“—and don’t even get me started on what’s gonna happen when Hunk gets here. He looks like a big, cuddly teddy bear but he’s actually a scary momma bear and you—”
“Galia above, does he ever shut up?”
The Galran’s long-suffering sigh and his partner’s laugh of agreement had Lance sucking in a breath of affront that he forced himself to focus on rather than the fear churning his stomach.
They were the ones that had captured him . He didn’t want to be here, hands and feet bound uncomfortably and thrown in this small cell aboard their transport ship on the way to the Galra Empire where he was probably going to be interrogated , absolutely not.
Where was his team?
Why hadn’t they come after him yet?
Lance tried not to give into the fear that they weren’t coming. They had to.
“Of course we’d end up grabbing the loudmouth,” the taller of the two Galra griped. “How much longer is our trip to the Yancal system?”
“Eight more varga.”
The Galran sounded like he was the one being tortured.
“Well hey,” Lance cut in just as the Galra let out another sigh, “if I’m such a bother you can just let me go. It’s a win-win for everyone.” He sent what he hoped was a winning smile and received two deadpan yellow stares in return.
“Don’t we have a gag?” the first one asked, completely ignoring Lance’s very sound logic.
“A muzzle, but it will not fit his species’ face.”
Lance bit back the shudder at the thought and was grateful at least that option was off the table.
“I could just...” the taller Galran raised a closed fist.
“The Druids requested him unharmed.”
The apparently more violent one cursed but Lance barely heard it.
Druids? Druids like Haggar? Who had done… done that to Shiro?
Who was maybe doing it to him again.
Lance’s stomach twisted at the thought of their missing leader and renewed his struggles to break free, wrists already rubbed raw inside the cuffs.
“I am not putting up with his prattling for the next eight varga.”
“Maybe if we ignore him he will go to sleep?”
“Uh, he is right here and can hear you,” Lance said. “And not gonna happen. I am a champion chatterer, ask my siblings. I can keep this up for days. I’ll make you regret ever—”
“Shut up!” the tall Galran kicked his foot out and it clanged into the bars.
Lance started for a second, heart leaping into his throat.
Then he grinned.
“Nu uh. You can’t hurt me, remember? You can’t do anything. So if I’m going to be tortured then you are too.” He tried not to think too hard about the future of that statement, keeping his voice light. “So get ready. I’m going to start off with singing Ninety-nine bottles of—”
“I have an idea,” said the smaller Galran.
And although Lance had pegged him as the less violent one, there was something dark dancing in those pupil-less yellow eyes.
“Asking nicely will not work but you can try,” Lance told him, resisting the urge to swallow thickly.
Something had just changed.
But they said they couldn’t hurt him… right?
“If he insists on his babbling then let us at least make it entertaining.”
Lance did not like the sound of that.
He liked the look of a vial the Galran pulled out of his belt pouch even less.
“Oh!” the other Galran sounded excited.
Another bad thing.
“This is Bleria, Paladin,” the shorter Galran stood now too, holding the tube of nearly neon-orange liquid up. “It is… entertainment. And now you shall be ours.”
Lance did swallow that time.
It was a drug.
A Galra party drug — and while that thought was both amusing and terrifying right now it was definitely all of the latter because whatever its effects were for Galrans were probably not compatible with human biology.
“The Druids aren’t gonna like that,” Lance tried, fingers uselessly twisting in the cuffs behind his back.
Dios Dios Dios.
The Galran was opening his cell door now and Lance tried to get to his feet, to do something, but both Galrans were entering and before he could even blink clawed hands were in his hair, on his shoulders, and he was being pinned against the wall.
“You are mistaken, Paladin,” the tall one smirked. “The Druids are the ones who designed it.”
“Accidentally,” his partner added almost ruefully as he affixed a needle to the vial. “But one we are most grateful for. And now you, Paladin, will get to experience the joys of their work and we the results.”
“W-wait,” Lance stuttered as the vial was lifted, angling for his neck.
He could see his reflection in the glass.
He looked terrified.
“Now,” the Galran grinned.. “Let’s have some fun.”
And Lance let out a cry as the needle plunged into his neck.
“Lance, shh, shh, hermano, please, it’s okay, estás bien , shh.”
It was absolutely not okay.
But Coran did not tell Number Two that, letting him keep up the babble as Number Three — Lance, dear Alaraan the poor boy — moaned and trembled on the mattress laid out on the infirmary’s floor, his skin flushed with fever and yet pale and waxy beneath that.
The Galrans had given his Paladin Bleria.
Coran trembled himself with rage.
It was a newer drug, one that had not existed ten thousand years ago, but Coran was forever updating the Altean databases to include everything from languages to new planets (and dead ones too) to new medical practices and jargon.
Bleria had made its way there after a stop on Xinsthes, a Galra controlled planet but one that had supplies they desperately needed, when Coran had encountered it for sale at stall hawking “the best juice” that Coran would admit later was a bit naive of him to think it would be actual juice but it was such a vibrant orange he had been drawn to it like a galbatrop to a gorgaian.
Galran use only, the shopkeeper had told him when he came over, unless he wanted to find experience the side-effects from the hallucinogenic drug for days after. But it could be good for torturing someone, the alien had grinned rakishly, as there were plenty of delicious withdrawal side effects for non-Galrans. Things like nausea and fever and painful shaking as muscles seized, not to mention of course the fact that the effect of the hallucinations were not the typically pleasurable ones when consumed by non-Galrans and the effects would bleed over into both nightmares and reality; a great tool for interrogation if applied properly. And he could get it for the steal of just eight thousand GAC.
Coran had declined as politely as he could and hurried away.
Seeing those vials; three empty and one still full of the neon liquid that Number Five had recovered from the now destroyed transport ship they had finally been able to locate after nearly six varga following the fight (an ambush really, and Number Four was beating himself up for the mission gone terribly, terribly wrong), delayed as they were by a bouncing signal of the asteroid belt they had been caught in, filled Coran with such rage.
They had been too late.
Six varga too late.
And now there was nothing they could do.
The pods were for injuries, not illnesses and certainly not for foreign substances.
They could do nothing but wait for the drug to not only finish processing through Lance’s body, but then wait out the resulting withdrawal symptoms. Based on what little Coran knew and the amount of the drug that Lance had been given, he estimated it would be at least a quintant, likely more, for the Bleria and its symptoms to pass.
Coran had never felt more useless.
Number Two had been the one to retrieve Lance from the cell, but it had also taken Allura’s strength to contain him as he’d fought them like something possessed, according to Number Five’s shaky, hushed account.
Lance had had no idea who they were or what was happening.
Everything to him was a distorted, twisting kaleidoscope of horror and pain and even Number Two’s voice had not penetrated that thick haze. Coran’s heart clenched in memory of the panicked yells over the comms.
Lance was still thrashing, dangerously so, that placing him on the infirmary bed would require restraints and Coran would not do that to him, especially not as the cuffs were cut off and his wrists in particular were rubbed raw from chaffing.
Instead Coran had pulled two mattresses down to the floor and filled the area with plenty of pillows and blankets. He and Number Two had removed Lance’s armor — although Number Two had taken an elbow to the face that Coran resolved to get him ice for once things had settled as much as they could — and strip him down to just his shorts.
Coran had not even managed to hook up a fluid bag as he was worried in his thrashing Lance would only hurt himself more on the port and would try such a little later when perhaps he had exhausted himself.
But that was all they could do.
Now they just had to wait it out.
Coran had banned everyone from the infirmary after they had all tried to crowd in, out of fear and concern and wanting to help. Coran appreciated it, he did, but them being there was only going to escalate the situation as Lance still was not aware of where he was or who was with him.
That, and Coran knew the boy would not want the others to see him like this. Number Five had looked absolutely stricken as she’d watched Lance writhe and cry amongst the bedding as Hunk tried to gently hold him down to prevent him from hurting himself, and the guilt that poured off of Number Four had physically hurt to witness.
My fault, he’d whispered.
No, Coran had rebuked kindly, although that was much as he could spare with Lance’s moans and broken words of his native tongue echoing from behind and Number Two’s frantic reassurances and pleas for Lance to calm down.
Allura had steered the new Black Paladin from the room and ordered Pidge out too. She’d paused on the threshold, looking back and meeting Coran’s eyes.
Go, he’d told her softly. We will take care of him.
That was nearly a varga ago but short of removing Lance’s armor and rubbing down flushed and sweat-soaked skin with a damp towel and trying (and failing) to get him to drink some water, they had been able to do little else.
Well, they also had to keep a near constant grip on his hands after he’d tried clawing at his arms, throat, and face with the scratches left behind as testimony. Coran hated the thought that the cuffs had apparently been useful for something as soon as it struck. They’d affixed a swathe of bandages over his fingers — safety mittens, Number Two had called them, what human infants wore so they didn’t hurt themselves — but even with the scratching element removed he was still violent, still twisting and shaking and kicking now.
Coran was there, holding down deceptively strong legs by the ankles, just above where the cuffs had left bruises, while Number Two was holding Lance’s hands again, his own easily dwarfing the slender versions, and desperately trying to convince Lance he was safe.
“Cálmate, hermano. Está bien. Estás bien. Lance, por favor, cálmate.”
Even the boy’s native tongue, normally a comfort Coran knew, was not helping. But Lance’s movements were getting slower, no doubt exhaustion finally taking hold, and Coran hoped he might be able to get some fluids in him.
“No,” Lance moaned, shaking his head back and forth on the pillows. “N-no. Por favor. Stop, pl-please.”
“Lance,” Number Two’s voice broke. “Lance, I’m right here. Estoy aquí. You’re safe, hermano.”
“Please,” Lance whimpered. “ Lo siento. L-lo siento. No más.”
He went quiet again, broken up only by little cries and soft sobs, tears running down flushed cheeks.
Number Two let out a sob of his own, hunching over Lance.
“Numb— Hunk,” Coran corrected himself. The height monikers were too impersonal given the circumstances. “Hunk,” he started again, “lad, look at me.”
Watery honey eyes lifted in his direction.
“Lance is going to get through this,” Coran reassured firmly but gently. “Chin up, my boy.”
Hunk sniffled, raising a shoulder to rub his leaking nose against it. “I know. I know that. I just…”
His hands tightened around Lance’s bandage wrapped ones.
It just hurt so much to see Lance in so much pain and so scared.
Hunk wasn’t much for violence but he wished the two Galrans aboard the ship hadn’t met such a quick end when their vessel exploded.They probably hadn’t even felt it, laid out completely between Pidge’s bayard and Keith’s sword when they’d breached the transport ship.
Coming aboard and seeing the two Galrans taunting Lance as he cowered in the corner of a cell, eyes wide and unseeing and crying had made Hunk see red.
But his concern was first and foremost for Lance so while the others had engaged he had gone into the cell, sheer strength breaking the manacles holding Lance’s wrists behind his back.
He’d gotten a punch in the cheek for his efforts.
Lance had come alive then, screaming and clawing at him and Allura had had to step in to help contain the flailing limbs so they could safely get Lance aboard the cloaked Green Lion and back to the castle. It wasn’t until Pidge had shown the collected vials and syringes to them that Hunk realized there was more to this situation than what it appeared.
And hearing from Coran what they could likely expect over not just the next couple hours but at least a day had sent his stomach twisting but he’d managed not to puke, only because that would entail letting go of Lance and he didn’t want to leave his side.
Right now Coran said Lance would be suffering from the hallucinogenic properties of the drug, which is what the Galra used it for, although Lance’s would not likely be pleasant.
That was an understatement, Hunk thought, as Lance was not just scared he was terrified and seeing that unchecked fear had unnerved Hunk far more than he’d like to admit. Even when Lance was scared he tended to hide it, whether beneath layers of bravado or jokes, or when he did give into it it normally could be set at ease with a hug and soft words.
Not this time.
There was no getting through to him and Hunk had the sick feeling he was only adding to the nightmare. Lance had tried so many times now to pull his hands free, switching between whimpering and screaming, but Hunk had held on tight. He had to. Lance would only hurt himself or hurt others if he had control of them.
Hunk’s cheek was still smarting from the initial punch and then the elbow later on, but all of it paled to Lance’s pain and so he ignored it.
After the drug’s “high” wore off they would then enter the slower process of withdrawal. Lance should be less violent, Coran had said quietly, but that was about all there were to the positives.
He was already displaying a low-grade fever that Coran said would increase before it got better. Nausea was to be expected, muscle pain and stiffness accompanied by tremors, dizziness as well as disorientation, which could see itself manifested also in nightmares or more hallucinations.
There was also the fear of seizures. Coran had already coached Hunk on them; turn Lance to his side so he didn’t choke on any vomit or saliva but otherwise they weren’t to hold or restrain him as that would only further hurt him.
They would need to take shifts, Coran explained, as Lance could not be left alone for any period of time. For now they were both there and the evening hours would be addressed as the day went along. Coran had already said Alteans needed less sleep but Hunk honestly doubted he was going to be able to sleep himself.
Not with Lance’s cries as a distorted lullaby.
Lance let out another whimper and Hunk made a shushing noise, rubbing his thumbs over the back of Lance’s captured hands. Lance only gave a single futile tug before his arms went limp.
Not purely from exhaustion though.
Hunk could see it in the way Lance’s lip trembled and how he curled his shoulders in as much as he could from his position.
“Oh, hermano,” Hunk murmured.
Lance only stiffened at the sound of his voice and Hunk’s heart, already shattered, somehow broke a little more.
Lance was scared of him.
Or, whatever the drug was making him think Hunk was.
“He is exhausted,” Coran said quietly and Hunk watched as the Altean released his grip on Lance’s legs and other than a little twitch there was no reaction. “I am going to retrieve a fluid bag now, see if we can’t get that hooked up.”
Hunk gave a short nod, rubbing his thumbs back over Lance’s hand again in small circles.
A few moments later Coran was back, a clear bag in one hand and what looked like a small needle attached to a cord in the other. Hunk had to look away as Coran inserted it into Lance’s forearm and very, very securely taped it down before attaching the fluids.
“There,” Coran sounded satisfied. “That ought to help, both with the Bleria and this oncoming fever.” A frown pinched his brow and Hunk felt his stomach somersault.
Coran being worried was definitely a cause for concern.
But Coran’s eyes were steady when they met Hunk’s and he forced himself to take a breath.
Everything was going to be okay.
They could do this.
Just a few days of Lance being sick and hurt and confused and scared.
Hunk glanced down and caught sight of Lance’s half-lidded blues, drooping with exhaustion but even then still pinpricked with a terror only he could see.
“It’s gonna be okay, hermano,” Hunk gently squeezed his hands. “We’re right here.”
And they weren’t going anywhere.
The sound of someone puking woke Hunk from his uneasy slumber and as soon as his brain caught up with why he was lying on an infirmary cot he was wide awake.
“There, there, better out than in,” he caught Coran’s soft murmur from a few feet away. “There’s a good lad, easy now.”
Hunk was already kneeling on the mattress where Lance was propped in Coran’s arms and expelling watery bile into a large bowl. Even in the dim nighttime lighting he could make out the high spots of fever on Lance’s cheeks and a thin sheen of sweat covered not only his face and neck but all down his chest and back too.
“One hundred and one point two,” Coran said quietly, apparently able to read Hunk’s mind.
Lance let out a moan and then another heave.
Hunk hated that this was in any way better than it had been.
The worst of the hallucinations should be over, Coran had explained just before Hunk went to bed, which a glance at the clock showed was about three varga ago, Lance at that time in a restless sort of sleep. Now they would be dealing with his body’s reaction to the withdrawal of the drug and as awful as that would be Hunk felt far more equipped to handle a puking, feverish Lance than the one of before, even if there would still be bouts of disorientation and very, very likely nightmares of a sort.
Lance gagged and Hunk brought a hand up to rub it against the bare back, the skin hot to the touch, and tremors unrelated to the vomiting shuddering through.
“It’s okay, hermano,” he whispered “You’re gonna be okay.”
Lance let out a soft moan in answer.
He seemed to be finished throwing up though, as the minutes ticked by and no more seemed to be coming up.
His eyes were closed and he was slumping in Coran’s hold, only the firm grip preventing him from tipping into his bowl of vomit.
“Let’s get him lying down,” Coran said, shifting the bowl away. He’d have liked to try and have the boy rinse his mouth out but he’d likely only choke right now. Instead he eased him back onto the bedding and grabbed the damp cloth he’d just finished rewetting before Lance’s stomach had rebelled, and used it to wipe down the sticky chin and mouth.
Hunk had moved his hands to hold onto Lance’s right one, lying limp now next to him, while the other was carding through the sweat-soaked hair.
“You should try and get some more sleep,” Coran told him gently as he finished.
Hunk shook his head.
“I can’t. I… just…” His eyes flicked down to land on Lance’s face, still pinched.
Coran did not ask again.
Instead he stood to get a new cloth for the boy’s fevered brow.
He came back and sat opposite Hunk and picked up the other limp hand.
And they waited for what would happen next.
Lance was seizing.
It was the third time now in the last five hours, but fortunately none of them lasted longer than a minute.
Hunk hated every single second of them. Lance was silent, his jaw clenched and veins visible, and every muscle locked, as he shuddered in place.
They looked so painful.
Hunk knew they were.
“Almost there, almost there,” he chanted quietly to both himself and Lance, pressing the barest pressure against Lance’s back to keep him in position on his side. He cast quick eyes in Coran’s direction, where the older man had lied down just about a half varga ago and was snoring gently.
No need to wake him, he decided. He needed the rest. They’d been sitting with Lance for just about twelve varga, a half-quintant, and prior to that they’d been in the battle and then trying to navigate an asteroid field for Lance’s armor’s signature for almost six varga. It had been a very, very long day.
Hunk could feel his own eyes trying to close now too but stubbornness and fear kept them open. All that waited him anyway were nightmares as he could not rest, not really, until Lance was better.
Lance went blessedly limp a tick later.
Hunk wiped down his face, smoothed back his hair, and rubbed a large hand up and down his back to try and relieve some of the pain from his tight and cramped muscles. Just like every other time he could feel the minute tremors that would not cease.
“You’re gonna be okay,” he whispered, promised, blinking back hot tears threatening his vision. “You’re gonna be okay. I’m right here. I’ve… I’ve got you.”
Lance didn’t react except for a soft moan.
Hunk freed one hand for the thermometer, pressing it beneath Lance’s bangs.
“C’mon, hermano. Come…” he let out a sob of his own. “Come back to me.”
Lance’s eyes were racing beneath closed lids, his hand twitching just as much in Hunk’s hold and his right foot kicking out lightly.
Hunk tried not to hope he was actually waking up because he couldn’t keep suffering that disappointment. He’d done so a few more times, but it had only been to vomit or seize and when his eyes had opened they had been hazy, lost. He still only reacted to their voices with fear, pulling away and flinching.
But maybe, this time…
His fever hadn’t broken but it had yet to rise anymore either and at nearly twenty varga in since they’d begun caring for Lance, Coran reported that such a thing meant his body was stabilizing some.
“Lance?” Hunk whispered, squeezing the now bare hand, sweat-soaked bandages removed as Lance had stopped trying to scratch himself. “You waking up, hermano?”
Ocean eyes flew open at that and Lance launched himself to a sit, nearly headbutting Hunk with the haste, a gasp on his lips and chest heaving.
“No,” Lance cut him off. “No, no no.” He brought his other hand up to try and push against Hunk, but Coran gently intercepted it. Lance let out a moan and futilely tried to tug it away.
“Lance, lad,” Coran murmured, “you’re safe, my boy. You’re not there anymore.”
Lance didn’t appear to hear him, feet flailing and getting tangled in the sheets.
“No,” he whimpered again, shaking his head. “No, pl-please. Please don’t go… I’m, I’m s-sorry. Lo siento. Por favor, no me dejes. ”
Don’t leave me?
Hunk knew what this was now.
And Lance’s biggest fear had always been to be alone.
“We’re not going anywhere, hermano,” he said softly. “We’re right here.”
Lance’s head whipped around and overbright eyes landed on Hunk’s.
Hunk inhaled a sharp breath. As riddled with fever as they were Lance’s eyes were not the hazy, dead orbs of before.
He saw him.
“Lance, I’m right here,” Hunk near babbled. “Me, me and Coran. We’re here. We aren’t going anywhere. We’ll never leave you.”
Lance stared at him.
Tears began to well up.
“That’s right, I’m right here.”
Lance slumped forward and Hunk was aware of Coran letting go of Lance’s hand and he cuddled the feverish form fully into his arms.
This time Lance did not pull away.
Instead his hands were digging, pinching, in Hunk’s shirt as though trying to hold on.
He was still shaking.
“H-Hunk. I, I…”
“Shh, I’m here. I’m here.”
“I, I thought… there were…” He struggled then somewhat, lifting his head and turning it to look all about. “I, I th-thought…”
“You are sick, my boy,” Coran shifted to place one hand on Hunk’s back and one on Lance’s available shoulder. “Things might be a little confusing right now, but we’re taking care of you.”
“S-sick?” Lance repeated. “I, I don’t… I… I’m sick?”
“Yeah,” Hunk agreed, meeting Coran’s eyes over the dark head.
He wasn’t sure how much they should say right now.
But Lance was shaking his head. “No. N-no. There were, there were…” He was looking this way and that again, eyes wide with fear.
“There were Galra,” Coran filled in quietly and Lance moaned.
“They’re gone now,” Hunk said. “They’ll never hurt you again, hermano. You’re safe now. It’s okay.”
“They, they—” he broke off into a breathy sob.
Hunk could feel Lance’s heart racing.
He was still so scared.
He felt his own throat closing up.
“They are gone, Lance,” Coran said it firmly. “You are safe in the castle now.”
“Safe,” Coran repeated. He squeezed the dark shoulder. “You are safe. And we are here.”
“Safe,” Lance breathed and that time it didn’t sound like a question. “Safe.”
All of the tension bled out of his trembling frame.
“You still have a high fever,” Coran said, “but… I do think the worst of it is over.”
Hunk let out a sigh too.
“Let’s get you a drink, hmm? That would feel nice I’d imagine, and then we’ll get you lying down again.”
Hunk took charge of the water pouch, pressing the straw been dry lips, while Coran bustled behind him laying down some fresh sheets and replacing Lance’s pillow. To his relief Lance managed to drink most of the pouch and while his shaking wasn’t stopping he could feel the heartbeat coming down from its rapid thudding.
“All right, let’s get you laying down,” Hunk murmured.
In answer Lance’s hands tightened in Hunk’s shirt.
“Don’t… don’t go,” Lance whispered, pressing his forehead against Hunk’s heart. “Pl-please don’t…”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Hunk said softly. “How about I lie down with you?”
Coran helped guide Lance to the mattress and Hunk went with him, arranging himself up on his side and offering one hand for Lance to grab, which Lance clung to atop his stomach, and the other in the dark hair.
Lance let out a soft, shuddering sigh.
He was still tense.
Coran picked up Lance’s other hand between his own, sitting himself cross-legged by Lance’s side.
Lance let out another sigh, but this one sounded like a release.
“No need for that, my boy,” Coran said gently. “We are more than happy to be here. Now sleep. We will be here when you awaken.”
And for the first time since this nightmare began Lance’s lips ghosted into a smile.
“‘kay,” came the soft answer.
Within the minute Lance’s breaths had evened into actual sleep.
While this still wasn’t quite over, Hunk agreed with Coran’s assessment.
The worst of it had passed.
Lance was safe. He was going to heal.
And he would never feel that scared or alone ever again.