- “Dude, you have to admit, this is the life.”
Such are the words which reintroduce the world to Lance McClain, former Garrison cadet, pronounced missing over seven years ago after a series of violent explosions shook several locations in the desert next to the institution’s main compound.
Although the organization has remained tight-lipped on the exact circumstances of his disappearance, it’s common knowledge that McClain wasn’t the only one to vanish that night, as he had snuck out with his roommate Hunk Garret, another mediocre student, and their classmate Pidge Gunderson—a young man known for his intellect if not his good temper.
Seven years, and the families have remained quiet, but their devastation is a stark memory in the minds of an entire planet as every single screen in the world suddenly comes to life, or flickers and changes in the middle of a broadcast, and starts to display the stunning white sands of a foreign beach.
Foreign, because as blue as Earth skies can be, as clear as Earth water can turn, there is just no place on the planet which can achieve such a startling shade of crimson water, so vivid it looks like blood, and yet too clear to be, nor violet skies.
The image is crystal clear, steady and unmoving. Lance McClain reclines on his elbows on the ground, a pair of streamlined tainted glasses perched on his nose and a crooked smile playing on his lips as he tilts his head back as if to soak up the sun.
By his side, another young man, jet black hair tied back into a messy bun, a long scar running down the left side of his face. He’s clad in the same skintight white suit as McClain, and looking entirely too comfortable as he twirls a sharp purple knife between his fingers. He hums quietly in response, and the visor hiding his eyes and indeed the upper half of his face makes him look like a secret agent.
Or a killer.
McClain leans over and grabs a white tube.
The man groans but complies, and lies quietly on his front while McClain unzips the top of his white suit, revealing strong shoulders but not much else. There’s a sharp intake of breath as McClain starts rubbing lotion on his back, and his lips twist into a strange expression.
There’s a noncommittal hum.
Lance McClain looks good, for a dead man.
Sitting in front of the TV, this is what the McClains know: Lance is fine, Lance is alive. Lance looks healthy and good-humored. Lance ran away, disappeared for seven long years, and never sent a word of reassurance. Lance is chilling on some strange beach somewhere far away, and his grin is as familiar as their own reflection in the mirror… Lance, whom they believed to be dead even if they never said it out loud, because saying it felt like making it real, somehow, in some twisted way.
On Planet Es’Karet’Tessir, deep in the Keleptian Quadrant, Lance finishes lathering Keith’s wound with healing lotion and averts his eyes. Even after two days in a pod, the gash is wide and deep and an angry red still, although not as much as it used to be. He closes his eyes against the onslaught of memories, the sharp gasp that had come through the coms as Keith had been hit, the wet slurp of the metal edges being pulled from his flesh, the whimpers he hadn’t been able to contain before he finally, mercifully passed out.
He sits back down, letting his hand brush across the muscular expanse of Keith’s back as he does, and reclines on his elbows again.
“I miss Varadero,” he murmurs, mostly to himself, but Keith’s always had sharp senses, and his hearing is par for the course. His lips purse, the knife—he’s always twirling that stupid knife, these days—slows and stops. I miss peace, he doesn’t say. I miss my family. I miss home. But Keith hears it anyway.
“We’ll get you back there,” he vows, and his fingers are warm as they curl around Lance’s bony shoulder. There’s a frown on his face now and Lance knows what’s going through his head without needing to be told. Lance hasn’t been eating enough. Not after Almetria, not after their latest brush with death. They almost lost each other that day, almost lost everything. It was too close, and they bear the marks of it still. He knows he can’t go on like this. He just needs to… get over it.
Keith glances down at Lance’s healing suit next, eyes lingering on the large gash which is still knitting itself back together on his stomach.
Allura was right to send them here, Lance reflects as Keith leans back to mirror Lance’s position. They needed a vacation. There was no way either of them was going to take it easy and allow their wounds to heal properly if they’d remained on the castle, surrounded by research to do, training to undergo, allies to see to, operations to plan. There’s always something to accomplish on the castle, a new emergency to tend to.
The Altean princess usually trusts them to take care of themselves, but she also knows their limits—their devotion and restlessness. Keith trains to empty his mind, forget the horrors, the sinister glow in the arm of a man who had once been the only person he cared about, and who had tried to kill him in the end. He pushes his body until his mind can’t conjure abominations born from his deepest fears and most terrible memories to keep him up at night. Lance busies himself with diplomatic endeavors, his welcoming personality and cunning smarts the perfect combination to deal with potential allies and their hidden agendas. He smiles and jokes and flirts until the terror, the almost-loss, the grief recede and fade into the background. He bares his teeth and conceals his heart to all but one, and together, they hold each other up until there’s nothing left.
Loath as he is to admit it, dropping them off on Es’Karet’Tessir for the movement was probably for the best.
- “I thought this day would never come.”
When every screen across the globe flickers and changes, it’s no surprise to anyone to see Lance McClain again, although his surroundings are vastly different. The room he stands in seems to be lit in a dim shade of purple which highlights the sharp planes of his face. He’s clad in a black, red and white suit, panting. In the background, the blurry expanse of a starry sky stretches to infinity, troubled only by brilliant bursts of color which reflect on his face.
If it hadn’t been obvious before, it is now: Lance McClain somehow managed to land himself in deep space, further than any human has ever gone before.
Next to him stands the man from last time, visor absent and scar somehow more vivid in the flickering purple light and glowing flowers blooming in the dark. He turns to McClain, a sharp grin on his face. He looks like a predator, eyes almost glowing with anticipation. McClain smirks back, and then suddenly he reaches out, grabs the man by the back of his neck and pulls him in.
They kiss like they’re dying, like they’ve been longing for it for an eternity, like nothing exists but them in the world. The man pushes himself into McClain’s space, and they inhale each other, gloved fingers tangling in dark hair, white to white, red to black.
Their breathing is loud when they part. For a long moment, they just stand there, brow to brow, staring. They make for a gorgeous pair, that’s for sure.
Then a firework bursts into being much closer than the others. The room around them trembles and shakes them apart. They cling to each other, barely manage to stay upright, but there’s something else in their eyes now, before McClain dives back in for a quick kiss, lips curling into a giddy smile as he does.
“We can do this,” he says, an odd determination on his face, and then he’s running away, fading into the darkness.
The man lifts a hand to his lips and grins to himself. Then he glances at the camera, and more than one person find themselves frozen as they stare into those glowing purple eyes, so sharp and focused they make one feel like a mouse trapped by a serpent’s hypnotizing stare. All over the world, more than one person does a doubletake, because this face has been on wanted posters for well over seven years now, ever since the disappearance of the Garrison Cadets.
“Let’s go, Rover,” Keith Kogane says, and takes off in turn.
Sitting in front of the TV, this is what the McClains know: social media floods with comments ranging from enthusiastic fangirling to disgusted reproach. Lance was dead for so long, and now he isn’t. Instead, he’s gallivanting through space and kissing dangerous-looking boys under the fireworks. Lance, who never even hinted at being attracted to his own gender. And whatever he’s doing, they’re stuck on Earth unable to ever contact him unless he decides he wants to talk to them again and maybe explain what’s going on. And it’s so hard to see him living his life, happy and healthy and so very far away.
It’s been a while since they’ve been caught in a surprise attack, but Sendak has proven to be a bigger pain in the ass than Zarkon ever was, and actually manages to catch them off guard close enough to a solar storm that their radars wouldn’t detect his fleet. He also, of course, just had to attack in the middle of the night.
But Lance has never felt so awake, never so alive as when he stands in that shadowed bay onboard a dying Galra ship, explosions like fireworks in the background, and his fingers tangling in Keith’s long tresses as they kiss like they’re dying, like this is the last time they’ll see each other, or maybe just the first. The sharp points of Keith’s canines brush against his lips, but he can’t bring himself to care, even as he catches a glimpse of burning yellow. Keith’s eyes tend to do that, he’s noticed, when he gets overcome by his emotions, and it’s a privilege to be the one that causes such emotion, to be allowed to witness this, a privilege that makes his heart burst in his chest as he stares into those eyes he’s come to love as much as life itself.
He loves Keith, has for a long time. This… just makes it official, is a way to acknowledge those feelings between them. But it doesn’t… it doesn’t change anything. Keith feels the same, he knows. The glow in his eyes is enough of a tell. They’ve been together through thick and thin ever since this started, guarded each other’s back and pulled each other up and forward and stood over each other’s fallen body. They’ve reached out and held and comforted and pushed and pulled and cried and screamed. Together, always together, through dying stars and slave camps and burning ships and undercover missions and alternate realities. Through lion changes and betrayals and deaths and captures.
They’re human and Galra, Red and Blue, Sniper and Swordsman. They’re Lance and Keith, and it. is. time.
- “Oh, darling, you have no idea.”
The next time it happens, McClain is clad in a magnificent white suit with red highlights, a short red cape draped over his shoulder. A single earring dangles from his left earlobe, silver twining around the shell of his ear and then down to encase a shimmering purple pearl. He wears a shiny gold coronet with a single crimson gem settled in the center of his forehead, emphasizing the delicate arch of his brows over glimmering blue eyes.
He looks positively stunning, tossing his head back as he laughs at something the… alien close to him says, leaning forward to reply with a sly grin, eyes hooded as flirts before whisking them off to join countless over couples moving their bodies to a foreign beat. The hall is gigantic, glimmering with shimmering fabrics and outfits and metals, aliens of all shapes and sizes and colors mingling and dancing their own dances, drinking and eating and just partying away.
McClain is the center of attention, and clearly enjoys it. People flock over to him, fawn over him, touch his hair and his hands and his clothes, and he allows it, allows them to touch and caress and embrace him. He flirts and winks and laughs and dances and teases, fluttering from partner to partner like a bee goes from flower to flower.
He’s dazzling, and gorgeous, and young and confident, and he’s a cheat.
Or maybe Kogane was just a fling.
Or maybe he’s not, and McClain is just taking advantage of his absence to have some fun with other people.
Sitting in front of the TV, this is what the McClains know: Lance has always been a bit of a flirt, but he also had a big heart, and they knew that when he found the one, he’d always be loyal. He was protective, their Lance. A golden boy, true to the last and so very kind.
Yet here he is, not three weeks after kissing that Kogane boy, dancing the night away with aliens and flirting like his life depends on it. Like nothing happened, like his relationship with Kogane means nothing.
They stare at their son, their brother, their nephew, their uncle, gleefully stomping the glimmering golden stone of an alien palace somewhere deep in space, far, far away, and somehow it feels like watching a stranger.
These days, most of them try to stay away from social media: public opinion of Lance is very poor. People may be curious about space travel and the aliens and everything, but his behavior is not doing him any favors. Maybe it would help if they dropped a statement. They’re his family. Surely, if they said they understand, that he must have had a reason not to contact them, then people would calm down.
But they… can’t. Can’t bring themselves to talk to the media. Can’t bring themselves to face the world. To answer their questions, to hear their questions.
They don’t recognize Lance.
The world doesn’t need to know that.
It’s all they can do for him.
They’re all looking at him, the dazzling Red Paladin, and Lance grins and grins and smiles and flirts and dances.
He teases his way through conversation, drops hints, throws feelers, gauges people. Allura’s meetings are all well and good, but he knows this is where you plant the seeds of an alliance. And for all the Altean Princess’ poise, she’s sometimes so focused on her mission, her purpose, that she forgets that sometimes, people need to have fun. They don’t want to hear about war and alliances and strategies. Sometimes, they just want to drink and dance and have fun and forget. They want to have fun, and Lance, Lance can do that. Lance will be here when they want to let go, to find companionship. He’ll learn their dance moves, their drinking songs and laugh at their questions about humans. He’ll tell as many heroic stories of the Paladins of Voltrons as they want to hear, over and over again, and embellish and twist and polish until there are dozens of different versions feeding the rumor mill, building up on the legend of the Paladins of Voltron.
He’ll tell them about the quiet strength and kindness of the Yellow Paladin in his armored lion. He’ll tell them about the razor-sharp wits of the Green Paladin in their invisible lion. He’ll tell them of the heroic battle and resilient heart of the Blue Paladin in her ice-born lion. He’ll tell them of the selflessness and unwavering loyalty of the Black Paladin, their leader.
The stories go around and around, and he knows by the time he leaves the planet, those people will be going home spreading the word, talking about the Voltron alliance, about the Blade of Marmora, about the true emperor waiting to end this war and claim his throne and live in harmony.
War is not only a matter of death and explosions and suffering. It’s also a matter of words, and hearts, and hope. And belief.
- “I spy with my little eye…”
McClain’s body twists mid-air so he’s upside-down. The bright blue of his eyes is obscured by his helmet’s visor and the general obscurity of the room, but the purple light flickering somewhere off-screen is enough to catch a glimpse of them darting around as he struggles to finish his sentence.
There’s a snort, and then Kogane’s unimpressed voice.
“Uh, I don’t know. How about everything.”
McClain sighs, twists again, and now he’s floating on his side, head resting on his fist like he’s posing or something. There are colored particles, dark and glowing yellow—space fireflies, maybe, if that’s even a thing—floating all around him, some staining the white of his space suit, but he doesn’t seem to care.
“Can’t you play along?” He whines. “I’m bored.”
This time, the sigh is Kogane’s.
“I’d rather you put what few are left of your brain cells to work so we can get out of here.” There’s a sudden hitch in his breath on the last word. His voice wavers and McClain perks up, floating upright and seemingly ready to move, fingers fluttering weirdly across his heart, but Kogane must wave him off, because he settles down again, albeit grudgingly. He crosses his arms over his chest.
“I spy with my little eye…”
Sitting in front of the TV, this is what the McClains know: life in space seems… easy. Floating in 0G, playing games with his boyfriend—is that what they are? Boyfriends? Kogane doesn’t seem angry about what had happened at the ball, so maybe he’s not aware that Lance is cheating on him, or maybe he doesn’t care. His replies, in any case, are dry and terse, irritated. Maybe he is aware, and just contains himself when forced to be in close proximity with Lance. It’s hard to know.
Even if they’re still together, Edelira isn’t sure she likes this boy, that he’s good for Lance. Back when Lance and his friends first went missing, the media had a field day unearthing all there was to know about the presumed murderer. The Garrison was all too happy to point at the ex-Cadet, and there were many instructors and students alike who came forward to testify to Kogane’s volatile temper. Keith Kogane, whom Lance used to fume about constantly. Takashi Shirogane’s protégé, the best pilot of his generation. Broody, defiant, violent, and a loner. A rebellious teenager who was in the system for over ten years, and never managed to stay longer than six months in a foster home.
He was caught on camera on the night of Lance’s disappearance, planting artisanal bombs around a Garrison facility.
Keith Kogane went from unknown to most wanted overnight. They didn't dare say it to her and the other missing children’s parents’ face, but the main accusation was suspicion of murder.
Seven years later, and Lance is out in space, kissing the boy everybody thought murdered him. Seven years later, and they’re playing games in 0G.
Keith’s responses are getting slower and less coherent. He hasn’t said anything, has clearly done his best to keep his voice level and his tone firm, but Lance knows in his bones that he’s hurt. Keith is always so restrained, Lance didn’t realize at first what the dull ache throbbing from his right hip to the center of his abdomen was, ignored it as best he could. But the pain only got worse as doboshes went by and they remained stuck in separate containers, floating in outer space. Such a fantastic idea it had been to sneak into those to escape from a patrol and take a breather.
But now he can see drops of moisture, suspiciously dark in color, floating into his container through the air vent, and he knows without needing to check what they are, just like he knows with absolute certainty, that the space fireflies hovering inert all over the place are his precious essence, the roots of his magic. Many have hit the wall between them already, splattering against it in a nightmarish parody of water droplets on a rainy day. Keith is nowhere in sight, though. He’s kept himself behind a fallen crate ever since they got here, and hasn’t moved.
“I spy with my little eye… You still there, Mullet? Don’t fall asleep on me now.”
The silence that follows feels like an eternity.
Keep it together, he chants to himself, keep it together.
Yet when ticks keep going by and Keith still doesn’t answer, he finds it harder and harder to pretend. The more Keith weakens, the more he starts to feel through the bond. Keith doesn’t want to worry him. Doesn’t want him to panic at the realization that they’re trapped and he’s hurt and they have no way to communicate with anyone other than each other, and Lance. Can’t. Do. Anything. To. Help.
But Lance knows. Keith should know that Lance knows. Maybe he does.
Or maybe he’s too far gone to realize that he hasn’t been able to keep up the pretense for a few vargas already.
“I’m not sleeping.” The strain is obvious now, but after what seems like an eternity of damning silence, those familiar tones make his heart want to burst in his chest.
“Keith,” Lance murmurs, can’t help himself anymore.
The pain in his chest is all-encompassing now. His blood throbs in his ears. He floats over to the transparent wall keeping them apart, presses his hands against it.
And then finally the Black Paladin emerges, white and black and so much red. His chest armor is split open, an enormous gash bleeding red, gloved hands pressing on it with increasing weakness. It’s like the embodiment of the dull pain that’s been throbbing through Lance for vargas now.
He floats over, and Lance has eyes only for him, notes the lack of coordination, the way he shakes his head minutely every other second. Trying to keep himself awake. He can feel it in his own head, too, like a distant, persistent buzzing.
He bumps into the glass unceremoniously, more red splattering onto it, scrambles to stay upright, hisses in agony. Lance launches himself forward and snarls at the wall as he hits it head on, beats his fists against it, but it’s useless. Keith’s pained gasps echo over the coms, into his head, his heart, his very being. When he finally settles, he pants against the wall, sweat-soaked hair plastered to his face, eyelids dropping over hazy eyes. Lance moves so he’s eye-level with him.
Those beloved purple eyes struggle to meet his. It’s like his head has become too heavy for his neck, like Keith, who’s always so strong, so steady, so determined, can hardly remain upright anymore.
A grim sort of smile twitches at the corner of his lips. Something dark dribbles out, stains his chin. He visibly swallows it back. Lance feels the disgust like it's his own, swallows in turn.
“I’m trying,” he whispers, like a promise, like a vow.
Like an apology.
“I know,” Lance whispers, presses forward, until they’re brow to brow and chest to chest.
He holds Keith’s drooping eyes, grits his teeth against the moisture that wants to spill down his cheeks, and wills him to stay awake.
+1.“I think you’ve done enough.”
Lance McClain goes missing on a hot summer night, somewhere in the Texan desert.
Lance McClain reappears on a quiet winter afternoon, soaking in the sun of an alien beach on screens the world over.
Lance McClain comes homes on a cool spring morning.
Edelira stands on the doorstep of the family home, the house which seemed so empty for almost ten years, and which had started to fill with life and laughter again right as a flickering screen brought a ghost back to life. She leans against the doorjamb to support herself and locks her knees, clenches her fingers against the frame as she takes him in.
He’s standing there with an odd expression on his face, but the blue eyes flickering over her seem duller than she remembers them, and there’s a long scar running down the left side of his face. His hair is longer than before, the undercut more visible on the left than on the right, where the longer strands at the top of his head gather in an artful mess.
A black duffle peeks from behind his back, and his clothes are new. She can’t help but feel surprised at that, as if some part of her had expected him to return to her exactly as he’d been when she’d last seen him: short hair, mischievous eyes, a boyish smile, and that old green jacket he’d been so fond of. Instead, his features have sharpened, his eyes have darkened, and he’s grown even taller.
His voice has changed, too. It’s deeper, now. The voice of a man.
And as she stands there and the silence stretches, all she can think is that she lost her boy seven years ago, and she’s never getting him back. She opens her mouth—
This voice she knows, is intimately familiar with. Only now does she realize that she’s not alone. The rest of the family’s crowded behind her, staring at the man on the doorstep, whose lips are growing progressively more pinched.
“Manuel,” he says, and there’s an underlying tension there that Edelira just—can’t take. Not after all this time. Not after all these years.
“You…” Manuel’s voice is tense, too, but this tension she knows. It’s the ever-growing anger that’s been simmering under the surface ever since the start of the broadcasts, ever since they realized Lance wasn’t dead. The anger that finally has a target.
“You fucking asshole.”
He’s past her in a blur of movement, but Edelira hardly even realizes, even as Veronica steps up to steady her, warm hands strong as anchors on her shoulders. There’s yelling, and movement, but she can’t tell what’s going on anymore through her tears. Things quiet down a little when Veronica barks something then steers her inside, and suddenly she’s sitting on the couch, surrounded by her family, and Lance is just…standing there, as if he doesn’t really know what to do.
When she’s calmed down a little, she sees that his jaw is turning darker, yet he still holds himself tall, chin high and that duffle still thrown over his shoulder. Those dark blue eyes flick from person to person, take in the father, the siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews all standing there, gathered around her.
Finally, they settle on her, and he opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again. And then, he says:
“What’s… going on?” His eyes flicker again, over the room, to the door behind him, still wide open, and then back to her.
Manuel splutters somewhere to her right, choking on his rage. Edelira can feel it, the boiling rage surrounding her like a protective, blistering shield. She knows her family can be intimidating. They’ve always been a united front, standing together against any threat, real or perceived, to one of their own.
She never thought she’d see the day the threat was one of their own.
…Or is it?
“You were gone without a word for over seven years, Lance.”
Veronica’s tone is ice cold, and Edelira can picture her right now, her eldest, glaring daggers at Lance, mouth twisted down, the perfect picture of frozen disdain. For some reason, Lance looks relieved at that, and she feels that anger spark inside her as well, tears drying on her face.
“I know, and I’m sorry. I can explain—”
“No, thanks,” Juan drops firmly, his large hand gently cradling hers. “I think we’ve seen enough.”
Lance’s brow furrows, confusion obvious on his face.
“You, gallivanting in space with your boyfriend.” Manuel spits the words like poison, and Lance blanches abruptly.
“Yes.” Edelira vaguely notices how everyone turns to her as the words finally tumble from her mouth, how they wait for her call. “Yes, we saw. We saw everything.” She pauses and stares into his eyes. “I just… I tried—We tried, we did, but I… I have never been so ashamed in my life, Lance.”
His eyes are wide as he stares at her. She stands, and for how tall he is now, he suddenly seems very small as he takes a step back.
“I don’t recognize you anymore, Lancito,” she says, pleads, almost.
They’re back at the door, suddenly. His eyes flicker over her shoulder, to the family hovering—guarding at her back. Then back to her. Always, they come back to her. They’re wide now, pupils dilated so they’re almost black.
“I…see,” he says at last. He waits, just standing there, waits for something, she doesn’t know what, or maybe she does but she just can’t give it to him, and when she keeps standing right there in the middle of the doorway, he—takes a step back. And another. And another.
He stops once he’s back on the front step, glances down at his feet. There’s something distant in his expression now, as if he’s not entirely present anymore, or he doesn’t really understand what’s happening.
He looks back up. His eyes flicker over her shoulder again, but further away this time, into the hallway, up the staircase, where his old room lies. She watches as he looks at everyone in turn, takes his time. When he turns his attention back to her, something has changed on his face.
“I see,” he repeats, then nods. “Well, then. Good to—to see that you’re safe. All of you.”
Just like that, he turns, and takes one step away. One, small step. Then another. And another, bigger one.
And then he’s walking away, straight shoulders disappearing down the slope, towards the sea, and she finds herself, as if pulled by a magnet, following at a distance, trying to keep him in her line of sight as long as she can.
He’s not her boy anymore. He’s a man she doesn’t know, a man who didn’t see fit to contact her or anyone else for seven long years. Who shows up like nothing’s wrong and expects… what? What did he expect?
Her mouth opens as he reaches the road, his name already on her lips, but then he suddenly veers off to the right, steps quickening, and that’s when she notices the motorcycle. A looming monster of a motorcycle, black with purple accents, parked on a small resting area by the side of the road. A man leans on it, arms crossed over his chest as he gazes at the sea, and even though all she can see is a long dark braid, she knows who he is even before he turns.
His expression shifts from confusion to sadness as he spots Lances, but his words are carried away by the wind before Edelira gets a chance to catch them. Lance shakes his head then and, for the first time since he showed up on her doorstep, his shoulders slump. They move as one, Lance leaning forward even as Kogane takes a step towards him, and as leather-clad arms come up to encompass him into a hug, Lance allows his forehead to rest against Kogane’s shoulder.
Gloved fingers settle on his nape, caressing the base of his neck with such familiarity it makes something ache inside of her, but the embrace doesn’t last long. Lance pulls back, tosses his duffle onto the back of the bike and quickly secures it there. He makes to mount the bike, stops when Kogane’s hand wraps around his arm. The raised eyebrow is so familiar she feels her tears start flowing anew, but then his face crumbles at whatever Kogane just said, and she wants to—she wants to—
And then tan hands cup Kogane’s face, the contrast between them almost jarring. Kogane allows it, leans into the kiss.
As the bike roars down the road, the last thing Edelira McClain sees of her son is his arms wrapped around the waist of the man she believed had murdered him, his front pressed to Kogane’s back, his cheek plastered to his shoulder.
There was a time when Lance gave up on ever going home. When the war just kept dragging on and on, battles following other battles, people getting hurt, getting captured, dying. When every day was the same, an endless blur of training, missions and diplomatic work, when there was nothing but the infinite blackness of space out the window, stars in the distance, and foreign planets.
Oh, how he’d longed for Varadero in those dark hours! How he’d missed the quiet lapping of the waves against the soft sand, the calls of hungry seagulls, the howling of the wind on stormy days! He’d picture himself as he used to be back when he was a kid, before he’d left for the Garrison, his dream. Burrowing in a soft plaid on the window seat, a scolding cup of tea cradling between his hands, staring out the rain-splattered glass at the raging sea.
It felt like they were all alone in the world sometimes, in their family house perched atop the hill, overlooking the sea. But he’d had his mom’s lively chatter, his dad’s boisterous laughter, his siblings’ antics, his cousins’ games, his nieces and nephews’ shrieks of joy as they chased each other around the house. It had been a familiar background noise, one he’d been able to just tune out as he closed his eyes and just enjoyed the warmth in the atmosphere.
In space, everything had been new at first, an incredible discovery. Space! The place he’d been dreaming of since he was two and watching his first documentaries. The place he’d studied hard to someday get as close to as possible, the place he’d hoped to one day be able to explore alongside others like him.
But then had come that day he’d fished out his phone, fully intending to tell all about this incredible adventure to his mom, and the beeping which announced the lack of service had been like a bucket of ice water. He was far away from home, so very far away that there was no hope to ever contact his mom again, or his siblings, or anyone. With that realization had come the silence, and it had been heavy, pressing down on him at all times of the day and night, to the point he’d hardly managed to get in any sleep.
Keith had been a welcome reprieve, then. Keith, who spent his time training on his own, and whose purple eyes saw far more than he let on. Keith, who’d risen to every bait he threw, who stood toe to toe with him and gave as good as he got. Keith, who wasn’t afraid to argue or split up the team, who, in spite of all their bickering, listened to what he had to say, and somehow always knew when he needed company.
Keith, who’s become such an integral part of his life, whose heartbeat thrums a steady pulse at the back of his mind, and who’d insisted on driving him home, refused to accompany him.
“You haven’t seen them in seven years, Lance. You guys need time to reconnect. Baby steps, or you’ll overwhelm them.” Had he not been so nervous, Lance would probably have teased him about his newfound sense of empathy and understanding of social relations. As it was, he’d been so focused on the impending meeting that he’d only managed a strained quirk of his lips.
Keith, who’s always been there for him, guarding his back, picking up the pieces when things went wrong. Who waited for him even after they said goodbye. Who opened his arms and whisked him away and to the safety of his—their hotel room.
There they now lay, together in the bed, Keith’s arm securely wrapped around him. It’s hard to tell whether he’s asleep, but Lance would bet on not. As for him, well. His mind has been swirling with far too many thoughts for him to get any rest. He keeps seeing his mother’s eyes in his head, swirling with tears of pain and anger both. He’d expected a lot of things going home. Had thought they might have moved, or moved on, or be angry, yes.
But he never thought they wouldn’t let him explain. In the past, when he was stuck in space and day-dreaming of his return, it’d always be a triumphant affair. He’d come home once the war was over and the universe was safe. He’d explain what had been going on, why he’d left, how he hadn’t really had a choice. And his mom would understand, because she always did, and so would his family, and he’d spend entire evenings telling them all about space, his alien friends, the balls, the epic fights—censored of course, the amazing things he’s seen. He’d tell them about the Castle, the Lions, the other Paladins.
He’d tell them about Keith.
And then he’d bring Keith over one day, and he’d never really leave. The kids would adore him, and although he’d be reserved at first, they’d slowly bring him out of his shell.
“I think we’ve seen enough.”
They knew already.
“You gallivanting in space with your boyfriend.”
He’s never brought up the issue of his sexuality with his family, mostly because he hadn’t really thought about it before he left, or even after, for that matter. He’d enjoyed flirting, didn’t really care who he did it with as long as they didn’t mind in turn.
Then there was Keith, and that was it.
Space might have spoiled him when it comes to that. He’s so used to seeing relationships of all kinds that he forgot how vicious humans can get when they encounter something they don’t like or understand.
It never crossed his mind that his family could be one of those who don’t accept difference.
Gentle fingers brush against his cheeks, and he realizes he’s crying.
“I’ve got you,” Keith murmurs as he folds him into a tight embrace. “I’ve got you. I’m here. It’ll be alright, you’ll see.”
It doesn’t feel like it. Rather, it feels like there’s no exit and no light anywhere in the world. Like there’s nothing left for him in this world. Like everything he did those past seven years, the blood he’s bled, the tears he’s shed, the bones he’s broken and the pain he’s suffered amount to nothing more than the disapproval of his family. His family who think they’ve seen enough. How can they even—? Then Keith tightens his arms around him, plastering himself to him, and it’s to the continuous murmur of soft reassurances that Lance finally falls asleep.
He takes Keith sightseeing the next day.
The man says nothing, lets himself be towed all over the city, purple eyes taking in Lance’s hometown with interest. Lance has been talking for years about showing him his home, and he firmly intends to keep his word. So they go to the beach, and they eat ice-cream, and they see the sights like a regular tourist couple, except that Lance knows all the good places.
Lance chatters the whole time, talking about the island and its history, giving fun anecdotes and childhood stories, laughing to himself sometimes for reasons only he can fully understand. Keith, bless his soul, listens intently, asks questions, and follows him everywhere without complaint, although Lance knows this must be tiring for him. Lance’s last mission ended over a week ago, but Keith led another one with the Blade of Marmora right after that and returned only three days ago, so he has to be exhausted.
“Thank you,” he whispers later that day as they sit watching the sea in silence. Keith’s purple eyes hold a question as he turns to look at him. “Thank you for humoring me.”
Keith frowns. “I’m not. Whatever you need, Lance. Always.”
Lance blinks against the sudden sting in his eyes. “I love you, you know.”
A wry smile. “I know.”
He can’t help it, chokes on a laugh, twines his fingers around Keith’s. “I knew it was a bad idea to catch you up on pop culture.”
“Yes, yes, it’s my own fault.”
Keith laughs at his antics, a small, quiet thing, and he finds himself grinning in turn.
“We’ve come a long way, huh?”
“We really have.” A pause. “What will you do, now?”
Lance shrugs, opens his mouth. Then a hand slams on the table between them, and suddenly they're both out of their chairs, hands raised and ready for a fight. A good thing Coran insisted on them leaving their weapons in their bags with their bayards, Lance reflects absently as he looks upon his brother’s shell-shocked expression. The mere thought of what might have happened otherwise is too much.
“Manuel,” he forces himself to utter as he straightens out of his stance, before nodding at his sister, who's watching him with a frown. “Veronica. What are you doing here?”
“What are you doing here? Thought you’d be back in space with your boyfriend by now.” He shoots a disdainful look at Keith, who simply raises an eyebrow in return. As Manuel looks away, a strange flush on his cheeks, Lance can’t help a small grin. Keith has become a master when it comes to looking unimpressed, which is very handy when it comes to putting alliance leaders in their place and training new recruits. Few are those who can withstand his impassive staring without starting to feel very, very stupid. Clearly, Manuel isn’t one of them.
A thrum of satisfaction pulses through his chest, and he tosses a quick smile in Keith’s direction before looking back at his siblings, who have now been joined by the rest of the family.
Lance curses himself: he should have remembered the weekly outing. Although a distant part of him did, leading him to unconsciously take Keith to the café they always used to end up at for some sugary treats before heading back home.
“Hello,” he forces himself to say. And then, as the silence lingers: “This is Keith.”
“We know who he is,” Veronica dismisses with a critical look at the man.
“You do?” Keith says, eyebrows raised. “I don’t think we ever met before, though.”
This time, it's Aunt Jacinta who scoffs. “Considering your rap sheet, it’s no wonder the Garrison thought you’d killed their missing cadets,” she sneers. “Turns out Lance liked criminals, though.”
Keith is very pale when their eyes meet.
“Killed?” Lance hears himself repeat as if from very far away. “They said Keith was a murderer?”
The café has fallen very quiet all around them, but all he can focus on is the wanted poster Manuel just stuck under his nose, Keith’s young face—dios, they’d been so young, back then—scowling up at him from the screen over a frankly ridiculous list of offences.
“When this is over,” he promises without looking up, “I’m going to find Iverson and relieve him of his remaining eye.”
Keith shakes himself but says nothing. His hands are balled into fists at his sides. The satisfaction has turned into a distant hurt. Lance clamps down on the vengeful rage rising up inside of him. He wants to wrap himself around Keith, twine their fingers together and whisper to him all of his love and then some. He wants to remind him that he has friends, a family, and that he's loved by many. Wants to talk of all those people he’s saved over the years, the soldiers who trust him with their lives on the battlefield, the warriors who respect him, the recruits who look up to him, the team who trusts him.
Some of his feelings must carry through, because Keith tilts his head in his direction, and the hurt recedes somewhat to make room for overwhelming gratitude. Lance takes a step closer to him so their shoulders brush together, and wraps Keith’s fist into his palm, thumb rubbing gently at his knuckles. When he looks back at his family, they're staring at his and Keith’s hands, lips pursed and sneers still very apparent.
And that. Just. No.
“Did you have anything specific to say when you came over, or did you just decide to come and be nasty for the pleasure of it?”
He didn't really intend to be so straightforward, shouldn’t have been, really. There's a reason he's the Head Diplomat of the Voltron alliance, after all. He's supposed to be cool-headed enough to take insults with a smile, and dish out payback and threats all in one nicely-worded package.
But he shouldn’t have to use those skills with his family, the people who should stand by him through thick and thin, and so he just… won't. He's tired of fighting. This was supposed to be a vacation, their first in years except for those times Allura decided to maroon them on random resort planets so they could heal, and he'll be damned if he lets anyone spoil it for them.
When no answer is forthcoming, he shakes his head to himself and turns to leave.
“C’mon, Keithy. Let’s go soak up the sun while we still can.”
Maybe it's nasty of him as well to throw it out there, but he wants them to know that he'll be gone soon. Wants them to know they’ve thrown away their chance. He returned as many who’ve been involved in this war will never get to, but they've judged and sentenced him all in one go.
They’ve hardly taken three steps before Veronica stops them.
“While you still can? What does that even mean?”
“It means we’ll be flying out again in three days. Goodbye.”
Lance is already out of the café and striding away by the time the words finally register.
Three days. Three days!
And then she’s running and she’s holding onto his arm. He tenses at her contact, but she can’t bring herself to care about that when he just said…
“You’re leaving in three days?”
He’s stiff under her grip, but his hand is gentle when he frees himself from her grasp. For a second, she debates clinging on, but Kogane’s purple eyes are watching her like a hawk, and Lance’s dark blue gaze is still sharp enough that she has a feeling it wouldn’t go over well. Not that she should be careful. While he was off gallivanting through space and kissing boys and flirting with aliens, she thought he was dead. He has no right to act like he’s being wronged. No right.
But he’s leaving again?
How are they supposed to fix things if he’s leaving again? Is he not planning on apologizing? On talking to them ever again?
So she allows him to unclasp her hand from his arm, and just waits as his eyes flicker over her face. Whatever he’s looking for, he must find it, for she thinks he softens a little. Just a bit. Enough, for now.
“Yes,” he answers at last, and his tone is moderately softer, although still nothing like his once boisterous personality. “This was only a temporary thing.”
“Temporary?” Juan explodes at her shoulder. “Lance, son, you disappear without a word for over seven years, and all you can say when you return is that your stay is temporary? Do you have any idea what your mother, what we all went through all this time?”
Lance’s expression shutters. “Yes, and I’m sorry, but I had no choice.”
“There’s always a choice!”
Movement catches her eye, and Edelira switches her focus to Kogane, who’s shifting closer to Lance, shoulders now pressed together. His eyes are hard, his body brimming with tension, but he’s not watching them anymore. Instead, he seems to be looking at their surroundings, but the way he’s holding himself is…odd. As if he were expecting something to happen any second now.
“Well, I didn’t have one, which you should understand if you really know everything! I thought you’d understand, but it never came to me that you might be a bunch of prejudiced—”
“We need to move.”
It’s only four words, and Kogane doesn’t even raise his voice. In fact, he’s barely audible at all, but Lance hears him all the same, his head snapping to him before following his line of sight. Edelira twists her neck to look, too, but there’s nothing all that unusual except a few really tall men.
When she looks back, Lance’s posture has changed completely. He’s not—tense exactly, but there’s a readiness to him that wasn’t there before. His shoulders are pulled back, his eyes vigilant, his whole body strangely relaxed, unlike just a moment before. At his side, Kogane seems like a mirror reflection of him, the exact same kind of attitude, fingers twitching at his sides, as if itching for something to hold.
“We need to get out of here.”
Lance nods at Kogane. They share a look.
“Do what Keith says,” Lance tells them quietly, and it’s such a jarring change from the loud shouting from before that Edelira finds herself nodding. And then Lance is gone, melting into the crowd.
“Follow me. Keep your heads down.”
They move through the crowd. No one seems to have noticed anything wrong, and her family’s faces all show the same growing incredulity. What’s going on? Why are they even following this stranger as if they’re on some sort of mission? Edelira feels her disbelief mounting and mounting, her footsteps slowing, until she’s stopped entirely.
For all that he didn’t look at them even once, Kogane notices instantly, whirls around.
“We need to keep moving,” and the urgency in his voice almost has her complying on instinct before she remembers herself.
“I’m not going anywhere until I have an explanation,” she says. “Where did Lance go?”
“He went to fetch something.” Kogane isn’t very good at disguising his emotions, and his mounting impatience is clear on his face. He’s still not looking at them, eyes flickering all over the place with growing urgency.
“Just follow me, alright? We’ll explain after.”
And Edelira’s had enough. From his expression, so has Juan. The rest of the family, too.
Kogane pinches his lips. His eyes stop on something behind them. He blanches, whirls their way.
The world explodes. Edelira hits the ground hard, her ears ringing. People are screaming and running in the background, but all she can hear is the voice roaring over the noise.
“Silence! I am Karthrok, Commander of Lord Sendak’s Fleet. On your knees, maggots! On your knees before we put you down!”
There are strong arms around her, pulling her up—Kogane’s, it’s Kogane who wrapped himself around her and protected her from the explosion which, she can now see, destroyed a souvenir shop’s front. He helps her onto her knees, and her very soul rebels even as her legs shake and her ears keep ringing. Her vision keeps swimming, but it gets better by the minute.
As people follow orders, she can finally make sense of what’s happening: the square is surrounded by purple aliens in dark armor aiming guns at the crowd. They’re much taller than any human she’s ever seen, their features bearing resemblance to cats or reptiles. Some of them have fur, others, scales. All stare them down with unfeeling golden eyes, and their hands are steady as they shoot down a few young men who’d been trying to sneak away. Their bodies fall, prompting more cries from the crowd, but a barked order brings silence.
An alien—rounded ears with tufts of fur at the top, glowing yellow eyes and clawed hands, his armor accented in orange, stands at the front, arms crossed over his bulging chest.
Edelira looks around her. Juan is right there, to her left, and Manuel and Veronica, too. The others are there as well, kneeling and doing their best to keep it together while making sure the kids don’t panic. It’s a difficult task given their own fear, and Edelira shudders, only to freeze when someone squeezes her shoulder. She glances to her right. Kogane’s there, quirks a small smile at her. He’s nothing like the glowering man from before, all sharp glares and sharper tension. Now that there’s danger, his entire body exudes reassurance, his features calm and his every move controlled as he looks at them all in turn until he’s sure he’s got their attention, brings a finger to his lips, and gestures for them to keep their heads down.
Metaphor or not, Edelira gets it. Although it grates to follow him, his composure is comforting.
With another quick smile, this time in the kids’ direction, Kogane turns back to the front, lowers his head, and settles down.
“Now,” the alien at the front says. “As I said, I am Karthrok, Commander of Lord Sendak’s Fleet. I represent the mighty Galra empire, ruler of the universe. We know that the Paladins of Voltron are on this planet. Surrender them, and you shall be spared.”
Another alien, this one more reptilian in looks, steps up and lifts his rifle.
“From this moment on, we will start shooting one of you for every dobosh you refuse to cooperate.” He aims at a young man staring up at him from the crowd. Edelira can’t really see his face from where she’s kneeling, but she definitely catches the full-body shudder that runs down his spine as he finds himself with a gun pointed at his face.
She glances to her side. Kogane’s looking behind her, making appeasing gestures, and when she turns, Manuel is glaring at him, mouthing something with the ferocity that’s his trademark.
What are you doing? She reads. Aren’t aliens your specialty? Do something!
Keith shakes his head, makes that calming gesture again, but it only infuriates Manuel further. This time around, Edelira has to side with Keith. Standing against these aliens sounds foolish and dangerous, and she’s very sorry for that young man, but she just can’t bear the thought of her family in danger. And even if Lance disappointed her, left her behind without a word for seven long years, even if she doesn’t approve of his choice in partners, she wouldn’t push Keith into a fight he can’t possibly win and force her boy to go through the pain of losing the man he loves.
So she reaches out for Manuel’s sleeve, tugs at it with a warning in her eyes. At the front, the reptilian alien steps forward, and the young man starts babbling, pleading for his life. He’s just a kid, Edelira realizes. Tall and built for his age, yes, but his voice is still changing. He can’t be any older than seventeen.
And then Manuel stands up, rips his sleeve from Edelira’s grip. For a second, she stares at his calf uncomprehendingly.
“There are no Paladins here, we don’t know what you’re talking about. Leave us alone!”
A muttered curse at her side. The gun turns Manuel’s way, but she doesn’t even have time to scream. And then Kogane unfolds in front of Manuel, covering him with his body just as the gun goes off, a beam of purple light gathered and released from the tip of the barrel in a handful of seconds. Kogane grunts, but when the light dissipates, he’s still standing there, and there’s a wide, curved blade with a glowing purple symbol etched below the hilt. He sways a little, spreads his legs to stand firm.
“Take him!” Karthrok roars, and suddenly Kogane’s gone, wielding that sword like he was born to it. At least five hit the ground before the reptilian one finally gets in a lucky shot, and Kogane collapses like a puppet with its strings cut. The sword clatters on the pavement. Karthrok grabs him by the hair.
“The Blade,” he hisses, and his tone holds a strange sort of reverent awe. “You look tinier in person.”
He slaps Kogane’s face. “Tell me, Blade. Where is the Red Paladin?”
Kogane spits at him, earns himself a foot to the gut in reprisal. He doubles over, breath hissing through clenched teeth. Edelira clamps her hands over her mouth.
“As expected of the notorious Black Paladin,” Karthrok straightens, wiping his face. He glances around. “I am sure the Druids will have fun with that one. Take him away!”
It’s over, just like that. Two soldiers drag away the prisoner, and the commander follows with his troops. It’s only when Juan helps her up that Edelira spots the red drops on the floor. Only when she frantically checks on the family that she realizes none of them are injured.
They stand in the square, suddenly feeling lost. The police, finally here, start interviewing the hostages. She tells them exactly what she saw, knows they’re struggling with the fact that every single person is saying the same, unbelievable story.
“That man, Kogane. You said he was here with your son?” The policewoman pauses. “Where’s your son now, ma’am?”
Edelira’s heart jumps in her chest. Lance disappeared right before this happened. Did he witness the whole thing? Did he get caught? Where…?
Then Veronica points forward, at the spot where Karthrok and his men once stood, and she suddenly feels cold all over, then warm, then cold again. Lance crouches there, picks up something. A nearby cop shouts at him for disturbing the crime scene, but he ignores him, tucks the object—Kogane’s sword, she realizes, although it’s much smaller now—into his belt. They head over to him. In his other hand, he holds a strange white and red contraption, which he quickly hides away as well.
His eyes, when they alight on them, are dark. Faster than light, he strikes. Manuel collapses with a howl of pain that attracts the attention of every single person around them. Everything goes quiet.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” He screams, cradling his cheek.
“What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you?” Lance’s voice keeps gaining volume as he gets carried away by his rage. She’s never seen him like that, so furious he looks ready to commit murder, eyes blazing and hands shaking and body burning with rage. “He told you to stay put! He fucking told you, and instead of listening to him, you had to play hero! It’s because of morons like you that we’re going to get killed one day and I’m fucking tired of us risking our lives every day for a stupid, selfish, asshole like you!”
He heaves, eyes still burning.
But when he speaks again, his voice is very soft.
“If he dies, I will make you pay.”
Yet Manuel isn’t cowed. “What the fuck! You’d choose a stranger over your own brother?”
Lance whirls around. “That stranger, as you say, saved my life countless times. He bled and hurt for me in this war, just like I bled and hurt for him. He’s a good man, one who’s sacrificed everything to do the right thing, just like he sacrificed his own life to save your ungrateful ass.”
He pauses, looks at them, and the mocking, humorless smile that stretches his lips chills Edelira to the core. This isn’t her boy. This is a man.
“But I guess you’re fully aware already, seeing as you already know everything there is to know about us.”
“War?” Juan stammers. “A war? What war? Lance?”
“Oh, would you look at that. Maybe you don’t know everything after all.”
And that, that’s nasty and nothing like her boy, her sweet, cheerful Lance, but—war?
“Lance,” she says softly, tries to keep her voice steady. “I—will you explain to us?”
He scoffs. “I tried. Now I don’t have time. In case you didn’t notice, you just got my partner captured by Sendak’s men. You may not care, but—”
“Of course, we care!” Just not as much as we should, not as much as we care about you. Just not enough.
The policewoman, in the meantime, isn’t easily deterred.
“Excuse me, sir, but I need your account of what happened here.”
For a long, long second, it seems like he’s going to ignore her and leave. But then, he pinches his lips, takes a deep breath, and when he speaks again, his tone is much calmer than before.
“Three minutes, officer. I’m sorry, but I have to go after them.”
The policewoman looks like she has something to say about that, but she swallows back her words, instead opting for an efficient interview.
“A surviving faction of the Galra Empire. There’s a war going on in space. The Galra Empire used to be led by Zarkon, a powerful dictator. We brought him down a few years ago, but some of his old generals are rebelling against the new Emperor and… causing trouble. Now they got Keith, and I have to go after them.”
“Is that where you were all these years?”
He nods. “Excuse me.”
As he strides away, Edelira looks around her, and feels very lost. The square is full of people with their faces full of tear tracks, huddling close together. But every single person is staring at her son’s retreating form, even the police officers who’d started to take statements. Some have their phones out, and she knows everything that was said today, even the altercation from earlier, before all this happened, will soon be on the internet if it isn’t already.
She doesn’t think.
“If you can’t explain, then show us!” She exclaims as she catches up to him. The rest of the family follows in a stampede, one that would have made her laugh had the circumstances not been so dire.
Lance stops dead, looks at her like she’s crazy.
“Show us,” she repeats. “Take us with you.”
His mouth opens, eyes flickering over the gathered family, over the kids. But Alma and Jacinta and Carlos and Esteban all keep their mouths shut and their eyes resolutely fixed on Lance. Show us, they seem to say.
Show us, Manuel and Veronica plead silently.
Show us, they all beg.
And Lance closes his eyes, mouth moving as if in silent prayer, then turns. “I need to drop by the hotel first.”
The hotel is nothing to write home about: although it’s not luxurious, it’s not bad either. But the room clearly was occupied by two people instead of one: there are two duffles, one overflowing with half-unpacked stuff in the middle of the room, the other neatly packed and zipped shut, tucked away under the desk. Lance packs up everything with an efficiency that speaks of habit, picks up the duffles like they weigh nothing, and heads down to check out.
Five minutes later, they’re heading towards the beach, much to Edelira’s growing confusion. From the shared glances between the rest of the family, she’s not the only one wondering what’s going on, but after the catastrophe that was them assuming they’d seen everything there was to know, she’s not about to doubt him again.
She emerges from the ocean like a forgotten goddess, water cascading off silver and red armor like great waterfalls, yellow eyes burning as she opens her mouth and roars.
“Let’s get back what is ours,” he says, and steps into her gaping maw.