-P R O L O G U E-
The paladins have a bet.
It all starts after they'd found Shiro. Well, after Keith had found Shiro. There is an air about the pair, not quite the same as it always had been. Hunk is the first of them to bring it up.
"You think Keith'll confess first?"
"That emotionally constipated shadow creature? No way." Lance, of course. There is no debate about what, exactly, Keith would be confessing. Pidge elbows him for the rather cruel description, true as it may be, and adjusts her glasses.
"I think he will. Shiro's just as bad, and Keith is more spontaneous." Hunk considers her hypothesis with pursed lips and lifted brows. Adrift outside the outskirts of the Hechdyosyn star cluster, they’ve some time to kill.
"You don't think Keith would be too freaked out about ‘ruining their relationship' by adding some love in there? Y'know, the romantic kind." Hunk's take is considerably plausible. There is a back and forth among them, postulates and possibilities all hacked and tossed about before they narrow to their conclusions.
Pidge votes Keith makes first move. Lance bets Shiro. Hunk thinks they'll be dead before anything happens.
"Ow!" Pidge's elbow lands in a soft spot; just below the kidney. Hunk nurses it with a scowl and begrudgingly votes Keith. Lance emulates betrayed theatrics. When Allura happens upon them and inquires, ever the dignified one, she graciously refuses to participate...but it would be Keith, she quips, and skitters off with a smile. Lance gapes.
Their observations begin, and it is indeed a feast. When bothering to look, Keith and Shiro are quite charged. There are lingering touches, prolonged eye contact, the kind of looks that have Hunk, Lance and Pidge leaning in and waiting, holding breath, before Allura clears her throat and they snap back to position. Nothing is quite concrete nor definitively outlined but it reads suspicious and indicative of something quiet and unnamed.
Then, Keith leaves for Marmoran training and Shiro takes up his mantle as Black Paladin, and they think the distance will yield little to witness. Boy, are they wrong. There are bouts of static silence, certainly, but Shiro is pointedly rigid and falls a bit too easily into leader. They pantomime Shiro cracking, dialing Keith up in a momentary lapse of passion and loneliness and professing his love. Well, Lance does anyway, and Hunk can't help his rolling laughter that blooms from the gut at Lance’s claims. Of course it doesn't happen. Shiro is perfection personified.
And Keith? He's scarcely a shadow. Admittedly, they worry. They miss him. They wonder, once, what it must be like for Shiro, who had been there before it all and has something with Keith no one else quite does. It was professional and familial as it began and has, visibly, began to bleed and stain the edges of something different. Pidge wavers. Maybe Shiro will confess first. Perhaps Keith is too emotionally constipated. Allura snickers and playfully bats the green paladin.
"It will unfold naturally." Allura assures, her eyes a glitter of wisdom. She had caved, somewhere along the line. Lance looked like he was enjoying himself far too much to resist and so, she decided, why not?
"I dunno," Hunk starts. Something like concern pinches his brow. "I just... I dunno."
Hunk doesn't elaborate. They don't inquire.
Shiro begins to shift. They see it happening, those subtleties that set off sparks and they've no idea how to navigate it. But they are few and far between, and he's always been a man of practical pursuits. It'll be fine, they think.
There's Lotor, there's the quintessence field, the continuous onslaught of war efforts and missions and the bet is lost in the noise for a time. Keith is still absent and Shiro is somewhat edged; altered; different.
When Keith does return, it’s unexpected, as well as his metamorphosis.
Shiro is bright and dizzy, a semblance of his old self they notice, but a little more clumsy. He stumbles over himself, astonished and distracted and were they not amidst a crisis, the paladins are certain Shiro could have buckled and professed something on the spot.
He doesn’t appear to perform well under that kind of pressure. Plus, Keith is intimidatingly good looking, Lance remarks with characteristic disdain. No sane man would be so rash in front Keith's mother if nothing else.
"A mature assessment, Lance." Pidge praises. Lance takes it well and Allura laughs.
They don't anticipate the assault.
They always knew Shiro is a heavy handed man; a gentle soul who packs a muscled punch that could paint a vision of constellations in your skull and pull you from consciousness with a single strike. They never thought they'd be recipients. He flees, his expression foreign and frightening, and of course, Keith pursues. But it's different this time. There's a bizarre trust among the chaos and anxiety and fear. Keith can do this.
And he does.
Freshly scarred and bright eyed, Keith rejoins the fray with wings spread wide across Black’s back; blades bright like fury across a spray of stars and galaxies.
It's a whirlwind after the fight has finished and the gaping maw of infinite nothingness is compressed into a glittering kernel. A festivity of possibilities spans wide. There's an affection there, between the black paladins. A kind of revelation that's taken form in soft looks, sweet smiles and a kind of independence borne of a confidence they encourage in one another.
The paladins are keen to it.
Their journey through space and toward home, their peripherals are trained to it. No one asks what happened, before the tear across space time nearly enveloped existence in a vast, white swallow, but something definitely did. They postulate in secret as their lions wade through weightless galaxies.
"You think someone confessed? They're real uh...they're somethin'." Hunk's eyebrows wiggle and Lance snorts.
"Hard to say. They're definitely tiptoeing around one another like there's something new there. Or, maybe it's always been there, and they're only just seeing it for the first time!" Lance is excited and Pidge quirks a brow. She thinks he's projecting a little, perhaps, and makes a point to say as much. He scowls, red faced and pointedly evades any curious looks from the princess. Lotor’s absence is too fresh a wound for her, strong as she appears. But Lance is not exactly wrong. That dependency, the desperate, helpless kind isn't there anymore. It's been replaced with a type of assurance. And Shiro glows with pride when he looks upon Keith.
And then, they’re home.
It's a mess; and their bet is put on hold as they save the planet, of course. Everyone's far too preoccupied to do much but fight until their bones are brittle and their voices are rasp and coarse; until they plummet from the sky like the dying tails of firework bursts and scar the earth in a spectrum of color and metal. But they're closer now. Closer together than before.
Or so they thought.
Recovery is a necessity, and with it, some downtime accompanies it at last. Pidge, sporting a band-aid across the bridge of her nose, theorizes.
"If anything's gonna happen, it'll be before we launch." She winces as she adjusts her glasses; forgetting the quite cumbersome injury. They are gathered in Lance’s hospital room, kindly accommodating the most crippled among them. Hunk is preoccupied doodling on Lance's leg cast while Lance simultaneously scribbles on the cast of Hunk's forearm.
"What makes you say that?" His tongue is poked out, concentrated. Allura, the least battered of them, leans in. "Yes, please elaborate!"
"Well..." Pidge shrugs and approaches it as cool and calculated as possible. "We're heading into reality divergent warfare. Anything could happen to any one of us."
The group quiets.
"Hey, you asked!" Clearly, she doesn't like the idea, either. She works with logistics and highly probable theoreticals. Tact is a virtue not often coupled with them. Lance caps his marker, dramatic.
"Well. I, for one, think it will happen because, science and all, the pressure is at a bursting point. It's gotta happen, or one of them will definitely explode." There's some laughter, and they're grateful for the humor.
"You're getting better at science, man." Hunk grins.
Lance carries that, along with a smile Allura beams at him, like a badge of honor into the next week. High spirits are needed, and they have refreshed their bet with newly invigorated zeal.
Pidge still votes Keith. Allura, too. Hunk wavers.
"What if it's simultaneous!"
They muse on the possibility, laugh and consider it just ridiculous enough that it could happen.
"I still think Shiro." Lance defends, even if the odds are against him. It’s a gut feeling, he tries to explain, and the team allow him the excuse for the time being.
It’s a warm evening, the spill of the red sun seeping twilight across the horizon when all at once, it draws like the curtain to a performance, one highly anticipated but somehow unexpected. Lance happens across Shiro along the Garrison hallways in the early evening before their launch, looking spiffed up and as though he'd scrambled for some semblance of formality unaffiliated with military attire.
Like witnessing a rare spectacle, and truly it is, Lance deliberates remaining in starry eyed observance of what is most likely the fruition of their years long wager, and actually taking the moment to bask in it along with Shiro. Funny, how long they’d waited, yet it felt nigh too sudden to bear witness. Lance moseys over, feeling as though flowers are popping up in his wake.
“Lookin’ pretty sharp, Captain!” He salutes, a casual gesture that’s sloppy with familiarity. They’re family, after all.
Shiro perks, surprised by company, then smiles; gentle.
“Coming from our sharp shooter, I’ll take it to heart.”
Lance is radiant with the compliment.
“Any special occasion?” The curl to the corner of Lance’s mouth indicates he knows just what, but wants to hear it spoken regardless. Shiro is amused at Lance’s enthusiasm, only mildly shy; just in the crease of his brow.
“Yes, actually. I’m uh... going on a date.”
It takes every bit of self restraint Lance possesses, which is very little indeed, not to celebrate bodily. He feigns surprise poorly. Shiro likely doesn’t notice.
“Date? No way! Busy guy like you?” He cuffs Shiro’s shoulder and the man chuckles, bashful.
“Yes, I know. Shocking.”
Lance shrugs, pockets his hands to hide the fidgeting.
“So. Who asked who?” It’s subtle enough. But Lance’s heart is thunder. Shiro’s expressions is one of humility and Lance knows even before it’s said. He bites his lip, endeavoring to fool himself and withhold the inevitable, yet the moment Shiro confirms that he was, indeed, the recipient, Lance is tossing his head back in exclamation of defeat.
After all the time that had passed, he’d lost; he lost the bet.
Shiro dons a curious expression.
Lance is quick in his recovery, awkward, but candid.
“Yeah, I uh- just shoulda seen it coming.” He snorts and Shiro looks inquisitive; perhaps modest.
“Predictable?” It comes out somewhat sheepish. Quizzical.
Lance scoffs. “Apparently.” Exhaling for poise, he smiles then; genuine, excited. “I’m happy for you. Both of you! S’been a long time coming.” His grin is spread ear to ear, giddy and bright. Wishing not to delay it further than it had been dragged along already, he bids adieu with a salute while Shiro trails his retreat with a puzzled gray gaze.
Deliberating on telling Pidge, Hunk and Allura has Lance preoccupied. He entertains ignorance, but the news was bound to make its rounds about the Atlas crew eventually. Like the hive mind they are, his data pad pings with a message. Dinner in Hunk's room within half an hour.
When Keith and Shiro respond tout suite that neither will be able to attend, Lance bites his lower lip, pinning a smile. He can feel the palpable pressure of curiosity from his paladin cohorts through the illuminated screen. He can leverage his loss for information, he muses. Pocketing his pad, he skips down a corridor; mood feather light.
He nearly collides with Keith.
They exchange their apologies, swap a momentary barbed rhetoric, some snickers. But it's weird.
"What are you..." Lance's brows furrow. Keith is dressed for the training deck.
Keith’s temper edges. "What."
Something unpleasant settles in Lance. He laughs, almost humorlessly, clears his throat. "The...dinner date?"
The expression Keith dons does not change into anything agreeable. "I don't know what you're trying to tell me." He looks eager to leave.
Lance shakes his head. He's gone cold; astonishment spearing him. "Nothing - sorry. Enjoy, uh, training." Keith doesn't linger to fill the gaps and leaves Lance dizzy headed.
A beat passes.
He begins to walk. Wingward to the yellow paladin’s room and his head space is clamorous vacancy. The halls are a hush of white noise and muted activity; conversations of lives he’ll never know and it's strange, Lance thinks, that of all it could possibly be, it feels, for him, like heartbreak.
Hopefully this prologue isn't too heartbreaking and you all enjoyed it. It is, as I said, season 8 compliant but I am determined to use that as a challenge to fix it all! Leave me a comment, I'd love to hear what you think!
I'm really pleased and humbled by the incredibly kind comments I received on my first chapter! Thank you all so much for reading and commenting on my story and I hope you all continue to enjoy it!
- C H A P T E R I -
The aroma of Hunks cooking is delectable, homey, and permeates the residential sector. It cozies up to Lance like nostalgia upon his arrival but glosses over him. Apathy coats him like a haze and it doesn't take much time for Allura to notice. Lance steps in, Pidge and her fluttering about Hunk as he cooks the delicious smelling something, and she turns to greet him. Her face drops.
"Lance?" Her charming accent of his name makes him smile. It doesn't last.
He's dismissive, determined to withhold his heartache and enjoy the meal, but they get talking about the two not present; playful theories tossed about with frivolity because of course Shiro and Keith are obvious. Lance visibly deflates. Allura’s voice and eyes are gentle with concern.
"Lance, are you alright?"
It's the first thing that comes out. They stare in the quiet that comes, not following, and Lance feels like he'd witnessed a shift in the universe that shouldn't have happened. The breath that comes is weighted.
"We lost the bet. All of us."
Pidge leans in, skeptical. "What are you talking about."
Lance elaborates, his expression suggestion of souring. Hunk laughs, cuffing Lance's arm and commending him on his joke and commitment for execution. When a beat passes and Lance doesn't shutter into a smile and snickers, Hunk's face falls.
A bob of Lance’s head has everyone go silent.
It’s like a mallet struck a pale to a crag and cracked it open to tides unforgiving. Perhaps it would not be so devastating had it not seemed so...perfect. Their kind of devotion, selfless and unconditional, had inspired in all the paladins a kind of love for one another of a similar caliber. Yet no one could quite emulate what Shiro and Keith have for each other.
Everything, from there, slowly falls apart.
Their missions are successful, but something doesn't sit quite right. They're close, but a rift is forming, intangible, invisible, wedging them apart like the universe can't handle it.
Apparently, it can't.
Allura is gone, so quick and unexpected, like whiplash. Their coping with it is unnervingly adequate and all the driving force of their lives take sharp turns in another direction that lead them away from one another in muted steps, where distance is a silent lurking thing that settles between them and grows comfortable.
Then, Shiro gets married.
They're happy for him. Civility and matrimony a package deal of necessity, but there's something genuine among them. Shiro appears happy, and so does Keith. There are smiles and laughter and pretty bits of paper that flit about in festive displays; a depiction of joy and frivolity. Hunk is less convinced, after one glass of wine and two of nunvill.
"Who wants to bet they divorce in three years."
"Hunk!" It takes Lance entirely by surprise, a suckerpunch to the solarplexus. Oddly, however, it feels good. Being close enough to engage in undignified gossip is a luxury Lance thought lost. He smacks Hunk’s bicep. The man laughs and swirls his drink contemplatively, letting it breathe and oxidize for flavor.
"What! The last bet didn't come true." A swig of wine
Pidge, materializing with a flute of champagne, chimes in like they’ve been anticipating a dialogue about it since their first drink. The color on their cheeks indicates it is not.
"I say four. Shiro's a sore loser."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lance can't quite believe the conversation that's happening. Undeniable honesty would yield that he is eager to hear more.
"Once he figures it out, he'll take a bit to act on it." She downs her drink. Her ears are rosy.
"Figures what out!" Lance is quite out of the loop. Allura's informational quips were sorely missed in times like these.
"That he doesn't love the guy. He's bad at love. Matt told me. It's the one thing Shiro really sucks at." Pidge, apparently, is holding a grudge. Their eyes are a gloss of spite and sorrow and are staring not at Shiro and his someone, but at Keith. Hunk gives her a sympathetic look and ruffles her head. She weathers it. Lance yearns for this nameless something but endeavors practicality.
"Guys, we're at Shiro's wedding. Maybe save the divorce bets for later?" Hunk and Pidge eye him, then both pluck another drink off the hovering trays to sip.
They don't bring it up for a time. But it manifests somehow.
Hunk bets three years. Pidge bets four.
"They won't." Lance is keen to remain dignified. Hunk and Pidge are not at all merciful with their judgement, and after many moons, Lance eventually yields.
"Wooow," Hunk is delighted. Lance is indignant, like a wound left to fester for the worst kind of rot.
"I mean, who even is he?!" He's nursing an imported drink from the Galra, spoils of Keith's campaign and Hunk is impelling him to let out the worst of it. They're at Matt's place, and Lance was the last, save for Keith, to cave and admit the wedding was just fucking ridiculous; licking wounds with liquor and spewing small spits of profanities in English, Spanish, Altean and possibly Galran. He has more time now than he knows what to do with. They all do.
Pidge watches, lip quirked devilishly. Lance pours his heart out, a man comprised of ache from three angles; his leader, his hero, and his purpose. Really, they're surprised and impressed he didn't crumble sooner, as they had. He's graceful with sorrow, though, as always.
"Lance, happy as I am for theatrics-"
"Oh, fuck off, Pidge-" Lance sniffles, Hunk pats his back soothingly, and Pidge carries on.
"That's not why we called you over tonight." She shoves, rolling in her chair across the room to a newly installed set of three dimensional monitors. Altean and Olkari tech from the looks of it and comically juxtaposed to the antique rolly-chair Pidge squats in, kept exclusively for nostalgia. A topographical hologram blips to life and Lance stares through tear stains. Pidge starts spouting her scientific soliloquies with a caveat or two from Matt and Lance, the minority of the three prodigal minds present, rubs his temples.
"Please, everyone, have mercy on me." He's the heart, not the head. Also drunk.
Hunk, the angel that he is, elaborates; fascinated.
"If I'm right, you're telling us that you're picking up ripples of alternate realities; like solar flares?" Hunk is incredible, Lance thinks, to be able to dissect as such from the rapid fire scientific terminology of Matt and Pidge.
"What does that mean?" Lance cuffs a sleeve under his nose, still puffy eyed, and looks over the schematics. It's illegible to him, albeity beautifully grafted. Color coded, of course.
"It means..." Pidge twists around in her chair and looks positively diabolical. "We've been influenced by divergent realities."
Lance blinks. His eyes narrow.
"Basically, it's like the butterfly effect, but with alternate realities." Matt fills in, wearing a face of wonder meant for scientists alone.
"And...that affects us how?" Lance tries to recollect on some deep laden memory about butterflies and their significance in universal balance and equilibrium and comes up blank, aside from a laughably meager grasp of the food chain.
"We don't know. It could be any number of events that have taken place." Matt starts, Pidge quick to tack on, "These pulses only started with Honerva's work and became significantly more influential the more realities were tampered with."
Lance nods. That makes sense. "And...?"
Hunk, suddenly, is standing. His expression is thunderstruck.
"Our lives are overlapping with the lives of our alternate selves. I knew I didn't stop liking panikeke without an explanation, that is messed up, man!" He's eagerly surveying their data like a bloodhound hunting. "Is that also why I forgot the Pythagorean theorem?" Clearly offended, Hunk is not keen on whatever version had influenced his intellect and palette.
"Stuff it, Pidge." Hunk bites and Pidge snorts, a whisper of something familiar long passed. A moment.
"Is that why we drifted apart?" Lance is reflective; still.
They all grow quiet then. It’s an unspoken mutual experience they’d all took notice of over the last few years and didn’t know quite how to face it. They were family who had, somehow, forgotten how to be so.
“It’s certainly possible,” Pidge adjusts their glasses. They don’t deny it. It’s true, after all.
Lance sniffs again, digs the heels of his palms into his eyes.
“And now...? Is it something that’s just... happening indefinitely? We can’t stop it?”
Matt exchanges looks with his sister. “Actually...” Pidge’s hands clap together and press to her lips in prayer-like concentration. Thick brows settle heavy on hazel eyes.
“Okay, Lance, don’t freak out.”
Lance’s lips purse like a bad taste.
“I already don’t like this.” He groans, reaches for his drink and sips.
“Okay, well we think we found Allura.”
There’s a spray of alien liquor. It’s turquoise in color.
“Oh, come on!” Matt. He disdainfully slaps what looks like a very specialized gadget down in front if Pidge, scowling. “You did that on purpose.” They had, apparently, wagered a bet and Pidge had come out the victor.
Hunk was collateral damage. He’s damp from the spray. Unfortunate for him, Lance can’t be bothered to care. All in one breath, “Allura? Our Allura? You think— is she— you found her?!” Lance is weepy again.
Pidge plucks up the device, tosses Matt a smirk, and swivels back to the holographic display. “Sort of.” Pidge activates the device. A new star chart erupts. It’s a burst of galaxy in swells of data, displaying a vast network of star systems. They overlap in duplicate images, and Hunk tilts his head, brows puckered in peculiar observation. “Looks like what you’d expect to see wearing those old three dimensional glasses. Y’know, the red and blue ones?” He’s mimicking retro bifocals with his fingers around his eyes like goggles.
“They’re overlapping realities we’ve charted.” Matt.
“Did you mark them red and blue on purpose? It’s kinda trippy.” Hunk rubs his eyes, looks again and grins.
Matt shrugs and smirks. “Maybe.” Matt begins idly charting. “Old optical illusions are fun and simple.” He elaborates, playful.
“What do they mean, what’s happening!” Lance stares with vehemence yet cannot decode anything. Pidge warns against staring too hard and Lance scowls at her.
“We’re trying to find an energy signature that matches hers.” Pidge explains, finally, using the wagered device Matt had surrendered to draw up a new schematic of plotted data.
“Woah... is that, like, life force data?” Hunk’s mouth is a grinning coil as he surveys. “Like- from different dimensions and realities?”
Pidge crosses her arms, proud. “Yep.”
Hunk nods. “Cool.” He’s glowing with fascination and reigned excitement that crackles beneath the surface. Lance stares then, at what he’s finally grasping from it.
“These... they’re all Allura...?”
Matt is gentle. “Alluras. From other realities.”
Lance’s eyes are a glitter of rose colored specks; a cosmic spatter of energy that is distinctly and uniquely Allura.
“It’s beautiful...” Lance’s voice is a whisper.
There’s a beat, and Lance gingerly dries his eyes, looks to Matt.
“Is... is our Allura here?”
Matt thinks, briefly, that the kind of love their reality had severed, deliberate or not, was stark enough to color the dimensions beyond. He realizes he’s fortunate to witness it; in Hunk, in Pidge. In Lance.
In Keith and in Shiro. That is one to mend, as well.
“She’s not yet pinpointed.”
He says it reassuringly and Pidge fills the silence.
“That’s where you come into play, Lance.” Hunk, per usual, catches on rapidly. He’s a concentrated beam of eagerness and curiosity which, Lance notes, is rare. Lance had missed it more than he realized.
“Oh! Let me guess!”
Hunk hops from foot to foot, exuberance honestly charming. Pidge delights playing professor and cocks a thick brow; encouraging. Hunk’s fingers are pinching Lance’s cheeks, tugging up and out in a large theatrical grin and Hunk smiles large in mimicry.
“The mark of the chosen!”
“Bingo!” Pidge punctuates with a snap. Lance makes a strained sound through stretched cheeks and Hunk obligingly releases them. Lance rubs them, rosy from pinching and stares flabbergasted at the green paladin. “The marks? Do they- are they an energy source?” He cups his face, incredulous and glassy eyed.
“Crazy that you’ve had an Allura beacon on your face these past few years and never knew.” Hunk’s nonchalance is juxtaposed to Lance’s maudlin lip quivering. Hunk is quick to console him and Lance, eager to repair the threads of their tattered reality, clings to him; nigh comedically. Lance recovers quick, Hunk’s presence catalytically cathartic, and Pidge and Matt take to arranging their tech.
Lance sniffles, wipes his eyes again as the siblings attach an advanced series of electrical nodes to his temples and cheekbones. “Y’know, I cracked shitty jokes as a kid that my face would save the universe. Never thought it would be quite this literal.”
Pidge paps a cheek in familiar friendly affection. “It’s a nice face, Lance. You did good.” They’re teasing, of course, but Lance is grateful for it, knowing well his face is a ruddy, sticky mess.
It feels like they’re on the bridge of the Castle of Lions again; confident pilots all stitched and woven into haphazard destiny not quite fit for them all, but they made due with it and from it became family. But there is a distinct absence the universe cries to have rejoined.
In Allura, in Shiro, in Keith.
“Does Shiro know about this? And Keith?” Hunk’s tongue is poked out, concentrated on some mechanical function of the macgyvered tech. The siblings keep working away. “Shiro, no. Not that I know of.” Pidge remarks. Hunk and Lance exchange a look, Lance mimicking a plugboard, and Hunk reiterates.
“And Keith...? Any uh... anything there?”
Pidge looks to Matt, drawing Hunk and Lance's attention. Matt cards fingers through his hair; growing longer again. The hesitance is brief, and Matt fills the silence a moment later.
"Keith mapped out the data and collected the energy signatures. He's the one that found them."
"Lance don't move." Pidge warns without preamble.
Lance stiffens, yet is clearly ruffled. Hunk looks incredulous. "Keith found them? I'm sorry, back up," his hands are a theatrical display. "How long has Keith known about this?"
"About six months." Matt worries his lower lip. Lance jolts.
Lance looks like an overloaded surge protector now, and coincidentally ready to experience a blown fuse. Hunk is free to express himself, however.
"Okay, alright, I know we haven't exactly been a paragon of well acquainted space robot pilots, to put it lightly,” Hunk presses his palms together, gesturing with them after each statement; feigning patience that then cracks the with clear derision. “But pray tell why did you two know, approximately, way too damn long about it before telling us? Or better yet, Keith telling us?"
"To be fair, I didn't know about it until about two weeks ago." Pidge is calibrating the wires. Lance and Hunk appear at a loss until Hunk gapes in Matt's direction.
"He told you?...Before any of us?!"
Matt's brow quirks. "Wow, ouch. Pull your punch a little, you hit hard." The evident betrayal of the Yellow and Blue paladin is almost endearing. Keith is their family, after all. At least, they were supposed to be. "You forget I knew him in the Garrison before he was friends with any of you, right?" Matt pops a hip, punctuating his point.
"If you think I'm not going to contort that little shit into a Valporian Fuldah knot, you-"
"Lance, last warning." Pidge sounds quite serious, though she has not paused her busy work.
"Ugh! How much longer?! I have words to exchange with a Red palad-AH!" Lance yelps as electricity sparks from the nodes, his body seizing with brief shock.
"I warned you."
Hunk has gone silent. His face is colored troubled.
"Why wouldn't he tell us." The air grows heavy, burdened with quiet heartbreak. Matt sighs and turns, faces the chart scattered with overlapping data of realities woven with theirs and starts to solemnly input data sequences.
"I want you to look at this."
He shows them then, an array of colored data points, all spread and scattered. Their trajectories drift apart, intersections fewer as they span out and away.
"That is us. Here. Now. All of us. This reality, our life force. And this is us moving further and further apart."
Pidge is stoic, still working. She's seen this.
"We weren't supposed to discover these flares of alternate realities. According to this, we were projected to remain unaware and continuously influenced by the overlapping dimensions until we ended up..." The map depicts a series of isolated specks, a fractured spectrum of color entirely separated.
"Strangers." Matt echoes, ghostly.
Pidge sniffs. They wipe their nose and continue. They'd all felt it, they realized. That magnetic pull, inexplicable, that directed them away from what they knew, who the loved.
Hunk stares; a hushed sadness.
"So...why not confide in us? Knowing all this..." He tries to understand and finds, achingly, he cannot. He doesn't remember. Had he even known Keith, he ponders, in any other reality?
‘Are we even friends...?’
"When you've lost people, the idea of losing them again..." the statement trails into silence, Matt feeling no need to elaborate to the Paladins of Voltron, after everything. Lance thumbs his knuckles, uncharacteristically still.
"But - But wouldn't finding Allura's energy signature- would that not stop this? Or fix this, or -" Hunk's head hurts, trying to calculate a multidimensional decision.
"He didn't know." Scrunching her nose, Pidge wards off a sniff. "He didn't know if it was Allura." They extrapolate before questioned, clear their throat, shift. Crying isn't second hand for Pidge and their instinct is to beat it back like something illogically starved.
"But asking any of us to figure out if it was, well," they laugh, humorlessly.
It breaks open like a festering truth. Their lives had diverged into something unrecognizable, disjointed. It was a ripple that curled and coiled into a wave, washing them all up to separate shores. It illuminates like dawn, that happiness had been a distant memory they all were starting to forget.
"So Keith didn't want to give us hope because he was afraid it'd propel us further apart." Hunk sounds angry. At himself.
"That, and he probably didn't want to sound like someone unable to move on. Not as your leader." Matt hammers the nail.
Lance digs the heels of his palms into his eyes. Tears escape anyway. "God, what a dick." He's drunk, aching with Keith's burden, and thinks that he should have been there for him. They all should have been.
Hunk huffs, dabs his eyes. "Yeah. Asshole."
Pidge snorts, nose runny, eyes rimmed red. "Fucking prick." There's laughter in her voice, wounded, eager for life. It spills out, a trickle at first, and then they're laughing, all of them, bright and colorful and alive because it was either be devoured in sorrow and regret of mistakes so flagrantly obvious and tragic, or laugh because of course something sensational and stupid would happen to them like this, and would instigate a collide of cosmic proportions to bring them back together. And so, they laugh; Matt watching with reverence.
And then, all at once, a bright, pink star blips to life on the map. It's vibrant, flickering, glitching between the layers of red and blue, but unmistakable. They gaze, tear stained and wonder if they've enough left to cry again.
"That's it. That's her." It’s just a whisper, yet it’s truth is resounding.
A beat. Then, it glitches again. There's a sudden scramble, Pidge and Matt seizing stabilizing data, Hunk hunting wildly for a data pad, Lance a panicked frenzy yet tethered to stillness lest he be electrocuted. It's comedically chaotic, Allura's star a candle threatening to gutter. Hunk secures a pencil and paper, somehow, the Holt siblings a blather of haste as they struggle to keep the signature pinned and steady and Lance is a ball of anxiety in his relative helplessness as the signal spasms, flares and destabilizes rapidly. Then, the light is gone and a sudden hush settles.
"I got it..." Hunk breathes.
He holds, with delicate deference, a scrap of graphing paper pinched between thumbs and forefingers. It's spotted with oils, ripped at the tail end of an equation. Written on it in Hunk's rushed scribe are coordinates. There is a quiet about them, like a breath too large could shatter it yet the potential energy yearns to become kinetic; ecstatics with their accomplishments.
Then, the lab door opens.
“Hey Matt, I apologize for dropping in unannounced, communications are down-” Shiro halts. Surveying the scene, they’re clearly amidst something monumental he’d intersected. He looks to Lance, sprouting a series of wires like a bed of cattails and quirks a thick brow.
“...Bad time...?” He’s endeavoring urbanity.
Looks are exchanged in rapid succession and Shiro knows immediately there’s an elephant in the room tethered to him. Matt steps forward.
“Actually, this could be impeccable timing.” He claps hands together, then makes silly hand gestures typical of Holt eccentricity. “But first, everything cool?”
Shiro seeking counsel is not uncharacteristic, simply rare all things considered. Their paths weren’t anticipated to intersect anytime soon, but a collapse in their projected reality is all but inevitable; Allura is alive and the future is to be rewritten.
Shiro is flustered. “Tough question. Considering my situation, I don’t think I should be as cool with it as I am.” He appears sheepish, like he’s done something he shouldn’t have but isn’t quite sure what.
Hunk’s eyes narrow, “That’s vague..”
Matt attempts to translate. “So you’re alright, or...”
“Yes. Yes?” Puzzlement colors Shiro’s face.
“Still vague.” Hunk isn’t subtle, deliberate in herding Shiro to confession.
“...Are you trying to avoid telling everyone, Shiro?” Matt strikes hot iron. The night has been emotionally charged, kindling bravado otherwise slumbering. Lance, it seems, is tapped fully into a carpe diem mentality. He’s witnessed enough of realities rattling them apart and frankly, he’s fucking tired of it; he should have nipped at it the moment he saw the drift in Shiro and Keith.
Better late than never.
“Oh, no! No, nope, hell no! You spill it to all of us, we are all perfectly capable of being your emotional support confidants.” Indignant, he crosses arms. A little tactless, but its intent is quite transparent. It would be charming, but the wires.
Shiro blinks. He looks touched, albeit aware he’s likely missing a vital variable to the equation.
“I, um... thank you, Lance,” he clears his throat. “I.. I’m not sure I want to burden anyone with-“
Pidge adjusts her glasses, cuts in, typical of Holt habits and quips without preamble. It’s a statement, like she cracked the code. The silence then is taught like a band of leather, swallowing sound.
“...Pardon?” Shiro oscillates between ashen and flush; a solid suspension of emotion.
“What else could it possibly be about.” Pidge unabashedly presses, folds their arms. “Also you’re ringless.” The detail spurs a unanimous whir of heads at Shiro’s left hand. He tucks it behind his thigh, flustered. It speaks for itself, really.
“You’re thinking of divorce...? Honestly?” Matt endeavoring to sound more inquisitive and concerned than hopeful is a success. A pause follows and everyone’s balanced on suspense. “I uh... I’m actually-” Shiro clears his throat too frequently. He looks young as he flounders; he looks like himself.
Hunk’s jaw slackens.
Lance’s eyes pingpong between them, attempting to bridge the gaps. Matt does him the favor himself.
“You’ve already done it.”
Shiro coughs, fidgets, lets out a long breath, then nods.
The beat that passes encompasses a mutual intention among them to remain dignified and keep their celebratory desires entirely internal. Lance, however, fails in a single, high pitched huff of laughter. Pidge smacks his bicep, heavy and all knuckle.
“Ow, what!?” He jerks, cups his arm, another spark from the wires. “OW!!”
Shiro, clearly, is wise to the silent communication. “There’s something I’m missing here, isn’t there.” His eyes narrow, speculative and suspicious.
“Oh, well, the wires on Lance’s face are electrical nodes that-“
“I’m not talking about the wires, Hunk. But we’ll come back to that.” Shiro has stepped back from captaining anyone, but it still carries in his voice, stitched into the fabric of his very being. His retirement should have been one of the first indications of foul play; a red flag in the fabric of spacetime. Evidently, it had waved and whipped unnoticed.
Hunk pulls lips through teeth, taps his fingers together. “We are all just...sorry... for what you’re going through.”
A thick silver brow quirks, emblematic of skepticism. Hunk has evaded flagrant veracity and it’s obvious. He raises his palms, defensive.
“Hey, I haven’t said anything I don’t mean.” He crosses his arms, absolving himself the duty of dishing out harsh truths. No one feels quite up to confessing that the average consensus of approval in regards to the nuptials was a solid zero percent among the arguably most important people Shiro has in his life.
No one is quite as drunk as Lance, however. He is reaching for his drink, careful of sparks as he moves. “Well,” he grabs it, swirls his straw about it. “I, for one, will drink to that.” And he sips, languid and pleasant.
Hunk gapes. “Lance! The man just got divorced!”
Lance speaks around his straw.
“And? I don’t seem to recall delicacy at Shiro’s wedding.” He emphasizes, appearing to delight in exposing the skeletal detritus of their communal closet.
“Lance!!” Hunk bristles, ballooning on the precipice of contention and hilarity. Pidge and Matt have drawn in their lips, cocked their heads away as if their quelled laughter were not obvious.
“I’m sorry, what?” Shiro is a vision of patience and serenity, and Hunk is entirely prepared to offer Lance unto him, silver platter included. Lance is unruffled, enough so to stare a lion in the eye and wink. Whatever animosity Shiro may be radiating washes over Lance like a cooling tide. With the liquor and good news of the evening, he's impermeable to any bad vibes.
"Shiro, my friend." Lance drawls, grins.
Shiro's expression is flat. Yet the corners and quivers tell secrets that he's not quite as angry as he should be. He's missed them. Terribly.
"I promise to reveal all-"
"All!?" Hunk is mortified.
"All," Lance affirms. "But first-" He elevates his bottle, then jingles it.
Shiro ruminates, all eyes on him before he marches forward and plucks the bottle from him. His eyes narrow, then peer at Lance, whom simply offers a signatured toothy smile.
Shiro sniffs, pauses to observe it a second longer, then knocks it back. There's a note of laughter that follows, like a joy of witnessing the mend of a wound long opened and unattended and as Shiro tongues down fiery liquid, adam's apple bobbing, it crescendos. He polishes it off with a pop and they all erupt around him.
Then, the earth rocks loose.
They’re nearly thrown from their feet; objects scattering from shelves, electricity strobing. Finally, the quake settles, crust of the earth quieting and the lot of them fling stunned expressions about.
“The hell was that?!” pipes Lance, protected behind Shiro’s bicep.
“Are we under attack? Tell me we aren’t under attack.” Hunk, contrary to his quip, looks ready to square up. He’s in no mood to have their progress disrupted by some petty squabble.
Pidge fixes her glasses, askew from the mayhem. “I..don’t think so?” She looks to Matt, curious.
He shakes his head, assessing sensory data and sees no sign of threat. “Nothing’s pulling up- whatever just collided isn’t giving me an energy signature strong enough to read.”
“What, so, like...a meteor?” Lance is still tucked comfortably behind Shiro’s arm.
“You mean a meteorite.” Hunk amends. “Meteors burn up in earth’s atmosphere. Meteorites are the ones that make impact.” He extrapolates. Lance looks particularly vexed.
“Thank you, Hunk, but is now really the time?”
Hunk is not at all pressed. “There is always time for education, Lance.”
He displays a low palm and Pidge leans over, claps it. Exasperation whittles away in light of relief; relationships reforming around the ties they’d had before the storm. When Shiro speaks, nostalgia strikes like a heavy, homey heartbeat.
“Alright, team. Let’s check it out.”
They almost leave Lance. As contemporary visual homage to Medusa, detaching him is a commitment of time most of them wish not to spare. Shiro, however, is exceptionally influential. Plus, the consequence of allowing Lance emotional leverage would likely come back to bite.
"You're all asses." Lance bites regardless once freed.
Hunk offers condolences with guttered brows. "You can't blame us for being a little excited."
Nothing has happened in three years. There are marked incidents of significance, few and far between, but the drought persisted. They hadn't known until this moment how to call the rains to parched and scorched earth. Shiro steps out first, predictably solicitous, and the rest follow suit close behind. They react in chronological fashion when they see it; the visible upset of earth's crust, deeply gutted and weeping dust from impact.
It's integrity and weight of whatever it is had helped its survival through the burn of Earth's atmosphere, enough to collide hard and plow itself through packed sediments; disappearing behind the lab with geological destruction in its wake.
"That missed us by, like...ten feet. Thirty seconds later and the earth's rotation would have lined us up point blank." Hunk is reeling, all of them varying shades of astonishment. Except Lance; all wonderment suspended upon seeing what earth's rotation did line up just so.
"You gotta be kidding me," and he pitches forward.
"Lance?" Shiro is reasonably cautious, but Lance is far too preoccupied rushing forward as if close proximity would reveal the illusion that his car was, indeed, fine, and not a mangle of indistinguishable metals and rubber; a waste of coincidental collateral damage. He fusses, caught in momentary denial before he surveys the other remaining vehicles of everyone else; all unscathed save for some benign smatterings of soil. It's simply mockery.
He turns to them, and knows they see what he sees.
"Really? Really...fuc-really?!" Clearly, Lance is distressed enough to fight the visible result, ready to combat the inevitable truth that he was just that unlucky.
Pidge clears her throat, endeavoring to mask the amusement that colors everyone else in varying vivacity. "I mean," she begins, "maybe it's the universe communicating how much of a piece of junk it is-...was." Matt openly snorts.
Lance gapes, as if sparing a moment of compassion was commonly expected of the genius (it wasn’t) before he snaps his jaw shut, flips her off, then leans into a lope in the direction of the object’s crash site.
“Lance? Where are you going?” It’s more formality, as Shiro and everyone knows.
“To see what wrecked my car. And pee on it.”
Reasonable a punishment as it were, the odds that inebriated Lance could maim himself were higher than preferable. More reasonably, they were all equally curious to see the impact for themselves, and so they make after him.
It had plowed a considerable length of earth, having settled off a distance away and shrouded in a veil of dust and smoke. The smell is peculiar even before they see it and when they come upon Lance, standing at the mouth of the sizable crater stock still, they pause.
“Lance…?” his body language calls Hunk to caution as they approach, but Lance does not tear his eyes from the shroud and coil of dirt and smog. They gather at the edge together and watch, stunned still, as dust settles and twilight lays over the curled and quiet body of Blue.