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A Drug Called Time

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“I have never been more bored,” said Lance.

“Except you say that every time we sit through one of these speeches,” said Pidge. Unlike Lance, she was keeping her voice down as to not disrupt the planet’s foreign relations delegate. Lance groaned and slouched back in his chair.

“Okay, but I spent three actual hours forced to sit behind Keith’s mullet yesterday,” said Lance, “And I still think today’s worse.”

“Why is it always my hair…” Keith mumbled off to his left.

Normally, Lance would spend his time annoying Keith to pass the time. This time though, Shiro placed himself between them, his intent clear. The past couple of days had been overwhelming, and the stress was not lost on Lance. Despite his animated personality, he couldn’t help the occasional tick or rant to defuse his anxiety.

Right now though, bouncing his leg wasn’t enough. The additional tapping of his fingers across the cuisses of his armor didn’t help either. Both Shiro and Pidge gave him annoyed looks to signal they were reaching their limit of his antics, but Lance couldn’t help it.

Lance hadn’t been able to vent throughout the entirety of this mission, and it had taken his toll. His usual go-tos were preoccupied helping out the planet’s technicians. So with Hunk and Pidge unavailable, he considered his options.

He wanted to impress Allura and Shiro, and talking about all of his weaknesses was the fastest way to do the exact opposite of that. Conversations with Coran were… interesting. And Keith wasn’t an option, for obvious reasons.

“Lance, I haven’t slept for four days and I’m going to strangle you if you bounce your leg one more time,” said Pidge.

Her snarl was quiet enough to go unnoticed by Shiro. Lance grimaced and stopped out of reflex. It wasn’t like he wanted his anxiety to manifest physically, but he was reaching his wits’ end. Then again, so was the team. And that was something he could change.

He ran a hand through his hair, sighed, and stood up. Before anyone could ask, he shot the team an apologetic smile.

“Gonna find a bathroom,” Lance lied through his teeth. “Tell me what I miss.”

“Like you’d be missing out on anything,” said Keith, huffing. Shiro smacked his forearm before returning his gaze to Lance.

“Don’t go too far,” Shiro said.

“I’ll be fine,” said Lance.

“Famous last words,” said Pidge.

Squeezing through the row of chairs was, albeit awkward, definitely worth it. As much as Lance enjoyed social events, listening to verbose, diplomatic speeches drained him. It was the one aspect of social interaction both Keith and Lance could agree on.

Lance wandered outside, leaving the achromatic walls of the conference room. The heated rays from the planet’s binary suns were a welcome change. With no regard for Shiro’s request, he trailed down one of the more barren paths. Paved road tumbled into cobble and packed dirt, and the alien droves became small clusters.

Lance allowed himself a moment to stretch and refocus his train of thought. If he was lucky, he would miss the rest of the meeting without much scolding on Shiro’s part.

¿Qué haces, mi chico? Ven aquí.

Lance went stock-still, then spun in place. The sparsity of aliens gave him the occasional look or rose one of the six eyebrows this planet’s aliens had. Lance paid them no mind. An aura of the surrealism sunk in, and Lance sucked in a breath.

There was something off about it, the intonation and underlying hum of static. But Lance’s mind was too busy buffering. All he could process was the familiar tongue he hadn’t heard for months now.

“¿Mamá?” he whispered.

The voice didn’t return. Lance’s mind caught up to him. Rather than reason with his emotional side, his brain rationalized it. It was unlikely anyone spoke Spanish on this planet, and Lance hadn’t heard anyone speak it since they arrived. The strange static could be attributed to someone hosting his mother’s voice with technology over long distance.

¿Estoy perdiendo la razón?

Ignoring common sense, Lance narrowed down the voice by walking in the direction it came from. An intricate, carbon fiber pavilion stood before him. The woven structure filled the space around other buildings and tapered off into smaller structures. Bizarre, to be sure, but not unsafe. Allura had promised this planet was peaceful after all.

The only possible warning was the barrage of signs decorating the obsolete area. They were in an alien language. Lance walked straight past them. The classic “this can’t stop me because I can’t read” technique. If only Hunk or Pidge were here to hear him say that aloud.

Lance wandered his way in and admired the architecture. The emptiness added to the strangeness, and Lance’s attention was drawn away only when he heard a light cough and snort of laughter. He called out and received no response. He sped up, turning the corner and grazing his hand over his bayard.

Bob Almighty!

Lance jerked to a sudden stop at the exclamation. Feet away sat three aliens, unlike any he had seen on the planet so far. Dressed in garish clothing and lying around bizarre, smoking glass pipes, the aliens stared a few more seconds before relaxing.

“Oh, cool,” said one of them. “It’s just Lance.”

Lance could only stare. To say he was stunned silent was quite the understatement. The alien trio remained unbothered, making idle chatter before one of them picked up on Lance’s patent distress.

“I’m Kim, that idiot over there is Tim, and the ugly one is Jim,” the alien said. He pointed at each of them with an elongated finger.

“Okay, was that necessary?” said Jim.

“Yes,” Tim said.

“Hey kid, might as well make it all the way here,” said Kim. “It’s not like you’ll be any less cursed seeing us up close.”

“…Cursed?” Lance echoed blankly.

“I’m surprised our Little Cupid actually knew the Blue Paladin would show today,” said Kim.

“I’m surprised you didn’t consider he probably pulled some shady shit to get him here,” said Tim—Jim? Definitely Jim.

Oh god, I don’t know what’s going on.

I’m surprised how strong that last hit was,” said Tim.

“I… am confused,” said Lance.

One of the Im’s motioned him over with a wave of a hand. Lance ran a hand through his hair, his expression contorting to reflect his growing confusion. He took in a breath and reminded himself why he was here.

“Do any of you speak Spanish?” he asked. “Does anyone on this planet?”

“Ah,” Jim nodded in an abstract understanding Lance couldn’t grasp. “That’s how Cue got him here.”

“No,” said Kim, addressing Lance.

A direct answer, thought Lance. Finally.

“Why are you here…?” asked Lance.

“Smoking some dope ass shit?”

Lance gave a weak nod. Out of all the questions he could have chosen, he didn’t know why he went with that option. Maybe because it was the easiest to answer, and Lance figured his mind could only handle the simplest of answers at the moment.

The disappointment of being tricked into a corner of the planet with three strangers when he was expecting some sort of familial reunion was setting low in his stomach. His hope had curdled into a sour disappointment; it was nauseating.

“Living for as long as we have?” said Tim.

“With the ability to time travel?” said… a different one.

“It sucksssss,” said the last one.

Tim sighed. “There’s only so many ways to pass the time.”

“Why did someone… Cupid, you said? Want me here?” Lance took a couple of steps forward as he gestured with his hands. It was a nervous habit he couldn’t quite break when talking.

“Cue’s an irrelevant fool who thinks his pairings can save the universe,” scoffed Jim.

“I mean… Bob gave him his power for a reason,” said Tim.

“The same reasoning that got us and the Blue Paladin cursed,” said Kim.

“I’m cursed? How?”

“Anyone who looks at us gets cursed with time manipulation,” explained Kim. “Thankfully, it can’t spread—not when we’re like this, anyway. What we’re not so thankful for is being imprisoned on this planet here.”

“We have to waste away our time—Hah, guys, get it?—uh, without contact with anyone else.”

Tim laughed at his own joke, the sound high-pitched and uneven. His companions brushed him off. At that moment, Lance had found his spirit Im. His soulmate?

Okay, that’s enough of that.

Lance was piecing together the story. There were parts missing but not enough for him to miss out on the bigger picture. He laid out his theory for verbal confirmation. Keith would be proud of the dryness in his tone.

“You’re telling me some invisible jackass with a god complex led me here, so I would be cursed with… time travel?” said Lance.

The trio gave lazy shrugs and nods. Either these aliens were too out of it to realize how absurd they sounded, or they really had lost it being trapped here for however long. He tossed them a flat look. He had time to burn and winning this discussion would do his ego some good.

“Okay.” Lance sighed. “In that case, how do I reverse time?”

The aliens sat up with such ferocity that it had Lance taking steps back. On instinct, he brought his hands up. The sudden glowing of their eyes set him off and had his heart rate rising.

“Your unilateral descent.”

The first sentence was spoken by all three of them. It echoed like a bad omen. The next lines were said one by one, each by a different alien.

“Think with intent.”

“With a moment in mind.”

“Say the word, ‘rewind.’”

“Do you… have to give me exposition through vague rhymes?” said Lance. He gave a shaky laugh as the trio blinked their way to normality. The alien foremost to him—Tim?—let out what he could only describe as a rapper laugh.

“Nah, man,” said Tim. “I’m just really high right now.”

Great.” Lance’s forced smile made his muscles ache.

“Bet he wants to get rid of it,” Tim continued.

“Good news is, he won’t be free until he dies,” said Kim.

“How is that the good news?” Lance said.

“Bad news is, that won’t take long,” Jim said with a smile.

“…Never mind.”

Red Flags. Oh so many red flags. Whether their statements were a threat or a premonition did’t matter at this point. Alarms were ringing in his head with the volume of the klaxons that wrenched him awake in the Castle of Lions. Time to leave!

“You know what? I think I’m going to go,” said Lance. He pointed behind him with a thumb and let out another weak chuckle.

The trio smiled, in sync and with the creepiest demeanor possible. A chill slithered its way down Lance’s spine. The aliens broke out into laughter, basking in Lance’s confusion before giving an explanation. As was standard with them, they took turns speaking.

“Dude, we had to rewind like four times to time that right.”

“But your face? Totally made it worth it.”

“It’s all good, man. You can leave whenever.” Kim paused before saying one parting sentence. “Won’t change what’s going to happen once you do.”

Lance wasted no time in making his exit. Was that a threat or the ramblings of drugged-out aliens? Regardless, it was evident he had overstayed his welcome. He determined it was a joke, his conclusion clear from how high those aliens had been.

“Lance!”

The blue paladin jumped in place. He had been late to realize he was at the entrance of the structure and face-to-face with none other than Voltron’s favorite gremlin herself. Pidge sighed and rolled her eyes. The exaggerated jut of her hip and tapping of her fingers made her exasperation evident.

“Where have you been? The whole team’s been looking for you!”

“What? I haven’t been gone that long.” Lance breathed out a weak laugh. “Do you guys really not trust me not to be out on my own?”

“It’s been two hours,” said Pidge. She narrowed her eyes, adjusting her glasses as she gave him a once-over.

There was no fathomable way he had been gone that long. At most, it had been half an hour, and even that estimate was pushing it. Lance frowned.

Maybe… what those aliens said wasn’t entirely crazy.

“Is everything all right?” she asked, her tone softening.

Lance took a moment to mull everything over. His gut told him to explain the situation but his logical side doubted how willing Pidge would be to buy his story. Unless he had proof, that is. An idea floated up, magnetized and snapped together by the lunacy of his predicament.

“Pidgey, tell me some incredible science mumbo jumbo I won’t understand.”

“Why?”

“Just do it.”

His earnest plea convinced her, and she sighed. She readjusted her glasses as she thought for a moment, undoubtedly debating what to say. Pidge nodded to herself before meeting Lance’s eye.

“What’s heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?”

Lance had heard this riddle dozens of times before. He scoffed. Crossing his arms over his chest, Lance raised an eyebrow and answered.

“Neither, they’re equal.”

“Actually, that’s a common misconception,” she said. “It’s the feathers.”

“What? No!” Lance said, indignant. “They both weigh a pound.”

“But here’s the thing, feathers are measured in avoirdupois weight, where one pound equates to sixteen ounces.” Her eyes gleamed as she spoke. “Meanwhile, precious metals—like gold—are measured in Troy weight, where one pound equates to twelve ounces.”

“I don’t think I can—”

“So! We have to convert them to the same system of measurement. Most would go by grams, ’cause it’s a standard metric unit of mass, so let’s start there. An avoirdupois ounce converts to 28.34 grams, whereas a troy ounce is 31.1 grams. Then, that’s our answer, right?” She waved a hand in the air. “Gold weighs more? No!

“Like I said before, we’re taught sixteen ounces equal a pound, which it does—but that applies to the avoirdupois system, not in the Troy. In Troy, twelve ounces equal a pound, not sixteen. Meaning if we do the math, a pound of feathers weighs about 453.59 grams and a pound of gold weighs about 373.24 grams.

“So, a pound of feathers is heavier than a pound of gold, but!” She grinned, putting up a finger to emphasize her point. “An ounce of gold is heavier than an ounce of feathers. Isn’t that so cool?”

Lance’s head was spinning. The small prodigy in front of him bounced on the balls of her feet, as if coming down from one of those aliens’ many highs. Pidge noticed her outward excitement and steadied herself. Lance attempted to do the same as she cleared her throat.

“So, what was all that about?” she asked.

Lance lifted a finger as a nonverbal cue to stay silent. She obliged, though not without an annoyed glint in her eye. Lance closed his eyes and shut everything out. He breathed in deep. Either this worked, or he looked like a complete idiot. So nothing new, it seemed.

“Your unilateral descent.”

“Think with intent.”

“With a moment in mind.”

“Say the word, ‘rewind.’”

Lance pictured the moment he had persuaded her to ramble about something science-based. He fixated on the gleam that reflected off her glasses. He focused on the motion of her refitting her glasses to her face and pictured her asking the question again. He sucked in a sharp breath.

“Here goes nothing,” he whispered under his breath. “Rewind.

Darkness consumed him. The air was kicked from his lungs and he was motionless. The sensation was reminiscent of drowning, without the discrete aspect of water. Like drowning in space, Lance’s dazed mind had mused.

He scrambled for purchase but found nothing. There was nothing to see, nothing to feel or hear; there was nothing. The experience lasted seconds, but it held Lance’s attention for much longer. Lance’s lungs were burning and his eyes were wet when he was shot back into existence.

Light overtook his vision and he sucked in a breath. The sudden switch was jarring. Blinking a few times, Lance adjusted to the brightness and focused on the figure in front of him. With the speed of a finger’s snap, all negative feelings were wiped from him and he could breathe again. It was a whirlwind. While his body was fine, his mind was struggling to catch up.

“What’s heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?”

Lance blinked. Pidge had spoken the same words, with the same tone and demeanor from minutes prior. He did it. He had to have. Lance had one last way to confirm this.

“The feathers,” said Lance. “And not because feathers feel lighter than gold, but because of avo… avoirdupois weight and troy weight, which equal different amounts in ounces, even though they’re both one pound.”

Pidge’s eyes grew round, her eyebrows disappearing high into her hairline. It was satisfying to know he, for once, had outsmarted the ever brilliant Pidge. A smug grin crawled its way onto his face but it was short lived. He remembered his own intellect wasn’t responsible, that this moment wasn’t earned.

On the bright side, Lance had confirmed his theory. He had the ability to rewind time. Lance blinked, staring at nothing as the realization settled in; he could rewind time. He puffed out his chest as he was overtaken with a new sense of power and excitement, as well as a niggling feeling of terror. He had so many questions.

What are the consequences? How far back can I go? he wondered. How far back do I… want to go?

Lance stilled. If the aliens were telling the truth about him being cursed with time manipulation, then what they said about everything else must be true. Right? Which meant…

Am… Am I going to die? thought Lance.

“How the hell did you know that?” said Pidge.

“We should probably get the rest of the team first.”

“Why do we need to get the rest of the team?”

“Pidge,” he said in earnest. “Please.”

She agreed, though she continued to eye Lance in a mixture of awe and suspicion. Lance paid her no mind. He had returned to his previous train of thought, going over the rest of his conversation with the alien trio—he had to verify their claims. He had to know for sure. Lance stopped in his tracks.

“You go get the others,” he said. “I’ll catch up.”

Lance was running back before Pidge could protest, heading to the same structure and down the same semi-tunnels from before. He needed an answer, an estimate, even. He knew he was retracing his steps properly when he came across the distinct, identical corner he had to turn before running into the time-traveling weirdos.

Lance’s feet skidded against the floor as he came to a halt. It was the spot. Except, the three aliens and their belongings were gone. Turning in slow circles, Lance analyzed the room to no avail. Not a shred of evidence had been left behind. Without direction, he left to catch up with Pidge.

He had to figure this out on his own. And as cool as time travel was, Lance had no concept of his capabilities or the risks. Hopefully, he could find answers elsewhere. For now, though, he would have to settle for learning firsthand.

Dios mio, the team is going to kill me.

* * *

Once the team had returned to the ship for an early dinner and Lance had recounted the last hour to them, it was time to deal with the consequences. Well, save for one. He had left out one key detail from his story. The team didn’t have to know about his apparent, soon to come death, and he was more than content to keep it that way. They had enough to worry about, from an intergalactic war with the Galra to maintaining peace between alien civilizations.

So he wasn’t surprised when the team didn’t address the situation with much concern.

At first they laughed it off as a joke. Lance wiped the amusement off their faces with the same trick he performed for Pidge. They gave him a personal anecdote or tidbit of information he had absolutely no access to, only to rewind and quote it right back at them. He went through everyone, one by one, before realizing two things.

One, Keith refused his offer, believing him at his word—albeit Coran had too. The difference was the latter still wanted Lance to demonstrate his powers, so he did. Two, rewinding too much drained him.

Once he had proven himself, he was teased relentlessly. Lance was intimately familiar with this kind of treatment and either joked back or took the brunt of their comments. After the team had had their fun, their worries set in.

“Don’t take credit for any of my ideas. Or Pidge’s,” said Hunk.

“We won’t have to worry about that,” Pidge said. Her tone braced Lance for the oncoming, snide remark. “He can’t come up the kind of stuff we do—We’d notice immediately.”

“Hey!” said Lance in protest.

“You better not kiss me and rewind,” Allura said. Her voice was low. “Or else, Lance.”

Lance stared at her, eyes wide and hurt clear on his face. His own bewilderment sealed his throat and choked him. He couldn’t respond; the words lodged themselves in his throat.

No? That’s so fucked up? Consent? Is a thing?

The comments continued. Whether joking in nature or direct demands, it shook Lance to his core. Did his friends really see him like this? He messed around but he never… hurt them. He wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt considering how easily power corrupted, but their words stung.

Once again, Keith kept to himself and made no requests.

Once again, you noticed, thought a wry part of his mind.

This was getting out of hand. Lance wanted to clear the air and dispel everyone’s worries, but their response to his newfound power was making him hate his power too. He interrupted their dwindling conversation.

“C’mon, you guys know I’d never do anything to hurt you.”

A silence hung over the group. It was short-lived yet spoke volumes. But above it all, it hurt. It left cracks in the delicate armor Lance had formed over his insecurities for the sake of the team. There was an uncomfortable burn growing behind his eyes and he blinked it back. He tried to develop his feelings into proper words but Shiro spoke for the room.

“We know that.” Shiro took pause. “You just have a tendency to… take jokes too far, at times.”

“This isn’t a joke!” said Lance, his voice cracking.

Another pensive silence fell over the crew. This time around there was incomprehensible sense that the air shifted. The quiet was broken by Pidge—a welcomed relief.

“He’s right.” She was earnest in her reply. “If anything, we should focus on reversing this curse.”

Without me dying, Lance thought.

“I’ll scour the ship’s database for information on alien hexes,” said Allura.

“I’ll join you,” said Pidge.

“We should consider contacting the ambassadors of nearby planets.” Hunk faltered. “Or, I mean, I’ll do it, if no one else will,” he tacked on. “Maybe they know what’s going on.”

“In the meantime,” said Shiro, “the rest of us should focus on the Galra threat.”

Everyone seemed to have a plan forward. Allura and Pidge focused on rectifying the issue, while Hunk looked toward possible outlets of information about the condition itself. Coran remained quiet but looked oddly thoughtful; the man always knew something about everything. The four were already on their way out of the bridge and to the archives. That left Shiro, Keith, and Lance to their own devices.

A weariness dragged Lance down deep from his very bones. His newfound power weighed on his shoulders, overwhelming and effective in increments, such as time itself. Lance was always one for naps, but this exhaustion lie similar to the exhaustion he felt after battle. Demonstrating his time travel capabilities took a lot out of him. Go figure.

“Well,” said Lance. “Since I’m not needed around here anymo—”

“Not so fast,” Shiro said.

Lance let out a hefty, if not over-exaggerated sigh as he swiveled around to face Shiro. Keith snorted and made to walk past him, starting toward the doors. Lance worked up the energy to sneer at him but received no reaction.

“You too, Keith.”

“Hah,” said Lance.

“What did I do?” Keith raised his shoulders and crossed his arms.

“Nothing, and that’s the problem,” said Shiro. “You’re going to train anyway, so take Lance with you.”

“Are you kidding?” said Keith.

“I just wanted to sleep!” said Lance.

The boys had replied in sync. They were both loud, their voices clanging against each other for dominance and creating a more cacophonous cry.

“It’s clear that if you intend to use this ability, and for the right reasons,” Shiro was sure to emphasize, “you will need to build up better endurance.”

Keith snorted again. The sound was quiet and Lance would daresay call it “cute,” but he was nothing if not masterful at hiding his true feelings. As per usual, inciting arguments with Keith was his safest bet to do so.

“You wanna start something, mullet?”

“Didn’t say anything,” Keith huffed, as aloof as ever.

“And I never said you were a stupid and reckless idiot.”

Shiro sighed, shaking his head amidst the teenage angst and hormones. The two boys were facing each other now, their pitches raising to match the tension. He was saving the universe with children. Literal children.

“Why bother calling me an idiot if you’ve already called me stupid in the same sentence?”

“Because one word cannot express the amount of stupid you contain.”

“I don’t know why I bother trying,” said Shiro. The comment was not directed at anyone in particular and was entirely ignored by the two boys.

“A lot of talk for someone who gets his ass kicked in hand-to-hand,” said Keith.

“Wanna bet?” said Lance. He took the final step between them, so their chests were a breadth apart.

“At least go to the training deck so I can tell Allura you’re being productive,” said Shiro. His exasperation was not lost on them and they agreed. After all, Shiro could only be a father so many hours a day.

* * *

“Told you not to worry
But maybe that’s a lie”

* * *