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Notice the Tipping Point?

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Shiro had really hoped the buzzing would cease after a while, but it had been over two hours since the Druid’s spell had hit him and it was only getting amplified, causing an unbearable headache. He skipped dinner hoping to get some shut eye and get it go away, but laying down only made the headache worse and his room for some reason started to feel like an oven trying to boil him after a while. He couldn’t continue pretending the spell hadn’t had any effect except of the initial electro-shock it had inflicted.

Now the real question was what its real intent was.

As the heat continued to rise, Shiro groaned and crawled out of the bed, hoping that there was something for him in the medical bay. Worst case scenario: a few hours in the cryopod.

The whole room swayed when he attempted to stand and he leaned against the wall for support, hissing at how cold it felt against him, even through his clothes. Through half lidded eyes the room was spinning and his breaths were coming out short. Maybe leaving the bed hadn’t been such a bright idea. Or maybe ignoring he had been hit hadn’t been the bright idea.

After unreasonably long effort he managed to hit the button for the door to open and started walking through the corridors, using the wall to keep himself up and guide him. If Shiro had to be honest, he had no idea where he was going. Yes he started for the medical bay, and that was still his target, but technically he walked blindly and turned whenever the wall did. The buzzing in his ears and his heavy breathing made it inconceivable to even think at this point.

The wandering seemed pretty pointless after a while and if he could think, he would have to admit he was most certainly lost and also, that if his own body temperature rose any further, it could cause brain damage. But at the moment he was incapable of forming either of these thoughts. As a matter of fact, no real thoughts seemed to be within his reach. As he paused, leaning heavily against a wall, all he knew was that he was yearning for something.

Something primitive was pacing impatiently in his brain, like an animal trapped in a cage. It was like he was back at the arena, waiting to be thrown out and tear some monster or some poor soul apart. Only, much more eager for a prey than Shiro had ever been.

Actually… He wouldn’t mind tearing someone apart right now and considering his major need for relief, he knew how.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Lance would have honestly let it drop.

It wasn’t the first time after all that Shiro had smiled while excusing himself from the rest of them and Lance –having a major graduation degree at pretending he’s fine to not burden anyone- caught on that their fearless leader was not in his best. It hadn’t been his business to interfere, and it wasn’t like Shiro and he were, even after all these months, that familiar with each other. Hell they barely talked outside of missions, so the Cuban boy had kind of hoped Keith would catch on and talk to him about how obviously tired he always seemed to be. How he was clearly missing sleep, and how he spent too much damn time re-bonding with Black. But apparently Keith was blind to any mistakes Shiro was capable of.

In Keith’s eyes, Shiro was perfect (and fair enough, Shiro was still Lance’s hero too, but his admiration had never stopped him from seeing through the act Shiro put on for their sake), and Keith’s lack of human interaction and knowledge, probably didn’t help him notice the patterns that indicated Shiro wasn’t well. At least not as well as he tried to appear, even if all of them were already aware of his PTSD.

A couple of times Lance had tried to help. He would either remind him to eat, shoo him from the hangar or the training deck or nudge him and crack a joke when he saw his eyes glaze over to some flashback. Usually his input was dismissed. Very tactfully and politely, but dismissed nevertheless. Shiro would smile or nod and say he was fine or that he would sleep or eat, but after five minutes he seemed to forget about it.

Lance wasn’t happy about how little weight his words seem to have for his leader, but he didn’t complain. He knew his place in the team after all, he had grown accustomed to it.

Today though, he couldn’t just ignore the problem. He could have sworn Shiro was swaying when he left them in the kitchen and once he asked Pidge -who had been with Shiro at the Galra ship- if Shiro had been hit and they said that a Druid’s spell had caught him but Shiro had gotten up almost instantly, Lance’s uneasiness grew so he finished his food goo in a hurry and went to find Shiro.

When he knocked at the Black Paladin’s door there was no reply. Thinking he might had –wistful thinking, he knew- fallen asleep, he opened the door but the room was empty.

“Figures” he sighed and scanned the hall.

Maybe he did the sensible thing and went to the medical bay

As he turned the corner, toward the medical bay his ears caught something coming from one of the corridors on the right and he followed it. On the third turn, and as the sound, that now was clearly rapid breathing, got louder, Lance finally spotted the familiar tuff of blank hair on the person leaning against the wall.

 “Shiro! Are you ok? Pidge said you got hit and…” he commented with a frown as he rushed over. His voice seemed to alert Shiro of his presence because his shaky form went completely still “Yeah. You don’t look good”

Upon closer inspection Shiro looked even worse. He was barely keeping himself on his feet thanks to the column he was holding on and he was kind of radiating heat.

“Let’s get Coran to scan you, druidic magic is sneaky” Lance kept his voice soft. No need to panic yet, certainly Allura and Coran could fix whatever the druid had done. Gently he pulled on Shiro’s flesh hand to place it over his shoulders and help him carry his weight, but as soon as he touched him, the metallic hand was around his neck, pinning him against the wall with enough force for Lance’s head to have a painful impact and blank out for a tick. Once his eyes’ focus returned, he saw the prosthetic that was still closed around his neck, and then his gaze traveled up to the owner, whose head was still bowed and his whole frame moved at the pace of his deep, hoarse breaths.

“What the- Shiro…?” Lance breathed out hesitantly. Granted, he didn’t want to risk aggravating the person that could snap his neck like a toothpick in a flash, but since he wasn’t already dead, maybe Shiro was just startled or having another Post traumatic episode and interpreted Lance as a threat.

When Shiro finally decided to move, he raised his head and Lance gulped when their eyes met. The Black paladin’s pupils were completely dilated and wild, eyeing him with something akin to hunger.

“Shiro” he repeated, aware of the note of fear lacing his voice this time. He hoped to see some kind of recognition returning to the stare directed at him, but Shiro just growled.

Lance let out a shaky breath, as Shiro moved closer and when Shiro’s fingers shifted around his neck, he was pretty sure he was done for. Instead, the metallic thumb pressed his jawbone, forcing him to face away from the older and before he could comprehend what was happening, Shiro’s lips, tongue and teeth were all over his neck, claiming any spot they could in a near desperate pace.

Lance’s eyes widened, freezing in place at the sensation.

Oh Shit. Don’t tell me-

Sure enough, there was no mistaking at the hardness pressing against him when Shiro, using his flesh arm to pull Lance’s waist closer, squeezed their bodies together.

Oh Shit Shit SHIT! FUCK!!!

“Sh-Shiro!” Lance knew it wouldn’t have much of an effect, but there wasn’t much he could do. Using both his hands he tried to pry Shiro off him, but it was like trying to move a boulder. And a very horny boulder at that “Shiro, stop! Listen-“a series of cough cut his words as the taller gave his neck a warning squeeze, accompanied with a bite hard enough that Lance was certain it broke skin.

Lance whimpered, feeling completely hopeless at this point but took the message and kept quiet. He always knew that Shiro was strong, but right now it was practically humiliating how weak Lance was compared to him. He would mourn his own weakness if he didn’t have other things to worry about. Like how his clothes seemed to have started to annoy Shiro –or whatever it was that had taken over Shiro- and he had taken on to letting his flesh hand roam beneath them.

If the Blue Paladin hadn’t been completely terrified, and maybe under a little better circumstances, he might had found the fingers going from his ribs to his chest, to his waist, kinda lovely. But right now he would have gladly gone another round of the castle trying to eject him into space than have his hero trying to force himself on him.

Well. Trying wasn’t the right word; Lance couldn’t put up much of a fight with the threat of being strangled if he tried. Both his legs were restrained by Shiro’s anyway and his hands had no effect when he risked testing if they would. The pulling, pushing and scratching he attempted only appeared to excite the Black Paladin more if the way he rocked his hips against Lance were anything to go by.

Lance blessed every God in existence when he finally found an opening. Shiro had moved his prosthetic to his waist - to assist with Lances’ pants- and the boy didn’t wait before he bit down on Shiro’s ear as hard as he could. He tasted blood and Shiro hissed loudly, pulling back, and clutching at the bite. Once Lance was released from the wall-Shiro sandwich he made a run for it, one hand holding on the loosened jeans, to keep them from slipping off and tangling him.

‘Blue!’

Lance felt his lion rouse a lazily, before perking up when she sensed his distress and giving him her full attention.

‘Blue, there’s something very wrong with Shiro, I need the others!’

Blue rumbled at the back of his mind with concern but he didn’t have the chance to communicate any further as he came face to face with a dead end. Just his luck. This freaking castle was just a huge maze. In all their exercise he had found out he was faster that Shiro, faster than all of them actually, but this was useless if he had nowhere to run. 

And he had nowhere to run.

He turned at the sound of Shiro approaching with a feral look in his face, blood running over the side of his head where Lance had bitten. Lance backed against the wall unsteadily and mentally noted to carry his bayard everywhere from now on. Not that he wanted to shoot this Shiro, but at least he would have a mean to protect himself if something crazy like this ever happened and pose some threat.

“Sorry, sorry!!!” Lance yelped raising his hands defensively “But, seriously, Shiro. Snap out of it!”

Another animalistic noise was all Shiro provided as a response, once more closing the distance between them. Once Shiro reached at him, Lance dropped to the side and slipped under his arm in an attempt to make another run. This time he didn’t even manage to put any distance between them. As soon as he had dodged the black paladin, the other had launched at him, tackling him and throwing them both on the floor.

Lance found himself on his back with both his arms pinned above his head by Shiro’s Galran arm. While it was better than having it around his throat, the younger cringed at the pressure of the arm around his. That would definitely bruise. He tried to twist them to test the grip, but it didn’t budge. If Shiro’s human arm was strong, the metallic one was inescapable.

Shiro loomed over him and Lance considered making a last attempt at kicking, but if that failed, there was a high chance Shiro would tear him to pieces. He already looked very pissed at him.

Lance shrunk under the glare and bit his lip to keep down a pathetic whimper that was building up his chest.

Shiro had settled between his legs, having rolled Lance’s hips around his waist. This time around he decided not to risk releasing him, so he used his free hand to just rip the pants off Lance, who hissed when the waistband dug into his skin at every jerk. At being exposed, whatever was left from the blue paladin’s composure flew out of the window and he started to squirm and kick as hard as he could.

“No, nononono! Shiro, let go! Let go!!!” he had to practically fold to get one of the kicks to land on Shiro from this uncomfortable position. It proved to be a bad choice. As soon as a kick landed on target, Lance screamed as a crack echoed through the corridor, coming from one of his wrists, forcing him to cease his struggling. Lance’s eyes teared up from the pain and he sniffled weakly, a hiccupping sob followed when Shiro’s fingers started to wander to his most private areas.

“Shiro, please!”

Shiro’s form stilled and Lance blinked through the tears, noticing a green glow in his field of vision and specifically around the Black Paladin’s neck. They both directed their attention to it, in short lived confusion, before Shiro was yanked backwards, landing with a thumb, a few feet away from Lance.

Lance’s legs instinctively curled closed once there was no obstacle between them and he painfully dragged his broken wrist to cradle it, whimpering. He almost felt relieved upon realizing he was saved, until he heard Shiro grunt and groan and he jumped to sitting position in alarm, ready to bolt.

Shiro was just rising and his eyes traveled all the way through the green line, still around his neck, to Pidge, holding the other end of it, in their activated bayard.

Hunk and Keith stood in each of Pidge’s sides and all of them were frozen. Hunk looked disturbed and was holding his bayard in one hand, but it wasn’t activated, instead the other was on the line of Pidge’s bayard, clutching at it. Pidge had a look of horror and Lance could bet there were a thousand theories going through their head, trying to find a reasonable explanation for what was in front of them. Keith’s bayard was also activated but it was pointed to the ground and its owner looked like a lost puppy in distress as he glanced between Lance and Shiro.

Hunk’s eyes snapped on Lance when he cried out upon jolting his arm when he sat up and that was all the Yellow Paladin needed to get out his trance and rush to his friend’s side.

“Lance” he dropped to his knees close to Lance but seemed too afraid to touch him in case he hurt him any further. Any hint of anger had been replaced with concern.

Keith observed the display, not sure at all what to do, still trying to swallow what had just happened. His attention was forced back to Shiro when the Black paladin marched in for an attack at Pidge, who shirked, taken aback.

The red paladin rushed between them, blocking Shiro’s attack with his sword. He was very glad that Shiro had attacked with the metallic one, or he might have ended up losing another arm and Keith seriously didn’t want to hurt him.

“Pidge, get away!” Keith warned, gritting his teeth at the force Shiro was putting against him.

Pidge’s lasso dissolved and a second later, their bayard came forcefully under Keith’s arm, to Shiro’s abdomen, who yelled and spammed as the electric waves from Pidge’s attack traveled through his body. Keith and Pidge stepped back, watching Shiro collapse on his four. He was twitching but was still very much conscious, so Pidge walked around Keith and repeated their attack, this time centering it at the back of Shiro’s neck and kept it there with all their might.

“Pidge! Pidge! Enough, that’s enough!” Keith let his bayard return to its passive form and put the shortest paladin in a headlock, dragging them away from –the now very unconscious- Shiro.

“H-He tried to- He fucking tried to-” Keith could feel Pidge shaking with rage as they spat out their words, but at least their effort to escape his grip was half-hearted. Keith glanced at their fallen leader and then at the other two.

Lance let out a pained chuckle when he caught them watching, using Hunk for cover “Ha ha… Ha… Thanks, guys” a series of small, humorless and a lil hysterical giggles followed “You- heh, you literally saved my ass there” the hiccupping giggles turned into loud sobs and then to wailing.

Hunk’s heart broke. He carefully brought a hand to trace his face “It’s ok, buddy” he breathed out a sigh of relief when Lance leaned into the touch instead of away from it, and carefully led him into a hug “You’re ok now, sh shh… I’m right here, you’re ok…”

Lance let himself be enveloped in the warmth and safety Hunk provided. With his in-tact hand he gripped on the other’s clothes burying his face on Hunk’s shirt, crying his eyes out and possibly screaming all the way in the process.

Hunk sighed and he kept holding Lance close, waiting for him to let it all out while petting his hair. He looked up when he heard Keith approaching. Pidge stayed a few steps behind hoping to save some of Lance’s pride, even though they wanted nothing more than to huddle with them and reassure Lance he was safe.

“Um, Pidge, could you bring a blanket or something? I need to carry him to the med-bay”

Pidge nodded urgently and turned to leave, only to pause and look back “What about Shiro?”

“I have my bayard, if he gets up I can shoot him” Hunk replied and Pidge pretended they didn’t see the color leave Keith’s face at the statement. They just nodded once more and ran off.

“It was the druid’s spell! Shiro wouldn’t do such a thing”

“Probably not. But right now he still might be under the effect of the spell and I’m not risking it. Don’t worry, I’ll shoot him on the leg” even though it sounded like Hunk was trying to make a joke, from his tone Keith felt like right now, the Samoan boy would be delighted to blast Shiro to the next world.

“You have a blaster, Hunk” Keith pointed out as he crouched next to him, to take a look at the shaking boy in his arms.

Lance appeared to still be crying, but had quieted down, probably due to the pain and exhaustion, his breaths were still coming out short and he was clinging to Hunk for dear life.

Keith has been in his room when he had heard Red’s call and he saw Pidge leap out of their own as soon as he had stepped out. Then they saw Hunk running down the corridor and followed him. None of their lions could give them clear directions of what was happening or where they were supposed to go, but the images of Lance and Shiro had been projected in their heads with a wave of urgency coming from their lions, so they had to find them.

It was Lance’s bloodcurdling scream that had finally directed them. Keith doubted any of them would forget that sound anytime soon.

“… How is he?”

“I’m right here, mullet” Lance’s voice was hoarse and weak, but Keith, for once, was happy to hear the bite in it.

“Hey, Lance, are you hanging in there?” Hunk questioned, pulling him carefully a little higher so he could rest his head on his shoulder and Lance wrapped his good hand around his shoulders, keeping himself in place.

Lance let out a long, tired groan. Blue had been purring soothingly in his head nonstop. He could feel her distress but he was more than grateful to feel her presence. It seemed to keep him going for now “I’m in pain and my dignity has been damaged”

Hunk chuckled, as he rubbed his back “Don’t worry, it’s just Keith”

“Oh, wow” Keith pouted.

“Oh my god, did you guys murder Shiro?” Lance asked in alarm having view of the person in question, over Hunk’s shoulder now.

“He’s just unconscious”

“You don’t have to sound so disappointed” Keith remarked defensively.

“Hunk. He didn’t do it on purpose” Lance sighed.

“Guys, as I said I know, I like Shiro as much as the next guy. I mean, who doesn’t like him? I’m just a little pissed right now. I’m not a violent person, I’ll get over it-… eventually. But I can’t just glance over the fact he hurt and almost raped you! Brainwashed or not”

Both Lance and Keith flinched and kept quiet.

“Do we know for sure that’s the real Shiro?” Lance muttered, staring at the unmoving body on the floor.

Keith paused before nodding “Black says it is”

Lance huffed sarcastically “Last time she didn’t warn us”

“But she didn’t lie either. So if she says that’s Shiro, it’s Shiro”

A deep sigh left the Blue Paladin’s lips “Great…”

“Keith” Pidge called from across the corridor, holding a puffy blanket that almost covered them. Keith walked over to get it, barely catching a whisper exchange behind him.

“Thank you so much for coming…” Lance sighed as he nuzzled his face on his friend’s shoulder “I think that would have been the last drop…”

“Don’t mention it...”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The lovely wind chime gif was done by my dear friend lunarcatten on Tumblr

Chapter Text

The medical bay was awfully quiet.

It was something that tended to happen whenever one of them was inside a cryopod while the others waited and the tension was natural, they were all worried. But this experience was a little different.

Keith and Hunk sat on the floor, staring at the two occupied pods, while Pidge and the two Alteans were looking through words and numbers in one screen. Keith had no idea what they were looking at. He suspected that Hunk had a better understanding than him but had simply chosen to stay on guard in case Lance’s pod opened. Allura had said it would only take a few vagras for his arm, which had sustained the most damage, to heal.

Shiro’s pod though wasn’t programmed to open until it was allowed to.

“Ok” Allura walked over to them, tagging along one of the hovering screens “We’ve found the source of the problem and how to extract it. I’ll program the process immediately”

“Oh, good. I was kind of scared we’d have had to find him something to ride to get him back to normal and that would have been a little inconvenient” Hunk mumbled with a touch more venom than Keith would have liked. He had only seen this side of Hunk twice. Once was back when they had met Rolo and once more when again Lance had been involved but he hadn’t been this mean spirited.

“Ride?” Coran questioned with a small hint of fascination, probably wondering what ‘ride’ could be interpreted as on Earth.

“Don’t mind him” Pidge interrupted before Hunk could answer.

“Shiro will be back to normal when he wakes up?”

“Yes. According to all calculations, he should be. We’ll have to talk to him once he awakes though. Not bringing to our attention he had been hit by a spell was incredibly reckless” Allura paused in front of Shiro’s pod. He didn’t look as peaceful as they usually did in their pods, but that was probably due to the quintessence being filtered out of his system “I cannot believe the witch would sink so low”

 “Well, it wasn’t a bad plan” Pidge froze under the eyes that snapped at them, filled with emotions ranging from disapprovement to rage “Strategically speaking!” they rushed to wave their hands in surrender “I mean. Yeah, it is very low, but if it had succeeded it would have damaged the bonds between us pretty badly. And with severed bonds and with three lions only accepting their first picks, no Voltron” they shrugged.

“It was a very dirty trick” Allura hissed, looking down on them “But, you’re right. And I’m afraid we can’t be sure they weren’t successful”

“Don’t look at me princess. I might be worried for my friend, but I won’t let this interfere with my work as a paladin of Voltron. And neither will Lance”

“How can you be so sure?”

Hunk sighed and his shoulders slumbed “If you don’t know, even if you were the one who picked us, then I can’t explain it to you, But let’s just say there might be a reason Lance and I are the legs of Voltron”

“I assume you don’t plan to retreat to your rooms for the night?” Coran questioned and got a positive murmur for response “I imagined so”. A while later he passed them a few pillows, to make their wait a little more comfortable, and wasn’t surprised to see them starting to doze off shortly after. It had been a long day.

The green paladin seemed indecisive as to where to settle, glancing between the remaining two. In the end they crouched in the Red’s corner and tried to pull him along, to the yellow’s side but faced protest.

“He’s not mad at you. He’s not mad with Shiro, either. He’s just… Mad for Lance. I am too to be honest. Shiro did gave me a scare…”

“Yeah, but he’s being unfair this time” there was an edge of desperation to believe what he was saying in Keith’s whispering. There was a very obvious tone of doubt.

Pidge gave a sympathetic smile “Hunk knows that. He’ll calm down when he’s certain Lance is ok, right now he’s on the edge”

Keith stared at them without a word before giving a short nod and in the next pull he gave in and followed, although he still felt pretty uncomfortable when Pidge dropped on Hunk’s side and pulled him along.

“Rest” they commanded and used Hunk as a secondary pillow. Keith was pretty sure they were acting when almost instantly they started snoring but after snapping his fingers next to their ear and getting no response, he guessed they were actually asleep. Keith stared in astonishment, but stayed sitting where he had been dropped.

“Get some shuteye, man” Hunk groaned after a while, startling him a little, since he was under the assumption the yellow paladin had been asleep for quite some time now. His eyes were in fact closed. Hunk patted the side that Pidge hadn’t claimed “Come on”.

Realizing that he was in fact very tired, Keith crawled over and lay pretty stiffly beside Hunk, until the Yellow Paladin scooped him closer and pet his head and he allowed himself to relax.

“Goodnight”

“’Night”

Pidge just snored.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Unlike Shiro, whose eyebrows were permanently furrowed while in the pod, Lance seemed utterly peaceful. It was pretty unnerving considering how lively the boy was during his daily life.

Coran wasn’t very happy with how regularly he got to see that peaceful face. It meant the Blue Paladin had been hurt again. He didn’t like seeing any of them in there, but it appeared this one was making a habit out of it. Last time Lance had come out of one pod, he had laughed and asked Coran if he was keeping count, because he ranked the highest in the times he had needed to be contained in a pod.

The Altean man wasn’t sure if he was missing some kind of Earth humor, seeing as he usually caught at least part of Lance’s jokes, but he couldn’t identify the joke here.

“Do you think he’ll remember?” the Paladins had gone quiet for some time, but Allura had had kept pacing in the room and checking the stats of the two people healing, most usually than not pausing in front of the Black Paladin’s pod.

Coran sighed “From the descriptions they gave, he seemed completely disconnected. I doubt it”

“Shiro is strong willed” she remarked, crossing her arms “How strong was the spell, to the point that he was incapable of fighting it off?”

“We’ve witnessed how deep the witch’s magic runs”

“He fought off Zarkon, in the astral plane and managed to hack his connection with his clone to communicate with us”

“…Only due to the Black Lion’s assistance, druidic magic is more powerful”

“I am aware. I just don’t know how we can explain this to him”

“Oh” Coran’s eyebrows rose as he walked closer to stand to his princess’s side “Would you mind elaborating? Share your concerns, dear. It sounded like you blamed our Black Paladin, but it appears I misunderstood”

“I don’t blame him. But I am highly concerned about their bonds and Shiro’s mental state. Hunk said Lance wouldn’t have problems and… Well, I barely understand humans, Lance even less, so I have to take his word for it, seeing as they have a close relationship. So this leaves me wondering about Shiro” she sighed and turned to her advisor “He is a good and responsible leader, Coran. You know how serious he was about bonding with Black and his fear of failing the team, especially since his return. How do you think he will react when he realizes what he did?”

Coran glanced at Shiro’s pained expression. He had been so concerned when he saw Lance in Hunk’s arms that all of this hadn’t crossed his mind. She was right.

“You want to keep what happened hidden from him, if he doesn’t remember” he stated.

Allura took a deep breath and started pacing again “I think it would be for the best”

“Allura. We’ve been urging them to open up to each other. We used to give them bonding exercise after bonding exercise to have them share their secrets and they’ve been doing a good job”

“I know, I know” she stopped in front of Lance, giving him an apologetic look “I won’t force them to do as I say. We both know they wouldn’t listen anyway. But I will suggest it as the best course of action”

“And who’s going to give the final call? This is usually Shiro’s job”

“That will have to be Lance. This is all about him”

Both of Coran’s eyebrows went up a little “Well” he twisted the end of his moustache “I’m sure he’ll be delighted to have his opinion being taken into consideration”

Allura paused and looked at the ginger man “It’s a team. Everyone’s opinion is taken into consideration. Lance is just… Not always the easiest person to be taken seriously” she breathed out, looking defeated “I don’t understand them, Coran. I know I’ve been unfair sometimes and have made mistakes. But I’m trying”

“I know, my dear” Coran squeezed her shoulder “I know”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Lance felt himself fall forward, only to land against a familiar, large warm teddy bear, he chuckled and didn’t bother trying to support himself up “Hi, Hunk”

“Oh man, am I glad to see you!” Hunk squeezed him, raising him off the floor with the intensity of the hug.

“Hunk, you’ll break him”

“Don’t worry your pretty mind, Pidge. Hunk knows my limits since he almost broke me when I gave him a birthday gift, back at the Garrison. My ribs were bruised for a week. How long was I in there?”

“Just through the night” Pidge shrugged, with a grin, adjusting their glasses on their nose.

“Ow, Hunk! Come on, dude, you have no excuse. I was barely away. You are totally overreacting”

“Let me love you, my friend! I was worried out of my mind!”

“Aaaand he’s crying” Pidge chirped “He really was worried though. I haven’t seen him so restless since that time we tried to turn one of the Altean devices into a charger for his phone and had to connect them without knowing if it would blow”

Lance simply stared at them, keeping his arms wrapped around Hunk’s neck “Did it blow?”

“Yes, it blew”

“Stop talking about that! I’m still not over it! I lost a lot of important photos, videos and recipes that day” Hunk whined, setting Lance down.

“No you didn’t. We’re not in the Stone Age! I have a backup”

“Wha- When did you- WHY did you let me mourn them then!?”

“Oh, I don’t know Hunk. Why didn’t Glinda tell Dorothy her shoes could take her home from the beginning of the movie?”

“…I don’t know, why?”

“Because some people are dicks!”

Lance cackled, only to laugh whole heartedly when he noticed Keith watching the argument with the same confusion he had when Lance had tried to teach him the ‘I say ‘Vol’ you say ‘Tron’’ chant.

His laughter seemed to catch the Red Paladin’s attention though, who approached hesitantly “You look alright”

“Awww, shucks. Thanks, mullet. I would return the compliment, but to see why I don’t refer to my previous statement”

Keith rolled his eyes, missing the way Lance smirked the moment Keith shifted from apologetic to annoyed “That’s not what I meant”

“Yeah, I know” his smile softened “I’m sorry you had to witness my ungraceful crying. I’m fine now”

Keith nodded awkwardly “I’m glad”

Hunk and Pidge were still arguing. Or, Hunk was arguing and Pidge was verbally pocking him with a stick. Lance guessed, they had been holding in some anxiousness that had to be released somehow.

As he had guessed, behind him he found Shiro still in the pod next to the one he had just stepped out from. His smile fell “Is he gonna be alright?”

“Yes, Allura said he’ll be fine. They are taking care of the remnants from the spell” Keith wrapped his hands around himself, watching Shiro with restrained sadness “Lance, I’m really sorry for-“

“For having no control over a situation you knew nothing about and not constantly monitoring your mentor like a stalker?” Lance raised an eyebrow at him.

“-what happened” Keith concluded “I should have noticed there was something wrong about him… I mean, you did” he sighed “Twice…”

Lance shrugged “I have no important things to worry about, so I am observing the rest of you. It’s no big deal. Hunk is my best friend and we’ve missed things about each other at several occasions. Don’t play the guilt game, Keith. He is fine, I am fine, and everything is great. Let it go”

“Oh, my boy, you are awake!” Coran sled toward him “How is your hand? Good?”

Lance twisted his formerly broken wrist, testing it for any pain and grinned “Yeah, good as new”

“Splendid! May I initiate embrace?” his voice softened at the question, keeping his hands behind his back and giving Lance very clear opening to decline. Lance had no idea how a man this perfect could exist.

“Oh, you gorgeous man, of course!” Lance hugged him tightly and could feel Coran being extra gentle.

“Lance” Allura strolled behind the other Altean and offered the blue paladin a small smile as he and Coran broke away from the hug “It’s good to have you back”

“Did you miss me, princess?” Lance grinned, enjoying the eyebrow twitch from Allura, as she clearly fought to stay polite.

Behind him, Keith was giving a suspicious look, Hunk threw worried glances and Pidge’s eyes were narrowed, monitoring Lance like a Hawk.

“I needed to talk to you about Shiro”

Lance cringed “Just so you know, princess, I already had a borderline awkward conversation with our walking 80s stereotype” he pointed at Keith over his shoulder “I could do without another one”

Hunk couldn’t blame Allura for not being able to understand a single word of that sentence and having to do a double take before speaking again “Um. Well, I need to ask you something”

Lance’s skin tone became a few hues lighter, but he kept smiling “Sure, princess, anything for you”

“Once Shiro is out of the pod, there’s a high chance he will have no memory of-… his actions. And I was thinking-“

“Oh, that’s great!” Lance exclaimed “If he doesn’t we don’t tell him. There’s not really any point in him knowing”

“Ow ow ow, nononono, no, nope. Hold it right there” Hunk stomped closer “I disagree, one hundred percent. We can’t keep something like that a secret!”

“Yeah, I also think this is a bad idea” Pidge added their two cents “Shiro needs to be aware, to know how to treat you”

“I don’t need special treatment, Pidge!” Lance hissed, clearly offended and turned his glare at Hunk “Guys, be reasonable. Shiro was under a spell, he had no control over his actions, but knowing his all mighty nobility, he’ll blame himself anyway! Hell, he apologized to us for getting kidnapped and replaced by a clone AND for the clone’s actions that he had no control over! Why put him through that? Just give him a scolding for being aware of spells in the future and it’ll be fine. Besides, let’s be honest, it would be freaking uncomfortable conversation if we had to explain what happened and I for one am in no mood to recount the events”

Allura nodded “That was actually the point I wished to make. Any disturbance could jeopardize Voltron’s power and Shiro’s mentality is pretty fragile due to his past. We need to be cautious”

“Oh, and Shiro’s mental state is more important than Lance’s is that it?” Hunk growled.

“Yes!” Lance screamed, ending any other conversation in the room. He stared at Hunk with a betrayed look and it was clear the larger boy was having difficulty keeping his tongue. The rest of the people in the room could see that there was some non verbal conversation happening between the two, judging from the intense stare. It seemed to conclude with Lance as the winner, since Hunk gave a defeated sigh and averted his gaze.

Lance drew in a shaky breath, trying to regain his composure, as he brushed back his hair “Ok. Look guys, we have purple fluffy aliens on our asses, a revolution going, people falling left and right and, oh right! We’re in a middle of a God Damn Motherfucking WAR!” he tagged at his own hair and then let go, giving them all a smile “Let’s just skip pointless drama, shall we? If Shiro doesn’t remember, let it be. It’s for the best. What difference would it make anyway?” he shrugged pointedly, eyes going from one person to the next, checking if there were any objections.

“That’s…” Allura dared, although she didn’t look very confident “Very reasonable of you, Lance…”

Lance’s whole face brightened up and he gave her a wide grin “Thank you princess. I do that sometimes, what can I say. I’m a man of many gifts” he pointed finger guns at her and winked “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna go change. I allowed yall to gawk at my godlike body long enough with the skin suit” he turned and headed out “You’re welcome” the door closed after him.

“Is he…” the princess leaned closer to Hunk to ask, keeping her eyes on the door “alright?”

“Oh, sure, yeah man. Of course he is. Like. What am I supposed to say here? What do I know?” Hunk exclaimed in frustration, accompanied with appropriate hand gestures as he moved away from the group, heading out as well. He kept ranting under his breath until he was also out of earshot “I don’t know anything. All cool, everything is fine with cherry on top even. Like, why wouldn’t he be? Why don’t we impale him somewhere while we’re at it, I’m sure he won’t mind, that’s cool too. Go ahead, let’s try and see, it sounds fascinating”

The remaining four traded some awkward looks before Coran cleaned his throat.

“I suppose that settles that”

Allura looked tired and pretty out of her element as she sighed “Is there something I did wrong? Was there specific behavior I was supposed to present?”

“Allura, I’m a nerd and he’s a loner” Pidge pointed with their thumb each as they were mentioned “We’re honestly not the best options you’ve got for info on human behavior and interaction. But, since your best option is currently in a stasis, and the next best option is done with everything- for what is worth, I don’t think you did anything wrong. Hell, I’m not sure there was anything right that could have been said. It’s an unusual situation for us, humans, as much as it is to you, aliens”

“I see… Thank you” with that she threw another glance at Shiro and walked away with her shoulders slumbed. Coran gave to the remaining paladins a small bow and wished them good day before following her. Their footsteps faded soon after.

“Have you seen them fight before?” Pidge had been subconsciously aware that Keith was still present but with the lack of speech from his side, they almost forgot.

“I wasn’t that close to them at the Garrison” they turned to Keith “But, while in space… I’ve only seen them have some mostly playful arguments. Nothing like this”

“Should we check on them?”

“Maybe give them some time to cool off. Let’s go for breakfast and no- don’t look at Shiro. He’ll be in there for at least another quintent and he won’t be pleased if he wakes up to find you died from starvation”

“People don’t die for starvation if they go one day without food”

“What about the Galra?”

Keith’s eyebrow twitched “I’m pretty sure they can too”

“How regularly did they feed you at the Blade?” Pidge joined the edge points of their fingers, giving their teammate an appraising look.

“They didn’t have meals in specific hours. There are food stations that get restocked once a day with rations we could access when we needed”

“And how regularly did you use them?”

“I used them once. The food was terrible. Then two more times after Kolivan explained to me which part was the container and which ingredients I was supposed to mix. It wasn’t that bad after it was properly prepared”

Pidge stared blankly “How are you still alive?”

 “Lance turned out to be more merciful than I had expected? Also, Lotor“ Keith howled in pain as he folded over clutching the part of his stomach that had just received an elbowing “Ow ow… Ouch… You’re still on that?”

“We will never not be on that. It will never not be ‘too soon’. You will suffer every time one of us is reminded” Pidge bellowed, looming threateningly over Keith’s folded form. They grabbed his arm and started dragging him along “Come on now. You’re getting some real food”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

Judging by the state of his fingers, Lance assumed he had stayed in the shower a little longer than usual. After doing his normal routine, he just stood letting the hot water raining down on him, standing still with his head bowed.

He couldn’t avoid the others forever, he knew that, but it was pretty relaxing in here and he wasn’t in the mood to be confronted by Hunk, who was probably waiting for him outside. All he wanted to do once out of there was to go and spend time with Blue. He had promised her after all to go see her once he was clean and fresh. She had practically demanded to see him and make sure he was ok.

Taking a deep breath Lance braced himself and stepped outside, wiping his hair with one of the castle’s towels. Eyeing the cabinet he wondered if he should put on a face mask, but dismissed it, since most of the products he had, were used in specific periods and abusing them could have negative effects on his skin.

Blue eyes moved to the mirror which was foggy thanks to the heat. He wiped it clean and stared at his reflection, focusing on his neck. Slowly his fingers came up to trace the phantom of pressure he could still feel there, even if both it and his wrists were clean once he was out of the healing pod.

With a shudder he stepped back and got dressed in his casual outfit in a hurry. The room wasn’t that welcoming without the water running. It was too quiet and the steam made it pretty suffocating.

A soft sound similar to a whale’s song, with a hint of concern vibrated in his ear.

‘I’m ok, girl, I’m ok. I’ll be with you in a while’

The song turned into a low hum, just barely present. Just enough that Lance wouldn’t forget Blue was there.

A small smile of gratitude appeared on the blue paladin’s lips before he stepped out of the bathroom, letting the towel hanging from his shoulders, to keep the water still dripping from his hair from soaking his clothes.

As expected, Hunk was sitting on his bed with a gloomy expression.

 “What the hell was that, Hunk…?” Lance’s voice was small and tired.

“Sorry, Lance. But-” Hunk sighed “That was just too much and while none of them is to blame this time, they need to understand you have your limits too. You can’t just let them pretend nothing happened again”

“Well, nothing did” Lance’s hair fluffed up as he ruffled them while drying them “You guys came in time to rescue me and any damage was fixed thanks to Altean technology. I don’t see why you’re dwelling over this so much”

“It’s not your physical health I’m worried about” Hunk stood opposite him, as they were engaged into a half-hearted glare-down.

“I’m fine” Lance’s fists clenched “I would appreciate a little more faith. You’re the only person here I can expect it from”

“Lance…” Lance’s shoulders relaxed as two large hands cupped his face “I’m not saying you are weak, buddy. You’re the strongest person I know. I’m saying that if a member of my team tried to kill me, it would probably take me a while to recover from it”

“People try to kill us every day” the blue paladin let his head rest on his friend’s hand, keeping his eyes lowered.

“You know it’s not the same. How would you have felt if it had been one of us in your place?”

Lance’s head snapped up and he took a few steps back, scowling “Don’t do that”

“I have to. It’s my only weapon against your stubbornness”

“I don’t care! Just- Don’t- Don’t…” Lance’s fingers found their way to his still damp hair, tangling on them “It’s too awful to think of… Oh my god. Oh my god! I’m so glad it was me”

“Lance!”

“Think about it! Pidge is tiny. They’re freaking fifteen! Without a weapon they wouldn’t have held long enough for the rest of us to appear! Shiro would’ve-” he paled at the thought “And Keith wouldn’t have even tried to defend himself against Shiro… He’s stupidly fond of him, their relationship would be ruined! And Shiro is stronger than you, he would have killed you! The only person in the castle with any chance against him is Allura but she had no reason to be in the area, it would be one of us!”

Hunk groaned and rubbed his temple “You completely missed the point I was trying to make. Fine man, sure, ok. How do you feel with any of these options?”

“Glad that they didn’t happen? I mean- At least Shiro and I aren’t that close, so there’s not too much of a relationship to be damaged like with Pidge or Keith” Lance shrugged.

“God, damn it, Lance! How do you think I feel? If we had found you five minutes later-“

“YOU DIDN’T!”

“Yes but you didn’t know that! Why do you think your theories hold more weight than my facts!?”

“Because we got the best outcome! Nobody is hurt!”

Hunk joined his hands in front of him like in a prayer and started taking deep breaths.

“Ok, we’re getting nowhere… One last question then. If you had been hit by the spell instead of Shiro and had attacked one of us, would you have wanted to know about it?”

Lance huffed and crossed his arms defensively “…It’s not the same”

“Answer the question, Lance”

“Hunk. Everyone here is stronger than me, I wouldn’t have even been such a threat”

“For the sake of my own mental stability, I’ll bookmark what you just said for a future discussion, because there’s only so much I can argue with you in one go, and just once more emphasize, that you didn’t answer my question”

Lance’s foot hit rhythmically on the floor “Yes, I would want to know, BUT it’s still not the same! I am not Shiro, my guilt wouldn’t put anything at risk… Not that I think Shiro would let his own emotions mess with our duties, he’s our leader for his ability to keep a level head after all, but still, why even put any more burden in his shoulders? It’s pointless!”

“Guilt? Why the hell would you feel guilty? You would have been brainwashed and in the end nobody got hurt”

Lance’s jaw dropped and stared at Hunk like he had grown a second head. His awestruck expression was soon swapped with fury “FUCK YOU, HUNK!” with that he threw the towel to the bed and stormed for the door.

Hunk caught his arm at the last second.

“Sorry! Sorry. Ok, I’ll stop now. I’m stopping. Sorry” he let go and walked around to stand in front of Lance, who remained glaring at his feet as he tried to calm down “I won’t mention it again. Although, I am making very clear, right now, that I am not happy with this. You’re pilling stuff up, Lance. It’s not healthy”

After a dragged out silence, Lance gave him a short nod in acknowledgment.

“If- If I don’t feel ok, for any reason, or if something bothers me, I’ll reach to you, ok…? Is that good for you?“

Hunk offered a tired smile “Yeah, I can work with that”

“Seriously, though. Next time you want to talk ‘feelings’ with me” he did the “quote” gesture with his fingers as he faced Hunk “Don’t put me on the spot like this. I’ve been through a lot lately, I need a break! Just come over and tell me: Hey Lance, you beautiful creature, don’t be a little shit, if you need me I’m here!”

“And you would have taken my offer…?” Hunk raised a doubtful eyebrow.

“I would have considered it. Step aside now, my lady has been calling my name since I woke up. We’ve missed each other and we’re making up for the lost time”

Hunk pouted and didn’t budge.

“No hug! You have upset me!”

Rolling his eyes, Hunk stepped aside, letting his friend rush off to the Lion hangar, before heading to the kitchen.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Once the hangar’s door opened, the sound of a pack of whales singing overwhelmed the Blue Paladin as his Lion welcomed him.

“Hey, beautiful”

Lance grinned, watching as the force field around Blue dissolved and the room quaked as she moved, lowering her head to greet him. Lance hurried close and petted her jaw, feeling her warmth envelop him at the contact.

“Sorry for worrying you”

Blue rumbled softly before allowing him access,

Lance chuckled and leaped in, heading to the cockpit “I don’t know why you’re complaining. I’m always careful”

A small growl shook the control room and irked Lance’s amusement “What? You mean to tell me Allura was much more sensible? You want her back as pilot?”

No response.

“Is that a yes?”

The growl was very louder, as was the song and Lance grinned “Don’t be mean. I know she treated you well. I don’t understand why you locked her out. She’s a very good pilot”

Blue purred in affirmation, only to growl again when Lance added ‘Better than me’

“Oh, come on we both know it. But, you’re still the best lion… Don’t tell Red I said that” Lance sat cross legged on his seat and leaned back, closing his eyes with a sigh.

“Mind a lullaby, baby? This day was… One of the worse I’ve had since leaving Earth… Actually one of the worse in general, somewhere in the top five I would place it”

Blue instantly started purring and singing, recreating sounds of the sea provided from Lance’s memories. The boy let his eyes flutter close and lay back, relaxing.

‘You’re the best’

It didn’t take long for him to drift to sleep.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Shiro didn’t remember ever feeling so uncomfortable after spending time in a cryopod before. Every single muscle of his body was spasming and his head felt fuzzy, but that was a common after effect of the pod. But the most out of place thing was that he didn’t fall forward upon awakening and when blindly reached forward, he found resistance.

Left, right and behind, nothing would budge.

He was trapped.

Shiro gasped, forcing his eyes open and blinking hurriedly in an attempt to focus and check his surroundings. Across the glass, the coloring was mostly Blue, not purple. It looked like the castleship, but that didn’t make him feel better for being locked in a pod.

Had the castle been taken over? There was no other occupied pod from what he could see. Where was everyone? Was he even on the castle, or was he seeing through His eyes again?

Finally he noticed a shadow, curled up against his pod and relaxed as soon as he saw it steadily rise and fall at the rhythm of breathing.

“Keith” he called, trying to get his heart rate under control. The Red Paladin didn’t rouse. Shiro lowered his body as much as the limited space allowed him and gently knocked on the glass behind the younger’s ear.

This worked, as Keith jumped up, reaching for his dagger clumsily due to his half asleep brain, but he was trying to find the danger at the opposite side of the pod, so Shiro knocked again, smiling patiently.

Keith finally decided to turn and relief washed all over his face “Shiro, you’re awake… How are you feeling?”

“I’m alright. Although a little claustrophobic to be honest” the older Paladin chuckled.

“Oh? Oh. T-the pod, right. I’ll get Allura”

Shiro watched his pupil run off, before scanning the room.

Being alone when waking up was also something that hadn’t happened till now in the castle. It didn’t bode well with him cause last time he had woken up in a pod alone, it had been in a very hostile place. Maybe he had stayed in there too long? He couldn’t really demand of the whole team to wait for him on standby, there were a lot of things to be done after all.

Still, he would really have appreciated the company.

With a slight frown, Shiro checked around his pod, noticing devices similar to the ones they had placed on Sendak’s pod for security. This meant that this wasn’t just a malfunction. He had been locked deliberately.

‘Why?’

A familiar hum started poking his brain, filling the void. The waiting became a little more bearable with Black’s company. She hadn’t been able to reach for him clearly through the clone, it had been like talking through very persistent static that only allowed a few letters or syllables to cross. But now it was crystal clear, so he had to be in the castleship for real.

The link with the lions was something no one could replicate.

The gates opened once more and a group of people entered, with Allura as the lead and Coran and Pidge on her tail. The last two stopped a few steps away as the princess came to stand in front of him.

Shiro’s eyes lingered a little on Pidge who granted him a twitchy smile, before Allura cut his view of them “Shiro, are you alright? I need to know that everything is functioning properly”

That was an odd phrasing. It was times like that that Shiro was reminded that Allura was really an alien.

“I feel a little stiff. But, I don’t have any other problems, as much as I can tell” he glanced at his prosthetic and activated it for a check, before letting it go passive “That works too”

Allura nodded and smiled with a little more confidence “I’m glad to hear that. Can you-“she halted at the sound of the main entrance re-opening and glanced over at the newcomers.

Hunk, Lance and Keith stepped in and joined the rest, coming to stand beside Coran and Pidge. Hunk gave him a tired salute accompanied with a “Hey, man” and Lance waved with a grin. Keith had his usual pout.

“Ahoy, big guy” Lance chimed “Welcome back”

Shiro nodded at them with a small smile and looked back at the princess as she resumed her speech “Shiro. What is the last thing you remember?”

“Um…” he squinted his eyes in effort to clear his memory “We returned from a mission… And I went to my room, and I- I think I started feeling sick…? I’m not sure. Why, what happened?” Shiro eyed the security devices anxiously. The tenseness coming from his team didn’t sit well in his stomach either.

“What did you do, after you started feeling sick?” Allura pressed. Shiro noticed some movement from the small group behind her but couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

“I… don’t recall anything else” he shifted uncomfortably under her stare, and once more spared a glance at the others, hoping to get a clue of what was happening, but didn’t have any luck. The fact that even Keith hadn’t stepped up yet to complain about his imprisonment rang all the wrong bells in him.

“Shiro” Allura’s fierce tone demanded his full attention “Do you remember being hit by a Druid’s spell?”

‘Am I… Being interrogated?’

Shiro nodded “Yes. It was in the mission before we returned”

 “Why didn’t you bring it to our attention?” she crossed her arms in front of her, setting her weight on one leg.

“It hadn’t left any lasting damage, so I didn’t think it was worth mentioning. By the time we got out of there in one piece I had actually forgotten about it”

“Don’t take such a risk, next time” she commanded and glanced around “That stands for the rest of you as well. Druidic magic is not to be taken lightly”

The rest of the paladins agreed, looking like children getting scolded.

“I-I’m really sorry, Allura” he looked around frantically, feeling panic build up faster than when he woke up “Did the spell- Is that why I’m locked up? Allura, did I do something?” almost instinctively, Shiro checked his team. They all looked intact and nobody was missing, but his question had all of them avoiding his gaze.

All except one.

“Oh, man, you gave us quite a scare!” Lance stepped forward, with his casual smile.

Allura watched him warily but stepped back, giving him some space to approach the pod.

“I found you collapsed in one of the corridors and you were delirious. I think you were trying to summon the Kraken, or Kermit the Frog? One of the two. Then you started chanting in Japanese. All in all you were a mess. I thought you had finally cracked”

Shiro stared at the Blue Paladin, a little taken aback, but felt himself relax a bit, until he noticed a missing detail.

“That doesn’t explain the security lock”

Pidge’s head popped up from one of Lance’s sides “These pods don’t recognize quintessence in your system as an abnormality, so you would be left out as soon as your body was healthy. But we still have had to keep you in check because if you came out and weren’t clean of the spell it could go downhill again. And the pods open automatically, so we added the lock as a safety measure”

Lance’s hand landed on Pidge’s head and gave their hair a ruffle, as the taller eyed the smallest paladin fondly.

Allura beamed and looked at Shiro apologetically “That is right. I’ll do a final scan and you’ll be released”.

 “Thanks” Shiro stood patiently as Allura and Hunk discussed over a holographic screen with Corran occasionally pointing at it. Pidge eyed them longingly, but stayed by Lance and Keith, balancing on their heels, rocking back and forth.

“Everything seems normal” Allura announced and the familiar whooshing sound of the pod opening followed. Shiro didn’t wait to step out, it was kind of crowded in there when you weren’t unconscious.

Keith glanced at Pidge before stepping forward and hugging him, Shiro returned it and smiled at the green paladin expectantly. The smile Pidge returned him continued being a little too weak for his tastes, but he pretended not to notice. The smaller stepped forward and waited for their turn so Shiro hugged them as soon as he let go of Keith. He could have sworn Pidge stiffened before relaxing and returning it.

He was going to question the last part, but as soon as he let go Pidge gave him a full force punch on his human arm “Don’t do that again!”

By all means, Pidge’s hand was most likely in more pain than Shiro, but he had been caught off guard “U-um…?” he patted the place they had hit, even though he had barely felt it “Don’t do what?”

“Don’t scare us like that!” they commanded against Shiro’s baffled expression “Why the hell is everyone in here out to give me a heart attack!?”

“Ok, Pidgeon, I think your hunger is getting to you” Lance wrapped his arms around the smallest paladin’s waist and halted them over his shoulder “And I bet our leader is starving as well. Let’s go grab a bite. Hunk, have you cooked anything or will we have to endure goo again?”

“Our goo caries all you need for nutrition, Lance”

“Sorry Corran, but nutrition does nothing for the soul apart from sustaining its vessel. Soul needs taste... My man?”

Hunk drew back his sleeves, smirking “Nothing ready, but give me ten and I’ll have something for your souls” he saluted once more and headed to the kitchen, Lance followed with Pidge hanging limb from his shoulder, allowing themselves to be carried without any protest.

Keith noticed Shiro watching the closing door with a questioning look, and nudged him softly “You sure you’re alright?”

“I am. But-“ he noticed the two Alteans sparing them side glances, Allura’s being especially intense “Yes, everything is fine”

Keith followed his gaze. Once his eyes met Allura’s he just shook his head before nodding at Shiro “Pidge and Hunk kind of stuffed me like a turkey yesterday, I don’t think I’ll need food for a week. I’ll go train”

“Oh…” Shiro frowned “I’ll come with you”

“Shiro, no” Allura ordered “You just got healed. No training till tomorrow”

Keith shrugged at him apologetically and left in a hurry. By the time Shiro had stepped into the hall, he was out of sight.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Oh, Shiro, just in time” Lance beamed as Shiro entered the dining room. Pidge’s glasses were on the top of his head, while the original owner was trying to get them back by standing on top of the table.

“In time?” questioned the team leader as he approached curiously. At least the sight was relatively normal and the air didn’t feel as cold as it had back in the medical room.

“Lance brought fresh milk from Kaltenecker. I’ve let it stir, we’ll have milkshakes soon” Hunk was currently busy decorating with extreme precision the dish he was preparing. Pretty needlessly, since most food that was set on this team’s table was usually devoured too fast to be aesthetically appreciated.

“Lance! Give them back now! I swear, I’ll taze you”

“Tsk tsk tsk. You’ve become too violent lately, Pidge” Lance held the glasses up, farther from them when they ended up half-climbing on him in an attempt to get the glasses back “What gives? You wanna do some yoga with me? Take a breather? Beat up Keith?”

“Lance” Shiro warned without any aggression.

“Like you could ever beat, Keith. Give them back, now!”

“Pidge!” Shiro reprimanded, but neither of them paid any attention.

“Ok, you lost your rights on them” Lance sneered and pried Pidge off with his leg, keeping them in a distance with his foot, to their frustration.

“UGH!”

“They’re mine now” the glasses looked even bigger on Lance’s face, due to its length “Wait a minute” he blinked and took them off, examining them with narrowed eyes “Is this simple glass?”

“Yes, they were Matt’s. Do you think I would just so happen to have his prescriptions?” Pidge shrugged like they were stating the obvious.

Hunk raised an eyebrow at them “You went through the trouble to fit glass in them? Isn’t that like- I dunno, like two visits in an optician’s shop?” his tongue stuck out just a little at the side of his mouth, as he concentrated back to balancing what looked like a purple banana-pear on a stock of polygon pink grapes “Sounds like overkill. You could just wear the skeleton”

“I’m a genius, Hunk! I can find two glasses to fit my purposes and I’m pretty sure walking around without glass at all would raise some questions”

“My god… Pidge you’re a hipster! You’re wearing fake glasses. I don’t know if I can look at you the same way”

“You survived my gender, Lance. I’m sure you can survive this too. Can I have my glasses back now?”

Lance smirked mischievously down at them “I don’t know Pidge…“

Pidge’s face turned so red that Shiro expected to see steam coming out of their ears at any second “Don’t. You. Dare.”

“CAN YOU?”

“YOU ARE DEAD, LANCE!” Pidge almost scratched the end of the table as they used it to boost themselves and charge at Lance.

“Pidge, no” Shiro rushed between them to play the peacekeeper, holding his hands up toward each, keeping them apart “No. No murders in the kitchen. No murders in general if possible. Be reasonable, there’s only seven people in this castle, who will you even frame?”

“There’s always the mice” Hunk remarked, not really paying much of an attention, as he admired his own work “I never trusted Chuchule. With its smile and those sneaky eyes”

Pidge growled, eyeing Shiro wearily before their eyes shifted to glare at Lance, but as soon as they moved their whole expression shattered.

Taken aback by their reaction, Shiro turned to where Lance was supposed to be, only to find him several steps behind his previous position, pressing against the wall like he was hoping to be absorbed by it and eyeing Shiro’s metallic hand –which happened to be on his side when Shiro stepped between him and Pidge- as if it was about to explode.

Shiro wasn’t sure what just happened but he spoke gently, as if not to startle the younger any further “Lance?”

Lance appeared to only barely register he was being addressed and had to try very hard to force himself to move his eyes from the prosthetic, until Hunk spoke.

“Lance, you’re gonna break Pidge’s glasses”

That seemed to snap the Blue Paladin back to reality as he looked down at the glasses he was currently clenching “Oh” he mumbled and looked at Pidge, who watched him sadly, looking like there was something they really wanted to say. Lance stepped close and handed them their glasses, giving their hair a little ruffle “There you go, you whiny little brat”

“Lance” Shiro called urgently, but Lance spoke over him, pretty louder than what was probably necessary.

“Chuchule, really?” he turned to Hunk and rushed to his side. From where he stood Shiro couldn’t see the Yellow Paladin’s face, but he was certain he had whispered something at his friend to which Lance gave a curt nod and continued talking “Have you seen Plachu?”

“Oh, Plachu is a sweetheart. I’m telling you Chuchule would burn us alive if it thought it would be fun” Hunk carefully carried the platter he had decorated at the center of the table “You can’t trust anything that smiles all the time”

“Dolphins smile all the time” Pidge took a seat to the table, while cleaning their glasses with a small frown.

“My point exactly” Hunk turned off the mixer he had tinkered by stuff he had found around the castle, and started preparing their milkshakes.

“I think Chulatt is probably the mastermind” they adjusted their glasses back to their nose and watched as Hunk served them all and took a seat.

“Just because you’re a monster, Pidge, doesn’t mean everything tiny is a monster too” Lance settled between them and Hunk.

Shiro gave a defeated sigh and sat to Pidge’s other side, thanking Hunk for the drink as he accepted it.

“I don’t know. It could be Platt” he added to the conversation, taking a sip “No one seems to suspect it”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The lovely wind chime gif was done by my dear friend lunarcatten on Tumblr

Chapter Text

At first Shiro was convinced he was just being paranoid.

It wasn’t like there hadn’t been things hovering over his team since his return weeks ago. It wasn’t like parts of what he had missed while he was abducted hadn’t left a toll on them. And it wasn’t like there wasn’t some tension between the paladins that no one addressed. But till now Shiro hadn’t been at the center of it, so he hadn’t felt it was his place to interfere, at least not as long as the castle residents seemed to maintain a civilized co-existence. They had coped without him fine after all, so he hoped that if there were issues, they would talk about it amongst themselves.

But this time, it honestly felt like his teammates were avoiding him.

In the following three days since he came out of the pod, it proved to be impossible to have anything resembling a private conversation with any of them.

Allura had been the most available and she reassured him nothing was amiss when he asked if everything was ok. He didn’t bother asking Coran, since he knew, if Allura said red was green, he was obligated to say so too.

Pidge could hardly be found and when they were, they were too drawn into their computer, keeping their headphones on like a proper teenager that didn’t feel like talking. Three out of four times Shiro had approached them, they were having a video chat with Matt which he was allowed to join, but didn’t give him the chance to have a concerned big brother talk with Pidge.

Hunk and Lance were basically attached by the hip.

They had always been close, but this was taking to the next level. In the kitchen, in the training room and even in the lion hangars, they made sure to stay in each other’s field of vision at all times. And after Shiro visited Lance’s room the first night, to ask him about what happened in the kitchen and didn’t find him, he came to the conclusion that they also slept in the same room.

Putting that aside, they both acted fairly normal toward him.

And Keith… Keith was the crowning achievement.

With the rest, Shiro could believe he was just paranoid, but there was no doubt that Keith was avoiding him and it wasn’t one of his ‘loner’ moments. Shiro had seen him in the training room with Allura. Hunk mentioned leaving him with Coran at the hangar after they were doing some repairs on the Red Lion. And he heard Pidge and Lance mention a conversation they had with Keith earlier the second day, while they were lounging together.

So it was just Shiro that couldn’t catch a moment with him.

Keith was never in his room, no matter how many times he checked. If he was in Red –which was the second place Shiro looked at for him- then he refused to come out when Shiro called. And whenever Shiro happened to encounter him, Keith found a way to hurriedly excuse himself and then would vanish for the rest of the day.

Shiro had always been the kind of person that stood for the idea that problems should be addressed as soon as they are detected, so they can be resolved and the ones affected can move on with their lives. He couldn’t force anyone to confront their own problems but now he was part of something he had no idea about and it was driving him crazy.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Keith” Lance tapped his foot impatiently while staring at the unmoving gigantic Red cat “Come on down. I know you’re in there”

Nothing.

“Don’t make me ask Red to spit you out”

Still nothing.

Lance growled and spoke through his teeth “It would be nice of you to listen to me this time”

Red’s particle barrier came down and the lion lowered its body. Soon Keith stepped out with fists balled on his sides.

“Low” he stated miserably.

Lance shrugged over his crossed arms “You forced me. What’s up with Shiro?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re avoiding him? Don’t bother denying it, if I have noticed, I’m sure he has noticed too and has been looking allover for you”

“What is it to you?” Keith copied Lance’s posture defensively.

“I know I am not the brightest one at Hogwarts, but I can put two and two together. So unless there’s something that I’m unaware of then I am the reason you’re avoiding him”

The Red Paladin sighed “I… I don’t like lying to him. I can’t actually. He’ll know”

“There’s a difference between lying and… Not mentioning something” it was something that you learned easily in a big family. But Lance knew Keith never had that.

“Actually, it’s the same thing. And to be honest, I didn’t want to hide anything from him in the first place”

Lance rubbed his temple in frustration “So you’ve been avoiding him, just so he wouldn’t be able to ask you anything? Because if that’s the case, I’m pretty sure him having to play hide and seek with you has only raised more questions. You literally walked yourself in a corner”

“No, Lance, you-“

“AND, we agreed to the whole ‘lie’ thing-” he quoted “-so Shiro’s relative peace wouldn’t be disturbed. But I am pretty sure your stance is messing with that… Speaking of, Pidge is also cold to him, so since I am not in the mood for another pep talk, once we’re done here, go tell them to go be hit by puberty elsewhere”

Keith frowned “They’re still pretty shaken from what happened…”

Lance’s expression softened “I know. But that’s not an excuse”

“You’re not?”

Lance took a deep breath “I’m fine, Keith” he stepped back and stared at him tiredly “But you see the thing is, there was an effort here to keep Shiro from having to bare more than what has already been forced on him. But what’s the point if the rest of you collapse?”

Keith’s shoulders slumbed and Lance could tell that there was something he was struggling to say and couldn’t bring himself to. Finally he lowered his head.

“I’m sorry. I’ll talk to him”

Lance nodded “Thanks”

“And Pidge”

“Double thanks” the blue eyed jumped off Red’s ramp and walked off, heading to Blue’s hangar. Keith watched him, opening his mouth several times, but no words came out. In the end he gave up and leapt off Red too, heading to find Pidge.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“So am I officially everyone’s psychologist now? I don’t really mind, but if that’s the case I demand a payment”

Shiro’s eyebrows went up, as he watched Matt, manically pressing buttons in what was similar to an earth game controller, but was clearly homage and its creator had used the most inconvenient items for it. As a matter of fact, Shiro could see fur covering its bottom side and two of the buttons looked suspiciously like metacarpal pads.

He forced his gaze away and tried not to think of it, concentrating on how animated Matt seemed while glaring at a screen to the left of the one Shiro’s image was projected in.

“Everyone?” Shiro asked softly, settling back against Black’s pilot chair. He had just finished telling Matt his worries about Keith. He hadn’t mentioned Pidge out of courtesy.

“Yeah, I mean there’s Pidge of course” Matt hissed as he moved his body along with the controller “Hunk, Olia, Lance, Allura. Hell, even Lotor calls me from time to time to complain about his parents” he shirked and leaned closer to the screen “The other day he called-… I think he was drunk? I am not sure how their physiology works. Anyway, he was basically drunk-crying through the coms about a lonely feline whose owner he killed? I could hardly make out a thing of what he was saying”

“I’m glad you seem to get along with everyone” Shiro smiled softly “Although I admit I am curious of how some of these go. I mean- I know you like Allura, so do you talk seriously with her? And I thought Lance hated you. As for Lotor, I haven’t talked much with him, so”

“I do like her! That doesn’t stop me from having serious conversations with her” Matt sang with a dreamful blush “She’s amazing… We haven’t talked that much outside of strategies but she has shared her worries with me a couple of times” Matt’s expression sobered up as he concentrated back to his video game “And we worked things out with Lance when he- OH DAMN NONONONooooooo”

Matt whined as he let the controlled drop and he slumbed back against his chair “Noooo… It was so close… It just had like 2HP…” sighing he straighten up and turned to the screen Shiro was in “Anyway… About Keith, you were saying? You have my full attention for about fifteen dobashes, until the unskipable cut-scene is over”

Shiro laughed softly at the display, finding his friend’s misery quite amusing. Plus it wasn’t like he could enjoy casual moments like this all the time. Plus just seeing Matt alive and well was reason enough to be happy.

“It’s ok. Maybe it’s just me. I’ll work it out”

Matt clicked his tongue thoughtfully “Your whole team needs counseling is what I think”

Shiro sighed “And yours doesn’t? We’re in a war”

“Ye, apart from that. You all seems to like internalizing things over there. Medical confidentiality is the only reason I haven’t crushed some of your heads together and force you talk yet”

“You’re not officially anyone’s doctor, Matt. You’re not even a doctor” Shiro responded disapprovingly.

“I could be” Matt flipped his hair “I am a scientist. I am smart and even got experience”

Shiro chuckled “Do you need help climbing down that high horse? It has rubbed off on Pidge, they called themselves genius a few days ago”

“Well they are”

“Yes, but you’re not supposed to say it!”

Matt cackled “Shiro, we’re at war. You said it. We should appreciate ourselves” his smile saddened and his voice softened “We could go down unsung tomorrow. We might as well acknowledge our pros while we’re alive”

Shiro returned a somber smile “You’re right. You should. You’re both great”

Matt gently knocked on the camera “I said we, which includes you. I would tell you to stop being modest, but I know it’s in your nature. You’re awesome and your team loves you, I assure you… It’s nice to have you back”

Black hummed in agreement and Shiro beamed gratefully.

“Thanks” he muttered “I hope so”

“Ok, cut-scene is almost over. Listen” he stared at him seriously “Whatever you need, I’m here, you know that. But…” his eyebrows furrowed as he seemed to be considering something “Ok, if in one week things are still odd at the castle, tell me. I’ll lend you a hand –no pun intended-... I would now, but family ties my tongue”

Shiro grinned understandingly “Copy that. Goodnight, Matt. Good luck with the boss”

“I’ve got this” he reclaimed the controller and sat comfortably before waving at him “Good luck to you too in the menagerie, Shiro. ‘Night”

The holographic screen turned off as the call was terminated, leaving Black’s cockpit with very minimal lighting.

Shiro closed his eyes and laid back. He considered sleeping, since this was one of the few places where he could rest peacefully, without nightmares and the talk with Matt, paired with Black’s constant purring had done miracles for his nerves, but decided to make a last attempt at finding Keith before that.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He expected the Bridge to be empty when he was elevated, but as soon as the door open, he caught a soft humming, accompanied with soft steps approaching. Both sounds halted when they came close enough and Shiro turned to find Lance in his Paladin outfit, looking pretty alarmed. Hunk wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

“Shiro?” he gulped hesitantly.

“Good evening, Lance” the Cuban boy’s shoulders un-tensed, face brightening up.

“Hey” he stepped closer “I didn’t expect to see anyone. All good?”

 “Going somewhere?” Shiro watched him suspiciously. On closer inspection, Lance was dripping with sweat and he looked pretty beat up.

“To see Blue before bed?” Lance gave him an appraising look.

“No, I mean, why are you in the armor?”

“Oh, I was training”

“At this hour?” Shiro tended to lose track of time while in Black, especially when she transferred him to the astral plane. But they hadn’t gone there today, so if he wasn’t mistaken, the time was their equivalent of very early morning hours.

Lance just shrugged at him nonchalantly.

“Alone?” Shiro scolded “Didn’t we agree not to use the training room alone after one went berserk on Keith? It is also dangerous to train unsupervised”

 “Chill, boss. Hunk was looking out for me. He dragged himself to bed as soon as I was done”

That was a little better “Still, why at this hour? It’s sleep time”

“Look who’s talking. What are you doing, marching around at this hour?” Lance returned, eyeing him suspiciously. His eyes narrowed “You don’t have a date with the Princess, do you?”

“No, Lance. I was going to check the Red Lion” he sighed unhappily, resting a hand on his waist “I’m looking for Keith”

“Oh, he’s not there” Shiro perked up at that “I saw him and Pidge huddling in a vent earlier. They were nodding off but when Hunk offered to provide a blanket they said they would go sleep in a real bed… That wasn’t specific enough, so I suggest you check all of our rooms”

Shiro smiled “That’s very helpful, thanks”

Lance winked, shooting a finger gun at him “Lancy-Lance’ got your back” he passed Shiro, heading to Blue’s elevator.

“Ah, right, Lance” Shiro caught his arm and didn’t miss the way Lance’s eyes snapped to it wearily. Shiro let go, facing Lance fully “I wanted to ask you something” he added gently.

Lance huffed, mechanically rubbing his arm as he took a step back from Shiro “No. I won’t give you beauty tips. I want to have at least some chance when there are beauties at the planets we go. Give other people a shot, Shiro”

Shiro’s eyebrows shot up and he cleaned his throat “Um. No, that-that wasn’t what I was going to ask”

“I can teach you how to milk Kaltenecker, yes”

“No”

“You wanna know how to be as flexible as me?” Lance grinned and brushed back his hair “Well. I don’t think you can work it now, it has to be built up from pretty young age. Plus you have too much muscle, but-“

“Lance” Lance silenced himself “I’m not going to forget what I wanted to ask. Just in case that’s what you’re trying to do”

Lance gasped and clutched his chest theatrically “You offend me”

“Not my intention” Shiro said flatly “But, you do that a lot. Every time you want to escape a serious talk you bring up a distraction. And when you can’t, Hunk does it for you”

Lance chuckled awkwardly, wrapping his arms around himself “Come on, that’s a stretch“

“You did it two minutes ago when I asked ‘why at this hour’ and that’s just one example but I can give more if you wish. Don’t think because I don’t bring it up that I don’t notice. I just don’t want to put you in a difficult position, but there’s no one else here right now”

“Heh… wow, Shiro” Lance sneered, arms tightening “Tell us how you feel”

Shiro frowned “Don’t take that tone, please. I don’t mean to be harsh, I’m just worried and want to be honest with you. Can you do the same?”

Blue eyes stared at him blankly “Well, since you can clearly see right through me, it’s not like I have a choice, do I?” he snarled “What’s with the sudden concern anyway? Is it because Keith and Pidge are being little a-holes? You don’t have your golden children to parent?”

“Lance…” the taller’s expression saddened more as he let out a long breath, looking like he suddenly aged a few years “Thanks a ton for the guilt trip... But I’m still not distracted”

Lance’s gaze dropped to the floor and leaned his shoulder against his doorframe, keeping his closed off posture “Ok, got it” he mumbled “What was the question?”

Shiro sighed, and leaned against the opposite side of the doorframe, facing Lance “I didn’t get the chance to ask you, but I’ve been worrying about your episode In the dining room”

“…Stealing Pidge’s hipster glasses or the freak-out?”

“The second” Shiro replied softly and waited, until Lance chuckled weakly and gave him a half hearted smile.

“We are soldiers, Shiro. We’ve had some close encounters… I guess some of them have left a more notable impact. Made us a bit jumpy and…” he shrugged and turned to the floor again “Well… You know all about it. You don’t need me to explain it to you”

Shiro felt his stomach twist painfully. He knew of course that by this point all of his team carried some level of PTSD. They had seen and done too much at their tender ages, it was impossible for them to come out unscarred, but till now he hadn’t seen them display symptoms as heavy as the one they were talking about.

From what Shiro had gathered, Lance was pretty good at hiding, so he couldn’t be sure when this had taken route, whether it was before he got abducted and the boy had simply managed to cover it, or if it was more recent.

“I didn’t know it had gotten that bad…” he muttered.

“It’s not. It- It is really not that bad. I’m perfectly fine and then, there are just some tiny random moments when it just… Boom, you know” he shrugged, looking at Shiro solemnly. It was impressive how Lance seemed to be an expert with words until you took him out of his comfort zone.

Shiro nodded understandingly, not wanting to push any more than he already had “Have you talked with someone about it?”

“Hunk I guess? Kinda… I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to say...” he rested his temple against the doorframe “Have you?”

Lance could tell from his expression that this was Shiro’s ‘busted’ moment.

“Well I haven’t had much of a chance, due to lack of time… Although, Coran has been pretty reliable a few-… Difficult times. And since I bonded with Black she has been the most helpful”

Lance offered a small knowing smile “Yeah, Coran is a gem and Blue is the best for me. You think this is considered animal therapy?”

Shiro pondered it “I guess it can be. If you can think of gigantic sentient ancient robots as animals”

Lance groaned “They’re lions. Stop ruining things for me, Shiro”

“They’re gigantic sentient ancient robotic lions…” Shiro repeated with a sheepish look “Is this… better?”

“Yes, actually” Lance emphasized “You have no idea how important phrasing is…”

“Was the order of the adjectives correct?”

“I don’t know. I’m as native in English as you are”

“Right” Shiro brushed back his white tuff, thoughtfully “Thank you for being honest with me”

Lance nodded, giving a small grin “Yeah, no problem”

“For the record, if you don’t want to talk about something in the future, just say so and I’ll respect it. Don’t dance around it… And, if you need anything or something is bothering you, you’re more than welcome to approach me for it” Shiro continued calmly “I know you think I hold Pidge and Keith higher than the rest of you, as you so eloquently put it a while ago-”

The younger turned red from the bottom to the tip of his ears and hurriedly faced the floor in embarrassment.

“-But that’s not how it works… You know that Keith is like a brother to me and I got the chance to get to know Pidge early on because of our connections with Matt. But you see the thing is Allura and Coran have each other and so do you and Hunk. So while, Pidge needed a link to their family and Keith a guide, none of you had any need for me. And when you did, you all had someone else to turn to.

It is why I haven’t found that milestone with you, Hunk or Allura yet, I haven’t had the chance to. That doesn’t mean I don’t see you as my friends.” Shiro paused to catch his breath, and viewed as Lance peeked at him with a guilty expression.

“Keith and Pidge have both opened up and gotten more social, thanks to Hunk and you mostly, for which I’m glad and it is pretty relaxing to know I’m not their only option anymore. Not that they were a burden” he added the last part urgently, and Lance had to hold back a chuckle at Shiro’s need not to be misunderstood. The older composed himself “I’m just more attentive to them out of habit and we’re more familiar due to our histories... Still, if any of you needed something from me, or just wanted to get friendlier, I would give as much attention”

Upon his conclusion, Shiro stood straight with one hand resting on his hip and a cheerless expression, waiting for Lance’s response.

“I’m- sorry for what I said…” he mumbled after a few ticks. He wasn’t leaning against the doorframe now, but his posture was still hunched “I didn’t really mean it, I was just being a dick”

“Language” Shiro snapped, continuing in his casual voice “I’m pretty sure you meant it and it is understandable why… I hope we cleared some ground now”

Lance gave a short nod, keeping his head bowed and muttered a very quiet ‘thanks’.

Shiro nodded too, mostly to himself and stepped back “Go to sleep after your meeting with your lion, it’s really late”

“Aye, captain. Sweet dreams to you too” Lance huffed and dragged himself to his hangar.

Shiro waited to see the door close before he left the Bridge.

He wasn’t about to tell that to Lance, but dealing with him had proved to be as exhausting as dealing with Keith. They were both stubborn, unwilling to listen and pretty good at underestimating their problems.

Shiro usually let Keith come to him in his own time, but he had no idea how Lance’s pace worked and couldn’t be sure if he was giving his issues the weight they were worth. He had the option of asking Coran or Hunk, who he knew Lance talked with, if Lance was dealing alright but it didn’t seem right. At least not until he had confronted Lance personally beforehand.

He would have to wait and see if tonight had made any difference, and decide what to do from there.

At the hall where the paladin’s rooms resided, Shiro paused, realizing that the talk with Lance had left him too tired to try tackling a serious conversation with Keith too. He just needed to sleep and if he wanted to have any hope of catching more than one hour, he had to return to Black.

Since he came all the way, he decided to at least check on them.

As expected Lance’s room was empty and Hunk’s door didn’t open. Keith and Pidge’s doors both did but their residents were nowhere to be found and Shiro honestly hoped they hadn’t fallen asleep in the vents. The castle was pretty chilly.

Shiro was about to go check some of the vents he had spotted Pidge at times, when he remembered Lance suggesting he checks all of their rooms.

He was filled with warmth at the idea but didn’t get his hopes too high, until his own room opened and there they both were, curled up to each other on his bed. He found it adorable and pretty touching.

A fond smile formed on his features as he approached them quietly.

Pidge had forgotten to take off their glasses, causing them to crook where they had nuzzled on Keith’s neck and Keith was still wearing his jacket, which proved to be good, considering they had managed to kick the blanket off the bed. Shiro picked it up and carefully placed it over them. Then he tried to pry the glasses off Pidge, but it proved to be pretty tricky.

In his effort, Pidge roused, opening one sleepy eye “Mmro?”

“Shh, sleep…” Shiro shushed pointedly, managing to get the glasses once they rolled their head back to get a better look at him.

“Mmmr a good guy ‘iro” they reached out, in what Shiro assumed was an attempt to pet his hair, but instead they just rested their palm over his face “’You’re a good guy” Pidge let out a wide yawn and rolled their back to him, curling in on themselves, leaving a very confused Black Paladin staring at them.

Once it seemed Pidge was back to sleep, Shiro folded their glasses and moved to set them aside, halting when he felt a tug at the edge of his shirt and inspected to find Keith’s hand clenching it.

Keith peeked at him, looking as sleepy but less disorientated than Pidge. When their eyes met Shiro could only give him a stern look. He really hadn’t enjoyed Keith’s secluding him.

“I’m sorry…” the Red Paladin whispered, knowing he didn’t need to explain why he was apologizing “Can we talk tomorrow?”

“I would appreciate that” Shiro replied, keeping his voice down as well, both minding the sleeping teen beside them. Keith nodded at him and tugged a few more times at Shiro’s shirt until the older got the message and crawled over Pidge who was currently being spooned by Keith, rolling at the empty side of the bed.

Soon he found himself enveloped by the other two, their warmth lulling him to some well deserved sleep.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The lovely wind chime gif was done by my dear friend lunarcatten on Tumblr

Chapter Text

The pumping water had turned to be a permanent background noise. It would sometimes become distant enough that he could almost fool himself it wasn’t there. Or maybe since it was constant, his brain occasionally stopped registering its existence. Either way, most of the time it was all he could hear.

Now and then there was muffled speaking. If he opened his eyes when that happened, most of his vision was purple, everything was blurry and his eyes stung. Other times he could hear more clearly. Familiar voices but they were far away. In that he wasn’t sure he was opening his eyes, but he could suddenly see clearly.

It was relieving and frightening when that happened. He was surrounded by faces he knew and faces that had come to mean the world to him, yet he couldn’t talk to them, even if he could feel words coming through his lips. He couldn’t move, although he saw himself walk with them.

There was also another thing.

It wasn’t really a voice, it could barely be registered as any specific sound, it was too distorted. But he knew it and it knew him and it was calling out to him.

He tried to speak. He really did. He was screaming but it wouldn’t reach them. Whenever he came close enough the pumping would become more rapid and everything turned painful. Then the volume of his own screams would rival the pumping and even surpass it, and the thrashing didn’t do much of a difference in his tiny prison.

 When the pain ceased he could breathe again and would still fill liquid fill his lungs. He had learnt that it wouldn’t suffocate him, but his instincts told him otherwise and he had to wait for it to become a habit all over.

He hadn’t stopped trying.

Shiro’s senses started awakening, picking the sound of weak snores and a tickling on his neck coming from the tiny body wrapped up around him.

He opened his eyes and scanned his room, taking it all in. He closed them again and tried to listen for the pumping. He had to check every time he woke up, just to make sure it was missing. Sometimes during the rest of his day too.

It wasn’t there but he couldn’t get too comfortable yet. Instead he reached out for his second confirmation. The familiar call, void of distortions. Black’s soothing rumble echoing enriched by the jingle of wind chimes she would add whenever she wanted to remind him he was home.

He smiled softly.

‘Good morning to you too, Black’

The chimes jingled like the wind that made them dance got stronger.

Shiro peeked over Pidge’s head for Keith and upon not seeing him, worried he had run away from him again, but the bathroom door opened right after and a yawning Red Paladin with naked feet paced back to the bed. He crawled up to snuggle back to Pidge’s warmth, without catching he was being watched.

Once he settled back to bed was when his and Shiro’s eyes met, and had to blink a few times for his eyes to adjust and gave a small wave. The older snickered soundlessly and returned it. Pidge snorted and rolled over, wrapping themselves on Keith, although one of their legs was still hanging off Shiro’s hip. They still seemed completely out of it. Shiro grimaced as Pidge’s movement made him aware they had been sleeping on his human arm and now it felt like ants were crawling all over it.

“Pidge” Keith spoke, petting their hair “Pidge”

“Should we wake them?” Shiro whispered “Isn’t it early, still?” while he felt pretty rested, that was something he accomplished with four hours, so he couldn’t be certain how long they had been out. If he had managed more than four, it was a great start for a day. Not feeling the need to down a container of coffee was a privilege he didn’t get very often.

“It’s a little early, but they wanted space pancakes and Hunk says it takes two hours for them to prepare, so they have to get him too” he shook the sleeping teen once more, gaining a groan and a word that Shiro didn’t recognize, but judging by the tone and Keith’s growl at it, it was probably a cuss “Wake up, nerd”

“Pfff, nice one, Keith” Pidge mumbled and nuzzled their face on his shirt before shoving him off the bed, where he landed with a thud.

“Pidge!” Keith roared.

Pidge simply rolled off the bed and landed on top of him, before rising up and stretching “’Morning, Shiro” they grinned.

“Pidge, don’t push people off the bed” Shiro reprimanded as he sat up and checked on Keith who was rubbing the parts that Pidge had landed on, growling and shooting glares at the Green Paladin. Shiro chuckled “You ok?”

Keith tripped Pidge when they attempted to cross the room and smirked, watching them stumble, catching themselves at the last minute.

“Yeah” he sat cross-legged on the floor. Pidge gave him the finger.

“PIDGE!” Shiro thundered. They had totally gone off the rail at his absence.

 “What? I didn’t say anything” they replied sneakily and grabbed the jacket Keith had discarded sometime during the night, putting it on “I’m off to wake up Hunk, see you at breakfast guys”

With that they were gone, before the two boys had time to speak.

Shiro turned his attention to Keith, whose expression had turned solemn as soon as Pidge left the room and avoided Shiro’s eyes.

The older decided to break the silence and shifted at the end of the bed “Keith, is there something I should know?”

The Red Paladin’s eyes stayed fixed away from Shiro’s as he rose to settle back on the bed too “Why are you asking?”

Shiro placed a hand on his shoulder “Because you’ve been avoiding me. Did I do something to upset you…?”

Keith shook his head hurriedly “You didn’t”

He didn’t refuse that he was avoiding him “Then why? Pidge had been acting odd too, has something happened?” he leaned closer, trying to catch Keith’s eyes “Keith… You know you can trust me”

Keith stubbornly refused to turn. Shiro, knowing his friend needed a little push sometimes gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze for encouragement and felt some tension leaving the younger.

“Shiro” he whispered “While you were away I... I made some really bad choices. I let them down enough times to confirm what I already knew. I was never meant to lead Voltron”

“That’s not true. Keith, I know-“

“No you don’t!” Keith jumped to his feet and span around to face him, with a haunted look “You don’t. You told me, you could see bits and pieces through the clone’s eyes. But he wasn’t always there, and you weren’t always connected”

Shiro sighed “I saw enough but what does that have to do with anything?”

“Because there could be something you should know” at every word his voice was rising “And maybe I would have told you the moment you woke up. Maybe I wanted to. But I-“ he shuddered and once more his eyes gravitated to the ground “I-I can’t let them down again, especially-… I just can’t. I’m sorry”

“Keith…” Shiro caught Keith’s hands in his own to keep him focused “It’s alright”

Keith released a shuddering breath and dropped back to the bed, slumping against Shiro, resting his forehead on the taller’s chest “After we got you back we all fell into a pace of normalcy. But I don’t think they have forgiven me… I haven’t forgiven me” shakily he looked up “I messed up. I made terrible choices. I-I did something really horrible, Shiro”

Shiro raised an eyebrow “Worse than trying to kill yourself?” he grunted at the memory.

Keith blushed “Not another pep talk, please. We’ve already talked about that… For hours. The others are in my case for that too, I don’t dare mention it”

“As they should be. And I’m not forgetting it” Shiro pulled back gently, placing both hands on Keith’s shoulders as he leaned close, looking at him with his strict parent face “I am eternally grateful to Lance for punching you for it. I was trying to get my clone to do something equivalent but to my displeasure I had little to no control over Him...”

“Yeah… That was also the moment that tipped Lance off”

Shiro stilled.

“Did you see that?” Keith’s head tilted to the side lightly as he observed his mentor guiltily.

“Yeah” Shiro straightened up, crossing his arms “I saw”

“How much did you see?” from the way Keith cringed, Shiro guessed he had missed something important.

“Not much. After Lance stepped forward, they disconnected me from Him. From what I gathered, whenever they did that, they had to control Him manually to do something specific… After that I got very few rare glimpses through His eyes, until you rescued me”

Keith nodded “Do you hate Lance for what he did?”

Shiro’s eyes widened “Of course not, why would I hate him?”

“Lance says…” Keith’s frown deepened “He says I’m overly depended on you. That my love for you blinds my judgment to anything that has to do with you and he’s right. It is why he questioned your choices when I didn’t. Why he saw what none of us did”

Shiro found himself once more confused for any connection to the theme of the conversation, but didn’t interrupt, wanting to see what the other was getting at.

He couldn’t argue Lance’s point, he knew that Keith was overly attached to him. But he found it pretty normal for a child that had no one else to count on when he had most needed it, until Shiro had stepped into his life. And Shiro’s disappearance at the Kerberos mission, along with his constant warnings of ‘in case something happened to me’ had left quite a few abandonment issues and made him paranoid and overprotective.

“You’re the closest thing I have to a family. And-and I was terrible to him for turning on you” Keith sat back, brushing his bangs out of his face “So I thought, maybe I’m doing that again. Maybe it is because my first instinct is to always come to you that once more I wanted to go against them and talk to you… I don’t think I’m wrong this time, but I didn’t think I was wrong last time either, so…” Keith grit his teeth, looking like this whole argument was physically hurting him “Don’t ask me”

Shiro crossed his arms, eyeing him calculatingly. From what Keith was saying he gathered that this wasn’t an issue between him and Keith. The whole team was in on it and they had decided to keep him out. That was fun to know. He sighed deeply and stared at the ceiling.

“I’m really sorry, Shiro…” Keith sounded shattered “I hate keeping things from you, that’s why I tried to stay away…”

“Keith-” Shiro pinched the bridge of his nose “Why does no one just tell me ‘I don’t want to talk about it’? Do you guys think I’ll force you to?” with a small sigh he pet Keith’s hair soothingly “I am not mad, but don’t seclude me again without an explanation, ok?” Shiro really wanted to add ‘I’m a little disturbed that the whole team has apparently left me out from something that appears to be important. I have enough missing memories as it is’ but since Keith already seemed divided, that would only add more pressure on him.

If he wanted to find out what was happening, he would have to find another way.

Keith nodded once more, sucking in the affection from Shiro’s petting and looking like a kid that was refused candy when it stopped.

“Do you want to tell me about the terrible thing you did?” he asked gently. It was getting tiring to not know things.

Keith paled and lowered his eyes “You’ll get mad at me”

“Keith, I’ve been back for a while. If it was as bad as you say you wouldn’t be getting along with the team so well”

“Maybe they’re just tolerating me…”

Shiro sighed. Matt was right, his whole team needed counseling “If that’s what you’re worrying about, why don’t you talk with them about it?”

“Because what if they say they really hate me?” Keith looked at him desperately.

Shiro frowned and rested his hand on Keith’s folded knee “I honestly doubt they will… They wouldn’t still be mad at your suicide mission if they hated you. But even if they did, wouldn’t you rather know?”

“And what would I do then…?” Keith gulped shakily “When I wanted to know about my Galran heritage it was different. I prepared myself to deal with it but- This is not like that. I don’t want them to hate me and if they do… I don’t know what I’ll do, Shiro…”

Keith sunk into the embrace easily when he was pulled in.

Shiro wasn’t sure what he was supposed to fix first, at every corner he checked there was something that threatened to explode, revealing more problems that demanded attention. He would do his best to not get overwhelmed and hope that this pit of issues wasn’t bottomless.

“Nobody here hates you, Keith…” he whispered after a while, pressing his lips on top of Keith’s hair “I’m sure about it”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Pidge watched Lance’s body rise and fall steadily as he slept, head rested on his hands, at their dining table. Slowly they raised their hand close to his ear and snapped their fingers a couple of times.

The Blue Paladin didn’t budge.

“He’s out cold” they observed with a pout.

Hunk groaned as he held down with his spatula the bright green dough that would be pancakes using both hands. It seemed to struggle against him with all its might “Ye, he told me he had some trouble sleeping last night and took a hike in the castle”

The alien-pancake stopped moving and Hunk stepped back and wiped his forehead –his headband had recently been chewed on by Kaltenecker and was drying off after getting thoroughfully washed- before reaching for the bowl containing the rest of the dough. As soon as he scooped another spoonful and dropped it in the frying pan, it attempted to escape again, before the Yellow Paladin forced it down.

“Is it... Sentient?”

“No, these ingredients just go crazy in high temperatures” Hunk hissed, giving all his might to keep the food in place.

“Is it healthy to eat?” they stretched their neck to look at the animated substance until it went immobile.

“I never feed you anything untested, Pidge” he replied with an offended tone and continued the process with the next pancake “I try everything I give you myself. Thankfully only once did I need to go into a pod because of my experiments”

When the last one was added to the pile, Hunk lifted a beaker that held a black liquid. When he started pouring it over the pancakes, it turned into hundreds of tiny droplets that looked like glass marbles.

Pidge was certain this had to be a miscalculation, but Hunk seemed perfectly pleased as he served them. The younger gave him a narrowed look keeping their hands away from the possibly radioactive treat.

“It’s good. I promise. The marbles are like jello, try it” with that he stepped around and nudged Lance gently, while Pidge poked at the food with their fork, wearily.

Lance moaned groggily and buried his face deeper in his arms.

“Breakfast, buddy. Come on”

“Wake up, Lance. Hunk is trying to chemically mutate us” Pidge said as one of the marbles popped open and spilled out smaller specks “Hunk…”

Hunk popped one of the marbles in his mouth, chewed and swallowed normally “There. Stop being whiny” he once more nudged Lance’s shoulders, and the Cuban boy roused very slowly, eyeing the food in question.

“Mmm…” he groaned tiredly and bit into one of the pancakes. He gave Hunk a small smile “Good job, Hunk. It’s great”

Pidge waited for a while, concentrated on Lance who continued eating both pancakes and marbles, looking half asleep all the way. When the food didn’t seem to affect him, they started eating as well.

Hunk had to shake Lance every two minutes, because he kept nodding off even when he was holding food in front of his face, or while chewing.

 Lance finally seemed to snap to full awareness when the doors opened and the remaining two Paladins stepped in. They all greeted each other and Keith dropped to the chair next to Lance, who eyed him curiously.

“What’s wrong mullet? You look like you have finally come to terms with the fact that moth-man doesn’t exist” he teased, although the hint of concern under his question was obvious.

“Moth-man does exist!” hissed Keith, looking a little more lively at being challenged already.

“Well we’re in space, so maybe… At least it’s more likely than finding a planet where your haircut is considered fashionable” Lance elbowed him gently and pushed the platter toward him.

“Really though, you ok, man? You look more bumped than usual” Hunk questioned as he moved to bring the newcomers glasses of water and forks, but Shiro motioned for him to stay put as he got them himself.

Keith stared at the bigger boy’s worried face. He hadn’t really bothered to groom himself or change after pouring his heart out to his brother figure, so he might be looking a little unkempt. But it was probably the way he had dragged himself to the table and sat straight like a child trying to act properly in case to escape scolding that tipped them.

Shiro sat beside Pidge, giving Keith a pointed smile.

“I’m alright. Thank you for asking” Hunk didn’t look very convinced.

Lance made a disgusted sound and recoiled from Keith, like he was afraid he would be contaminated by whatever the Red Paladin was carrying “He is so formal, Pidge. That was too polite, I don’t trust it” he whispered loudly.

Pidge who had been too focused into dissecting one of the marbles, glanced at them.

“Hey, Keith” they said and leaned over the table, taking a serious expression “Where is your nest?”

Keith’s face turned scarlet, as Hunk, Lance and Shiro stared at him with curiosity, shock and amusement. The color reached his ears as he leaned in with Pidge and whispered to them as quietly as possible. The shorter Paladin allowed themselves to fall back to their chair “It’s him” they declared.

“Why does Pidge know where your nest is?” Lance demanded looking at the verge of throwing a fit “Do I have to call Matt?!”

“Why do you have a nest? Is it a Galra thing?” Hunk questioned, looking way too interested in the subject “Have you used some of our stuff? I’m missing a shirt. Aw, did you take it to have our scent? That’s so adorable!” he squealed looking like a kid in Christmas.

“Yes, he has” Pidge smirked, wiggling their eyebrows at Keith, who glared at them, looking like he wished the floor would open.

“I’m missing a shirt too! You took it?” Lance thundered, leaning in on Keith, close enough for their noses to almost touch “I liked that shirt, it has a golden trim! Why didn’t you ask? I would give you one I don’t like! Have you taken any of Allura’s stuff too, because I have to draw a line in the sand there!”

“That’s your issue?” Keith raised an eyebrow, even though he had shrunk under Lance’s outburst.

Lance shrugged and leaned back, lounging on his chair “Yeah, well. It is a little cute” his smirk mimicked Pidge’s “And it is blackmail material to tease you with in the future”

Keith huffed, feeling his face still burning “Thanks, Pidge”

 “You’re welcome” they beamed innocently.

Hunk chuckled when Keith’s expression turned even poutier and he gently punched his shoulder “Come on, Keith, we love you, even if you have some weird fetishes”

If possible Keith’s face turned even redder and he looked like he wanted to cry when he glanced at Shiro, who gave him a reassuring smile.

“It’s not a fetish…” he mumbled finally, looking at his hands which were joined in his lap. Their scent was just linked with home and safety, that was all.

“Hey, we’re not kink-shaming” Lance shrugged “Hunk is dating a rock and I was kissed by a mermaid, who is technically half fish. And let me tell you, I totally wouldn’t have minded exploring her-”

“O-K!” Shiro snapped, covering Pidge’s ears “If you’re all done, can we move on with our day?”

Pidge snickered “Shiro. I hate to break it to you but I-“

“No. Just no” he released their ears and rose from the table “Get up everyone. Lance, Keith, Coran needs help with the castle maintenance. Hunk, Pidge, see if you can get done with the upgrades on the lions you’ve been working. I need to meet up with Allura, we need to talk with Matt and the Blade. In two hours I want everyone at the training room. Dismissed” Shiro spun on his heel and stomped out of the room mumbling under his breath in frustration. They only caught the words ‘unbelievable’ and ‘kids’.

 Lance raised an eyebrow at the assignment, specifically Keith’s, wondering if this was related to the talk him and their leader had last night, but didn’t say anything about it, finding Shiro’s scandalized display much more entertaining.

“I think you gave him an existential crisis, Pidge” Hunk pointed out, but the Green Paladin kept cackling like a maniac.

Lance got up and ruffled Keith’s hair “Come on, mullet. You’re doing chores with me today”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Lance wasn’t dumb. It took him about half an hour to realize why Shiro had assigned Keith with him. The whole time they were cleaning and re-arranging stuff under Coran’s instructions, Keith kept stealing glances his way, which he pretended not to notice. He wasn’t going to open the conversation that the Red Paladin wanted to have, he had been evading it for months because it was needless. Lance had cleared his place and held no hard feelings against Keith.

Shiro might had been thinking they needed to talk, but they didn’t.

At least Lance didn’t.

Thankfully he didn’t have to worry about it. By the time him and Keith were heading to the training room, the Red Paladin had still not dared to ask whatever was in his mind.

Shiro looked at Keith instantly as they walked in, and the younger stole another look toward him. They were so damn obvious. Lance just rolled his eyes and moved to put on his armor.

“Everything alright?” Hunk questioned when he arrived and noticed his cloudy expression.

“Just tired” it wasn’t really a lie. Blue had been calling for him all night to go catch some sleep, but Lance had been restless. His talk with Shiro had bothered him in many levels, starting from having his cover blown down and the guilt over lashing out to him.

Shiro had been very patient with his unreasonable behavior. He had even gone to the trouble of giving him a gracious speech to explain himself, as if he had any reason to bother with him. Lance still appreciated the effort, although he considered it a waste of Shiro’s time.

Their leader was literally the best a flawed human being could manage to be.

Which was why Lance despised the way his instincts kept reacting whenever he was around, since the day Shiro had been hit by the spell. Lance didn’t blame him then or now, yet his body disagreed. He kept freezing and flinching at little things the Black Paladin did. He was also continually aware of Shiro’s presence whenever they were in the same room, because somewhere in his brain had formed a glitch that interpreted Shiro as a possible danger.

The ghost of pressure around his neck and a static pain on his arm also made random appearances during his days and especially his nights.

At some point he had secretly approached Coran to request a scan to see if something was wrong with him or maybe some remnants of the spell that would explain things, but they found nothing. The Altean man had been distressed and had tried to coax an explanation out of him, wanting to help in any way he could. Lance had managed to convince him it was a human thing, and he would talk with Hunk about it.

He had already talked to Hunk about it though. The first night after Shiro got out of the pod, he had woken up in a crying mess and had had to seek out his friend’s comfort. Hunk had barely gotten any sleep that night, having to sooth him every time his sleep became troubled.

That morning Hunk had tried to explain to him that the experience with Shiro had traumatized him and that it was natural. Lance had refused to hear any of this preposterous idea and had claimed his mess had been unrelated to that incident and that he had just been missing his home. Hunk hadn’t bought it, but he knew if he pressed on, Lance would not come to him next time he needed it, so he had let it go. Still, the Blue Paladin decided to go to his lion the next time he had a nightmare.

His denial didn’t affect the facts. Even when he used the trauma as an excuse to get Shiro off his back, if it came down to it, there was no other word to describe his condition. His brain couldn’t grasp that Shiro hadn’t hurt him and kept reacting to him like he had, casting yet another handicap to his already existing plethora.

Lance felt weak and he hated it.

Once all of them were gathered, they stepped close to Shiro to get the instructions for the day’s training.

“We’ll spar in pairs for warm up and do some team building afterwards” he announced “Allura with Keith. Pidge with Hunk, Lance, with me”

Lance’s whole body went rigid.

‘Blow me…’

“Shiro” Lance looked up as Allura approached their leader, giving a small smile “Would it be alright if I faced Lance for today?”

Shiro looked a little taken aback by her request but nodded “Suit yourself, just keep in mind, human bones are fragile” with that he headed to spar with Keith after giving Lance a concerned glance.

“So, princess” Lance smirked at her brightly “Want some alone time to get close and personal with me? You know you didn’t need to wait for a training session to ask me on a date”

She didn’t seem fazed as they positioned themselves opposite each other.

Allura launched herself at him, heading for a straight punch on the face, which Lance dodged without trouble and threw another flirtatious remark at her, avoiding the next punch as well. The third brushed his nose but he let himself fall back and do a small back flip, rising to his feet and diving in for a hit of his own. It failed, and Allura caught his arm and tried to toss him, but he folded his leg around her in time to get them both dropping on the floor.

Allura huffed and rose on her arms, looking down at Lance with a scowl. In all fairness he was holding up ok. Lance looked a little spooked and pale for the brief moment their eyes met before he flipped them over, rolling on top of her and giving a self satisfied grin, before standing and holding his hand out to help her up.

“That was acceptable” she declared, taking the offered hand, which was less steady than she would have liked.

“Thanks” he took a few steps back, positioning for another match “That is great flattery coming from you, princess”

 Allura didn’t wait for him to brace himself, but he slipped out of her attack once more without any trouble. He kept dancing around her hits, blocking few, but he was mostly on defensive. Finally he dropped under one of her punches and slid across the floor and behind her. She spun on her heel to find him mid-attack toward her and she caught both his wrists, blocking him, being fully aware that she was physically stronger than him.

She frowned when she noticed his expression once more twist to something more vulnerable, and the tremor was much more obvious now that he was putting some resistance against her. She was caught off guard when he dropped his weight forward, using his upper body to shove her a handful steps behind, releasing himself.

Lance rubbed his wrists, keeping his eyes on her, bracing for her next attack. When Allura was once again on him he cringed and tripped her, although a little clumsily. During her fall he caught her arm and tried to get her to the ground, but Allura flipped him over her shoulder, throwing him across the room.

 He groaned as he landed and held his hands up “I yield. Jesus, that wasn’t what I had in mind when I said you could get rough with me”

“You never said that” Allura stepped close, giving him a quick scan to make sure he wasn’t hurt.

“Well, I was thinking about it” Lance sat up as the Altean woman crouched beside him, wrapping her arms around her knees to keep herself steady.

“Lance” she started.

“Princess” Lance returned with a sneaky smile.

She took a look around to make sure the others weren’t listening. Keith was currently trying to escape a headlock by Shiro and Pidge had their legs wrapped around Hunk’s throat, hanging upside down backwards on Hunk’s back and waving their arms in an attempt to use their weight to flip Hunk. It didn’t seem to be working.

“Lance” she repeated “I believe I’ve made a mistake”

Lance tilted his head in confusion.

“To be more precise, one more mistake” she added solemnly “I have misjudged the situation again and you were hurt in the process”

“I landed alright, don’t worry” he grinned waving his hands to prove his point “The armor took most of it”

“That’s not what I am referring to” she glanced at Shiro who had stopped sparing with Keith and now they were both observing Hunk trying to get Pidge off him “Lance, when I said I wished to keep Shiro’s mental health alright, I assumed you would be alright by default. But clearly you’re still affected by-“

“No no! I’m fine” Lance cut her urgently, rolling to sit on his knees, facing her “I just didn’t sleep well. I’ll do better tomorrow”

Allura’s eyebrows furrowed, as she stared at him cheerlessly “Your performance was great, Lance”

Lance chuckled “That’s very sweet of you, princess, but you totally kicked by ass without breaking a sweat”

“Alteans are physically stronger than humans. You put up a good fight and did your best like you always do…” Allura gently cupped his face, causing a light blush to spread across the Blue Paladin’s cheeks “But you Paladins are under my care and it is my job to keep you healthy both body and mind… All of you” she emphasized the last part.

Lance’s eyes fell from her and his features hardened with determination “Allura” he carefully removed her hands from him, taking them both in his own “Thank you. But it is my job not to crumble or inconvenience my team” he sighed and tugged her hands closer, placing a kiss on them “I’m sorry for worrying you. I’ll do better” he whispered and stood up, pulling her along “I promise”

“Lance…”

The Blue Paladin gave her a soft smile and let go of her hands just in time for Shiro’s call for them to gather. They passed the rest of the training session in simulation, giving each other instructions and working in synch as well as they could.

They didn’t have any more issues by the time they scattered for the night.

“So” Pidge and Hunk hurried to Lance’s side on their way to their chambers. The smaller one was practically jumping to catch up “You finally made some progress with the princess?”

“Yeah, you appeared to be having a moment. So, what happened?” Hunk added giddily.

“Guys” Lance sighed with a grin and wrapped each arm around their shoulders, pulling them both close “My love life is none of your business, keep your nosy little faces out of what I do. You can care when I come to brag, until then-” he shoved them away “I’m gonna take a shower, you do too, you both stink” he pointed out before disappearing in his room.

As soon as he was alone, Lance sank on the floor and let his eyes flutter closed as he rested his head against the metal door. The room was completely silent, until a sad hum echoed at the back of his brain.

‘Blue’ he was really tired ‘It’s ok, I can do this…’

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The lovely wind chime gif was done by my dear friend lunarcatten on Tumblr

Chapter Text

Black quaked uneasily, snapping Shiro from his late night meditation. His day had been pretty full with lively inappropriate paladins, strategic plans and training. But he had rested more than usual the previous night, so he still had some energy to go.

“What’s wrong?” he questioned, but Black didn’t respond. Usually when she did that he was supposed to find answers on his own. Black was a good companion but didn’t enjoy spoon feeding him everything, unlike her siblings, she was against spoiling her Paladin –with some exceptions of protective display-.

His scanners didn’t spot any immediate danger and the castle remained peaceful, so there must had been another reason for her to alert him.

Shiro stretched and leapt off his lion. Without any indication about what he was looking for he wasn’t sure where to search, so he started patrolling the main areas before heading to the paladin’s quarters.

 Most rooms in the castleship were mostly soundproof so there were no sound leads, but thankfully the detectors at some of the doors also let him know if the rooms were occupied, so he didn’t need to open each one. He had to admit he wasn’t surprised to see the detector on the training deck indicate that it was in use.

Keith was usually the person that would stray at the training deck whenever he needed to release some steam, so Shiro had assumed he would find him. After all, his pupil had had a stressful day.

But it wasn’t Keith.

Lance didn’t notice the addition in the room, being too occupied facing one of their training robots barehanded.

Shiro glanced toward the observation deck but as far as he could tell it was empty. There wasn’t anyone else anywhere in sight either. He rubbed his temple and decided to wait for Lance to finish before scolding him.

Whenever they trained, Shiro would take on Allura himself or let her spar with Keith. Neither of them ever managed to beat her but they could at least put up a respectable fight. Earlier that day, Shiro had seen Lance holding up against her remarkably well, he had noted to congratulate him later on that. He had also been pretty curious about their exchange that followed, but it had seemed too personal for him to question, so he had just made sure to give them personal space and keep Keith busy.

Lance was a really good shot, but till now lacked a bit in hand in hand combat. It appeared the Blue Paladin had the same opinion and was working on improving his agility. Judging by his fight with Allura and the way he faced the robot now, he was succeeding.

Shiro really wanted to encourage this but the fact that once again Lance had picked to do this very late and unsupervised made him uncomfortable. Not to mention that the Cuban boy had seemed tired all day and judging by his delay in some dodges Shiro doubted he had caught enough rest since he had last seen him.

The robot was very aggressive, giving almost no openings but like when he faced Allura, Lance chose to be more in defensive and had dodged every hit with mathematical precision. Even the ones where he had moved slower, he would adjust his angle to save himself in time.

When he gained an opening, Lance used the robot’s dive to leap on its arm and using his weight, throw it down face first. It seemed like the end of it, but the robot kept its balance and kicked him to the ground. Lance groaned as he rolled and hissed, sitting up and facing the robot that hadn’t missed a beat into dashing towards him and unleashing another attack.

Shiro straightened up in alarm and prepared to end the training but before he had the time to open his mouth, Lance’s shotgun had materialized in his hand and had landed a perfect headshot right in the middle of the robot’s head, bursting it into pieces. The android fell backwards from the impact, followed by its fragments that clattered around it. The floor beneath it absorbed it a tick later.

“FUCK!” Lance screamed as he slumbed on his knees, his whole body shaking from rapid breaths “God, fucking, DAMN IT! FUCK!” he roared, wiping his forehead before forcing himself back on his feet. Even from this distance, Shiro could see he was unsteady.

“Restart level thee” he growled. His bayard hanging loosely in his grip by his side.

Shiro gaped but in the time it took his initial shock to settle, the new robot barely made a small dash before it was met with the same fate as its predecessor. Lance’s head had dropped to the side and his arm had been almost lazily raised. By all means both factors should have rendered the shot he took imprecise, yet it had landed on its target clear enough for the robot, to not need the next three shots Lance threw at it mid-fall, to go down.

As soon as the second robot vanished into the floor, Lance’s legs gave out and he dropped to his knees, hunching forward with his head hanging low and his grip tightening around his weapon. He was still catching his breaths from the previous match and the exhaustion was likely catching up on him.  Shiro could hear him mutter stuff, in what he assumed were Spanish, under his breath. He sounded pretty angry and frustrated.

“I’m fine, Blue” he grunted and lowered his forehead to the floor, curling in on himself.

Black growled, possibly relating to her sister’s emotions. Shiro sighed soundlessly and crossed the room, approaching the tiny human ball with a frown. The tapping of his steps should have alerted the other, but he didn’t stir, until Shiro crouched close and attempted to set his hand on Lance’s back.

Then Shiro found Lance’s bayard pointed between his eyes.

Shiro’s eyes widened as he looked across the gun for its owner, who glared fiery for just a second before his own eyes doubled in size and he drew back the gun –which instantly returned to its dormant form- hurriedly, jumping to his feet and taking several steps back.

“WHAT THE HECK, SHIRO!?” Lance bellowed.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you” Shiro replied softly when he found his voice again, although his heart was still a few paces over the normal “Are you ok?”

“Am I ok?” Lance asked disbelievingly “AM I- NO! No I’m not ok!” he bellowed “It’s the middle of the night, everyone is asleep and I’m alone at a place that has tried to kill us before! I’m training here and you couldn’t clear your throat? Call? Signal me somehow!? Do you have a death wish or something? Like seriously- Warn a guy, Shiro! I could have killed you!!!” he panted out and put even more distance between them, letting his bayard fall and bending over, gripping his knees in an attempt to calm himself down.

It had indeed been very careless of Shiro to approach Lance like that, especially when he was in battle mode. He breathed out and brushed his hair back, waiting for Lance’s little freak out to level out.

“Seriously” the Blue Paladin said a while after, lifting his head to look at Shiro, hair dripping with sweat “What was that about? What would I have told the others? Oh excuse me guys, Shiro’s brain needed air conditioning so I thought I would help?” he groaned “Good God…”

Shiro chuckled awkwardly “I’m sorry. That was irresponsible from me, I should have warned you”

Lance nodded, finally looking like oxygen managed to reach his lungs again as he placed a hand over his heart “Yeah, no kidding…”

 With a small sigh, Shiro rested his hand on his waist “Speaking of irresponsibility, you told me that last night Hunk was looking out for you while you trained”

“Yeah, he was too tired today though”

“Then you shouldn’t be here at all” Shiro replied strictly and raised an eyebrow, staring at him intensely “I know that Hunk is your friend and would cover for you, but I assume he wouldn’t stand for you risking your health. So, if I ask him, will he tell me he has been supervising your training?” Lance’s scowl was all the answer he needed “Lance, I don’t mind you getting extra training, I’m happy you take it seriously and want to improve, just don’t do it alone. You can ask one of us to look out for you. Also, plan your schedule better, it is late and you’re clearly tired”

“There’s no reason for anyone else to waste time here while I’m training and you’re not the one to give a pep talk on lack of sleep, fearless leader” Lance spat back, mimicking Shiro’s posture mockingly.

“It’s not a waste of time and your partner could benefit too if you trained together. But even if without that, keeping an eye out for a friend is still not a waste of time” he pouted “And I do my best to sustain my own health, Lance”

“Yeah, like when you sneaked up on me while I was holding a freaking gun! I almost shot you!” the blue paladin fumed, still pretty upset about that.

Shiro shrugged giving a teasing smile “It wouldn’t have been the first time” he replied casually.

He regretted his words instantly.

Lance looked confused for a few ticks before his eyes widened in horrified realization and his face, which had been red while he screamed, lost both the flush and most of its natural color.

“Who to- How- Th-That wasn’t you!” he exclaimed desperately.

“No it wasn’t” he reassured, keeping his voice steady in case not to upset the younger any further “I had told you all that I could see a good portion of the things my clone saw, why does this surprise you?”

That didn’t seem to do any favors for Lance’s nerves “And you saw THAT?!” he tangled his fingers through his hair and stepped back, staring at Shiro fearfully “Of course! Of all the things you had to see my biggest failure ever. That’s fan-freaking-tastic” Lance pulled on his hair and pressed his back against the wall behind him, groaning “God damn it, I am so so SO sorry, Shiro”

Shiro was taken aback by that and took a few hesitant steps toward Lance “What are you talking about?” he reached out but saw Lance flinch at the movement and mentally cussed himself. He had used his mechanical arm once more, even if he knew it was making Lance twitchy “Lance, why are you sorry?”

“I put you in danger- I attacked you! Because I’m an idiot!” he whimpered, riding himself slowly into panic.

Shiro had to do something fast to defuse this “Lance… If it weren’t for you, I would still be in the lab” he felt cold sweat running down his back at the idea.

“Pidge and Matt did-“

“Pidge and Matt only got the idea of tracking the signal because of you. No one had noticed I was missing” Lance caught a hint of sorrow at the last statement and felt his stomach clench.

“They just-“ he tried to excuse them, but Shiro interrupted him again.

“I know, I know. I know why they didn’t notice. I didn’t really expect anyone to and I know Keith didn’t pick the hints because of his blind faith in my judgment even when I’m wrong. But the fact remains that… Against all odds, you noticed and took action and I was saved because of it” Shiro remarked clearly, making sure his voice carried on the point he was trying to make.

“I shot you…” Lance insisted weakly. By now the wall was all that was keeping him on his feet.

“It wasn’t me” Shiro reminded, with a frown.

“It could have been!”

“I know we aren’t that close, Lance, but would you have really taken that shot if you had any doubt that this wasn’t me?” the Black Paladin pressed on. He really should have talked about this with Lance from the moment he returned. While he had thanked him for rescuing him, he apparently hadn’t been clear enough. He hadn’t thought he needed to be.

 “Of course not! But I could have still been wrong! My stupid brain could have been conjuring things and I would have hurt or even killed you” Lance stared at him like Shiro was being the unreasonable one that couldn’t grasp a simple point.

By all means, Shiro had expected Lance to consider his rescue a personal achievement. His intuition had been proven to be right all along and it had been almost surprised to never hear him boast about it. But no, apparently he had misunderstood their Blue Paladin once more.

“Lance, what exactly happened after you attacked my clone?” Shiro knew he had stroked the right chord at the way Lance grimaced for a brief tick before he schooled his expression into neutrality.

“You don’t know?”

Shiro repeated the explanation he had given Keith, about seeing very few things after Lance had attacked him “-I don’t even know how long time passed in between for certain. I kind of assumed you came for me soon after that” he concluded.

He had imagined Keith and Lance having a serious fight over him – during which awful things were said and was possibly the reason both of them were still torn by it- which once was resolved, the team saw reason and figured out their Shiro had been an impostor. Any delay should have come from their attempts to locate him. Matt had informed him that he and Pidge had worked onto finding him and Lotor had offered some pieces of information he had on Galra bases.

All in all he had never heard the full story of his rescue or how they came to this. He was mostly running on his own assumptions here.

“It was about three weeks, actually” Lance notified him hoarsely “And everyone but the Holts thought we found you by accident. They hadn’t told us, just in case they were wrong. The mission at the lab you were held at happened because we were suspicious of the security around it and wanted to check what they were guarding”

Shiro noted to be extra thankful to the Holt siblings than he already was but also give them an earful for keeping the rest of the team out of the plan. Even if it was to not alert the clone, it had been both risky and pointless. The lab had been alerted for their arrival since the moment they left the castleship.

“What did you guys do with the clone in the meantime?”

Lance was fidgety and appeared to be struggling to form sentences as he wrapped one arm around himself, starting to close in like he had last night “I-I don’t-… We didn’t do anything. They didn’t believe- They-they got pretty mad at me” he dropped his gaze to the ground “So, I didn’t really explain my suspicion or anything” he shrugged.

Shiro bit the inside of his cheek, to keep a scowl down “For three weeks?” he growled a little more fiercely than he had intended. It was always annoying to know someone was getting wronged, but this hurt a little more, considering he was the subject “You didn’t get the chance to make a point for three weeks?”

His anger hadn’t been directed at Lance, but the boy shrunk further in on himself regardless, his eyes moving rapidly all over the place, except him. Shiro feeling that Lance must had become aware he had cornered himself, walked around him in a wide angle, giving him enough space and a clear opening for the gate. His movement appeared to make Lance even more anxious, but once he stood in one place, the Blue Paladin relaxed the tiniest bit.

“No I-I thought… I thought maybe I was wrong, although I was pretty convinced that wasn’t you. Like 99% convinced. I thought, hey, if that was you- then… Then what was I even thinking” he cackled humorlessly, running his hands down his face, fingers leaving red trails from the pressure “I thought, wow, I could have killed Shiro… Couldn’t I have just said what I was thinking, like a normal person? No, I had to rush in and freaking pull a gun on you“ he shuddered and pressed his fists on his temples, shutting his eyes tight.

“Every time I looked at him I got pissed and I wondered” he gulped “Is it because I see the pretense or just my failure in Him?” he sighed and looked up at Shiro “I didn’t have to look at Him for long though. They didn’t trust me around Him so I stayed away”

The Black Paladin faced him with a somber expression, his hands twitching as he kept them at his sides with all his might, against the urge to reach out and comfort the boy “Lance, you saved me… Do you still see your failure in me?”

Lance’s eyes shined sadly “Yes, we did save you…” he whispered “After we left you alone for how long?” while a mild tremor could be heard in his voice, he seemed determined to finish his thoughts “We are supposed to protect each other and we failed… But no” he sighed “I can’t say I do. Seeing you now… I’m just glad you’re safe”

Shiro’s chest warmed up gratefully “You did that. I’m safe because of you… Thank you, Lance”  

Lance’s eyes widened, watering up and he made a tiny noise at the back of his throat “We-we all- I-I mean… Oh man” he rushed to hide his face in his palms in embarrassment, scrubbing his eyes “Don’t just say things like that, oh my god. Hunk’s sensitivity is rubbing off on me” he looked up, with dry eyes, but a little red nose “Have you set a new goal to make my life difficult? Give me a break, man!”

Shiro chuckled “I just wanted to make sure you know I’m grateful” he beamed softly “I was really happy someone noticed I was gone”

The younger composed himself and joined his hands in front of him taking a deep breath “You’re welcome”

“Also it seems we keep having communication issues and misinterpret things so… Any chance you’ll tell me what exactly happened?” Shiro managed to catch the ‘Keith thinks you hate him’ at the tip of his tongue. Lance had finally calmed down, he didn’t want to risk making him think this had been about Keith all along.

“Ugh… It’s not important, really” Lance pouted.

“It wouldn’t upset you so much if it wasn’t important”

“Oh, my brain is like that. It maximizes tiny problems a lot, trust me” he knocked on his head pointedly with a small smile.

Shiro stared at him for a long moment blankly, with his arms crossed “You know… I’m not sure I trust your judgment on anything that has to do with you”

“Rude”

“Will you tell me?” he insisted, although he wasn’t planning on press on too much. It was the second day in a row that he had given Lance a run for his money.

“I-… I don’t know… How to talk about it, without sounding-… Kind of bitter” he shrugged guiltily and tangled his fingers, playing with them nervously “I am not angry with anyone, but-… I can’t help it… I don’t know. I don’t see why you’re bothering with it. It’s really not important”

“Yet it is obviously still burdening you” Shiro kept his tone gentle, making sure it didn’t sound like he was demanding an explanation.

“No, it doesn’t. I’ve worked things out with myself, I’m fine” Lance frowned at how clearly Shiro didn’t believe a word of what he had just said “I am” he insisted but Shiro’s expression didn’t change, so Lance Instinctly turned to defense mode “Ok, look. I’ll talk to Keith if you’re worried about-“

“I am worried about both of you” Shiro’s patience seemed to waver for a second and Lance gathered himself and dropped the aggression “But this is not about Keith. I’m not gonna act like I don’t care about him, you know I do. But we’re talking about you”

Lance moaned “Can we stop? I’m exhausted”

Shiro chuckled and decided to cut him some slack for the night “Alright, yeah, I can see that. Can you walk?”

The Blue Paladin glanced at his legs and tested his balance without the support of the wall. He huffed in frustration when his legs threatened to buckle under his weight. In his third attempt he just let himself drop on the wall, resting his cheek on it “I think I’ll just stay here for a while”

Shiro offered a sympathetic smile “Want me to carry you?”

Lance looked at him through narrowed eyes “No, thanks. I am still holding on to the last remnants of my dignity. Besides, Hunk has the copyright in that”

“I’ve carried you before”

“That doesn’t count!” Lance roared “I was injured and unconscious”

Shiro rolled his eyes “Mind my company? I would rather make sure you go sleep after this” once Lance shrugged he stepped closer and sat a few steps away from where Lance stood. The younger observed the action curiously and once Shiro had settled, he allowed himself to flop to the ground and stretch his legs too, with a sigh, visibly trying to relax.

A few dobashes passed in silence.

Shiro’s eyes lingered over few leftover fragments from the robots his teammate had annihilated and his eyebrows furrowed “You were doing really well on the training, what upset you?” he pondered “When I came in” he explained when Lance looked pretty lost at the abrupt start of the conversation “Once you had to resort to your bayard you started cussing”

“Ah, that” Lance rubbed the back of his neck “Well, I’m trying to improve my close combat skills… The idea is that I would have to fight without my bayard”

“That’s good thinking” Shiro praised “You were doing very well. You did with Allura earlier too, but generally your job is long range, Keith, Pidge and I are there to cover close encounters”

“Well, it is more a just in case scenario, you can’t always be there and I can’t keep burdening others” he shrugged “Any suggestions on what I should fix?

“Like you said, it’s our job to protect each other” Shiro tried to replay the fights he saw of Lance today in his head and most of the mistakes were due to his exhaustion “Except of your shakiness and slightly slower reflexes due to you being tired, I didn’t see much, but I also didn’t pay attention all the way through, I could have missed something”

Lance groaned.

“Sorry. I was sparing with Keith instead of supervising, but pair fights help us learn more about each other and synch better” there was also the fact that the months in the pod had weakened his muscles and Shiro took any chance to balance them back to normal.

Lance wasn’t sure he had learnt that much about his teammates by sparing with them. At least not much he didn’t already know by observing them in training sessions. He supposed it was kind of an experience to face each of them though.

 “We can train together if you like” the Black Paladin exclaimed, looking intrigued by the idea “I’ll give you tips and you won’t be training alone”

Lance’s color went a few shades paler and he gave an awkward chuckle “Give me a break, Shiro. You’re much stronger than me, you’ll be tossing me around like a rag doll”

“I don’t plan on showing off on you” he gave a pointed look at Lance, who returned a guilty grin for being the actual showoff of the team “I’ll just give you pointers”

“Doesn’t pampering me kind of defeat the purpose? In battle, I’ll be facing guys taller and probably stronger than you and they won’t be waiting for me to give them the ‘ok, go’”

“It’s not pampering” the older looked almost offended “You don’t teach someone to read by narrating a book, Lance. You teach them by showing them how to interpret letters, so they can narrate on their own”

Lance seemed to consider it “Fair enough… That could be useful. But do you even have time?” Shiro opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted “Time not taken away from your sleep, I mean”

“Are you really in position to ask me this, right now?”

“I don’t make a habit out of it beyond the last couple of days, unlike you”

Shiro sighed “We can make the sessions a little earlier. I mean, you do plan on making this training a habit?” Lance thought about it for a bit before nodding “Well then, we can do something with that. Or I’ll have Corran put the training deck on lockdown after bedtime”

Lance gasped “You can’t do that!”

“Maybe I can. I don’t know, I’ll have to ask” Shiro  grinned sneakily.

“Ok, fine, we can do that from tomorrow. Now I am gonna sleep like a log” the younger tested his feet and winced as one of them slipped away at his attempt to add weight on it. Shiro rose up and waited with a concerned look.

“Do you need a hand?” he asked when it became apparent that Lance’s feet weren’t in the mood to obey their owner.

“No offence” Lance let himself drop back to sitting, and eyed Shiro with a mischievous gleam in his eyes “But I don’t think you have an abundance of those”

Shiro didn’t look particularly amused “Wow, Lance. Tell us how you feel”

The Blue Paladin’s cheeks turned red as he recognized his words from last night being thrown back at him, although Shiro’s voice didn’t hold any of the poison his own had carried. The taller seemed pretty contented with himself as he hesitantly offered a hand, making sure it was his human one this time, while he kept his prosthetic out of Lance’s view. Lance eyed the offered hand wearily and Shiro didn’t miss that he did glance toward his other one.

Finally, after Lance mentally prepared himself, he decided to take the offer and Shiro pulled him up. As soon as he was on his feet, Lance’s eyebrows furrowed but he forced his legs to hold him and released his hand from Shiro’s like it had burnt him “Thanks… Sorry for the pathetic display”

“Just don’t push your body to its limits like that” they walked out of the training deck, keeping a slow pace and walking pretty close so Shiro could keep Lance up if his feet gave out again. He held on well enough but it seemed to take more effort than it should.

“Um” Lance eyed the corridor they had just turned in fearfully “I was going to sleep with Blue, so that way” he pointed and lead them in a different direction.

Shiro, deciding he had interrogated him enough for the day, didn’t question and followed to the elevator for the Blue Lion’s hangar. As soon as the elevator closed, Lance joined his hands behind his back and bit the inside of his cheek.

“Are you… Planning on asking someone else for what happened? After Naxzela I mean” he murmured with a frown, side glancing at the Black Paladin.

“I do.  I was hoping the next person I ask would be more cooperative than you and Keith” Shiro replied calmly “I don’t plan to just drop it. I respect that you don’t feel like talking about it, but I need to know what is happening in my team”

Lance bit his lip as the elevator halted and revealed his huge Blue cat crouched down, in position to greet her owner “Some things are better left untouched, I mean you can’t change the past. What good would knowing do?”

Shiro stepped out and waited for Lance to do the same, looking down on him with a thoughtful look. He crossed his arms and ‘tsked’ as he tried to find a way to express what he meant to say. After all, he had an eerily similar question to deal with Keith, earlier “First of all, I have already missed a lot from this team” he started “And as you know, I am missing memories as well” Lance lowered his head a bit but kept his eyes on him.

“Technically it is none of my business and I shouldn’t meddle where I’m not invited” he continued “But this is not just a simple argument and I don’t want to leave it boiling until it blows up in a bad time. I’m not saying I can solve everything. I don’t even know if I can help, but there is a chance that I can and I won’t be able to do it unless I know what is happening… Regardless, I want to prevent a repetition or anything that would make things worse” he concluded.

Lance stared at him with a torn expression and an arm folded around himself.

“I ran away” he stated finally. Shiro’s eyebrows shot up. It was a start, but there was clearly more, so instead of asking anything else, he just waited patiently. Lance got the hint and continued talking, although he was clearly uncomfortable.

“Well. We had an alliance with Lotor and Keith wasn’t needed by the Blade any longer. So with Allura piloting Blue, there was no need for me. Plus, as you can imagine, after I tried to shoot you, we had a fallout” he cringed “I was upset and… I couldn’t really face them, so I went to help at the rebellion with Matt” he shifted his weight on his feet that were probably complaining.

That explained how Matt and Lance started getting along.

“Did the others just accept your leave?” there was some urgency in Shiro’s voice. Lance was a strong person, but if his team replaced him without protest it had to be a huge blow.

“They didn’t have the time to object” he shrugged “After I argued with Keith-“ he paused and searched frantically of a way to put this without sounding like he blamed their Red Paladin.

“Keith thinks you and the others might hate him” Shiro knew it was still a risky subject but they had to speak as open as they could manage “I’ll probably ask someone else to fill me in about the exact events, so be as accurate as you can. Say what you have to”

“We don’t hate him!” the younger almost yelled in protest before he groaned and continued “Well, he- Basically suspended me. But- Wouldn’t you have done the same? If I had tried to shoot one of our teammates without rhyme or reason?”

Shiro frowned as he rolled the image in his head“…No, Lance. I would have gotten mad but afterward I would question your motives. You haven’t shown us any indication that you are unstable so far… Well, not dangerously unstable” he added with a weak smile, to lighten the mood. Lance returned it. It was a mess, they had to take joy in the little things.

 “Did you talk at all after the fight?” the Black Paladin questioned gently, starting to have a more clear image of how things went down.

Lance shook his head “Next time we talked face to face was at your rescue… I was being childish and kept up attitude. I didn’t try to reason and avoided talking with any of them”

Shiro tapped his foot “…Did you at least talk after you rescued me?”

“Yes” Lance hurried to defend himself “Kinda. I mean. We did. I explained I wasn’t mad”

Shiro hadn’t seen any signs before, but after he started talking with him about this, he could see that Lance was still holding some resentment about what happened to this day. So he highly doubted the blue eyed had been much more convincing back when the tension was still fresh.

“You made some rushed choices but that doesn’t excuse what Keith did”

“It kind of does, actually” from the volume of his voice, it was clear that the last of Lance’s energy was running low “I scared him, he didn’t meant to hurt me, he was just trying to do what he thought was best” Shiro wasn’t sure if Lance was being too lenient on Keith, or if he was for some reason trying to convince himself.

 “I don’t think you really believe that. He’s your friend, he should have known better” Shiro muttered.

So the whole situation was a mix of terrible communication and emotional suppression. If he hadn’t seen how much of a toll his action had taken on Keith, he might had been a little more mad at him, but he knew even without him scolding him, his peer was beating himself over his mistake enough for both of them. After all, Keith lacked experience on how to deal with emotional situation and relied more on instinct, so if Lance fixed the conversation to fit what he was currently saying, Keith had no way to project his guilt and just let it eat him.

“He wanted to protect you” Lance’s eyelids were starting to become heavier “You are the priority and I almost hurt you. Plus it’s Keith, we both know he acts without thinking, he’s just like that” he paused and grinned “I’ve grown fond of him”

Keith seriously needed to sort out his priorities. They both did. It was nice that Lance had gotten to the point where he had placed his rivalry behind but if he did a 180 and started to value Keith over himself, that wasn’t ideal either. He had to pick a middle ground where each could accept their mistakes, but also the other’s mistakes.

“Lance, he didn’t ‘almost’ hurt you. He hurt you” Shiro emphasized.

“Yes, but I’m not important”

Shiro’s blood went cold as he stared at the younger’s calm expression with wide eyes. It wasn’t just what he had said, it was how he had said it. Lance could have just stated that his lion was blue with the same matter of fact cold certainty. There wasn’t even any hint of pain or hesitation in his voice, like this was common knowledge which he had fully accepted.

Lance actually believed that.

How the hell had he gotten to this point? Did the others know?

Something in his expression must have betrayed his horror, because the sleepy drossiness was wiped off Lance’s face at his silence, only to be replaced with some startled realization of his own.

“Oh shit. That- that sounded bad. I didn’t mean to say that” that was something Shiro could believe. Lance was exhausted and his defenses were lowered, which was why such a thing slipped out. But that only sealed even more that he was he was in fact thinking it “I’m sleepy, I don’t know what comes out of my mouth. I’m delirious” he stuttered hurriedly, with a desperate smile that he attempted to make reassuring.

“Lance” Shiro finally breathed out huskily when he found his voice, but he wasn’t sure how to follow it. There were a lot of things that could go after, but they were like a mob trying to fit through a door all at the same, so they got stuck at it.

“No, don’t- I’m ok, Shiro, don’t worry!” it was almost funny that Lance was more concerned about Shiro worrying than he was about himself.

Shiro didn’t like the joke.

“Lance” he repeated with a sorrowful frown.

“Don’t look at me like that” he pleaded “Forget I said anything, I’m peachy, promise” he started backing away toward his lion.

“Lance, wait” Shiro stepped forward, but the moment he did, Lance flinched and stumbled over dropping on the floor. He frantically tried to get back to his feet, but it appeared they had reached their limit for the day.

Once more the Black Paladin attempted to approach him, but stopped in his track as the room quaked when the Blue Lion growled, rising to her feet. She loomed protectively over her paladin and Shiro was one hundred percent certain that her eyes were on him.

At the back of his mind, Black chimed in irritation.

Blue’s rumble and movements shook the walls but Lance had never looked more relieved. She carefully settled over him, keeping him under her jaw and cutting all access and sight to him with her form.

Shiro hesitated for a tick before he took a few determined steps forward.

The Blue lion growled loudly but Lance’s voice hushed her “No no, shh” he murmured “Easy, baby, you know Shiro” she kept a low hum through which Shiro caught a faint earthy sound. It held something oceanic. When he was close enough he laid one hand on the lion. It remained unmoving but he could feel her weariness.

“Lance” he repeated the name for what felt like the hundredth time in one day “This is important. Why would you think- we need to talk”

“We’ve been talking for hours. Everything is fine and I want to sleep. Goodnight, Shiro” it was probably childish how he was hiding in there, but it hadn’t really been his intention.

Shiro stood in silence, trying to collect his thoughts, until he felt Blue relax in his touch. The previous hum was more distinct now and offered some clarity. Black subtly harmonized with her sister.

Shiro wanted to point out so many things of how important Lance was to the team. Some of them were even included in their previous conversations, but if the way Lance had stated his importance was anything to go by, this idea seemed almost rooted. There was more to be done than just a pep talk and Shiro couldn’t fix it alone. This had to have somehow piled up to result here.

“Lance-“

“Shiro, please” the weak whisper sounded broken. It was Shiro’s cue that the Blue Paladin couldn’t deal with anything else right now.

With a sigh he brushed his hair out of his face “It’s cold” he muttered “Don’t sleep on the floor” he waited hoping for a reply. A few ticks later, Lance echoed under Blue.

“Alright… I’ll do that. Don’t worry” the younger was trying to add a light hearted tone to his voice, but he just sounded worn out.

“I can’t, Lance. You’re my friend…” this time he got no answer, but Blue started faintly purring “I can’t not worry. You’re important to us and I hate that you think otherwise”

 “I don’t” Lance’s reply was barely heard.

Shiro sighed “Rest well…” with that he finally returned to the elevator. As he stepped in the oceanic sound became louder, until it was cut off completely when the door closed.

In the solitude of the small room he felt anxiety build up, but it was instantly appeased by Black’s humming. Yet he still felt restless. He wanted to talk to the rest of the team about this, they had to work it out, but everyone was asleep. By the time he reached the Bridge he was highly considering actually awakening someone up, or calling Matt (and most likely awakening him too).

The whole thing just felt wrong.

Shiro had somehow failed his team miserably. He knew he had done this already at some extend, when he was abducted, but right now one after the other were coming up with wounds bigger than he had been prepared for. Trying to protect them felt like holding water in his hands. It leaked through. It was impossible to keep it all in place.

Eventually, when he decided he shouldn’t deprive anyone else of his teammates from their rest, he found himself wandering back into Black’s cockpit.

Her wind chimes tried to sooth him but Shiro doubted he would be getting any sleep tonight.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The lovely wind chime gif was done by my dear friend lunarcatten on Tumblr

Chapter Text

Alteans functioned approximately the same way humans did. They were similar both physiologically and biologically. Yet through the time the Paladins of Voltron had spent on the castleship, Coran had been keeping a tab of the things that set them apart, for the sake of caring for them properly and , as Pidge put it, ‘for science’.

Thankfully their cryopods had over a thousand species catalogued by default, to be able to pick which remedy was compatible to the patient inhabiting them each time. So medical attention hadn’t been a problem. At least not until one of them needed something small. Like a painkiller per se, and Coran had to calculate the dose of the medicine that the human body would be able to process safely. That had been mostly successful too, with a few side effects. Lance had called them ‘hangovers’ and ‘highs’. Coran would have assumed these were medical terms if he didn’t know the Blue Paladin beter.

Almost everyone had made an observation when they noticed differences between humans and Alteans, and the man had made sure to list down most of them. He hadn’t been surprised to discover that their Green Paladin had been keeping their own journal on the matter and they had been trading notes since.

Some of the differences listed concerned food procession, temperature conditions, physical alterations and limitations, bone fragility, brain chemistry, living conditions and natural habits. 

Allura and Coran had realized very quickly in their co-existence with the Paladins that humans (and human hybrids apparently) required more rest than they did. Both Alteans could go two quintents sleepless without any health consequences. And typically a ‘full rest’ was achieved by three-four vagras of sleep.

According to Hunk, if Coran had been human, he could have died during the Voltron tour due to exhaustion. But, while Coran had been at his limits at that time and his body at the verge of shutting down, it would have required a couple more quintents before the lack of rest threatened his life.

Humans weren’t like that.

Humans needed approximately six to eight vagras of sleep per quintent. Coran had reached that conclusion by monitoring the Paladins’ sleeping habits. Their schedules did deviate from one another, and even from themselves at times, but generally that was how much rest they required.

Of course, at first Coran had also taken Shiro’s sleeping habits into consideration (which were very similar to Altean’s) as well, and had wondered if everyone else was just super lazy. Upon questioning the Black Paladin, he had learnt that under certain conditions, some humans developed alternative sleeping habits, and while their bodies adapted, it was still staining to their health.

Coran had assured Shiro he would try to prevent Allura from depriving the Paladins from the rest they required. But that also came with him worrying about Shiro’s habits and asked if he could assist in any way, medically or not. Shiro had told him that he was arranging his own schedule to sustain his health as well as possible, but there wasn’t much anyone could do.

Ever since, Coran had kept an extra eye out on his late night, or early morning patrols of the castle, for the Black Paladin. That was probably the reason he wasn’t surprised to come across him when he wandered into their common data storage room.

It took only one glance to guess this had been a ‘bad night’ for the young man. His hair was pretty tousled and the bags under his eyes were more defined than usual. Shiro was leaning heavily on his elbows on top of the table in front of him, as his eyes slowly darted over the projected text into the hovering screen. Judging by how long it took for him to scroll down, he was probably registering what he read in a very slow pace.

When it became clear that Shiro remained unaware of his entrance, Coran cleared his throat to alert him.

Shiro blinked tiredly and looked up, offering a very tired smile “Good Morning, Coran”

“It appears to be a decent one for me” the Altean man approached with his hands joined behind his back “But forgive me to say it didn’t do you any favors, my boy”

Shiro sighed “I had a rough night. Nothing a cup of coffee can’t fix”

Coran resisted pointing out the actual name of the drink Shiro was referring to. They had had this debate before and settled that it was just easier to let them refer to it with the name of its earth equivalent.

 “I’ll fetch one for ‘ya” Coran volunteered eagerly.

“I planned to go get one in a bit. Would love to get some breakfast as well, but thank you for the offer, Coran” he placed a hand over his mouth as he yawned and scrolled down the text. Coran leaned close to it curiously, recognizing the content without difficulty.

“Your mission reports?” Coran and Allura insisted for all of the paladins to make reports after every mission for information gathering and historical log. Something that seemed like homework, that they would all prefer to skip to the rest of the paladins. Keith and Lance had made the fewest reports, only being forced to write or record them whenever they went to solo missions. Pidge’s reports focused more on scientific and technological details that only made sense to Hunk and Matt. Hunk’s ones were the closest to normal.

Shiro never skipped his report and generally followed Allura’s format, where they both mentioned the methods, strategies and resources of the Galra they encountered.

“If ye’re looking for something specific, I can probably assist, I’ve had to go through all of your reports” Coran straightened up and twirled his moustache coughing softly “Not that I did not enjoy it. Seeing space through human perspective is fascinating”

If he had to be honest, Shiro doubted his and Coran’s concepts of ‘fascination’ were anything alike. He hadn’t read all of his teammate’s reports, but so far he wouldn’t have described any of their contents fascinating. With the exception of Lance’s lengthy report on the mermaid planet. Maybe that was fascinating because of how focused on every wrong aspect of world it had been.

“I… guess I am looking for something specific. Although I’m not sure what” Shiro absently scrolled through the text with a pout.

“That’s not very specific” Coran chirped “Which is what I need to assist you”

“Well” Shiro brushed his hair back, causing his white tuff to look even more unkempt “First of, one of the paladins has started showing post traumatic signs. I would like to believe that I wasn’t that unobservant-…“ he paused and Coran saw a pained expression cross his features momentarily, before Shiro shook it off and continued “-as not to notice them before, which means whatever caused it ought to be recent. But I can’t find anything unusual in the latest reports…”

Shiro hadn’t really expected to have much luck.

Lance and Shiro had talked a lot the night before, yet by the end of it, there were still questions and unresolved problems. Shiro had once more found himself not knowing where to begin. When he had decided that he didn’t know Lance well enough to figure out where and when the boy’s low self valuation originated, he had decided to focus on something different.

After all, Lance was quite generous with the issues he provided.

Shiro had hoped one of the most recent entries from his paladins would have something that would explain the way Lance reacted to his prosthetic. But none of them mentioned facing an enemy with anything similar and Lance hadn’t made any entries in a month.

The Black Paladin was pissed with himself upon realizing that there were only two options for Lance’s condition. One was that he had been hurt for a while, and Shiro hadn’t noticed, -an option that he tried to rule out, but the ‘I am not important’ statement, rendered possible-. And the other was that Lance had gotten hurt sometime, under his care and Shiro had missed it. Both options were unsatisfying and both were messing with his head.

Lance was proving to be a pretty good actor and Shiro wasn’t sure he would enjoy finding out how deep the act went. But if cracks were showing up, then it was likely the play had ran its course.

“Oh, I do not believe you’ll find what you’re looking for” Coran twirled his moustache.

Shiro stared at him, taken aback by the matter of fact reply “You know what I’m talking about?”

“I do believe so. You are referring to the latest development of the Blue Paladin’s behavior, are you not?” his expression softened barely at the mention of his favorite paladin.

Thanks to Keith, Shiro was aware that the whole team was in on something that he wasn’t a part of. Putting two and two together he had also concluded that Lance was at the centre of this and almost hoped some of these things were connected, so by solving one, resolutions would have the domino effect.

Shiro gave a curt nod. Since Coran was the one to remove the vagueness of the conversation, there was no reason to try and bypass it “Yes, that’s it… I’m pretty worried” he sighed and turned on his chair, to be facing the ginger man fully “I don’t wish to pry but he refuses to cooperate and I’m afraid it’s taking a toll on him, both body and mind” he glanced at the tablet “I hoped to get some clue on how to help him”

The Altean took a deep sigh before he side-sat on the table, tangling his fingers thoughtfully “Lance is a lot like you. Always willing to offer help, but not so much at accepting it” he gave a small smile “You also share the conviction that your problems are a baggage that only you should bare”

Shiro frowned, considering the words that came from an unusually somber Coran.

It was true that Shiro didn’t like to concern people with his problems, but he had learnt he occasionally had to draw a line and share. He had to, if he wanted to be able to move forward. So unless he strongly believed something could be resolved by himself, he was pretty open to offered aid.

But in the castleship it was different. He was the oldest among his peers. They were his responsibility, not the other way around. Yes, he could be gone any day, but as long as he was present, they were under his care and he didn’t take it lightly. He wasn’t perfect by any meaning of the world. He had failed them over and over, but he was really trying to be the best he could offer, as a leader, as a mentor and as a friend.

“Lance is a kid” barely an adult by now “They all are” Shiro responded unhappily.

“And you think, you are not?”

“It’s different. When I took my mission to space I knew I might never return. I didn’t know what was out there, but I was aware of the risks. They were dragged from their home in a Blue Lion and at the heat of one moment went along” he grunted “They shouldn’t have most of their baggage… I just wish to make anything I can, a little easier for them”

Even with all of them training in the Garrison’s space program, there should have been at least another year or five before any of them left Earth. By then they would have had the time to realize what was being put at stake, and they would also have a chance to see their families. None of these came to pass, they turned from children to soldiers in the blink of an eye.

Shiro remembered Lance asking him to make a decision the day they met. But even when they had agreed as a team, they had all known. If they hadn’t taken that wormhole, the Galra would have invaded Earth.

There had been no choice.

“I do not blame you” Shiro hurried to explain when a hint of guilt became apparent on the Altean’s features “We all know who is to blame. You and Allura lost your home, it is admirable that you’re even still fighting” many would have given up or refused to take part in a war that had already claimed everything from them.

“I merely want to take care of my team as long as I’m here” he concluded with a sorrowful expression.

Coran in all honesty would have said what happened without beating around the bush. Him and Allura had been trying to force the Paladins to share pretty much everything they could with each other from day one. Yet the latest course of action his Princess had picked had not only not been her wisest, but it also came in contrast with everything she had asked of them so far. The Altean man had understood and accepted her reasoning, but by this point, he would have gone against her, if she hadn’t already changed her mind.

But Allura wasn’t the one that kept him or anyone else silent anymore.

“I really wish to help you, Shiro. But I fear I’m not the right person to tell you what happened. You see it is not technically a ‘team’ matter…”

“Even if everyone in the team but me is involved and it clearly has a negative impact on my paladins” Shiro felt his voice go up barely as the sentence proceeded, and he brought it back down.

 Coran wasn’t bothered by it. If Shiro was angry, he had every right to be. He was the one that cared the most about the ‘team’ dynamic and its togetherness and here he was, getting excluded.

 “I can tell you when”

Shiro nodded eagerly giving him his full attention. Coran clearly didn’t wish to betray anyone’s trust, but maybe he wished for this to be resolved too. If he wanted to give him a clue that could help him solve the puzzle himself, Shiro would gratefully take it. Plus the timing was one of his main questions.

Coran tagged on the end of his moustache while he had taken a sudden interest in the ceiling “If it will put your mind at ease, you are not unobservant. The unfortunate event that has shaken the team occurred around your latest mission”

Shiro’s eyebrows furrowed. He couldn’t really call that ‘not unobservant’ because, while he could now rule out the ‘long time cluelessness’, something still happened under his nose.

The mission itself hadn’t been easy, but they had faced far worse. Still, they had been separated in two teams through most of it. Lance could have gotten hurt during that time and chose to hide it. But then why would everyone know? And why hide it in the first place?

“When- If that’s the case, how did I miss something bad enough to affect Lance so strongly?” Shiro yelped in confusion.

Coran hopped to his feet “I do apologize, Shiro. But that was all the information I can provide” he exclaimed, standing straight.

Shiro figured that was his cue to stop asking “Thank you for the help, Corran” he was indeed grateful. He still had a whole new set of things to think about thanks to that, but now he at least knew where to look.

Coran gave a small bow and marched out of the door.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The substitute coffee of the castleship had a dark yellow color, but when they added the substitute sugar it turned an ashen brown. With the actual milk, courtesy of Kaltenecker, it made the drink look almost like Earth coffee. It was certainly more appetizing in the eye, even though Shiro drank two cups of it daily even before they had Kaltenecker.

Shiro had had to admit, Hunk had done an incredible job at incorporating milk with the alien ingredients they had. The Samoan boy had managed to bring dishes as close to familiar as he could. But milk also made most dishes short lived, so at the moment, Shiro had nothing other than green goo to accompany the coffee, so he decided to stick just to his drink.

It was still pretty early, so the kitchen was empty when he settled and allowed himself a moment to wake up properly. If you could call it ‘waking up’ considering he hadn’t really slept at all the night before. Black had tried her best to relax him and at some point even attempted to simply knock him to the mindscape so his body could rest (it had made him snap at her). In the end he had given up and naturally the tiredness was catching up to him.

As he rested his head on his hand, he allowed his eyes to rest for a while, rolling his mug in his free hand.

Before he knew it he had drifted off.

After his year at the Arena, Shiro tended to have tons of nightmares. He had grown used to them. But after the months in the pod, it had become much worse. Every dream  -nightmare or not- had become a terrifying experience. He had no control of himself in his dreams, just like when he hadn’t had any control over his clone, so he couldn’t tell if he was just dreaming, of if he was once again seeing himself through His eyes.

The nights completely void of dreams, or the ones where Black remained a constant presence, had become the most restful.

This little spontaneous cat-nap didn’t turn out to be so merciful.

~*~

The sensation of the water enclosing him had become very familiar by now. The mocking pumping of its movement resumed as if it had never stopped.

He really hated it.

Back on Earth, Shiro had never been a huge fan of the sea. As anyone could tell, he had always been all about space. It weirdly even appeared to be more friendly and accessible after all. With his months in a water box, he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be much fonder of it, if he ever got to see the ocean again.

Shiro’s fists clenched as he tried to listen to anything other than the pumping but didn’t open his eyes. He could feel that they were close, which was a good sign. At least he could tell that he was in the pod like this.  

There was something different about the pumping today, but he couldn’t pinpoint what. Focusing on it, he wondered what that meant for him. So far, whenever something changed in his capsule, it signified something negative. A new experiment or a relocation with more control over him or maybe another test on human limits.

Hoping for some hint, he begrudgingly forced his eyes open, feeling them sting faintly at the contact with the water.

He expected to see the trademark purple of the Galra laboratory, but it was nowhere to be found. Neither did anything familiar make him wonder if he was once again using his Clone’s eyes.

There was nothing around him, except hues of blue.

Lighter above and darker bellow.

Shiro saw rays of light that came from the surface and realized why the pumping had sounded different as well. He wasn’t in the pod. This body of water was enormous. Judging by how weaker the light was becoming every passing second, he was sinking and fast.

He tried to kick, but the water pressure kept dragging him deeper. If there was a bottom somewhere beneath, it had yet to appear. There was nothing but water as far as the eye could see. The Black Paladin had no idea why he hadn’t suffocated or gotten crushed by the pressure yet.

He kept sinking. The pumping eventually faded away and Shiro knew the hues of blue would give way to black soon enough, as he was being pulled further and further away from the light.

One glance downwards confirmed it. It was pitch black.

A distant hum broke through the monotony of the silence.

The visibility was really limited now, but Shiro was certain he saw something massive move through the dark and the odd noise became louder. He could hear it changing position as it moved in wide circles around him. It didn’t seem to be aware of his presence.  Shiro didn’t think he wanted to attract its attention.

Although he had to admit, having a giant potential predator making odd echoic noises was slightly better than being in the Abyss all alone, void of any sound or motion.

Eventually his feet landed on a hard surface.

So, there was a bottom.

He couldn’t see it, but he had expected something softer, like sand down there. When he tested his stepping, he found the ground to be completely solid and smooth.

Too smooth.

This was clearly a dream and a really odd one. It wasn’t that Shiro hadn’t had odd and abstract dreams in the past, but for some reason this one made him more uneasy than most of them.

Shiro tapped his foot, testing the floor and a couple of bright cyan lines started appearing in even distances with each other. Starting from close to him and spreading in a straight line.

Two spotlights lit up over his head, and Shiro barely had the time to glance up at the looming form of one of Voltron’s lions, before he had to shut his eyes tight against the bright light that surrounded him.

The air was dry now.

Slowly, Shiro cracked an eye open, blinking against the illuminated room. Once his eyes adjusted, he recognized that he was standing in one of the Castle-ship’s corridors. The cyan lines had been the decoration of the walls.

The castle, looked the same as always, except for the water pouring down every wall, dripping from cracks on the roof and oozing from the vents. If this was the same water that Shiro had been in a few seconds ago, it would take a long time before it all dried out.

At this point the lines of reality begun feeling blurred again.

Shiro knew he was dreaming before, but now he had some small doubts.  Had the Castle somehow flooded and his brain had been subconsciously informing him in the dream? Or was the dream just still going on? He could always pinch himself, but that hadn’t worked through the Clone.

Shiro found himself one more time unsure of where he really was.

 “Shiro!”

Shiro startled and turned to find Lance standing at the end of the corridor, eyeing him with a concerned look.

“Lance? What is going on?” he questioned, over the plopping of the falling water.

The younger approached hurriedly with a deep frown “Are you ok? Pidge said you got hit and…” he paused and gave him a better look.

“Hit?”

“Yeah. You don’t look good” Lance decided.

Except of incredibly confused and worried for the state of the Castle-ship, Shiro felt relatively well “Lance, I’m alright. I just- “

“Let’s get Coran to scan you, druidic magic is sneaky”

“Druid- Lance, I don’t know what you’re talking about” Shiro informed, feeling more and more lost by the second. But he allowed Lance to manhandle his arm around his shoulders to help him. At least that’s what he had intended to do, before his Galran arm pinned the Cuban boy forcefully against the wall.

Lance seemed dazed from the impact and Shiro was stunned.

“What the-“ Shiro gasped, as he tried to pull his hand back. His mechanical arm had had occasional malfunctions in the past, that rendered it useless, but it had never acted against on its own accord.

“What the- Shiro…?” Lance breathed out hesitantly once his focus returned.

Shiro kept struggling to free him “I’m not controlling it!” his prosthetic was capable of a lot of damage, he had to get Lance away from it as soon as possible.

“Shiro” Lance repeated and from the sound of it, he wasn’t as calm as he was trying to appear. Shiro growled in frustration, shifting closer in his attempt to get his mechanical arm away from Lance’s neck, but it refused to budge.

‘Black!’ his lion chimed calmly.

Someone had to get him away from Lance by any means. He naturally looked more terrified by the minute.

“Sh-Shiro!” Lance became more animated at his attempt to release himself. Shiro was almost grateful, but since he had no control over his hand at the moment, it could prove to be a bad move “Shiro, stop! Listen-“.

He felt his prosthetic squeeze and cringed, trying to pull back in panic as Lance begun to cough.

 “I’m sorry!”

Everything froze.

Shiro could feel himself shake as he glanced desperately from the still water to his teammate. Lance’s eyes glazed over, before water started pouring down the corners of his mouth.

The Black Paladin’s eyes frantically searched the room for anything to aid him. Lance didn’t have his bayard on him and he didn’t have his own to get rid of the arm altogether. He tried to call out again, to his lion, to his teammates, even to Lance’s Lion. The corridor remained dead silent.

Why wasn’t there anyone there to stop him?

The waterfalls began to move normally once more, but their sound had been muted. Instead there were voices flowing down. Shiro recognized most of them, but they spoke over each other in a chaos of commotion, so he could hardly understand what they were saying.

He caught some stray words and pieces of sentences. There was a fragment in Allura’s voice saying  ‘-realize what-’ and another from Hunk asking if something was ‘more important than’. Also a ‘-one paladin too many’ coming from Keith. There were multiple others coming from Pidge, Coran, Iverson, Matt, Shiro himself and more, getting louder until it all turned to white noise before going quiet once more.

“He’ll blame himself” Shiro’s attention snapped back to Lance at the hoarse whisper, feeling relief wash all over him. Lance’s eyes remained completely glazed and the stream running down his mouth seemed to become thicker. But he had spoken.

“Lance?” with his normal hand he cupped the younger’s face, gently lifting it up “You with me?”

This time he got some recognition, as Lance met his gaze, but as soon as he tried to speak, he started chocking on the water and folded in on himself, struggling to breath.

Shiro stepped back, finding his prosthetic was under his control again, but he didn’t want to risk approaching Lance before being sure it was safe. Lance needed help. His lungs had to be flooding. He was drowning.

‘Black!’

Black didn’t respond at all this time but through their bond Shiro didn’t feel any uneasiness from her.  How could she be so calm?

The streams multiplied and the level of water started to rise in the corridor in a fast pace. Shiro turned to find Lance much further than he had left him and already halfway submerged. He didn’t move when the Black Paladin called out to him, even though he appeared conscious.

 Shiro swam against the water’s flow, reaching out to catch him, but as the water’s level kept rising, Lance sank completely.

“Lance!”

The castle’s lights flickered out and Shiro found himself back in the Abyss. The humming and the creature weren’t there. Neither was anything or anyone else.

~*~

“Shiro… Shiro!”

Shiro’s whole body twitched as he awoke.

The first thing he became aware of was that his clothes were clinging on his skin with cold sweat and both his fists were clenched. Then he noticed the surface of their kitchen table was very close to his face, since his head was apparently laid on it, before turning to find Keith and Hunk by his side.

The Red Paladin seemed alarmed, while the Yellow stared at him with a pained grimace.

“Hey, man” he groaned “Glad you’re awake”

“Shiro, let go” Keith demanded.

The older blinked in confusion, before realizing that one of Keith’s hands was holding his prosthetic, while his other was behind his back. Shiro’s battle training told him that he was readying his dagger, but that couldn’t be it.

Letting his eyes wander a little further, he found Hunk’s wrist trapped in his own metallic grip and released him immediately. The Samoan boy took a few steps back and flexed his hand hissing.

“Hunk! I’m so sorry” Shiro jumped to his feet, worriedly. Instead of an outburst, both of them seemed to actually lose some tension.

 “No no, it’s cool, no harm done” the Yellow Paladin did a last check on his arm before letting it drop against his side.

“It was my fault” Keith stepped in “I didn’t really want to wake you up, you’ve warned us not to try it after all and I know you need rest. But you seemed to be having a nightmare... I kept calling but it wasn’t working. Then I tried to shake you and Hunk tried to stop me”

The Black Paladin bowed his head guiltily but Hunk offered a reassuring smile before Shiro had the time to give another apology.

“Don’t worry about it” he said and moved over to their ‘alien oven’.

There was a delicious smell in the air, and Shiro noticed quite a few stuff had been moved around the kitchen since he dozed off. There were also dirty dishes on the table. The two of them must have been here for a while but let him nap.

Once he was sure Hunk wasn’t hurt, Shiro slowly settled back to his seat and sighed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Keith picked up the sheet that had fallen off Shiro when he stood, folded it messily and set it on one of the empty chairs, before sitting next to him.

“Are you alright?” he questioned lowly.

 Hunk begun whistling, in a not so subtle attempt of giving them a sense of privacy. He then went on to moving around the room, tidying up the ingredients spread across the counter.

As he struggled to give Keith his attention, Shiro’s brain was busy processing the reason he was so uneasy. It felt silly though to address it.

It was clear that all the concern he had formed about Lance was manifesting itself that way. The stress was getting to him.

He knew Lance was in a bad place and that water was the Blue Lion’s element. With everything that had taken place the night before, it made sense for his brain to create those images. Still, pieces of the dream really bothered him and some details felt eerily familiar. They gave him a strange sense of déjà vu.

 But dreams aren’t known to be rational or make any sense what so ever.

“Was it the Galra? Do you need to talk about it?” Keith pushed, hesitantly.

Even after his time with the Blade, Keith somehow still managed to be self conscious about his heritage. The concealed hint of guilt in his tone, snapped Shiro back to reality.

“No, I’m alright” he replied finally, pushing back his white tuff “Just a dream”

Keith didn’t look very convinced, which was fair. Most of Shiro’s nightmares, were mashed-up flashbacks of the times he was captured by the Galra.

“Just a dream?”

The word ‘yes’ tangled through Shiro’s tongue and got stuck there. It almost baffled him how hard it was to give a simple affirmation in such a simple question.

Black chimed at the back of his brain, impatiently.

“Where are Lance and Pidge?” he blurted out instead.

“Pidge was playing video games in Lance’s room till late last night, so they’re probably still snoozing” Hunk stepped close and set a plate in front of Shiro. It contained something that looked like a reversed blue muffin with silver crystalloid sprinkles. It was steaming “As for Lance, it’s borderline early for him, so maybe he’s still sleeping too. Dig in, before it gets cold”

“Did you see him at all?” Shiro questioned, trying to keep down the illogical urgency in his voice.

“I saw him” Keith replied hurriedly, sensing his mentor’s discomfort. “I passed by Lance’s room earlier, to make sure Pidge wouldn’t pull another all-nighter. Them and Lance were sleeping”

Shiro appeared to relax slightly at this, only to jump when Hunk spoke next, in the tone he usually took under pressure “Why, did something happen?”

“I-” the residue of the dream had yet to wear off, so building a coherent sentence proved to be pretty challenging, especially with the insistent twist in his gut. He shook his head and tried to get a hold of himself. He was being unreasonable “I found him in the training deck last night. He was practicing in close combat”

“What?!” Hunk shirked, leaning over the table with wide eyes.

Shiro nodded with a small frown “The last time he had told me that you were supervising him. I had already gathered that he was lying and he almost admitted it too. But your reaction erases any doubt”

Hunk growled and judging from Keith’s expression he was pretty annoyed as well. But with his habit to use the training deck without anyone around, and other- Health jeopardizing acts, he found it wasn’t his place to complain. At least not yet.

“Was he ok?” Hunk turned to Keith anxiously, since he was the last person who saw him.

Keith shrugged “He looked alright”

“He wasn’t hurt. Just tired” Shiro explained, finally getting his thoughts and words in track “We mostly talked and he said some things that concern me”

The glance the other two traded was impossible to miss. It didn’t take a Holt to guess what they were thinking.

“What kind of things?” Hunk finally claimed a seat for himself, since he had made the kitchen shiny enough to have Pokémon trainers after it “Also, you really should eat that” he pointed at the muffin. Shiro mechanically took a bite, subconsciously surprised to find it really had gone cold already.

“Um…” he started cutting the muffin with his spork, mostly to get his frustration out somehow “We talked a bit about training and safety” he let the utensil drop and loosely crossed his arms on top of the table, turning to them “Then we talked about the weeks before you found me”

Keith flinched and sunk in his chair, averting his gaze from both of them. Hunk was doing a valiant effort to keep his expression blank, but Shiro saw him stiffen. He prayed to any celestial being that they wouldn’t make things more difficult than they already were.

“You suspended him” Shiro directed his eyes on Keith, keeping his voice firm “I am guessing, that was what you were talking to me about, yesterday?”

The younger gave a short nod, keeping his gaze lowered like a child getting scolded. While Shiro felt like Keith’s guilt was punishment enough, he had to place his affections aside if he had to be fair. One wrong word could upset either of the two paladins, who still clearly held their own share of bargain due to the events in question.

“He was pretty evasive on the subject and didn’t give me a lot of details. So I don’t know exactly what happened. If either of you would like to fill me in? I need a more clear image before I say anything else” since Keith had already been as difficult as Lance about it, Shiro turned to Hunk, who seemed to expect it.

“What is there to say? Lance tried to shoot Kuron-” he grinned and nudged Keith with his elbow gently “See what I did there?” that earned him a weak smile.

“Anyway” he continued “So, basically, Keith got pissed and became sort of an ass. He told Lance there were too many paladins -without consulting any of the team, mind you-. Although Allura didn’t raise any objections, she had already pulled the ‘do you realize what you did’ card on him. Then Lance took off before any of us realized it. He stayed with Matt for three weeks, until we had to call him in for help when the Blue Lion wouldn’t respond to the princess”

Shiro ignored the chills down his spine, as he could have sworn he had heard something like these sentences, in their appropriate voices. He released a tired breath and looked at Keith solemnly “Lance doesn’t hate you, but understandably he seems to be holding some resentment over what happened. You will have to address it” he glanced at Hunk “Personally I think the whole team needs to address what happened, openly, before you start snapping at each other”

Hunk shrugged and huffed “Don’t look at me, man. I’ve always been aboard for the whole team therapy thing to prevent inside problems. I’m not the one internalizing everything”

“So you’re honest about everything?” Shiro caught the defensive aggression that Keith slipped into sometimes, but didn’t have the time to intervene.

“I am! At least I try to be, with anything that concerns only me” Hunk seemed more confused than angry, even though his voice was louder than needed.

“Really?” Keith sat up, glaring at Hunk half-heartedly “So you mean to tell me you’re not mad with me for what I did anymore?” he asked ironically.

Shiro decided to not intervene unless he got invited or if there hadn’t been another choice. Instead he proceeded into taking a big bite of the muffin pieces, which instantly had him cringing with a brain-freeze. Hunk hadn’t been kidding when he said ‘eat before it gets cold’.

Hunk maneuvered his chair to be able to face Keith better “I am mad! I’ll probably always be mad about it, just like I’ll always be upset about when you tried to blast yourself into oblivion. There are a lot of things that bothered me when they happened and will continue to bother me when I remember them. It’s how these things work. But what does that have to do with anything? Where exactly is the dishonesty?”

Keith stared at Hunk with furrowed eyebrows before glancing helplessly at Shiro.

Shiro rubbed his forehead, as he recovered from the freeze and pushed his plate aside “I think Keith is perplexed because you’re treating him well, even though you’re mad. He thinks you’re being nice because you have to”

The larger boy raised an eyebrow and turned to Keith for confirmation. Keith shrunk a bit under his gaze but didn’t deny it.

“You and Lance” Hunk started, pressing a finger on his own temple “Have a tendency to over think so much to the point where it doesn’t make any sense anymore. I did give you my piece of mind when Lance was away, didn’t I?” Keith murmured a faint ‘you did’ and Shiro could tell it hadn’t been a pleasant piece.

 “I know you have regretted it” Hunk continued “I’m not completely over it since Lance-“ he sighed “ What I mean is- You made a mistake. You weren’t even completely unreasonable to make it, regardless the consequences. That doesn’t mean I’ll dwell on it all the time, you’re my friend. I still like hanging out with you. You know me after all, I’m not good at pretending I like people that I don’t”

 “So… You don’t hate me?”

The slap Hunk landed on his own face echoed through the whole kitchen “For the love of-… You two are such a handful…” he let the hand drag down a trail of fingerprints before it dropped off his face “Of course I don’t hate you, you moron. I didn’t even hate you on that day, I was just mad”

Keith nodded once more, looking like he could cry from relief.

Hunk rolled his eyes and stood up, picking Shiro’s plate, after asking if he was done. On his way around the table he gave Keith a small one armed hug, which Keith returned eagerly. 

“Better?” Shiro asked, in a low voice once Hunk had moved to the counter before excusing himself for a bathroom break.

 “Yeah, thanks” Keith replied, curling his feet under his chair “So… What- do you have to say about… That?”

Shiro sighed deeply and gave him a stern look “I do not by any means condone your actions. I’ve told you before, you need to think before you act and consider what you say before saying it”

“You have no idea” Keith avoided meeting his eyes as he muttered under his breath guiltily “I told you. I wasn’t meant to lead”

“This isn’t just about Voltron or about leadership. These are not just colleagues or teachers, they’re your friends. You care about them and about how they see you” Shiro added pointedly “Just because my Clone didn’t know you well enough to guess why you chose to join the Blade, doesn’t mean I don’t. You also know my opinion on your ‘leave before being left’ policy” Shiro’s expression saddened “And I know that I’ve played a big part on that”

Keith tried to protest but Shiro raised a hand to stop him “Don’t try to deny it. I know I wasn’t responsible for most of what happened to me. But I still put too much pressure on you” he straightened up on his seat “But with, or without me, or with you being the leader or not, your team still cares about you. I think they’ve already proved they won’t give up on you that easily”

Keith felt a little overwhelmed, because Shiro was right. He had given them a lot of reasons to reject him completely, yet they kept giving him more chances.

“You’re still here. So I hope that means you’re learning to embrace that” Shiro stated “The other thing you need to learn is to…” he struggled for a moment, looking for the proper way to say this “Well. Think a little less of me”

The younger bit his lip, looking sheepish.

“Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to sound unappreciative, I’m honored by your loyalty to me and you know how much I care about you. As long as I’m here I’ll be the best I can for that loyalty to be warranted. But a line needs to be drawn where that loyalty blinds your own critical thinking”

“I know…” Keith lowered his gaze “I wouldn’t have missed something was off about you then and I wouldn’t have treated Lance like that”

Shiro gave a cheerless smile and rested a hand on Keith’s shoulder “You were always the one to go the extra mile. You just need to balance this out a bit, so nothing like that will happen again”

“I’m trying. After everything that happened, I’m really trying” the younger murmured sincerely.

“I believe you. As for the leader part” Shiro sat back and folded his arms in front of him “I’ll do my best to stick around. So don’t worry about it for now, we’ll work something out”

“Shiro… About Lance” Keith took a deep breath, keeping his eyes on his intertwined fingers “I didn’t just ‘mess up’. When we had found your Clone, Lance had come to me, saying he was willing to step down of the team since there were ‘one paladin too many’. He put a lot of faith in me and-” he let his fingers tangle on each other and forced himself to look directly at Shiro as he continued “When he tried to shoot you, I returned to the team and suspended him by telling him there was ‘one paladin too many’”

It was much easier to ignore the chills upon recognizing the sentence this time, since Keith’s little speech made him kind of numb.

Shiro had meant to address the projection of lack of self-worth from Lance he had witnessed the previous night. He hadn’t been sure on how to approach the subject properly but now that Keith had served him the opportunity on a silver platter, he didn’t have the courage to pick it up.

The ostracizing had been enough of a reason to figure how Lance’s self image had been cracked. But that was a huge blow. Hunk hadn’t mentioned it, or given any indication he was aware of Keith’s words’ history.

Lance had kept this to himself.

It was impressive Lance had forgiven him at all, but it wasn’t just that. According to what Keith said, their Blue Paladin had had his doubts for a while. Why else would he see any need to step down? With his suspension his condition most likely escalated.

“Wow…” Shiro breathed out finally “I did guess some terrible choice of words had been involved, but… I didn’t expect that”

“Yeah, I am scum I know” now that he had finally said what he wanted, Keith’s tongue appeared to be flowing more freely.

“That’s not-“

“No. Listen. He said he forgives me and you said he doesn’t hate me. I don’t know if any of that is true and you’re welcome to roast me all you want in a moment, but there’s something else” Shiro wasn’t sure how much more he could take. But at least they might be getting somewhere with all of this “Recently something happened and Lance was- really dismissive of himself, I think it’s my fault, but I don’t know how or if I can fix this”

Of course he was dismissive of himself. He ‘wasn’t important’ after all.

Shiro massaged his temples, pacing his breathing to keep calm. He was pretty certain that this ‘recently’ referred to the same time Coran had indicated. That had to be the last piece. His team had been burying a lot of things since the Naxzela, but it had to be this missing piece that brought all of them to the tipping point.

“Ok, you really need to talk to him again. But till then, we need a team gathering” he stood up and looked down on Keith “Remind me to scold you when I have had some proper sleep”

“You can’t scold me, but you can handle a ‘council meeting’?” Keith followed his suit, sounding almost amused at his mentor’s demand. Getting all that off his chest probably helped.

“At least I’ll have Hunk and Allura helping to manage the rest of you in the meeting” the kitchen door opened as they stepped out. And speak of the devil, there were both of people he had just mentioned, chatting.

“Good morning, paladins” Allura greeted softly upon seeing them. She returned the small device she was examining to Hunk, who put it in his pocket.

“Heyo” Hunk waved “Are you guys done?”

“Good morning, Allura. Is everything ok?” Shiro found it very bakwards that he was the one asking this at the moment, but courtesy demanded it. Plus their princess had her own unique schedule; he had to make sure there wasn’t some issue when he found her at random times.

“I wished to have a moment with you, Shiro. But Hunk told me you and Keith were not to be interrupted, unless it was something urgent”

Keith turned to Hunk with an unimpressed look “I thought you were in the bathroom”

“I thought you needed some privacy” Hunk sassed back with a matching expression and got an eye-roll for response.

“Thank you, Hunk” Shiro punched Keith’s shoulder softly and looked at the princess “I was going to gather the team for a talk, but it can wait. What do you need?”

“Oh, we can’t have a complete team gathering anyway. The princess told me Pidge and Lance left hours ago to see Matt” the Yellow Paladin remarked, seemingly annoyed that he wasn’t invited.

Shiro felt the twist in his gut, he had forgotten about while they were talking, return in full capacity.

“Is that safe?” he stammered.

“They are aboard the Green Lion. If anything beyond their abilities appear, they can use its cloaking ability to withdraw” Allura pointed out “Could you come with me?”

“Yes, of course” Shiro walked past the other two, who kept staring at them till they were out of sight, before giving each other a curious look.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Coran gave the two commanders a short bow when they walked to the bridge. Shiro barely had the time to respond, before Allura excused him. The Altean man didn’t seem surprised at her request and exited the room with wide steps.

“If I may ask, what was the reason of the meeting you were going to have with the rest of the Paladins?” she asked, swiftly pushing Platt, who was sleeping in the middle of the catwalk, to a safer place.

“You and Coran were to be included actually” Shiro stood by her side patiently “There has been some issues I wanted to address”

“Is this about Lance?” Shiro assumed the things passing by the screen she was scrolling through were files, but she was doing it too fast to be sure.

“It has to do with everyone. But he is at the center of it, yes”

Allura turned stepped back from her controllers and towards him “I imagined so. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about”

Shiro’s eyed her suspiciously “Did you send him away so we could talk? Because that-”

“I did not” she cut him “Although I must say, the two aren’t unrelated”

Allura paced a small gracefully line back and forth before she stood determined in front of him and spoke.

“As you’re well aware, I face difficulties in understanding your kind” she started “Which has led me astray multiple times. In this case I was just a fool, because most of your paladins protested with my decision but I went along with the one that agreed with me. Even if the numbers were against us and Lance wasn’t in the best mental state at the moment. I should have realized they knew something more than I did.

So if you are going to be angry for excluding you from something so important, I am the only one to blame”

Shiro was quite baffled to say the least, figuring easily what she was talking about. He wasn’t sure how to reply. He was glad to finally see light at the end of the tunnel, but the way everyone talked about this made him dread what he would find out. Plus he really hated doing this behind Lance’s back.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wait for the team gathering?” he frowned “I know Lance has the biggest objection, you don’t need to take all the blame. It would be fairer to him too”

“Lance does, indeed and it would be” she sighed “But I’m sure. I came to realize that when Lance objects to something it is usually the correct choice. Except of when it concerns himself”

“Except of when it concerns himself” Shiro finished the sentence with her, and she gave him a sad smile.

“Yes”

“He won’t be happy with you” Shiro gave her a last warning in a gentle tone, seeing that this was harder than it appeared on her.

“I am aware” she turned back to her screen “I have been informed that there are things, you humans consider ‘unspeakable’. Which is… understandable in specific situations. So I’ll just show you. I’ll be here to answer any questions you might have”

Shiro stood beside her, watching the screen with a knot in his stomach. It made quite a set with the discomfort at his gut.

Both of them jumped on their feet when the reception screen came to life, lighting up to reveal the Green Lion’s cockpit.

Pidge sat at their seat, looking pretty roughen up, with their hair flying all over the place. They were missing their glasses, part of their helmet and their left shoulder pad was split in two.

Lance was standing close, using the back of the pilot’s chair for support, as he was heaving to catch his breath. His condition was similar to Pidge’s with some additional scratches and a wide crack across his chest plate. His bayard was activated and held tightly in his grip.

A commotion of gunshots and metallic noises could be heard from somewhere in the background.

“Allura” Pidge stuttered “We have a problem”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The lovely wind chime gif was done by my dear friend lunarcatten on Tumblr