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Shiro’s home. Everything is easing itself back to normality, though his new body feels like a badly-tailored suit, and no one can assure him that the sensation is temporary. After all, there is no data on the aftereffects of having your soul inserted into the body of your own clone. Shiro’s the first of his kind, and it’s fine, and he’s patient, but sometimes…sometimes he needs a break.

Linking his mind to the Black Lion’s was never difficult to begin with, but these days, it’s instantaneous. All he has to do is take his seat and close his eyes, and he enters her consciousness just like walking through a doorway. He lets the team think he’s made a habit of meditating, having no way to explain the need to lose his body again, if only temporarily. Inside Black’s thoughts, he can morph into a ball of violet light or a pale lilac mist. He can remain in his current form, or he can edit himself back to his Garrison days. The one thing he won’t do is give his image the Galra prosthetic. He’d rather be down an arm than see that thing bolted into his bones again. He’d been forced to accept it, and forced again to let it go, but he intends to make his own decisions going forward.

What he can’t understand is the odd, nagging guilt humming away in the back of his mind. If he concentrates, he senses faint details: should have known. should have tried harder. failed him. failed everyone. could have stopped it… But he can’t attach the feeling to any particular event or action. He knows there’s nothing he could have done differently while he was held within Black’s consciousness. It doesn’t make any sense.

There’s no time to think about it for long. Coran needs to work out a way to get them to Earth, so for a couple of weeks, they’ll be camping out on Eomia, a small terraformed planet orbiting a double star. On the way there, Allura describes it over the radio: its name means something akin to “eternal summer,” due to its unchanging mild climate.

“Got any beaches?” Lance wants to know.

“Beaches, meadows, forests, mountains…oh, it’s beautiful,” Allura sighs. “You’ll have enough free time to—”

But Lance had only heard the first word, and he’s already whooping for joy. “I’m gonna throw you in the ocean, Keith,” he promises.

“Better an ocean than another wormhole.” Keith’s rolling his eyes in the seat next to Shiro. Black apparently enjoys having two attentive paladins at her helm, because there’s even an extra set of controls now.

“Holy quiznak, did you just make a joke? Wow, nearly dying really did change you!”

“I see actually dying didn’t change you.”

“Guys,” Shiro soothes. “Let’s focus on the mission here.”

“Sorry,” Keith says, not sounding terribly apologetic.

“Yeah, sorry, sir.” Lance, on the other hand, seems oddly subdued.

The weird guilt spikes, sending a wave of nausea through Shiro’s belly. “It’s fine, Lance, don’t worry about it.” He’s starting to get an idea about what’s going on here.

* * *

They land the lions in a circle on a broad plain, not far from one of Eomia’s oceans. There’s salt in the air, and the long grass whispers in a light breeze. Pidge and Hunk take off with Krolia to explore the surrounding area and hunt for edible flora or fauna. Allura, Romelle, and Coran decide to begin researching intergalactic travel sans teludav. Keith just wants to take a nap after flying for so long. “Go chill in Red,” Lance suggests magnanimously. “She misses you anyway.”

Keith looks up at Red. “You think?”

“I know. She told me so. You’re one of her—um—” Lance grits his teeth. “Don’t kill me, dude, but she calls you her kitten.”

A faint flush rises on Keith’s cheeks. “Oh. Okay. Then I guess I’ll go visit my space lion…mother, or whatever. Hey, Lance—that makes you one of her kittens too, huh?”

“Shut up.”

“Heh.” Keith grins. “Be a good kitty while I’m gone, buddy.”

“Keith!” Lance sputters, but Keith is already darting over to Red.

Which leaves just Shiro and Lance. Well, the timing couldn’t be better. “Wanna go for a walk to the beach?” Shiro asks.

“I could just…hold down the fort,” Lance offers. “If you need me to?”

Shiro notes an upwelling of anxiety in himself—the fear of an invitation that’s an afterthought or obligation. Huh. “Actually, I could use some company. Unless you’d rather stay here.”

“No, that’s—um, I want—yeah, okay, I’ll come with you.” Lance licks his lips.

Shiro finds his mouth suddenly dry. Once more he’s unable to place the reason for it. They’ve got to sort this out before his head gets any more confused.

* * *

They arrive at the beach just as the suns begin to drop behind the waves, and Shiro sits down crosslegged in the bright pink sand. Lance has barely said a word, which generally means Lance is either asleep or traumatically injured. So Shiro’s concern is understandable. He hopes Lance may offer a hint as to the problem.

But Lance just stands with his hands in his jeans pockets, staring out across the water with his lower lip caught between his teeth, still silent.

A few bright stars emerge from the cover of daylight. After awhile, Shiro asks, “Something on your mind?”

“Huh? Oh. I guess so, yeah.”

The waves ripple gently in the night breeze sweeping off the land into the ocean, and the temperature is dropping, yet there’s heat in the pit of Shiro’s stomach and sweat prickling down his spine. “Wanna talk about it?”

Lance makes a noise that’s kind of like a laugh and kind of…not, and it sends a twinge through Shiro’s heart. “You feel like listening?”

“Always. Whenever you need me to.”

“Riiight,” Lance says through clenched teeth, stretching the word out like a rubber band pulled almost to its breaking point. “Okay. So let’s talk.” He drops to the ground beside Shiro, leaving a good arm’s-length between them and pulling his knees up to his chest. Just distant enough to be safe.

Safe from what? Shiro wonders. “What’s up?”

“I’m just so turned around lately. Like I’m me but I’m not. Feeling things that don’t make any sense. But I didn’t wanna say anything since we’re kinda busy right now. It’s probably just ‘cause we’re going back home or something.” Lance rests his chin on his knees, arms wrapped tight around his legs, stiff as armor.

“Could be.” Shiro looks at Lance, just out of the corner of his eye, hoping not to spook him. “You know, I’ve been feeling the same way? It’s as if not all of my emotions are really mine.”

“Oh,” Lance says, breathing out heavily. “What kind of emotions?”

Shiro scrapes his fingertips through the fine sand. Scoops it into little piles. Smooths it out again. “It feels like I did something wrong. Like I should have been able to stop a bad thing before it happened. Only for the life of me, I don’t know what that would have been.”

He was the bad thing.” Lance is barely audible over the splash of waves against the beach. “The clone, I mean. There were signs—he even came to me and said he wasn’t feeling like himself. Because he wasn’t himself! Or he wasn’t—you, anyway. And when we saw you in that void place, you tried to tell me, and I couldn’t—” His voice breaks, and Shiro’s heart cracks apart with it. “If I’d just figured it out faster…”

“Haggar would have turned him anyway, Lance. It just would have happened earlier.”

“But then we could have saved you sooner!” Lance bursts out. “You were trapped, you were alone—”

“I never felt abandoned. All of you were with me the whole way. And I wasn’t trapped or scared or hurt. The Black Lion was protecting me, that’s all. Can’t you feel that it’s true?”

Lance turns to face Shiro, wide-eyed. His hair is curling in the damp air. “Yeah. But I don’t know why. What the hell is happening to us?”

“I’m just guessing here, but I think we’re experiencing some kind of residual link from when we were on Olkarion. You wouldn’t have noticed it with the clone, since he wasn’t there.”

“Add this to the list of things I didn’t sign up for when I joined the Garrison,” Lance mutters.

“Ha, tell me about it.” Shiro takes up a handful of sand; lets it spill between his fingers back to the ground. “You know, I could show you where I was. Let you see for yourself that I was safe.”

“You wanna take me inside Black’s mind with you? Why?”

“Would it make you feel better?”

“…Yeah.”

“That’s why.”

“Oh,” says Lance, swallowing hard. “Then yeah, I’d like that.”

The last of the twilight is fading, revealing constellations Shiro’s never seen before and will probably never see again after they leave. “I’m glad you came with me,” he tells Lance.

Lance hides a smile in his knees, and Shiro feels a tiny bolt of pure joy shoot through the center of his heart. He can’t tell if it belongs to him or to Lance. He doesn’t think it matters anymore.

* * *

When they return, a small fire is crackling away in the center of the ring of lions, and the team is lounging around it, conversing in low voices. “We saved you guys some leftovers,” Keith says. “It’s meat stew.”

“With fire-roasted root vegetables,” Hunk adds.

Lance narrows his eyes. “What kind of meat?”

“Just…meat,” Keith explains, unhelpfully. “Try it, it’s good.”

“Probably best not to ask too many questions,” Shiro says, patting Lance’s shoulder. He’s not expecting the spike of heat in his stomach, insistent and inexorable.

Well, then.

The stew is delicious, as Keith had promised, and when Shiro’s scraped the last of it from his bowl, he nudges Lance with his elbow. “Want to check out Black with me now?”

“Sure,” Lance says. “I got some time to kill.”

Severak of Eomia’s moons hang in the sky like glowing silver ornaments, lighting their path to the Black Lion. Lance walks ahead of Shiro, whistling softly, yet he doesn’t look the slightest bit relaxed. Shiro’s hoping he can change that.

Outside Black, Lance freezes, even though she’s ready and waiting with her mouth wide open. “I haven’t been in there since you disappeared,” Lance admits. “You sure she likes me? She didn’t want me to pilot her.”

Shiro’s eyes are prickling; again, he’s unsure whose emotion it is. “That wasn’t because she doesn’t like you. You’re amazing in the Red Lion—it’s exactly where Voltron needed you. Where I needed you. Who else could have been Keith’s right hand but our sharpshooter?”

Lance is fighting off a smile, but the smile is winning. “Really?”

“Yeah, really. So would you like to come in?”

Lance nods, and together they head up the ramp and into the cockpit.

Shiro takes his seat, sensing the familiar hum of energy, like a cat winding around his ankles. A gigantic, ancient, sentient robot-cat, that is. This is Black’s way of purring: she’s happy to see them both. He holds his hand out to Lance, and this time it’s not such a shock when a double helping of desire sings through him.

“You can feel that, right?” Lance asks quietly. Cautiously, he places his hand in Shiro’s, and desire becomes craving—becomes needing.

“Yeah, I can,” Shiro tells him. “Come here, Lance. It’s all right.” He tugs at Lance’s hands, and Lance eases himself into Shiro’s lap, perching on Shiro’s knees. He’s tense as hell. Shiro closes his eyes, and they enter the mind of the Black Lion.

Abruptly they’re nowhere and everywhere. Lance gasps. “Whoa, shit—”

Shiro puts his arm around Lance’s shoulder, because it seems to comfort Lance. And because Shiro likes doing it.

Lance’s fear eases, and he takes in the vast, ancient consciousness surrounding them. It’s like nothing else he’s seen in his life—Shiro knows this without even trying. Here, it seems their link has only strengthened: Black has no need for walls, so neither do they. “She really let me in,” Lance murmurs.

“She did. She’s so proud of you, Lance. And so am I.”

“But I didn’t—I couldn’t help you.”

Shiro gathers Lance to him, pulling him close to his chest. “You were there for me when I was afraid. When I couldn’t trust my own mind, you said we would get through it. You helped me more than you know.”

“How do you know about that?” Lance whispers. “He wasn’t you.”

“Well, he’s part of me now, like I’m part of him.” Shiro’s memories overlap like stacked tissue paper, parallel timelines coalescing into something impossible, inexplicable, yet perfectly coherent. Together, the fragments form a glittering mosaic, the empty spaces finally patched.

“So you remember everything.”

“I do.”

“And you think there’s a link between our minds now?”

“It would explain a great deal.”

“If that’s true, then I have some questions about what I’m feeling from you, Shiro.” Lance chews at his lip. “Because you sure do think about me a lot.”

No walls, Shiro reminds himself. Lance deserves honesty. “Yes,” he admits, “but I don’t want you to think—I mean, it’s not…” He trails off helplessly. Lance’s mouth has gotten very close to Shiro’s in the time he’s spent trying to figure out how to say everything, and it’s very distracting.

“I don’t think anything. I know what I want.” The distance between them is pointless, a mere propriety, and Lance closes it with certainty, swallowing Shiro’s gasp.

Like an incoming tide, Lance’s hunger drowns out every clear thought in Shiro’s mind. He wants to dive in and let the waves crash over and into him; be pinned against the damp sand, overwhelmed and undone. Lance wants him, every part of him, exactly as he is, scars and trauma and all. Wants his stained-glass memories, a fragile patchwork that nevertheless lets in the light. Wants— “Oh,” Shiro sighs. “Really?”

Lance’s face is as red as his lion. “No secrets here, huh?”

“It’s okay.” Shiro’s hung up on the images flooding his mind. “Everything you want is okay.”

“How do we—” Lance gestures at his clothing. “We’re not exactly…corporeal.”

“Think of what you want, and it becomes reality here.”

Lance squeezes his eyes shut; he’s thinking much harder than necessary, but to be fair, he hasn’t had much practice at this. Moments later, he’s naked, still pressed against Shiro. “Shit. Meant to do that slower.”

“I don’t mind,” Shiro says. He runs his hand up and down Lance’s back, flicking off his own clothes one by one. He knows how he must look—ragged at the edges, torn and sewn back together too many times to count, in need of some replacement parts. His jaw aches; he forces himself to relax his clenched teeth.

But Lance isn’t paying the slightest attention to the marks on Shiro’s body, nor to what’s missing entirely. Lance is, instead, wide-eyed and breathless. “You are so fucking hot.”

Shiro can’t quite hold back the grin sneaking onto his face. Off to the side, a meteor shower commences, as if the cosmos is telling them to get on with it. “Yeah? Want to fuck me the way you were thinking about?”

“Jesus,” Lance mutters. “I—yes? Yes.”

Shiro lays Lance down on his back, kneeling astride his thighs. Lance’s chest heaves with his breath. Shiro places his hand flat on Lance’s belly and watches the muscles jump under his touch. He’s hardly done anything and already Lance is like this.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lance wants to know.

Shiro presses kisses down Lance’s sternum, pausing to give special attention to the tender solar plexus, then continuing on to his navel, where Shiro dips and flicks his tongue and nibbles at the skin until Lance lets out a sound very close to a squeak.

Lance won’t be dissuaded, despite Shiro’s mouth. “Already I’m like what?”

Shiro draws back to look at him, really look at him, all his soft skin and cords of lean muscle and his lovely, long, slender cock already shining at the tip. “You’re all worked up and wet for me, that’s what.”

“Oh.” Lance wriggles a little, embarrassed, but he doesn’t take his eyes off Shiro. “What are you planning on doing about it?”

“I was thinking I’d like to sit on your cock.” Shiro reaches behind himself, willing what he wants into existence. When his fingers slide over his hole, he’s already slick. “What do you think?”

Please, oh—”

Shiro shuffles forward on his knees, takes Lance in his hand, and sinks down slowly, punching a moan out of Lance’s throat. “There we go,” he says, maintaining admirable control of his voice as he comes to rest on Lance’s hips. Lance is already hitting him deep, but Shiro breathes through it even as his nerves spark and flash like a sky full of fireworks. “All the way inside. How do you feel?”

Lance tries to squirm, but Shiro’s bodyweight holds him down. “Feels—fuck—oh god, Shiro, you gotta move, I need you to move—”

“What if I don’t move?” Shiro asks, sweet and soft. Lance stares up at him in shocked silence, lips parted around hitched breaths. Shiro takes the opportunity to slide two fingers into Lance’s mouth. Lance whines, opening up for him, and Shiro pushes his fingers deep, deeper, almost to the knuckles, until Lance jolts and chokes and Shiro pulls his hand away. “Hey, sorry, you okay?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine, please don’t stop,” Lance begs. “Why won’t you—Shiro, just move already!”

“Shh, baby.” Shiro shoves his fingers back into Lance’s mouth. He thrusts shallowly, stroking Lance’s tongue. Lance sucks at his fingers, desperate. “I said I wanted to sit on your cock, not that I was gonna fuck myself on it. What I want is to fuck your pretty mouth just like this. You all right with that?”

“Yeah,” Lance whimpers, his voice thick and muffled. “S’all right.”

Lance is so good, Shiro thinks, knowing damn well Lance can hear him. So beautiful and talented, and behaving so well. He’d like to find out what else Lance can do with his mouth, but for now—Shiro takes his fingers out and wraps them around himself. Lance stares, pinned down with his dick buried in Shiro’s ass and unable to do a damn thing about it, helpless and begging as Shiro gets himself off to the pressure and heat inside himself. Coming takes no time at all, and he lets it spatter all over Lance’s chest, and then—willing his legs not to tremble—he lifts himself off Lance completely.

It’s enough to snap Lance’s last thread of restraint. “No, oh no, fuck, Shiro, please—”

But Shiro is already arranging himself on his back next to Lance. “Your turn, baby,” he tells Lance. “I’m all yours.”

“Wait, you want—”

Shiro closes his eyes, picturing Lance shoving Shiro’s knees up to his chest, finding the angle that makes Shiro scream, making him take it until he gets hard all over again—“Yeah, Lance. I want.”

Lance is on him so fast, Shiro barely sees him move. Just like Lance saw in Shiro’s mind, he grabs the backs of Shiro’s thighs and pushes them up, holding Shiro’s legs open. He takes a moment to look at Shiro—big, powerful man that he is, with a thick soft cock all messy with come and a cute little hole squeezing tight on nothing.

Shiro swallows, turning his face to the side, unable to process Lance’s internal monologue. It’s unusual for him to be called cute at all, let alone…that part of him.

“So that’s what gets you all shy.” Lance angles his hips, lining up. “What if I give you something else to think about?” He enters Shiro in an easy slide, Shiro’s body ready and aching for him.

“Oh god—” It’s almost too much after coming so soon, but Shiro wants this, wants to drift in a storm of sensations, wrapped in electricity and drenched in rainwater, shocked alive and washed clean.

Lance doesn’t falter, even as Shiro starts to moan and writhe beneath him. “I know, I know,” he soothes. “So hard to take it, huh? You do so much for everyone else, but this time I’m gonna give you what you need.” He leans forward, pressing down on Shiro’s legs, almost folding him in half. This way, Shiro can hardly move, and Lance really likes that. “Your fucking body—” Wet pulsing heat surrounding him, sweat-slicked skin under his hands, absolutely gorgeous.

But Shiro is not gorgeous, not like this. Maybe years ago, before…

“No,” Lance growls, and he fucks in so hard it kicks everything else right out of Shiro’s mind. “I know you don’t feel like you are, but I think you are, and I wanna look at you, I wanna feel you, I wanna make you come for me, you’re perfect—”

They are everything and nothing, at once ephemeral and eternal, hearts aligned like auspicious planets. For one shining moment, they comprehend the universe.

Shiro opens his eyes. They’re in the cockpit of the Black Lion again, Lance is still in his lap, and they’re both fully dressed. Lance is trembling, so Shiro squeezes his hand. “Hi,” he says, because he has no idea what else to say, but he has to say something.

Hi,” Lance repeats, incredulous. “Do you say that to all the guys?”

“Yes, Lance, I say that to all the guys I’ve ever slept with in the astral-plane-void-thing inside my lion’s head. The number of guys, by the way, is one.”

“So it was real? I didn’t just have a weird dream after falling asleep in your lap?”

Shiro nuzzles in close, closer, so he can steal a sweet kiss from Lance. “I’m all yours,” he says again. “Does that answer your question?”