Later, there's a shift, and Hunk notices long before Lance is aware of himself.
Lance doesn't go anywhere alone anymore. There's always an excuse, always something that someone needs to see, and sometimes he'll just insist until someone gives, whoever he manages to annoy enough into it -Shiro, Coran, the mice. He needs Hunk's help on the bay. He wants to show Pidge something in the control room. One time Lance straight up tells Keith to hit the combat sim with him, and Hunk would expect Keith to have any reaction but to stand up and follow Lance out of the room without a word, but that's what happens and that's when he realizes.
That's also when the blue lion's ice canons stop working.
Hunk wiggles under the lion's raised leg, reaching out to grab the screwdriver Lance has been toying with.
"The crystal's gone, you know," he offers, like this is a conversation they've been having at all, like Lance hasn’t been sitting there watching Hunk work in the most disturbingly un-Lance-like silence for the last hour. "Sendak too."
Lance shrugs an "I know," like, yes, he knows, he was there.
Hunk tugs and pulls at the wiring, checks that the levers are flipped in the exact order Coran drafted for them, though the labels on them are all in Altean and for all Hunk knows he could be reading them upside down.
"I'm just saying, the Castle's not trying to kills us anymore."
Lance shrugs again, picking the flashlight from the floor and turning the light to the panel Hunk is inspecting when Hunk gestures for it. Hunk points further left, and Lance scuttles up closer behind him, throwing his arms around Hunk's shoulders and dropping his weight on Hunk's back, hanging from him like a dramatic, long-suffering ragdoll.
Hunk takes Lance's wrist and points the flashlight where he needed it -the condensators are in place, the relays look okay, and from deeper inside the panel, Allura's blue mouse comes out looking like it hasn't found any structural damage in the inner sections where Hunk can't reach.
"...I have no idea what I'm doing," he finally concedes, taking the flashlight back from Lance and turning it off.
Lance snorts into his shoulder, and Hunk can almost hear the eyeroll on his voice. "No way. You're my ace engineer here, you fix stuff."
"Well," Hunk huffs back, "One, yes, I am, thank you; and two, I fix things that make sense, Lance. Like spacecrafts, and hoverbikes, and things that run on Earth physics -not magical robot lions from outer space that run on magic and shoot magic ice beams. This isn't exactly like playing with a black box on the flight simulator."
Hunk expects Lance to put up more of a fight, for this to go on for hours, but Lance just quietly deflates behind him, arms sagging around his shoulders, and he's a little worried now.
"I'm sorry, buddy." He puts one hand on Lance's arm and leans back a bit, resting his head on top of Lance's, buried in his shoulder like a pillow. "I really don't know what's wrong with it."
Lance hisses behind him like a wet cat, and Hunk almost topples backwards when Lance bolts away, gaping at him with a look of mortally wounded indignation.
" Her !" he wails, reaching up to scratch at the steel plates forming the sole of the lion's... paw. "Don't talk about Blue like that, you're hurting her feelings."
"Lance," Hunk sighs, running a hand down his face. "Are you giving your magical robot lion scratchies?"
Lance glares at him and Hunk can’t stop the smile that tugs at his lips, even as he helps the mice out of the hatchet, closes the panel and seals the lid shut again while Lance continues his grooming. For a moment, Hunk could swear he can hear the lion purring above him.
It doesn’t get much better for a while, on either front, and now Hunk is worrying for real.
The lion is working -it flies, it shoots, it kicks. It just can’t do the ice trick anymore. They take the lions out a few times, on Shiro’s orders, to test if there’s not gonna be any surprises the next time they need to form Voltron in a pinch, just to be sure. And Blue dutifully takes her place, Voltron still moves and fights with no issue, and Hunk can’t believe he’s calling his best friend’s giant sentient robot lion “Blue” now, but it is what it is.
Hunk works with Pidge, studying her modifications to her lion to check if they can reverse engineer what triggers the ice beams on Lance’s, or the flamethrowers in Keith’s, but they don’t get too far. Pidge is curious and prods her lion to show her if it can produce some elemental attack too, but Hunk suspects if the yellow and green lions have abilities like that, they won’t be showing it until it’s really necessary. Nothing the lions have given them so far hasn’t been earned without a lot of sweat and ass-kicking before.
Allura and Coran can’t help him much, either. Allura is still recovering, in no condition to be wandering the bay, and Hunk doesn’t want to bother her with smaller mechanical issues when Voltron itself is working, ready and able to go if any emergency strikes. Coran is busy, or at least makes himself look busy enough any time Hunk comes around -there’s always something else to clean, something else to fix, something the corrupted crystal broke and he needs to make a scene over. Hunk suspects Coran knows exactly what’s wrong with the blue lion, but he keeps evading Hunk’s questions and asking him how Lance is doing, instead.
Lance is not doing well. He keeps hanging around on everyone’s orbits, which on any day would just be a Lance thing to do -he’s always been a busy bee like this, needing people and noise around him. Hunk can’t even remember a time in the garrison when Lance wasn’t surrounded by people, he can’t picture Lance ever hanging out on his own for some peace and quiet like Pidge or himself would do. But something’s different about this, something’s not in the right place.
Lance has been wearing the suit more than his casual clothes lately, and more than once Hunk’s caught him toying with the comlink channel buttons. He's still only hitting the training sim with Keith in tow, and to everyone's surprise, while the two haven't been arguing any less, Lance hasn't been dragging the arguments for so long anymore. He doesn't come by the bridge without Hunk anymore, and won't go through the med bay if he can help, once leaving Hunk waiting for fifteen minutes by the vents while he takes the long way around through the wards, on the other side of the ship.
And he's not sleeping at all.
Hunk catches him one night, on a midnight snack walk. Lance has been spending more and more time in Hunk's room at night, chatting about nothing important, flipping through the books Hunk found around the ship and hasn't had time to learn how to read yet, stalling until it's so late and Hunk is so tired that he has no choice but to go. Hunk doesn't mind, it's almost like being back in the garrison for a while, rooming with Lance and never getting any rest because Lance never knows when to stop; but staying up so late leaves him hungry all over again and so he has to sneak around for a snack every now and then.
That's when he finds Lance in the commons, bundled up in a blanket on the couch, hunched over a pad, talking to someone Hunk can't see, but whose voice he'd recognize a lightyear away.
"Really, Lance, this is how you become a super villain?" Hunk teases him, coming around the couch to sit next to him. "Selling us off to Zarkon in your PJs and a blankie?"
On the pad screen, Nyma giggles and waves Hunk hello.
Lance heard him coming, of course he did, and he doesn't try to hide what he's doing. Not from Hunk. He groans and gives Hunk an anguished look, though, like he might die in a minute. "Buddy, you're ruining my flow here."
"Yeah, I'm sure I am," Hunk snorts, taking the pad from Lance's hands. "Hey Nyma, how are you guys doing?"
Fine, she says, and she's giggling, she's always giggling. Behind her, Hunk can see the silhouette of Rolo and the lights on the cockpit around him. They're flying, then. They're fine.
Lance climbs up on Hunk's shoulder to see the screen as Nyma tells him they're doing good now, they're trying to help and stay on the right side of things this time, that they're picking up distress signs and coming down to check if there's any refugees that need help. Lance is practically sitting on Hunk's lap by the time Rolo calls her down, and he sounds anxious about something, and she has to wave her goodbyes.
"What the hell, man," Hunk sighs as he turns off the pad and throws it off to the side, a little more annoyed than he meant to. "What are you doing, sneaking up in the middle of the night to chat with the girl who tied you up to a tree?"
Lance huffs, a little embarrassed to have been caught, but Hunk's not sure if it’s for the reasons he's thinking.
"I mean, I can tie you up to a tree if you're into that, we can do that if you need to get this one off your system," Hunk jokes, and finally Lance laughs. Finally he's laughing, and Hunk realizes that's a sound he hasn't heard in a while -since.
Hunk leans back into the couch, relaxing into the familiar sound of Lance's ugly, snorty laughter, and he laughs too as Lance leans back into him, laying his head on Hunk's shoulder until their chuckles die down. He's bundled up on Hunk's lap now, and it's like being back in school again, like being twelve years old and trying to do homework and finish his physics book with a wild Lance on top of him, all gangly legs and jerky pulls and elbows to Hunk's sides as he played his handheld flight simulator.
"Couldn't sleep," Lance confesses.
"Again," Hunk offers, and Lance nods quietly.
That he hasn’t been sleeping, anyone can tell. Pidge mentions it over dinner one night when Lance zones out and almost faceplates on his goo. Shiro asks Hunk about it at the docking bay once, after Lance almost tips Voltron over during practice on a crater-surfaced asteroid they find. Hunk promises Shiro everything’s just fine, but the bluff doesn’t convince even himself.
“What’s going on, Lance? You gotta talk to me, man.”
Lance is quiet for a change, thinking about what to say maybe, but ultimately all he can Hunk is a shrug and vague wave of his hand in no particular direction.
“Too cold,” he says into Hunk’s shoulder. “Too dark. Quiet.”
Hunk stares up at the skylight above them, watching the faint lights of distant stars flickering against the black nothing of space, but it’s not the stars he sees. He sees Lance’s house, his parents, siblings and cousins, the rush of feet up and down the stairs, the rumble of a dozen voices speaking and shouting at each other, singing, dogs barking, at some point howling, someone calling someone else’s name across the hall, Lance shouting something at his mother downstairs and she’d still pick it up over all that noise and yell something back, and Hunk would never know how she did that, but she always heard everything, and answered everyone.
He sees Lance’s face as he tells them, that day, I was almost thrown out the airlock . He sees Lance growing more and more agitated as he tells them what happened, how he got locked, and banged and on the door, and held on for his life, and I screamed and screamed and no one could hear me, no one would listen .
When Hunk looks back down, Lance is staring up out the skylight too. He’s holding onto Hunk’s arm, picking invisible fleece from the sleeve of his sweater.
“You know what it’s like out there?” Lance asks, his voice weak, as tired as Hunk feels. “It’s quiet. I think I was screaming, but I couldn’t even hear my own voice."
Hunk watches Lance, watching the stars.
“No one was coming, and I couldn’t hear anything.”
Hunk stays with Lance that night, letting Lance weight on him, watching the stars and scratching under that mop of hair until he can hear the hum of Lance’s breath steady and turn into a light snore against the crook of his neck. He shifts Lance a bit before there’s drool on his shirt, and after some time finally decides he’s tired enough, and Lance is asleep enough, to go to bed.
He carries Lance back to his own room, makes space on the bed for both of them and drops beside him like lead, and this too feels like home again -Lance snoring beside him like a hog, thrashing in bed and kicking Hunk in the shins, and Hunk feels like it’s every sleepover again, his bed getting too small for the two of them each year that passes, like it’s their quarters an hour past lights out and Lance is crashing on Hunk’s bunk because he’s too tired to climb up into his own. Lance slaps him on the ear with an errant turn in his sleep, and Hunk sleeps better that night than he has since they got here.
In the morning, when he wakes up, Lance is still there, sitting cross-legged on top of his desk, and Hunk has to throw a pillow at him to stop Lance going through his stuff again.
“What are we doing?” Lance asks, and Hunk has to drag his eyes away from the universe around them, the stars, the nothing, the infinite of space. It’s so easy to get lost out here.
“Fixing you,” Hunk answers, and shoots at him with both phasers.
Blue dodges, turns, bolts around him, and Hunk has to hold his lion in place just to get Lance to stop running too. The blue lion pulls right above him, but it jitters in place, wanting to move.
“You’re not supposed to dodge, you’re supposed to block.”
Lance whines on the the comlink, and Hunk roll his eyes with enough point that Lance can see him on the screen prompt. He rears the yellow lion back to a good line of fire and shoots again.
“Stop doing that!” Lance shout as he dodges the yellow beams, again. “This isn’t working, you’re making her nervous.”
“I’m not doing anything,” Hunk shouts back as he dodges a snapping tail that almost catches his lion on the head. “ You’re making her nervous!”
He can hear Lance huffing on the other side of the link, and taking a breath to snap something at him, but it dies before it comes out, and the blue lion comes back around to hover in front of him, still now, its tail swaying lightly before coming around to wrap around the yellow lion’s leg.
Hunk doesn’t know anything about magic, but he knows enough about ships to know two things: one, there’s nothing wrong with Blue, mechanically speaking, no thrusters he can replace, no snapped wires he can solder back together, the lion works as intended, except for the part where its magic depends on its pilot, and its pilot is hunched up on his seat now, arms around his knees and head turned away from the feed; and two -that he’s not touching the control panels at all when the yellow lion tucks its head under the blue lion’s chin, and purrs .
“Listen, Lance,” he calls, leaning back and letting the lions rest together a moment. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there, okay.”
Lance shifts in place and glances at the screen, but Hunk still can’t quite see his face.
“I’m not always gonna be there when you need me, and you’re not always gonna be there when I need you,” he continues. “That’s gonna happen. But Coran got you, didn’t he? And Keith, too. And before that, when Pidge saved our asses?”
Lance looks up then, frowning. He only seems to notice the yellow lion so up close then, too.
“You’re not alone, man. We’re all here.”
Lance looks away again, using the helmet to cover his face, but Hunk can see the pout and it makes him smile, a little bit.
“I almost died,” he sighs, with a small roll of his shoulders. “Twice.”
“But you didn’t,” Hunk cuts him, and when Lance turns around to look at him, really look, Hunk feels the engine stirring around him. “And you can stay out of the bay if you need until you’re not scared of the pods anymore, and you can stay in my room for as long as you want until you feel like can you sleep in yours again, but you gotta remember that. You didn’t die. You’re still here.”
Hunk’s right about the engine, but it’s not his lion doing it -it’s Blue stirring around him. Lance seems to feel it too; he sits up and takes the controls over, and Hunk can hear him chuckling as he pulls the blue lion back and stretches its paws.
“Corny,” Lance huffs in his ears. “You’re so corny, man.”
Hunk laughs, but he’s already taking the controls too and aligning the thrusters again.
Lance takes some distance with his lion, aligns them out of the Castle’s line of sight so they don’t risk a ricochet, and closes his eyes. Hunk watches him through the screen and closes his eyes for a bit too, listening, letting the lion guide him, time him, feeling the beams charging up ahead through the hum of the panels under his hands.
When Hunk shoots, this time, the vacuum of space seems to crack around them, and with a beam of light bright enough to blind Hunk for a moment, the blue lion roars a breath of crystals that shine and burst and turn to ice before them, building a perfect shield of blue where Hunk’s yellow beams scatter and echo, casting off into the nothing to die out among the stars.
Lance howls with joy in his ears, and Hunk can’t help the grin that lights up across his face.
They’ll be alright.
Hunk wakes up with a foot across his face, and Lance’s head resting between his knees.
“How the hell did you turn all the way around?” he asks with a yawn, stretching his legs and trying to shake Lance off.
“You snore,” Lance grunts, bringing his arms around Hunk’s legs to stop him from getting up and shifting enough that his knees are digging into Hunk’s side.
Hunk stares at the ceiling, barely believing he has to hear this with his own two ears. He snores. He’s hungry, and his neck aches from the weird position he slept in, but Lance’s grip is tight on him, and from the way Lance is drooling on his pants it doesn’t seem like they’ll be getting up any time soon unless Zarkon himself shows up in the Castle.
All the years they’ve know each other, and this is what he gets. He snores.
“Next time I’m gonna throw you out of the airlock myself.”