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            Lance isn’t sure when it all started. He could guess—but he’d probably be wrong. All of his memories feel hazy anymore, and sometimes he’s not sure if something actually happened or if he just dreamed that it happened.

            That’s probably a symptom of the sleep deprivation—the haziness. He’s so tired all the time, but he can never sleep. And when he does, it’s not for long—he knows the others have nightmares worse than his, especially Shiro, and they definitely have better reasons to be having them, so he keeps his to himself. They’re not important, and it’s not like they’re what’s keeping him from sleeping—there are other reasons for that. Not that Lance knows what they are, he just…knows they exist. Because the nightmares aren’t keeping him from falling asleep in the first place, that’s just—him. His head. Thoughts, whatever.

            It doesn’t matter. He just drinks about a gallon of the Altean equivalent of coffee and he manages just fine. No one seems to question it, either—he’s notorious for not being a morning person.

            Hunk had given him a few weird looks, though—Lance guesses he remembers that Lance never drank coffee at the Garrison except during finals because it jacked up his ADHD even more and didn’t mix well with his meds.

            He doesn’t have his meds now, anyway—what a shocker, he didn’t have them on him when he got kidnapped by a robotic space cat. Not a big deal, he’s fine, and Hunk never said anything outright so no one else knows about his ADHD and it’s totally fine.

            Mostly. It would be—if the combined effects of the ‘coffee,’ not having his meds, the sleep deprivation, and the constant anxiety weren’t fucking up his focus.

            “Lance!” Shiro yells, agitated, snapping Lance out of his thoughts just in time for him to smash the controls to the right and avoid the laser fire coming at him. “What was that? Where do you think we are, vacation? Focus!”

            Focus. Always focus. Pay attention, Lance. Stop getting distracted, Lance. Focus, Lance.

            “Sorry, Shiro,” he mumbles but the black paladin is already moving on, barking orders at the others.

            Sorry, Blue, he adds, the guilt at almost getting her hurt eating into their mental bond.

            She hums quietly, and just like that, he’s forgiven.

            If only it was that easy with everyone else.

            He forces his attention back to the battle, with an amount of effort he really can’t afford to give. The alarms had gone off around 4am—too early for him to be up without arousing questions, so he hadn’t had his coffee yet and there was no time to grab some before heading to the lions. And it’s been nearly three days since the last time he managed to snatch a few hours of sleep.

            There’s a flash of shadows in his peripheral vision, and he jolts, whipping around to look for the cause of it—but there’s nothing.

            He sighs. Not a good time for that to be happening, the middle of battle—and he’d like to say that the hallucinations are new, he really would, but they’re really…not. Apparently they’re a side effect of sleep deprivation—who knew, right? They’re never really anything concrete, just shadows and vague shapes that aren’t really there. Not terribly worrisome, just inconvenient, because—well, more distractions.

            Blue chirps in alarm, and he spins her into another sudden roll to avoid more laser fire.

            Yeah—yeah, I know, I’m sorry, Baby, I’m trying. I’m just a little out of it today. Help me out a little?

            She doesn’t use words, exactly—well, she does, but only rarely—but he can always understand what she means to say anyway. Right now, for example, roughly translated, she’s saying, ‘You’re a fucking liar—but of course I’ll help.’

            He chuckles weakly at her, feeling warmth for her rise up—Blue’s the only one who always detects and subsequently calls him on his bullshit. He would’ve crashed and burned ages ago if he didn’t have her.

            A quick scan of the battle shows things going their way, starting to slow down a bit—nothing new, really, this is one of the smaller fleets, it hasn’t even warranted forming Voltron yet, which is a fact Lance is very grateful for. Finishing it up should be a piece of—

            Nope, wait—spoke too soon. Fuck.

            “Keith is a moron,” he announces out loud. He’s only talking to Blue; his comms are muted on his end so he can hear everyone else but they can’t hear him.

            Blue’s only response is faint amusement—but there’s an edge of agreement there as well.

            Keith’s managed to dig himself behind enemy lines—there’s a gap behind him from the path he carved for himself, but he’s too far ahead of the rest of the lions and if he’s not careful the Galra will—

            Yep, they’ll do that. Lance curses, shoving the controls forward with more force than strictly necessary as he watches with a mixture of irritation, exasperation, horror, and fear as Galran reinforcements move to fill the gap behind Keith and box him in, surrounding him on all sides.

            “Keith!” Shiro yells on the comms, and Lance almost rolls his eyes before switching his transmissions back on to respond.

            “I’ve got him,” is all he says. He’s used to saving everyone else’s—especially Keith’s—ass in battle. It’s kind of become his self-appointed job. Better him than them, anyway.

            Blue growls, and he winces, but doesn’t acknowledge her otherwise. He knows he’ll get a lecture from her later, but right now it’s not important.

            They dig their way through the ranks of Galran ships, finally slamming through the last line and into the empty space around Keith, just in time to ice a ship trying to get the drop on him from behind.

            “Keith!” he yells, letting a bit of his worry flicker through before scowling and continuing with, “What the hell were you thinking? Are you trying to get yourself captured?”

            Instead of acknowledging any of what Lance said, Keith opts for the ‘pretend he didn’t do anything wrong’ approach and goes, “Lance! What took you so long? A couple ticks later and I would’ve gotten hit!”

            “What took—are you kidding me? What took me so long? Are you insane?!? What took me so long—what’s taking you so long to get it through your thick mullet that being reckless and getting ahead of everyone else is not a good idea?!?”

            “Well, Red is the fastest—”

            “It doesn’t matter if Red’s the fastest! One member of a team isn’t supposed to constantly end up separate from the others!”

            Ouch. That’s a little too close to home there, buddy.

            “Lance! Keith! Both of you—quit fighting! There are real enemies that actually matter right now, unlike whatever imaginary rivalry you two have!”

            Okay, double ouch.

            Lance takes a deep breath and forces a mocking cheer into his voice.

            “Well, if he would just stop thinking with his mullet—”

            “Lance!” Four exasperated voices shout his name at once, and he lets a bitter smile creep up at the corners of his mouth before refocusing on the task at hand.

            What’ve we got, Blue? Think you can handle them?

            The giddy excitement running through her—like a housecat in a field of mice—is contagious, and the bitterness fades from his smile until it’s genuine.

            Yeah, sweetheart—you’ve got this.

            With that, they launch into action, abruptly switching from defense to offense and wiping out nearly two lines of Galran ships with their first shot of ice. Lance closes his eyes and lets his consciousness sink into Blue’s, enveloping his thoughts in the calming waves of her mind, seeing through her eyes and feeling what she feels. It’s easier to stay focused if he and Blue are more one than two, because she can keep him on track. Plus, he can’t hallucinate through Blue’s eyes.

            Next to them, Keith and Red start their own offensive. Lance keeps track of them out of the corner of his eye, watching their back, and he notices that when they use the fire attack, Red’s mouth and face spark with electricity—Lance feels a flash of concern for the number of hits that Red’s already taken before shoving it away and setting his sights on just finishing the battle as quickly as possible. Keith might be stubborn, but if anything major was malfunctioning with Red, he’d say something.

            Probably.

            Inevitably, because Lance’s luck is shit, right when things are starting to look good for them again, someone takes a shot at Keith that Keith doesn’t see.

            He doesn’t even think—not coherently, just something about shit fuck Keith’s lion’s armor is shit and he’s already taken too many hits, and, suddenly, he’s right there, knocking Red bodily out of the way and taking the hit to his right side.

            Blue goes spinning, crashing into debris and Galra ships alike, and Lance gets knocked around more than he’s comfortable with, biting his tongue at one point when he hits his head and filling his mouth with the taste of blood.

            They finally come to a crashing halt against a bigger piece of debris, and Blue rights herself, shuddering. For one brief, terrifying moment, the power flickers, and Lance has a mini heart attack before it comes back on and stays that way.

            He winces, pressing a hand to his sore chest and forcing a deep breath into his lungs to get them to cooperate. A cough claws its way up his throat before he can get it under control, and he wipes blood from his lips with his face twisted up in disgust.

            It takes him a second longer to work through the daze from hitting his head and actually hear all the yelling coming from the comms, but when he does, he wishes he couldn’t.

            He fumbles for the transmit button with his right hand, using his left to bring up Blue’s damage reports and see the extent of it—to his relief, it’s nothing major, just a few minor repairs that’ll be done in an hour or two at most. Red’ll probably have worse by the time all’s said and done.

            “Lance! Are you okay? Lance, answer us!” Shiro shouts.

            “Nice to know you care, big guy,” Lance jokes, clearing his throat in an attempt to make his voice sound less rough.

            The relieved exhales and exclamations almost make Lance smile, but they’re over before he gets the chance.

            “The hell were you thinking, Lance?” Keith demands, and he rolls his eyes.

            “I was thinking, Mullet Brain, that if you and Red took one more hit you’d be down for the count. After Green, you have the least amount of armor out of any of us. You’re welcome for saving your ass again.”

            Yeah, he’s in for so much lecturing later.

            “It doesn’t matter right now—Pidge and I will take care of the last of the ships; the rest of you, head back to the hangars. Lance, stick around; I need to talk to you.”

            “Sure thing, bossman,” Lance drawls, not bothering to respond to the annoyed groans from the other paladins that follow his comment and switching off his transmissions again so he can slump in his seat and start to take stock of himself.

            He’s sore all over, and he feels the way he used to imagine his teddy bears felt going through the dryer when he was a kid—wrung out, battered, and bruised. His helmet’s intact, which is a good sign, but he did hit his head pretty good there for a bit and he doesn’t feel anywhere near a hundred percent right now—although that could be caused by multiple other factors that don’t include a concussion. Either way, he’ll have to watch it.

            His ribs and chest feel like shit, but that’s to be expected after being tossed around like a ragdoll. Beyond that—he’s pretty sure the blood in his mouth is just from biting his tongue, and nothing’s broken, just bruised. All in all, he came out significantly better than expected. He’s had worse.

            You good, Blue? I’m sorry for that, darling, I know I didn’t think—

            She grumbles at him. Quit that. We both made that choice. We’re the protectors, Lance.

            He smiles softly at her. Thanks, Blue. I promise I’ll have Hunk fix you up soon as possible, okay, my sweet girl?

            That seems almost a lifetime away right now with what he has to look forward to—getting yelled at multiple times in one day is not Lance’s idea of fun.