“Ugh,” Lance said, loosening the collar of his Altean style formal outfit. “I hate diplomacy meetings. Don’t get me wrong, I look good as hell in this, and the food’s probably going to be good, but the look Shiro gave me back there made me feel like I’d just shamed all of my ancestors.”
“You interrupted the senator,” Keith pointed out.
“Yes, thank you Keith, I did realize that,” Lance said. He hadn’t meant to interrupt the senator; the words had left his mouth just a moment before his brain had caught up with him. They’d gotten a big conduct briefing ahead of time and these people were big on formality. The guy was clearly an isolationist though, and Lance had had enough of hearing him talk about how they were better off letting everyone else fight for the freedom of the galaxy.
“We saved their planet,” Hunk said. “The rest of them are on our side. I don’t think anything you said is going to have a huge affect. Besides, this is the first break we’ve had in a while. This beats another three-mission day.”
The Kormians were (probably) going to be the fifth race to join the Voltron Alliance. They were a bit less advanced than Earth, but with a population of about a billion they were one of the more heavily populated planets they had come across. One of the things the alliance needed at the moment was experienced soldiers, and the Kormians had them in droves. As well, their world was well suited for a significant ramp up of their agricultural output, enough to help feed what was likely to be a lot of refugees in the future of their war. The Nang’ok wanted to set up ship yards in their resource dense asteroid belt, but that was going to take considerable more negotiating at a later date.
Hunk was right though. The Kormians were joining regardless, and Lance wasn’t supposed to be the naysayer. He was supposed to make sure everyone kept their spirits up.
“Come on,” Lance said. “Coran said they’d dropped off some food in the kitchen. I want to get at it before our resident fruit bat gets there.”
Pidge, it had turned out, had a serious sweet tooth, and since Coran refused to keep anything resembling dessert in the kitchen (because of their ‘traditional paladin diet’) she had taken to hoarding whatever fresh fruit became available.
The Kormians had brought cooks along to prepare for the evenings banquet, and they were all busy when they entered the ship’s main kitchens. Hunk went off to inspect what the cooks were up to while Keith followed Lance to the stasis storage unit.
“Do you want to go hit the training deck before the banquet?” Keith asked.
“What did you have in mind?” Lance asked. “I’ll totally kick your ass at the obstacle course again.”
“How about wrestling?” Pidge said, coming up from nowhere and giving Lance a start. “Bleed off a bit of aggression so you don’t take off another senator’s head later.”
Lance hadn’t thought anyone could sneak up on Keith, but Pidge must have just done, because he seemed a bit flustered. It was nice sometimes to have a reminder that Keith was in fact human.
“Wrestling, sure,” Lance said. “You’re looking at a wrestling champion right here.”
He’d tried out wrestling for a bit when he was ten. It hadn’t been like the wrestling he’d seen on television though and he’d quit after a few months, but he hadn’t been particularly bad at it.
“What’s in the fridge?” Pidge asked.
“Nuh uh,” Lance said, bodily blocking her view. “I at least get to try some before you abscond with the rest. Oh, hey, this looks good.”
Lance wiggled a bit to block Pidge’s reaching hands and picked something at random. It looked like a cross between a dragon fruit and a peach. He hoped it was actually a fruit and that he wasn’t about to bite into the equivalent of a tomatillo. She poked him in the side and he yelped. He turned around to show it off to Pidge and took a big bite out of it.
Pidge laughed at what Lance was sure was a horrible face. He didn’t want to spit it out in front of the Kormian cooks, but God was it awful. It was definitely a fruit of some sort, it was sweet and juicy with a nutty aroma, but it was also acrid and bitter and burned a bit like it was spicy. Chewing it as quickly as possible he swallowed it and went quickly to get a drink. Pidge did not stop laughing for a while, but that was fine. Pidge didn’t laugh a lot of the time, and she was smiling at him, which was a win. The drinks were out of sight of the Kormians, so Lance hammed it up for Pidge.
“It can’t have been that bad,” Pidge said. “I’m going to try one.”
Lance decided to press his luck. “No you don’t!” he exclaimed. Picking Pidge up, he threw her over his shoulder and carried her out of the kitchen with him. “You’ll spoil your appetite.” Once they were out of the kitchen, and out of earshot of the Kormians, he added, “Also my mouth still feels like a toxic waste site.”
Pidge laughed some more but started wiggling around.
“Don’t drop her,” Keith said.
“Oh, I can carry Pidge all day,” Lance said. “She is a tiny baby. I’ll carry her all the way to the training deck, she can be the referee.”
“Oh, I am definitely watching this,” Pidge said. “Lance, you’re already out of breath, I think Keith’s going to pin you good.”
“No, I’m not,” Lance said, out of breath. Pidge really didn’t weigh much of anything and Lance could totally carry her all the way to the training deck. Still though, he let her scramble around so she was getting a piggyback ride.
“Hey,” Lance said. “Next time we get some downtime we should check out some of the terrain down there. I got a pretty nice view when I was fighting that squadron of fighters.”
“I don’t do hiking,” Pidge said.
“We could do a beach day,” Lance said.
“Ugh,” Pidge said.
“Or whatever,” Lance said. He huffed a bit as he repositioned Pidge. “We’ll think of…” He took in a sharp inhale.
“Seriously, and you’re always going on about how tiny I am,” Pidge said.
Lance’s vision started to get a bit blurry and he noticed that his stomach really didn’t feel right.
“Hey!” Keith said, and suddenly Pidge wasn’t on his shoulders. Someone was easing him onto the floor, and Lance was gasping for breath. He reached a shaky hand up to the swimming face above him.
“Lance!” someone shouted.
“Is that for Lance?” Hunk asked, catching Keith as he was returning to the infirmary. Lance was always starving when he got out of the healing pod, so Keith had gotten some food goo with his favorite flavor powder.
Keith nodded to Hunk’s question and kept walking. He didn’t much feel like talking.
“Look,” Hunk said, “I’ll take that to the infirmary. You should really go change.”
He knew he smelled really bad after carrying Lance to the infirmary. There had been vomit involved.
“Thanks,” Keith mumbled and handed off the tray. He split off to go back to his room. He didn’t like leaving Lance when he was in the healing pod. Lance was probably the most frequently injured among them. Which made sense, he was usually at the front during boots-on-the-ground operations, and it was difficult for him to shield himself with a two handed weapon, but even though they’d gone through this a few times before, Keith hated waiting for him to wake up. The healing pod had never failed to heal him, but Keith never really trusted it. Still though, it worked miracles, and walking through the halls of the ship towards his quarters, Keith had a sudden and unwelcome memory pop up into his head as his thoughts led him to remember another life where his soulmate and he hadn’t lived in a world where seemingly everything could be healed, where a different Lance with a different name and a different face but the same soul behind his eyes had died too many years before Keith had in a dungy hospital bed.
He banished the memory from his mind. Lance wasn’t dying. The healing pod had saved him. Keith just couldn’t help but feel like it was his own fault. He remembered being a Kormian. The moment Lance had picked up that fruit, Keith had remembered eating one, and the sweet tase of it’s juice bursting in his mouth. He felt like he should have known it would be poison to a human. Should have placed the faint memory of an almond flavor with what it was. He had promised himself that he would protect Lance in this life. A life where they had been born on Earth, a world where no one ever remembered their past lives, only Keith. He always felt like he had to look out for Lance since his soulmate had none of the memories of the Galaxy. Since he still had such a juvenile view of the reality around him.
Reaching his quarters he stripped out of his formalwear quickly and threw it into his closet. They’d be clean when he next needed them. He frowned as he realized he should probably shower. Lance wouldn’t want him smelling like vomit when he woke up. He glanced at his watch without reading the time but started rushing anyway, though once he was under the stream of water he found himself almost violently scrubbing himself. Not for the first time, he had thought he was going to watch Lance die.
He changed into his street clothes rather than putting his formalwear back on. Really, why would they do the banquet at this point? Unclipping his dagger from the belt he’d worn to the meeting, he reattached it to the belt he normally wore and headed back out.
No one else was in the infirmary when he got back, only the tray of food sitting on the counter evidence that Hunk had dropped by. Lance still lay in the pod, looking peaceful, and Keith took a moment just to look at him. He sat down and leaned up against the pod and started talking, telling Lance everything he couldn’t tell him when he was awake.
Why was it always Keith waiting for him when he got out of the healing pod? The princess was probably busy with the diplomacy stuff, but it would have been nice to wake up to her looking at him with the same concerned eyes that Keith had for him at the moment. Lance gave a big yawn while Keith guided him to the nearby exam table.
“Grab the short stick again?” Lance asked.
Keith looked at him funny. “Coran’s on his way,” he said.
“What happened?” Lance asked.
Keith scowled. “Turns out polletos have cyanide in them?”
“The fruit you ate,” Keith said.
“Cyanide?” Lance asked.
“You humans and your finicky body chemistry,” Coran commented, walking into the infirmary. He was being pretty glib, so Lance assumed he wasn’t dying. “Honestly, I’ve never come across a species that was allergic to cyanide before.”
Lance didn’t think ‘allergic’ was probably the right word. “Lucky humans,” he grumbled.
Coran finished scanning him.
“Is he alright?” Keith asked. He was like Lance, he wouldn’t feel like he’d won if his rival was taken out of the race.
“As alright as he was when he first came aboard,” Coran said. “Honestly, one of these days we should get you all checked out by the Ocaampans.”
“The who?” Lance asked.
Coran brightened a bit. “Old friends of Altea. Very advanced technologically, particularly when it came to medicine. People would come from all over the galaxy to see them. Really, with as sensitive as your systems are, we should have seen them a while ago. Even us Alteans didn’t go running around the galaxy without a glarfax when we were eating exotic foods.”
The word didn’t translate, which meant it was probably something that had no equivalent in Spanish.
“A what now?” Lance asked.
“A glarfax,” Coran answered, holding up his hand and gesturing to a decorative pin on the cuff of his sleeve. “It scans whatever you’re about to eat and compares it to your own body chemistry. The Ocaampans were very good at modeling different species.”
“Okay, yeah,” Lance said. “That’s probably something we should all have.”
Keith looked a bit grim.
“Worried the doctor’ll give you a shot?” Lance teased. Keith shrugged.
“Sorry you got poisoned,” he said, sounding earnest. “I should go. There’s food and your stuff.” He gestured over to the counter.
“Thanks,” Lance called out to his quickly retreating back.
Coran left him to change and eat. Lance was glad that being poisoned hadn’t put him off of eating because he was certainly hungry. They’d left him another set of the formal wear and after changing he sat down with his bowl of food goo and realized that he was in luck: whoever had brought it had gotten him the chicken flavor.
Tapping his earpiece, Lance called out for everyone, “Out of the healing pod and doing A-okay.”
“Lance!” was Pidge’s response.
“Glad to hear you’re in fighting shape, Paladin Lance,” the Princess said. “I’m with the honorable Kormian delegation right now, they wanted to see you before we concluded this evening.”
Lance brightened to hear the princess’ voice, and she needed him for her diplomacy stuff. Lance Sanchez, a space hero and interstellar ambassador of Earth. Lance cleared his throat. “I’ll be right there princess, and I can show you my fighting shape later if you’d like.”
“Okay,” Pidge said. “Who let Lance out of the healing pod. I thought we agreed we’d just leave him in there.” She was joking, but she didn’t sound like she was joking. Apparently she was annoyed with him again. Had he dropped her? He might have dropped her.
“It was me,” Hunk said. “Lance said if he couldn’t go a month without a trip to the healing pod he’d take my cleaning duty for a week. I need to collect.”
Lance groaned. “A week of my choosing!” he said.
“Glad you’re alright Lance, but let’s close the channel,” Shiro said.
“Right,” Lance said. “See you in a bit.”
He finished his food goo and went and found the princess and the Kormian delegation. He opened his mouth and remembered the decorum just in time to be horrified as the words “Hey, what’s up,” left his mouth. He cleared his throat as he could feel the judgmental glares of everyone on him. “I mean, Princess Allura, our honored guests, how can I be of service to you?”
“Ambassador Teloor and the honorable senators wanted to be assured that you were in good health,” the princess told him.
Lance puffed out his chest a bit and stood straighter. “Then I hope I can assuage any doubts, I am honored by your concern, but Princess Allura’s healing pod has returned me to my good health.”
“I am glad to hear it, Paladin of Voltron,” one of the senators, whose name Lance couldn’t remember, said. He turned back to the princess. “If Voltron stands tall, with all five Paladins, then we will stand with the Alliance. May we find honor in battle together.”
No one was looking at Lance at this point so they probably didn’t see the look on his face when he realized that they had just been worried that Voltron was down a paladin.
“Yes,” the Princess said. “Voltron stands tall and Voltron stands with Kormia.”
They continued talking. Continued ignoring Lance. He cleared his throat. The Princess hadn’t needed a diplomat after all.
“If you will excuse me Princess, and our honored guests, I have duties I must see to,” Lance said. He thought he’d rather speak English for the rest of his life than say anything more in this stupid formal bullshit. He was talking like the smarmy guy in the action movie who was always wrong. Luckily, the Princess dismissed him without so much as a glance and he was able to get lost. He probably should have headed to the training deck to let loose with the Antedians, but instead he found Hunk and helped him with maintenance stuff for a bit until everyone was summoned to see their guests off the ship. Hunk always made him feel like he had someone who wanted him around.
“Well that went well,” Lance said as the Kormian pod took off.
Keith looked at Lance incredulously. “You almost died.”
Lance shrugged. “The alliance grew today.” As if that was all that mattered.
It was his job to keep things positive.
“Now that we have the Kormians, I want to talk about focusing on labor camps,” Pidge said.
“Food is only part of the equation,” Shiro said. “We need a safe place for them to go. We’ll get there.”
“What’s our mission tomorrow morning?” Keith asked.
“There’s an advanced race called the Ocaampans,” Shiro said. “Coran thought we should pay them a visit, but according to our understanding of Galran troop movement, they’ve got a small armada camped around their world, Tartan six. They aren’t especially close to any of the front lines, but if they’re as advanced as Coran says they are, they may have gotten the Galra’s attention. We’re not sure what their situation is, but we’re going to check it out and hopefully make some new friends.”
“How do you want to go in?” Lance asked.
“Three stage operation,” Shiro said. “Phase one, we drop in and orbit the planet, assess the situation and destroy any Galran ships that cross our paths. After that we exit via wormhole. As far as the Galra are concerned, it’s our usual smash and grab tactics. Phase two is regroup and assess enemy placement and the situation on the ground as best as we can. Phase three is to return with some of our new allies with the focus of neutralizing the Galran threat in the sector.”
There was a moment of silence after Shiro’s last declaration.
“Alright,” Lance said. “Let’s save another planet.”
“You’re good to go?” Keith asked.
Lance puffed out his chest. “Oh, you’d better believe I’m ready to go, more ready than you, even,” he said. “It takes more than that to take Lance Sanchez out of the fight.”
“Alright,” Shiro said. “Let’s suit up.”
Keith let himself feel a bit of Lance’s bravado. They usually kept themselves to quick missions, where the aim was to disrupt Galran operations, often leaving before the enemy could mount much of a counter attack. Destroying an armada was a bit more than Voltron was used to. Still though. Voltron was stronger than any Galran ship, and if the numbers just weren’t with them, then they could always make a quick getaway.
The first phase of the mission went exactly as planned. They didn’t form Voltron. They spread out to get a good scan of the system as they orbited Tartan Six.
“I’ve got fighters incoming on my trajectory,” Pidge announced.
“Shoot whatever crosses your path,” Shiro said. “But we’re not sticking around. You’re faster, so just blast through them.”
The planet was surrounded by an armada. There were sixteen battle cruisers, spread out around the planet, with a number of smaller transports, a handful of bombers, and a few hundred fighters besides. By the time they’d circled the planet and retreated through the wormhole, there were two fewer cruisers and a fair few fighters taken out as well.
“That was a siege,” Hunk pointed out.
“They’ve got a small foothold on the smallest continent, from what I could tell,” Pidge said. “But most of the planet’s covered in overlapping domed forcefields.”
“Pidge, start analyzing the data as soon as we get back to the castle. We’ll go over it with our allies,” Shiro said. “We’ll work out the rest then, but for now Keith, assume we’re going to be putting boots on the ground, you and Lance connect with the Antedian strike team and run drills.”
Coran came in over the comm and Keith tuned him out as he discussed whatever communication he’d had with the Ocaampans while the wormhole had been open. Guiding Red into her landing pad, Keith frowned over the prospect of working with the Antedians and Red brushed his consciousness with a commiserating purr. They’d been the first people that had been brought into the Voltron Alliance. They had a small cluster of stars they’d spread out into in their corner of the galaxy and a couple of small trading partners, and though they had been lucky enough to avoid the Galra’s notice, they’d been aware of the Galra’s expansion for some time, and they’d been preparing their people for what they knew would be an unavoidable war.
Keith just wasn’t comfortable around them. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with them. It was just that Keith could remember being an Antedian some few hundred years or so ago. He remembered just enough customs and colloquialisms that the cultural changes that had come along in the intermediate years left him feeling wrong footed every time he interacted with them, particularly their tradition of recognizing success. Of course he generally felt wrong footed when he interacted with most people, but it was just worse with them. He’d get used to it. He was still wrong footed with Lance, but Lance made him feel like it was alright.
Keith and Lance had been Antedians when an Antedian deep space expedition had first discovered the Galran threat. He couldn’t remember what Lance’s name had been in that lifetime, or his own for that matter, but he remembered that he and Lance had been a part of planning the new training for battle pilots as their people had begun realizing that all of their progress paled beneath the might of the empire.
Lance was already there when Keith disembarked. “Did you see me freeze that bomber? It fell right out of the sky.”
Keith had seen him freeze the bomber, had seen him dodge a squadron of fighters to skim the atmosphere and come over top of the bomber’s escort and get the shot in. He knew what to say though.
“Oh, did you?” he asked. “I was too busy taking out that cruiser.”
“That thing was wide open,” Lance exclaimed.
Keith couldn’t help but smile, though he did his best to turn it into a smirk. It had taken a while, but he’d gotten to the point where he thought he could call him and Lance friends. He thought Lance might even call them friends too. As much as he loved Lance, as much as he had always loved his soulmate, he hadn’t expected it to be easy to be friends with him in this lifetime, but it had been. Once they’d gotten past the hostility, once he’d given Lance the rivalry he craved, Lance was very easy to get along with. He could always draw Keith out of himself.
They walked by to check in with Hunk and Pidge, and Lance sent Shiro the all-up, a task no one had ever given him, and that Lance had never neglected. They started walking towards the training deck.
“So what do you think the Ocaampans are like?” Lance asked.
Lance always asked questions like that, even though he had no idea that Keith just might know the answer. Keith couldn’t remember ever being an Ocaampan. Which didn’t mean that he and Lance had never been born amongst them; seeing them might jog a memory if they’d been Ocaampans anytime in the past few millennia. Lance of course wouldn’t remember anything.
“I don’t know,” Keith said. “They must be pretty advanced if they’re holding off that siege.”
Lance hummed a response and casually knocked shoulders with him. “Hey, do you think they’ll throw us a parade?”
Lance always wanted a parade.
They arrived at the training deck where the Antedian strike team was already running drills. The first one who noticed them walk in called the rest to assemble.
“I want Alpha Team,” Lance said quietly.
“We don’t even know the order of operations,” Keith replied.
“Sure,” Lance said. “But if we’re splitting up, I want Alpha.”
Keith just nodded his head. He never liked splitting up from Lance, but Lance worked well with Katolliss who led Alpha and Keith couldn’t care either way, but still, they had a thing.
“Only if you can take out more drones than me,” Keith said.
“You’re on,” Lance said, his face lighting up like the night’s sky on Reilah during the Harvest Festival. “Alright soldiers,” Lance called out. “We’ll be kicking the Galra off of Tartan six in a bit, they’ve got a small foothold and we might be doing ground ops. We’re looking at an advanced cityscape with potential friendlies under occupation. We’ll know more in a bit, but for now we’ll base our drills off of what we’ve got.”
There was a cheer from the men and women before them. They were always eager. Hunk had said something about how generations of Antedians had grown up preparing for a war they didn’t think they could win, and that Voltron had given them a thirst to bring the fight to the Galra. Lance had Katolliss select the terrain features for the drills while he told the computer how to set up the drones for them.
“Alright,” Lance said. “We’ve got an enemy control room to take with hostages inside. Let’s go.”
Training went well, and Keith conceded that Lance could take Alpha. All in all, Lance was feeling pretty good about the upcoming mission when it came time for the battle planning meeting. The meeting was made up of the Alteans, all of the Paladins, the Nang’ok and Antedian fleet commanders, the Antedian and Plynthion ground troops commanders, and a Sif and a Kormian advisor. A lot of the battle had already been outlined and they got a quick look at the order of battle while they worked to fill in the blanks.
They’d go in with Voltron formed, coming right out in orbit over the sector of the planet where the Galra had a foothold. They’d take care of everything in the immediate area while different groupings of the fleet wormholed into strategic parts around the planet, and then Voltron would split up to clean things up on the ground. As Lance had predicted during training, he and Keith were being sent to take a command post with the strike team while ground troops secured the areas around them. The command post seemed to be at the center of a large concentration of Ocaampan civilians, so their job was to take out the command center without any heavy collateral damage.
It was a good meeting. Lance stayed engaged and he helped plan the ground operations. Shiro usually valued his input for ground operations, and honestly, this was the biggest group operation the alliance had ever planned. It was really going to be a test of the fleet and the alliance. Shiro put Keith in charge of the strike team, as usual, but still, it was a good meeting, even if something felt off between him and the princess. Every time he looked at her, he couldn’t help but hear her assuring the Kormians that Voltron stood strong with all of its Paladins. He’d almost died and all they’d cared about was losing a Paladin.
That made sense though. Allura was fighting a war. She was leading an alliance through a war, and having all five Paladins was extremely important. Lance had known when she’d fallen into his arms, when she’d talked to him about fate, that they’d been fated to meet, but romance was secondary to the alliance and he respected that. Still though, if he was waiting for a sign that she was soon going to return his feelings, it hadn’t come when he’d just been at death’s door. He felt weird, and he passed up several opportunities to woo the princess during the meeting. He avoided her gaze. Pidge was giving him weird looks by the end of it.
When the meeting was over, Lance and Keith went to brief the strike team while everyone else went to make their own preparations. Lance led the briefing, with Keith chiming in every now and then. It didn’t feel like it used to, like he was trying to show him up. Keith was just being helpful. He didn’t know why Shiro kept putting Keith in charge, or why Keith kept letting him, because Keith clearly had no desire to lead anyone. It was one of many reasons they worked so well together, even in spite of their initial differences.
When the time came, they made their final preparations. Keith and Lance went down the line with the strike team physically checking equipment for damage. The strike team carried an amalgam of equipment, from Altean armor, to Nang’ok blasters, Antedian thrusters, and Plynthion medical supplies. The Paladin armor was made of an alloy using the same extremely rare element that made up the Lions, and somehow interacted with their quintessence, but the Altean armor plating the Strike Team was equipped with could still take a few plasma bolts and they had the same undersuits the Paladins wore. Convinced that they were all ready for the mission they did a last minute review of the mission and loaded their respective teams into their lions, and took off.
If the Galra had been expecting them to return, they didn’t show it. All they’d done was start repairs, and Voltron cut through the cruisers in their hemisphere quickly. Surrounding the planet, Nang’ok and Antedian ships engaged with Galran Battle cruisers and fighters. It took about two Nang’ok ships to have about equal odds fighting against a single Galran cruiser, and about four Antedian ships. Of course, with those odds they’d lose several ships, so they always allotted double that strength per expected cruiser. The Galra vastly outnumbered the Voltron Alliance, but spread out across the Galaxy, it was easy enough for the Alliance to wormhole in to overwhelm Galran forces.
By the time Voltron split apart, and Keith and Lance headed down to land, there were only a few fighters left. Nang’ok and Antedian troop carriers started pushing through ground fire to land the Antedian and Plynthion ground troops. Lance and Keith pushed their own teams to their own objective while other teams took objectives throughout the area. It went smoothly, in the way that any battle goes smoothly. They took casualties of course, the strike teams armor was good, but it wasn’t perfect. Taran took a hit to his side while they were disembarking from something significantly stronger than a standard Galran blaster; there at least, he could be dragged back into Blue by their medic, but Mavis later had her whole arm blasted off pulling rear security, and she’d had to stick with them through to the objective. Lance considered the Ocaampans better be wizards with medicine like Coran had implied they were. They took their objective quickly though. There wasn’t a single sentry operating on the surface of Tartan Six, courtesy of the Ocaampans’ hacking abilities, the one and only thing they had done to overtly combat the Galran invasion. While a Galran soldier was a significantly more difficult opponent than a sentry, they just didn’t have the numbers they’d assumed when they planned the operation. Before they knew it, Shiro was declaring victory.
So as it turned out, the Ocaampans were major pacifists. So much so that they hadn’t engaged with the Galra at all during the siege, only hiding behind their shields. They’d bluffed with the Galra, sure; told them that all bets were off if they hurt the hostages in the foothold area, and the Galra had decided that the Ocaampans were powerful enough they wouldn’t take any chances. But it had still been a bluff. The Galra could have probably tortured all of their hostages to death publicly and the Ocaampans wouldn’t have shot a single fighter out of the sky.
When the dust was settled, and all the introductions had been made, it was agreed that they’d stay in touch, but that a military alliance was out of the question. The Ocaampans were thoroughly nonviolent, which was probably the only reason they hadn’t vaporized the Galran fleet themselves. It was a shame, but the important thing was that they’d managed to keep most of their more sensitive technologies out of Galran hands. Still though, the Alliance was welcome to bring their injured to Tartan six for healing, and the five paladins had been welcomed into the medical facility for the checkup Coran had wanted them to get. There wasn’t going to be a parade though.
Lance was frustrated though throughout the initial meetings with the Ocaampan leaders, a part of him a little bitter about how hard he and his team had fought, how Mavis had lost her arm, for a people that wouldn’t fight for themselves or the galaxy when they could. But those bitter feelings didn't last long when the five Paladins got sent to the Exobiology Medical Building to be offered whatever medical services they wanted. It was the same building Taran and Mavis had been sent to and probably all of the other soldiers who had been injured as well. Katollis had already let him know that their two teammates were on the mend, expected to make full recoveries, so at least that was something he didn’t need to worry about as even Healing Pods couldn't regrow limbs.
There were probably Galran soldiers there too, though. The Ocaampans were being mum on that. It wasn’t that Lance was against practices of healing enemy soldiers alongside your own, but any Galra left on the planet should be a prisoner in the custody of the alliance.
Putting misgivings about drastically different moralities aside, it was always cool meeting new aliens, stepping foot on new worlds. But as amazing as Tartan six was (like a city out of some far off future sci-fi movie), the Ocaampans themselves had Lance practically vibrating with excitement because even though they looked nothing like them (the Ocaampans walked on six tentacles, had horns all over their body, and changed color for reasons Lance couldn’t figure out), they talked almost exactly like Vulcans on Star Trek. Nobody had said the word ‘logical’ yet, but Lance was waiting for it. He was absolutely going to say the words, “Live long and prosper,” at some point; it was only a matter of time.
The doctor who was seeing them gave them the same spiel he probably gave all off-world patients. Complete medical privacy, not just for individuals but for races. Just as they wouldn’t tell the Galra about any vulnerabilities or susceptibilities in any race’s physiology, they weren’t about to give away any Galran weaknesses.
Hunk went first, getting a quick scan and a data pad with whatever assessment they had for him and a Glarfax bracelet that Coran had wanted them to get. A very cut and dry process with the doctor telling him he could use the pad to address any concerns he had privately. After that, Hunk departed for a discussion with one of the Ocaampan chief scientists. The Ocaampans weren’t going to give Voltron anything to help in the war, but since the Galra had taken their technology, they thought it wise to let Voltron know what the Galrans had gotten their hands on. Hopefully their engineers would finish their review of what had been lost in the area the Galra had been occupying.
After Hunk went Pidge, who then left to discuss a communications plan with another one of the Ocaampans. Then Lance got scanned, but he didn’t have anywhere to go so he stuck around and went over his results as he thumbed the new bracelet around his wrist. Lance was, of course, fit as a fiddle, though the Ocaampans just wrote that his body was functioning as expected based on his genetic makeup and that there were no life threatening or debilitating illness that would likely affect him in the future. There were tabs on the pad for things like ‘Optimized Nutrition’ (which Coran would probably take very seriously), and ‘Fitness Recommendations’ (he should probably look at that), and ‘Potential Body Enhancements’ (like some sort of procedure to improve eyesight or another one to extend genetic telomeres), and a tab for ‘Species’ (it just said ‘Single species genetic heritage - Human).
“You’re next,” Shiro was telling Keith as he slid a bracelet over his own wrist.
Keith looked grim.
“There aren’t even any shots,” Lance told him. “I mean, I’m sure they’ll give you one if you ask for it.”
Keith glanced at Lance’s pad, steeled himself and went over to the scanner. Keith’s exam, of course, went the same as everyone else’s and he left with his pad without looking at it. Shiro left after him and Lance was left behind with the doctor.
“Did you have any concerns with your health, or the information contained within your report?” the doctor asked blandly.
“Oh, um, well there isn’t anything here about my brain,” Lance said.
The doctor tapped around on his computer for a moment. “Your brain is functioning as expected for your genetic makeup. There is no damage or disfunction.”
“Well yeah, but, I’m a bit different from most of my people. It’s called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, um…”
Lance had never really been comfortable talking about it with others.
“I have trouble maintaining concentration in a lot of instances, there’s also problems with impulsivity and hyperactivity.”
The doctor tapped around a bit more on his computer. “Yes, I see where the issue is. If another of your species consents, we could use another’s brain to model modifications to your own. Otherwise we could determine a tailored solution.”
Lance paled a bit. He didn’t want brain surgery. He didn’t even want…
“I had a medication on Earth. It helped with a lot of the symptoms. It isn’t all bad, there are times where it can be beneficial even. I just want more control.”
“You wish to be reliant on a medication?” the doctor asked. “It is not generally our recommendation to implant devices into one’s body, but if you wish for this control of these symptoms, a cranial implant could give you that discretion.”
Lance’s eyes blew open. “Wow, um, hah hah, yeah, no implants, but um, yes to medication, if that’s doable.”
The doctor considered his monitor again and tapped a few buttons. “What periods of time do you wish this medication to last?”
“I can choose?” Lance asked.
“That appears to be what you are asking for,” the doctor said.
“Oh, well,” Lance thought about it. Pidge had given them a shorthand to describe time to an alien race. “So if you take an atom with 106 protons and 164 neutrons it’s half-life is going to be…”
The doctor cut him off. “We received a file with human units of conversion,” he said.
“Oh,” said. “One hour, four hour, and eight hour doses please.”
The doctor tapped away some more. “This will take two point three minutes,” the doctor said as some machine started whirring off to the side. He seemed to start on some other task, completely ignoring Lance now.
Lance looked around the office awkwardly. Like on the castle, he had no idea what most everything was. He glanced at some contraption on a mechanical arm affixed to the wall. He wondered if that thing would have stuck a chip in his brain. Or maybe have rewired it.
“Hey,” Lance said. “So you could have just changed how my brain worked? Like permanently?”
“Are you reconsidering your course of treatment?” the doctor asked.
“No,” Lance said. “Just trying to understand what your technology can do, it’s interesting.”
“It is rather straightforward to restructure a cellular being,” the doctor said. “Though some matters require additional genetic modification to avoid continuing treatment. The changes I would have suggested for yourself would not have required any genetic modification if that was your concern.”
“Still don’t want any brain surgery,” Lance said. There was a ding that Lance identified probably meant his meds were ready.
“I colored the medication based on your range of visual capabilities,” the doctor said. “Instructions have been added to your pad. Do ask for any clarification you need. There is also a file so you may fabricate more onboard your ship.”
Lance glanced down. There was now a tab for ‘Medication.’ A quick scan told him that his pills were colored yellow, green, and blue based on time.
“Well, um, thanks,” Lance said, pocketing the proffered bottle of pills.
“Thanks are not necessary,” the doctor said, eyes on his screen.
“Right, well,” Lance had to go for it. “Live long and prosper,” he said.
“Indeed,” his doctor said.
Lance left quietly screaming on the inside and after checking in discovered that they were waiting for Hunk and Coran to finish up with the engineers. That left him a bit of time to check on Taran and Mavis, who’d been injured during their mission earlier. The emergency ward was just one floor down, but the Antedians had already been released. He walked outside to where an unmanned hover transport approached him. Climbing aboard Lance told it, ‘Interplanetary Processing,’ which was where they’d started off. He found Pidge there in the lobby engrossed in her laptop?
“Did the Galra leave any data behind?” Lance asked.
Pidge looked up at him and brightened. “The Nang’ok have been pulling scrap out of orbit, and the Ocaampans are letting the Antedians go through everything left behind on the planet. I should get a good data haul soon enough.”
“So you’ll be pretty busy tonight?” Lance asked.
Pidge rolled her eyes. “Shiro already said we’ve been on the clock for too long today. Mandatory downtime tonight.”
There was no leave for Voltron, no weekends either. They were only human though, and after their first couple of months, when onboard tensions were running a bit high, Shiro had solidified some rules for their ops tempo that included ‘mandatory downtime.’ Lance was officially the morale officer, so mandatory downtime was Lance’s domain. Lance was a bit surprised though that Shiro was invoking mandatory downtime when they’d just been off for talks with the Kormians earlier. He worried that it had something with his own near death experience earlier in the day, but what he said was as upbeat as he ever was:
“Oh yeah! Antedian sitcoms and Plynthion junk food!”.
They’d already gone through all of the media they’d had on various phones and Pidge’s laptop, though she hadn’t had much besides a few schlocky cyberpunk movies that Lance now knew Matt had favored. The Antedians had interesting entertainment though, and they’d found they could understand what was going on in a lot of their shows. With any luck he could get Pidge to relax for a bit, and getting Coran to let him unlock their ‘morale food’ stores would probably pick up everyone’s spirits.
“Just as long as it isn’t that bizarre one we watched last time,” Pidge said.
Lance sat down next to her and heard the pills in his pocket rattle. He looked up at Pidge. “Hey,” he said. “Your, um… I was talking to the doctor back there. Their, um, their medical technology is actually really something. Seems like they could do pretty much anything. I mean it isn’t any of my business, but I’m pretty sure they could help you with your stuff.”
Pidge practically recoiled from him. “Me being trans isn’t something that needs to be cured, Lance,” she practically spat.
“I know that,” Lance said. “That wasn’t… I know you’re a girl, okay? But those pills are for hormones or something, right?”
“Oh,” Pidge said. She didn’t relax, but she didn’t look like Lance had stabbed her in the stomach anymore either. “No, those are just hormone blockers. I guess I would have started taking HRT by now if none of this had happened. I’d put it off when I decided to infiltrate the Garrison. I thought of fabricating it on the ship, but I wasn’t sure about doing it without a doctor’s supervision. I’d have needed to get bloodwork done and stuff. I was going to use the pad for a consult later; I figured any tests I needed run could have been done on the ship. I just needed them to tell me what tests to run and what to look out for. I just figured it could wait till this evening.”
“Um, actually, I’m pretty sure, I mean, I didn’t ask specifically or anything, but I’m pretty sure they could just… I think they could make it so you made your own? The doctor was trying to convince me to rewire my brain so I don’t think it should be an issue.” He said it with a smile while he pointed at his head, but Pidge didn’t take the bait.
“I didn’t think of that,” she said.
“The only thing you ever think of is getting your family back,” Lance said. “It’s okay to take some time for yourself.”
Pidge shrugged. “We’ve got time,” she said. “I’ll go over and talk to the doctor.” She got up and headed towards the exit. Lance followed.
“What are you doing?” Pidge asked when she noticed Lance was about to get on the transport she’d just stepped onto.
“Going with you,” Lance said. “Exobiology Medical Building,” Lance told the transport.
“I don’t need you to come with me,” Pidge said.
“You’re not going alone for a major medical procedure,” Lance said.
“I don’t need a baby sitter,” Pidge said.
“How about a friend?” Lance asked.
Pidge stared out the window, and distinctly not at Lance. “Why do you care about this?” she asked.
“What are you talking about?” Lance asked.
“Why do you suddenly care about my transition?” Pidge asked.
It wasn’t that Lance had never cared. He just hadn’t thought he had any business asking Pidge for the details or suggesting things he didn’t know anything about. Now that they had the Ocaampans though…
“I’m your team-lead,” Lance said. “I’m supposed to care about you. When haven’t I looked out for you?”
Pidge frowned. “If you’re trying to date me you can fuck right off.”
“What are you talking about?” Lance asked, aghast.
“You weren’t flirting with the princess earlier,” Pidge said. “And now all of a sudden… I’m a girl, whatever hormones I’ve got in me, whatever my body looks like.”
“I know that,” Lance said. It had taken him a while to really understand that, but he knew that Pidge was a girl. “And let me just say, first of all, since apparently every other time I’ve said it it didn’t sink in, but- You. Are. A. Baby. I am way too old for you, I’ve never even thought of you like that. And don’t worry about me and the Princess. I was off my game earlier today, but this is just like Emma Jane and Drake Thompson in Space Galactica Five. And lastly, what the fuck? I’ve never treated you like there was anything wrong with you being trans, and I’ve definitely never creeped on you, so where the hell is this even coming from?”
“It isn’t about how you treat me,” Pidge exploded at him. “It’s about how you treat the princess!”
“I’m a perfect gentlemen,” Lance squawked indignantly.
“No,” Pidge seethed. “You’re a dick who can’t take no for an answer.”
Lance could only stare at her for a moment. “How could you… I would never do that to a woman. I’ve never even touched her, I mean, besides catching her when we first met, but you know what I mean.”
“I know that she’s made it clear that she isn’t interested in you but you keep flirting with her even though you’re making her uncomfortable.”
“Uncomfortable?” Lance said. “She hasn’t once said anything like that.”
Pidge rolled her eyes. “Yeah,” she said. “Maybe she’s too diplomatic to say it outright, or maybe Altea wasn’t that much different from Earth and women had to actually worry about what would happen if she told a guy to fuck off, but it’s clear as day that she isn’t interested.”
“The princess isn’t afraid of me,” Lance said, beginning to feel deeply uncomfortable. “She and I both know full well she could kick my ass.”
“That’s not the point,” Pidge said
“Well what’s the point?” Lance asked.
“The point is that this isn’t a stupid romcom, or a hero gets the girl action movie, girls don’t want you to just keep chasing them. I swear, if I hear you say, ‘Lance Sanchez: Space Hero’ one more time, I will kill you. You aren’t ‘Drake Thompson’, Allura isn’t ‘Emma Jane,’ or whoever, we’re all just real people here. So let me tell you Lance, if we’re interested, we’ll let you know. Allura shouldn’t have to model every interaction with you to rebuff your unwanted advances. For crying out loud, we all work together, every day, and every day she’s got to worry about what suggestive comment you’re going to make and how she’s going to sidestep it without alienating someone she’s got to work closely with. She shouldn’t have to do that.”
“She doesn’t have to…” Lance swallowed. “Did she say something to you?”
“She doesn’t have to,” Pidge said.
“I would have backed off if she’d told me to,” Lance said. “I wouldn’t have… If I’d known she was upset…”
“She shouldn’t have to,” Pidge said. “A no doesn’t have to be said out loud.”
Lance felt shame coil in his gut, because he knew that. He knew that just because someone didn’t say ‘no’ didn’t mean they wanted sex and stuff, he’d gotten that talk, and sitting there in the transport with Pidge, he knew that no one should have had to tell him it was the same thing, even if there wan’t any touching. He started panicking, trying to cast back in his memory, tried to remember his interactions with the princess. Tried to remember anything that would let him know that this wasn’t as bad as Pidge was making it out to be. All he could think about really, was that when he was around her he just saw the end goal. He just imagined her eventually falling for him, and that was what colored every interaction he had with the princess. With Allura. Which probably meant that Lance had no business giving any sort of assessment of how Allura felt. He felt cold.
“I didn’t mean to make her feel like that,” Lance said. He had made her feel like that.
“Well you did,” Pidge said.
“I’m sorry,” Lance said.
“I’m not the one you need to apologize to,” Pidge said.
“No,” Lance said. “I know that. I…” When had his eyes started watering. “No, I’ll apologize to her. I’ll stop… I’ll just stop.” At the very least, his mamá had taught him how the apologize properly.
Pidge just shrugged. The transport had stopped and they got out.
“Really though, I didn’t ever want her to feel anxious for having to interact with me,” Lance said. “And I swear, I… when I suggested you see the doctor, it had nothing to do with… that.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Pidge said.
“Do you?” Lance asked. “Because that didn’t feel like it was just because I didn’t flirt with Allura earlier today.”
“Now is really not the time to worry about how I’m feeling,” Lance said.
“It’s just sometimes,” Pidge said. “Sometimes, I see how you treat the princess and I wonder sometimes if there’s a reason you’re always trying to be nice to me.”
“I was nice to you before I knew you were a girl,” Lance said.
“I know,” Pidge said. “I didn’t worry about it back then. I didn’t see how you treated the princess back then either.”
That struck at Lance. “You said I don’t need to apologize to you,” he said.
“You weren’t flirting with me,” Pidge said.
“But I was making you uncomfortable,” Lance said. “This whole time.”
“Wait,” Lance said and he stopped walking. Pidge did too, turning towards Lance. She’d calmed down since her initial outburst, she no longer looked at him like he was a monster, but still he’d made her feel like that.
“I’ve treated one of our team mates disrespectfully, and I owe her an apology, but by treating her like that, I’ve also made you uncomfortable. I’ve made you… You don’t trust me and that’s my fault. I’m going to do better, and I’m sorry.”
Pidge shook her head. “That was the problem Lance,” she said quietly. “I do trust you. Most of the time. You’re-“ She took a deep breath. “Why are you always looking out for me?”
“You’re part of my team,” Lance said.
“No, you’re always-“ She sighed. “It’s more than that.”
“What? You mean treating you like we’re friends?” Lance asked, swallowing hard.
“It’s more than that,” Pidge insisted.
Lance looked down. “You’re like family Pidge. You’re like my Niece. I look out for you because I want to. I check in on you to make sure you’re alright, because I want you to be alright. I try to cheer you up because I know you’re going through shit and I want you to have someone in your corner.”
“Because I’m a kid?” Pidge asked.
“Because you’re Pidge,” Lance said. He sighed. “What do you mean you trust me sometimes?”
“Did you mean all that?” PIdge asked.
Lance nodded. He’d meant every word. “I really am sorry,” Lance said.
“No,” Pidge said. “The other stuff.”
“You’re family,” Lance said. “Hunk is family. I want you to be happy, and I’m sorry I made you miserable.”
“You do make me happy,” Pidge said. “And sometimes you make me miserable. You’re… You’re like family. You’re like-“ She took a deep breath, and now it was her with tears in her eyes. “You’re like Matt. You remind me of him so much. You look out for me like he did, you cheer me up like he did. You make me feel like I can really do this.” She swiped at her eyes. “Not that I needed anyone to tell me I could.” She huffed. “But that’s why this bothered me so much. Because you feel like home, you feel like family, and it sucks when you act like an asshole because you’re what I’ve got out here and when I don’t feel like I can trust you it hurts. Seeing Allura deal with that hurts. Wondering if you’d treat me like that if I looked like Allura really hurt.”
“I’m sorry I hurt you,” Lance said. “I’ll do better.”
Pidge socked him in the arm. “You’d better,” she said. “This conversation doesn’t happen again.”
“It won’t,” Lance said. They resumed their walk to their doctor’s office. “Hey, um, when you were talking about girls having to be worried about how a guy would react to a ‘no,’ was that…”
Pidge shook her head. “Uh uh, you have not leveled up enough to unlock my tragic backstory.”
“Pidge!” he said, alarmed.
“Relax,” Pidge said. “It wasn’t anything a punch in the nose didn’t handle.”
“I mean, if you need to talk about it,” Lance said.
Pidge shook her head. “It was scary for a moment and then it wasn’t,” she said. “I had a crush and then I didn’t. Dennis Branson tried to get to second base, and instead he went to the nurses office. I haven’t thought about it since I stopped seeing him with a splinted nose. It isn’t anything that needs to be aired out.”
They were outside the doctor’s office.
“Wait here,” Pidge said.
“Good luck,” Lance said as she walked through the door.
Lance Sanchez: Total Asshole. He slumped against the wall. There was a brief moment when the total weight of everything from the war to his homesickness to his every insecurity seemed to weigh on him all at once. He knew well the temptation to completely ruminate on it all. He’d felt it every night, and he’d run through it for hours and hours, and he’d always pushed it aside. He’d pushed it aside for Lance Sanchez: Space Hero; Ace Pilot; Frontier Explorer; Ambassador of Earth; and The-Guy-Who-Got-The-Girl. He’d pushed it aside so he could make sure it wasn’t pushing everyone else down; so he could look after Pidge, and reassure Hunk, and take a bit of weight off of Shiro’s shoulders, and so he could make Keith recognize him as an equal. When had he lost sight of reality? When had he become so blind to how he was affecting others?
He knew he’d ruminate on it all when he needed to be fixing things, so he pulled out his bottle of meds and popped a one hour dose. He wasn’t sure if it would help. Heck, he wasn’t sure what it was even going to do at all. He hadn’t really read the instructions. After a while though he found it easier to keep himself from focusing on the things he couldn’t change. He looked up. Father Diaz wasn’t here to hear his confession. Not that that probably mattered anyway, except that Father Diaz would have at least had some advice for him.
“Our Father in Heaven,” Lance said. “I need your guidance…” Did he though? It wasn’t like he didn’t know what he needed to do. “Please just smite me if I ever mess up like this again.”
Someone cleared their throat and Lance practically jumped out of his skin. Looking up he saw Pidge. He straightened up quickly, his cheeks red.
“Everything alright?” Lance asked.
“Yeah,” Pidge said, staring at him hard. “Can I borrow an X chromosome? Permanently borrow. So not borrowing. Like a copy?”
Lance gapped at her. He hadn’t expected that. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting. He supposed that was Pidge’s business, although now she wanted his DNA.
“Yeah,” Lance said. “Of course.”
“Cool,” Pidge said. “They’ve got it on file so there’s just a consent form on your pad.”
Lance looked down at the pad the doctor had given him and there was a new tab at the top. He pressed a button and that seemed to be that.
“Thanks,” Pidge said, ducking back into the office. A couple of minutes later she came back out. “Alright, we should head back. I get to pick the first show.”
Lance gaped at her. “Was that…? That was incredibly fast.”
“It was incredibly fast,” Pidge agreed. They started walking back.
“Lance, Pidge, what’s your status?” Shiro came in on their comms.
“We’re together,” Lance said. “Leaving the doctor’s office right now.”
“Get back here ASAP,” Shiro said, and Lance could hear the tension in his voice.
“Roger that,” Lance said. “Are we coming in hot?”
“Negative,” Shiro said. “But we’ve got a mission and we don’t have any time to waste.”
“We’ll be there as soon as we can,” Lance said. They got to the transport and told it to take them back. Lance told it to double time it, but it didn’t go any faster.
“So much for mandatory downtime,” Pidge said.
“Are you good for a mission?” Lance asked. “I mean you just had a procedure or something.”
“Feeling pretty good actually,” Pidge said. “Hey, do you think they could make it so I don’t have to sleep anymore?”
“Right,” Lance said. “We are never coming back here again.”
Pidge socked him in the arm.
“So,” Lance said. “You’ve got my X chromosome.”
“Don’t make a big deal about it,” Pidge said.
Lance shrugged. “Am I still… do I still feel like family?”
Pidge huffed and bumped her shoulder into his side. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, you do.”
Lance wasn’t sure he deserved it, but he’d take it anyway. He missed his family back home so much it crushed him when he let himself dwell on it, but he knew he had family on the ship also, and he wasn’t going to let that go.
Hunk, for all that he’d never wanted to get involved in any war himself, couldn’t understand the Ocaampans. He thought it was great that they welcomed people from all over to come and get healed using their advanced tech, but even with only a little bit of time spent on Tartan six, Hunk could tell that they were far more advanced than the Galra. He hadn’t seen any evidence of Alchemy, but from a purely technological standpoint, they were probably more advanced than the Alteans even. Somehow though, their desire to help others didn’t seem to connect with the very real possibility that they could provide a meaningful resistance to the empire that was destroying the rest of the galaxy.
It was worse than that though, because they had taken pacifism to an extreme that not only left the rest of the galaxy vulnerable, but they had been okay with the possibility of the Galra getting their hands on some of their most dangerous technology.
“The decision was made based on our understanding at the time,” Olymp told him. “The Galra’s primitive technology should not have allowed them to access the facility.”
Even in the face of it all, they couldn’t fathom that they’d made a mistake.
“Just tell me that they can’t make more,” Hunk said, exiting the transport. The Ocaampan had to speed up to stay by Hunk’s side as he rushed to meet with the others.
“They did not access the research,” Olymp said. “What’s more, the generator self destructed, as did most of the technology in the compromised sector.”
They could still do plenty of damage with what they’d gotten their hands on though. They were shown into a conference room where Shiro, Keith, and the Alteans were waiting with a few Ocaampans.
“Where’s Pidge?” Hunk asked.
“She’s on her way,” Shiro said. “What’s this weapon they’ve gotten their hands on?”
“We do not create weapons,” one of the Ocaampans insisted.
“What’s going on?” Lance asked, walking into the room with Pidge behind him.
“It doesn’t matter if you were going to use it as a weapon or not,” Hunk said. “The Galra will.” He turned to Pidge. “We need to track down any Galra ships that escaped the Tartan system after we got here.”
Pidge sat down at the conference table and pulled out her laptop. “Anything specific? How big is this weapon?”
Hunk turned to Olymp who frowned. He pulled out a pad and consulted it for a moment. “It is a sphere of aproximately point four five six of your ‘meters,’” he said.
“So it could even be on a fighter,” Pidge said.
“How bad could something that small be?” Lance asked.
“They’re messing with Chronotons,” Hunk said.
“Oh shit,” Pidge said. She looked up from her laptop at the Ocaampans. “You synthesized Chronotons? How much are we talking about here?”
“Enough to instantly destroy a few dozen star systems,” Hunk said shooting a glare at Olymp.
“Uh, that’s not how explosions work,” Lance said. “Even traveling at the speed of light it would take years for an explosion to travel from one solar system to the next.”
“Chronotons are temporal particles,” Allura said heavily. “They are not bound by the speed of light.”
“So can we scan for them?” Shiro asked.
“Not when they are within their containment unit,” Olymp said. “However, the containment field itself would be detectable, but only from an extremely close range.”
“How close?” Shiro asked.
Olymp consulted his pad again. “Aproximately fifty-two point three of your meters.”
“That’s nothing,” Keith said. “We’d have to be on the ship itself.”
“Yes,” Olymp said. “That is an accurate assessment.”
“Okay,” Pidge said. “The castle’s intercepted plenty of communications from ships in the system before we attacked. Since the attack ended, we haven’t picked up any of those ship identifiers in any communications.”
“So maybe they didn’t get it out of the system,” Lance said.
“Or they’re on radio silence because they know we’d be on them faster than they could reconnect with their forces,” Pidge said. “We’re a bit of a ways away from any other significant Galran activity.”
“Besides this device, was there anything else they got away with?” Shiro asked.
“There’s a terminal that housed an AI,” Hunk said. “But they’re pretty certain the Galra won’t be able to copy it. With any luck, we’ll get it back when we find the chronotons.”
“What sort of AI,” Pidge asked, perking up.
“I think we’ll worry about that after we get the chronotons back,” Hunk said.
“Alright,” Shiro said. “Hunk, connect with the Nang’ok, see what they’ve pulled out of orbit. Pidge, if anything did escape this system, I want to know the moment they so much as send a text message. We’re going back to the castle. The moment we have a location we’re striking. Lance, Keith, be ready for a boarding mission.”
“You’ve got it,” Lance said.
Hunk was already heading towards his lion, his hand flying towards his communicator so he could hail the Nang’ok, but first he looked over his shoulder. “Olymp, you’re with me.” The Ocaampans might not be willing to fight in the war, but they’d better be willing to do whatever it took to find their damned doomsday device.
Lance was keyed up after the meeting, and in spite of the very long day, he was ready to get back into it. They’d never had a more important mission. Of course, for just then it was going to be a bit of a waiting game. He and Keith went to the Antedians quarters on the ship where most of their friends were celebrating their victory.
“Alright, listen up,” he said loudly over the din. There were some brief jeers at the sight of them, and someone called out, “What were you thinking back there? That was the worst mission ever!”
It was an odd tradition among the Antedians. It respected no rank and hit everyone they felt warranted it. Whenever someone did particularly well in their society (and for the Strike Team, that meant whenever someone kicked ass in combat) it was everyone else’s job to humble them. For Lance, who had always been a bit sensitive to fears of rejection, it had taken some getting used to. Any other time they were a well disciplined unit, and there was definite respect shown for rank and position, except when a major victory was won.
Lance had learned how to play the game. “You were all terrible today,” he said. “You call that teamwork? As soon as Pidge figures out how to switch their allegiance, we’re replacing you all with sentries.”
This was met with uproarious approval.
“Where’s Taran and Mavis?”
“We’ve got them right here,” someone shouted. “Can’t even tell Mavis had her arm blasted off.” Mavis waved her arm.
“Good, good, we might keep her,” Lance said. The humbling could have lasted a lot longer, but they didn’t have time for that. “Unfortunately, I’m not here to celebrate that victory you all barely scraped up. We’ve got a mission, or we have to hope we’ve got a mission or we might all be dead. The Galra got their hands on something we can’t let them have. As soon as we figure out where they’ve taken it we’re going in.”
“To victory!” Someone shouted.
“To the training deck!” Lance rejoined.
There were some slightly less enthusiastic cheers. It had already been a very long day.
After a couple of hours of training, Shiro insisted that the best preparation they could have was a good dinner and some sleep. The paladins and the Alteans gathered for a last minute meeting over food goo. Nothing had really changed and Keith felt agitated for the inactivity.
“Based on the debris and records from the battle, we think we’re missing a battlecruiser and a bomber,” Hunk said.
“Cruisers are faster,” Shiro said. “Assuming it’s going at full speed, how long until it could reconvene with the nearest fleet?”
“Depends,” Pidge said. “We aren’t anywhere near the front lines, but that hub we hit a bit ago is close, and they could be there as early as tomorrow at eleven hundred hours, they may not want to be predictable though, if they’re trying to head straight for the High Command, it could be a couple of weeks. Then there’s a dozen other places they might go of varying distances.”
“We could try to get there before them,” Lance said. “Take out the Hub.”
“We might just scare them off,” Pidge said. “There’s a big presence there now since we hit it, I was going to bring that up later, I think it might have been more important than we thought.”
“How big?” Shiro asked.
“About twenty cruisers,” Pidge said.
Their biggest advantage at the moment was that they could pretty instantaneously catch up to wherever the ship wound up, but there was no guarantee they’d find it before it reconvened with one of the nearby fleets, and then the device could wind up on any ship going in any direction.
“Hitting the Hub is one of the options I’m considering,” Shiro said. “We’ll have a decision in the morning. Either way, a cruiser’s a lot bigger than our detection capabilities for this containment vessel. If we identify a ship, we’ll have two teams, sweep the ship from either side. Hunk, we’ll need you onboard in case anything needs to be defused.”
Hunk groaned an assent.
“I’m assuming we can’t just blow it up,” Lance said.
“No way,” Hunk said. “Destroying the containment vessel means releasing those chronotons, and that would be unpredictable. Maybe we’d be looking at a localized spatial anomaly, or maybe we’d find ourselves in some sort of paradox, it could tear us apart. Even worse if we wind up somehow going back in time.”
“Time travel would be cool,” Lance said.
Hunk shook his head. “Matter traveling back in time is functionally the same as anti-matter. Massive explosion. No matter what happens, we wouldn’t want to be around if that containment vessel breaches.”
“I should go too,” Pidge said.
“No way, you just want to play with the AI,” Lance said. “We’ll patch you in if we need to.”
“Agreed,” Shiro said. “It’s late. Pidge, you have an alert set up?”
Pidge looked a bit mutinous but all she said was, “anything pops up, we’ll all know about it.”
“Good,” Shiro said. “You’ve all done way too much today. Get some rest, you’ve earned it. If nothing pops up, wake up is at zero eight. Don’t worry about the workout.”
Allura and Coran were the first to get up. Lance got up too.
“Princess wait, um, can we go…” Lance stopped, and seemed to visibly wilt in front of them. “I mean, I guess you probably don’t want to go anywhere, um, with me, but that’s okay, because I just need to…” He was nervous about something, and Keith had never seen Lance act so unsure about himself.
“I’ve been making you uncomfortable,” Lance said. “I’ve been flirting with you, even though you’ve made it clear it’s unwanted. I’d convinced myself that… Or, I guess it doesn’t matter what I thought. I shouldn’t have had to have it pointed out to me how my behavior was affecting you, but I did. My behavior’s been inappropriate and it stops now. I’m sorry for what I’ve done and I’m sorry for how that’s affected you. I’m sorry also if that’s affected the team as a whole.”
Keith hadn’t been expecting that. He didn’t think anyone had been expecting that. Outside of the pain of watching his soulmate flirt with someone else, he hadn’t considered how the princess had felt. She’d always seemed indifferent. She’d been trying to push Lance towards Keith because she knew what they were.
The princess cleared her throat. “I accept your apology Lance, and I’ll look forward to your changed behavior. Goodnight, everyone.” With that, she left. Keith was surprised she’d even stayed for the meeting. She’d opened dozens of wormholes during the battle to move the fleet around. She had to be the most exhausted of all of them.
Lance shot a glance at Pidge, whose back was to Keith. Lance headed towards the exit and Shiro got up. Keith shot up and ran after Lance.
“Lance,” he said as he caught up in the hall.
Lance seemed to flinch and he turned to face Keith. Keith didn’t understand why he looked so miserable. The princess had accepted his apology.
“Are you alright?” Keith asked.
“I don’t think that’s the point,” Lance said.
“Are you going to be?” Keith asked.
Lance laughed. “I’ll be good for our mission tomorrow.”
That wasn’t the point either.
“We’ll be splitting up tomorrow,” Keith said.
“I’ve got alpha,” Lance said.
“You’ve got alpha,” Keith agreed. “Stay safe.”
That seemed to give Lance pause. “You’re not worried are you? It’s going to be fine. We’ve got this.”
“Hey,” Lance said, and suddenly his hand was on Keith’s shoulder. Keith looked up into his eyes. “I know the stakes are high, but we’re going to get this thing back. We’re not going to let them get away with it.”
That wasn’t what Keith was worried about, not really.
“I’ll see you on the other side,” Lance said.
“You’d better,” Keith said.
“Come on,” Lance said. “I’m beat.”
They started walking towards their quarters, and Keith noticed that Lance kept glancing over at him. Was it weird?
“I’ll be the one who finds it tomorrow,” Keith said.
“As if,” Lance said. “Heck, I bet I could sweep my half and then beat you to your end of the ship.”
“Not in a thousand lifetimes,” Keith said, and Lance would just have to take his word for it.
They parted at Keith’s door. Keith started getting ready for bed, brushing his teeth and taking a shower and then getting dressed again so he could be ready to go at a moments notice. The whole time he didn’t look at the pad he’d gotten from the Ocaampan doctor. He hadn’t looked at it and he wasn’t sure he was going to. Sleeping on his side, he couldn’t even feel the dagger clipped to the back of his belt.
Pidge got to her quarters and spent a while going over the pad the Ocaampan doctors had given her. What was cool was that she’d gotten something no other adolescent on Earth had ever gotten before: an actual roadmap for how puberty was going to hit her, a freaking timeline of what she could expect. It wasn’t broken down day by day though, and she wondered if she should be feeling anything different already. She went and spent some time looking in the mirror.
She wished her mom was there. Before Kerberos this would have been a big day. She would have been nervous, but her family would have been there when she went to see the doctor to get her first prescription for HRT. Instead she was in her quarters thousands of lightyears away from Earth, and who knew how far away from her dad and her brother.
Not for the first time, Pidge wondered what her mom was going through. She’d covered her tracks well, but not so well that Pidge Gunderson and Katie Holt could both go missing and no one would piece it all together. What had the Garrison told her mom? The Garrison had definitely noticed the Blue Lion taking off, but did they have any idea that she’d been onboard? Pidge knew that she’d left her mom alone on Earth, but she didn’t know if her mother thought she was ever coming back. She knew she was doing the right thing, but she also knew that she had hurt her mom when she’d lied to her for so long and then disappeared.
She startled pretty badly when Lance called through her door. She would usually just call him in, but it took her a moment, and when she opened the door he gave her his raised eyebrow look when she was right there before him.
“Hey,” Lance said.
“Doing your rounds?” Pidge asked.
Lance shrugged. “How are you doing?” he asked. “You didn’t really get any time afterwards.”
“I’m doing…” She wasn’t sure. She was happy about her transition, but everything else… She moved forward and wrapped Lance in a hug. “Thank you, for being there.” Lance returned the hug, with one of his hands resting on the back of her head. It felt like how Mom would hug her, though that was probably just because she really missed her. She didn’t know why she had to start crying over it.
“I miss them so much,” Pidge said.
“I know, and they’d be super happy for you today,” Lance said. “We’ll find them, I promise.”
Pidge pulled away. “Do you ever wonder what the Garrison told our families?”
“All the time,” Lance said. “We’ll make it right someday.”
“I wish they were here,” Pidge said.
“You’ll make it happen,” Lance said. Just let me know if you need anything,” he said.
“I will,” she said. “That was good, with the princess.”
Lance looked a bit awkward. “You think so?”
Pidge shrugged. It had been a better apology than she’d ever given anyone.
“A part of me kept hoping that you were wrong; that she’d laugh it off,” Lance said.
Pidge didn’t really know what to say to make him feel better. She couldn’t exactly tell him not to worry about it, that it hadn’t been a big deal. Besides, making people feel better was what Lance was good at.
“I’m nervous about everything,” Pidge said. “The um, the changes, you know. You should distract me. Don’t want to go to bed worrying about it.”
“Oh,” Lance said. “I’ve got you. I can do a distraction. Did I ever tell you about the time…”
Lance relaxed as they fell into familiar roles. Pidge started tinkering with one of her projects while he talked and not too long later he admonished her to get a good nights sleep and he left. Pidge thought that making people feel better wasn’t that hard after all.
Shiro jogged to the training deck, running over the day’s operations in his head. Keith was already practicing with his sword when he got there, and Shiro was always glad for Keith’s dedication. Keith’s operation had gone so well the day before with the Strike Team. Shiro had been nervous to integrate an entire unit into the core operations of Voltron, but Shiro had hardly had to worry about it at all. It had been the first big challenge he’d given Keith as a leader, and the team had quickly meshed with Keith and Lance’s direct engagements with the enemy.
Keith had been surprising him from the beginning, from the day he’d found out his parents had decided to open their home to a foster child, to the day he’d come home for the holidays and actually met the surly teen who’d slowly come out of his shell to ask him about being a pilot. Probably the biggest surprise was how quickly Shiro had become attached to having a foster brother. Keith had been in foster care since he’d been eight years old. Shiro wished he could have found his way to their home from the beginning.
After Shiro had encouraged him to apply, Keith had pushed himself hard after that to prove he belonged at the Garrison but he’d made it look easy. Finding out that Keith had been kicked out of the Garrison had been surprising in its own way, but nothing compared to finding out that he’d taken that setback and wound up finding an ancient alien spaceship in the desert. Having him with him on the team was a blessing. Being able to rely on Keith took a bit of the pressure off of him.
Leadership wasn’t something that came naturally to Keith, but he was learning. Shiro had seen him in training and in battle and Keith had an instinctual reaction to every situation that was extraordinary, and Shiro knew that that was what the team needed. It was what Shiro needed. He’d never wanted anything more than to command expeditions and make new discoveries for mankind. Leading Voltron wasn’t ever what he wanted, but that didn’t matter at all. Having Keith in his corner at least made him feel like he wasn’t trying to manage the team on his own.
As much as he wanted Keith to lead the Strike Team for their upcoming mission, he just couldn’t lose another lion, not with the way things were going to play out. He had spent plenty of time agonizing over the decision with the council. Especially since he was sending Hunk on his own with the Strike Team. Hunk would be necessary when they found the device, but they rarely sent Hunk anywhere without another Paladin. His skills with his bayard had improved drastically since the beginning, but his most reluctant Paladin severely lacked confidence, particularly when he wasn’t working with Lance. Shiro would have more confidence sending Keith in with them, but he had to work with what he had.
“I thought I told you to take it easy this morning,” Shiro said.
“I tried to sleep in,” Keith said.
“I’m still not sure you actually sleep,” Shiro said.
“I do,” Keith assured him, earnestly.
“Come on,” Shiro said. “I saw you working with that Plynthion trainer the other day. You were doing really well. Show me your new moves.”
Keith grimaced, like he often did when he was reminded that he had to interact with people he didn’t know very well, but he grabbed a shorter sword for his off hand and got to work. He was already adapting to the new techniques. Merging all of these different species into an alliance to combat an empire, they needed someone who could adapt so well, like Keith could.
Lance woke up, like he did most mornings, to the sound of Shiro’s voice.
“Rise and shine Paladins. Breakfast is at zero eight thirty with the Strike Team. We’ll be discussing the order of operations for the day.”
A big long meeting, first thing, Lance figured he’d take his meds for that. He didn't think he’d ever take them for battle; he hyper focused like crazy when the first shot was fired, but nothing was worse than realizing you’d missed something important during a briefing. He got up and took care of things in the bathroom before checking his tablet where Shiro had pushed out more details, including the uniform they would be expected to wear, full gear, which probably meant they were heading out right after their briefing.
He met Pidge in the armory and they helped each other get their armor on. She looked tired, as she did most mornings, but he had the feeling she really had had trouble sleeping the night before. He watched with disgust as she dry swallowed a caffeine pill and placed another one under her tongue.
“You are definitely only supposed to take one of those,” Lance offered.
“Narc,” she said, knocking shoulders with him. “I won’t make a habit of it.”
“You’d better not, young lady!” he mock shouted.
“Ugh, you’re not my real dad,” Pidge snarked back, already perking up.
“My genes my rules,” Lance said.
“Oh wow, you ask a guy for one chromosome and suddenly he thinks he’s a parent,” Pidge shot back.
“I distinctly recall giving birth to a tiny baby yesterday,” Lance said. “Where did she go?” He looked around and then gesticulated wildly at Pidge. “There she is! There’s my tiny baby. Hey, how old do you have to be before I can ship you off to pre-school?”
“Just as soon as the war is over,” Pidge said, suddenly sobering the mood.
“So was everything alright last night?” Lance asked.
Pidge rolled her eyes. “I was fine,” she said. “It wasn’t anything… It’s just this mission, okay? I’ve got a bad feeling.”
Lance had had a bad feeling since he’d heard about how devastatingly destructive the thing could be. “We’ll get through this one,” Lance said. “Just because they got their hands on some mcguffin doesn’t mean they can do anything with it.”
“I hope so,” Pidge said.
“Hey,” Lance said. “Would I let anything happen to my baby girl?”
Pidge rolled her eyes and elbowed him as they entered the briefing room where there was a buffet breakfast overseen by Coran. Coran, of course, would make sure they ate properly before such a big mission. Lance sat with Pidge and made sure she paid more attention to her food than her laptop. The strike team came in en masse and when Shiro entered with Princess Allura, the meeting started.
“Alright, everyone,” Shiro started. “We’ve got two missions to prepare for today. The first one is to harry the Hub and hope we can provoke a communique from one of our two missing ships. This is pretty straight forward, we’ve done it a hundred times before, though there will be some changes to our fleet that Princess Allura will discuss in a bit. The second mission will be to board our target ships and extract our objective. The strike team will be sweeping the ship and escorting Paladin Hunk to the objective.”
“The strike team will be escorting Hunk?” Lance asked.
Shiro deferred to Princess Allura. “Some very difficult choices were made in consultation with the council last night. We’re pulling back the fleet from this sector,” she said. “As well as the castle. If they have already weaponized this device, then there is a very real chance that they will detonate it, rather than allow it to be reclaimed. Though the possibility that they have already succeeded in creating a bomb is low, there is the potential to essentially destroy the entire resistance in one go. At the same time, Voltron has the best chance of successfully retrieving the device. If the worst happens, then the fleet and the wormhole generator aboard the castle would become the only defense the galaxy has against the Galra.”
That was exceptionally grim, and from the look on her face, she knew it too. Still though, chances were low that the Galra had anything approaching a weapon yet. Lance just didn’t share Allura’s optimism that the burgeoning alliance would survive the downfall of Voltron.
“Without the fleet we’ll need as many Lions in the battle as we can,” Shiro said. “Lance, Keith, you’re going to get in fast and drop off Alpha and Bravo as soon as you’ve got a clear entry.”
A holo of a Galran cruiser and a bomber popped up and Shiro went through how the two teams would start at the forward and aft of the ships and sweep inwards for the device. There was still the assumption that the device would be on the faster cruiser, though there was the possibility that the cruiser would be escorting the bomber and they’d just have to work them one at a time.
“Hunk?” Shiro said.
“Oh, um, yeah,” Hunk said. “Hey everybody,” he addressed the strike team. He used his tablet to project an image of the device they were looking for, as well as the AI terminal that was their secondary objective. “In the event that they have weaponized this thing,” Hunk said. “Detonation isn’t instantaneous. There’s a buildup governed by the laws of physics that they can’t get around. Seven doboshs and twenty ticks, if they activate it that’s how much time we’d have to shut it down. Once the charge builds up past the point of criticality there’s a cascade effect and… well anyway. Here’s hoping they wouldn’t detonate it so close to a number of systems we’re pretty sure they want to hold onto. Everyone on the boarding party is going to have a detector. If you get close enough to the device it’ll guide you the rest of the way. Oh, also, we’re pretty sure if they’ve weaponized it, then once activated they’ll need to boost the containment field to deal with the added charge to the particles, which means the range on the detector will go up, so if they are going to blow it up, we’ll know about it.”
“Alright,” Shiro said. “Strike team, get your gear onto Red and Blue. Hunk, you’re riding with Keith. We’re going in with the expectation that we’re going to find these ships.”
Lance made eye contact with Hunk who looked nervous but determined. They were just filing out of the briefing room when an alarm went off. Lance looked over to Pidge.
“That’s it,” Pidge said. “One of the ships broke radio silence.” She was already pulling the information up and projecting a map for them. “It’s the cruiser, and that same cruiser sent an FTL transmission during the battle.” she said. “It’s… Shit, they’ve been intercepted. They’ve met up with a handful of cruisers.”
“How long since they rendezvoused?” Shiro asked.
Pidge shook her head. “The cruisers have been there for the past few hours as far as I can tell,” she said. “This is just the first time our target’s transmitted anything at FTL. But they’ve been staying in one spot. If the cruiser took damage leaving the Tartan system, they might have lost propulsion.”
“Why not move the device to another cruiser?” Keith asked. “They could leave at any time.”
“This could be a trap,” Hunk said.
“They want Voltron; they want to capture Voltron, not destroy it,” Princess Allura said.
“They might want to crush the resistance more,” Shiro said. “They might hold off if the rest of the fleet and the castle aren’t there. We don’t have a choice. We’re moving out.”
Everyone continued their exit with a greater sense of urgency.
“Princess?” Shiro asked.
“The fleet will move out as soon as you’ve departed,” Princess Allura said.
Lance almost had a sense of finality there, like they were all saying goodbye even though they weren’t saying anything.
Keith commed him on a private channel.
“You going to remind me to stay safe?” Lance asked.
Keith was silent for a bit and Lance thought he’d been right. “Person who comes back least injured wins.”
Lance laughed. “I’ll beat you any day of the week,” he said. “Make sure to pump up Hunk before you let him off.”
Another pause. “Uh, sure,” Keith said. “I’ll see you out there. Don’t forget to wear your helmet.”
“It was one time,” Lance protested, closing the comm. Blue was waiting for him when he got to the bay, and he raced up the ramp with Alpha hot on his heels. He felt her on the edge of his mind and he knew she was picking up on his anxiety. He sent her a wave of affection, and as he spared a worried thought for the others going into battle, he felt her protective presence in his mind flare.
“Buckle up,” Lance called to Alpha team in the bay below. “Because this is going to be fast and dirty.”
He got the go from Katolliss and he punched it out of the castle. Shiro and Pidge were already out there, and Keith was just behind him.
“We are ready for a wormhole Princess,” Shiro said.
“Good luck,” Princess Allura said. “And stay safe.”
The wormhole opened up ahead of them and the four lions rushed forward. It was obvious which one had run from the Tartan system. There was significant battle damage towards the aft where propulsion was and it was surrounded by the others. There was also a swarm of fighters.
“Hold on,” Lance said, and they were off. Shiro and Pidge started clearing a path for them but Keith and Lance still had to weave their way towards the their insertion points. With conditions what they were, there was no way to avoid getting hit. There were just too many fighters. It was easy enough to avoid the massive volleys from the cruisers, though several fighters around him fell in their path. Still though, Blue took damage, and Lance reassured her that they’d get through.
“Okay team,” Lance hollered. “Get in place because we’re about to hit our insertion point.”
He counted down from ten. “Brace brace brace,” Lance called out and heard their response. “And contact.”
Blue latched on and tore through the hull of the cruiser while Pidge took the heat off his back.
“Bay doors are opening!”
“Bravo team is deployed,” Keith’s voice came in. Lance didn’t bother to worry that Keith had beaten him to his objective.
Katolliss came in over his comm to let him know that they were all aboard.
“I’ll cover your ingress,” Lance said, and held his position through the onslaught while they moved away from their insertion point.
“Alpha team is deployed,” Lance said. A part of him feeling awful that he wasn’t with them. There was still a battle for him to win.
They usually focused on taking out weapons first and Shiro quickly assigned them objectives to engage with, but here they were most worried about ships leaving, so they took out propulsion first.
Hunk came in over the comms, sounding frantic. “We’re losing people,” Hunk said. “There’s something different about these sentries.”
“Different how?” Pidge asked.
“They’re smarter,” Hunk said. He cursed. “More are coming.”
“Katolliss report,” Lance said.
“Katolliss is down,” it was Mavis reporting in. “Same conditions here, but we’re pushing through.”
Lance swore. The battle continued with more grim updates from the cruiser. They were making progress but it was slow and there were people who weren’t going to be coming home.
“Thirteen cruisers just dropped out of FTL on top of us!” Pidge called out.
Lance pulled Blue around to face the new threat.
“Lance,” it was a weak voice on his comm. It was Hunk. He’d opened a private line.
“Hunk, buddy, what’s your situation?” Lance asked, wrapped in worry.
“I found it, Lance, I found it,” Hunk said.
“That’s great,” Lance said. Though he knew that nothing was great. “Just do what you need to do and get out of there.”
“I don’t think I’m getting out of here. You need to lock onto my comm and come finish it.”
“Lance to Bravo Team!” Lance screamed, searching for Hunk on the ship. He locked on and punched forward.
There wasn’t a response.
“Lance to Alpha Team!”
There wasn’t a response.
“Hunk is down,” he called out to the other Paladins. “I think they’re all down. Hunk found it. I’m going in.”
“You’ll need me,” Pidge said.
“No way in fucking hell,” Lance snarled. “You stay in your god damn lion or so help me…”
He could hear the others arguing in the background but he didn’t pay attention. His heart was torn apart worrying about Hunk, and Blue growled in his mind.
“Hunk, if you can hear me, activate your full visor.”
Blue tore another hole through the cruiser and Hunk wasn’t too close to the hull, but better safe than sorry. Lance was onboard moments later, a mental command to Blue sending her to the edge of the fight. She didn’t want to go, he could feel the reluctance from her. He’d never so strongly felt her presence in his mind.
“Hunk, can you talk to me buddy?”
He passed the bodies of Antedians and fallen sentries. He didn’t look closely at anyone’s face. He owed it to them, but he couldn’t just then.
“Hunk, I’m almost there, just hold on.”
He used his wrist computer to guide himself towards Hunk’s position. The ship jolted slightly.
“Lance, be advised,” Shiro said. “A transport just docked with the cruiser.”
He’d only seen two sentries standing so far. The halls were littered with the fallen. He figured he was probably going to be seeing a lot more soon. He found Hunk and rushed over to his prone form and rolled him over. He was barely conscious, his armor was shattered, and his wounds…
“Lance,” he said, his eyes having trouble focusing on Lance. “They activated it. You’ve only got minutes. You’ve got to stop it.”
“No!” Lance said, stuffing Plynthion made coagulants everywhere he could, his hands quickly becoming covered with Hunk’s blood. “I’m getting you out of here.”
“Go, Lance,” Hunk said.
“I’m not leaving you here to die alone,” Lance said, furiously blinking away the tears blurring his vision.
“The Ocaampans and Kormians Lance. Their planets are in the blast radius. So are the rest of the team. You’ve got to go stop it.”
“No, Hunk!” Lance said.
“Do it,” Hunk said, weakly pushing Lance away and shoving the blinking detector into his hands.
“Lance, what’s going on?” It was Pidge. He didn’t think he would have moved if it had been anyone other than Pidge.
Lance took one last look at Hunk and moved out, the detector guiding him the last dozen meters towards large blast doors.
“I need an entry Pidge,” Lance said woodenly, plugging her in. She didn’t ask about Hunk. The doors opened a moment later. There were only a few sentries inside and a Galran engineer, and Hunk was right, the sentries were faster, they were more accurate, they moved like actual soldiers. He could swear he saw moves he’d seen the strike team favor. He took a hit to his side, just below his chest piece, but the advanced material of his undersuit could absorb the energy as long as he didn’t take too many hits in succession. His shield took the rest of the fire and he dropped them but it took a moment. It was more like fighting the drones on the training deck than normal sentries. He locked the doors behind him and shot out the control panel.
He moved over to the damned blasted thing that had started this whole thing, ignoring the Galran body next to it. The first thing he noticed was that the whole thing was encased in a forcefield. The next thing he noticed was that the containment device was ensconced in a bunch of other things that Lance figured had probably turned the thing into a bomb. The AI terminal was also plugged into it. There was a control panel outside the forcefield though. Lance could see a countdown on the terminal.
“Pidge,” Lance said. “I’m plugged in, either shut down the bomb or I’ll need this forcefield off.”
“Got it,” Pidge said. “I’ll have it shut down in a jiffy.”
Her optimistic words were bellied by the tears in her voice.
“Are you safe?” Keith asked.
“Behind blast doors,” Lance said. That was when he heard the pounding of plasma fire on the other side. “I don’t know how long I have.”
“There’s about one minute on the clock,” Pidge said, a bit of panic in her voice. “Someone cover me so I can focus on this thing!”
“Why isn’t it shut down yet?” Keith asked.
“This isn’t a normal system, it’s fighting me,” Pidge said.
“The AI terminal is plugged into everything,” Lance said.
Pidge cursed. “Sentries too, I bet,” she said.
The pounding outside grew louder and a crack appeared in the wall.
“I’m going to have company here in a second,” Lance said.
“Lance, I’ve started a timer,” Shiro said. “If that thing isn’t off in thirty seconds, or if they break into the room, I want you to shoot your way through that forcefield and destroy the containment vessel.”
“No!” Keith said. “We don’t know what that will do to Lance. Pidge, shut it down now.”
“I don’t have enough time!”
The doors blasted open, and Lance raised his shield, keeping access to the terminal.
“Paladin of Voltron! Have you come to witness this victory for the Galran empire? I’d worried you would come too soon.”
A Galran commander walked in, flanked by about two dozen sentries. Lance knew there was no way he was getting out of this one.
“Lance, I’m sorry,” Pidge said.
“Goodbye,” he said over the comm.
“Lance!” Keith said.
He ducked down so the bomb covered him from the sentries and started firing at the forcefield. It wouldn’t buckle, but the first few shots disrupted it enough for the next one to get through, and then…
Lance woke up with a lurch. He woke up in his bed. What had happened? Had he actually made it out of that one? Shouldn’t he at the very least be in a healing pod?
He tapped his comm. “Lance to Hunk!” There was no answer. No, no, no. “Lance to Hunk! Come in buddy, please.”
“Lance?” Hunk’s voice came in. He sounded sleepy. Not injured, not dying, he sounded sleepy. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re alright?” Lance asked, so relieved his eyes started watering.
“Yeah I’m alright. Did you have a bad dream?”
“No, I…” Had it all been a dream? “Did we go after the chronoton thingy?”
“That’s tomorrow morning, or this morning, or, you know. You had a bad dream.”
“Oh,” Lance said. “Sorry.”
“You want to talk about it?” Hunk asked.
“No,” Lance said. “No it’s alright. Sorry, go back to sleep.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Hunk said. “Good night.”
“Good night,” Lance said.
He thought he should be relieved, but the adrenaline was still pumping through his veins and he could still see the bodies in his mind’s eye. He could still see Hunk…
“Lance to Katolliss,” Lance said, tapping his comm once more.
“Katolliss here,” was the prompt response. The Antedians were like cats. They could wake up and fall asleep like that.
Lance sighed. “Sorry, but I need a check in, how’s the team?”
“Team’s all in the barracks as far as I know, do you want me to do a bunk check?”
“No,” Lance said after a moment to berate himself for disturbing everyone. “Sorry to wake you, just checking in.”
“We’re all good here,” Katolliss said.
“Good,” Lance said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
He flopped back down on his bed and rubbed his face with his hands.
He pulled out his phone and looked at the date and time. Only a bit over an hour until wake up and it was definitely before their mission. One last thing to check, Lance felt at his side where he’d been shot. No pain, no bruise, like it had never happened. Lance sighed again. He didn’t get back to sleep. Or he didn’t think he did, but he must have been dreaming still when he heard Shiro’s wakeup call.
“Rise and shine Paladins. Breakfast is at zero eight thirty with the strike team. We’ll be discussing the order of operations for the day.”
He only thought Shiro had said the same exact thing he’d said in the dream. Getting up out of bed, he rather thought it was going to be a strange day.
Thank you for reading. Reviews are welcome though con/crit is welcome in a DM. I've written most of the story, so I should have the next chapter posted soon.
Alternate title for the next chapter: The Definition of Insanity
Chapter 2: Just a Dream
Hey, another chapter so soon. Don't think I've ever been this quick. Quick warning, spoiler --- a character self harms in this chapter and contemplates suicide. Also, gratuitous character death in this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lance was feeling weird and distracted that morning and he barely remembered to take care of his face, and he realized on the way to the armory that he’d left his new meds behind. He was just feeling out of sorts, and of course Pidge would be feeling out of sorts too; they were up against a super weapon and it would make sense that dream Pidge would have had trouble sleeping just like real life Pidge. He didn’t comment on her taking two of her caffeine pills.
“You alright?” Pidge asked.
“Yeah,” Lance said. “Just a rough night. You?”
“Same,” Pidge said and Lance put an arm around her shoulders and gave her a light squeeze as they walked towards the briefing room. He was a bit relieved. His dream had been horrible all the more for how realistic it had been, but already things were completely different. He forgot his meds, he had a completely different conversation with Pidge. It was just a dream.
Lance was brought up short as he walked into the briefing room and everything looked the same, but of course it would be the same. Of course Coran would have set up a ‘proper Paladin’s breakfast;’ of course he’d be watching over them to make sure they followed his approved diet. Lance’s dream had predicted reality because reality was predictable.
He was still worried though, and he had trouble paying attention when Shiro started talking. He hated spacing out in briefings. The things he did hear though were terribly close to what he’d dreamed about, but of course, it was a smart plan. Lance had just dreamed up the most obvious game plan. That was it. That was it. That was it. It was just a dream, and then he heard gasps, and the princess was talking. They were pulling the fleet back out of the sector, and of course they were pulling the fleet out of the sector. It made sense in a grim fashion and Lance had just predicted that in his dream. Lance was awesome like that.
And the thing was, that Lance often projected himself as an optimist. It was his job to keep the team upbeat and motivated, but the truth was that inside he was often worrying. He would have been worried that the Galran cruiser would have rendezvoused with part of the Galran fleet. It didn’t mean anything. Lance was just super smart. His mind had predicted what was most likely to happen and then it had happened. It was a super big coincidence. The hero always had to be one step ahead.
They got into their lions and they went through the wormhole, and everything was the same, everything was the same, they entered the battle the same, the insertion went the same, everything was the same, and then the moment Lance had been dreading happened.
The moment had been etched into his memory during the dream. “We’re losing people,” Hunk said. “There’s something different about these sentries.”
“Different how?” Pidge asked, just the same.
“They’re smarter,” Hunk said, just the same. He cursed, just the same. “More are coming.”
“Katolliss report,” Lance said, following the script.
“Katolliss is down,” it was Mavis reporting in, just like Mavis had reported in the last time. “Same conditions here, but we’re pushing through.”
Lance needed to disrupt whatever was going on. Just like he had with his conversation with Pidge that morning. He needed to change what happened.
“I’m going in,” he declared, already scanning for Hunk’s location.
“Negative, Lance, we need you out here,” Shiro said. “You need to let the strike team do their jobs.”
“It’s all the same,” Lance said, charging the cruiser. “Everything’s happening the same it did in my dream last night. Every word of it, they’re all going to die.”
“Lance, get back to your objective!”
Blue latched on to the cruiser and Lance told the strike team to prepare for a possible loss of atmosphere. Shiro was yelling at him. He’d never directly disobeyed Shiro before. He’d had to change plans in the middle of missions, of course, as situations changed, but he’d never outright disobeyed. But this was right. Lance put boots on the deck of the cruiser and charged in.
“I’m going after him,” Keith said.
“Negative,” Shiro said. “We can’t lose both of you.”
Lance was almost taken out by a trio of sentries as he rounded a corner, but he made it through with a busted knee. He found Hunk pinned down by a group of sentries, saw one of them dodge through the oncoming fire and get three quick shots in to the weaker undersuit, and Hunk was out. What was left of the strike team charged forward as Lance rushed to Hunk.
He rolled Hunk over once more, and this time Hunk was more alert, his eyes blown wide open with pain.
“I’ve got you, buddy, I’ve got you,” Lance said. He was already stuffing coagulants through the wound.
“Behind you,” Hunk barely sounded out through his gasps.
Lance took the rapid fire hits to his back and fell forward on top of Hunk.
He couldn’t respond.
Everything went dark, and then…
Lance woke up in the dark. “Hunk!” He called out.
He was in his bunk, in his quarters.
That wasn’t a dream. That hadn’t been a dream at all.
Lance checked his phone. Same time he’d woken up last time. Same day he’d woken up last time.
“Lance to Hunk,” he said. Hunk was okay, he knew Hunk was okay, he wasn’t dead yet, and Lance could change that, but still. “Lance to Hunk, come in buddy.”
“Lance?” Hunk asked. He was sleepy, of course he was sleepy, Lance was waking him up right before a major mission. “What’s wrong?”
“Everything’s wrong!” Lance said. “Or it’s right. We can make everything right. Hunk, I traveled through time.”
“I think you had a bad dream Lance,” Hunk said.
“No, I thought it was a dream the first time, everything was repeating itself, but it’s a loop, I’m stuck in a loop,” Lance said.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Hunk said. “We’re not even sure if time travel is possible Lance, it wouldn’t just happen, and besides, sending matter back in time would theoretically destroy it, well it would destroy a lot of stuff since matter going back in time is functionally antimatter. The point is, you aren’t traveling through time. It was a bad dream. You can tell me about it if you want.”
“It wasn’t a dream,” Lance insisted.
“The chronotons,” Lance said. “You said it could cause a paradox, or a spatial anomaly.”
“Not like this,” Hunk said. “Where are you?”
“In my quarters,” Lance said.
“And were you in your quarters at this time in the last ‘timeline?’” Hunk asked.
“So is there a second Lance there?” Hunk asked.
“No, my body isn’t traveling through time, I’d be dead,” Lance said. “It’s just the memories.”
“Memories traveling through time makes even less sense,” Hunk said. “Your memories are just a physical part of your brain.”
“Well I don’t know, then,” Lance said. “Maybe it’s god giving me a warning, I don’t know.”
“I can prove it,” Lance said. “I can prove it, watch me, they’re pulling the fleet out of the sector and Voltron’s going in alone with the strike team.” Lance tapped his comm to add another person. “Lance to Shiro,” he said.
Shiro was quick to respond.
“What’s going on Lance?”
“The fleet is leaving the sector,” Lance said. “Voltron’s going in alone with the strike team, Keith and I are staying in our lions, right?”
“Am I right?” Lance insisted.
“Were you listening in on our meeting last night?” Shiro asked.
“No, I already lived through the briefing you’re going to give in a couple of hours,” Lance said.
“Time travel’s not possible like that,” Hunk said.
“What?” Shiro said.
“I shot the containment vessel,” Lance said. “Two timelines ago, I shot the containment vessel because it was about to blow up, and then I woke up and did the whole day again, died again, and woke up here again.”
“Are you sure this wasn’t a dream?” Shiro asked.
“Was I right about everything?” Lance said.
“You were,” Shiro said.
“Hah!” Lance said.
Hunk was silent.
Lance could hear Shiro tapping his comm.
“Rise and shine Paladins,” Shiro said. “Meeting right now in the dining hall. Get there ASAP.”
Shiro left the channel.
“Is this for real?” Hunk asked.
“Yeah,” Lance said. “As far as I can tell.”
“You died?” Hunk asked.
“I guess?” Lance said.
He started getting dressed.
Hunk was waiting for him when he left his quarters. He got a big hug.
“Sorry,” Hunk said.
Lance wasn’t sure that he deserved the hug. He was the one who kept letting Hunk die.
He was sure Keith was already up, but he checked on Pidge who was dragging her feet.
“Do you know what’s going on?” Pidge asked.
“Shenanigans,” Lance said.
Pidge nodded as though this were the only explanation she needed.
They got to the dining hall where Keith and Shiro were already waiting, still in their workout clothes.
“Coran and the Princess are on their way,” Shiro said.
Lance nodded and went over to the forbidden junk food cupboard. As morale officer he had access. He was dumping a bunch of packets on the table when Coran walked in with the Princess.
“Hey, you’ve got a mission today, you can’t eat that,” Coran exclaimed.
“We’re walking into a trap so I get chocopops,” Lance said. It didn’t look like chocolate at all, but it tasted pretty similar.
“What is going on exactly?” Princess Allura asked.
“Lance believes he’s traveled through time,” Shiro said. “He seems to know all of our major decisions from last night.”
“Shenanigans,” Pidge said. She looked over to Hunk like she expected him to pipe up, but Hunk remained silent. She looked back at Lance. “That’s not possible. You probably just had a dream where you just intuitively figured out what the council would decide.”
“That’s what I thought the first time,” Lance said. “I kept telling myself it was all a coincidence but it all happened exactly the same way until I deliberately made changes.”
The chocopops were exactly what he needed.
“We’re pretty sure matter can’t go back in time,” Pidge said.
“My body was all shot up to hell,” Lance said, and saw Keith stiffen up next to him. “So I’m pretty sure my body didn’t go back in time. Look, the first go, I shot the containment vessel, it blew up in my face with all the chronoton thingies. You said those were time particles, I’m traveling through time… Somehow.”
Pidge popped a caffeine pill and grabbed a packet of cookies. “This better not be an alchemy thing,” she said, looking over to the two Alteans who had so far remained quiet on the matter.”
“We are in agreement that matter cannot travel back in time,” Princess Allura said. “However-“
“If you’re going to start talking about souls…”
“It is theoretically possible that a soul could travel backwards in time,” the Princess said.
“And then just magically reconnect with its body in a completely different part of space?” Pidge derided.
“I have a theory about Lance’s soul actually,” the Princess said, but she wasn’t looking at Lance, she shot a quick glance at Keith, who looked away. Then she did look at Lance and she said, “can I check your quintessence, Lance?”
“Nope, nope,” Pidge said. “You don’t get to test your theory without telling us what it is first, that’s not how science works.”
Princess Allura paused for a moment, and for just a moment she glanced back at Keith.
“I have suspected for a while that Lance is a Wanderer,” she said.
Coran seemed to brighten at this, and he too looked at Keith for just a moment.
“What’s a wanderer?” Lance asked the obvious question.
“A very long time ago, long before the Altean people formed their first civilization, there were a people who explored further into Alchemy than we could have ever dreamed of. They discovered a form of immortality, or at least, a way to anchor their souls to the physical universe. Essentially, they gave up their physical forms and have been reborn over and over again on countless worlds throughout countless aeons. I wouldn’t expect Lance to know, though. Wanderers can only remember their past lives when they are born into species that are sensitive to quintessence.”
“That’s just… Wow. Okay, let’s just pretend we can assume this myth is real,” Pidge said. “Why do you think Lance is one of them?”
“The previous Blue Paladin was a Wanderer,” Allura said. “They are tied to fate, it would make sense that he would be reborn to a future Blue Paladin.”
“Fate…” Pidge muttered.
“How would you be able to tell?” Shiro asked.
“If Lance is the same Wanderer who I knew ten thousand decaphoebs ago, then his quintessence will match. I will be able to tell.”
Everyone looked to Lance, whose brain had stopped working.
“Uhhhh…” Lance said eloquently. “I don’t think I’m some ancient spirit person.”
“You wouldn’t know if you were,” Allura said.
“But still,” Lance said. Lance had just had a major reality check yesterday. Or was it three days ago? The point was, Lance couldn’t be some sort of fate ordained ancient entity.
“May I check?” Allura asked.
Lance looked at her with trepidation but nodded. She walked around the table and Lance stood up quickly when he realized she was about to kneel next to his chair. They stood a foot apart and Lance’s skin crawled as she reached up to place her hands on the sides of his head. He might have apologized to her but there was clearly still baggage between the two of them and the sudden intimacy of the situation was jarring.
Allura took a step back, not looking at Lance. She returned to her seat. “It is as I thought.”
“Okay, but you said all of our quintessence was similar to the old Paladins,” Pidge said.
“Similar but not the same,” Allura said.
Keith cut her off. “I’m a Wanderer,” he said, not looking at any of them. “I remember my past lives. I told the Princess about Rigel Seven and Actic Five. She’d already confronted me after she analyzed my quintessence and realized I was the same Red Paladin.”
“That’s what you’ve been hiding?” Hunk asked.
Keith nodded shortly.
“You were a Maoeban?” Hunk asked.
Keith nodded. “I remembered the attack.”
“Any more of us?” Hunk asked Allura.
“Only Keith and Lance,” Allura said.
“Okay,” Pidge said. “I thought we just established humans aren’t sensitive enough to quintessence. So why’s Keith remembering everything?”
“It isn’t everything, that isn’t how it works. Memories are triggered, I think part of it has to do with age.”
“Which doesn’t answer my question,” Pidge said.
Keith hesitated. “I don’t think I’m fully human,” he said. “Or, I don’t think my mother was.”
“Keith?” Shiro asked.
Keith wouldn’t look at him. “I don’t know; I have my reasons.”
“The pad the Ocaampans gave you,” Lance said.
“I haven’t looked,” Keith said.
“Why wouldn’t you look?” Lance asked.
“Because she abandoned me,” Keith said. “And I don’t need to go out and find her to ask why. I’m fine not knowing. Can we get back to the time travel?”
There was a bit of a drawn out pause.
“Lance is a Wanderer,” Allura said. “Somehow the chronotons have interacted with his soul and when it becomes disincorporated from his body it travels backwards in time and re-anchors itself.” She said it with an air of finality.
“Lance,” Shiro said. “Can you go over it from the beginning?”
So he did. It wasn’t easy. The battle was still felt fresh. He could still remember leaving Hunk to die. He could still remember getting shot. He could still remember letting his friends walk into a trap because he’d been in denial.
“So it would be there right now?” Pidge asked.
“I think so,” Lance said.
“Well you could have led with that,” Pidge said. “I could have tested it.” She opened up her laptop. “Well fuck me I guess,” she said.
“Pidge!” Lance was not the only one to exclaim.
“Five ships from that frontline hub broke off last night, they’ve assembled midway between the hub and the Tartan system.”
“They’re with the missing cruiser,” Lance said.
“I can’t confirm the cruiser is there,” Pidge said. “But probably.”
“So what do we change so no one dies this time?” Hunk asked.
“Well, I know where the bomb is,” Lance said. “We can go directly in as a single unit.”
“You mean the strike team can go in as a single unit,” Shiro said. “I still need you in your lion."
“I’m the one who goes back in time when he dies,” Lance said.
“Your plan is to die?!” Keith asked.
“No,” Lance said. “But if things go wrong, at least we have that. Hunk was right the first time. The most important thing is stopping that bomb. Whether it goes off today or a month from now, it’s going to kill billions of people wherever they use it. If I have to die another time or two, what difference does it make?”
“So I’ve got three lions,” Shiro said. “Do we know if their reinforcements were camped out waiting for a signal, or would they arrive at the same time again?”
“I don’t know, but we were pretty sure we were walking into a trap,” Lance said. “My guess is that they’re already waiting for us.”
“So what about these sentries?” Shiro asked. “Besides how they were acting, was there anything physically different? Are these a new model?”
“Um, obviously this is the AI,” Pidge said.
“You said that the last time, but the AI was part of the bomb,” Lance said. “They were hooked up.”
“It can do both,” Pidge said. “This is why I wanted to know more about the AI, but you all were talking gloom and doom about the bomb. They can’t make more chronotons, that bomb, as horrible as it is, is a one time thing. If they get that AI back to their high command, we’re going to start seeing a lot more super smart sentries, and probably other advances in Galran tech. That’s the real game over.”
“Yeah, but they can’t replicate the AI,” Hunk said.
“They don’t need to,” Pidge said. “The AI is learning how to program a better sentry. Galran AI is crap, so’s all of their coding. This thing is given a task to learn and adapt and it’s doing that and the Galra will be able to use that to their advantage.”
“So destroying the AI is just as important,” Lance said.
“Capture,” Pidge said. “I want it.”
“The shield’s only stopping us from touching the bomb,” Lance said. “If the AI is preventing you from hacking your way in, I can disrupt the shield enough to take out the AI, I did the same thing with the containment vessel the first time.”
Pidge didn’t look happy with this solution. “Hunk, is there anything they’d need an AI for to turn the Chronotons into a bomb? I was figuring there’s a predictability problem?”
“That makes sense,” Hunk said. “The containment vessel needs to bounce back the chronotons, and for that it needs to predict their movement, that gets exponentially more difficult as you add charge. So if you take out the AI the containment vessel’s going to instantly fail. Same outcome as just shooting the containment vessel.”
Lance was pretty sure he didn’t need to understand anything other than, don’t shoot the AI. “So how do I get past sentries that keep getting better?”
Coran spoke up. “You’re fighting something that’s capable of learning. If the AI is monitoring the fight and sending out updates, it can just keep sending out more sentries after you until it figures out the best way to defeat you.”
“Great,” Keith said.
“So what if I don’t fight it?” Lance asked. “What if we stealth it?”
“You’re not moving the whole strike team through the ship without getting caught,” Keith said.
“So we leave the strike team behind,” Lance said. “Just Hunk and me.”
“I don’t do stealth,” Hunk said.
“Sure you do,” Lance said. “All those times sneaking out of the garrison.”
“And if it doesn’t work, you can just try it again?” Shiro asked. Lance was pretty sure he was getting behind the idea, though he sounded dubious.
“That’s right,” Lance said.
“This is a terrible idea,” Keith said.
“As apposed to what?” Lance said.
“I don’t know,” Keith said. “But not you and Hunk going alone against super sentries.”
Lance shrugged. “You’ll need to keep that transport from docking. I don’t want to have to deal with reinforcements.”
“And how are we dealing with you getting cornered after you find the thing?” Keith asked.
“Shut down the bomb, disconnect the AI from the sentries, and then the strike team moves in to keep them busy?” Lance suggested.
“I don’t like this,” Keith said.
“What have we got to lose?” Lance asked.
“Everything,” Keith said angrily. Lance didn’t know why Keith was so upset. He didn’t have to remember everyone dying. He wouldn’t have to deal with it. He’d wake up without remembering any of it. Was he jealous that Lance got to be central to fixing things?
“I’ve got this,” Lance said. “Heck, I bet I can get it in one go.”
“You’d better,” Keith said.
“Alright,” Shiro said. “We’ve got a plan. Keith, get the strike team up, Coran, could you let the fleet know we’re moving up our time table? We’ll do a quick briefing and then we’ll head out.”
“One last thing,” Hunk said. “Why don’t they just detonate the thing now?”
“They don’t know where the fleet or Voltron are right now,” the princess said. “They have one shot. I suspect when they realized we didn’t send the whole fleet, not even the castle, after them they hesitated, but once they realized you were getting close to the bomb they decided to detonate it anyway. A partial victory for them when the other option was letting us reclaim the chronotons and the AI.”
So they did their briefing, and the fleet got ready to move out. Keith pulled him back as they were heading to their lions and they stayed at the back of the group.
“Lance, you need to take this seriously,” Keith said.
“This again? Look, I don’t want to watch Hunk die again. I’m taking this very seriously.”
“I know,” Keith said. “But you’re treating this like you can just do it as many times as you want. This is your soul Lance. We’re… We’re Wanderers Lance, don’t… I don’t know what will happen if your soul is stuck in this loop.”
“We’ll worry about that afterwards,” Lance said.
“It’s one soul versus billions,” Lance said.
Keith looked at him with such a pained look, and Lance couldn’t take his concern.
“Hey, come on,” Lance said. “You should at least be rooting for me to die at least once so everyone else forgets you spilled your secret. I won’t tell them next loop, I promise.”
“Don’t joke about it!” Keith said angrily. He looked like he was going to cry.
“You’re right,” Lance said quickly, in the face of such raw emotion from Keith. “I’m sorry.”
“Did you know?” Lance said. “That I was a Wanderer?”
Keith opened his mouth to say something and then shook his head. “Ask me when this is all over. I’m not used to you being the one who remembers things that I can’t.”
“Pretty cool we were both the old paladins, huh?” Lance said. Pretty cool was about as far as Lance was going to think about it. The implications for his eternal soul was not something he was going to think about until everything was over.
They got to the lion bay.
“It’s going to work out,” Lance said. He honestly didn’t think it would work out this go around. Too much could go wrong, but eventually, Lance would learn every inch of the way between their insertion point and the bay that the bomb was located in. He’d get this in two, maybe three loops tops.
Keith and Hunk loaded into the Red Lion with Keith. The strike team loaded into the Black Lion and the Green Lion, prepped to extract Lance and Hunk at the end of the mission. Lance knew he’d be able to get Hunk to the bomb, eventually, he doubted they’d just be able to waltz out afterwards.
“Do you have everything Coran gave you?” Keith asked.
“Check and check,” Lance said. “We’re good.”
They left just the same as they had the last two times, only with three lions instead of four. Lance wasn’t used to being in the passenger seat though. Keith had to remind him to stay buckled in when Lance tried to watch the battle over his shoulder.
“We’re on approach,” Keith said. “Go to black and get ready to jettison.”
They were doing a bit of a tricky maneuver. Keith wouldn’t be latching onto the hull of the ship since they didn’t want the Galra to know where they were going in. Or that anyone was in the Cruiser. Lance activated his armor’s stealth mode and all of the white turned black, his luminescent accents shut off, and his bright blue chest insignia turned dark. Hunk did the same, and they entered the small airlock inside the Red Lion’s mouth.
“I’m on a direct course,” Keith said. “Get ready for me to vent atmosphere.”
“Visor up,” Lance confirmed.
“Visor up,” Hunk confirmed.
“Both visors up,” Lance said, “ready for vacuum.”
The atmosphere in the airlock vented and the door opened. In front of them they could see their objective. Keith’s vector should be directly towards an airlock in the middle of the port side of the ship. The artificial gravity and the inertial dampeners in the airlock shut off, and Lance positioned himself and Hunk so they were pointed straight out the airlock. He tethered himself to Hunk, just in case.
“Pulling back,” Keith said.
The Red Lion reversed thrust leaving Lance and Hunk with their initial velocity, hurtling straight for the airlock. Hunk was letting forth a string of curses over the comm. Lance was monitoring the distance to target on his HUD.
“Not yet,” Lance said.
“Lance,” Hunk implored.
“Wait for it,” Lance said. The ship was rapidly getting closer and closer.
“Now,” Lance said. They activated their thrusters, slowing down, and Lance guided himself to the airlock, latching on and reeling Hunk in.
“At the airlock,” Lance said.
“Plug me in,” Pidge said.
A few moments later and Pidge had bypassed the security on the airlock and Lance and Hunk were inside the ship. Hunk yanked off his helmet and threw up rather violently.
“You’re okay buddy,” Lance said.
“Let’s never do that again,” Hunk said.
“You’ve got it,” Lance said. “Come on, helmet back on, let’s do this, the sooner the bomb’s deactivated, the sooner the rest of the fleet can come in to kick butt.
Hunk put his helmet back on, leaving the full visor in place so no sound would escape. They exited the airlock and went into the hallway. Lance kept an eye on his HUD. He was pretty sure he knew the way, but getting lost would not be ideal.
“I’m picking it up,” Hunk said. He had one of the detectors in his hands.
“Great,” Lance said. “Stay behind me and we’ll get there in no time.
They ran into two sentries just one floor down and from there any semblance of stealth was lost. The first sentries went down easily, but more kept coming, and Pidge had been right. They just kept on getting harder and harder to take down. The weirdest part was recognizing his own moves from them. Only it was more than that though, because the sentries weren’t just using his own tactics against him, they adapted to his tactics and started to become ready for his next move. The worst part was when they all seemed to have realized the weak points in their armor and they all aimed at the same spot to overpower sections of the undersuit. He didn’t last long.
Waking up in his bunk was, at the very least, expected this time around. He chased away images he didn’t want to have seen out of his mind as he checked his phone. It was pretty solidly confirmed that he looped back to the same point each time he died.
“Lance to Princess Allura,” Lance said, tapping his comm.
“Lance,” Allura said. “I recognize we need to clear the air, but perhaps now is not the time.”
“No, yeah,” Lance said. “I know. You told me I’m a Wanderer.”
“What?” Allura asked.
“I blew up the chronoton containment vessel, it did something to my soul, I keep going back in time every time I die. Last time you said it was because I’m a Wanderer. Keith is too.”
“I see,” Allura said. “I suppose we all have things to discuss.”
So they got everyone up, and spent significantly less time discussing whether or not Lance was just dreaming. Lance ate some chocopops, avoided setting Keith off, and the mission went exactly the same way as the last time only Lance was able to avoid that first set of sentries before getting caught a couple of halls over. Which was fine, it was progress. Dying sucked. Like, really really sucked. Being shot in the stomach was probably the worst, though losing a limb and bleeding out from that just took longer. It sucked that he could hear Hunk dying throughout the whole thing. That was the worst part.
“It’s okay,” Lance would say. “I’ll get it right next time. It’s almost over.”
It took him a few loops to realize he needed a distraction. Keith just went and tore a hole in another section of the ship making the Galra think there were intruders at the hull breach. It worked a bit, though several sentries stayed in their section of the ship, and it didn’t take too long for them to realize it was a ruse. Another issue was that stealth was slow, and with only three lions, the transport docked with the cruiser more often than not; the flood of new sentries was always an instant loss.
“How many times have you looped?” Shiro asked.
“Just nine times,” Lance said. It was a lie. Shiro always asked, and they’d started arguing when Lance got up to ten. He was worried about Lance and he was worried about the mission, and he wanted to send in the Strike Team. Lance was fine though, and he didn’t need everyone worrying about him, and they’d definitely take heavy losses if they sent the Strike Team in, and Lance wasn’t going to let that happen when he could figure a way out for everyone to get through unscathed. He’d told himself that it was fine, that he could just keep going until he got it right.
“Forward three steps,” Lance muttered to himself. “Duck behind the vent.”
He’d gone from having Hunk follow him to having Hunk directly in front of him. With a hand on Hunk’s shoulder, he could literally just put Hunk where he needed him to be.
“Wait for: one, two, three, four, five,” Lance said. “Duck back out.” He pulled Hunk out of their hiding spot. “Forward one hall, and now we wing it.”
He didn’t know what came next. It got progressively harder the closer they got to the bomb. Maybe they should wait longer at the vent. The transport had been blown up this time, so they were good on that end. He waited and listened at the next turn. He didn’t hear anything. There was too much waiting. He didn’t like leaving the others to fight the Galran fleet on their own. They turned the corner and came face to face with two sentries. They went down an instant later.
The sentries might have the ability to rapidly learn, but every loop they started from zero, while Lance was just getting more and more practice. Still though, he knew he couldn’t fight through, but if he pushed through quickly, he could get a better picture of where the now alerted sentries were coming from.
A sentry rushed him, and he took it down quickly, but the momentum of it had it falling into Lance’s legs and Lance fell, sprawling forward. His Bayard went skittering away from him. He could hear the sound of Hunk’s Bayard petter out just as he could hear Hunk’s cry of pain. Another one lost, but he had more information this time, he started committing it to memory as he reached for his rifle. He’d do better next time.
A sentry kicked his rifle away. Another grabbed him around the middle. Lance struggled, he tried to reach for one of the plasma grenades he’d brought, but he was soon pinned and shackled, and this was new. This hadn’t happened before, but it was fine. He just had to wait for the bomb to go off. They always initiated the countdown when they realized that a couple of paladins had gotten so close to it. They stripped him of his belt and everything he’d had clipped on. His helmet was pried off and the comm was ripped from his ear.
Why were they bothering? It was all going to be over soon. He went over everything in his head, the timing of it all. It hadn’t even occurred to him to check in with everyone else when he was being captured. He would be looping soon anyway. They were carrying him somewhere.
It occurred to him that something was wrong when he saw that they were in a launch bay and a shuttle was waiting for them. He knew something was very wrong when he saw the entire chronoton bomb being brought in on a hover sled. There was a Galran Commander waiting by the entryway; the same one he’d seen the first time, when he’d shot the containment vessel.
“I suppose you shall be my consolation prize,” the Commander said. Lance suddenly wasn’t sure that he was going to loop soon. He started struggling in earnest, but with his arms pinned to his back, and the strong sentries holding him, it was hopeless. Something was pressed up against his neck and he passed out.
He woke up in a holding cell. His arms were still pinned behind his back, but at some point they’d removed his armor and undersuit leaving him very cold in his underwear with his shoulders on fire from the stress position he’d been holding for who knew how long. He was also incredibly thirsty. He struggled against his bonds as the skin around them started to chafe and burn.
He struggled until a sentry opened his door. By the time he got his feet under him, ready to charge forward it was grabbing him by the neck and pushing him to the ground. Something was pressed up against his mouth and brackish water started to pour out. He tried to swallow as much as he could. By the time he realized it was over, the sentry was gone and the door was closing. Lance was gasping for breath.
Panic didn’t solve anything, but it took him a while to convince himself of it. After a while he was able to take stock of things. Mostly it was a list of things he didn’t know, but that was fine. He’d figure it out. He didn’t think he was still on the shuttle, and he assumed he was on a cruiser. He assumed he was heading to the Galran High Command. He didn’t know how long it had been. He didn’t know where his team was. He didn’t know where the bomb was. He didn’t know how to get out of his shackles. He didn’t know how to hack through a Galran lock without Pidge.
He considered forcing himself to loop, but he didn’t know how he would manage it, bound as he was, and he didn’t know if he could actually make himself do it. He didn’t know if he wouldn’t just loop back a few hours and still be in his cell. He knew that he was very scared, because he knew the Galra could be very cruel and he didn’t know when rescue would be coming. He didn’t know if rescue would be coming. He thought that he wanted his Mamá, and suddenly everything crushed down on him. The dozens of times he’d watched Hunk die. The feeling that if only it had been Keith who had been stuck in the loop that he would have probably already gotten through and deactivated the bomb.
The thought that he would never see his family again was suddenly very real. It had occurred to him as a possibility several times over the past few months, but suddenly it seemed like a certainty. He’d never hug his Mamá again, never see the look of pride in his Papá’s eyes. Never have Rolando and Camila latch onto him. Never find out what awesome things Veronica was doing on her missions. He wouldn’t be there to protect them if the Galra ever turned their eyes towards Earth. They’d never know what had happened to him, and not for the first time Lance wondered if they all just thought that Lance had buckled under the pressure and had just gone AWOL.
The thought that maybe it had been too much time, and maybe he couldn’t loop anymore hit him hard. Because Hunk was dead. He’d died on the cruiser and Lance had just become numb to it, because he could always tell himself that he’d loop back and fix it, but he hadn’t fixed it. What if this was it? What if Hunk was just dead? He sobbed for Hunk, he cried for his Mamá, he worried about Pidge. He’d stopped struggling against his bonds a while ago.
He didn’t notice the door to his cell open.
“Is this a Paladin of Voltron? Surely there has been some mistake. This disgusting creature could not have given the Empire so much trouble.”
Lance froze. It was the Commander. A hand grabbed him by the hair and pulled him upright, eliciting a yelp from him. His feet couldn’t even touch the floor, the Commander was so much taller than him and he held Lance up so they were face to face.
“I am Commander Tevis of the Galran Empire. I am about to deliver the most powerful bomb in the universe, an advanced AI that will revolutionize our troops, and you, the key to Voltron, to Emperor Zarkon. I will be rewarded for all of this, but I want more. You will tell me where your fleet is.”
There was a course, for senior students at the Garrison, on resisting questioning, but Lance had left long before he would have taken it. He didn’t know how to play it, but he also didn’t know where the fleet was, because surely they would have moved since he was captured.
“Fuck you,” Lance said.
He was thrown to the ground. His arms were still bound and he couldn’t catch his fall.
“It is a long trip back to High Command,” the Commander said. “I need only keep you alive. You will reconsider.”
Lance had died from plasma bolts countless times (fifty seven times), but as the Commander tore into him, it was somehow worse. The beating didn’t stop until Lance started throwing up blood. He was rushed to the ship’s infirmary where he was treated and then thrown back into his cell. He didn’t know if his last bit of clothing had been deemed too covered in blood and puke to be salvageable, or if they just wanted to humiliate him, but he returned to his cell naked, and they never gave him anything else.
Cold, alone, naked, and hungry, Lance tried to get some sleep. He didn’t have his nightly ritual. It took him a moment to remember to pray and then it occurred to him that he hadn’t prayed once since the night before the mission. He never prayed before missions because he could never reconcile asking God to help him kill people. It had been so long. It was difficult to get onto his knees, it was awkward trying to pray with his arms bound behind his back, and it was painful kneeling on the metal grate that was his floor, but the act was comforting.
“Heavenly father,” Lance said. “Give me strength…”
He prayed for rescue, he prayed for guidance, he prayed for Hunk and begged God to give him another chance to get it right. He prayed for Pidge, and he prayed for the rest of his family, and when he was done, he gingerly got down on his side, facing the door, and exhausted, he fell asleep.
It was a very long trip. The Commander made frequent visits. He didn’t appreciate Lance’s logic that the Fleet was already long gone. The Commander didn’t appreciate that Lance didn’t understand any of the technical specifications of the Castle of Lions. The Commander was very careful to keep him alive. Lance was always hesitant to pray for death, and he wasn’t sure if it was because it would be blasphemous or because he still didn’t know if he could still go back and save Hunk. Either way, he didn’t think God would answer that prayer, and the Commander definitely wouldn’t.
He didn’t know how much time passed, the lights in his cell never went off. He didn’t really know how fast Galran ships were, so he had no idea really how long it took them to cross the Galaxy. It was long though. Every moment was an eternity. He could barely keep his legs under him as they pulled him out of his cell and off the ship. He would have liked to have been able to stand on his own when he was presented before Emperor Zarkon. Some clothes would have been nice too. He was forced into a prostrated position.
He expected some big villain’s monologue. He expected gloating, like the Commander did every time he saw Lance. There was just vague disinterest and a brief commendation for Commander Tevis who was being reassigned to High Command. So much for never seeing him again.
They said something about druids and Lance was being taken out, carried through a corridor. It took him a moment to realize that he wasn’t being carried by sentries anymore. There were so many Galra walking around. Lance was only used to there being a handful of Galra onboard a ship. They relied so heavily on their sentries. There were hardly any sentries that he could see.
He was brought before a robed figure. Lance didn’t think they were Galran.
“Let us see what this Paladin of Voltron knows,” the robed figure said.
A while ago, Lance would have cursed at him, said something witty, but it wasn’t a while ago.
“I won’t tell you anything,” Lance said.
The Galra next to him pulled out some sort of rod which was jabbed into his side and suddenly every nerve ending in his body was on fire. Lance screamed as loudly as his already abused throat could handle. It felt like an eternity, and if Lance had had any room in his mind for it, he really would have prayed for death.
“There won’t be any need for that,” the robed figure told the Galra to Lance’s right. He turned to Lance. “I don’t need you to talk child. I am a druid.”
Lance gasped for breath on the floor, his entire body was shaking. The pain was just gone, but the memory of it would never fade. They let him sob and shake on the floor for a moment before a gesture from the druid had the two Galra hoisting him up.
“Now, let’s see what is in this head of yours,” the druid said.
If this was some magic thing, Lance might actually be screwed. He didn’t want to have to think about any of it, but he didn’t have a choice. He didn’t want them to know about the looping. So what did he want them to know?
The druid extended a hand towards him and rough hands held Lance’s head in place as the druid placed a thumb on Lance’s forehead. Lance felt as though he’d left the physical world. ‘The fleet.’ A thought that wasn’t his own. It felt like something was literally pawing through his mind. He focused on his own worries about his friends, about how they could be anywhere, about how he’d never been able to answer the Commander’s questions. About how he might never find them again.
‘The Castle of Lions.’ Lance focused on his minor maintenance tasks, most of which he didn’t really understand past what he needed to do. He focused on the feeling of confusion whenever Hunk or Pidge or Coran talked anything technical. Thinking about Hunk, he let himself feel his loss, remember his death. That was forcefully pushed aside and Lance’s head swam. ‘The Paladins.’ Lance did struggle here. Because he didn’t want to give anything away about the others, nothing that could be used against him. It was useless though. He focused on his failure.
Then it was over.
“Your mind is weak,” the druid said contemptuously. “Haggar will see you now.”
The druid grabbed his arm and suddenly he was in another room.
“I have prepared the Paladin for you,” he told the only other figure in the room. Another robbed person who didn’t quite look Galran.
“Leave him,” Haggar said. Suddenly, they were alone in the room.
She looked old and decrepit, but no one seemed concerned with leaving him alone with her. He could barely stand and his arms were bound behind his back. He still looked around the room for anything useful.
“Let us see how well bonded you are to your lion,” she said.
That had Lance more worried than anything else. Because Blue was definitely with the fleet, and if there was some way to find her through Lance then there would be no hiding.
She grasped Lance’s head for only a moment before gasping.
“A Wanderer,” she said. “Of course, but you don’t remember a thing, do you. You’ve had to forge a new bond with your Lion. Will your other come for you?”
She grasped his head again and it was nothing like with the other druid. This was delicate at the same time that it was agony. A scalpel compared to a club.
“Your connection is weak,” she spat. “But what drives it? What connects you to your lion?”
Lance didn’t know. It went on for a long time, but Lance didn’t think she found what she was looking for. Eventually he was thrown in another cell. There was food, of a sort. His arms were still bound, but he managed just as he had in his cell on the way over. He knew he couldn’t risk any possibility that he could somehow lead them to Blue, but he wanted so badly to reach out to her. He wondered what Haggar had meant by what connected them. He didn’t think she was talking about quintessence. He was pretty sure she knew all about that.
Time went on, though Lance had no idea how much time passed. He had agonizing sessions with Haggar. He got ‘visits’ from the Commander or any other Galra who wanted to gawk at the Paladin of Voltron. The Commander would gloat about how much territory had been gained with the new advanced sentries. His visits would often end with Lance being sent to the infirmary. They wouldn’t let him die, but Lance kept hoping he just wouldn’t wake up again. Now and then cold water crashed down from the top of his cell, usually before he saw Haggar. Maybe she didn’t like the smell either.
One day, something happened. Everything kept shaking, and Lance could hear explosions in the distance. The High Command was under attack. Lance froze in his cell, listening desperately to try and figure out what was going on. Was it a rescue attempt? For a while, he thought his prayers had been answered. He waited and waited, hoping that his cell door would open and Keith or Shiro would be there, ready to get him out of there. When the explosions stopped though, nothing had changed. When his door finally opened, Lance whipped his head around, but it was only Tevis. He had a smug look on his face, but he didn’t say what had happened. He didn’t leave for a while.
Things went on, and Lance felt himself slipping, spending hours at a time not able to think of anything, unable to think about the past, not able to dream about the future, only able to focus on the pain of each and every moment.
Then one day, something changed. He was sent to Haggar, she did whatever she did, and then she seemed happy. She seemed to have found what she wanted. She didn’t do anything else then, though. He was sent to his cell, he got a visit from Tevis, got sent to the infirmary, and then he woke up in his cell. Things continued as usual for a while, just without visits to Haggar. Then one day he woke up in his cell but he wasn’t alone.
“Are you a human?” Pidge asked him. She wasn’t dressed in her armor; she was dressed in rags.
“No! Pidge, what are you doing here?” Lance asked, he lurched forward and grabbed her by the shoulders, looking her over for injuries. There were so many scars. It took him a moment to realize his own arms weren’t bound behind his back.
“Pidge? Uh, my name’s Matt. But you’re human right? Have the Galra taken Earth?”
“You’re Matt?” Lance asked, incredibly relieved. The resemblance was uncanny, and Lance wondered how Pidge had ever snuck into the Garrison without everyone thinking they were looking at a ghost. The only difference was that Matt was larger, and his face had lost the look of childhood.
“Matt Holt,” he said. “Are you human?”
“Yeah,” Lance said, rotating his arms around. He thought he’d been healed a bit because he was pretty sure that after so long bound behind him they should have been more messed up than they were. “I’m from Earth. Where’s Commander Holt?”
Matt looked relieved. “We were separated a while ago,” he said. “Um, I think they left those for you.”
He pointed to a pile of clothing. It had been so long, Lance hadn’t even given a thought to his state of undress. It felt good to have something between him and the floor of his cell though.
“Have the Galra taken Earth?” Matt asked again.
“Not last I heard,” Lance said. “And Commander Tevis would have bragged about it if they had. I wasn’t captured anywhere near Earth. By the way, your sister’s looking for you.”
Lance had to explain about the Garrison and about Voltron. Matt was not thrilled to find out that his little sister was fighting in the war against the Empire.
“It’s fate,” Lance said. Was it fate that he was in this cell? “But yeah, I get it. We keep her out of the fight as much as we can. Why did they bring you here?”
“Did they bring you to the druids?” Lance asked.
“Only when I was first captured,” Matt said.
“Where were you? Before you came here, where were you?” Lance asked.
“Mining camp,” Matt said.
“Yeah, but where?” Lance asked.
“Planet, moon, asteroid belt? What were you mining? How long was the trip from Earth? How long was the trip here?”
“Does it matter?” Matt asked.
Lance wasn’t going to tell Matt anything he didn’t want the Galra to know about, so instead of telling him about the time loop he just said, “you never know what might be important for escape.”
So Matt told him. A moon orbiting a grey gas giant; an ore called Telerium; he didn’t know how long the trip from Earth was, but the trip from the camp to the High Command was about a week, give or take a day.
“But how is Kattie doing, really?” Matt asked.
“I have to remind her to eat,” Lance said.
Matt laughed. “I had to do that too,” he said.
So they talked about Pidge. They talked about the Garrison. They talked about a lot of things.
“Oh wait,” Matt said. “You’re that Lance.”
“Keith’s Lance,” Matt said, laughing.
“You’re the guy he couldn’t string two words together around,” Matt said.
Had Keith really hated him that much back then?
“Well we get along great now,” Lance said. “We’re rivals, constantly neck and neck, or we were.” It was a reminder that even if he got out he’d be a shell of who he’d been. Keith had passed him bye a long time ago.
“Rivals huh?” Matt asked, amusement in his voice.
“I wouldn’t have thought you’d have heard about Keith and me,” Lance said.
“Oh, Shiro was way too invested in his little brother’s, uh, friendships.”
Lance wasn’t sure Keith had had any friends at the Garrison.
They talked forever. It was the first time in a long time Lance had been able to talk to anyone. To relax around anyone. They had a lot in common and their senses of humor seemed to mesh.
“So any plans to get out of here?” Matt asked.
The only thought Lance had was to force a loop. He looked at Matt’s hands and wondered if he could convince the guy to strangle him. That was weird, though it was only the thought of just waking back up in his cell a few hours prior though stayed the thought.
“I’ve got the layout from the ship yard to the throne room to the druid’s labs to my cell committed to memory. Pretty sure we don’t want to cut through the throne room though,” Lance said.
“What about this door?” Matt asked.
“This is the first time I’ve had use of my arms,” Lance said. “I haven’t been able to do much.”
“Got a schedule of how things go here?”
“Time has lost all meaning, and I spend a lot of my time unconscious, or in a weird druid trance,” Lance said.
“Well, we’ll work on it together,” Matt said, putting a hand on Lance’s shoulder. “We’ll get out of this together,” he said, and the next thing Lance knew, he was sobbing into Matt’s shoulder and hugging him, and Matt was hugging him back. Except to hurt him, no one had touched him in forever. No one had talked to him except to taunt him. Matt was a balm.
Days went by, he still hadn’t been brought back to Haggar, but Matt being there didn’t stop any visits. As weak as he’d become, the Galra weren’t worried that his arms were no longer bound behind his back.
“They just come in and beat you?” Matt asked, trying to hold together a gash in Lance’s forehead. No trip to the infirmary for that one; they wanted him to suffer as long as it wasn’t life threatening.
Matt was nursing his own injuries. Most of their visitors probably wouldn’t have bothered with Matt. He wasn’t interesting, he wasn’t a Paladin, but he got in their way when they went for Lance.
“Hey, they’ve got to relieve their stress somehow,” Lance said. “Do you know how hard it is to work for Zarkon?” It felt natural to be glib, to try to make sure Matt didn’t worry too much. That was Lance’s job, to keep spirits up. Having Matt there was giving him a purpose. He had to get Matt free. He had to get him to Pidge.
“Oh yeah?” Matt asked. “So what do you do to relieve stress around here? Can I book any time at the day spa?”
It had been forever since Lance had been able to so much as wash his face. He’d stopped doing it every morning around the third time he looped. He missed his nightly rituals as well.
“The infirmary is the closest thing,” Lance said. “And even then, they’re pretty rough. Heck, this is the first time they’ve let me use my arms. So between that and meeting you, this has been the most relaxed I’ve been in a while. He smiled, pulling on his split lip and exposing his many missing teeth. They didn’t bother fixing those and they didn’t feed him anything that required chewing.
Matt was worried for him, but it was Lance who the Galra had to keep alive. They still didn’t know why Matt had been brought in. Time passed, they plotted an escape he was pretty sure neither of them believed in, but there just seemed to be hope when they had each other. Sleeping wasn’t so difficult though when he had the warmth of another person to curl up with. The adage that food tasted better with company was in fact true, even with Galran gruel. Matt made him laugh, and Lance found himself more and more capable of one upping him.
“So I’m up to my armpits in this bog,” Lance said.
“I didn’t see that coming,” Matt grinned.
“It was totally Keith’s fault,” Lance said. “He practically dared me to do it.”
“Yes, if someone told me they didn’t think a branch could hold my weight, I’d totally take that as a challenge,” Matt said. “Did Keith know he was basically daring you to climb out there?”
“He’s guilty, I say,” Lance said. “But anyway, I’m like ‘Pidge, use your bayard to get me out of here.’”
“Didn’t you say your outfit had thrusters or something?”
“It’s armor, not an outfit, but yeah, I didn’t think of that at the time,” Lance said.
“It was Keith’s fault!” Matt said.
“Look, he outright dared me to try to get out of the bog the stupid way, there was this look in his eyes.”
“He knows what he did,” Matt said.
“Exactly,” Lance said.
“So where was Shiro in all of this?” Matt asked.
“Oh, it was just Keith, Pidge and me trying to find this robot that had wandered off from the crash site. Shiro and Hunk were trying to get the ship working again for the pilot. Friendly guy, tried to steal a lion, but I digress. Pidge followed my master plan for getting me out of this bog, shooting out the tether which I secured around myself, but of course…”
“Pidge weighs about half as much as you do.” Matt had never questioned his sister’s name change.
“She weighs less than half what I do I suspect,” Lance said. “She fell in, right on top of me. I did catch her by the way, but keep in mind, I am still wrapped up in the tether from her bayard at this point. This will become important in a bit.”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure is Keith’s fault,” Matt said.
“Well, he was the one who now at this point said we should use our thrusters,” Lance said.
“That bastard,” Matt said.
“Always plotting my destruction,” Lance said. “But so Pidge can’t use her thrusters to save her life, except when she does, so I’m like, I’ll go up first and pull you out after me.”
“But you’re still wrapped up in her bayard,” Matt said.
“Hey, don’t spoil the story,” Lance said. “So anyway, I’m still wrapped in the tether, I take off, Pidge does not let go, she is in fact so startled to have something trying to rip her bayard out of her hands that she activates the taser mode, which is important because…”
“Because you’re still wrapped up in the tether,” Matt said. “All part of Keith’s plan when he said you shouldn’t try to climb out on that branch.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Lance said.
They’d been swapping stories for days, and poor Keith had become a running gag in Lance’s tales. Matt himself had told some stories from his time on the Heracles. Lance had not expected to find out that the Garrison’s three most respected astronauts could get up to so much mischief, but he supposed if he was stuck on a ship with only two other people and no instant communication with Earth he’d probably get creative.
“So who won?” Lance asked.
“I’m pretty sure when you’re sucking on hot sauce packets no one wins,” Matt said. “But no, Shiro won and I puked.”
They don’t often talk about food; there wasn’t much of it for the two of them and sometimes it was just best not to think about it. A hot sauce eating contest, though, probably didn’t spark Matt’s apatite.
“Does the Garrison even send you with proper hot sauce?” Lance asked. “Because the stuff they had in the galley barely qualified.”
“It was Tobasco,” Matt said.
“Eww, gross,” Lance said. “Did you piss someone off before you left?”
“Oh, my dad was a nightmare for the engineers,” Matt said. “He and Mom had designed so much of it and he was constantly questioning them. You know, I think they did wind up approving everything that went on the ship for weight and stuff, but I don’t think Tobasco was their revenge.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Lance said. “Now on the castle, Hunk was able to synthesize capsaicin, but we could never get a proper pepper flavor. I jumped the gun and drastically underestimated how strong it is when it’s pure, and that is the weirdest way I’ve wound up in a healing pod.”
Bringing up Hunk was weird. Sometimes he could tell stories as if he could hardly wait to introduce Hunk to Matt, and other times thinking of Hunk just brought on a melancholy. A lot of things could bring on melancholy, but Hunk especially. Lance still sometimes thought that the Galra would eventually kill him and he’d wake up and Hunk would be there, and other times he was convinced that Hunk was dead, and he’d never loop again.
Matt nudged him. They were shoulder to shoulder. They were always leaning up against the other. “You alright?” Matt asked.
He wasn’t alright, so Matt threw an arm around his shoulder and pulled him in tight. Sometimes melancholy could last for a while. Matt hummed something soft, and Lance ruminated on his mistakes and his inaction while tears streamed down his face. Matt was always patient with him, and Lance was always patient with Matt.
Life went on for a while like that, and the two of them entertained each other and drew comfort from one another. Then one day the doors of their cell opened and it wasn’t any of the Galra who liked to come torment the Paladin. It was two guards who got the two of them up and pulled them out. Lance’s arms weren’t bound behind his back, but Matt’s were. Lance recognized the way to Haggar’s place, and the part of him that had known that the Galra hadn’t put Matt into his cell out of the goodness of their hearts filled with dread. Whatever was going to happen, Lance knew it was going to be worse than anything before.
But Haggar ignored Matt. She placed her hands on Lance’s head and probed around, cutting through his mind like a kid pulling the wings off of a fly. How had he forgotten how terrible this was? After a time she released him. He was left on his knees, gasping for breath. Matt was yelling at her.
“It took me some time to discern what it was that connected you to your lion,” Haggar said, sounding triumphant. “We know that the Black Lion connects to its paladin through the sense of duty that the Paladin feels. I did not think a sentiment such as love would matter to any of the lions, but that is what connects you to the Blue Lion. The love you feel for others makes the bond sing.”
She looked so derisive of the idea that love for others could drive the connection. Lance felt twisted that the Druid wanted to use his love for his family and friends against them.
“Sounds like a fairy tale,” Matt said. One of the guards reached towards a pain stick and Lance tensed, but Hagar wasn’t bothered and nothing happened.
“Still, it takes time to truly form a bond with your lion. I knew I would have to get creative to speed things along, and that was where this human came in. You love the Green Paladin. You want her to reconnect with her brother. But now, more importantly, you have come to love him as well. You could not help but to bond with him. I can feel it in you, and it links you all the more strongly to your lion.”
“I get the feeling this is a bad thing, but same, man,” Matt said. This time the guard didn’t wait for Hagar’s go ahead and he jabbed the stick into Matt’s side. Lance lunged forward as Matt screamed like Lance had never heard anyone scream before. Lance got the same treatment before he could even make it a full step and found himself on the floor, his throat sore.
“Yes,” Hagar said. “It is strong, but I think though, that I can make it stronger. Your bond with your lion grew stronger when the Yellow Paladin died. I think you will love this one all the more when he is gone.”
“Wait,” Lance said. Haggar picked up a dagger, a foot long. “Stop!” He tried to get up, but rough hands held him down as one of the Galra over Matt hoisted him up. Matt struggled but it was useless. Lance saw the moment Matt realized what was about to happen, like in spite of everything, he was still surprised. Haggar thrust the dagger upwards into his belly and then ripped it out. The guard let him fall to the floor. The one holding Lance down let him go and he rushed forward.
“Matt!” he yelled. He did the only thing he could think of and he pressed his hands firmly against the wound. Matt was taking gasping breaths. “Just hold on,” Lance said. He looked at Haggar. “You made your point. You made your point, so heal him.”
“Lance,” Matt weakly said. Lance turned towards him. There was blood coming out of his mouth. “Take care of Pidge.”
“Matt, just hold on!” Lance said. He turned back to Hagar. “I love him alright, I’ll feel all the love you want me to feel if you just heal him.”
“Promise,” Matt said, dragging Lance’s attention back to him and Lance didn’t want to see the pain in his eyes.
“Just stay with me,” Lance said, but Matt couldn’t. He saw the light leave Matt’s eyes and he sobbed. Yet even then he wasn’t allowed to mourn. Haggar grasped his head once more.
Lance woke up in his cell alone, his hands still covered in Matt’s blood. Days went by and Lance didn’t see anyone. Days went by and Lance tried to bash his head against the metal bulkhead. Days went by and Lance stopped eating. Days went by and then Tevis came in to gloat over the capture of Voltron. Days went by and it was Earth this time. Days went by and then something changed. Someone new came into his cell, they were covered from head to toe in dark shades of purple. They pressed something against Lance’s neck and he felt invigorated. They undid Lances bindings and helped him up.
“Voltron is here,” they said. “You are the last Paladin. You are the only hope we have.”
“Who are you?” Lance asked. The figure tapped the side of their face and their mask melted away. It was a Galran woman. She looked so familiar.
“The Empire is stronger than ever; they’re sweeping the galaxy. You are in a pitiful state, but you are a Paladin of Voltron. I can get you to your Lion.”
Lance gasped. He reached out, and he could feel Blue, she was so close. He let out a sob as he heard her purr in his head. “Where are the others?” Lance asked. “Why are you doing this.”
“The others are dead,” she said.
“No,” Lance said.
“The Blade of Marmora cannot stop Zarkon,” she said, ignoring his denial. “Perhaps we never could. Most likely you can’t either, but you’re all we have. If the only thing I can deny Zarkon is the full use of Voltron then that is what I will do. I will get you to your lion.”
She handed him his bayard, and pulled out a dagger for herself. The dagger looked familiar, he thought he’d seen it before. She led him out, ducking him in and out of sight. Lance kept looking at the bayard in his hands. It barely weighed a thing, but Lance could barely hold up the weight of his own arms.
“There’s a resistance within the Empire?” Lance asked.
“We would die before we would serve Zarkon,” she said. “We are as old as the empire, but we have always been small. Too small to do anything but slow progress and gather information. We have always relied on secrecy, but our movement has been exposed. If you can trust me, I will take you to one of our bases. You can be healed and we will decide what to do from there.”
Lance couldn’t believe this was happening.
“What’s happening on Earth?” Lance asked.
“Many still live,” she said.
Lance didn’t know if he could still hope. He looked at his bayard again.
In the end, he got to see Blue one last time. They didn’t make it any further. He saw her start to run towards him just as the sentries descended on them. He died having barely gotten a shot off with several holes in his torso.
Lance woke with a gasp in the dark. The first thing he noticed was that he wasn’t in pain. The next thing he noticed was that he was in his bunk. He sprung up, stronger than he’d been in months. He didn’t bother with his comm. He raced out his door and turned down the hall. It was only one door over. He started pounding on Hunk’s door. “Hunk!” he cried. “Hunk!”
It took a while, and Lance was afraid it was never going to open, but eventually it slid open to reveal a very bemused looking Hunk. Lance threw himself at him, and Hunk wrapped his arms around him and Lance didn’t let go as his knees buckled under him and Hunk sank to the floor with him as Lance sobbed into his shoulder.
Can you tell Lance is my favorite? Hope you liked it. Last chapter should be out soon. Please review.
Alternate title for the next chapter: Once More But With Feeling
Chapter 3: Just Can't Get Enough
Alternate title for this chapter: Once More, but With Feeling
More warnings for non-permanent suicide attempts.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lance had to put an end to it, but he was so visibly upset that first morning after he’d looped out of the Galran High Command, that it took him a while to argue that they should let him anywhere near the Cruiser. They’d pulled the bare bones of his capture from him, but he knew if he told them everything they’d treat him with kid gloves.
He dodged Keith, who tried to pull him aside and walked to the bay with Pidge.
“I’ve got information on your brother,” Lance said.
“What?” Pidge asked.
“They wanted… It doesn’t matter. They brought him in while they had me. I asked him where he’d been. He didn’t know specifics, but he’s been in a mining camp on a moon orbiting a grey gas giant. They’re mining something called Telerium and it was about a week’s ride away from the High Command.”
“Is he alright?” Pidge asked.
“As alright as he can be,” Lance said. “Wasn’t thrilled about you being out here.”
“What about my Dad?” Pidge asked.
“He said they’d been separated,” Lance said, hesitantly putting a hand on her shoulder. The gesture made him nervous for some reason, and looking at her still left him remembering Matt’s eyes as he died. He would never tell her about that.
Keith still told him to be careful before they went in. He wished they could ride over in Blue. Haggar was right, his bond with her was stronger. Lance just wished it hadn’t cost him so much. He felt her comforting presence in his mind even after they went through the wormhole.
The first time back on the cruiser went horribly. They both died quickly, but Lance was no longer numb to it and he had some sort of episode when he looped back to his quarters. It took him all of the time until Shiro’s wakeup call to calm down, and then he didn’t bother trying to change the plan. He wrote off that loop and charged in like he had the first time, just waiting for a sentry to get in a few good shots. He didn’t bother with his shield.
It took him a few more loops before he got back into the swing of things. It took him several more before he felt like he’d made up for whatever he’d lost when he’d been a prisoner and he was able to get as far as he’d been able to get before. It took him too many loops to realize he was going about things all wrong. He had to remind himself that he had the advantage, and that he just couldn’t give the sentries too much to learn from.
“Okay,” Lance said, after they’d gotten into the airlock on the cruiser. “I might have lied a bit back there.”
“Lied about what?” Hunk asked.
“We aren’t stealthing this,” Lance said. “I’m pretty sure it’s impossible, and besides which, it just leaves a bunch of sentries behind us. Took me way too many loops to figure it out, but I’ve got a good system now.”
“Lance, how many times have you done this?” Hunk asked.
Lance shrugged. He had still been telling them that it had only been nine loops. “I decided to change things up when I hit one hundred.”
“Jesus, Lance,” Hunk said.
Lance looked at his watch. It had only been thirty times on his new track though, but he’d made a lot of progress. It was like a video game, only the video game adapted to you as you played. Just like a video game though, the game reset back to his save point while Lance learned more and more each time. The first key was to be fast. To give the sentries as little as possible to learn from. The second key was the timing. He had it down for the first couple dozen sentries they came across. The third key was integrating Hunk in a way that Lance could make sure was repeatable each time. Repeatable was predictable. After that, it was memorizing how the sentries adapted each time.
The first few sentries went down super fast. All Hunk had to do was follow him.
“-Three, four, five, turn and…” he was already aimed as he turned the corner, the sentry falling into his sights as he was already pulling the trigger. After that, sentries started making erratic motions, trying to be less predictable. But it was the same erratic motions each loop, so long as Lance kept things the same.
“Left, right, jump, duck, shoot,” Lance said.
A few more sentries down, and they started rushing in from all over, and Hunk would announce that the bomb was charging up to explode. That was fine. Plant Hunk with his shield up and aimed down one hall doing sweeping fire. Lance took care of what was coming from in front, turning at the right moments to take the sentries leaping over Hunk’s barrage. They couldn’t really dodge when they were mid leap. “Back three steps, shield Hunk, two sentries down,” Lance muttered to himself, and then grabbed Hunk up and continued on, tossing a plasma grenade around the next corner.
There was always a sense of anxiety that came when he got to a new point, and then that lessened over time as he figured out through a few loops how to get through to the next challenge. Dying hurt; it hurt a lot, and there was something in his brain that always panicked, but he could tell himself that it would be alright, that at least it wasn’t permanent that it was better than being in a cell, that Hunk would be alive when he woke up again that morning.
“Lance, how many times have you done this?” Hunk asked.
“Three hundredth time’s the charm,” Lance said.
“Jesus, Lance,” Hunk said. “If you’re just going to fight through, why not bring the strike team? You could have ended this already.”
“Because no one dies,” Lance said. “We get through this and no one dies.”
The first time he’d made that declaration, it had been full of vehemence, now it was just a quiet mantra. He’d promised himself that he wouldn’t become numb to it again, but he had. This time though, he really thought they might actually get through. They were so close. He thought an even three hundred would be poetic somehow, but it wasn’t to be. The transport made it through and that was always a quick game over.
“Three hundred and first time’s the charm,” Lance said.
“Jesus Lance,” Hunk said. But this time it was.
“I need an entry Pidge,” Lance said, as Hunk laid down fire behind them.
“Got it,” Pidge said, and the blast doors opened. Lance took care of the three sentries and the Galran scientist inside.
“Get to the bomb,” Lance said. “I’ve got the doors.”
He shot through the control panel and ducked through the doors as they closed. Once inside with the doors shut behind him he placed a handy device that Coran had given him against the heavy blast doors. This was the first time Lance had actually gotten to use it. It should, theoretically, reinforce them and give them a lot more time if the Galra tried to blast their way through again.
“How much time have we got?” Lance asked.
“Three minutes,” Hunk said.
“Plenty of time,” Lance said. He laughed. He laughed because they’d done it. They’d gotten through. It was over. “Three hundred and first time’s the charm,” he said again.
While Hunk tried to manually disable the shield, Lance patched Pidge in, he couldn’t stop laughing. The battle outside didn’t sound too good though and he sobered up; Pidge was split trying to get through the AI’s defenses and dodging fighters. It would all be over soon though. As soon as the bomb was disabled, they could message the princess and the fleet would drop in and clean up the rest. It was almost over.
A couple of minutes in and Lance started to worry.
“How are we doing?” Lance asked.
Hunk definitely looked worried. “Just give me a minute,” he said.
“I think we’ve only got a minute,” Lance said. “Pidge?”
“Agh, Keith, cover me!” Pidge said. “I don’t know Lance.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Lance asked.
“I don’t think I can do this remotely,” Pidge said. “I think I need to be in there.”
“That’s not happening,” Lance said. “Hunk!”
“There’s a lot of redundancy here,” Hunk said.
“It’s about to blow,” Lance said.
“Tell me to start with the relays next time,” Hunk said.
Lance thought it was the first time the bomb actually went off while he was there. He was worried that the chronotons would do something, but no, he just died and woke up again in his bunk. Lance rubbed his face with a sigh.
“The relays,” he said.
“Three hundred and second time’s the charm,” Lance said, sure that it would be.
The damned transport got through.
“Three hundred and third time’s the charm,” Lance said, a bit worried.
“Tell me to start with the plasma condenser,” Hunk said.
“Three hundred and tenth time’s the charm,” Lance said, warily.
“Tell me to start with the relays,” Hunk said.
“You already said that,” Lance screamed.
“Three hundred and thirtieth time’s the charm,” Lance said, feeling defeated.
“I don’t think I can do this remotely,” Pidge said. “I think I need to be in there.”
“Yeah,” Lance sobbed. “I think so too.”
“We don’t think Hunk can deactivate the shield,” Lance said. “Not in three minutes. Pidge thinks she can get through the AI, but she needs to be there. My question is, excluding the containment vessel, is there anything in there I can shoot?”
“Absolutely not,” Hunk said. “First of all, most of the stuff that’s attached to it is Ocaampan, and I won’t know what anything does until I can examine it without the shield there. Second of all, most everything there is going to be preventing the containment vessel from breeching while the charge is added, and it’s all packed in close together. The sort of energy you’d need to blast through that shield doesn’t lend itself to surgical precision in diffusing a bomb.”
“So it has to be Pidge,” Shiro said.
“I’m down,” PIdge said. “Lance’ll get me there.”
“How many times have you looped?” Shiro asked.
Lance sighed around his chocopop. It was pretty obvious that it was more than nine at this point, so why keep lying.
“This is attempt three hundred and thirty-one,” Lance said.
“Jesus, Lance,” Hunk said.
“There has to be another way,” Shiro said.
“Yeah,” Lance said. “We tried them. Can we just… not do this again? We’ve had this argument before. You don’t like it, I get it, but the other options aren’t tenable.”
“What if it’s never over?” Keith asked. “What is this doing to you, Lance?”
Lance had stopped telling them about his capture when it stopped being so obvious how much it had messed him up.
“What it’s doing to me is making me a hell of a lot better at being a Paladin,” Lance said. “Just wait until the next time we have a mission together.”
“And you can stealth your way through with Pidge?” Shiro asked, shutting down what was probably going to be an arguement.
“Yeah,” Lance said. “Shouldn’t be any different.”
Shiro would insist on sending the strike team if Lance admitted that they weren’t going to be doing any stealth whatsoever, and that was too many variables, Lance couldn’t guarantee that none of them would die. He didn’t know what he would do if the bomb were to be diffused and they had won but some of his team wouldn’t be there the next time he woke up. Not when he could have prevented it.
They ironed out a few more details. They went and got into their armor, Lance got issued some goodies from Coran, he and Keith checked the Strike Team, and then they were off, traveling in Red with Keith.
“Whatever you do,” Lance said. “Get that transport.”
“Whatever you do, stay safe,” Keith said.
He always told Lance to stay safe. Lance didn’t know when Keith had started to care so much about him as a friend, but reliving this day so many times had made him realize that Keith was always advocating for Lance over everything else. It just set him on edge a bit when he did that in front of Shiro. Shiro listened to Keith, and Lance needed to be able to convince Shiro that he had it handled, because Lance was the only one who could come back if he died.
One of Lance’s few pleasures was getting to tell Pidge about her brother each loop.
“Don’t worry about the spacewalk,” Lance said, tethering himself to Pidge. “I’ve got you.”
Pidge took a deep breath as Red opened her jaws and the cruiser got closer and closer. They launched out and Lance kept an eye on the distance.
“By the way,” he said. “One of my loops lasted a lot longer than the others. Your brother’s mining Telerium on a moon orbiting a grey gas giant about a week’s ride from the High Command.”
“What?” Pidge asked. “Lance!” She got through the spacewalk a lot easier when she had something else to think about.
“And thrusters now,” Lance said.
He got a big hug when they were in the airlock. Lance smiled while he kept an eye on the clock.
“Just so you know,” Lance said. “I gave up on stealth a long while ago, but I got Hunk through by blasting all the sentries and I’ll get you through too. Just do everything I say, alright?”
“Oh my god you’re crazy,” Pidge said.
“Crazy good,” Lance said.
Only not this time. His perfect run was reliant on Hunk’s bayard and Hunk’s capabilities. Pidge couldn’t lay down rapid fire. Pidge couldn’t body check a sentry. Maybe Pidge and Keith could have stealthed their way through the ship together. Not for the first time, Lance thought that the wrong Paladin had been sent into the loop, though he wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.
The first dozen sentries went down just fine, but as they adapted, things became different, and Lance couldn’t keep up. He would never forget the sound of Pidge calling out his name in pain as she tried to cover the stump of her arm.
“Crazy good,” Lance said, and he couldn’t quite make himself believe it.
“Crazy good,” Lance said, and he couldn’t stand the hope in Pidge’s eyes.
“Crazy good,” Lance said, and he prayed to god he would be able to look her in the eye one day and not hear her begging him to make it better.
The transport docked, and Lance knew it would be over soon. He’d gotten so far though. He heard Pidge scream behind him, and he turned towards her. He always turned towards her, because he couldn’t keep his back to her when she was hurt and scared and needed him, even though he could never keep her safe. She wasn’t hurt though. Her bayard was on the ground and a sentry had picked her up. A sentry was carrying her away.
“No!” Lance screamed, furious. He would destroy it. He would kill all of them before he let Pidge get captured, before he would let a Galra beat her, before he would let Hagar sear through her mind. Lance wasn’t good enough though; his legs were shot out from under him as he raised his blaster to shoot the retreating sentry. He collapsed to the floor. There were so many of them. Pidge was screaming his name. One of them was reaching for his bayard. He couldn’t save her. She was going to be captured. Commander Tevis would have her. He couldn’t let that happen. Lance fired and Pidge stopped screaming, and Lance sobbed as he pulled back his bayard under his prone body and put the barrel under his chin. He’d always wondered if he could pull the trigger. He had to bring Pidge back. He squeezed the trigger as he was flipped over, the bolt grazing over his face, leaving seared flesh in its wake. His bayard was ripped from his hands.
“No!” Lance said. Reaching for a plasma grenade.
His arms were forced behind his back, and his belt and helmet were removed.
“Stop!” he screamed.
Something was roughly tied around his legs to stop the bleeding, and his comm was removed from his ear.
“Kill me!” Lance begged.
He was picked up.
“No, no, no, no, no…” He couldn’t stop. He started hyperventilating. He saw the Commander in front of him with the shuttle.
“No, no, no,” Lance said.
The Commander sneered at him.
The trip was the same. It was the same, only Lance found he couldn’t pray. He spent a lot of time trying to figure out how he could force himself to loop. His burnt face was agony, but it was less than what he deserved. He tried to make the Commander so angry that he’d kill Lance, but though he got more cruel, he was always careful. He liked to use his hands, but now and then he used the pain stick that they’d first used on him when he was in front of the druid.
Meeting Zarkon was the same.
Meeting the first druid was the same.
Haggar was different, because his bond with Blue was already stronger. She didn’t need him to do anything. She just used him to find Blue. There was no Matt. They didn’t need him alive after that, but they didn’t feel like letting him go.
Tevis still visited. Lance went nearly catatonic a lot sooner than he had the first time.
They captured Voltron. They took Earth. In rare moments of lucidity, Lance wondered if that Galra lady would come for him again. She didn’t. Time went on; he had no idea how much.
There was a thump outside his cell door that Lance ignored. He ignored the door opening, just curling up tighter, trying to keep what warmth he could for as long as possible. No Matt had meant no clothes.
“Lance, oh Lance!”
Lance stayed where he was. It wasn’t the first time he’d hallucinated. Gentle hands turned him over. Lance silently screamed, waiting for whatever was going to happen. A hand gently touched his cheek.
“I’ve got you Lance.” It was Keith.
“Keith,” Lance rasped. Weren’t they all dead?
“I’m getting you out of here,” Keith said. “Lance I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry I couldn’t stop the transport.” Lance was just surprised Keith could recognize him.
“You’re alive,” Lance said. “The others?”
“They’re gone,” Keith said. “But we have each other again. I’m going to get you out of here. I was scared I would never see you again, not ever. But it’s over Lance. It’s over. The Galra won, but we’ll have each other.”
Keith wasn’t making any sense, and Lance, who was waking up for the first time in a long time noticed that Keith looked awful. He had scars all over, his armor was cracked and dirty, and there was a hardness to him that Lance had never seen before.
“I killed Pidge,” Lance said.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Keith said.
Yes it was.
“You have to kill me,” Lance said.
“I have to loop,” Lance said. “I have to fix it.”
“You don’t even know if you can loop that far,” Keith said. “I’m not loosing you again.”
How long had he been alone?
Keith helped Lance get up and he cut the bindings keeping his arms behind his back. Moving them was torture.
Lance lurched forward, and Keith caught him in his arms. Keith sounded emotional but Lance couldn’t make out what he was saying, because all he could focus on was what he felt with his hands. Keith still kept that dagger at the small of his back. Lance pulled it out. He could barely hold it. Keith didn’t notice. He guided Lance out of his cell. Even then, Lance didn’t know if he could actually cut himself like that. He looked down at the dagger. It looked so familiar. It looked just like the dagger the Galra woman had had.
“Stay back,” Keith said, and suddenly he was charging at the Galran officer in front of them. Lance hadn’t even noticed. He turned around, hearing something behind him, it was another Galra. He shouted a warning to Keith as he lurched forward, dagger raised. He couldn’t let it get Keith from behind.
Keith screamed his name and Lance realized he was on the floor. Keith’s head swam over him, he looked desperate.
“I’ll fix it,” Lance said.
His first impulse was to go to Hunk when he woke up, but he didn’t deserve that. He couldn’t face Pidge. He didn’t want to be alone either. He tapped his comm.
“Keith,” he said.
There was a pause.
“Lance?” Keith asked. “Are you alright?”
“Can you come here?” Lance asked, in a small voice.
“Are you hurt?” Keith asked.
“No,” Lance said. His body never mirrored the many scars he bore. “Can you just… please?”
It took a while for Keith to get there. He’d been on the training deck. Lance wanted to ask him to hold him, like he had in his cell, but he didn’t deserve that. Keith must have seen something on his face though because he walked over and knelt before Lance and Lance couldn’t hold it in.
“I killed her,” he said. “I killed her, and I was so scarred I wouldn’t be able to save her.”
“What are you talking about?” Keith asked.
“I’m looping through time,” Lance sobbed. “I keep reliving this over and over, and I can’t get it right. They were capturing Pidge and I couldn’t let her go through that.”
Keith didn’t accuse him of having a dream. He didn’t yell at Lance and tell him what he should have done. Maybe he should have called Shiro. Keith just pulled Lance into a hug and held him as he cried, and maybe he had made the right decision anyway. When Shiro made the morning wakeup call something happened and Lance had another episode. He didn’t remember being sedated. He didn’t remember the others going on the mission without him. He didn’t remember the bomb going off because he hadn’t been there. He’d been safe on the Castle ship. There was only one Lion left, and one Paladin.
Every day Lance thought about forcing himself to Loop, and every day he didn’t. He was scared to try again, because a part of him thought that Keith was right, and it would never be over. He’d watch Pidge die over and over again. She was still dead. They all were. Every day he felt their absence while he was for some reason sent out again and again to lead battles as the last remaining part of Voltron. The AI was destroyed with everything else, so they had that, but it was still not enough. The Princess never lost hope, but Lance died a month later, still trying to save a galaxy he was no longer sure could be saved, and he had just a moment as he slipped away to be ashamed of the fact that right after he’d been shot he had wished that he wouldn’t wake up ever again.
He did wake up though; had his standard conversation with the Princess, and then he waited outside Pidge’s door. She was surprised to see him waiting there, and Lance had to try his very best not to break down at the first sight of her since he’d killed her.
“Lance?” Pidge asked, yawning.
“I know I can’t convince you I’ve been traveling through time without the Princess, but I just need you to know that I love you and I’m going to get you through this.”
“Come on,” Lance said. “There’s a meeting.”
He just wanted to tell her about Matt, to see her smile, but she wouldn’t believe him yet. They had their meeting, Lance convinced everyone he had it handled, and then when he went to get his special gear from Coran, after clipping everything to his belt, he pulled him aside so the others couldn’t hear him.
“I need a way to force a loop,” Lance said.
It took a moment for Coran to understand what he was asking for.
“Absolutely not,” Coran said. “Why would you even need that?”
“I’ve been captured twice. It was moths with the Galra. They… I can’t do that again,” Lance said. “I don’t know if I can do this if I’m…” He wouldn’t have thought he could say this to someone he looked up to. “I’m scared. I can’t stop thinking about it. I just need to know I won’t have to go through that again. I need to know I can force myself to loop if something goes wrong.” If something happens to Pidge.
He’d never seen Coran look so upset.
“I don’t want to die,” Lance said. “I want to get through this, but I need something so I can focus on the mission.”
“Finish getting ready,” Coran said. “I’ll meet you by the Red Lion.”
“Thank you,” Lance said.
Coran didn’t say anything back, but he did meet Lance before they left and handed him a sheath that went under his forearm guard.
“Pull it out of the container and jab it into any part of your flesh,” Coran said.
“Thank you,” Lance said again.
“Just come back to us,” Coran said. “I’ll definitely be expecting you to give that back when you do.”
“I will,” Lance said, feeling comforted to feel it against his arm.
Coran though wasn’t feeling reliant on Lance’s word, and he told Shiro who commed him as they were getting underway.
“I talked to Coran,” Shiro said.
Lance cursed and activated his full visor so Pidge and Keith couldn’t hear. “I’m not suicidal,” he said.
“Glad to hear it,” Shiro said. “You’re handing that thing over to me as soon as we rally. Understood?”
“Understood,” Lance said.
Pidge was giving him a worried look when he finished the conversation.
“What was that about?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Lance said. “Hey, I need to tell you about Matt.” That always got a smile, and Lance needed that.
They boarded the cruiser.
“You’re crazy,” Pidge said.
“Crazy good,” Lance promised.
It took him a while to get back into it. It took him a while before he stopped being abjectly terrified for Pidge and could stay in the flow of the battle without constantly looking at her. There was one time he lost his bayard and he could hear her screaming as he tried to get it, and hands grabbed him, and he started screaming, thinking about the pressure against his forearm, but he was able to lunge forward and grab his bayard and they killed him for it and that was alright. It was alright, but he still woke up crying, and the first thing he did was go to wake up Pidge, because even after so many tries, he still needed to know she was alright. Sometimes he called Keith, because Keith always came, and he always believed him, and he was always concerned for Lance; he had fought through the High Command for Lance, and Lance had realized he had barely started to get to know the boy who’s validation he’d craved so much back at the Garrison.
So he got better, and he got better, and he figured out how to best utilize Pidge’s skills and her bayard, and he cursed the transport, but he got better.
“Crazy good,” Lance said.
They were so close, they were so close, they’d gotten through, Lance had gotten Pidge through, he’d reinforced the doors, but Pidge wasn’t going to make it. The bomb would go off, and then she would be alright, but for just then she was dying, with a hole gaping in her stomach. It would be over soon, but for just then, Pidge was dying and Lance held her close as she cried through the pain.
“I’m sorry,” Lance said. “I’m sorry, I’ll get it right next time. I promise, I’ll get it right next time, this won’t ever happen again, I promise.”
Pidge’s arms around him had been so desperately tight when he’d first laid her down but they were getting weaker. “Find them,” she sobbed. “If I can’t, you have to find them. Promise.”
“You’re going to find them,” Lance said. “You’ll find them. I’ll get it right. You’ll find them, and I’ll pull them out, I promise.”
It would have been a mercy if Pidge could have gone quickly, but she lasted until the bomb went off while Lance was still trying to comfort her.
He called Keith when he woke up and greeted him with a hug when the doors opened. Keith for his part just held him as Lance told him what was going on. Keith always believed him, and Lance wished he’d known that Keith liked hugs as much as Hunk did because he didn’t think he was getting enough of them. He greeted Pidge at her door, and smiled to see his grouchy gremlin whole. He went through the usual explanations and then the mission started.
“You’re crazy,” Pidge said.
“Crazy good,” Lance said solemnly. He’d get it right.
“Forward two meters,” Lance muttered. “Drop, Pidge! Plasma grenade, two, three, shield.” Three blasts hit his shield. “Whip your tether around the corner,” Lance called out. One, two, “and zap em! Now hunker down behind your shield facing the aft,” he told her. “Step, dodge, step, aim high, aim right, aim down, turn, and shoot two, three, four.” One clear corridor they could dash down uninhibited. “Wait, two, three, four, five, plasma grenade, two, three, lean over and shoot and right, and down, and wait, two, three.”
“Transport’s down,” Keith said.
Lance didn’t respond. He just needed to stay focused. He barked out instructions to Pidge, knowing she wouldn’t get all of them in time.
“Step to the side, shoot.” Another sentry went down. Two shots to his lower back, but that was fine, he was braced for it and the undersuit held, he could keep going with a nasty bruise and he never had figured out how to avoid it. He just needed to turn and aim low, taking out the three sentries, avoiding Pidge’s shocked eyes. “Shoot out and tether that vent,” Lance said, pointing, pushing through any objections Pidge had for his injury. “Use your thrusters and let it pull you down the corridor.” Pidge didn’t have the best control over her thrusters, so her Bayard really helped. As the sentries rounding the corner turned to face Pidge, who was zooming by, Lance used his own thrusters to get a higher vantage and shot the sentries in the back.
“Two plasma grenades,” he threw them back behind him as he zoomed forward. Only one left. “Behind me,” Lance told Pidge. “One more turn, throw a grenade, wait for it, and-" he shot the three sentries that turned the corner to avoid the grenade. The grenade went off and then they were at the blast doors. Pidge got the doors while Lance picked off the sentries coming up from behind, then he turned to shoot through the doors just as they were cracking open to surprise the sentries and the lone Galra inside.
“You are crazy good,” Pidge said after the doors were closed and reinforced. Lance could faintly hear plasma bolts impacting outside. “How’s your back?”
“It’s fine,” Lance said. “Focus on the mission.”
Lance dragged the lone body off to the side. It was too close to where Pidge was working, and Lance didn’t like the sight of her next to it. Pidge, for her part, walked over and plugged into the terminal. This was it, this was it, they were finally there. He started laughing again, but he had to force himself to stop because Pidge was giving him strange looks and he couldn’t be distracting her. He couldn’t be distracting her, but the longer it took the more he wanted to desperately demand to know if she could actually do it.
“Pidge,” he said weakly.
“Sorry Lance,” Pidge said. “One more try, I just need you to memorize this code.”
Lance was not able to memorize the code. He told her as much after he looped.
“Gotcha,” Pidge said. “Don’t worry about it.”
Another few tries to get her back there.
“Okay, I need you to memorize this text,” Pidge said.
“What?” Lance asked.
“I’ll be able to convert it into the code I need,” Pidge said. “We’ve got to hurry.”
Lance memorized it. It only took him a few tries.
Lance was at her door when she woke up.
“You look like shit,” she said.
“Bit of a rough night,” Lance said. “You don’t look so great yourself.”
Pidge took out her caffeine pills and gave the bottle a shake in his face. He didn’t react to her double dosing, so Pidge figured he really had had a bad night.
“Do you know why they woke us up early?” Pidge asked. “I didn’t get anything on my alerts.”
“I told the Princess I’ve been traveling through time,” Lance said.
“That’s not possible,” Pidge said.
“That’s what you always say,” Lance said.
Lance refused to argue the matter with her, but he unlocked the junk food cabinet when they got to the meeting so that was alright. Then the Alteans went and sided with Lance on the whole time travel thing. Pidge had just become convinced that Lance wasn’t crazy, and maybe he really was traveling through time with his spirit mumbo jumbo… and then he told her that he had a message from past Pidge and it was the most nonsensical paragraph of random words she’d ever heard.
“… and there’s a dark place for killing time as the cobra sings a baseball.” Lance finished.
“What?” Pidge asked.
“You said you’d know what it meant,” Lance exploded, suddenly looking very much like he had in fact relived the same day too many times.
It took her a minute, but then, “Ohh, I’ve got you, say that again.” She typed away at her computer. It was a coding system she already used to remember complex alphanumeric passwords. This one was very long though. “Okay cool. Don’t worry about it. I know what I need to do,” she said. “I’ve just got to let this compile, and then we’ll be in in no time.”
What had happened was that she’d gotten to the AI and realized that she didn’t have time to take it over, so she’d pulled out the cipher from the AI’s control matrix overlaying the Galran terminal, from which she needed to compile each and every possible quantum permeation derivative before she could finish things. The only thing they’d been lacking was time, and her computer would finish figuring out the bypass codes by the time they left.
“Just need to get me there and I’ll take it out,” she assured Lance.
Lance sighed. “Five hundredth time’s the charm.” She still couldn’t get over that. Assuming a little under three hours for each loop, that was a little over two months.
“Do you ever sleep between loops?” Pidge asked.
“I loop back into a body that’s already slept,” Lance said.
Pidge did not think that could be healthy at all. Had he just been running through it over and over again for two months straight?
“Don’t give me that look young lady,” Lance said. “You do not get to be affronted by my sleep habits.”
“You don’t sleep at all,” Pidge said.
Lance hesitated. “There were a few times where things went… differently,” he said. “I slept then, not that I think it matters if I sleep in-between loops.”
“Differently how?” Pidge asked.
Lance actually started sweating in his seat.
“Differently how?” Shiro asked, in his Dad voice.
“I got captured,” Lance said, shrugging but not meeting any of their eyes. “They don’t detonate the bomb when I get captured.”
“What?” Keith looked horrified, then he looked furious.
“It’s fine,” Lance reassured them. He didn’t look fine.
“How long?” Hunk asked, he’d looked like he was going to cry since Lance had told them that he’d done this hundreds of times.
“Months, I think,” Lance said, quietly. “It was hard to tell time. Look, I haven’t been captured in a ton of loops. It’s ancient history now. We’re this close,” he said, holding his fingers an inch apart. No one was happy with that answer.
Shiro gave them the go ahead to break and get ready. Pidge tried to stay close to Lance, because she knew he was hurting and wasn’t admitting it, but she didn’t know how to fix that. Lance went off to talk to Coran though, and Pidge just didn’t know what to say to him.
Keith grabbed a hold of Lance when they got into Red and for a moment Pidge thought all of Keith’s feelings for Lance were going to come tumbling out of his mouth but they didn’t.
“Stay safe,” he said.
“This time I will,” Lance said.
“You’d better,” Keith said, and Lance barked a laugh.
“I know you’d come for me,” Lance said fondly.
Lance definitely wasn’t her type, but he was her dork of a weird family member, and for the first time she thought she knew what Keith saw in him.
Then they took off, and Lance activated his full visor for a bit and had a conversation with someone. He looked upset, and for the hundredth time that morning, Pidge knew that Lance was very much not all right.
“What was that about?” she asked, when Lance finished his secret conversation.
“Nothing,” Lance said. “Hey, I need to tell you about Matt.”
“What about him?” Pidge asked.
“I met him at the High Command,” Lance said.
“He’s at the High Command?” Pidge asked distraught, because she had no idea how to get him out of there, even though she knew she’d turn it to ash to get him back.
“No,” Lance said. “They brought him in to like, mess with my head, don’t worry about it. The thing is, is that he’s doing alright, or as alright as he can be, you know, but I asked him where he’s been so I could tell you and he’s on a moon, orbiting a grey gas giant, mining Telerium, and they’re about a week’s ride away from High Command.”
That narrowed things down considerably.
“Get ready to go,” Keith said. He sounded miserable. Pidge, on the other hand, felt such a swell of hope and it was a wild ride for how worried she’d just been for Lance.
“He’s really alright?” she asked, as they got into Red’s forward airlock.
“Yeah,” Lance said, smiling softly at her, probably the first real smile she’d seen from him that morning. “Big prison camp, few actual Galra, mostly sentries, they feed them enough so they can do manual labor.”
Pidge might have started crying if Keith wasn’t getting them ready to jettison into space. No matter how many times they practiced these maneuvers, she would never get used to it. Lance had her though, and apparently he’d gotten her through this space walk well over a hundred times. He tethered himself to her after the air got sucked out and the gravity shut off. As they shot forward to the Galran cruiser she nervously let Lance take charge of the maneuver, and then she was bypassing the airlock’s security and they were in.
She gave Lance one last hug before the mission really started.
“Just so you know,” Lance said. “I gave up on stealth a long while ago, but I got you through by blasting all the sentries before and I’ll get you through again. Just do everything I say, alright?”
“Oh my god you’re crazy,” Pidge said.
“Crazy good,” Lance said, with a laugh that worried her. Then they were off, and Lance was… If there had been any doubt that the whole time thing was real, it was gone after she saw him take out the first dozen sentries. He was so fast, they were down before they could get a shot off. He kept her behind him for the most part, but as the sentries adapted there were times where he would have his hand on her shoulder so he could physically move her at the right moment. There wasn’t anything else for it except that Lance knew what was behind every corner, and what was coming up from behind them. She could hear him muttering every step under his breath over their private channel.
“Duck!” Lance said. “Behind you, sweep its legs, shield up.”
She arced her bayard as the end shot out and the tether wrapped around the legs of the sentry that had run up behind them, but as that sentry was going down, three more rounded the corner. One shot impacted her shield as she turned her head to warn Lance. Two more shots hit him in the back below his armor. He barely even staggered, just turned and expertly shot the three sentries. He had been expecting to get shot. It was part of his plan.
He talked over her protest that he was injured, giving her instructions to use her thrusters and her bayard to zip down the corridor. It wasn’t a fun ride, but he was right behind her, taking out the sentries that rounded the corner. There was another loud explosion behind her. She landed in a skid at the end of the hall, and Lance landed lightly besides her and helped her up.
“Behind me,” he said, tossing another plasma grenade around the corner. Three sentries ran out, away from the explosive and Pidge was pretty sure Lance had already been pulling the trigger before the first one had popped out. They rounded the corner and there were two big blast doors in front of them.
“Get those open,” Lance said. She went over and interfaced with the security pad. Lance was right behind her, shielding her. There were more blasters going off behind her. Just as the doors started to slide apart, Lance was next to her, shooting through the crack. There was the clack of three falling sentries and the thud of a body from within the room. Lance shot out the external control panel and Pidge closed and locked the doors from inside while Lance affixed the structural enhancer Coran had pulled up to make the doors stronger.
They must have closed them just in time, because Pidge could already hear the sound of plasma bolts impacting the doors from outside.
“You are crazy good,” Pidge said. “How’s your back.”
“It’s fine,” Lance said. “Focus on the mission.”
Pidge nodded and went and got her first look at the bomb. More importantly she got a look at the AI terminal. She knew it had caused them all sorts of trouble, but she couldn’t wait to introduce herself to it. She plugged into the Galran terminal outside of the shield covering everything else, and past Pidge was right, the thing was clearly enhanced by the AI it was connected to. That was just fine though, because Pidge had already decoded the takeover protocols. She tried to not pay attention to Lance dragging the body of a Galra off to the side.
“How long is this going to take?” Lance asked.
“Done,” Pidge said, as the forcefield went down.
“What?” Lance asked.
“I just needed time to process that code for a bit,” Pidge said. “Gave me the permutations I needed.”
“You could have just given those to Hunk!” Lance exclaimed. “You didn’t need to come.”
Pidge shrugged. Could he have just switched everything up and brought Hunk through all the same after so many loops since he’d started taking her?
“It’s done?” Lance asked, sounding disbelieving.
She checked the detector the Ocaampans had given them. “The energy buildup in the containment field is going back down to equilibrium. Hunk could describe it better than I could, the important thing is that it’s done.”
She could still hear a barrage of plasma bolts on the blast doors, and as far as she knew, Lance had never gotten this far, so she wasn’t sure if he knew how long those doors would hold.
“What about the sentries?” Lance asked.
Pidge assessed things for a while. She hadn’t actually taken control of the AI. She’d just kicked it off of the Galran terminal. Kicking the AI off of the Galran terminal had been easy enough, and then she’d just gone through the Galran terminal to stop the component that was adding the charge to the containment vessel and deactivated the shield. Separating the two also separated the AI from the sentries. The AI was still connected to the containment vessel, but they needed it to stay that way for just then until the charge inside dissipated.
There was a ton she needed to learn about the AI. The sentries though. They’d been sending the AI their direct observations of the battle, and the AI had been sending them new tactical instructions. It didn’t actually control them though. Pidge didn’t think she’d be able to send new updates to the sentries without reconnecting the AI, and she would need more time than they probably had to actually properly take over the AI. She’d have time later, of course. She’d be spending a lot of time with her new toy in the near future.
“They can’t learn anymore,” Pidge said, unfortunately they had already been programed with everything the AI had learned from Lance, she thought it only had access to the sentries on the ship?
“So I can destroy the AI?” Lance asked, raising his bayard towards the best computer Pidge had ever seen.
“No, no, no,” Pidge said, panicked as she bodily blocked the terminal from Lance’s bayard. Lance swung his bayard away from her.
“Pidge!” He had a bit of a crazed look in his eye for just a moment.
“I want it,” Pidge said.
“Oh, my god,” Lance said, and he was angry. “You will never, ever, deliberately walk into my line of fire again. Do you understand me?”
“Do you understand me?!”
“Yeah, I understand,” Pidge said.
Lance muttered to himself for a bit before taking a deep breath. “Lance to Shiro,” he said. “Um, it’s done. Bomb’s shut off.”
“Are you secure?” Shiro asked, coming in on both of their comms.
“I don’t know how many are outside,” Lance said. “But the door’s holding for now.”
“We’ll bring the rest of the fleet in,” Shiro said. “Hunker down for now. Pidge, get the containment vessel ready for transport.”
“You’ve got it,” Pidge said.
The pounding from outside sounded louder. Pidge got to work taking all of the extraneous bits off of the containment vessel so it could be separated. Most of the parts were clearly Ocaampan, and Pidge wasn’t sure if they wanted to collect all of it or if it should just be destroyed. Hunk actually probably should have been there for this part.
“You alright?” she asked.
Lance didn’t answer immediately and then he seemed to shake himself a bit. “Yeah,” he said.
“Good,” she said. “Shoot this.” She tossed one of the parts she’d pulled off the bomb into the air away from them.
Lance seemed to react on instinct and blasted it out of the air. That was pretty well destroyed.
Pidge grinned; she could make a game out of it. Lance clearly needed cheering up. She kept throwing parts into the air when she pulled them off, and Lance kept vaporizing them.
Shiro came back on over the comms. “We’re finished up out here. Keith and I are docking with the strike teams,” he said. “We’ll be there before you know it.”
“Be careful,” Lance said. “I’ve trained those sentries pretty well.”
“I think you’ve trained them to fight a very specific type of threat,” Pidge said. “And they won’t be able to adapt past that.”
“Huh,” Lance said.
“Pidge, there’s another thing,” Shiro said. “Lance has a device hidden inside his left forearm guard. I need you to take custody of it.”
“It’s not over,” Lance said. “I get to keep it until this is over.”
“It’s over Lance,” Shiro said. “Whatever happens from here on out, it’s over.”
Lance looked mutinous, but he said. “Copy that.”
Pidge looked at him, not sure what she was worried about, but knowing she should definitely be worried. Lance sighed. He pulled some sort of sheath out from his forearm guard and handed it to her. He looked at it like it was something precious. She could feel his eyes as she went back over to the bomb and continued working. She thought he was looking at whatever it was.
“Be careful with that,” Lance said.
“What is it?” Pidge asked, really not wanting to know.
Lance probably didn’t want her to know either, because he hesitated a moment and said, “Don’t worry about it.”
“So I should take it out and figure it out for myself?” Pidge asked.
“No!” Lance said. “Look it’s just an emergency thing, if I have to force myself to loop.”
“It’s for suicide?” Pidge shouted, holding it closer as if Lance was suddenly going to lunge for it.
“No,” Lance said. “Because I wouldn’t really be dead.”
“Lance,” Pidge said. “That’s… this whole thing’s messed up.” This whole thing, reliving the battle so many times, getting captured, dying.
“I know,” Lance said. “Just, come on, there’s still work to do.”
There was still the pounding outside the door.
Pidge tossed some more things for him to shoot, and she knew he was focused on the game so she grabbed the sheath and threw it in the air. Lance vaporized it.
“Was that just…?” Lance asked.
“Yep,” Pidge said.
“I might still need it,” Lance said, and that was the most worrying thing he’d said yet.
“Not on my watch,” Pidge said.
That was when the doors buckled. Lance grabbed Pidge and pulled her behind the containment vessel. They probably wouldn’t shoot it.
Some Galran Commander walked in with ten sentries flanking him. He sneered at the partially disassembled bomb.
“I suppose you Paladins will have to be my consolation prize,” he said, his eyes zeroing in on Pidge, making her skin crawl. “I did not think one of you would be so small, I simply must learn what it is that makes you one of the Paladins that has been causing so much trouble for the Empire.”
Lance yelled out something primal, activating his thrusters and rising above the fray. He fired at the commander, only to be blocked by a sentry jumping in the way. He dove down to get closer, his shield forward to batter through the sentries in front of the Galra. None of this was part of his plan though; he couldn’t be predicting anything. He fought messily, he’d lost the cool calm he’d had going through the ship, and he was brutal, and he got hurt, and Pidge didn’t know what would happen next, but she wasn’t going to let Lance die and have to redo it all over again.
Pidge charged out and lassoed two sentries, zapping them and pulling them off balance so they crashed into another. Two of them started shooting at her but she kept her shield up, even as Lance dropped one of them. The other one of them charged at her though and Pidge activated her thrusters to get out of its reach, but it grabbed her by the ankle and slammed her into the ground next to the Commander. She hit the ground with a violent thud and all of the breath was knocked out of her; she could see the sentry looming over her through the stars in her eyes, and then Lance bellowed, and then the sentry was crashing to the ground, and then the commander was reaching for her, a long Galran dagger in his hand, and Lance was yelling inarticulately and then the Galra stopped advancing on her because his head had been vaporized, and Lance was screaming now and he fell to his knees staring at the headless corpse that had fallen to the ground next to her.
“Lance?” she asked him.
He looked over at Pidge a wild look in his eyes and he lunged at her, there was a panicked look on his face. “Where are you hurt?” he asked.
“You’re hurt,” Pidge said. “I’m fine.” Lance was bleeding. He was bleeding all over.
It took a moment for Lance to look down at himself, a moment for him to stop searching her for injuries, a moment to care about his own.
“Oh,” Lance said. She wanted to cry, there was so much blood. “Tevis never lets me die,” he said, smiling at Pidge, and then she really did start to cry. She started binding his arm, while Lance shoved some coagulant into his side. It would hold for just then. Lance kept looking at his arm as Pidge wrapped it like he was expecting something bad, when the wound in his side was so much worse.
“Lance to Shiro,” he said, breathing fast and shallow but sounding blank. “Be advised, the blast doors are… well they aren’t doors anymore.”
“What’s your status?” Shiro asked.
“We’re okay,” Lance said.
“Pull security while Pidge finishes,” Shiro said. “We’re almost there. There’s hardly any resistance. This was a stealth mission?”
“I might have had to change tactics,” Lance said, shooing a very worried Pidge back to the bomb while he posted himself in front of the door and hunkered down behind his shield, his rifle pointed down the hall at the ready.
“How long ago was that?” Shiro asked.
“A few hundred loops ago,” Lance said. Pidge was sure that Shiro could hear the strain in his voice.
“Better warn me when you get here,” Lance said. Pidge supposed he was going to shoot whatever came around the corridor next.
“Of course,” Shiro said.
Keith led Alpha team. He didn’t know why he’d asked Shiro to let him take Alpha, but he thought it had something to do with Lance’s fondness for them. His HUD told him Lance was just around the corner.
“Keith to Lance,” he said. “I’m coming in.”
“Roger,” Lance said, and Keith couldn’t tell how Lance was doing just from the sound of his voice. He rounded the corner and there was Lance, posted behind his shield, his bayard lowered so they could approach. Even with his armor colored black, his blood stood out starkly against it. He rushed forward towards Lance, and Lance looked so tired. Katolliss must have taken over for him, because Alpha went about their business securing the area, while Keith latched onto Lance’s shoulders and searched him for injuries. His arm was wrapped up, and there was something horrible on his side that was covered in coagulants. Lance practically collapsed into him.
“I need to take care of that,” Keith said. The gaping wound was still weeping blood and it really needed a compression bandage.
“‘m fine,” Lance said. His breathing was rapid but shallow.
“No you’re not!” Pidge hollered.
“You won the bet,” Lance said.
“What?” Keith asked.
“We made a bet, the very first time,” Lance said, staring him in the eyes with a desperate need Keith couldn’t fathom how to answer. “I lost it a long time ago.”
Keith wanted to hold onto Lance and never let go. So he did, for a bit.
“I think I met your mom,” Lance said.
Katolliss interrupted before Keith could even process that.
“Area’s secure,” he reported. “Did those sentries give you trouble? They didn’t give us any bother at all.” It was formulaic for the Antedian, and even Keith could hear the barely concealed awe in his voice.
Lance laughed in a way that didn’t sound like Lance, and Keith told Katolliss to double up on security. Nothing was getting to Lance. Keith looked around the room, at the doors blasted inwards, at the fallen sentries and a headless Galra.
“Come sit down over here,” Keith said. “I’m going to check you over.”
The area secure though, it was the medic who came to check Lance over. Lance allowed Keith to sit him down and Keith was layering another compression bandage around Lance’s middle while the medic tried to talk him into taking a pain killer.
“Need to stay alert,” Lance said.
“That’s what we’re here for,” Keith said.
“Pidge took a rough fall,” Lance said.
That was when Shiro got in with Bravo team and suddenly something overcame him and Lance started crying. Keith held him, and work happened around them as they got the bits of stollen Ocaampan technology ready to go.
“You’re a good friend,” Lance said quietly, his head in the crook of Keith’s shoulder.
“Always,” Keith said, even though he wanted more. Even though he’d failed his soulmate so horribly, had let so many terrible things happen to him. Then Keith found out about Lance’s ‘Way Out,’ and his heart broke again. Shiro wasn’t happy that there wasn’t any proof that the thing had actually been destroyed.
“Did you actually see that it was still in the sheath?” he asked Pidge.
Shiro brokered no buts, which was fine with Keith, because he wasn’t taking any chances, though against Keith’s objections Shiro insisted Lance ride back to the castle with him so he could be under Shiro’s watchful eye until he could get his armor off and prove he wasn’t hiding it anywhere. Keith was the one who should be keeping Lance under a watchful eye. Lance kept insisting he wasn’t suicidal, which Keith desperately wanted to believe.
“What if I get captured next mission?” Lance asked quietly, and Keith thought he was the only one to hear, so he was probably the only one who spent the entire ride back to the castle raging over what the Galra had done to his soulmate.
Shiro didn’t need to worry about keeping a watchful eye on Lance though; nothing happened. Keith and Alpha escorted Lance and Shiro to the Black Lion along with the Ocaampan tech. The whole while, the Antedians ribbed Lance for having so much trouble from a few lousy sentries. Shiro confiscated Lance’s bayard when they got to Black. Once they were off, Keith took both Alpha and Bravo to Red, destroying the two straggling sentries that crossed his path with extreme prejudice. He had to squeeze a handful of Antedians into the cockpit with him in order to fit the entire strike team into Red.
Red growled along to the anger in his mind and he kept Keith focused as he detached from the Galran cruiser and joined the fleet. Debris from the destroyed Galran ships littered the battlefield, the Cruiser that had escaped from the Tartan system just the day prior the only one left mostly intact.
“Anything left on that cruiser?” Keith asked.
“No signs of life,” Pidge said. “I don’t think we left anything behind, but I didn’t have a chance to go through their databanks.”
“I’m going to destroy it,” Keith said.
“Go ahead,” Shiro said.
He took his time. It was a meaningless gesture, but it made him feel better. It had been an exhausting battle for all of them, and an emotional battle for Keith. Watching the ship that had been the center of everything Lance had gone through blow up was cathartic.
They got back to the castle and Keith almost lost it when he got sent out immediately after he dropped off the Strike Team. Several ships in the fleet had taken damage, and without knowing if any other cruisers had been redirected towards them, they weren’t taking chances while they got the damaged ships prepped to go through a wormhole. Pidge was being assessed for a concussion, since her helmet had registered a strong blow, so it was just the Black, Yellow, and Red lions patrolling while Sif and Nang’ok repair crews got dispatched to the damaged ships. Of course, the Black, Yellow, and Red lions had all taken significant damage during the fight, but Coran assured them that spending time with them would speed up the ‘healing’ process.
“How is he?” Keith asked for the third time.
“He’s in a healing pod, number four,” Coran told him over the comm.
“And?” Keith asked.
“And everything’s going as it should,” Coran said.
“How long?” Keith asked.
“He should be out tomorrow afternoon if we don’t transfer him to an Ocaampan facility sooner,” Coran said.
“Keith, I want you further out,” Shiro told him.
He was supposed to be patrolling on the perimeter of the fleet, but he’d found himself getting closer and closer to the castle (towards Lance). “Correcting course,” Keith said.
“I know you’re worried about Lance,” Shiro said. “But the healing pod will take care of him, and if it doesn’t we have some new friends who’ll take care of it.”
“I’m not worried about the healing pod,” Keith said. He’d seen it take care of worse than a hole in someone’s gut.
“He’s been through a lot,” Shiro said.
“They had him,” Keith growled. “For months.”
“I know,” Shiro said.
“Then you know what they did to him,” Keith said.
Shiro didn’t say anything.
“Sorry,” Keith mumbled. “I know you don’t really remember.”
“I remember enough,” Shiro said. “I also don’t think… Keith, I was a random alien they picked up, I spent the whole time in their arenas. Lance was captured as a Paladin of Voltron.”
Keith didn’t need to imagine what could have happened to Lance. He had enough encounters with the Galra in past lives to have a decent idea of how the Empire treated their enemies. Of course, the only thing he needed to know was that Lance had asked for a way to kill himself so he could avoid it happening again. He knew his soulmate well enough to know that he couldn’t just go up to him and suggest that he’d done enough, that it was okay to find somewhere safe and let someone else take up the mantle. No matter how bad it had gotten, Lance wouldn’t quit.
Keith finally got to head to the infirmary when the fleet was ready to move out; everyone did. He knew he wasn’t the only one worried about Lance, but he didn’t really feel like being surrounded by everyone else. Pidge was on her laptop on one of the treatment beds while some Altean device attached to her head did it’s thing, while a handful of the more critically injured among the fleet had been brought in and were sitting through treatments or in healing pods of their own. Shiro went over to Pidge while Keith and Hunk went over to Lance’s healing pod. Lance looked peaceful; he always looked peaceful.
“Are we moving him to an Ocaampan facility?” Keith asked.
“The healing pod will heal him just fine for now,” Shiro said. “There’s no need to interrupt the healing process and we don’t want to be anywhere predictable until all repairs are made to the fleet. Besides, he needs his rest.”
Lance would already be healed if the Ocaampans saw him.
Eventually, Shiro got them changed out of their armor and fed and then it was just Keith back in the infirmary waiting with Lance and the other’s in the healing pods. The pods emptied one by one as people got better. There was an Antedian woman who came in time for each of her people when they were scheduled to get out, but it was just Keith there waiting for Lance when the two Nang’ok came out and he made himself useful helping them off to the side where there was food for them while they regained their equilibrium.
“I guess you’ll have me at a disadvantage now,” Keith said when it was finally just the two of them. “You probably remember plenty of things that I’ve forgotten.”
He blamed his fatigue for the fact that he hadn’t heard the princess come in.
“He knows he’s a Wanderer now; he knows you are too,” the princess said. “Have you considered telling him the rest of it?”
“He knows about me?” Keith asked.
“When he woke me up this morning, he didn’t just tell me that I’d told him he was a Wanderer. He told me that you had revealed yourself as well, that you remembered your past lives. You could tell him the rest.”
“You’re too invested in our bond,” Keith said.
“I want one pair of soulmates to have a happy ending,” the princess said, checking the readout on Lance’s healing pod. “You have him, here with you. You’ll have him in your next life. You’ll always have each other, but each life matters, and shouldn’t you have what happiness you can get while you can?”
“And what if this day is always the place he will go when he dies?” Keith asked.
“Then the consequences would be far greater than the troubles of two Wanderers,” the princess said. “If that were the case then our timeline would never advance past Lance’s own lifespan. Though I suspect the effect would fade given enough iterations, I can’t be certain. Fortunately, I am confident Alchemy can correct this when Lance is healed at the very least.”
Keith wasn’t dumb. He often missed things when he was talking to people, because people often didn’t say what they meant, but he knew there was something the princess had been keeping from him. “Were you ever going to tell me that you’re a Wanderer too?” he asked.
The princess frowned. “It wasn’t a situation I wanted to discuss,” she said.
“Even as you meddle in my own?” Keith asked.
“My soulmate died ten thousand phoebes ago on Altea,” the princess said severely. “And for all my knowledge of the Wanderers, for everything I know about alchemy, I have no idea what’s happened to her since. I don’t know if she’s been reborn countless times, with memories of a soulmate she would never meet, or if her soul will have moved on without mine, or if she’s just been drifting out among the stars, waiting for me to wake up. I don’t know, Keith, and I may never know until I’ve gone on to my next life to find if she’ll be there, if she’ll still recognize me, or if she’s forgotten me under the weight of all the intervening lifetimes we’ve spent apart.”
Keith didn’t have any words to make it better. “I’m sorry,” he said.
The princess sighed, looking over Lance’s peaceful body in the pod. “I cannot blame you for asking,” she said.
“You must hate them,” Keith said.
“The Galra,” Keith said. “I think I hate them more than I’ve hated anything in my entire existence.”
“I suppose I do,” the princess said. “Even though I know it’s wrong.”
“Wrong?” Keith asked. “They tortured him. They had him for months and they tortured him and when he laughed today it was a stranger’s laugh, and I don’t know how to fix any of this, but I know who to blame.”
“You can certainly blame them,” the princess said. “You can certainly hate them, but something we discuss often in council meetings is the endpoint. What does the Voltron Alliance consider the endpoint to be?”
Keith had never been convinced that there could ever be an endpoint.
“Is there some demarcation point where we will draw the line? Content to allow the Galra so many star systems, as long as hostilities cease? One single planet for them to call home? This all started when they lost their homeworld. How will we seek justice? Can justice be sacrificed for peace? It hasn’t come up yet, but it will eventually; we’ll add a people to the Alliance who have bled heavily fighting the Galra, and they will demand the blood of their enemy in payment. They might demand all of it, and I can’t allow that, Keith. If I am to carry out the legacy of my people, then I cannot avenge my people, and I cannot allow Voltron to be a part of that. I can’t afford to hate them, because I swore a long time ago to uphold my people’s values.”
“So what?” Keith asked. “You think the Galra are just going to stop being the Galra?”
“They were a different people once before,” the princess said. “The Galra had been friends of Altea. I grew up with Galran friends, the Galra went into battle besides us, and until Zarkon betrayed us, I would never have had reason to think that they could ever be our enemies.”
“You think they’re redeemable?” Keith asked.
“I don’t know,” the princess said.
“They killed your soulmate,” Keith said.
“And she stood for peace,” the princess said. “The destruction of an entire people damages everyone involved. The Galra themselves are a prime example. I will not stain Altea’s legacy, nor will I lead all of the peoples of this alliance to that fate.”
“I wasn’t saying we should kill all of them,” Keith said.
“So what does peace look like?” the princess asked.
Keith didn’t know what it looked like. He’d seen war and destruction in so many of his lifetimes. “There has to be justice,” he said.
“I thought you just wanted the Galaxy to be a safe place for your soulmate,” the princess said.
Keith cast his gaze over to Lance.
“When are you going to admit you would be in this fight even if you’d never had a soulmate?” the princess asked.
“I would have always fallen in love with Lance,” Keith said. “And he would always have fought.”
Keith scowled. “I don’t know,” he said. “Yes, if I didn’t have my memories, and if I’d never met Lance and I’d just found myself out here, yeah, I’d have agreed to fight the Galra, but I do have my memories, and I have Lance, and you know where my priorities lie.”
“You’re welcome here, whatever brought you,” the princess said.
“So what if it was a Galra who came here and said they wanted to fight the empire, you’d be fine with that?” Keith asked.
The princess was silent for a moment. “I don’t know what peace looks like yet,” she said. “But I don’t think I want to know what it looks like if no Galra ever takes the opportunity of the Alliance to step away from the Empire.” He didn’t miss that she hadn’t answered his question. People often didn’t say what they meant.
“Right,” Keith said. “I guess they’ve just been waiting for someone to tell them it was okay to do the right thing.”
“Do you think we’d know if any of them did? I’ve learned the histories of many worlds, Keith,” the princess said. “I don’t know Earth’s, but can you tell me there have been no genocides in your history, and did no one stand against it?”
He couldn’t. “So is that universal?” he asked. He didn’t really need to ask. He had memories spanning countless planets.
“Not universal,” she said. “I wish you could have met the Pemalites, but they were perhaps the exception. The Ocaampans were not always pacifists, and I won’t tell you there were never dark corners in Altea’s history.”
“I’m betting you never destroyed a planet,” Keith said.
“Not on purpose,” she said sadly. “It’s getting late. Were you planning on sleeping here?”
He didn’t like sleeping in a room he couldn’t lock. He didn’t like leaving Lance alone. One option was to just not sleep, but Shiro would probably be by to check in on him. He only needed four hours of sleep at the most. He only ever needed four hours of sleep, because he wasn’t human, and Lance had met his mother when he’d been a Galran prisoner. He wondered what she’d done to him and he felt sick. He wondered what the princess would have said if she knew what he was, though that wouldn’t really matter. People often didn’t say what they meant.
He got up from the floor where he’d been leaning against Lance’s healing pod and said good night to the princess. When he got to his quarters his eyes immediately fell on the pad that the Ocaampans had given him. Tapping it on, he selected the tab for ‘Species.’ A moment later he dashed the tablet against the wall.
The next morning found Keith waiting in the medical bay. People came to visit. Shiro, first thing in the morning, then Hunk brought him food, and Coran stopped by periodically to check the healing pod. Pidge joined him and camped out on one of the treatment beds. Everyone wanted to strike up a conversation that Keith didn’t want to have. Lance probably would have wanted him to be friendly, but Keith didn’t have it in him. Keith started to really watch the clock after lunch.
“Your boyfriend was pretty awesome,” Pidge said, during a moment that had previously had Keith wondering what horrible things his mom had done to his soulmate. “Don’t tell him I said that. I already complimented him once yesterday and I don’t want it to go to his head.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Keith said.
“Does he know you like him?” Pidge asked.
“Why does everyone care about this,” Keith asked.
“Small ship,” Pidge said.
It wasn’t really, it was just a small crew.
The Alteans and the rest for the team walked in then. It really was close.
“How’s he doing?” Shiro asked.
Keith wasn’t sure what answer he was expected to give, but then the healing pod beeped and opened with a hiss of air. Keith was there to steady Lance.
“You’re okay,” Keith said. “We’re all here. It’s over.”
“It’s over,” Lance echoed.
“You saved everyone,” Hunk said.
“You got me through without a scratch,” Pidge lied.
“The feat of a true Paladin,” the princess said.
“Good work, Lance,” Coran said.
“Oh, just wait,” Lance said. “Next time I won’t even get hurt.”
“There’s no next time,” Keith said. “It’s over.”
“Yeah,” Lance said. He didn’t sound right. Lance had his arm around Keith for support and Keith got him propped up on one of the exam beds.
“Lance,” the princess said. “I’m going to examine your quintessence now. I should be able to separate you from the time loop.”
“No,” Lance said, immediately.
“You won Lance,” Pidge said. “You don’t need to go back again.”
“But what if something goes wrong in a future mission?” Lance asked.
“How many times are you going to relive this war, Lance?” Keith asked.
“As many times as I have to,” Lance said.
“That’s not an option,” Shiro said.
“Well why not?” Lance asked. “If I can make it better, then why not?”
“Because there is a risk that our universe will never age past your lifespan,” the princess said. “Lance, there are very few alchemists out there who will be able to do this for you. I cannot allow this to go on any further.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Lance said.
“None of us do,” Shiro said. “You’ll get used to it again.”
It might have been that simple if one of the Sif delegates hadn’t walked in then.
“Ambassador Tuv’ek is asking about a return wormhole for the dead,” they said. “Nang’ok funeral rights must be completed within one of their days, and they would prefer to perform them on their home world if possible.”
“What?” Lance asked.
“Just one dobosh,” the princess told them. “I’m almost done here.”
“No one was supposed to die,” Lance said when the delegate left.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Hunk said.
“I can fix it,” Lance said. “Tell me what happened, I can go back and warn them, I can fix it.”
“And if you can’t get it done then?” Shiro asked. “How many more times will you do this.”
“Until it’s perfect,” Lance said. “I can stop them from dying, I can stop everyone from dying.”
“No,” Keith said. “You’ll save them, and then things will be different and someone else will die; it won’t stop Lance. It was a battle. It was a large battle. You can’t control every aspect of it. Ships took damage, they’ll always take damage, and people are going to get hurt.”
“Just one more try,” Lance said.
“For all I know we’ve already had this conversation,” Shiro said.
“We haven’t,” Lance said.
“When did you start lying to me?” Shiro asked.
“When I realized that people would die if I didn’t,” Lance shot back. “You would have sent the Strike Team. Every single one of them died the first time. There were too many variables. They didn’t need to die, because I could do it without them.”
“It’s not happening Lance,” Shiro said. “And we’re not leaving you by yourself until you can’t loop anymore.” He didn’t have to explain the significance of that to any of them.
Lance shook his head. “I said no one has to die,” he said.
“That’s not really up to you,” Shiro said.
“Dude,” Hunk said. “Maybe your body is fine every time you do this, but it’s wearing on you all the same. You can’t do this forever.”
“You think I don’t know I was the wrong Paladin for this to happen to?!” Lance asked.
“That’s not what I meant,” Hunk said.
“Then you don’t get it; it took me five hundred times because I failed four hundred and ninety-nine times. I saw you die over three hundred times, because I couldn’t get it right, I saw Pidge die well over a hundred because I couldn’t get it right, but I did eventually because this has made me stronger, saving you made me stronger, and I can do it again, even if someone else could have done it faster, I can do it again as many times as it takes.”
Lance sounded angry, but he was also crying and when Keith put his hand on Lance’s shoulder Lance hugged him, surprising him. Then Hunk was hugging the both of them for some reason. Keith didn’t know if he could have done what Lance had, and he didn’t know how to make him feel better, but there was one important thing they needed to get Lance to accept.
“It’s over,” Keith said. “It’s over.”
“You saved us,” Hunk said. “You saved so many people.”
Lance kept crying, and Keith kept holding him.
“I’m sorry Lance, but it’s time,” Shiro said.
Lance nodded, and Keith moved over just enough for the Princess to approach.
“I could save them,” Lance said, one more time, quietly, looking down at his lap.
“I know,” the princess said, causing Lance to look up. “But right now we need to save you, because the Galaxy needs you to be whole.” She was looking at the both of them when she said it. Keith barely avoided the urge to roll his eyes.
The princess took Lance’s head into her hands and though he flinched he didn’t resist her.
“Yes,” the princess said after a while. “I will need a circle.”
They’d seen enough alchemy in the past to know what to do. Keith took hold of Lance’s right hand, and Pidge took hold of his left. Shiro and Hunk closed the circle, the five Paladins surrounding the princess who still held onto Lance. Pidge wasn’t even grumbling about alchemy not making sense.
Keith felt something. He wasn’t sure if it was his connection to Lance, or if it was the circle, but something in him seemed to flare and then it was over. The princess went to go open a wormhole with Coran supporting her. Whatever she had done it had taken a lot out of her, and of course opening another wormhole wouldn’t exactly make her feel any better.
Lance insisted he go to the service. No one argued this point at least. Shiro ran to get him his formalwear. Hunk packed up some food for Lance to eat on the way, since he hadn’t even had anything at all since he’d come out, and Keith walked him to Red, because Lance was definitely not going alone.
They’d attended ceremonies before for the dead among the fleet, but this was the first time they’d accompanied the dead back to their home. Keith stayed by Lance’s side. He was surprised to see a Kormian delegation until he remembered Kormia had been in the blast radius of the bomb. Keith had, for the most part, considered it a battle to save his soulmate, but of course the Kormians would honor those who had died in a battle that saved their planet.
It was on the ride back to the fleet when Keith finally asked. “Did she hurt you?”
“It felt weird,” Lance said. “But it didn’t hurt.” It was the first thing he’d said since they’d left the Nang’ok homeworld.
“My mom,” Keith said.
“Oh,” Lance said. “No, she tried to free me. It didn’t work, but she did try.”
She tried to free him? Why? And how had it even occurred to Lance that Keith’s mother could be an alien?
“How could you tell?” Keith asked.
“Same dagger,” Lance said. “Also the resemblance is pretty uncanny considering you look completely human.”
“But how did you even know?”
“Oh. It came up in one of the loops,” Lance said. “I don’t know why she left you, but I think it’s because she had to fight the Galra.”
“She is Galra,” Keith said, because he wasn’t sure yet that Lance actually knew, and hadn’t seen someone else who just happened to share a resemblance.
“Yeah,” Lance said. “She’s part of their secret resistance. So that’s cool.”
They had mandatory downtime when they got back to the castle. The whole fleet was still finishing repairs and Lance figured everyone was still worried about him since he’d had to go and throw a fit in front of his team. Everyone was super nice to him, but Lance kept wondering if they were planning to replace him. Lance lost the right to be alone when Keith caught him trying to pocket one of the poisonous polletos from the kitchen. No one understood that it was just a precaution.
Things felt a bit more normal the next day, regardless of how poorly he’d slept. They started out with a debriefing. They wanted to know everything, but they were most interested in what he’d seen at the Galran High Command. He wished there was more he could give them. He wished it was just the team there, but it was the full council as well as the Alpha and Bravo team leaders.
Lance described the route through the facility, but left out being presented before Zarkon naked. He described the druids but left out the pain sticks. He told them about the prison block but left out specifics of what had happened in his cell. He told them about Matt, but he didn’t tell them what Haggar had done to finally strengthen the bond. He told them about Keith’s mom, but left out the fact that she was Keith’s mom.
“You’re sure she was trying to free you?” Shiro asked.
“They didn’t know I was looping,” Lance said. “I made sure of that, and besides, they had already won, I saw that they had Blue at least. If they knew that killing me would send me back so I could do it all over again, they would have tried to stop me from looping or put me in a stasis pod or something.”
“Whatever reason they oppose Zarkon, we cannot assume that they fight for anyone’s interest but their, own,” one of the Sif technocrats said.
“She talked about hope,” Lance said. It was the only real advocacy he could give for all that he’d spent so little time with her.
“Was your second capture the same?” an Antedian Admiral asked.
“They’d already deepened my bond to Blue,” Lance said. “They didn’t need to do it a second time. Everything happened faster, but I… I lost track of time a lot faster the second time. Keith came to free me the second time. He said everyone else was dead, that the Galra had won.”
“Did he have his lion?” someone asked.
“I don’t think so,” Lance said. “It was, um, a very short reunion.”
“You mentioned a third prolonged timeline,” Princess Allura said.
“Yeah,” Lance said. He knew the Kormians were probably bristling at how informally the briefing was being conducted, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. “The loop right after that, I was… It was sort of obvious that it had affected me, and I was grounded from the mission. The bomb went off. We lost three lions and four paladins. I lasted about a month in that loop.”
Lance had to then explain how poorly the war had progressed with only him for a paladin. Everyone kept interjecting to get information on different people’s they’d come across and planets that they’d discovered were important to the Galra. Everyone acted like he’d done great (except the Antedians of course), which was to be expected considering they all thought he was suicidal.
There were questions about his observations of how the sentries had adapted. In the timeline where the rest of Voltron had been killed along with the AI, Lance hadn’t observed any indication that the upgraded commands for the sentries had left the cruiser, but no one wanted to be surprised during their next engagement.
It lasted forever and they wanted other people to give their observations of how the AI had enhanced the sentries, so Pidge spoke, and so did Shiro and Keith, and then Katollis spoke and they actually needed Lance to leave at that point, because Katollis couldn’t say anything that could be seen as bolstering Lance’s ordeal while Lance was there to hear it. Even after that it wasn’t done and Lance went back so they could discuss everything but no decisions for future operations were made. Eventually the Paladins got released and Pidge dragged Lance off so they could look through planetary cartography. Lance was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be left alone any time soon, which was fine, he didn’t want to be alone. He’d had enough of being alone for all of his lifetimes. Also he’d promised Pidge that they’d find Matt. Unfortunately there were a lot of moons orbiting grey gas giants throughout the galaxy, even within their estimate for how close Matt was to the High Command, but it was a start. Lance didn’t really have anything to do, but he let Pidge talk him through what she was doing while she worked.
After dinner that night they threw him at a Plynthion psychiatrist, but it became apparent pretty quickly that the two species were not very compatible when it came to psychiatry. It took a couple of days for him to convince everyone that he wasn’t suicidal, and then they went back to work. It was Lance’s first time back in Blue since the whole thing had begun, and she welcomed him as though he had been gone from her as long as she had been gone from him. The hub that had supplied all of the cruisers for the ambush was hit first, since it was mostly unguarded; they destroyed it completely. They hit a sentry factory and a shipyard that same day. Lance spent that night alone in his quarters, and somewhere in the middle of his sleepless night his quarters turned into his cell, and it wasn’t until the wakeup call the next morning that Lance had realized the difference. It took him a while to admit that he wasn’t okay.
Ostensibly, Keith knew the princess had to train sometimes. He’d fought besides her when the Galra had taken the castle, he knew she could fight and that hadn’t come from nowhere, but it was still strange to wake up and get to the training deck and find her there already, kicking a training droid’s ass. He didn’t comment on it though, he just joined her wordlessly and attacked at her side. They worked at it for a time, but Keith kept glancing at his watch, knowing that Shiro would be up after a while.
“Lance didn’t tell you everything yesterday,” he said. “He thinks it was my mother who tried to free him from the High Command.”
The princess didn’t stop fighting the droid for a moment, and neither did Keith.
“Did you know?” she asked.
“I figured she wasn’t human,” he’d already told her as much when they’d first met. “I’d suspected, but I didn’t know what she was until I looked at the tablet the Ocaampans gave me.”
“Perhaps it was fate,” the princess said.
“You put too much faith in fate,” Keith said.
“By all rights, Lance should have died when he first breeched the containment vessel and began the time loop. I don’t think anyone could have predicted what happened to him. Moreover, the odds that a Wanderer would be the one to be exposed when all of the Chronotons were released are infinitesimally small. I have little else to go on but faith.”
“And me?” Keith asked.
“I don’t see my enemy when I look at you,” the princess said.
“Because I’m not purple?”
“Because you are my friend, and you have proven yourself to me,” she said.
“I thought the Galra were your friends,” Keith said.
“The point was that it could have been anyone. Any species; there wasn’t anything separating the Galra before it happened. That’s why I must be careful of where this alliance goes, because I will not allow one empire to be replaced by another.”
“You’d trust me, knowing I’m Galra?” Keith asked.
“You’re Keith,” the princess said. “You’re a Paladin of Voltron, and even if you weren’t, I’d know whose side you were on because you couldn’t be anywhere besides at Lance’s side.”
Keith went back to attacking the droid.
“You aren’t the one who hurt him, Keith,” the princess said. “And I think I’d like to meet your mother someday.”
“That makes one of us,” Keith said.
It didn’t take everyone long to realize that Lance had stopped sleeping in his quarters. It was just that he knew that Pidge stayed up late and she usually just passed out at her desk, so if Lance went to visit and just happened to pass out somewhere around 0100 in the morning, then that didn’t bother anyone. Somewhere along the way she’d put a blanket over him. If he took Blue out in the early hours of the morning to patrol around the fleet, then that was just a benefit to everyone, he could never be alone when he was with Blue. They were so much closer, he could feel her in his mind, he could extend his senses through her, he could feel her love through the bond.
Hunk and Coran probably noticed him tagging along whenever they went to do maintenance on the castle, and they always found something for him to do. Keith, of course, would always show up the moment he ever felt lonely, always having some challenge for him, if he wasn’t sitting next to him on a couch in the common area, letting Lance ramble on about anything that didn’t have to do with the war. The war was all Shiro ever knew to talk about, he never took a break from fighting it or planning for it, but it felt nice when he’d take Lance aside during morning workouts and talk about his progress on the team while they did pushups, and how much his dedication had gotten him through all five hundred loops, even though Shiro was exaggerating a lot.
They tried round two of therapy with the Ocaampans. Lance hadn’t thought they would be compatible at all, but their computers understood fundamentally how his brain worked and using a device that monitored his brainwaves, he could have a remote chat with an Ocaampan who could help him work through things. It helped. It might have been better if they didn’t approach every conversation in a completely detached fashion. It was less therapy with them and more of them giving him assignments and then checking his progress.
“You know,” Pidge said. “We’re the reason their planet even exists. That bomb would have taken them out too.”
“Still biter you had to give up your toy?” Lance teased. They had taken their two lions for a quick look at a Galran outpost on a moon surrounding a grey gas giant.
“Do you know what I could have done if I had more time?” Pidge asked.
“Probably taken over the galaxy,” Lance said.
“Exactly,” Pidge said.
“Just remember me when you’re empress of the galaxy,” Lance said.
Pidge snorted. “So, you fell in love with my brother.”
“What?” Lance squawked. “I didn’t fall in love. It was like, you know, purely platonic love.”
“And here was me getting ready to play matchmaker,” Pidge said.
When they got close enough Lance gave her a moment to do her thing.
“What have we got,” Lance asked.
“Definitely not a mining colony,” Pidge said. “No traces of Telerium either.”
“Any idea what they’re doing down there?” Lance asked.
“Looks like weapons testing,” Pidge said.
“Lets blow it up,” Lance said.
No reason to let the Galra know they were looking for something. Keith and Hunk were running a similar operation at a randomly selected small base.
“Next one will be the one,” Lance said.
“It better be,” Pidge said.
They turned and headed back for the wormhole.
“Thanks,” Pidge said.
“I just sort of lucked into it,” Lance said. “It wasn’t anything I did to get them to bring Matt in.”
“No,” Pidge said. “Everything else.”
“Oh,” Lance said. “You’re family,” he said, because that meant everything.
“Yeah,” Pidge said. “I know.”
“You’re going to meet my parents some day and I’m going to say, ‘this is my tiny baby, she is very smol.’”
“And the moment’s over,” Pidge said.
Hey, so, the next story in this series is going to closely follow this story, so I know I left Lance and others with a bunch of issues, but we'll be dealing with some of the fallout in the next story. That being said, if there's something you think should be addressed in the next installment, please let me know.
Alternate title for the next part of the series: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
As always, please review, it feeds me. (Please send Con/Crit as a PM)
Lastly, as I mentioned in the first chapter, this fic was inspired by another Voltron fic I read a long while ago with a very similar plot, it was never finished I don't think and I haven't been able to find it. If anyone know's what I'm talking about, please let me know because I'd like to link it.
Also the bit about 'no one has to die' 'that's nor really up to you' bit was from PitviperOfDoom's Yesterday Upon the Stair