged, still a bit confused with the thesaurus game the other was playing. “Yeah.”

The (supposed) prince uncrossed his arms and nodded. “Alright, alright, alright. S’this way, come on.”


To Lance’s surprise, Balytz actually takes him to the dining hall. No fake outs, no bad directions, no looping pointless path. He cast another glance at the landshark. Guy had irritatingly flawless skin. Lance did a mental shrug, brushing off Red’s inquisitive poke at the same time, and guesses the original blue paladin understood the merits of looking good. Clearly, all of Blue’s paladins had- augh! A sharp sting speared out from between his eyes. He clapped a hand to his forehead, ducking away from Blaytz’ gaze as the clapping sound reverberated down the hall. Red! What was that for?!

Lance rubbed at the invisible wound, grumbling at the self-pleased (he really wasn’t sure how to feel about the fact that he was swiftly becoming fluent in mental metal space cat) purr that started up in response. Alright, that’s it. He closed his eyes behind a long blink, thinking hard of old style shields, particle barriers, tall walls and closed doors. Red’s purring dropped into an irritated growl and then slowly started to fade.

Huh, didn’t think that’d actually work.

‘Surprise’ seemed to be the word of the day because there was also what looked like real, non-goo, food spread across the table. Gyrgan was already chewing a dent through some of it at the opposite end, near the left side of the head of the table.

“Gyr! Hey! Leave some for the rest of us!”

Gyrgan rolled their eyes, this apparently something of a morning ritual between the pair.

Lance eyed the spread of food across the table hungrily, searching for anything that looked even vaguely familiar.

It’s not goo!

But, well, just because it wasn’t goo didn’t mean it was good either…

The spread was wild too. A strange mix of colors, textures, dishes and smells filling the vaulted room. Something wiggled at him from beneath a heavy lidded pot, another bowl contained what looked like skinny root vegetables that had been doused in glitter, a soup pot burbled happily in the middle of the table occasionally puffing out polite grey-green rings of smoke.

Before he could scan for more crazy weird alien cuisine, because Hunk would love this - he had to tell him, someone pointedly coughed behind him. Lance looked over his shoulder and into the disapproving eyes of a goatee sporting altean. They pulled a chair out pointedly, not something Lance was aware could be done with chairs but he was learning new things every day in space, and cleared their throat again.

“Oh, uh…”

He looked up to see the Blue Paladin click his tongue and wink at a galra who then placed two mugs down before him. Lance blinked and looked around the room, suddenly taking in the sheer number of people milling about it. There were at least five galra and alteans milling about through the hall, each dressed in species respective uniforms with identical white smocks tied over the front of their clothes. They were, Lance realized as he was none too subtly herded into the proffered chair by another equally exasperated altean, staff. A napkin was dropped over his lap, three empty metal bowls were shifted before him and he had the truly unsettling feeling that someone was standing right behind him. Which, as it turned out, one of the alteans was. He tried, and failed, to make eye contact with them for a few seconds. They stepped forward, eyes cast a little the left of Lance and bowed their head.

Silence.

“Uh… so… what’s your name?”

An almost reproachful look crossed the Altean’s face. Lance hunched his shoulders in, “Never mind!”

The Altean stepped back behind him once more, this time keeping a little to his left rather than straight at his back. It wasn’t really any better.

He cast his eyes over the room, taking the size of it in. It felt… bigger, somehow, with all of these people in it. Maybe that had to do with it serving its actual purpose rather than the hodge-podge communal space they’d sort of turned it into. Well, you know, before they blew it up.

A galra refilled yet another cup at Blaytz’ elbow, grinning slyly as the shark winked broadly up at him. They moved like clockwork, like toy soldiers, silent and watchful and hauntingly attentive. It pricked at Lance’s nerves. Sure he’d been out to some fancy dinners before, but even then there was usually only one or two people actually, you know, serving dinner that evening. Here? There’s got to be at least eight in the room, not including the altean still hovering behind him. There’s someone exchanging clean and dirty napkins, someone refilling cold drinks, someone else refilling hot, and a whole smattering of them moving dishes and plates around as they cooled or heated or were consumed by the two paladins opposite him. He felt a little like he was in the center of some sort of hive.

This was… beyond his comfort level.

After far too many instances of awkward eye contact and rebuking looks, he gave up and went back to looking at the food spread before him. He ignored most of the ones he’d looked at before, still roiling stomach not really up to having to subdue his breakfast twice.

Lance felt his eyes light up as he sniffed the metal dish a galra in violet carefully placed down. It looked like weirdly thick-grained rice and was a dull red color. There was some sort of sauce coating every part of it and oddly shaped chunks of meat were scattered throughout. It didn’t look very ‘breakfasty’ but the smell…

Lance spooned a large portion into one of the small bowls before him.

“And then I-” Blaytz’ head suddenly snapped up from the other end of the table as the galran server at his left nodded towards Lance,  “-wait, kid, maybe don’t-”

Lance’s mouth closed around the spoon and he almost cried.

“Oh riglaith, he ate it. Someone go get-”

Lance didn’t hear who was getting what, too preoccupied with the fireworks going off on his tongue.

It was so good.

Hot and peppery and just a little bit bitter. A strong, clean, burn that he missed so much he hadn’t noticed the lack was hurting him. He swallowed and went for another spoon full, humming in delight as the next one was just as good.

It tastes like home.

It wasn’t perfect. The bits of not-rice were huge and little too soft and the chunks of meat were tough and hard to break apart. But it was spicy and warm and actually had flavor.

“...I think he likes it.”

Lance blinked the happy tears out of his eyes and looked up at the stunned and concerned expressions of the Yellow and Blue paladins.

Red purred in a amusement, her thrum seeming to underlie his own happy humming. Something about the images of home, of sun on his skin and gun-fire on the range and the chili they made in the dark in the backyard and- Lance bit down angrily into the tough meat. She was pulling memories out of his head, sifting through them like his life was a photo album.

Lance thought again of closed doors, tall walls, Garrison security codes and Pidge’s modified firewalls; colour coded - without any red. An angry hiss raised the hairs along the back of his neck. He slammed another ‘door’ shut.

Butt out!  

He pulled the small bowl closer, away from Blaytz’ outstretched hand. The end of the spoon hung out of his mouth.

Someone snorted a little off to his left. A galran server (servant?) was trying, and failing, to hide behind his empty drinks tray.

Lance swallowed his mouthful and removed the spoon, “What is this?”

They smiled at him for the first time all morning, it looked a little odd on their turtle-like maw, “Thurluk.”

Lance nodded and did his best to commit it to memory, enjoying the afterburn that followed.

“You…” Blatyz doesn’t seem to know how to begin, thrown off balance by Lance continuing to empty the little bowl of thurluk. “You know that’s poison, right?”

Lance pauses mid-bite, cheeks bulging. He waits a minute.

Nothing happens. No funny feelings, no numbness, he doesn’t drop dead. So... Lance goes back to chewing. He wondered why the meat was so tough, he had to switch between trying to cut into it with his fore teeth before grinding it apart with his molars. That was a lot of work for breakfast.

Blaytz noticed that he’d lost Lance’s attention. “Hey! I’m serious! Gyr, you tell him! One of the main ingredients is a chemical weapon!”

The human paused and swallowed, reconsidering that Balytz was just trying to haze him. There’s no way… He flickered his eyes between his clean spoon and the paladins across from him, worry building slowly despite the apparent lack of consequences.

The Yellow Paladin paused in his mass consumption, shrugging gently. “Blaytz isn’t wrong. Thurluk has a high concentration of-”

“Oh for- did none of you think to ask if he had any allergies?”

Every Altean and Galran server bowed at the waist, ears of various lengths and colors pinned back in what looked like flustered shame. “King Alfor!”

Alfor staggered into the room and Lance means staggers. The human blinks in surprise over his bowl. The king is fully dressed but he barely looks conscious. He’s still obnoxiously pretty. Lance hates him just a tiny bit for that. It takes him hours to get that level of glow up going and here’s Alfor, already halfway to snoring in his Altean not-oatmeal, looking like a 10. He pulls himself up enough to shoot a disappointed scowl at the Blue Paladin.

“Really, Blaytz. When I sent you to collect him this morning Ilth joodum ree’n an niumin do us all the courtesy of ensuring he didn’t poison himself!”

Lance wigged a finger in his ear and looked warily down at his spoon. Okay, maybe it was toxic...

“It’s not my fault the kid didn’t ask before he grabbed!”

The prince’s snort of amusement at his own joke was cut short by Gyrgan stealing the other’s steaming mug.

“Thanks.”

“Hey!”

Alfor finished pouring something that looked like blue honey, but had chunks of what looked like glowing fruit in it, over his not-oatmeal. He looked directly at Lance, completely ignoring Blaytz’ numerous and loud attempts to reclaim his cup from Gyrgan at his left.

“Are you allergic to anything?”

“Uh… no?” Then Lance paused, looked a the nalquod and whatever Gyrgan was and reassessed. “Only to, uh, normal things? I guess?”

Alfor pursed his lips. Lance continued on, “I guess if the pod didn’t mention... I, uh…” He wracked his brain, doing his best to dig up what he could remember from Lisa’s many rants while she studied for school.

“Carbon monoxide is bad, alkaloids in general sorta suck - we can’t have anything to do with those.” He established firmly, thoughts of nightshade and cyanide in his head as he skirted around a nearby dish that looked like grits but smelled like bitter almonds, “We’re mostly made of water? So we need to drink a lot of it… uhh…”

“But you’re not,” Alfor said a little thrown by the information presented but gamely following, “Exis aaycto ceedusnactus?”

Lance blinked hard, somehow not expecting the end of Alfor’s sentence to have turned into a garbled mess. He snuck a glance across the table at Blaytz who was in turn still staring at him.

“Uhhh… could you repeat that?”

Alfor blinked sleepily, took a bite of his food and asked once more.

“You do not have a condition in which your immune system reacts abnormally to the consumption of capsicum?”

Well that… sounded much longer than the first time he’d said it. Weird.

“Like… am I allergic?”

Gyrgan grumbled in between bites of his meal, “That’s what he said the first three times.”

Lance shrugged the comment off, and ignored Blaytz snickers of ‘yeah, that’s what he said’, long used to others assuming he couldn’t keep up. At least no one had resorted to speaking slowly or miming at him yet. He looked back at the now empty bowl before looking back at the aliens across from him.

“Uh, no. Well,” he amended thinking of some truly sad tolerances he’d encountered at the Garrison, “Really high quantities can make us ill. I guess anything in extremes can, actually. And some people can’t handle the same amount as others - but a lot of us think it tastes good.” He shrugged and reached for another serving of thurluk, deciding to play it safe with what he knew was good (and not actually poisonous).

“This isn’t that spicy, but it’s got a nice burn to it and…” he trailed off as Alfor started to laugh softly.

“Yes, oddly enough I have heard that before.”

Alfor seemed to consider Lance. Well, ‘seemed’ being the operative word. Lance supposed it was entirely possible that the King had drifted off with his eyes open. He was certainly still enough for it to have happened…

The time-traveller slowly raised his spoon and took another bite. Then another. After the first few spoonfuls, he shrugged and went back to enjoying his meal. He figured someone would pry Alfor out of his breakfast if it came to that. Maybe that’s why there's so much staff. Gotta make sure the king doesn’t drown in his porridge.

Lance finished the dish before Alfor spoke, or possible woke, again. He’d been staring mournfully into the little skillet’s empty metallic purple depths when the king’s voice broke into his thoughts.

“Three from your left and back one. I think you may come to favour them.”

There was something like a smile leaking into Alfor’s voice, indulgent and perhaps a touch fond. Lance’s eyes honed on the target-err dish- before he’d made the conscious choice to search for it. He stood up and leaned over the table, once again earning the hairy-eyeball from at least three staff members in the process, and snagged the handle of the skill-oh, it was more tray like that the other. Huh, this one was the same purply-blue-black metal as the last. He blinked and looked back over the table.

Oh. They’re all sorta… color coded. He’d been so distracted by the alien-ness of the food that he hadn’t really paid any mind to the crockery containing them. The spread was… wild, sure, but it was also clustered. Organized. Meats at one end, various pots of broth and porridge-like substances at another and a whole slew of, he guessed, pastry-like things between. And it was a rainbow of dishware… but, he noticed now, with some really prominently repeating colors. Pink-purples and light blues and rich brown-greens. Some orange-yellows and golden-tans scattered through, though usually on the larger pots only. He thought, for a second, that maybe they’d been color coded per Paladin but there were too many shades for that. It was, Lance mused as he tong-ed a few of the round loaves onto his plate, probably by planet.

I really have to tell Hunk about this


Eventually, breakfast came to an end. The servers cleared the plates, trays, pots and utensils with little fanfare. Alfor gulped almost an entire pot of what smelled sharply of cinnamon rum, but was a deep blue color when Lance saw it poured, and staggered off after muttering an unintelligible sentence at Blaytz (who, in turn, had not managed to recover his cup from Gyrgan. Given he wasn’t ever given another, Lance supposed some sort of game was afoot between the paladins and the staff). Lance felt comfortably full for the first time in what felt like months (how long had they been in space now?) and was seriously wondering if his mee-maw would be able to replicate whatever those little oval loaves had been - Kovrach, he thinks Blaytz’ galra had said. (Alfor had been spot on, they were delicious. Some were filled with fruit and jam, others with cheese and herbs and a few were even stuffed with gravy and meats of various toughness. They were like, space hot-pockets but better.)

A hand crashed down onto the back of his chair. Lance nearly jumped out of his skin as the front three legs pulled off the ground. Blaytz cackled and shook him, and his chair, around playfully until Lance could leap to safety. He leant onto the table for balance and shot Blaytz the dirtiest glare he could muster on a belly full of food.

It was probably not the most impressive thing the Paladin had seen.

“So lisivith ii shi shiehsh?”

“What?”

The pair stared at each other in mutual, frustrated, confusion. After a moment Blaytz threw his hands above his head and barked out, “Follow. Me.” before striding off down the hall.

Confused, and a little insulted, Lance jogged after him.

Chapter Text

“Kid, wait up.”

Lance looked up as Blaytz jogged over, surprised that the nalquod wanted to anything to do with him.

The prince scowled a little, “Alfor sorta asked me to keep showing you around.” He paused giving Lance a stink-eye, “You’re not great at doing what you’re told, huh?”

Technically, no one’d told Lance to do anything. Blaytz was the one assigned a task. Wasn’t Lance’s fault he happened to be a part of it. Still, no need to antagonize the guy who’d already suggested they try and pry information out of him forcefully. And breakfast hadn’t been a disaster, a little awkward towards the end there but… Lance shrugged and stepped fully away from the table.

“Sure thing.” The cuban paused, “I mean, he’s not like, making you or anything right?”

It was easy to forget that Alfor was the king of an entire planet. This morning had helped snap that back into perspective.

With Allura it wasn’t anything more than another title…

Princess almost more of an affectionate nickname than a show of respect. They hadn’t quite gotten close enough for Lance to pull the ancient references of ‘Your worshipfulness, your highness’ with regards to her, partially because he didn’t want to have to explain it and mostly because he didn’t want to deal with Pidge and Hunk’s inevitable teasing. But Alfor? Lance pursed his lips, recalling how Alfor had commanded the attention of the entire room just by shifting his shoulders. It’s not a title to him, it's his identity.

Blaytz scoffed “Alfor doesn’t make anyone do anything.” He waved away Lance’s curious look, “You’ll see what I mean if you stick around.”

It was Lance’s turn to scoff, “Not exactly like I have anywhere else to go…”

“Guess that’s true enough. Alright, let’s go.”

And thus, having survived breakfast, Lance makes the mistake of trusting Blyatz with basically anything ever, never mind his own well being.


Lance stared at the room before him.

The familiar room.

The very familiar room and also the only room they’d stopped at thus far, making it an objectively terrible tour. He slid a glance at the Blue Paladin.

“Uh, Blaytz?”

The nalquod ignored him. Instead, the paladin gestures broadly at the decorated wall before them movement causing the doors to slide open with a woosh.

“And this is the training room! Which, you’ve already seen.”

Lance nodded, “Yeah I knooow! ” the vowel trailed off into an offended and pained screech as he was, once again, kicked past the threshold. He rolled to his feet far faster this time, fist impacting the door just as it slid closed. He stumbled backwards as a barrier of bright blue light raced across the door's width, flashing occasionally like caution tape at a crime scene. He could see Blaytz laughing face through the small porthole.

Lance beat his fist against the door again for emphasis, “What the quiznack was that for!?”

“I don’t think you’re using that word correctly…”

Seriously!?

The prince raised a hand and flapped it dismissively at the air, “Ah, whatever, you’ve got bigger problems anyways.”

An uneasy chill raced down the back of Lance’s spine. He called Red’s bayard to hand. A trill kicked up in the back of his head and he squished it back into a ball far away from the rest of his thoughts. It was getting easier and easier to pick out what was Red and what was his…

“Oh! Hey! Good for you, you get a daxifi tixaixii dran remembering to keep armed. We all alli shid shera clwu ya know?”

Lance wiggled his pinky in his ear, this time certain that something was up.

“Well! Have fun!”

Lance dove to one side, pithy comeback lost as a staff slams point first against the door where his head had been.

Still not my idea of fun!

He hadn’t wanted to give a poor showing last time, not in front of the collected paladins and certainly not before they’d decide to keep him (which, when he thought about it for too long, made him feel a bit like a stray Red had dragged home), so he’d kept his ace up his sleeve. But Blaytz had wandered off and Lance had the sneaking suspicion that he hadn’t gone to the viewing room this time so...

He backs into the center of the room and squares his shoulders.

“End training sequence!”

The training sequence does not end.

Lance ducks wildly as the robot takes another swing at his head. He glances back in time to see the bot follow through with it’s swing.

At least they don’t have swords

His eyes bug a little as the staff connects with the ground, a violent WHACK! echoing through the room. Bits of tile splinter and judder across the floor away from the small but craterous impact.

Okay, never mind, there is no good! Everything sucks!

“Why?! Is it always-” He jumps backwards, bayard in hand (and this just proved that he was never going anywhere without again), “-quiznacking-” a quick dash to the side as the staff comes down again, another sickening crack of tile in its wake, “-murderbots?!”

Lance sucks in a deep breath, fires; one clean shot through the head and then a scattered volley across the chest as it fell out of sheer irritation. He let his breath slide out through his mouth in an angry huff.

“Level One: Cleared.”

The automated voice was toneless, oddly lacking the off-British accent Lance had come to associate with translated Altean. He popped a hand on his hip and pointed the rifle at the ground.

“You could at least congratulate me!”

“Level Two: Commence.”

“Wait, what?”

Two more gladiators rose out of the floor.

“Hang- Hang on! What simulation is this?”

Increasing enemies per level was pretty common, but he had a bad feeling...

The training room didn’t answer. Lance danced out of reach again and scowled at the ceiling. Great.

He sighed and shot down the two gladiators, “Level Two: Cleared.”, not even surprised when three more rose up to avenge them.

I’m going to turn Blaytz into soup...

“Level Three: Commence.”


Alfor watched, hands clasped behind his back, as Trigel’s ship carefully landed in the bay.

The rush of wind ruffled his hair and he let it be. A ramp extended and out came the two customary, entirely symbolic, guards. Then, finally, Trigel, bracketed by yet another pair of escorts, emerged from the dark interior of her ship. The guards reached the end of the ramp, saluted, and quickly moved to the side barely managing to step out of the returning Paladin’s dashing path.

Alfor broke free of tradition and manners and strode forward to embrace his dear friend, the rush of her returning embrace worth more than all the titles attached to them.

“Travel well?”

Trigel pulled back and glanced around, peering past his arms and looking on tiptoes over his shoulder, clearly searching for something. Alfor raised his brows as Trigel pouted.

The altean let out a chuckle as he tucked her arm in his and started towards the door, leaving the guards to their own means about the castle as usual. Trigel’s stream of recollection of her most recent research washing over him in comforting waves alongside her orange-green quintessence. How he’d missed her. There was nothing quite as wonderful as shared academic glee and a new facet of their Lions absolutely qualified.

“Alright, that’s the gist of what I found on Kantarii,” Alfor chuckled, knowing she’d uncharacteristically condensed her findings in haste to ask the question she beset upon him next, “So where are they?”

The boy had not been in the agreed upon place, however Alfor could hazard a guess as to where their young guest was located.

“Ah, still training. I suppose Blaytz could not drag him away.” Alfor frowned, “He does, admittedly, need the practice.”

Trigel grinned, savage and sharp. She too had made a name for herself in battle long before joining their band. “A little starwolf without a pedigree?” Alfor nodded, smile fighting free as she extrapolated from his non-comment, “Red took a pup with milk-teeth?” Another nod. Trigel cackled, “You never did tell me how old your stray is, Alfor.”

The king resisted rolling his eyes with long practice. Trigel caught the tell-tale twitch and giggled anyway, aware of his tells in the way only of old friends and family, “Grown enough.”

She raised her eyebrows pointedly, “By Altean standards?”

Ah. Right. He often forgot how... unimpressed outsiders often were of Altean training standards. But he supposed that other races were not burdened quite so heavily as they were and were, at the least, often burdened in other ways. An altean child had to swiftly master their strength. They could do untold levels of harm to others if they failed to control both their tempers and physical responses. Equally dangerous was the matter of taming one’s quintessence. Should it be left unchecked, even in those with naturally low levels, it could negatively affect others around them. And so the training required for every Altean child could appear to be… harsh, he supposed, from an outside perspective.

“His voice has yet to settle but it does seem to be starting to change.”

Trigel failed to smother a smirk, “Oh, poor thing.”

Arm in arm they walked to the training room, plotting the plots of academics and old friends.


 Alfor sighed at the mess, fingers aching to rub at his temples. Trigel pressed a fist to her mouth, doing nothing to muffle her choke of laughter.

The training room was an exhibit of disorganized tactical rumination. Or, perhaps, Alfor thought as he took in the numerous scorch marks, scratches and dents, perhaps ruination would be a more suited descriptor. The room was unleveled, pillars and platforms of various heights scattered through the arena. Part of the room looked as though it had been set ablaze while one corner would have been entirely obscured from view if they had been on the floor itself.

From their position in the viewing room, they could see a trapped, and armless, gladiator bot gamely attempting to scale it’s way out of said corner. As it was down both arms and a leg below its knee, its attempts, however spirited, were quite futile and it was unable to escape to the room at large. The boy in question was sprawled over a small elevated square near the middle of the room, dozing. Apparently, he’d worked out that if one failed to defeat the last gladiator of the simulation level, the program would not advance.

He idly wondered what level Red’s Chosen had reached before coming to this… unique solution.

“How long did it take him to work that out?”

They both glanced at the panel. Level 7. He wasn’t sure if he was pleased with the other for making it that far through an escalating program with minimal (if any, he thought with an internal snap at Blaytz) supervision or disappointed it took the child that long to find a work around.

Trigel simply grinned.

“Let’s go wake him up. I need to meet Red’s new idiot for myself.”

Alfor pressed his thumb and forefinger above the bridge of his nose and walked back out the entry door, “I think I resemble that remark.”

Her laughter was a balm on his nerves. It was always wonderful to have them all home.


 Lance wakes up as his makeshift nap-spot slowly starts to lower.

He grumbled and shifts his weight, cracking one eye open to keep track of the mechanical demon he’d trapped over on his left. He sighed as his, and the rest of the platforms, slipped seamlessly back into the floor.

The gladiator bot makes a gameful try at headbutting him, but he’d left it in such a black knight situation that it was almost more sad than comical. Almost.

“I’ll bite yer legs off…” He mutters as he lines up the shot and pulls the trigger, confident that the simulation-from-hell was at an end now that Alfor was here.

“I see you found a way around the simulation.” Alfor doesn’t necessarily sound approving, but honestly? Murderbots. Lance can’t quite muster up the energy to care about Alfor’s disappointed scowl.

Lance shrugged, “We called it a draw.”

That caused the altean to look suitably confused. Good. His companion, however, wasn’t even phased. There was a pale green blurr and then...

Lance stared helplessly up at the Green Paladin as she squished his cheeks between her four-fingered palms.

“Oh my, he’s almost as dark as you, Alfor! And so small!”

Lance opened his mouth to object, he wasn’t small - all the paladins were giants, and she caught sight of his white teeth.

“Oh! Look! Little insipid canines! But they’re not very sharp… Hey! These are mostly flat! Are you partially herbivorous? What are the little half-formed ones back here for? Can you-”

“Trigel!”

She looked over her shoulder at Alfor.

He wiggled his fingers at her pointedly, “Fingers out of mouth.”

A flush crossed the bridge of her nose in a green flash, there and gone in an instant. Alfor chuckled, admission tempered by his obvious humor at the situation, “Honestly. I haven’t even introduced you two yet.”

Her fingers withdrew. She wiped them absently against her coat, “Sorry!”

She turned to Lance, “Sorry, sorry, I got a little carried away there!” The tall woman sketched a slight bow, “I am Trigel of the Dalterion Belt, Paladin of the Green Lion, Guardian Spirit of Forests and,” she paused to elbow Alfor with a wink, “herder of many giant cats and their pilots.”

She turned fully to Alfor, waiting for him to properly conduct the introduction between the paladin and the guest of Alfor’s house. He reached forward and clasped a hand loosely over Lance’s shoulder.

“This is Red’s Chosen, we’re training him up to be a Paladin one day!”

...and then Alfor stopped short.

The king paused for a moment before laughing sheepishly, “I realize now that we may have skipped a few steps in our excitement…”

Lance finished scraping his tongue with his teeth, hoping to heck Trigel’s fingers were as clean as her tunic. Alfor’s comment registered seconds too late.

“Name’s Lance-”

It dawned on the human, in sudden perfect horror, that he just gave his real name. To someone in the past, in the heavily monitored castle. In the heavily monitored castle in the past that Allura visited, would visit?, and Coran worked on. Lance’s stomach dropped straight out his body and left him behind for good. After managing to not say anything through the chaos of yesterday- one person asks after his name and there he goes blowing his cover and possibly spawning a paradox! Oh, man, way to go manners! Always getting him into trouble...

Trigel’s eyes narrowed and she cocked her head, oblivious to Lance’s near out-of-body panic.

“Sorry… I don’t think I caught that? Your,” she paused and looked at Alfor who was also squinting dubiously at Lance, “Your name is” and then she said something that had maybe three syllables but also simultaneously sounded like, “singular long weapon for thrusting?”

Lance blinked back at her, officially confused. He shook his head.

“Uh. No… it’s,” he paused and looked between the pair of them, deciding to just go for it. The world hadn’t ended yet.

“It’s Lance. Lance .” He stressed his name carefully the second time.

Alfor pursed his lips in confusion, “Pardon my assumption, but I take it that hot flame for cutting is not your proper name either?” the king paused for a moment then, almost to himself, “Though as Red’s chosen it would be quite appropriate. We could shorten it down some and...”

Lance cut him off there, shaking his head more furiously this time. Half in denial and half against the odd buzzing that was starting to underlie the paladins’ every word. He’d thought Balytz had just been screwing with him but this...

Trigel peered at Alfor from the corner of her eye. “Alfor. Do you even know what he is?” She gestured towards his face, “I mean, he’s pretty close to Altean but he’s definitely not a fullblood. Not with those ears.”

“Hey! There’s nothing wrong with my ears!”

“And his accent is…”

I have an accent? That was upsetting. He’d worked so hard to not have one at all, especially when speaking English.

Trigel ignored his last comment,  “From where do you hail?”

That strange buzz rang through his ears again. He couldn’t tell if it was real or just panic building in his chest.

Don’t say Earth, don’t say Earth, don’t say Earth.

Was Earth even on their star maps? It took ages until it showed up in the castle’s databank back on Arus. Had Blue added it there upon arrival? Or had it always been there?

What if it hadn’t been.

What if he added it now, accidentally, and the Galra launch a preemptive attack on Earth and-

“I’m… Cuban!” The half-truth bursts from him, spurred by his internal panic and the stretching silence.

“I’m from Cuba.”

He keeps going, “Little place near Varadero. Yeah.”

Trigel held his gaze. Lance stared resolutely back, doing his best not to blink. None of it was, strictly speaking, a lie. It was all true. It just wasn’t all of the truth.

After a long moment, Trigel straightened back to her full height, giants all of them , and shrugged at Alfor. The king in turn seemed to still be struggling with Lance’s name.

“Your name is L-” he drew out the ‘ell’ sound for far too long, “hhaz?”

Trigel nudged Alfor, shaking her head. Lance felt hope blossom and then wilt as she spoke,

“I think it was more like Lanri ?”

He let out a dejected sigh. Well. There was only one thing left,

"My name is Lonce."

Trigel and Alfor looked between each other, perking up a bit.

Trigel tried first, "Lonce?"

Of course. THAT got through. Though judging by how they both looked confused, it was also coming through as gibberish noises instead of a proper name. Lance shrugged. Good enough. It sounded close to how Allura pronounced it anyways.

Trigel soundlessly tried the word out, mouth contorting in strange ways given how few syllables were in his name. Seriously, it looked like she was saying sentences instead of just plain old ‘Lance’.

Alfor snapped his fingers, making the pair jump, "Ļ̵̢̬̻̗̖͈̜̣̹̲͋͗a̵̾͠n̸̛̙̟̊͆̓̋͝͝͝z̶̤͔̥̬̙̾̎̆̕̕͜͝͝ạ̶̣͈͎̳̗̟̫̲̬͇̍͂͂k̴̘̓̔̿̇͆̄̅̆͋̕ȓ̴̝̲̻̼̬͈͇̟̀͂̾͗̅̈́̎̃͜͜͝ą̷̼͋̒́̇́̅̂͌̈́̚͘͘s̸̛͇̖͕͔͔̞͔̄͐͊̿̄̒̊̈́͋̿̿ͅn̴̦͍̪͕̮̹͍̼͓͌̉̿̑̾̈́̅̒̈́͝ĭ̷̢̥͕͇͕͖̤̯̺̘̖͉͈̉!

 

Lance blinked. Well, that hadn’t been anywhere close. He had no idea what Alfor had even said, the vowels and syllables ringing through his head like 8-bit static. He opened his mouth to correct the king again but paused as he was met with excited and bright eyes.

Oh. Oh dear lord. Those were some weapons-grade puppy eyes. He was starting to put together how (even) Zarkon got roped into the whole ‘Defenders of the Universe’ schtick. Trigel’s look of dawning comprehension didn’t help either.

“Err…”

Trigel mouthed the word, still sort of a ringing static in Lance’s ear though it was starting to clear up, and became visibly excited as she parsed her way around the syllables.

After a moment she nodded and parroted it back to Alfor, who tucked a finger under his chin and nodded sagely. As if someone else saying it changed things.

“Oh, yes. Red likes that one!” Alfor hummed, pleased with whatever it was the two, three?, had decided.

Trigel nodded, “ Lance it is then.” / “ Lanzakrasni it is then.”

Lance winced and clenched his fists, struggling to not clap a hand to his forehead as the Green Paladin spoke, a hot spike of pain striking through the middle of his brain. He was pretty sure they had just said his name that time, except… at the same time, it sounded different. Like two things were being said mostly on top of each other. He tried not to grind his teeth together. Trigel clocked the look on his face and ducked down to make eye contact.

“Still not quite right?”

Lance shrugged tensely, not quite willing to push the issue or risk aggravating whatever this was. A four-fingered hand clasped his shoulder, removing the burden from him.

“Translators can be tricky.” She hummed for a second, fingers poking at sore spots. Lance sagged in her grip as the pain ebbed away. “You know, it should clear itself up when you and Red-”

They both turned to look at Alfor as a smack rang through the room. The King dragged his hand down his face.

“I,” he announced, “Am terribly sorry Lance. I should have realized what was occurring this morning.”

Lance was mostly just relieved that no one was calling him ‘Lonce’.

“It’s alright.” A beat. “Uh, so… what exactly is happening?”

Alfor pressed a smile to his own knuckles. “You have yet to properly bond to the Red Lion. As such your translator is…” He paused and fished for the correct word for a few silent seconds.

“Hm, how would you put it Trigel?”

“Fucked.”

“Trigel!”

Alfor’s hands dropped down over Lance’s ears, covering over whatever was next said over his head. Lance held very still. He hadn’t even seen the king move.

Alfor removed his hands after a few seconds. Trigel was still cracking up but willing to posit more PG alternatives, “Buggy? Scattered? Coming in only in bits and pieces?”

Lance glanced up at Alfor but nodded. “Yeah, that’s it exactly. And sometimes it’s like I’m hearing two things at once?”

Trigel nodded back, “That sounds about right. Believe it or not, I had the hardest time of us with the translators.”

Lance peered up at her, incredulous. Trigel laughed, boisterous and unlady-like and so real it pulled a shaky grin out of Lance without his permission.

“I’m better with the written word,”

Alfor coughed something that sounded an awful lot like ‘technological codes don’t count’, Trigel shot him a dirty look.

“Alfor is the polyglot around here. The rest of us had to struggle our way through.” She ruffled a hand through Lance’s hair, not bothered at all by the sweat dried spikes.

“It’s pretty remarkable its worked full stop. You’ve only just met Red, after all. The two of you must be incredibly compatible for it to work as well as it has.”

Lance blinked, hard. “Wait, so - the translations… that’s not the castle?”

Alfor and Trigel exchanged glances, “Well… no. Not in your case. The Castle of Lions is equipped with an ambassadorial feature for registered guests. However…”

Oh. Right. 10,000 years. “I wasn’t registered.”

But then that meant… “So the Lions are translating for us?”

That… made a sort of sense, given Lance didn’t think Krolia was fluent in English and he knew the Alteans weren’t. Yet even after the castle had blown up they’d all been able to keep talking to one another.* To an extent that would even explai- Lance’s thoughts crashed to a halt as the weightier penny dropped. It left a small crater.

A smug purr started up in the corner of his mind. Sweat that had nothing to do with training simulations gathered along the back of his neck.

“Red. The Red Lion, that Lion, is translating for me? Everything?”

Trigel looked at him as though he were a bit slow. “Yes, that’s rather what-”

Lance waved his hands through the air, “So they could also just. Decided not to at any moment?”  

Trigel paused, considered their conversation, and slanted a glance sideways at Alfor, “Is that…?”

Alfor shrugged silently in return. Red was… willful but he’d never had any issues communicating. Perhaps there was something more to it.

“Yes, or, in your case, specifically.”

Trigel grinned, “We’ve had absolutely no idea how good of a translator Red was because, again, Alfor here has a habit of picking up languages the way most people collect tacky souvenirs.” She cast a glance at Alfor, who smiled sheepishly. “Hard to test that out when he’s already fluent in whatever you’re trying to throw at him.”

Lance tossed that around in his head for a moment, doing his best to quell the panic quietly rising in him. Red’s purr increased in force, a distant thrum rattling through him like thunder. There was something they hadn’t quite said, but... “The lions aren’t all equally good at translating?”

Trigel shook her head, looking a bit pleased with the question. “Yellow is too literal. Green,” she huffed with a smile “will give me about three words for each one spoken. Data data data, you know?”

Lance wondered if Pidge had experienced that or if she’d thought they all were getting multiple meanings per conversation. It explained a few of her more random tangents, that was for sure.

“So, who’s the worst?”

Alfor and Trigel exchanged a glance. “Black.”

“No way!”

Alfor nodded, “You wouldn’t expect it of a Lion that turns into a mouthpiece, but Black is perhaps the most recalcitrant to translate. Fortunately, I’d long adjusted a personal translator for Zarkon or else I’m sure several of our adventures would have gone quite differently.”

“Blue’s the most generous.” Trigel put in, pulling Lance away from visions of Zarkon monologuing unintelligibly. “She translated for me and Gyr for a long while.”

“Ah, yes. The Blue Lion is the only one who’s thus far demonstrated any skill in translating for both large groups as well as those other than her Paladin.”

His mouth twisted in a small smile, good ol’ Blue. She’d always been his favori-

Light erupted behind his eyes. A pained whimper slipped through gritted teeth as pain broke Lance’s thoughts. A hand pushed at his shoulder as he swayed in place, breath hissing out between his teeth.

Lance, ar̿̆̌ͧ͐͛͏̧e͒ͮ̊͑o̢͑̎̌̾̑̅ü̷̢ͣ̈ͦͤ̽ͫ̕ l͌̇̃ͮ͐͠ ŕͣͤ͑̐̌i̴̧ͬ̃ͬ̉̑͒ġ̵ͬ h̍̓̒̃̒͛̓͟ ŵ҉̘̬̤̞͙ͅ ḥ̯͙̙͍̞ͥͮ͋ͭͣ͋̈ͅ â̛̠͛̑͛ͬ͋ t̳̹̯̜̝ͧ͂̀̑͟'̦ s̽҉͔ ͗w̔͋̽ͦ͌̈̈́͏̼̥͍r̰̭͔ͥ͆̄̚ ŏ̫n̛͓͚̘̞̪̳ͯͯ͌͐̎̊̿ g̩̬̜̪͍ͩ̍̽ͩ̚͘

He floundered, shakily trying to think of the smooth shells and tall walls from breakfast, sheets of ice and glowing barriers to keep Red at bay. He felt more than envisioned cracks forming, Red rampaging through his defenses. Claws raking great swaths through him. Each swat, each cracking chasm, shot a strike of pain through his skull. Spots of light flickered into his vision, blotting out the world around him. The Lion’s thrumming purr grew in rage and volume with each feeble attempt at resistance. His knees shuddered and gave.

A roar filled his ears.


Alfor startled as the bo- as Lance, quaked before diving forwards, catching the boy’s shoulders as he dropped his head into his hands and then fell towards the floor. Blue eyes rolled wildly as the rest of his from sagged, a puppet with its strings cut clean through. 

“What’s happening.”

Trigel knelt on the ground next to him, fingers delicately turning Lanzakrasni’s chin. Alfor knew she’d already called for a medic, but while he was a scholar and a scientist Trigel’s natural connection to living quintessence far exceeded his own. If there was an immediate imbalance she was far more likely to discover the root than he.

Long ticks later, she proved him right. Her brow furrowed, “Alfor, you need to feel this.”

Her hand closed over his own, guiding him to the child’s temple. An uncommon quintential port, but then they knew nothing of the child’s heritage or kind. Assumptions could prove lethal. The altean king closed his eyes, fingers tightening minutely over the boy’s wiry frame, and nearly dropped the child entirely not a tick later, shock thick and potent.

“Alfor!”

Trigel’s rebuke helped ground him. He shifted the limp form in his arms, careful of the child’s lax limbs.

Brows furrowed, Alfor stared down at the Cuban.

“The Red Lion…”

Four medics and, oddly, Ifrin, spilled into the room. Alfor rose to his feet, the boy’s weight negligible, and strode to meet them.

“Get him into an observational pod, I want his ports and channels thoroughly mapped and his conduit-pools measured.” He stared the Medical Officer down. Needing the other to understand that this, despite all training otherwise, was to be non-negotiable. “Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to regulate his quintessence or introduce a neutral pulse.”

Hashaan, an oath-bound healer and one of the best ASMA produced, began to protest. “Your Majesty-”

“The Red Lion has shattered his transferential conduits.”

The alteans around him drew in startled breaths and Alfor winced, knowing they’d soon uncover the true extent of the damage themselves.

“From what I can sense she’s blocked or smothered his expulsion ports as well. There is no predicting what may ensue if she were to…”

The king paused, attempting to find a polite way to phrase ‘think we are interfering in her possessive and misguided rampage’ without upsetting both the medics or said misguided and rampaging Lion of Voltron.

A muted purr rang, like a far-off bell, in the back of his mind.

What are you doing, dear one?

A feeling of vindication, contentment and sickening possession coiled smaller and smaller in his mind until Red faded back to where she usually lurked.

Alfor shook his head, attempting to shake the unsettling feelings off with the motion, “Monitor him for any signs of hemorrhage, I need to confirm a theory.”

Hashaan nodded and the five of them flowed into motion, bundling the lax Cuban up and carting him away.

Alfor watched them until they turned a corner and vanished from sight. He closed his eyes and allowed himself a moment to breathe before turning on his heel. He needed to get to the lab. Trigel clamped down on his shoulder as he passed her, hands shaking.

“That was… Red’s signature was everywhere." She shuddered, just the once. "I could hardly feel him.”

Alfor leaned into her side, offering wordless reassurance. The Lions’ quintessence could be… startling. Red’s was especially abrasive if one was unprepared to encounter it. It’s rough, consumptive nature not quite the antithesis of Green’s crackling surge but opposed enough to balance it.

“Alfor,” she pressed back and the king’s eyes widened as her sharp gaze pierced him, hands now steady italthium bands holding him fast. Uh oh. “What aren’t you telling us.”

Alfor looked away first. “There was more than one signature.”

“The Red Lion’s-” Trigel stopped as the Red Paladin shook his head. Her mind raced, retracing those fraught ticks where the boy’s life force trembled and shook beneath her fingers. The miasmas of power, coarse, hungry, and numbingly hot had battered against her even as she did her best to stay afar of its course.

“Then, who’s?”

Alfor’s voice was grave.

“The Blue Lion’s.”

Chapter Text

The boy fell to his knees in a shuddering clatter, breath streaming out of him in desperate heaves. After a moment the teen rose to his feet and hurled the broadsword across the room with a wordless scream, watching dispassionately as it reverted back to its basic form in a shower of white sparkles.

Alfor raised a brow, unimpressed.

After a moment the righteous poster sagged, anger leaving him weaker than he was before. Still, the temper remained. Embers fanned hot by frustration, or, the king considered as the Cuban stayed hunched over bent knees, perhaps shame.

“It’s been weeks.”

Alfor snuck a glance across to Ifirin. The servant shrugged, no more sure of what a ‘week’ was than his king.

“I see… Well, whatever a week may be, know that it has at the least given you the opportunity to unlearn your prior... habits.”

The child’s combat reflexes were truly deplorable. A point they all made readily apparent to the child whilst he was still pod-ridden. While unpleasant, reviewing the footage from the training salle presented a unique opportuni- the scowl the child shot his way could have stripped qwembar off a schnimbal. Yikes. Younglings… always so delicate. Time for damage control, I think.

“Why just the movement before last you managed to outpace Blaytz!”

The boy didn’t seem impressed by this achievement.

“I tripped him. Pretty sure that doesn’t count as winning. Besides,” Lanzakransi muttered off to the side, “he let me do it. I don’t need a pity-victory.

“Blaytz has no pity. It’s one of his finest qualities.”

There! That startled a laugh out of the boy. ... Startled is perhaps too accurate. The child seemed surprised by his own mirth. Alfor closed his fingers over the boy’s own, smiling as the child’s empty palms filled with the Red Bayard not a tick later.

“You must stop focusing on what you think you should be and concentrate on what you are .”

Bare arms, riddled with still-bright scars, wrapped around the boy’s torso as he hunched in on himself. Blue eyes focused on something unseen in the far corner of the room, ducking both of the altean’s concerned gazes.

“What if that… isn’t enough.”

The question, ‘ Enough for who?’ , rested on the tip of Alfor’s tongue. He bit it back. That was not what the boy, the young warrior, before him needed to hear. This was something more than a loss of mobility and time. A deeper wound. One that had, the king considered, been left to fester.

Is this what you sought to fix? Or simply a happy accident?

The Red Lion gave no answer, her focus circling the boy before him.

“That is what training halls are for.”

Slowly, achingly shy, blue eyes roved back to Alfor. He took a deep breath and bowed his head. The bayard in his hands shone and sprung forth into a glorious red blade once more. The king nodded and stepped back.

“Form six, again. Mind your left elbow this time.”


            :: Thirty-eight vargas after Lance collapsed ::

The lab results were inconclusive.

Which was not to say unhelpful but rather that even instruments of science were hesitant to assert evidence against one of the most powerful weapons in the cosmos.

There was one conclusion, however, that was undeniable: somehow, at some point, the Blue Lion had attacked Red’s Chosen. It was the only event that could explain the damage done and the unmistakable signature attached to the evidence.

“Perhaps his planet was caught in crossfire at one point?”

It was a good theory. A kind theory. Attempting to place blame along the residue of one of their many recent battles. It was not, however much they wanted it to be, likely to prove true.

The scans from the ASMA wing had unveiled two surprising revelations.

The first of which was that despite a lack of quintecial ports and severely damaged channels, the child’s pools of quintessence were undamaged. Undamaged and larger than those available to the grown alchemists looking after him. The shock, however, came not from their capacity but that the predominant signature attached to the boy’s core was not his own, not the Red Lion’s, but that of the Blue Lion’s . Then, with his channels either blocked or, as the medics and alchemists were slowly positing, simply non-existent, the Blue Lion’s quintessence, impossibly , settled. Resulting in a glacial lair of unusable, inaccessible foreign quintessence locked directly in the child’s core. The current estimate suggests that the boy was cut off from a quarter of his quintessence, a horrible thought in and of itself. The horror, much to everyone's exhausted chagrin, did not end there. The barrier was, not to be trite, merely the tip of the iceberg.

“You know as well as I, Trigel, that this was no accident.”

Whatever the Blue Lion had done to establish that barrier damaged the boy’s core, scarring the very wellspring of his quintencial matrix. From the sole successful probe of the barrier, and the many prior failures, there was a clawing frost lining the child’s reserves. The sense-report the specialist had managed, after they’d been plied with several warmed drinks, was less than ideal. The Blue Lion’s quintessence had shifted and pulled and deepened the child’s reserves. The scars of the deepening were still settling, still fresh, leaving all with the worry that, had they not uncovered them, the progression may well have continued.

More alarming still, the child’s resting pools of quintessence were undamaged. Whatever had been done, and it looked like quite a bit, the child had already adapted to it; his base state intimately tied to the invasive quintessence signature. All this damage still locked away under a thus far unremovable barrier.

As far as Alfor could parse from Red’s enraged roars, she’d reached for the boy that afternoon and, somehow, been rebuffed. The early errors with the child’s translators had been a mere side-effect of the larger problem. Now that Red was aware of the cause…

They had been forced to lock the two Lions in their bays. The chaos from the right side of Voltron’s civil dispute nearly forced the castle into an early and ill-planned landing.

Had Gyrgan not activated the Yellow Lion’s defenses and separated the two… Alfor grimaced. As it was, the repairs to the Castle were emergency level in both caliber and nature.

Blaytz was still conferring with the Blue Lion, both Paladin and Lion adamant they knew of no such assault despite all proof to the contrary.

Data flashed across the screen again, unpleasantly high percentages reminding him that they remained at an impasse. Alfor sighed deeply, fingers scruffing through his loose hair.

Red was not so easily calmed.

Passion was her nature; action, drive, the first strike and the final blow.

(It was a tendency he had never thought to curb, one they often relied upon in battle. It had never before been an issue. But now, with the attack aimed upon one considered kin …)

It made the ensuing procedure… complicated.


 "Lor---! I, no one expected for you to--- rse welcome t---”

“We are all---”

“Of course. He’s - - - -ably given - - -. No sign of --- -.”

“Than- --are. Alfor is tr-- -cky to- - -vices.”

Something warm smoothed down his temple, the pass dry and rough like the lick of a cat’s tongue.

“---e wh-- -ny- --nge.”

“O-- -se, sir.”

He sunk down, floating on the pulsing tides around him. Safe. Guarded. Here.


  “U-- -re? Sir?”

“----on. Everyo- --ied.”

“O-oh, wel-- --tay but there- --n’t much chan---.”


“So! How’s our little---”

“You know he can’t---- you. The po---- unab--- rehend an----”

“His quint--- ports are- -- --ced open--- --ceased sensa----de effect!”

“That theory has nev--- more likel---ver. King Alf---.”

“---ut. Capacity is un----on alteans ---nly alive beca--any si--reflux?”

“Not y--toring for---”

Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!

Th--ssble.”

“Can’t----uh?”

Bright, soft, sharp, sudden, cataclysmic, concerned. He felt… buoyant.

“-ng in there.”

“W---move hi---on. His channels ar--ut his quinte---Lion’s.”


     :: Eight quintents after Lance collapsed ::

Turbulent, steady, ragged and rough and cool. The slide of sharp edges and the perfect elated shot. Crisp and damp and not-quite-familiar. Touched, maybe, by something once like home but now foreign.

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT MEEEEEAAANS!”

Okay, that was… Blu- m͓͍͙͍͚͓͇h̸̤̲̪̘̤e̺͔̮̥̦͚̕th̭͝ḙ̛̰̮̦̥o͢rbr̻̣̻̖m̺̗͓̹͟ͅṳ̶̫͇̝̼ͅs҉̞̗̜̗̺tr͎̻͙̼̼a̻i̵̮̤̻t̤̗o̤͔̤̮͖t̘͍͎̞̳ͅḩ̺͖ͅe̦̞̬r̺̪ Bly-e̠͓͈̻͖̤͎o̷u͚̣̳͖̺̘͟r͇̯̠̮͙̙̘͘s̵̭u͇̫̝͕̰͘h͏͈̹̬̤e̪̠̯͎̖̦̠͡i̵̯̲̘̝̪̞f͇͓͕k̺̬̩ͅi̖̯̘̝̳̰͞n̼s̡̫̱̠͍̖͎ṯ̸̩̰̳͖e̹a̙͈l͏̹e̳͙̭r̘̳ͅo̯̱̫̰̥̣f̻̗̣͠m̤̘͍͖͎͍̫i̮̱͟n͢ - Blaytz?   

Yes. That is Blaytz.

“Look either you tell me or- woah! Hey! Kid!” A deep intake of air, “HEY! Hey! He’s awake! Get your skinny altean a--”

The room spun, a rush of colors and tastes and sounds. Warmth pressed in on him-not-him. Familiar but different.

Not quite right.

Not wrong.

There was something… something...

-nce. Lance!”

Lance?

“Ah, there you are. You- - --en us all a fright!”

“Rrrrrrt?”

“...is he purring? Is that him?”

“Blaytz,”

“Did your Lion break him?”

There was a small sputter. Then, almost scandalized, “ My Lion?! What about-”

“Boys! Not. Helping.”

A pause, a breath. The sound of someones straightening their clothes.

“Sorry...”

“Right. Of course.”

A hand pressed across his scalp, cool, soft, strong, soothing. He tipped his head into the caresses and was rewarded by another firm stroke from his forehead down to his nape. A content sigh eased out of him, juddering slightly as it passed.

“Definitely broke him.”

The hand stilled, fingers curling sweetly in his hair.

“I think,” a nearby voice started, sharp and deep, “That we should allow the boy his rest. He has much yet to overcome.”


        :: Ten quintents after Lance collapsed ::

There was a pause as Lance digested that the altean equivalent of a babble fish could drop him dead. The alteans shifted uncomfortably, which was a heck of a sight to see coming from such competent people.

“...okay so what else is lurking in the wings waiting to kill me?”

A longer pause. Lance muttered a few words he hoped his mee-maw would never hear under his breath and repeated himself.

He did so three more times before an altean with navy-blue hair stepped forward.

Hashaan, who was so getting a fruit basket, patiently managed to explain, “Even if your quintessence has settled enough for an outside source, we’re not entirely certain that the Red Lion-” Lance cut him off with a closed-mouthed groan, hand gently clasped to his forehead. Hashaan raised one immaculate blue eyebrow, “Precisely.”

Altean wasn’t the only language he was struggling to comprehend.

Turned out, most of the Paladins kept to their own primary language out of habit, or maybe, in Blaytz’ case, sheer laziness. Trigel laughs when Lance pettily suggests as much. He’d been having the most trouble with Blaytz, after all.

“Oh no, he’s actually the most cunning linguist we have after Alfor. The purpose of language is to woo, after all.”

Lance’s eyebrows raise and then lower at the entendre Trigel dropped. She waggled her brows, daring him to comment, and even he was bright enough to not to take that bait.

Trigel was the easiest to speak with. Whether that had something to do with how well Red and Green got on (Alfor’s hypothesis, apparently) or just Trigel’s ability to provide three words for each one until something got through was anyone’s guess.

The others, including Alfor, were not so lucky.

They started slowing down their speech, over-pronouncing words and, inexplicably, needlessly bobbing their heads and moving their hands.

Why did the always do that ?! What was it supposed to help?!

Lance dragged his hand down his face with a loud sigh, catching Trigel’s giggle as Alfor began to physically mime something out.

This was going to be his reality, he guessed, until it was safe for Red to try and bond with him again.

Lance still wasn’t sure why he wasn’t able to understand the altean king.

He tried not to think on it too hard, it only encouraged Red’s smug rumbling.

There was only so much a guy could take (physically. Red was still sending far too much quintessence through him to be comfortable. His temperature was well within range for a human fever and before they’d worked out that holding onto the bayard helped manage the circulation there’d been talk of slicing open another set of nodes somewhere along his body) after all.

The Altean king hopped in place twice before moving his hand like a duck’s bill and turned to stare at Lance expectantly.

“All of my questions,” He announced magnanimously to the confusion of the Paladins, “have been answered.”

(It takes him until the next day to realize that he’d said as much in Spanish.

It was going to be a long recovery.)


The Lions had ravaged his channels.

That meant roughly nothing to him. Ideas of remotes and televised programs ran through his head even as what looked like a diagram of his body flickered into being along one wall of the sterile room.

He was lucky to be alive.

That he felt pretty acutely. Everything hurt… and at the same time he felt - lighter? Than he had in years. Not, not physically. Despite having been in the pod long enough for them to have changed his clothes at least once, he hadn’t seemed to atrophied much if at all.

Stasis chamber, something whispered. The same thing that remembered catching tumbling plumes of white hair and dark skin not a day over 18 and older than some stars, eons ago and yet to happen.

No, the pain was deeper than that. This ache not so easily chased away by medicine or rest.

He lacked the proper ports to expel channeled quintessence.

They’d had to manually carve eight ‘nodes’ around his carpal bones, slightly above and around his wrists, in order to ‘bleed’ off the Lion’s interference. He flexes his wrists idly, not feeling any difference. He can’t see any difference either. No marks or wounds or bits of technology. Nothing eye catching at all, not compared to-

The Red Lion had nearly drowned him, burned him alive from the inside out more like, with her quintessence. There’d been something in his core, they said. It’d cut him off from most of his own quintessence, a blocker of sorts. Like a plane of ice over a lake-top or, given the apparent severity, Plaxum’s frozen planet. He’d been alive, beneath it all, but he hadn’t been, according to Altean standards, living. He’d had quintessence, a lot more than anyone had been expecting apparently, but it had nowhere to go. No paths to flow through and nothing to do. It just… sat there. Cycling through him only when he was in, they too calmly announced, mortal danger. Lance did his best not to think about how they’d discovered that particular data point.

It meant that when Red went to bond with him, when she’d started to translate for him, her quintessence didn’t have anywhere to settle either. His pools were filled with his own ‘ stagnant’ quintessence and the rest…

He closed his fingers over the rails of the pallet.

The rest had been Blue’s.

Every wall, every barrier, every time he managed to hold Red back at arm’s length.

It hadn’t been his imaginary walls or his willpower or his strength. It’d been Blue. Some fragment leftover in him from his time as her Paladin.

Not that any of the alteans knew that.

He wanted to think of it as a gift but...

He swallowed, tears pricking his eyes.

But… Blue had been killing him. Slowly.

The kindest interpretation leant itself to thinking that, maybe, if he somehow had ‘run out’ of all available quintessence - the Blue Lion would have known.

That the blocker over his core, the small fragment of Blue, would have kept him alive long enough to receive aid.

He figured that was how Allura’d revived him. Over the Omega Shield. Maybe even how he’d been able to bounce back against those attacks Haggar had thrown at them, how he’d been able to keep his head even as she drained away their and the Lion’s quintessence.

The consequence was, Hashaan had painstakingly informed him, that even a small bit of the Lion’s resting quintessence… was far too immense to be safely held by a mortal soul.

It was killing him.

Every second, tick, it rested there had required more and more of him. It had clawed away at him.

He glanced down at his arms.

Literally.

The scars were… superficial. Apparently they belied the damage that’d been done beyond what he could, or ever would, see. The weight of Blue’s quintessence had torn away at him. In effort to make more room for itself it… took. From him. Of him.

He’d been withering away. Caught between Blue’s hidden gift and Red’s attempts to bond to him. Everytime he used the Red Bayard, every shift, every transformation, every shot he fired… ground what quintessence he had down against the barrier Blue had left hidden away within him.

It’d been killing him.

Silently.

Slowly.

If the Red Li… he took a deep breath. If Red hadn’t forced their way through, tried to forge a bond with him here in the past… He might have - it could have -

Lance dropped his head and let the tears spill.


     :: Present Day ::

“Again.”

Lance stifled a grumble at the command, arm already drawn back for the first strike, body moving of its own accord.

Everything ached, not a pain or a pulse with his heartbeat but a bone-deep echoing of his own exhaustion.

The form was designed to push his reserves, to force him to build stamina. It wasn’t all that complicated, just a chain of basic movements. Simple footwork and on-beat strikes and phantom parries. But it was long.

Sweat ran down his back, dripping from his already damp hair. He wondered what repetition they were on, felt a cotton-wrapped flinch of surprise that he honestly didn’t know. Wouldn’t be able to answer if someone asked.

He stepped right, not thinking about where he placed his feet or which way he pointed his ankles, arm coming to spin behind him in an aching pass. The blade swapped blind from one hand to the other. His fingers slipped only a little. He bent his knee and lept into the air with an upwards blow. His foot hardly tapped the ground when he heard it.

Alfor’s voice felt like it was reaching him from miles away.

“Again.”


     :: Seventeen quintents after Lance collapsed :: 

The red bayard was heavy in his hands. Acid gnawed at his stomach, nerves jangling as he stood in the bare training room. Alfor’s too-calm eyes never wavering from his hunched form. He didn’t know what he was doing here.

The room, like the rest of the ship, was comfortably heated against the chill of space. He felt a shiver run down his spine regardless.

His fingers pressed white against the bayard’s hilt.

What was he doing here.

He wasn’t… he wasn’t a warrior.

Just walking here from the Medbay nearly winded him. He hadn’t been ready the first time they’d thrown him in here and now… Lance bit down on his lip, hands slowly starting to shake. Now he was even worse.

He suppressed a sniffle. He was so pathetic. They hadn’t even started and here he was-

“Form sword.”

Alfor’s level voice drew Lance’s head up, as though it had attached a string to the top of his crown.

“I-”

The kings eyes were sharp, but not cutting. He gestured with an open palm towards Lance’s hand.

“Form your sword.”

Lance swallowed and closed his eyes. He hadn’t used the bayard since before- well. Since before.

Activating the bayards, Red’s and… he braced himself and thought it anyways, and Blue’s felt like nothing. He wasn’t sure that was true for the others but to him… it had always been effortless. When he needed, whatever he needed, it came to him.

Blue’s blaster had been a jack-of-all-trades. The shape never changed, but the scope adjusted for every situation and the weapon’s range never seemed to have a limit.

Red’s had been even easier. The multiple forms both more freeing and constructive all at once.

He never struggled to summon it, never hesitated or wondered if the gun would fire.

Sweat gathered in his palm, his knuckles blanched white around the bayard’s inactive hilt.

His hands shook.


    :: Present Day ::

The world fell away as he moved through the form.

Alfor’s commentary slipping away, the colorless white walls of the training salle invisible in his mind’s eye, his own harsh breaths and screaming muscles fading to nothing. His own heartbeat, erratic and frantic and strained, disappeared beneath the exhausted tranquility suffusing him.

There was just him and the steps. The flowing cuts, the turns, the sweeping parries and sudden jabs.

Then even that fell to wayside, muscle memory taking over completely.

There was only Alfor’s voice, “Again.”

It was just him-not-him, the rhythm, the steps that made each movement, the give of the air and the slow, creeping, burn that filled all his edges and corners.

The sword in his hand seemed to pulse as he drew it back to the starting position, hilt little more than an extension of his own hand. Closed fingers feeling more natural than empty ones these days.

Alfor’s voice washed over him like a wave revisiting the shore.


   :: Seventeen quintents after Lance collapsed ::

Alfor’s hand closed over his trembling fingers.

“I counted three forms. Two ranged and…” he leveled Lance with a heavy look, “An altean broadsword.”

Lance gulped.

“Your proficiency with ranged arms seems sufficient,”

Oh man, it was like being back at the Garrison all over again.

Alfor uncrossed his arms and smiled a little, “Besides, my own skills lie… elsewhere.”

The king looked back down at the bayard held between them.

“Who taught you to wield a sword?”

Your daughter , Lance doesn’t say. Allura taught me, just enough to ‘avoid cutting off my own ears’.

Alfor’s twitched and Lance realized that with alteans that was a more pressing concern when it came to handling sharp objects than fingers or toes.

“N-no one. No one taught me, really. It’s just been… guess work, mostly.” Not a total lie- there hadn’t been much time. Between Lotor and then the castle blowing up pretty much everything Lance did was ‘guess-work’.

The king hummed, “You’re not much experienced with blades.”

Lance felt himself bristle, wounded pride effortlessly tweaked. “I am so!”

Alfor grinned, sudden and sharp, “Then form your sword and show me.”

Urk. Trapped.

The king stepped closer, looming over Lance. “You think too much. When you look at the bayard and call for the rifle, what do you feel ?”

Lance stared up at him, eyes wide and pulse pounding. Nothing. It just… it just answers me.

The king nodded at Lance’s silence, “When you call for the sword you are frightened .”

Lance sputtered, “Yeah! Because something’s too close for me to shoot… it…”
He trails off at the dry look of disbelief the king is bestowing upon him. He feels himself flush, at once with shame over the lie and twice over with the unspoken confidence in his abilities. Alfor slowly shrank back to his normal, still above six foot, height.

“You look at the broadsword and you are afraid. You think when it is in your hand when you should be acting. You look at the weapon the Red Lion has gifted you and you wonder will this cut me, will this make me bleed .”

Alfor draws his sword, not a bayard at all but a true-forged blade. It sings as it slips fully into the king’s hands, sharp edges throwing the light away from it’s many carved angles.

“That is unacceptable.”

Lance stared into the King’s unwavering gaze and wondered if this counted as a life-threatening emergency.

The wave of Red’s amusement, untempered and unavoidable, nearly knocked him into a round of hysterics. Alfor’s horrified face tipped him over the edge into real laughter. Still.

I have a bad feeling about this.

      :: Twenty-four quintents after Lance collapsed ::

He hadn’t been wrong.

Alfor was a merciless teacher. He had a knack for knowing when Lance was truly exerting effort or just miming exhaustion, when he had a true grasp of a concept or if he was faking ignorance to soothe his nerves in an attempt to stall their progress. It bothered the cuban for days that the king seemed to have a direct link to what was running through Lance’s head at any given moment.

He was horrified to realize that the king effectively did.

Alfor was, and remained still, the Sword of Voltron, Paladin of the Red Lion.

Red had been insufferable for hours after that epiphany.

But not as obnoxious as she’d been the first day he’d managed to form the broadsword. Alfor, as per his royal usual, wasn’t wrong.

Lance was afraid of the sword.

Compared to the gun-forms it felt… imprecise. Clumsy. Or at least, he felt as though he were both of those things each time his fingers wrapped around the hilt instead of a trigger.

He was pretty confident he could shoot the wings off nearly any creature and leave the rest of it unharmed. Blaytz had made a whole game out of it between Trigel messing with one of the major translators, after all.

But with the sword? He was literally better off trying to fight with his eyes closed.

They’d tested it.

Which was how he’d ended up here, in the training room, on his knees.

“Does it really have to be like this?”

Alfor shrugged, “They’re for training children. I had to order them here especially for you.”

Lance glowered at the almost jelly-like dummy before him, sword raised awkwardly over his head.

“What’s the point of this again?”

“To see if you can actually land a hit with your eyes open.”

Lance drew air to interrupt-

Without pulling the blow.”

-and closed his mouth.

He couldn’t actually contest that. Lance had a bad habit of pulling his punches with the sword, not aiming for the more effective strikes and hesitating even as he swung. His follow through, when his eyes were open, was almost nonexistent.

It’d made the first few training sessions more than a little painful.

(For both of them. Interestingly enough, being the king wasn’t enough to save you from an enraged medic once they found out you were “undoing all of their hard work with militaristic nonsense”. Lance vowed once more that he was going to get Hashaan the nicest fruit basket he could find in this system one day.)

He’d worried that Alfor would find his reluctance… well, pathetic. After a few mishaps (including the time the bayard slipped out of his hand mid-swing and nearly impaled Ifrin) he’d confided as much in (yelled at) Alfor.

The king had shrugged.

“Academically, I understand your reluctance.” He drew his own sword and held the pair parallel to one another, rotating his slightly in order to display the many edges decorating the blade.

“Your blade, like all bayards, is first and foremost a weapon. You will pilot the Red Lion, the Sword of Voltron. She strikes both first and last, finishing each fight before harm can befall her brethren.” He slid the tip of his sword under Lance’s, a musical ring of metal against metal, raising both to point at the ceiling.

“This bayard form reflects that duty perfectly. The altean broadsword is a relic of our history, one many of us would prefer to leave behind. To deny the past, however, is to condemn our future. Alteans were once warriors. We cannot forget this and we cannot outpace it. It is why each and every one of us must train to seek control over ourselves first and our destinies after.”

Lance had studied the blade in his hand carefully afterwards, trying to borrow Alfor’s historical lense for a minute himself. Humans too had once relied upon blade weapons for combat. Heck, he was named almost entirely after one that had changed the face of combat for centuries.

None of them though, that he could recall, looked anything like this.

Alfor and Allura called it a broadsword but, as he spun the bayard in one hand, it looked nothing like it’s earthen name-sake. The dual edges certainly fit, but the similarities ended there. Once again the alteans had humans beat on certain, he grimaced and slashed at the dummy once more, innovations.

The altean style broadsword was a long, heavy blade, sure, but it was entirely made of cutting edges.

Lance now had the unpleasant experience of discovering that not only were both sides of the blade razor sharp, but that there existed no true ‘flat’ along its length. Extra edges were cut into the blade on shifting slopes all along the length of the blade, thus even smacking someone with the side of the weapon, the so-called ‘flat’, left a minor laceration at best.

The tip too had been honed into a triangular point and it left deep gouging wounds that pierced right through the jelly-dummy and shattered the few sets of armor Alfor had eventually equipped the doll within effort to prove his points. The holes left behind the [saber-like] thrusts were wide enough for two of Lance’s fingers to fit in. His stomach turned at the thought of what it would look like on a flesh-and-blood opponent.

Even the hilt was weaponized, for cripes sake. Flared and triple-edged, the hilt was set both to guard against sliding strikes as well as to remove any wandering hands (specifically those bearing hidden knives or close range weapons that might otherwise slip past a basic defense).

That had been a fun day, if only because nothing gave him quite so much satisfaction as literally dis-arming the robots that made his life hell most times he encountered them.

    :: Twenty-eight quintents after Lance collapsed :: 

Today was not as fun.

Apparently, having proved he was capable of hacking off limbs like a Skywalker on a bad day, Alfor now thought it was time for phase two.

Phase two, Lance thought from his sprawled position on the floor, was insane.

“Can you tell me what went wrong that time?”

Lance didn’t raise his chin from the tile, “I got back up after the last time you threw me down here.”

Alfor chuckled. Lance did not.

Apparently, Phase Two was code for ‘Alfor has a field day’. He called it ‘Real Time Responses!’. Lance called it many things. Most, Ifrin informed him, not fit for polite company.

The altean eased him into a sitting position and checked his quintessence levels. “Not that one could call the King polite in your position.”

“Hey!”

Ifrin clucked his tongue, “With all due respect your majesty,”

“Meaning none, perhaps?”

“You launched him nearly four varkals that time.”

Alfor blinked and mentally remeasured the distance between the sitting child and his relaxed stance.

“It felt farther than that…”

Ifrin ducked his head to muffle his inelegant snort of amusement.

“Into the air, your majesty.”

“Ah.”

Ifrin’s eyebrows twitched, “Your majesty, please kindly remember that he is not altean. The strength requir-”

“He could be though. He looks enough like us, its just those funny ears of his.”

Alfor seems to consider this for a moment before striding towards them. He pops a foot up on Lance’s chest and pushes him back to the ground with a gentle tap, shoving the tip of the long blade under the boy’s chin with the same movement halting his instinctive rise cold.

“Are you certain he’s not altean? We’ve had enough tests run. It might have just gotten lost in the shuffle.”

Lance couldn’t see what sort of face Ifirin made at the king, he was little too preoccupied with the naked blade pointed at this throat, but whatever it was caused Alfor to shrug jovially with his free arm, “Food for thought then!”

The point tapped the underside of his chin, “Once more, Lance. Where did you go wrong in that encounter?”

Lance flops back to the floor with a groan.


    :: Present Day ::

He is burning.

He is heavy and crushed and his limbs, all four, are lead. He seeks escape, leaps into the air, where he belongs, and feels the fall far more than the impact.

It jars all along his side, ringing through him like a far off bell. Audible but distant.

The sword, his sword, stays in his hand. Where it should be, where it should always be. His eyes stay locked on the wall, seeing and unseeing.

For a moment it feels as though all of space stretches towards him and then -

 

Like a rubberband twined too far, it snaps.


Someone stalks through the doors; “ What the---k you’re doing?”

“Ah, ---rva, just---”

A hand drags over his head, cool and firm against his sweaty forehead; soothing and familiar.

“He’s burning up.”

His eyes sag shut, a tendril of hair and dark skin all he managed to see.

Alfor. ” A frustrated sigh, “He’s leaking quintessence al--er---place. I----el him fro---ing bay.”

“Not all---re so gifted.”

“I’ll show yo---ed. Get his legs, Melanor.”

He fades away, lulled deep into slumber by the aching in his core and Red’s thrumming purr.

Chapter Text

“So Lincae ,”

Lance.

“That’s what I sai-ow!”

Trigel elbowed him in the ribs, hard enough for the blue paladin to stagger into the wall. He just bounces right off and leans along the pod’s rail, good humor and smug smile intact.

“You just couldn’t get enough of the view here, huh?” The blue paladin shot a wink over at Hashaan’s unimpressed and preoccupied form, “Can’t blame you.”

At least Blaytz was back to normal.

Watching the guy try and apologize for something he didn’t even do was weird . It didn’t suit the wild Blue Paladin.

The rest of them, though, were a different story. Lance shuddered and eyed the leads effectively leashing him to his bed, remembering the awful noise they’d made after Trigel’s heel had caught one by mistake.

Their hovering, Trigel and Alfor and, Lance was hesitant but somehow very certain, Zarkon , was driving him crazy. Red’s amusement rumbled through him and Lance amended his prior thought at sensing the friendly immortal’s laughter rolling through his soul.

Well, crazier. He commented to the voice in his head.

They’d passed the ‘weeks’ benchmark and were edging into ‘months’ now. The only places on the ship he’d seen in that time were the Medical Bay, the insides of his eyelids and the Training Hall. All his meals were brought to him at either of those two places and if one more person tried to check his quintential whatevers again he was going to break something.

One of his only sanity revivors was, bizarrely enough, Melanor’s (Allura’s mother , that was never not going to be weird) infrequent visits. She played a good game but Lance had been around enough Blade members, Keith’s mother ( weirdest) especially, to call her game; face like an angel, walk like an assassin .

Terrifying.

But also fantastic company. It’d been a long time since anyone’d actually laughed at one of his jokes (rather than, you know, at him ) and longer still since anyone’d let him get through a retelling of an old Garrison escapade. Maybe it hadn’t mattered to her, a story about a curious 14 year old alien irrelevant or useless to a queen - but she let him finish and laughed in all the appropriate places, winced in the others and, if he was being honest, gave the best constructive feedback he’d had since Marco had quietly shown him how to jimmy their dad’s half-broken hybrid-truck with a bent coat hanger one laconic summer.

Blaytz boomed throatily at one of his own jokes, pulling all focus in the room back to his person with the cacophonous noise.

Lance rolled his shoulders, loosening the tension there a little, and eyed the control panels scattered through his medically monitored room. It was about time he flexed some old sneaking muscles and reminded everyone why even the Garrison’s security couldn’t keep him down! Besides, Lance thought with a smirk, he had a new bet to win.


Forty minutes and one small fire later, Lance was starting to regret leaving the med bay.

He felt fine. Physically.

But.. well… He swallows and does his best not to waver too noticeably, eyes drawn up, head craned back-

Lance has been in front of a lot of tribunals (he didn’t figure out the Garrison’s security patterns in one night, alright?). He knows what it feels like to walk into a room and immediately know you were being weighed, measured and found wanting. Iverson, school boards, panel interviews, the main room of the castle ship… None of those times hold a candle to the immense focus and judgement he can feel pressing down on him right now.

He swallows again, not entirely thrilled that the layout of the Lion’s hangar puts Black front and center. That ancient yellow gaze in particular carries a horrible sense of weight. As though both of them, Black and Lance alike, are being judged as Lance does his best to withstand the Lions' silent, eerie, scrutiny.

He feels uncomfortably like a pinned bug, peeled apart and dissected. On display, with little labels and arrows listing his traits for the four Lions to peruse.

(He hopes, wildly, that they can’t actually see the many and ugly parts of him he knows are lurking beneath the surface.)

For a second, all he can see in his mind’s eye is himself pinned to a white backdrop by his hood with little arrows in blue, red, yellow and green pointing at the various squirming parts of him. Labels like; insecurity, misplaced confidence, fear of abandonment, loneliness, anxiety, imposter syndrome all scrawled out in corresponding colors.

He closes his eyes and shakes his head to rid himself of the shudder inducing image. Ignoring the muted laughter he can almost, almost , hear.

He’s still, Lance grimaces, ‘sensitive to quintential output’. He keeps getting these lingering feelings off people. Flashes of colors or smells that don’t really exist.

It’s… ‘deeply unpleasant’ seems too mild an expression. And that’s just off the few people allowed to see him.

The Lions? Oof .

Just standing in the hangar bay is giving him vertigo. He braces a hand against bent knees as the room swirls into a messy kaleidoscope of nonsense. The colors leak out of their frames, slipping away from their objects like ghosts. Most of them don’t match what they’ve escaped. The air full of mist, a curling blanket of colors and heat and duty, new beginnings, unity, awe, terror in a cocktail of pulsing oranges and limes and purples. It’s nauseatingly loud.

He shuddered and looked up, away from the seeping mess, into the glowing yellow eyes peering back down at him. There was something wrong with that, he was sure, but most of him was absorbed in the strange, oddly multi-sided, staring contest he’d somehow fallen into.

It’s not fair, they don’t have to blink!

Amusement not his own rocks beneath him. A rolling wave, a prickling sear, a jerk of unstable ground-

His hand slaps the side of the nearest wall, other cradling his head as lights began to flash behind his eyes.

Nope. No. Nononono I am not swooning again. Not happening .

Warmth curdles his stomach, sweat sliding down his neck as the white-pod suit he slipped out in shifts from ‘comfortably warm’ to ‘boiling’. It gives him something to focus on, at least. Slowly, slowly , he opens his eyes again. His shoulders sag in relief; the room is back to rights.

His hand is not pressed against a wall.

Lance cranes his head back staring up, up, up until his gaze crests the top of the silver-white paw and hits the already marred coat of red paint decorating the Lion’s leg.

His sweaty palms slip away with a small squeak as he staggers frantically back towards the center of the room.

I don’t - Wait, when did I move away from the door?

His legs feel heavy, head still not quite clear. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know . He was at the door and then he wasn’t. Red is in his head and in his soul (or close enough, really) and he doesn’t remember moving.

He’s short of breath by the time he’s a quarter of the way across the bay. His eyes drag over the rest of the assembled lions as a way to distract himself from how the floor doesn’t quite feel solid. Each towering figure seated and inactive, a solid semi-circle of endlessly patient guardians.

He ends up walking towards Blue. Half out of habit he just can’t shake, half some sick desire to know if-

“You, kid, have excellent taste.”

When his feet finally touch the floor again, Lance spins around to glare up at Blaytz.

“Was that necessary?!”

“No but it was hilarious. You really need to work on your perception.”

Blaytz plants a hand on his hip and gazes up at the Blue Lion, wonder in his eyes and voice. “Best ship in the galaxy, sweetest partner of the bunch.” A sharp toothed grin, “Much nicer than your rusty- hey! Hey! Hey!” Blaytz stumbled away from Lance as the floor shakes.

Lance doesn’t need to turn around, so he doesn’t. He takes off, running after the prince as the Red Lion, because who else would it be, starts towards Blue’s hangar. A sharp hum of power buzzes through the air, matching the tempo of the thoughts racing behind Lance’s own.

Stop laughing at me you-

Lance yelps as Blaytz shoves him backwards, away from Blue, and into the path of the approaching Lion. By the time Lance rolls back to his feet, Blaytz is halfway to Blue’s paws the miserable-

Lance, and his thoughts, freeze.

He knows, really honestly knows, that the lions are mechanical. Sentient, sure, but not really organic in the way that most living beings were.

So he knows that the sensation of hot, heavy, breaths wafting against his back are imagined at best and projected into his head at worst.

This knowledge does nothing to quell the fear gripping his spine.

He looks shakily over his shoulder, right into Red’s muzzle. One enormous yellow eye blindingly bright close up.

“Uh…”

The floor shakes with the force of Red’s amused purr.

Or maybe that's just his knees.

Either way, Lance slides slowly towards the floor, absently feeling as though his strings had been cut. He falls back against Red’s nose, too scattered to be grateful that they’d crouched low enough to catch him, hard enough to knock the breath out of his chest in a squeaky sigh.

Red, it seemed, was done allowing him the illusion of privacy.

He’d be embarrassed but given the way the Blue Paladin was cowering behind one of Blue’s massive paws... Lance blinks, reassessing. The paw suddenly looked a great deal smaller. So did the rest of the room.

Lance’s hands scrabble at his vest-turned-shirt, inordinately glad he’d tied the waistline tight enough that it didn’t just stretch right over his ribs, for purchase and to create room for air.

“Red!”

His voice breaks down the middle. He doesn’t care. How the hell did they close their maw over just the back of his shirt?!

“Red what are you doing?! Bad Lion! Very bad Liooooooon!”

Red swung their massive head to the side, leaving Lance to swing through the air with borrowed momentum, and padded (if crashing footsteps could be referred to as ‘padding’) away. The Lion seemed to tilt her head higher as she passed the others, taking the long way back to her own hangar. Lance dangles helplessly, well aware that a drop from this height would kill him.

Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look -

He looks down. Lance closes his eyes and then opens them again, hating the nausea ripping through him.

He’s not afraid of heights, alright? He isn’t.  

There’s a difference between flying and free climbing and silks dancing and- and- whatever this is! He ignored the little voice in his head that pointed out the main difference was that here he had no control . The thought falls back out of his head as Red rocks him from side to side with her heavy gait. He thanks whatever is looking out for him that Alteans know how to weave some tough clothes.

His world suddenly starts to spin, surroundings a blurr. It takes a moment to realize that Red is… Red is circling around her spot. Like a house cat. Then he doesn’t have time to think of anything at all, because Red snaps back her head in one impossibly fast movement.  

“Aaaah!”

The stomach dropping sensation of free-fall hits him first, followed shortly by the realization of what was happening and about to happen.

Limbs flailing wildly, Lance falls straight down the Red Lion’s throat.

Kid!


Slowly, very very slowly, Lance levers himself upright.

He can distantly hear Blaytz’ screams over the ache in his everything. He pushes thoughts of armor, specifically helmets, at Red as hard as he's able, hissing as he pulled his limbs back into order, thankful that nothing felt broken.

Stupid, pushy, Lion…

Lance tries to share how he was basically going to be one big bruise by the end of the day, shoving the stinging pain and slowly blossoming aches at the entity curled up around his brain.

Red doesn’t seem anything but amused, though the aforementioned bruises felt a little warmer than before.

More muffled voices, this time in slightly different tones. Lance groans and crawls towards the cockpit, grumbling unpleasant threats at Red under his breath the whole way. The thrumming in his bones fizzled and popped with her humor.

The closer he gets the more he’s able to parse the conversation happening outside.

A lot of different voices. So either he’d passed out (again) or Blaytz had genuinely panicked and summoned as many people as he could manage. Lance listened again and considered the current blue paladin’s capacity for volume and drama.

Eh, could go either way.  Then, as the voices began to sound nerve-wracking familiar,

...Please tell me Hashaan isn’t out there .

The medic had threatened Alfor, the King , over Lance’s health more than a few times the last month. He doesn’t want to know what he’d be willing to do to him for this kind of stunt.

Red projected a stomach-curdling sense of possession straight down his nervous system. He supposes that was intended to be reassuring. A sort of ‘no one messes with me and now, by proxy, you’. It mostly just aggravates his bruises and, did he mention?, nauseates his empty stomach.

The cockpit lights up in a familiar red glow, easy on his eyes and strangely comforting. The roiling mine mine mine mine doesn’t fade per say but it gentles into something else. Warmth flushes his limbs, rolls down his spine like the long, gentle, stroke of a hand. It coaxes air into his lungs, presses them against his battered ribs as they swell. It dawns on him that this is the first time he’s been in Red’s cockpit since the, uh, ‘accident’. The air smells different. Less leather-sweat and sweet-burning , more citrus and spicy-floral . Weird. He collapses into the pilot’s chair, grateful when it sweeps him to the dashboard without any effort necessary on his part.

“Thanks, Red.”

That same warmth sneaks up and sinks into his bones again. It should feel like a violation, Red pawing through his emotions and memories like an open book. Instead, it just feels like rough hands patting his back a little too hard, smoker-rattle compliments and bony fingers wrapped around his wrists. Zealous and fond and not-altogether there. Not, yet, anyways.

His bruises feel a little lighter.

There’s a low click, something tickles and tells him that it’s made just to let him know about it, before sound rattles clearly through the hidden speakers.

“Your crazy Lion ate him!”

“I’m sure that’s not the case. In any order, they don’t have stomachs so I’m sure-”

“Doesn’t have a ‘chosen’ either ‘cause she chomped him up!”

Lance braced against the chair in the cockpit and cooed at Blaytz’ worry, “Aww, he does care.”

“Kid?!”

Lance startles at the reply before tracing his eyes over the letters on Red’s glowing screen. She’d turned the comms on, the sneaky little…

“Yeah, I’m here. I’m fine.” He grimaces, “Well, sorta. I’m in one piece at least.”

”Well, as long as you’re in there…” Alfor strode forward and rested a hand on Red’s lowered muzzle. “What do you say to a little adventure?”

Lance’s whoop of excitement can be heard through the bay.


:: Medical Room A13776, earlier that quintent ::

“We can handle it from here. I’m going to need a closer look and the fewer foreign signatures in here the better.”

Orange eyes narrowed over half-moon glasses for a moment. It doesn’t escape anyone’s notice that the medic waits for the King’s nod before he departs. The door shifts and locks behind him, a teal shield shimmering into view for no more than a handful of ticks.

“Tch. You certainly have him well trained.”

The machines around them chirp and chime pleasantly through the silence. The altean king strokes his beard, paying little attention to neither the form in his lap nor the alchemist scowling at him.

Alfor.”

Ah, she did sound a bit serious… and a great deal like her husband. She shifts her weight, impatient. Alfor bites back a smile certain that if he were to look, he would see her arms crossed and hip cocked. She never changes…

“You know I have important work back on Diabaazal-”

“Oh? Did you make a breakthrough without noti-”

Her growl was nearly galran, “You know damn well I haven’t-”

“And besides, Melanor has missed you something terrible. She was struck when you were unable to join us for the Juniberry festival. Allura has so looked forward to meeting you.” The king continued, without raising his head.

She winced. “That… wasn’t my intent. Something came up at the facility-”

“Honerva.” The alchemists locked gazes. “We haven’t heard from you in movements. It’s been nearly a pheeb since we last saw you and that-”

“That was a communications from the lab, I know.”

Honerva crossed her arms defensively, perhaps a bit uncomfortable.

“It was still a dirty trick, sending Melanor out to collect me. What if something had happened?”

Alfor’s voice was dry, “I assure you, I would love to see what remained of something foolish enough to attack the Queen of Altea in your presence.”

“Assuming Melanor left anything for me in the first place.”

“Quite.”

The two smirked at one another. A quiet beep rang through the room.

“Why am I here, Alfor?”

“You’re the most qualified alchemist to advise on cases regarding corrupted quintessence.”

“This boy’s quintessence is fine.”

Beep. Beep.

She scowled, both of them very aware she’d not checked. “Unbalanced, sure, but find me a balanced teenager and I’ll take them into my lab.”

“Unbalanced by what?” Alfor asked, letting her have her game as he began his own.

She scowled, as reluctant as ever to be lead, and stepped over towards the prone form in the pod. Her hands hovered over the boy’s temple and right wrist, the two quintencial loci they’d managed to locate on the child. Alfor blinked as she slid her hand down to hover over the boy’s knee. Honerva hummed, “There’s a third here. It’s stoppered up as well…”

“Ah, actually… the ports over his wrists are artificial.”

“Really? Someone did a very good job…” she trailed off and looked around the room once more, taking in the imported machinery and, maybe more noticeably, the myriad of medics and academics who all but stood with their noses pressed against the tinted windows. “Who is he, Alfor.”

The king laced his fingers before his face and told the boy’s tale as he knew it.

Honerva did not look impressed.

“So you have a foundling child in one of the most secure fortresses in the galaxy being treated by the best medic ASMA has produced in pheebs,” she pinched her nose between her fingers and drew a stabilizing breath, “ why ?”

He waved his hand at the child once more, inviting her to probe deeper. Honerva rolled her eyes and brought her power to the fore, markings and arms glowing with even the casual strength of her quintessence.

The light suffusing her sparked and snuffed ticks later as she lay hands near the boy’s wrists. She jerked back with a jolt, stepping away from the pod entirely. Her hand smoldered where it had made contact with the boy’s skin.

Riglaith! What in the forty-six was that?!”

“Easy, I don’t think she appreciated your reaching quite so abruptly.”

Honerva’s head snapped up, bits of hair flying free from her bun. “ That’s the Red Lion’s quintessence?” She drew her hands closer to her chest, her own main quintential port he recalled.

Alfor nodded, head still thrumming with the alternating force of the Lion’s warning growl and self-satisfied purr, “Yes. Along with what remains of his own, I imagine.”

The king paused in scanning the next document. Honerva did not seem terribly interested in the cuban, instead focusing her attention on, he assumed due to the grumbling in the back of his head, the Red Lion. Ah, well. She’d notice eventually. He flicked over to another document, mentally setting aside the credits he now owed Trigel. Betting against her was always an exercise in futility, but habits were hard to break.

Honerva’s hands pulsed with the soft red light of her primary quintessence as she reapproached, never one to be deterred. She kept her hands well above the child’s skin, he noted.

“I can see why you’ve refused the academy’s proposals…”

He arched a brow at her cautious advance, “Not just the academies’.” He stressed the plural.

She rolled her eyes, “Yes, yes. The rest of us in the private sector have certainly learned our lessons.” her brow furrowed. “It’s not at all as I imagined.”

He rejected one proposal with a flourish and changed documents, “How so?”

The king sounded disinterested as he focused on his tablet but had Honerva looked away from her task she would have seen that both of Alfor’s ears were titled in her direction, belying the true locus of his attention.

“The Lions were shaped from the meteorite that traveled through the Rift of Diabaazal. One would think that they would inherently retain at least some of th-” Honerva drew her hands back with a yelp for the second time that quintent. She held still a long moment, then, reminding Alfor precisely the reason she was both his wife’s closest companion as well as one of Altea’s most noble alchemists, she lay her hands over Lanzakrasni once more. After a few ticks she muttered something under her breath, quintessence flaring brightly.

Alfor finally looked up as a growl rumbled through him, soundless to everyone but, perhaps, the sleeping boy.

Easy, old friend. Honerva means him no harm.

Red was not so easily convinced. Both alteans frowned as ruddy alizarin quintessence dappled across the boy’s form like sunlight through water.

Honerva bore her power down against the swirling barrier for long, tense, moments before she was thoroughly rebuffed. Her gaze flicked between Alfor and the boy in the bed. Or, more likely, the quintessence barrier temporarily separating her from the child.

Even as they watched, it rippled and sank back beneath the boy’s skin. Likely for the best… Alfor frowned, uncertain if the barrier had been a use of Lanzakransi’s opened carpus nodes or simply a projection of the Red Lion’s power. He leaned forward and noted with a frown that, if the copious amount of note taking going on through the window was any metric, at least he was not alone in his uncertainty.

Honeva frowned, rubbing her thumb against the pads of her fingers, “Alfor, that-”
“Yes.”  

The swirling mess in the boy’s core truly was fascinating… so long as one set aside that it was almost unquestioningly killing the young sentient. After that it was mostly just horrific with a little panic-inducing slathered on top. Hashaan, between bouts of healer-oath incited rage, still couldn’t quite explain how the child was even conscious. That had been half the point of their little unapproved training exercise, seeing how much the boy could take. By all accounts the Lions should have hollowed him out completely. For him to be both alive and retaining some form of personality… well, either the child was incredibly lucky or-

“...That’s why you called me here.”

Alfor tilted his head in acknowledgment as Honerva drew him from his observation.

“Well, that and Melanor and I really have missed you.” He signed the document with a flourish he did not feel, something ill at ease growing within him. Honerva had not moved when he looked up once more, a strange gleam in her gold eyes.

The king set his tablet to the side, concern mounting. “Honerva,”

Honeva frowned, rubbing her thumb against the pads of her fingers, “It’s… familiar.”

“Pardon?” Alfor said, confused.

Her gaze remained riveted, quintessence beginning to spark along her form.

“There’s something…” She took a step forward. “If I could just,” Honerva stared down at the boy, fingertips already aching with the need to tear back into him. Her hands opened and closed, clenching over air as she grit her teeth in frustration. “It’s like it’s sitting on the edge of my mind!”

She tore herself away, fingers already sparking, and rounded on the half-seated king. “Why is he here , Alfor?”

Something in her voice set the hairs on his arms standing on end, “Honerva-”

“No!” A hand slashed through the air, trailing volatile energy, “You found him floating above Diabaazal, his quintessence is a mess of signatures; I can hardly unwravel where one ends and his own begins and you’re keeping him here ?”

Her markings flared red, glowing with power. She was incensed now, mood finally tipped to one side; torn between the almost maternal rage she’d developed along side Allura’s birth and sheer academic insult. The machines around them began to chime more urgently.

“He should be on Altea or Tsido, your majesty ,” she spat his title with a hiss, “and you’re keeping him here ?”

She advanced on him, “He should be under observation, in a proper lab, or send him back to ASMA! Let them nurse him as they train t-”

The king growled low in his throat. “He is not a test subject, Honerva.”

“He’s not a pet either, Alfor.”

Alfor rolled his shoulders back and rose to his full height, “The Red Lion has chosen him. He will be a Paladin of Voltron.”

Alfor braced his weight on his left foot as Honerva advanced, her temper clearly frayed and rising.

He watched as her hands rose along with her continuing tirade, pooling his own quintessence as she neared.

“A Paladin ? Is that a joke ?” She took another step towards the king, hands now raised and - jerked to a sudden halt as a hand clasped around her wrist.

“‘Onnie,” shocked gold bore into ice-blue. A sweet smile belayed the strength currently holding the shorter altean completely immobile, “I think he’s waking up!”

Honerva stuttered for a moment, thrown completely by the other’s sudden appearance. “Melanor…”

The Queen of Altea tilted her head, eyes unwavering as white locks flowed over one shoulder. She waited until Honerva rested lax beneath her hand to smile at her husband.

“Hello, dear. I heard voices so I let myself in.” Melanor giggled at his besotted grin, or perhaps just at the knowledge that neither of them had noticed her come in.

“I-” Honerva winced and fell silent as Melanor released her with one last squeeze to her captive wrist.

They watched the queen flit from machine to machine, slippered feet soundless despite her long and dragging dress. Something seemed to finally calm in the alchemist. She looked over to Alfor; first glance irate and the second as close to apologetic as Honerva, newly of Diabaazal, ever strayed. She rubbed her wrist gently before rotating it, eyes locked on the floor.

“Why is he here?”

The boy shifted gently as he rose from the depths of slumber, unaware of the eyes upon him.

“He has no other place to call home. No kin to name and none willing to claim him,” Alfor slanted a look at the alchemist beside him, “...save the Red Lion.”

For that, Honerva had no retort. She ignored Alfor’s knowing hum. Instead, she gazed at the rousing child with narrowed eyes. He seemed first soothed by Melanor’s presence and then shocked not a tick later. If the boy’s odd reaction phased Melanor, the queen did not show it. Gentle, courtly, Honerva thought with a scowl, laughter rang through the room as the altean queen righted the boy back into his bed with the ease most handled infantile pets.
The king sighed, offering the one olive branch that would never break between them, “I am so lucky to have her, I don’t know what I’d do otherwise.”

Honerva crossed her arms and took the truce for what it was. “You’d be eaten alive by the Court in less than a varga. Why do you think she lets you run off with your friends to play hero?”

Alfor sniffed and tipped his head back, “I like to think it’s because I look quite dashing in my armor.”

They both ducked their heads in stifled laughter, watching in silence as Lanzakrasni slowly became more animated under Melanor’s attention.

“...She hasn’t fallen out of practice.” Honerva observed quietly.

Alfor shook his head, “No. Rather to the contrary.” The king shuddered, “I sometimes wonder if she is not preparing to train Allura…”

A small laugh burst out of Diabaazal’s Alchemist, “Would serve your right!”

“Honerva!” Alfor gasped, perhaps only mostly jesting, “I would never sleep again! My dear Allura, learning the ways of court-dances and concealed weapons!”

He tucked a hand under his chin, “Not that I don’t think she would be marvelous Shadow, she would put them all to shame surely. But I have hoped she would take more after me... and become Altea’s next diplomat.”

“Was the Grand Alliance not enough for you?”

Alfor’s grin was almost boyish. Sometimes, Honerva allowed, the two deserved one another.

Both alteans’ ears twitched as the boy startled a genuine laugh out of Melanor. Something in Honerva softened as she took in the teen’s flush and her dearest friend’s open amusement.

She saw Alfor smirk and bristled, caught. She rolled her eyes and huffed a theatric sigh, “I suppose he can’t be entirely terrible if he can make Melanor actually laugh.”

She expected a smug gaze to match the inevitable comment but felt her brows draw in concern as a pensive look crossed the silent king’s face.

“Alfor?”

She walked over and leaned against the wall near him. “You’re actually worried about this kid, aren’t you?”

“About, for… of.” The king listed ominously.

The gac dropped.

“Keep safety before and danger at your side...”

Found just beyond orbit near Diabaazal . Suffused in the Red Lion’s quintessence. Core-corrupted and no viable channels to vent the most entropic, violated, signature Honerva has ever seen .

That boyish smile was nowhere to be found.

“What are you plotting, Alfor.”

“I think,” the king started, uncharacteristically somber, “something terrible has happened and I am no the wiser on how to resolve it.”

Honerva fell silent for long dobashes.

Finally, “...The Red Lion needs to ease up on the kid. He has no training and no natural method to vent the extra quintessence. To top it off,” she bobbed her head towards the flickering charts at the end of the boys bed “His core is compromised.” She gave a shrug after the admission, “Not sure about ‘corruption’ though. I can sense several signatures - unusual, and, yes, worrying but,” she paused and took in the way the boy rubbed at his wrists, “I don’t see any signs of deterioration or rejection.” Her eyes gleamed in the artificial lights, “The two primary signatures, neither of which are his own by the by, are still clashing. I don’t have to tell you what sort of consequences will come of that.”

The king shook his head, well aware that Lanzakrasni’s lagging stamina and quintential-empathic episodes were some of the more moderate possible symptoms. He knew, however, that a majority of that battle had been waged and won. Compared to the initial barrier... the splintered remains would thaw within the next movement. From there it would simply be a matter of ensuring the boy’s quintessence replenished, he was sure.

Honevra waited until he looked her in the eyes once more, “They’re not the only signatures there, Alfor.”

The king blinked.

“The Red Lions, the Blue Lion’s,” She pointed at the chart at the mention of the second, “and I count at least three others.” A wrinkled nose, “Maybe four? Your lion is… possessive. Finding anything but them was difficult.”

Alfor huffed at her comment, recognizing the concession for what it was. Despite their irrefutable quintessence signatures, which, alright, he’d refused to allow them to be studied, Honerva did not believe the Lions were sentient. (At least she was in a polite enough mood to not refer to them as ‘it’s).

Honerva tapped her foot, impatient with everything but most of all herself. “I have no idea which one of those signatures is his - or if it’s even among those.”

They watched in contemplative silence as Melanor and Lanzakrasni swiftly devolved into what looked like some enthusiastic swapping of stories, mostly, the pair noted with some alarm, about the misadventures of childhood and, oddly paired, what sounded like breaking and entering adventures gone wrong.

“...I’m going to go break that up before something else gets broken.”

Honerva reached over and patted him on the shoulder, leaned in, “Keep us all close then, Alfor. But keep him away from the Lions. A movement if you can manage, four quintents at the least.” Something very close to concern seeped into her voice as she watched Melanor mime out some misadventure, “I’m not sure how much more he can withstand.”

 

Alfor watched as the boy leapt out of the pilot’s chair, practically shaking in excitement at the thought of getting off the ground. Red thrummed in agreement, the boy’s own elation as the thrusters came online tangible beneath her own. Not for the first time, he allowed himself one small wish and ignored how infrequently it came true. 

I hope you’re wrong, Honerva.

Chapter Text

Getting out of the hangar had been… trying.

First there was the matter of dear, hardworking Hashaan. 

Once they’d ascertained that young Lanzakrasni was well enough they then had to assuage the frazzled medical staff’s communal headache. 

The head medic, understandably, had reservations about allowing his patient near the lions, much less out of his sight. Alfor explained that the young man would find his way out one way or another, as the boy’s little excursion had proved quite effectively, and that it was far better to keep him supervised than to attempt to stifle his, ah, creative energy. 

Hashaan had very politely stepped over the large soot stain and, none too gently, imparted a pair of modified medical bracers upon the king. 

Alfor made a note to schedule his next medical check on Altea. 

Still, it had been fine. The bracers fit Lanzakrasni without issue and even Honerva had spared a nice word about their make. 


Granted it had been the only nice word to leave her lips in the vargas since. 

“One job. One. I gave you one. Job. ” She snickered. “Keep the boy away from the lions! That’s all I said! And where is he?” 

“Inside the Red Lion,” Blatyz, no fool, answered shakily. 

Honvera nodded, smile sharp enough to pierce a galran war cruiser. “Yes. Well observed, Blaytz. I-” 

“Because she ate him whole!

Honerva paused, tone sliding from smug to confused as her brows fell. “He what.”

Hashaan’s identical iteration wasn’t nearly as subdued.

Alfor dropped his head into his hands as the screaming began anew.


Then there was his beloved. 

Though entertained by, and - while it would be impossible to prove - likely involved with, Lanzakrasni’s little escape, she had expressed her opinion most strongly on the matter of his delaying their departure to Altea. ‘ Postponed ’ she’d corrected. His ear still stung.

Melanor was quite worried despite his assurance that Coran was more than capable of looking after their little Allura.

He was sure the two were having a marvelous time in the capital city. Likely breaking every security rule imposed on the pair of them, but still; a marvelous time! Melanor had nothing to worry about. After all, Coran’s only weaknesses were foreign flora-fauna, pirates, and his heartfelt idolization of Pop-pop Wimbleton. None of which, Alor was quick to mention, would be found within the city or surrounding areas. 

Melanor had not looked much at ease. 


The largest obstacle, strangely, had been Blaytz himself. The nalquod remained, all things considered, a bit hysterical. 

Truly they had all expected the worst when he’d arrived. The myriad of confused and somewhat ruffled staff stumbling about the halls in his wake, the loud shrieking, the clamorous stagger through the doorway all nearly resulted in Zarkon running one of the hapless servants through and through as the nalquod prince shrieked at decibels previously thought beyond his range. 

Yes, it’d been quite the task to even gather what had occurred, much less where or how. The man had been in tears by the time they’d all reunited in the hangar. Alfor was almost certain Trigel was still laughing about it even now. 

There wasn’t, the king thought with a grimace, much to laugh about. 

The hovering (of both Blue and her still frantic Paladin) remained abuzz like a plucked string in the back of all their minds. The physical hovering was making travel ( don’t get him started about the takeoff) more than a little difficult. 

“So, where’s this field trip taking us anyways?” Lanzakrasni ducked his head, grinning as Alfor sighed deeply for the fourth time. 

“It’s not a field trip,” The altean king almost over-enunciates the words, “We are in space. There isn’t a field for parsecs!” 

Blaytz’ voice spun cleanly through the cockpit, Blue a bright and looming shape in the void around them, “I thought that was a measure of time?”

“You would.”

“Hey!”


After much quibbling, and the weirdest take off Lance’d ever been a part of, they settled on what, apparently, classified as an asteroid. Given it had some sort of plant growth and an atmosphere Lance figured that would have made it planet worthy, but in a great show of skill he kept his mouth shut.

In retrospect, he probably should have rationed that ability.

Lance slid lower in his seat, eyeing the stretch of metal between his knees and the console. It was a pretty small space, more of a cranny than a nook. 

Blaytz’s voice blasted through at volume, running right over Alfor’s even tones. He tuned them out.

The little shelter beckoned, Red’s stupid psychic giggles be darned. He was limber. He could fit. He slid an inch closer-

“Right, Lance?”

-and found himself pinned neatly to the seat by Alfor’s near-crushing grip. Ow. 

“Uhhh…”

It had started out so well too. 

He’d been prepared for some serious vertigo, especially after everything that’d happened in the hangar.

But the asteroid through Red’s viewscreen was just that. An asteroid.

There weren’t any sliding colors or leaking smells. Nothing spun or shook or fractured. It was just… another asteroid.

He felt better than he had in a long time, really. His headache had mostly cleared up and, once Alfor helped situate the weird not-gloves, ‘bracers’ he thinks the king called them, over his wrists the ache he’d felt pulsing through them quieted down too. 

So he’d been feeling pretty good, despite the fact that Balytz and Blue had nearly squashed them coming out of the hangar. Blue had been super up in their personal space, practically hovering over the smaller lion. Which was weird in and of itself, as Lance didn’t think he’d ever seen the Lions fly that close before. Not without intending to form Voltron.

Red had been testy that whole launch, a gravelly growl rolling through Lance’s head like high-tide. But that was fine. He had it handled.

Red might not remember him, but he remembered Red. Knew how she turned, how she liked to leap up from the ground rather than bounce. Knew how to pilot a Lion of Voltron in general, actually, which was a bigger boon than he’d first assumed given just how nervous Alfor and Blaytz seemed to be. It was fair, he guessed. The Lions didn’t fly like any craft he’d ever known. It wasn’t a machine you gassed and prodded and cajoled. Wasn’t a system of quirks and superstition and good mechanical upkeep. 

It was a blending

It was reaching for someone and finding them reaching back ; an answering heartbeat that made the dead machines and failed simulations in the garrison make so much sense. Dios, he’d given and given and given to those soulless hunks of junk and every time it’d been too quiet. Too empty

Flying with Red was amazing. There was no comparison. Lance winced and winced again as Red snarled a ripple of pain through him as he apologized in his head to Blue for that comment. 

They blasted past Blaytz, shot through cloud formations and free-fell through the upper atmosphere just because they could. 

It’d been going great

He was finally alive again - adrenalin a missed friend. There was nothing here to bleed into his vision or saturate away or twist his head and stomach into loop-de-loops till he puked. It was just him and Red’s poprocks-and-cola laughter and the sky-

“I expected Red to pick someone phenomenal.”

-and Alfor. 

He’d forgotten about Alfor.

Okay, the laughter was making more sense now, cripes. Lance eased Red out of their extended barrel roll and pressed a hand to his sternum. It felt like his heart leapt out of his chest! 

How had he forgotten about Alfor?!

For that matter, how was Alfor still here after the stunts he and Red pulled? Were there secret seatbelts somewhere? A jumpseat no one’d managed to find?

Actually, with a second glance over at the king and his white knuckles, it looked like the Altean had just latched onto the chair and, uh, never let go. 

Whoops. 

Alfor grunted, flexing his fingers out of some truly impressive dents. “Given her insistence on precision, I would not have thought she’d allow such sloppy piloting.”

Lance’s felt his stomach and heart fall clean through Red’s lower jaw and head towards terminal velocity. The following amused chuckle cut him to the bone- 

Shape up, McClain!

-Lance flinched as a large hand clapped over his shoulder, rocking him from side to side. Red’s rumbling laughter grew rough. 

- Most temperamental of the Lions -

“Still, you certainly have embraced her desire to fly at speed. I’m sure you’ll find it in you to-” 

- Hardest to master 

Keith, you will pilot the Red Lion -

“-er before long-”

- You’re only here because Kogane flunked out -

A roar cut through the voices.

It took Lance a long while in the ringing silence to work out that the roar wasn’t, for once, inside of his head. By the time he realized, it was too late. 

The rock formation they dove alongside resembled so much melted slag. 

Tonnes and tonnes of violet-grey stone dribbled past, blasted red hot and insubstantial in seconds. It dripped down the edges of what remained of the great mountain face like ice-cream along a cone. 

Alfor’s grip slackened and fell. The king’s eyebrows lifting towards the tips of his ears as heat bubbled and popped scant feet away from Red’s still open maw. 

A shrill metallic screech filled the cockpit. Lance gave half a second to wonder if it was Blaytz falling out of his chair or simply the nalquod prince screaming (again) before writing it off as a lost cause. He had bigger issues to worry about. Like accidentally wrecking the space-time continuum in a moment of self-pity of all things. 

So stupid. Why can’t you just stay out of trouble for five minutes?

Which lead him to where he was now, contemplating the spatial relations between his 5’8” self and the increasingly siren-like allure of the 3’ shelter of Red’s control panel. 

Oh. And pinned in place by a disturbingly curious and, more creepily, cheerful Alfor as Blatyz suffered through what sounded like the second anxiety attack of his life. 

“-shoot fire from Red’s mouth?!” 

No one was handling it well.


Lance knew, deep in his bones, that the Lions were complicated. Not complicated like a maths equation (which you could solve with one input or another), and not quite complicated like people (because it turns out quasi-immortal lions don’t change their spots or stripes or let you patch up terrible altean paint jobs) but somewhere between. Complicated.

He wasn’t expecting there to be this much dispute about how to fly them though. 

Alfor, once they’d slunk a ‘safe and reasonable distance’ from the melted mountainside, was full of questions. 

“Why are you pressing on that?” 

“Uh, because those are the pedals?” 

“Pedals?! Those are for regulating the quintessential matrices!” 

“… what.

None for which Lance really had answers. 

Lance waited until Alfor and Blaytz were distracted debating the ‘proper’ usage of whatever a sinusoid triregulator was before glancing over at the closed bayard-port on Red’s right side. Images of that giant, breath-taking canon flitted through his thoughts. He pressed his lips together against Red’s smug purr. 

Red poked through the memory, pulling at the heart-stilling worry suffusing it, tugging up related thoughts of purple eyes and messy bangs and an insufferable smirk. 

Lance whipped the controls sideways until they were staring along at Blue’s left flank. The alarmed shouting and spike of annoyance behind his eyes was worth it, even as he saw Alfor go white-knuckled against the headrest again. 

Everyone was keeping secrets, it seemed. 


“We ought to head back.” 

Alfor stared pointedly at the controls and seat. Lance blinked up at him, a little stubborn. His wounded pride still very much stung from Alfor’s earlier comments. The king glanced out of Red’s view screen, towards the remains of the mountain face. “It can be a bit delicate…”

Lance quirked a brow at the hovering altean. 

“...Perhaps I best take the controls here?”

He gave up the seat with little outward protest. You melt one asteroid!

Lance let the foreign roil of amusement flush through him, let it curl over his aching pride like a balm. Nice thing about Red, they always got his jokes. 

Never one to waste time, Alfor pressed on. “I’m certain this,” Alfor glanced out the viewscreen with a wince, “is a residual effect of your abnormal bonding with the Red Lion. Perhaps you should take this opportunity to meditate?” 

There’s a long pause. Lance couldn’t quite help sneaking look over Alfor’s shoulder at the still burbling slag past Red’s muzzle. Alfor leaned in front of him, blocking his view. “You do know how to meditate, yes?”

“Uhhh…” 


Alfor pursed his lips and stared. Hoping that, this time, something would make sense.

He knew the moment Lanzakrasni hesitated that the boy likely didn’t know how to properly meditate but he’d been proud of the child for agreeing to attempt it despite that. His own teacher had allowed him several movements of solo-attempts at various ‘meditations’ until they’d come together to reach a style that worked for the then-prince. 

What was happening before him, however, was not something he’d ever seen attempted. 

It did, he supposed, bear some resemblance to proper meditation. Regulated breathing, ritualistic movements, and a strong cycling of quintessence; good to see the bracers were functioning as desired - they’d been slow to start. Now, though, that delicate flutter has been stoked to a burning fire. Power churned through the boy’s serene form like the lava rivers of Ignizanur, sluggish but inexorable.

It seemed that piloting the Red Lion gave Lanzakrasni the jump his system dearly needed. Alfor pursed his lips, thought occurring. Sudden appearance of a horribly concerning Lion sized flame-thrower hopefully not related. Regardless, with any luck, proper circulation of quintessence would help ‘thaw’ out the rest of Lanzakrasni’s reserves and, in turn, limit the frequency of the ‘episodes’ Hashaan had reported.

Alfor slowly reached over, preemptively muting the comms, and punched in a familiar signal.

Lanzakrasni pushed himself upwards onto his elbows as Alfor once again considered the boy’s form against what he recalled of the numerous variations of meditation. Those three features were, however long he looked, where the similarities ended. 

The king held up a hand to halt the muted questions, using the same open palm to gesture soundlessly over at the nearly inverted Chosen. 

Blue eyes met red. Alfor unmuted communications. 

Zarkon’s voice remained hushed, bless his considerate soul. 

“Does he not possess bones in effort to prevent motion such as this?” 

Alfor looked between the boy, whose feet were now touching the top of his head, and Zarkon for a moment. 

“...Yes. Yes, he does.”

Truly remarkable. 

He feels Red’s purr ring through the cabin and lets it soothe him further into the seat, content to watch the youth before him shift through a variety of shapes and contortions as he quietly observed with his closest friend. 

Alfor could see the appeal. The flexibility for each pose as well as the strength required had numerous potential applications for combat. Additionally, there was something almost serene about the rhythmic poses, Lanzakrasni falling still and silent in a way he had thus far only seen when a rifle was in the boy’s hands. 

Of course, it was that moment the youth chose to look over, caught sight of the Head and Right Arm of Voltron staring at him intently, and fell, screaming, to the floor in a clumsy tangle of limbs.

Ah, well. They’d lingered long enough.

“It’s time to head home.”


The closer they came to the castle, the darker Lance’s mood grew. He rubbed at a blooming bruise, still flustered from the totally absorbed looks the king and emperor had directed his way. 

‘Home’. Ha, wasn’t that a laugh. 

Home was Cuba . Home was the sound of the surf no matter where you were, the clatter and clutter of his family and the messy, wonderful, chaos they dragged with them. 

That hole is his heart pulsed the tiniest bit wider, ache spreading through his chest. He missed them so much. 

The Red Lion slid effortlessly into her resting bay. Lance took a deep breath, counting seconds until his stomach gave the tell-tale lurch as the castle’s specific type of gravity, a little heavier than he remembered it being in his own time, kicked into effect. 

Lance closed his eyes and, for a moment, it was almost like he was there.  

Waves lapping against cliffs, the mix of hay-salt-sunshine from the roof of the barn, shingles warm to the touch under his fingertips.

He was knocked from reminiscence as Alfor’s hand clasped loosely against his shoulder, holding him for a tick before releasing him as the king strode towards the exit. 

Lance shook off the images after a moment, heart feeling as bruised and swollen as the first night he’d spent in the castle.

Cuba was a faraway dream, now. His family, his heart ached, even farther out of reach.

It’d been bad enough when it was simply distance between them but now? Ten thousand years. Even if he managed to get to Earth, without somehow tipping off the naissant galran empire, there wasn’t anyone to come home to. No home to speak of.

He swallowed against the brick in his throat. No home, no family. He didn’t even have his name, not really. Not if he didn’t want to risk destroying the universe as he knew it. 

Lance squinted against the too-bright lights of the castle glaring up the ramp. He glanced back at the soothing glow of the cockpit. 

Well, he had Red at least. That was something. 

Their purr rattled through him, much-needed air filling his lungs instead of sorrow. Except, every step towards the exit sent a curl of anxiety through him. His body felt heavier and heavier until he found himself unable to take the next step. 

Something was wrong. 

“Lance?”

He looked at Alfor, anxious feeling spreading until it felt like his whole body was suffused with static. He leaned deeper into the bulkhead. 

Couldn’t the king feel that?

“I don’t…” 

It wasn’t safe. He didn’t know how to put that into words, though. That pervasive feeling of wrong-bad-do not go there. The castle wasn’t home. Home was-

Alfor peered back at him, already in the hangar bay proper. The king measured the distance between them, concerned.

Lance. Step out of the Lion.”

The teenager stared down the ramp, fingers curling deeply around the edge of the doorway, pulse racing.

“I-” Lance took one step back, into the safety of his Lion, then another. “I can’t.”

Alfor’s eyes widened and he darted forward, arm outstretched. 

The particle barrier dropped.

Chapter Text

Alfor sprinted up the ramp, cursing as he felt it begin to retract beneath his feet. 

Red!  

Silence. He leapt the remaining distance, nearly crashing into the boy as Red slammed their maw shut behind him. He curled a hand around the boy’s head, taking his weight easily as Red’s Chosen sagged into him. 

“Red!” he tried again, aloud.

Still, nothing. 

He reached deeper, digging through his own quintessence to their bond and-

Ah.

-well. That would explain the particle barrier. How interesting! That it could repel quintessence as well as physical-

“Not the time dear!”

-and there she was, his beloved, already prepared to help him meet any foe. A frown pulled at Alfor’s face as Melanor’s voice echoed over his earrings, distributing commands and clearing the Red Lion’s bay. Not that he would consider Red a foe. Not now and not ever. 

They would, however, be having a chat about proper ways to communicate in the near future. 


Lance staggered out of the way as Alfor literally dove into Red’s mouth. 

“Well!” The king chuckled as he stood and dusted himself off. “That was close!” Alfor turned and looked around, tapping his chin with a finger as no immediate exit presented itself. 

“Hm… now, how are we supposed to get out?” 

Uhhh… didn’t Alfor design the Lions?  Why was he asking him? Lance exchanged a glance with the side of Red’s mouth, shrugging at the mutual, though smug tinted, confusion the Lion sent his way. 

He started as a hand suddenly flashed before his face. Once again, he hadn’t even seen the king move. Alfor across the small space and then there in the beat of a heart.

“Hello? Anyone in there? Ah!” Alfor grinned and tapped his knuckles gently, for an altean, against Lance’s forehead. “Back from dancing with the tinkulins then?”

Lance grumbled and rubbed at the small mark. Alfor tapped his fist against the wall. “Now… perhaps…”

He let the king alone to his tapping and muttering.

Why would he need to go anywhere else?

This was the safest place in the universe. There was no comparison. No other like it. Safe and warm-

Lance frowned. That wasn’t… something wasn’t right. He pulled at the collar on his shirt, feeling overheated. Thoughts of deep water and rippling tides and, oddly, seaweed bread suddenly swirling through the flickering pulse in his head. 

Why… would he need to stay in the Red Lion? 

Well, because it was safe. 

Safe from what? What… was he hiding from? 

A thundering crash jolted Lance first from his train of thought and then physically into the wall he was leaning against. He had just enough time to catch himself before the floor rocked upwards, hurling the pair of them further down the hallway. 

Well, okay, possibly whatever is causing THAT!?


Alfor grit his teeth as the walls shook around them, boots braced for any amount of traction as Red, most likely, threw her head back. Lanzakrasni bounced past, yelping as his bare hands slid helplessly along the opposite wall. 

“Alfor! You need to get to the cockpit! The Blu-”

Melanor’s voice cut off. The grind of metal against metal eclipsing any other noise for long, torturous, ticks. Alfor slapped a hand to one ear, finding the cacophony utterly deafening as he suffered through the results of what must be a strike from within the Red Lion as well as the transmitted ones from outside. The hallway shifted once more, the Red Lion lowering her head. Lanzakrasni skidded back towards Alfor, all flailing limbs and exasperated panic.

The king pressed forward, reeling the boy in close while the floor beneath them remained stable. 

“Melanor?” 

Another clash rang through the connection. Alfor hardly noticed the lack of vibrations. 

“Melanor?!”

“I’m sorry…” The boy’s voice is soft, almost thready. 

“This,” Alfor muttered, cautious of what loud noises might do to the cuban caught within the storm of Red’s mood, “is not your fault.”

“...didn’t move fast enough.”

Alfor tightened his grip. “I’m thankful that was the case. I shudder to think what she might’ve done if you had.” 

Red was the most instinctive of the Lions, much as Blue the most adaptable and Green the most curious. While Alfor would never discount this fact he may have, perhaps, grown a bit complacent. 

We are going to talk, dear one. 

The rumbling refusal was muted, almost petulant. 

Yes. But first, you are going to let the boy go

The quintessence swirling beneath his fingertips was not the boy’s own.

That flicker of self, the thrumming pulse he’d felt so clearly on the flight back, nowhere to be found. Instead, Red preened smugly beneath his senses. Their quintessence curled tightly around not only the boy’s core but threaded through each vein. Like a felaed with only one kit. 

A shock of affront, water thrown on hot metal, jerked within him. 

Alfor pressed the image more firmly towards his Lion. The overbearing circular form, spine twisted into a barrier between the world and the near-suffocated kit pressed against the mother’s belly. 

Red’s presence grew more prominent, flickering to life with a swath of indignant outrage. They were not stifling! Their Chosen was threatened. Their small-pilot, barely a cub, was not-well. Was without-armor, without defense against-

Defense against what, exactly. The king demanded.

A swirl of confusion. It was hard to remember that, for all of their great power, the Lions were still young themselves. There was still much for them to learn, to see, to feel. At times, it was deeply humbling to realize that they, the paladins, were the true gateways of the Lions into this world. Other times, however, it felt a great deal like looking after a rather large set of toddlers. Toddlers with access to the most advanced weaponry in the galaxy and the inherit knowledge of how to use them.

What sort of threat could the Blue Lion, Red’s sibling and usually closest confidant, continue to be to Lanzakrasni? 

There was a delicate pause. A fragile, spinning moment of consideration. Then, 

...MINE?

Alfor swiped a hand down his face at the hesitant reply. Oh, for the love of the great Celestials.

Where was Coran when you needed him?


Alfor nursed his headache as Red continued to ramble frantically.

WILL STEAL. WILL TAKE. WILL FAIL TO PROTECT-!

Which was, as far as Red was concerned, tantamount to causing harm. 

It had been going on along this vein for nearly eighty-five ticks now. At least Red had more or less settled down. Still, they remained no closer to knowing how the Blue Lion’s quintessence came to be in the cuban’s core. 

They knew only that it was there. Only what it had wrought and what had been wrought in turn in attempt to remove it.

You, Alfor thought none too kindly, have done no better by him. 

That garnered a reaction. A keen of shock, followed by absolute denial. 

Scarred flesh, inflamed veins, forcibly chiseled-out nodes; needed and necessary to vent the veritable surge of quintessence the Red Lion had shoved into the boy. The desperate funneling of electricity and heat and power, far more than the mortal form could hope to contain. 

Even now, even still, they held him down and burned through what remained. Sloughing away at the ice left in the child’s core and venting the rest of that power out into the unshielded form. 

He is not an alchemist. Alfor railed against the denial Red sent his way. He has not trained for this, body or mind. He is not Altean! 

MINE. CAN WITHSTAND. WILL WITHSTAND. STRONG.

“Not alone.” Alfor shook his head, hand firmly clasped along the boy’s carpal nodes. Desperately keeping time along that flickering pulse. “Not yet.” 

Silence. 

The stillness of it all, both within and without, was paradoxically deafening. 

“Aflor?”

The king heaved a sigh of relief, drawing Lanzakrasni closer as his wife’s voice rang clear and sweet over the transmitter. 

“I am here.”

Her returning relief was palpable.

“The room is clear. The Lions have returned to their individual bays.”

Alfor hummed, contemplating simply gathering the boy in his arms and carrying him. A red-rimmed eye glared up at him. He slowly allowed the boy to rise, one arm wrapped carefully about the other.

“And how close is Hashaan to mutiny today?”

“I do believe our return will proceed exactly as scheduled.”

Alfor winced. Close, then. He could not fault the medic. As Red’s quintessence withdrew, Lanzakrasni’s was slow to rise to the fore. The circulation a trickle in a river’s bed. Red having once again altered the boy’s existing structure.

Melanor, as usual, was correct. The central bay, usually filled with at least three Lions, was empty. Alfor stopped halfway down the ramp, hardly feeling the impact as Lanzakrasni staggered back into his side, distracted by the large claw-marks raking the side of the Blue Lion’s hangar doors.

He gestured wordlessly to Honerva who shrugged and deftly sidestepped the veritable herd of medical personnel who almost politely trample Alfor in their haste to get to the little anomaly that is Red’s Chosen. 


Lance grimaces as the medics swarm over them. Hashaan looks like he wants, very badly, to thwap some sense into him with that ever present pad. 

He’s very grateful that ‘first do no harm’ seems to be universal. 

There is, however, a lot of hovering and muttering and frankly far more wires hooked up to him than he considers necessary. 

He feels fine! Maybe a bit woozy but nowhere near the exhaustion that'plagued him the last few weeks. 

By the time he’s on the pod-bed he feels almost better than fine. Nearly as good as it’d felt to fly, even. Maybe if he could get back out and-

I think I’ve actually, literally, been grounded.

Only the faintest trickle of humor answers him back. Lance frowns, unsettled and then a little freaked out. Has he actually gotten used to Red living in the back of his head? Reading his thoughts and moods and running commentary? 

...Yeah, he realizes quietly, he has. 

This silence feels more like what he remembers of Blue. 

It’s lonely. 


Hashaan does not commit mutiny that day. 

This likely has as much to do with the medic’s famously even temperament as it does Lanzakrasni’s surprisingly good health. The updates pinging in real time on his pad imply that the boy stabilized before they even manage to seat him in the medical bay. His condition only continuing to improve even over the course of examinations and tests. 

Alfor rubs two fingers over the corner of his pad. No matter that it ended well, it’s a worrying development. The Red Lion should in no way be so integrated into the child’s system or psyche as to have stopped him from leaving. 

He can feel Honerva’s smug stare drilling into the side of his head.

She does, at least, wait until the last of the lingering personnel have walked through the door. 

“I’m amazed he’s not dead.”
Alfor rolls his eyes and links his arm with hers. “Yes, yes, your powers of observation are unmatched.” 

She scoffs, knocking her weight against him for a moment before ducking her head in a grin. 

“Oh, don’t smile just yet.” 

Honerva peers up at Alfor from the corner of her eyes.

“...why.”

A blinding grin, innocent as it is sunny, breaks across the king’s face. 

“I have a feeling you’re not quite done with each other yet.” 

“What?!”

The king, still grinning, shrugged.

“No. Oh, no. He’s fine !” She waved a hand at where the boy had disappeared down the corridor. “Between your crazy stunts and insistence on flagrantly disregarding everyone else’s council, I’d say he’s almost fit .” She smirked, “He definitely fits your mantle.” 

“Ah, but he’s such an interesting case study. Foreign quintessence interacting in a true-neutral system? Evidence of a previously stagnant system acting as a conduit to not one, but two Lions? And the present host has yet to show any altered characteristics?”

Honerva twitched and the king knew he had her. 

“You will not bribe me here with science.”

Alfor hummed. 

“Alfor!” 


He wasn’t alone for long, though. 

Ifrin showed up a few hours later, bearing a whole set of clothes and a lecture. Pajamas (trimmed in a very specific shade of red, he notices) coats, the softest boots Lance has ever seen nevermind felt and five more of the vest-like tops and pants he’d selected from the room all those weeks ago. These, though, are uniform in color (also with a red motif, how creative) and, he notices as he pulls them on, clearly made specifically for him.

Which was, you know, a little creepy.

Lance supposed they had plenty of time to figure out his shoe size while he was in the medical bay, he just wished he’d been awake for it was all.

Ifrin seems a bit miffed that Lance hadn’t waited to be properly returned to his room, and thusly his closet, before leaving the castle. Apparently, wearing borrowed clothing just ‘wasn’t done’ for ‘someone of his station’.

It’s a little uncomfortable. Not the clothes, those were fantastic, but the whole concept that he had whatever a ‘station’ was… it was just weird. He could get his head around being a ‘Big Deal’ when they’d literally been driving a genocidal maniac out of people’s homes - but all this over being able to fly a lion?

“My Lady worries for you.”

“Huh?” 

Lance shakes himself from his reverie and looks up into Melanor and Ifrin’s twin stares of polite amusement. He blinks and turns that over in his head, ‘Lady’ not ‘Queen’... 

“Wait-”

Ifrin smiles and Lance has all of half a second to blink and realize why it looks so familiar before, “Lady Melanor tasked me with looking after you. I have to say, it’s been far more enjoyable than I had hoped!” 

He’s staring. Melanor giggles, light and airy and every hair on Lance’s neck stands on end. 

The Queen of Altea and the Lady of, well, heck, possibly a shadowy organization of assassins and spies and oh, God, Kolivan had nothing on this woman, smiles beneficently down at him. 

“I was terribly concerned when news of your arrival reached my ears. Truly, the conditions were… suspicious.” The smile doesn’t waver an inch. “Fortunately, Ifrin was kind enough to humor my request of keeping an eye on you.” 

Each word falls like flower petals from the queen’s lips. Their meaning, however, was far heavier. 

“And by ‘looking after’ you mean…” Lance trailed off with a gulp, slowly growing aware of just how dependent he’s been on the castle’s hospitality and Ifrin’s quiet presence these past weeks. 

“Oh nothing of consequence now.” Melanor waved the issue away with one hand. “I am so glad to have gotten to meet you! You’ll make a wonderful Paladin of Voltron one day.” Her pink eyes near glowed with fondness.

The terrifying thing is, of course, that Lance genuinely believes she means that. He struggles not to make a face at her last comment as the enormity of everything starts to fall into place. 

“Wait WHAT!?”

He feels less like he’s passed some sort of test and more like he ought to be kissing the ground. It's uncomfortably similar to the split-second feeling he gets after dodging live-fire.

The alteans continue to smile. 

Lance eyes his apparent minder, and at one point potential executioner because that’s his life now, for a long minute. “...All that and you couldn’t warn me about breakfast?”

Melanor burst out into that same startled laughter she had the day they met. “Oh, you were right! He is funny, Ifrin!” 

The other snatches the pillow before Lance can suffocate himself with it. 

“I live to serve.”


There’s a certain relief to being alone.

That’s not a new thought. There was a time, though, when Lance didn’t have a true understanding of what ‘alone’ meant. Growing up, he wasn’t ever really alone. There was always someone at home, or about to be home. Always the horses or chickens or barn-cats or rat-dogs to keep company. Even the roofs and lofts he shared with the bats and owls and seabirds. 

Then the Garrison and with it roommates and cafeterias and a totally different lack of privacy.

He felt a part of him reaching and rolled to the side, curling inwards. 

The silence creeps back in.

Space, he’d quickly discovered, was more than silence. 

Lance lays in the dark for a long moment, brain churning over, well, everything. 

Despite the yoga and food and company, he has trouble falling asleep. Guess its time to go walkabout...

(He makes three passes around the floor his room is on before he finally feels that restlessness recede. It has very little to do with attempting to count the number of assassins he might have walked past that day.)


Melanor looks at the faux-serene boy half pretzled on the ground. “That’s not meditation.” 

A blue eye peeks up at her as he swung his limbs around to sit criss-cross-applesauce. 

“It’s cool though, right?” 

“Very.” She agreed with a small laugh. The queen plopped down next to Lanzakrasni, crossing her legs in a good approximation. 

When Alfor had finally returned to the castle the last she expected to hear was a report on newfound abilities of the Lions, a surge in quintessence circulation, and, of course, the sudden heart-stopping call for aid as the Red Lion broke every unspoken rule of hangar-etiquette in half a varga.

Such developments made it difficult to entice her husband away from his friends and back to his throne. 

Still, based off all the scans, the boy’s quintessence was finally circulating and even she knew that was a vast improvement from where he once began. The queen smirked to herself. No wonder Honerva had shadowed them all the way to the practice salle. Compared to before, the boy must finally feel as though he were alive to the researcher. Speaking of which…

“What, like, am I at one with the ‘harmony of the universe’?” He drew himself up, sitting almost comically straight-backed as he waved his hands in a grandiose fashion. “In resonance with all my metaphysical parts?”

The queen waited for a beat before shrugging. “Yeah, why not. Go for it.” Red’s Chosen cracked up again, doubling over a little and ruining the tight-spined posture he’d been holding. 

He’s doing well, recovering. Spectuarly, actually, given just what and who he’s recovering from. Most cases of disrupted quintessence did not resolve themselves so neatly. Or, she thought as the boy tried to stifle his giggles and shifted into a new pose, so happily. 

Even fully trained alteans could fall if one disrupted their systems enough. 

She would know.

The fact that the boy hadn’t keeled over, had hardly even noticed such a disruption according to Alfor, was... concerning. But that was for the long run.

In the short run, it means she’ll need to teach the boy how to guard against outside quintential influences… which means mediation. The queen sighed, her posture not sagging for a tick, as the boy wobbled precariously, stilled, and then shot a nervous look over at her.

Lots and lots of meditation. Joyus. 


Honerva, the purple haired altean, has been lurking for the better part of an hour now. 

She hasn’t said anything but Lance can feel her rolling her eyes even as he pushes up into a hand-stand. Lance still isn’t sure just what she does on the castle and, after Ifrin, he’s a little afraid to ask. He’s pretty sure she’s not a medic though. 

He catches Melanor’s eye and sees a truly cheeky grin stretch across the queen’s face. She looks so much like Allura when the princess threw Blue into her first barrel roll that Lance drops into a curl for an excuse to look away. 

It doesn’t take him long to work out what that grin means on Melanor. An errant comment here, a weird remark there. None of them, he’s quick to work out, directed at him or what he’s trying to accomplish. 

He does his best to keep working, something about moving the energy inside him, but figures it shouldn't hurt anyone if he makes a few noises of agreement or understanding every now and then.

It works like a charm. 

Lance watches on, impressed, as Melanor totally baits the other altean. The queen is using six-syllable words, none of which he understands, and is clearly misapplying theories left and right. He watches the queen continue on, biting down on her grin as she misapplies theories and facts, watching Honerva twitch, and then baiting her friend again.

Honerva falls for it completely, hook, line, the whole reel, and sinker. 

It’s almost beautiful to watch and for an eerie instant, Lance thinks he gets why Pidge does this sort of thing so often. 

He takes a deep breath and tries to focus on the actual task at hand as Honerva’s twitching evolves into a full fledged lecture. He closes his eyes and reaches.

It feels indescribably weird. 

He pulls a little harder, reaches a little farther, feels something flicker and spool into the cup of his hands.

It’s alive.

Like… having a second heartbeat? Only nothing so quiet. 

It’s a bit like taking deep breaths. There’s a sort of conscious choice about it in the moment. You know you’re breathing all the time, have to be, and you know that even when you’re not thinking about it you’re still taking in air to remain conscious. But when you focus on it, you realize how little air you’re getting per breath and-

Lance shakes his head, ironically taking a deep breath. He figures it's something that’ll start to happen without his notice. Has, actually, started without him noticing if the subtle scans Melanor keeps flashing him behind Honerva’s lecturing back are to be believed. 

But so far his progress of, for lack of better understanding, taking those deep breaths is slow going. To him, every shift feels massive. The scanners pointed at him beg to differ though. He’s moving in increments. Just scraping the layer of fresh snow off an ice cap-

Lance starts a little as Melanor golf claps politely. His eyes flutter open and he bites back on the reflexive yelp. There’s a scanner pointed almost directly between his eyes. He rocks back a bit to avoid being poked in the face. Honerva scowls until the machine beeps and then goes expressionless as she flips through the data. 

“Huh.” Whatever she sees there is enough to warrant an impressed eyebrow raise. Lance is well accustomed to shocking those out of people so he knows them when he sees them. 

“You must have an amazingly receptive system.” Honerva says.

Lance isn’t sure that’s a compliment. She drops to the floor to sit before him and hauls his hands over into her lap. She peels back the black medical bracers before he can so much as yip in surprise. 

“Hm…” The alchemist rotates her wrists before wiggling her fingers. “What happens if I just...” 

Red sparks light around her fingers, swirling along for a moment with the wiggling motions before drifting down in streams over Lance’s bared skin. 

He feels it when the first one touches down, like the first raindrop in a storm. It’s a surprise. Not painful but enough to make him jerk in response. There’s a moment where it feels a little like drinking too much water, that unignorable sloshing, slightly-too-cool sensation. Except instead of lapping at his throat it’s running backwards through his veins.

“Amazing!” Honerva moves to snatch up his wrist, fingers brightening as she increases the quintessence flow, and then the room explodes.


Honerva goes flying, flung halfway across the training salle. Purple hair slips from the tight bun at the force and wind as she deftly turns her impending crash into a skidding landing with a self-correcting flip. 

“Whoof!” 

The room is still spinning. Between the shock and the flip she’s a little woozy. It takes her long moments to realize the dripping-burning sensation isn’t quintessence but rather blood slipping down her fingers. 

She stares, mutely, down at her hands as the headrush slowly fades. 

Honerva rubs her fingers together, ignoring the pain in favor of feeling out the still burning quintessence chewing away at her.

“Ah.” She says and looks across the room. 

Melanor is braced against the far wall clearly less thrown there by the explosion than her, successful of course, bid to catch the boy from the backlash.

“That is one possessive Lion.”

“Yes, thank you Onnie, I hadn’t realized we were still testing that thesis.”

She tucked the fly-away locks behind a pointed ear and started back across the room. “No need to get sassy with me, Mel.” 

“Oh, an unstudied system! Oh, he doesn’t even know how to regulate his quintessence! Let’s introduce a non-neutral pulse into the equation and see-”

The boy groaned as if to remind them that he was still in the room. Melanor lowered her hands, pouting as her gentle mockery was cut short. It really was a tragedy of a sort. She so rarely had the opportunity to cut loose. 

“Are you well, Rasni?”

The boy blinked and shook his head slightly. Honerva followed suit, a bit surprised at the change of address. 

“Rasni?” She echoed. 

Melanor grinned girlishly. “I think it suits him!”

Honerva rolled her eyes. Melanor’s nick-names had always been strange and they’d only felt stranger the longer she spent on Dibazaal. 

“At least this one doesn’t mangle his name too badly.”

A hand darted out to flick away her bangs, “Don’t pretend not to like your’s, Onnie.” 

Red’s Chosen looked a little rattled. “What just happened?”

“Your Lion, that’s what happened.” Honerva adjusted her pad and scanned him, eagerly flipping through the data as it loaded. “...besides, it ought to be ‘Krasnya’.” 

“Aw! Onnie, that’s so sweet!”

The boy, however, squinted, clearly catching the edge on Honerva’s smile. Not as dull as he looked, then.

“...Do I want to know why she’s smiling at me like that?”

“Probably not.”

He let that sink in for a moment. “Okay.” Then, “Hey, do you think we could use one of the pads to record some of this?” 


Alfor grinned as yet another video loaded. Melanor, it seemed, was having a great deal of fun tutoring young Lanzakrasni. 

Though ‘Krasnya’ is an adorable diminutive… food for thought!

He leaned in closer to share the screen with his companion. The boy scrambled across the screen, cartwheeling and twisting out the way as both women took turns tossing soft blocks in attempt to knock him off balance. One aggressively thrown block pegs the cuban right in the head and he falls to the floor with a thud.

“I think some basic awareness training would do him well, what do you think?”

“It certainly wouldn’t hurt.”

Alfor huffed at Zarkon’s dry reply. “I think he’s doing quite well!”

“Hmm…”

The altean king felt his ears itch. That lack of consideration boded ill. Between the Red Lion’s increasing paranoia and Lanzakrasni’s initial reaction, if incoherent screaming could be considered a proper reaction, to Zarkon; no one was feeling confident in the child’s potential to properly form the Sword of Voltron. 

He looked sideways at his closest friend. “Perhaps if you spent some time with the boy while I am away?” The king rolled his eyes at the other’s silence, deciding a different route was required. “Unless you plan on producing a Chosen for Black, you will end up working with him in some capacity within the next ten deca-phoebs.”

Zarkon sighed, put upon as usual by his eccentric friend.

“Very well.”

“Excellent! Now,” Alfor grinned, “I’ve just had a wonderful idea with regards to assisting with Lanzakrasni’s meditation. And since I shan’t be here, I feel it’s only fair that...” 

Chapter Text

“What?!”

Alfor rubbed his pinky in one long ear. “I said we are departing for Altea. Melanor and I are near overdue for a visit. I shudder to think what should happen were Coran to run out of stories.”

Utterly unlikely is Lance’s first thought shortly followed by, “But why do you have to go? You’re the Red Paladin.” 

Alfor blinks as though surprised and then smiles broadly, as though Lance has just said something both shocking and pleasing all at once. 

“Ah! I agree completely! Despite Melanor’s best efforts, however, I remain relatively needed on Altea.” 

“‘Relatively needed’,” Honerva scoffed. “You’re the king, Alfor. Celestials know she’s capable but Melanor cannot actually run both the Court and the government simultaneously.” She smirked, “Besides, someone needs to keep the throne warm for Allura.”

“Honerva!” Alfor slapped a hand over his chest and rocked back a little as though struck. “Just for that, I’m leaving you in charge of Rasni’s meditation!” 

Two heads snapped over to stare at each other in shock.

WHAT?

Ah, music to his ears.


Lance slid lower in his seat, beyond glad that the altean laughing at his elbow today was Ifirn. Breakfast was still a bizarre affair. He had yet to work out what made it more formal than lunch or dinner, which were half-staffed by comparison and thus not nearly as intense, but maybe it could be chalked up to yet another cultural difference. 

Remind me to ask about the pool…

A flicker of amusement, then silence.

No poking, no prodding. No reel of memories and smells-touch-similar flashing behind his eyes as smoothly as though he were just reviewing them himself. 

There’s something wrong with me. I should not miss such an invasive- inva- invasion of privacy!

Haashaan and a quartet of medics assured him that the distance was a natural side effect of his own quintessence strengthening but Lance wasn’t so sure that was the case.

Red’s moods ebbed and flowed and while it was probably a little pretentious to think he could guilt trip the sentient war machine... he was totally getting reactions when he guilted the sentient war machine. Which meant that it had way less to do with any sort of buffer and a lot more to do with however Red was feeling about him and his ‘privacy’ at any given moment. 

Lance suspected Alfor was behind the sudden peace and quiet. The king was all kinds of smug when he boarded that shuttle. 

Then again, Lance thought as he eyed Zarkon warily over his kovrach, that could just have something to do with the schedule Ifrin sent him. 

He wasn’t eager to learn what ‘Bayard Mediation’ entailed. 


Murder-bots. 

It entailed, Lance snarled internally, being locked in the diddly-darn training room with seemingly endless waves of training droids coded with strict instructions to try and take his head off. 

Ie: murder bots.

Lance kicked away from another raised platform, shot two droids through the head, nice of them to line up like that, and tumbled to the ground as a staff swung through the air where his head had been. 

He missed that white armor. It hadn’t flattered him but it was better than nothing. 

Lance swung, slicing the thrusting arm off one coming at him from his right, and hurled the disarmed, heh, weapon at the one approaching from the left before it could dissolve. 

He tried not to picture what that lack of dissolution might mean if he were the one to lag behind.

There was a brief respite as the floor rearranged itself beneath him. He hopped from tile to tile until he caught one that shot several feet towards the ceiling and, thankfully, stopped. 

He’d had to throw himself off of one earlier when he realized it wasn’t going to slow down before it merged with the roof (and consequently turned him into paste). He swore he could hear Blaytz laughing at him for that one.

A sentry droid floats up and tries to take a potshot at him from a blindspot. He shoots the little sphere through its eyeball with great prejudice before he was forced to abandon his perch as three of its little friends swarmed him to avenge their fallen comrade.

“What part of this is meditative?!


Some of the schedule made sense. 

With the exception of the totally irrational and pervasive violence, it actually reminded him of being back at the Garrison.

Alfor had blocked space off for meals, including the weird fourth-meal that alteans apparently took half an hour before dinner proper, and then divvied up the rest of the ‘day’ between different types of training.

One was just revision of the sword forms Alfor had drilled into him over the last month. Which was, while pretty boring to do on his own, sort of nice in a repetitively thoughtless way. It was also pretty easy for him to set his own breaks during that period, unlike the other two sessions.  The other two combat sections were, shocker, pretty much the same as ‘bayard meditation’ just with notifications that he wasn’t to actually use his bayard. After the early morning murder attempts, anything that didn’t involve live weapons sounded pretty nice.

He was, of course, wrong.

Training Type One, no seriously they were just numbered - there weren’t any names on the schedule, involved a floor that moved like a treadmill. It varied in speeds, which was sort of nice as that meant there were times where the floor barely moved at all, but also never stopped moving which sucked.

Another tally in the ‘suck’ category was that it also had a mean tendency to change directions. There were flashing arrows that signaled when the change was going to occur, and in what direction, but Lance had a nasty suspicion that the warning time lessened as the session went on.

Whether he was right or just exhausted by the end of those bouts was pretty irrelevant given he had no way to adjust the simulation. His bruises were going to be spectacular. There was a lot to be said for slamming bodily into a wall at over five miles an hour.

Tort-err Training number two thankfully didn’t have as many moving parts. It also, unfortunately, busted his theory that his being (theoretically - he was never leaving his bayard behind ever again. He learned that lesson, alright? He still jogged past the airlocks.) bayardless meant he wouldn’t be in any sort of combat scenario. 

He was wrong. He was so very wrong. 

Hand to hand combat? Sucked really hard when your opponent couldn’t feel pain. 

His usual repertoire of cheap shots, spastic squirming and the general, bizarre yet infallible, self-defense tactics all younger siblings eventually develop to evade their elder’s grasp, had no effect whatsoever on those soulless hunks of junk. He wasn’t sure that he was learning anything other than how to flee for his life.

Thankfully, Ifirin was hovering in the wings and the medical bay (which was one heck of a translation on Red’s part, because the written word for ‘medical bay’ actually read as ‘medical combatant training area’ which, yikes) was only a short hobble away. The fact that there were already visits worked into his schedule really should have tipped him off as to the nature of the ‘training’, but hindsight was twenty-twenty.

Of course it wasn’t as simple as hopping into a healing pod, noooo. They just had to sync him up to several machines and stick him with needles (which, come on, hadn’t they advanced past the need to stab people to help them?) and generally hover ominously as the machines hummed and spat out nebulous graphs and numbers. 

Lance sighed, winced as the shift put pressure on a particularly nasty bruise, and then leapt half an inch to the left as four heads whipped around to stare at him. 

“I’m fine! ” 

...He was not going to miss those voice-cracks, that was for sure. 

Hashaan flowed into the room, all smooth lines and teal-trimmings and seriously. Hashaan. Fruit basket. One of these days. 

“Other than the bruising and the- Hm.” 

Lance peered up at the blue haired altean. He didn’t like ‘hmms’. He really didn’t like them when they came from consummate medical professionals with regards to his being. “‘Hm’ what?” 

The medic shook himself, “Ah… nothing of note. Just an irregularity with the readings.” Hashaan tapped the screen at the end of the podbed and what looked a lot like an x-ray projected into the air. There were mottled colors, probably the bruising he thought sorely, over the whole of what looked a lot like an outline of Lance. Most frightening were the jagged, red lines spider-webbing across his left leg below the knee.

“There was an initial flag with regards to several fractures along your fibula.”

Well that didn’t sound good- “Wait, ‘was’?”

Hashaan closed down the projection. “Yes, was. As in, no longer.” He smiled. “As I said, just an irregularity. Our systems are not yet calibrated to handle the output-capacity available to the Lions of Voltron. Due to your… unique situation it would seem that their residual quintessence may still be lingering in your system. Nothing so drastic as, well, nothing so drastic.” The smile dropped into a scowl, “It does, however, complicate even the most simple of readings.” 

“Uh… sorry?”

Hashaan shook his head, smile returning. “No worries. We have ample time assigned to combat this problem!” 

Lance felt his stomach fall as Ifirin, who came out of freaking nowhere - stupid ninja, passed him another padd. 

Hashaan was right. The ‘medical combat training sessions’, which post pin-cushioning was making way more sense as a translation, were spaced through the day. One before breakfast, one after lunch and two after the meditation sections. 

Which was where Honerva came in. 


Honerva was an exacting teacher. 

His first instinct was to call her a perfectionist.

Two days in, Lance was hit with the realization that Honerva wasn’t so much concerned with methods as she simply was focused on results. Which, at this point, could mostly be classified as breathing in funny rhythms and trying to get his quintessence readings to match a pattern Honerva picked out. He wasn’t having great success at the latter. Given that he’d only just discovered he had quintessence, like, three days prior he thought he was doing pretty well in being able to move it at all. 

Honerva disagreed. 

If they hadn’t been in a relatively nice room with pillows and other furnishings Lance would have worried that she was going to summon the murder-bots to incite results. Luckily, though, it looked like Melanor had helped with the lesson plans.

(Speaking of the bots, he’d also realized that caging or corralling the droids worked just as well as the last time he’d done it. Better, even, since the training room was now on a timer for each session. It was a good day all around for epiphanies.) 

But, yeah, ‘results-orientated’ was something he could work with. Lance thrived off coming at things from odd angles. It was refreshing to have an instructor who didn’t care if he paced while he read or wanted to run the thought process through while upside down. So long as he got it done, down, and could replicate his results when prompted, the alchemist would just nod, make some notes in that pad of hers and move on to the next thing. 

Maybe if it’d just been Honerva, it wouldn’t have been so bad. 

Lance took another deep breath, did his best to imagine… something, water, maybe, rising within him and did his best to keep his eyes closed and not slide over to the looming figure behind him.

Because it wasn’t just Honerva.

Every lesson, without fail, the great purple elephant himself would make an appearance. Given Lance spent as much time as possible during these sessions trying to stretch out the soreness from the prior two he wasn’t always sure when Zarkon, terror of all peace, evil mad man of the… huh, how did one condense several thousand years down into a catchy unit? 

“Is that entirely productive to the lesson?”

Lance opened one eye and peeked over, ignoring the vertigo that came with being upside down with practice. The emperor once again looked distressingly concerned as he scowled at Lance. 

Then again, Lance counted pretty much every discernable emotion on the galra’s face as distressing. Zarkon wasn’t supposed to look confused or alarmed or concerned. Those were normal emotions. They were people emotions. 

“Does he have to be here?”

Mass murders didn’t count as people. They shouldn’t be allowed to look anything but evil or maniacal. 

They really shouldn’t pull off ‘worried’ half as well as Zarkon was currently emoting. 

Honerva did not look up from her padd. “He’s fine.”

The scourge of the stars frowned at the altean woman before returning to watching Lance with an air of ominous anticipation. 

It’s like he’s just waiting for something to go wrong.

The anxious dread was doing wonders to chip away at the weird distance between him and Red but he’d really rather forgo a future bonding moment built on his possible demise. 

You’d at least tell Alfor I was in trouble, right? 

A quiet purr, less like the internal-earthquake he’d gotten used to and more like a hover-bike’s near soundless engine, rumbled over his jangled nerves. 

The first day he’d simply loomed and paced along the edges of the room. Honerva had rolled her eyes, shot the towering galra one exasperated look and then ignored the emperor entirely. 

Lance wasn’t nearly as successful in the same endeavor. He took another deep breath, trying to imagine the weird wavelength he was supposed to be replicating today, and shoved against the floor until his heels knocked against the wall. 

Come on. Come on, you can do this. Big wave, little wave, squiggly squiggly, big wave. 

It was worse that Zarkon had taken his silence today as some sort of invitation to engage. 

“Do you not have bones to prevent such motions? Does this not compromise the integrity of your organs? Has your circulatory system evolved to compensate for full inversion?”

Lance yelped and slid down the wall as a crash interrupted Zarkon’s stream of questions. 

Honerva sighed loudly, foot still raised from her kick. She glared down at her padd, frustrated with whatever it was telling her. Lance and Zarkon slowly turned away from the shattered remains of what was once a side table back to the frustrated alchemist. Honerva huffed, threw her hands into the air and stomped over to sit on the ground at Zarkon’s side.

Lance whistled, “Altean strength just isn’t fair.”

The galra smirked, a conspiratory flash of amusement lighting his eyes. “Altean ‘strength’ is a terrible misnomer. They circulate their quintess- oof!

Lance watched, wide-eyed, as the emperor slid a few inches to the left. Honerva pulled her elbow from Zarkon’s side as though it were nothing more than a simple swat. Lance blinked, recalling flying training droids and absent flicks.

“Wait- wait, wait, wait! If I work out how to move quintessence I can learn to do that?”

Honerva raised an eyebrow, ignoring the amused look Zarkon shot her as he scooted back towards her side. “Let’s focus on breathing first.”


Why is it, Lance thinks as he walked towards the temporary lab, I’m always surrounded by geniuses with no self-care skills?

He remembered why that results-focused behavior was so familiar now. 

He hadn’t meant for it to turn out this way.

I see a genius and I have to just… feed it, apparently.  

Or, he considered, as the flask full of water sloshed cheerfully, make sure it’s hydrated and not sleeping on a laboratory floor somewhere.

Sure, Hunk could cook a mean meal and Pidge could explode her way out of a full security prison. But the man would starve to death before he’d remember to feed himself and Pidge more often than not had to be scanned for, set to rights, and carried back to their room after pulling consecutive all-nighters. 

Don’t even get him started on Keith.

So really, it wasn’t any surprise that he’d ended up here. It was only a matter of time. 

Here, of course, being a dimly lit laboratory armed only with his natural charms, a large skin of that flavored water and a dinner tray laden with a mix of altean and galran foodstuffs swiped from the dining hall. 

Which, had, he’d like noted, been a task and a half. 

It’d been really touch and go with Zarkon. 

Lance wasn’t sure what the story was there, and frankly given the parts he did know having an incomplete picture was bound to be less heartbreaking, but the guy sure was possessive of the altean woman’s time. 

Lance wasn’t sure if he was grateful that there were fewer dining staff at dinner or more worried about the lack of witnesses should he suddenly go missing.

You’d rescue me, wouldn’t you Red?

Lance really thought he was gonna get stabbed or spaced the first time the galra emperor caught him throwing a blanket over the alchemist’s sleeping form. The ‘throwing’ and turned pretty literal having nearly leapt out of his boots when the emperor rose out of the shadows. No one that big had any right being so stealthy! He wore a cape for cripes sake! 

The stilted, half-spoken ‘conversation’, if you can call three sentences and a bajillion death glares a conversation, as Lance smuggled the foodstuff onto a tray beside his feet was practically friendly by comparison. 

He hoped Honerva liked some of this stuff. While he was insanely grateful for the veritable spread, and utter lack of goo, food was still pretty hit or miss. Ifrin had, sort of ironically now that he thought about it, saved his life at least twice today alone via knocking spoons and cups out of his hands. Hashaan’s precious list pulled up and clutched dearly in his hands. 

Lance balanced the tray along his arm as he jimmied the case off the door lock. He’d basically grabbed everything he’d liked so far figuring that it was a pretty safe bet. After a few moments of fiddling with the glowing innards, the door slid open and he stepped through. 

True to form, Honerva is still awake. The alchemist bent rigidly over some sort of scanner, eye pressed what looked a lot like a microscope as she sifted blindly through data with her free hand. Urgh, his spine ached just looking at her. 

“Hey Honerva.” 

Lance leaned to the side, narrowly avoiding the reflexively hurled slide case. He kindly ignored the high pitched yelp that had accompanied the hurled object, long used to the reaction. 

“Lance!”

He hummed, also used to his name being turned into an expletive. It was funny, his mother said it exactly the same way when he spooked her. Hunk usually just scrambled for cover now-a-days and Pidge, much like Honerva, tended to grab the nearest set of objects and whirlwind them in every direction until she ran out of ammo, which sounded silly unless you were aware of the veritable hordes of junk the little gremlin preferred to work in. Pidge never wanted for ammo. 

Lance sighed as he took in the neglected lunch trays piled up next to her work station. He really hoped he didn’t have to threaten to call Melanor again. While it worked like a charm the last time he’d taken that shot in the dark, Lance wasn’t sure how realistic the threat was and didn’t want it to lose impact besides. 

“I come bearing dinner!”

Cheerful ignorance - it’d powered him through many an awkward situation!

The alchemist rubbed her temples and sighed through her nose. “Zarkon didn’t need to put you up to this. I’m fine.” 

“Um, no. Way off.” Lance said honestly. “I’m pretty sure he’d kill me if he knew I was here. Which, I’d like noted, would be tragically unfair!” 

Honerva scrubbed a hand through her loose hair, wincing as it caught and snared on her fingers. Lance set the tray down, none too subtly atop the scattered samples and data chips, and did his best to conceal the internal grabby hands he was making. 

Honerva side-eyed him, so obviously he didn't conceal them as well as he thought. 

“What.”

Lance took a breath, weighed the pros and cons and likelihood of his dying. She hadn’t thrown more than the one sample, and even that reflexively, so his odds seemed pretty good. Lance shrugged. “Do you want me to braid your hair? To, like, get it out of the way?”

Honerva blinked hard, visibly blindsided for a second by the question. 

“I… suppose that might be acceptable.” 

She sighed and sunk into the backless stool. Flinching only the once as Lance softly set to work on the knots and tangles a full day’s research had built up. 

He plonked the dinner tray down in easy reach, already well aware that Honerva functioned a little more like Keith. She wouldn’t go looking for food, but if you distracted her and there happened to be some within reach? He’d lost track of how many meals he’d tricked their fearless leader into absently putting away by getting him into a pile of coordinates and just putting bowls of goo at his elbow. He nudged the pile of kovrach a little closer. 

“So, how’d the whatchamacallit pan out? You were looking at, uh, phyphotonix?”

“Phyphotonox.” Honerva paused, maybe a little surprised that Lance had remembered what they’d last discussed. Lance, on his part, just nodded. 

“Yeah, that. I mean, the other one didn’t work out.” He paused, remembering the weirdly violet fire he’d hurled that evening’s blanket over. “Because of the, err...”

“The isotopal quintential irradiation integrated with the-”

Yeah, Lance thought as he slowly sectioned off the purple hair and thoughts of home, this was pretty inevitable. 


A clawed hand closed the video feed with a gentle swipe, leaving the progress reports from the Prima Lab of Dibazaal front and center as he made his way down the hall.

He’d been… aggressively suspicious, at first. The boy had integrated himself so swiftly into their lives, into the castle and confidence of those dear to him, with such ready speed that it was hard to imagine a time the boy had not been among them. 

That, above all else, made him more dangerous than most. 

The Red Lion may yet tolerate threats against Alfor. She certainly allowed her paladin to fling himself into trouble more often than not. Worse still, she had already demonstrated a willingness to harm her current paladin in an effort to defend her newly Chosen. 

Melanor, he allowed, was a different story entirely. The Queen of Altea tolerated no threats to her husband. Her will was absolute and her reach, he had found, was nigh limitless. That she allowed the boy to live was telling. That she encouraged communication, that Alfor readily did the same, was another matter altogether. 

He took a long look at the mangled door pad and considered simply stuffing the boy into one of the reading-chambers just to be done with it. 

He was deterred only by the Shadow’s presence… and, he conceded, the Head Medic. While there were several loyal evocators available, it was never wise to mess with one’s primary healer in any capacity. Much less the one with override codes to the entire ship. 

Regardless, the request for Honerva to step in on the child’s lessons left him concerned.

It would seem, though, that she was better off for their introduction. 

The boy had in him an instinct to cultivate he had not seen in some time.

His altean was visibly better rested. Since that first, seemingly random encounter, she has begun making appearances at meals, has been spotted around the castle and, despite being away from her lab, which she professes to loath, her efficiency is up nearly four percent. 

She was, however, falling asleep in the lab with far greater frequency. 

But then again, so was the boy. 

He paused and tilted his head, the better to take in the image before him. 

Exhausted by prying apart the secrets of the universe and running from pretty much every aspect of his training, the pair slumped together against the far wall like a pair of familial felaeds. 

Long purple strands stuck to the corners of the boy’s open mouth as Honerva slid lower onto his shoulder. Zarkon tugged the make-shift cover a little more to the left, deciding that the boy’s additional body heat was sufficient reason enough should anyone ask- he froze, crest rising as he scanned the room. Gold eyes twinkled out at him from the shadows. 

“No need to stop on my account, your excellency.” 

The galran lord cleared his throat, purr choking off into a suppressed cough. 

“As you were, Shadow.” 

Melanor’s tool bowed from the waist as he departed the room, dramatic exit marred by his lack of cape.