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Despite what he might tell Keith, Lance isn’t the seventh son of the seventh son and therefore imbued by mystical powers of precognition that make him an absolutely mag-fucking-nificent sniper. He’s the third of six kids, in fact, and his dad is an only child, and Lance can barely tell you where he put his shoes ten ticks ago, much less what’s going to happen ten minutes into the future, so when the Castle notifies him that he has an incoming video call from his parents back on Earth, he just shrugs and takes off the simulator goggles, ignoring Hunk’s yell of protest and Pidge’s triumphant shriek, and wanders off to find an unoccupied room with a video hookup. He has a pretty regular video call schedule with his parents, at this point — or at least as regular as they can make it with Voltron off to save the world at inconvenient times — but the fact that this one is at the wrong time doesn’t ring any alarms. Maybe he was supposed to call them and he forgot? He’s still racking his brain when the screen flickers on, and it’s only when he sees his parents’ faces that he knows that something is terribly wrong.

 

His parents are obviously expecting a big reaction from Lance when they finally tell him what happened. The whole video screen is hazy, obscured by the clouds of cigarette smoke from his mom’s endless stress-smoking, but she’s clearly been crying, and his dad still is, tears soaking into his mustache. They seem to want something from Lance, catharsis or communion or something, but Lance mostly just feels dry and hollowed-out, like an empty vase; he couldn’t cry right now if he tried. The last thing he wants is to hyperfocus on this, but he is, he can’t go anywhere else in his head, he can’t make their words turn into noise, they’re so fucking crystal clear that he can practically read them in the air in front of him. When he finally hangs up on the call, he sees something a little like disappointment in his mom’s face, and that’s when he goes to find Keith, because he can’t deal with anyone kinder right now, and Keith won’t expect him to emote anything like Lance knows he should.

 

By now, Lance knows Keith’s usual schedule, but it takes him a few tries to end up in the right place, even though Keith is in the lion bay every other day at this time like clockwork. Everything feels fast and slow at the same time, light years away and excruciatingly close. Then the door whooshes open and Lance sees Keith and everything is a little easier if Lance just focuses on him, black and red and purple, strange and beloved, like a dancer’s spot, the one still point in a turning world.

 

Lance still has enough sense to make sure Keith has plenty of time to see him coming, for Keith to unfasten his knife and put it down carefully next to his bayard so that he can meet Lance with ready arms because Lance is not stopping, Lance is kissing Keith as hard as he can, and he still can’t feel a fucking thing but his energy must be different than usual, because Keith puts the brakes on, breaking the kiss and pushing him back, hands gentle on his shoulders.

 

“Is there something wrong?” Keith asks.

 

“Yes,” Lance says.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Keith asks.

 

“Absolutely not,” Lance says, and then amends that to, “Not right now,” and then pushes Keith back against the wall and then down onto the floor so Lance can crawl on top of him right there in the middle of the fucking lion bay and let himself feel everything with his body that he just can’t in words.

 

Afterwards, Keith gently shrugs him off and rolls away so he can settle cross-legged next to Lance. Lance just stays where he ended up, flat on his back on the floor.

 

“What happened?” Keith asks.

 

Lance stares up at the ceiling. He’s sticky in some increasingly uncomfortable places, and the Castle cleaning robots clearly haven’t been doing their job in this room, because both of them are covered in a pretty awful mixture of sweat and dust and grit. He didn’t even lock the door when he came in. He can’t find it in himself to give a single fuck.

 

“My grandma died,” he says, finally.

 

“Oh,” Keith says.

 

“Believe it or not, she’s my first family member to die,” Lance says. “I mean, her husband, my grandpa, he died when I was really young, but I never really knew him. Same with my dad’s parents. I guess I got really lucky, huh?”

 

“Yeah, you did,” Keith says, and Lance turns over to look at him.

 

“Does it get easier?” Lance asks him. “The more people you lose?”

 

“Yeah, actually,” Keith says. “A little. But not… in a good way. Not in a way that you really want.”

 

“Don’t really have much of a choice, do I,” Lance says, and that’s when the tears start, ugly and loud, and even though they’re both gross right now and Keith is probably overheated and absolutely hates naked contact outside of sex, he pulls Lance up into his arms anyway and holds on as Lance rips out a muffled scream against Keith’s chest and finally, finally lets the feelings come.

 

 

*

 

 

Even though the Garrison turned out to be a little bit evil — or at least horrifically utilitarian — and being a cadet there ground Lance’s soul and self-esteem down like peppercorns in a mortar, Lance still doesn’t regret going. It brought him Hunk, after all, and Blue, and the rest of his new family; it taught him how to fly; and it gave him opportunities that he didn’t have back in Varadero, with money tight between six kids and the weight of his entire family’s assumptions heavy on his back.

 

“Do you have to go so far away?” his mom had asked when he brought home his letter of acceptance and triumphantly paraded it around the house like a cat showing off a dead mouse.

 

“Even if that’s really what you want to do, there are other astronaut training programs, closer to home,” Abuela Aurelia argued. “Or at least not in Arizona,” which she pronounced like a bite out of a bad sandwich.

 

“No, Mamá, Abuela, I have to go here,” Lance-who-was-not-Lance-at-the-time told them. “There aren’t any other schools like this one,” which was true in a lot of ways, including the fact that it had several prominent non-discrimination clauses in its handbook and an excellent health care plan for its cadets, even the ones in the cargo pilot track.

 

Despite those non-discrimination handbook clauses, transitioning at the Garrison halfway through his first year didn’t win him many friends among faculty or other cadets — or, like, any, except Hunk — but at least Lance didn’t have to skulk around in the back alleys of rural Arizona dealing blowjobs for illicit hormones or whatever, even if conversations tended to move to the other side of the room whenever he walked in the door. He showed up once a month to medical, got his shot in the ass, and then went back to his business of trying to beat that asshole Kogane’s records on the flight simulator (which he never did).

 

At the time, Lance would have told you it was no big deal, except for the fact that he never missed an appointment and even tried to drag himself over there the one time he was quarantined with the flu. It’s not like there was anything caring about the bored nurse who supervised his shots, or the form email sent to his email inbox informing him that his top surgery had been pre-authorized and would be fully covered. But they were things that Lance could hoard away, hold them to his ear like a seashell on the nights when the doubts got really bad: the Garrison still wants him here, the Garrison doesn’t think he’s too difficult, too complicated, too much, he does belong here, and he’ll work even harder to repay them and prove it, he’ll grind that Kogane guy’s scores into the ground.

 

Lance is out to team Voltron by now, of course. Hunk, Pidge, and Shiro all knew already, because they were at the Garrison with him. Keith didn’t, because apparently he really wasn’t paying attention to Lance at all back then, and gossip passes over Keith like those high frequencies only dogs can hear, but his response to Lance confronting him about it was a frown and a slightly confused, “Uh, okay?” Lance had to tell Coran and Allura, because he needed to know about his hormone options here, which turned out to be a lot less scary than Lance had feared — just a machine in medical that can apparently synthesize anything he needs, human sex hormones included.

 

The Alteans were very polite and helpful, but he’s still not entirely sure that either of them really get it. He has his usual set of Trans 101 spiels for cisgender humans, depending on who he’s talking with, but he’s thinking about writing up a different version for aliens, because attempting to explain human sex and Western gender concepts and how he’s not the norm quickly devolves to oversharing and attempts at explaining human biology that he’s not even sure he understands, which ends with Allura peering at him and saying, “Really? Fascinating,” in a very armchair anthropology tone. It’s a little condescending, but in retrospect probably warranted from a shapeshifting, sequentially hermaphroditic species who seem to view gender as amusing party hats that they picked up from hanging around other species.

 

Lance is used to being weird by Earth standards; it’s kind of a shock to realize that, in this galaxy, he doesn’t even rate.

 

Maybe that’s why when they come back from their first five-week-long mission away from the Castle and Lance realizes that he’s missed his monthly shot, he freaks out and runs right down there without taking off his armor first — but the second time it happens, he spot-checks and shuts down Blue; peels out of his slightly charred armor; listens and contributes to Shiro’s fifteen-dobash mini-debrief; leisurely walks down to medical, albeit compulsively spinning his bayard in his hands the whole time; and then spends a solid ten dobash just staring at the dispensary machine, the whole thing dark and sleeping as it waits for him to wake it up, waits for him to choose.

 

It’s not that he’s worried about dubious alien synthetic hormones, or regretting going on T, or that he’s come to his senses and realized he’s a girl after all. (Fuck you very much, Tío Idel.) It’s just… a question. Rounding the bend and walking straight into a wide open field. He knows who he is, but for the first time in his life, he has a little room to experiment with his body existing somewhere outside other people’s expectations. So the second time, he just… walks away, precisely because he can change his mind and come back any time.

 

(And if he then immediately goes to Hunk and has a little freak-out and Hunk gives him a lot of hugs and gender validation, whatever, that’s to be expected.)

 

His testosterone vacation goes on for about three months, until he gets tired of how little muscle mass he’s building even though he’s working out even more than before. This time, when he punches his selection into the dispensary machine, it feels right instead of compulsory.

 

And so it goes, as the years pass and they all settle into their roles as defenders of the universe or whatever. Shiro dies. Shiro comes back to life. Keith very briefly becomes the Black Paladin, which he hates and he’s terrible at, and then passes it on to Allura, who relinquishes it back to Shiro with relief and badly-hidden glee; it turns out she had missed piloting the Castle something crazy. Lance grows his hair out, and then crops it as short as possible when Pidge compliments him on his mullet. Driven past the limits of his autistic little squishy-things-hating heart, Keith goes on a secret hunger strike against the goop, which ends with Keith fainting during a firefight and Hunk demanding a full kitchen retrofit. Hunk grows a mustache. Lance shaves it off in his sleep. They finally figure out how to rig up video calls back to Earth, and Lance and his parents sob together for a straight forty dobash, their faces alight with joy. They find Matt, cybernetic limbs and all; he makes a life for himself on a small, peaceful planet that Pidge visits often, and Shiro visits only once. They never do find Dr. Holt. Lance goes on T, and then goes off for a while, and goes back on, and his hormone vacations never end up being very long, and all in all, he feels pretty good about his decisions, even if he doesn’t really talk about them with his team.

 

Hunk knows, of course. Pidge knows, too, because after the whole surprise-it’s-a-girl-or-um-maybe-not thing, Lance took them down to his section of medical and walked them through how to use the dispensary machine, even though they probably could have figured it out for themselves in half the time. Pidge looks happy, though, and even happier when he doesn’t blink at “they/them”.

 

“Thanks for showing me,” they say. “And it’s good to know for the future. But I think… I think I’m good right now.”

 

They look a little nervous, but Lance didn’t show them this as some sort of trans club entry test, so he reels them in for a one-armed buddy hug and says cheerfully, “No problemo, mi amigo — gender is complicated, yadda yadda, if you ever want to talk about that —“

 

“— I know where you live,” Pidge finishes. “Lance. Thanks. Really.”

 

He doesn’t tell Keith, although he’s not sure why. It’s not like the guy’s transphobic, or doesn’t believe in nonbinary people, or even that he’s benevolently clueless in the way that Shiro sometimes stumbles into. Some people are okay with Lance in the abstract, but prefer him to keep his icky bits and awkward questions about their own conceptions of gender a few arms lengths away, thanks, but that’s never been Keith’s deal, and it certainly isn’t now — when he and Lance start having sex, a few months after the Hunk Mustache Incident, Keith makes it abundantly and enthusiastically clear that he’s ready-set-go no matter what’s in Lance’s pants or endocrine system. Keith Kogane is super gay, and he’s super gay for Lance, and that shouldn’t be as validating as it is, but on his insecure days Lance wears that knowledge around like a warm coat.

 

It’s a nice change of pace, to be honest. Lance has a history of maybe not the greatest sexual decision-making, and he might have made a few awkward assumptions about why Keith wanted to have sex with him instead of literally any other guy in the galaxy, back when this first started. Most of the guys Lance has slept with before have gone after him specifically for the trans thing, and it ain’t no thing — well, okay, it totally is a thing, but Lance is comfortable-ish in his body and confident in his gender identity and not too proud to take what he can get, considering that he spends 90% of his time in a spaceship where the only other unattached person who swings his way is Coran (nope nope nope). Keith quickly shuts this down, though, with his usual strange mix of rude altruism.

 

“We don’t have to do, um, this, you know,” Keith tells him. “If you’re not comfortable —“

 

“No, no, I’m good,” Lance says, attempting to demonstrate this by sitting on Keith’s dick without any prep or foreplay.

 

Keith scowls at Lance’s wince — it’s been a while, okay? — and says, “Lubrication is a thing, dickhead,” and then eats Lance out for, like, an hour, long past the point where his own erection had flagged and either of them could pretend that he was doing it for any reason but for Lance to feel good. He’s not great at it, at the beginning, but boy is he determined, and Lance is happy to keep up a running monologue of praise and constructive criticism, and resist the temptation to steer with Keith’s ears after Keith comes up for air long enough to snottily inform him that they’re not handles, so don’t even think about it.

 

“But they’re so big now!” Lance says.

 

Getting murderously glared at by someone who looks like a Galra while in a rather vulnerable position definitely shouldn’t turn Lance’s crank this much, but, uh, wow. It does.

 

Once in a while turns into a regular thing. Keith proves himself adaptable and respectful — well, actually, he’s still rude as hell, but respectful about the things that count — and Lance proves himself to be a greedy sonofabitch who’s happy to reap the benefits of Keith’s single-minded focus and attention to detail, although Lance does frequently have to remind him that sex should actually be fun for both participants, rather than akin to logging hours in the flight simulator at the Garrison. It’s not a personal failing for Keith if Lance doesn’t end every sexual encounter breathless and shaking and wetter than a summer rainstorm, and Lance is definitely not going to take off running any time he sees a flesh-and-blood dick, even a purple one.

 

“I know that,” Keith snaps.

 

He’s still slow to undress, though, uncomfortable being the center of attention, and sharp-eyed for any opportunity to shift the focus onto Lance, like he thinks that if he can distract Lance with enough orgasms, Lance will forget that he’s bedding Quasimodo or whatever, which is stupid. Lance liked Keith when he was Texan hapa, and he likes him now that he’s purple alien hapa. He even liked him the time Keith freaked out and tried to shave off all his Galra fur and ended up going around for a month looking like he’d caught a bad case of mange. Sure, maybe the rest of the galaxy is primed to hate Keith now, and Allura looks at him funny sometimes, and Shiro flinches occasionally if he sees Keith out of the corner of his eye, but Lance isn’t any of those people, so he’d really appreciate it if Keith would stop looking at him like he’s afraid that Lance will turn on him if Keith brings his B-game to bed once in a while.

 

Lance wants to say something, but he can never figure out how. Besides, Keith is notoriously allergic to affection, and Lance doesn’t want to fuck up whatever they have going, so he tries to say it with his body instead — you’re liked, you’re welcome, you’re safe — like somewhere between the teasing and touching and bodily fluids and the way Keith looks at him, sometimes, Lance can make a little bubble of safety for them both. Keith is a smart guy; he can figure it out.

 

They’re admittedly not the best about barrier methods, but hey, daily medical checkups, testosterone, and in the end it’s not like they even do much that could result in pregnancy, though they don’t end up rabidly avoiding P-I-V either — in certain moods Lance really does enjoy it, and so does Keith, and any pesky gender roles that try to sneak their way into bed with them better get ready to get punted right back out again. Besides, Keith says that with the whole cross-species thing he’s sterile, like a liger, so Lance sits back, stays quiet, has a ton of awesome sex, and doesn’t pay it any mind.

 

 

*

 

 

Unlike some of his teammates that he could name, Lance doesn’t hoard away his traumas like potatoes for the winter. He tells them that evening over dinner that his grandma passed — although he leaves out the part where he jumped Keith in the lion bay — and they all give him all of the love and support that they know how to give, as he knew they would, because they’re family like that, even if not by blood. Allura says something in Altean and holds a moment of silence for his grandma. Hunk lets Lance cuddle up against him even though it means that Hunk has to switch which hand he eats with. Pidge tells them all the story of sitting shiva for their own grandmother, which sounds really nice, and Shiro says that Lance should take a few quintets off to process and mourn.

 

Because the galaxy that Lance is hypothetically defending is shitty like that, and war doesn’t stop just because of the death of one old woman in a galaxy millions of light-years away, “a few days off” does not happen. The Castle gets a distress call early the next morning, and off they go, to provide air support for an uprising on a small farming planet whose occupants have gotten tired of starving while mountains of food get shipped off-planet to Galra military bases. It’s a success, thank God, and they connect the rebel leaders up with some nearby powerful allies before Voltron has to bounce, called to help some guerrillas take down a powerful interplanetary missile system that the Galra are almost finished building on their planet. Lance gets accidentally stranded on the ground, but that’s okay — he doesn’t have his bayard, but he still has his comm, and one of the guerrillas shows Lance how to properly use the local equivalent of a machete. It’s pretty cool for hacking through the underbrush; not as cool when hacking through a Galra, but needs must, and it’s not like the Galra are any less dead when Lance sends a laser beam punching through their eye, although it’s a little less messy.

 

In all this, Abuela Aurelia is never far from his thoughts, but his grief for her is necessarily submerged, something too sharp to handle lurking far beneath his daily realities of survival and resistance. He thinks she would have approved of what he’s doing, though. Abuela Aurelia’s own father was a Haitian bracero who managed to root himself in Cuban soil deeply enough that he wasn’t ripped out and thrown back like so many of his countrymen. Abuela Aurelia ended up on the whiter-looking side of mestizo — and wasn’t that a scandal, her parents; as Lance’s mom always says, Espinosas never do anything if they can’t shake the barrio by it — but she was fiercely proud of her father and her heritage. When Lance was young, it was annoying, her endless haranguing them with the stories that her father brought over with him; now he’s glad he knows them.

 

In a way, thinking about her as he slashes his way through the jungle is comforting — like a guardian spirit, a patron saint of revolution, although she would have yelled at him for blasphemy over that one. She may have been all of 4’8”, but Abuela Aurelia was the kind of woman who would have been swinging that machete right next to him if she could.

 

He was on one of his hormone vacations when his parents broke the news, and then he was bouncing around various war-torn planets and secret druidic bases for some weeks, so it’s a while before he finds himself back in the Castle with that familiar little tug that says that vacation’s over, although that could just be nausea; he’s been sick to his stomach more than usual lately. The protective nanobacteria that he gets from the Castle so that he doesn’t die whenever he touches down on a new planet usually hold up pretty well, but he’s been feeling under the weather lately nonetheless. Maybe he needs to get a booster shot or something.

 

He barely notices the tiny blood draw that the dispensary machine always takes to make sure that he’s not going to die if it gives him whatever he wants. He’s preoccupied with Blue; she’s had a warning light going off on her console that he’s never seen before, and he can’t figure out what’s wrong, because all of her systems seem to be functioning normally. That seems to be going around, actually, because when he taps his selection into the screen of the magical Castle chemical formulator, it just gives him a rude beep and a flashing red error message in Altean that he can’t read.

 

“The hell?” he mutters. Maybe he typed something in wrong? But when he tries again, he gets the same rude beep.

 

“Okay, machine, what gives?” he asks, and taps the icon for screen reader.

 

“Selection incompatible with recent chemical profile,” the machine says cheerfully. “Synthetic hormone injection will result in pregnancy termination. Do you wish to continue?”

 

“What,” Lance says flatly. “What, what, what the f —“

 

 

*

 

 

“So it turns out that I’m pregnant,” he finishes.

 

Behind him, Keith makes some sort of horrible choking noise. Oh, right. Lance probably should have told him first before he barged into the common room to announce this to the group at large. In his defense, Lance’s brain is kind of a bag of cats all playing vuvuzelas right now, so, you know, slack, give it to him.

 

“How?!” Shiro demands.

 

“The usual way?” Lance says snottily. “I can draw you a diagram if you want.”

 

“No, I mean —“ Shiro turns to Keith. “How?!”

 

“Did you not know how to obtain birth control methods?” Coran asks. “Oh dear. Perhaps I assumed too much about you people. Do you know what birth control is?”

 

“No, well, we didn’t use them, but —” Lance starts, and the room en masse turns to stare at Keith.

 

“I thought I was sterile!” Keith blurts out. “All the other mixed Galra we’ve met are!”

 

“Like a mule,” Lance adds helpfully.

 

Allura snorts. Shiro pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs audibly.

 

“And you didn’t think to check?” Shiro asks, but Keith immediately turns on Lance.

 

“When the fuck did you go off T?” Keith demands. “You didn’t tell me!”

 

“I don’t have to tell you everything about my life,” Lance says defensively, and Keith shouts, “Dumbass, you do have to tell me about that!”

 

“Says the guy who told me that he was sterile but apparently never fucking checked,” Lance hisses. “What’s the matter, can’t get it up with a condom?”

 

“GUYS,” Hunk says loudly, but no one is paying him any attention.

 

“Well thanks to your surprisingly viable sperm we have found ourselves in a goddamn bitch of a situation,” Lance tells Keith angrily, “and from where I’m standing I’m going to be way more affected by this than you, so you and your self-righteous outrage can fuck right off.”

 

“What are you talking about, of course I’m affected,” Keith says, as if Lance is being unreasonably stupid and overdramatic about the fact that he has something growing inside him like the parasite from Alien.

 

Pidge shakes their head. “I didn’t even know that you were —”

 

“Bumping uglies?” Lance says. “Well, not bumping, more like —”

 

“Stop talking,” Keith snaps.

 

“— But I’d like to go on the record as saying that I am completely unsurprised that you two idiots managed to do something like this, even with all the odds conspiring against you,” Pidge finishes.

 

“Rude,” Lance says. “Blocked, unfollowed, I’m not letting you near my baby until it’s thirty and you’re old and wrinkly.”

 

“Eh, I’m not really into kids until they hit the age where they can do long division,” Pidge says. “No offense,” and then it hits Lance that he could actually end up having a kid and before he knows it he’s on the floor with everyone minus Keith hovering over him worriedly.

 

“It’s way too early for preeclampsia,” Hunk is muttering, “but we should monitor for orthostatic intolerance…”

 

“Nnn,” Lance manages.

 

“Slow down, Hunk,” Shiro says. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He and Keith obviously need to talk it over, so let’s start with peeling Lance off the floor, okay?” Then he scans the group and frowns.

 

“Wait, where is Keith?” Pidge asks.

 

 

*

 

 

Keith, it turns out, has made like a banana and split. Keith has done an Elvis and left the building. Rather than behaving like a responsible adult or at least a moderately non-shitty one, he apparently spent about ten dobash in the Castle archives before taking Red on what Shiro delicately calls a “scouting trip” to a nearby asteroid belt that’s probably just an excuse for Keith to blast some innocent rocks into smithereens.

 

Keith messaged in that he was only going to be gone for 72 vargas, but to Lance, it might as well be years. The last few quintets have been a miserable whirl of emotions and critical thinking that Lance can barely process on a good day, much less now. Despite Hunk’s steady assurance, his endless patience with even more endless pro-and-con debates where Lance mostly debates himself, everything is still just noise and fury, so loud that Lance actually spends one night screaming into a pillow, trying to drown it out.

 

True to his word, Keith comes back at 72 vargas on the dot, and it’s barely fifteen dobash after Lance hears Red touch back down in the bay — just enough for a systems diagnostic and cool down and a post-mission spot check for any giant holes or sparking cables — that Keith appears in the kitchen, where Lance has gone for another cup of tea.

 

“Where have you been?” Lance demands, but Keith apparently has something to say and isn’t going to be deterred saying it, no matter how nonsensical it is, because he completely ignores the question and mutters something instead about paladins that Lance has to strain to hear.

 

“ — it’s in the oath we swear, why the Lions choose us, why Red chose me, but I want — I mean, I’m willing — we could, you know, I would,” he mumbles, rocking back and forth on his feet, his claws popping out and then retracting, over and over and over again, and Lance loses his patience and snaps, “Can you just talk like a fucking human? For once?”

 

He’s so tired. He hasn’t slept for the last three days because his brain won’t shut up and his heart feels like it’s been flipped over and kicked around like a football, but this is apparently the wrong thing to say, because Keith shudders still all at once and finally stops staring at the floor to glare right at Lance and boy howdy, he looks furious.

 

“If you’re keeping it I want to be its parent too,” he enunciates clearly, and Lance feels something a little like hope uncurl inside him before Keith stomps on it by adding, “but I sure as hell don’t want to be with you, you jerk,” the total fucking bastard.

 

“Fine!” Lance yells, “You know what, I don’t want you anyway, I don’t even want you as this kid’s other parent because you’ll fuck it up, you absolute shit!” and actually throws a plate at the wall beside Keith’s head as the asshole storms out, which is not exactly Lance’s finest moment and probably doesn’t bode well for the future.

 

It’s not that Lance didn’t want kids eventually. He grew up in a house bursting at the seams with people, with aunts and uncles and siblings and cousins practically coming out of his ears; his vision of a future for himself might be vague, but it certainly wasn’t lonely. People grow up and have children and their children have children and that’s just how it goes. Even when he went through the whole trans self-discovery process and came out to the Garrison and his family — in that order, which Abuela Aurelia never, ever forgot or forgave — every idle daydream he had of ten years down the line was bright and loud, warm waves and his children running through the tall grass, and maybe they didn’t look like him, but who cared?

 

In his daydreams, though, he was older. In his daydreams, he had a little weather-beaten house like his parents’ and at least two of his siblings or cousins down the road with kids of their own; he had someone sleeping beside him at night, steady and warm, someone strong enough to carry their half of the life they were building together. He wasn’t pregnant at twenty-two in a galaxy millions of light-years away from his family, stuck in a war that he never asked for that will probably kill him, and the other parent wasn’t Keith fucking Kogane, who can barely carry the weight of his own life, let alone anyone else’s.

 

“Why can’t I just make the fucking smart decision?” Lance hiccups at Hunk, cuddled up in his best friend’s arms after the fourth soul-searching session of today. “It’s not like I’m anti-abortion or anything, I don’t believe in life at conception, and even if I did it’s not like I haven’t killed people before, probably even killed kids,” because they all know that there are breeding facilities in some of the Galra bases that they’ve left smoking and silent, even if none of them want to talk about it.

 

“I don’t know, why don’t you?” Hunk asks.

 

“Because I don’t want to,” Lance says, “and I don’t know why, I have no fucking clue, but I don’t want to.”

 

After a while, Pidge wanders in, dragging one of the clear whiteboards from the strategy room behind them, and they do up an actual pro/con list. Under the cons, there’s WAR, HEALTH RAMIFICATIONS, UNKNOWN GENETICS, PARENTING, BLUE, SUPPORT SYSTEM, POLITICAL INSTABILITY, DANGEROUS JOB, and KEITH, which Lance angrily adds himself and then underlines a few times. Under pros, there’s BABY and PARENTING???. Then they all step back to survey it.

 

“Well,” Pidge says, “I guess the list kind of speaks for itself.”

 

Lance thinks about that weather-beaten house, his family down the road, that mystery partner breathing with him in the dark — and then he thinks about how unlikely he is to survive to forty, how much he’s grown to love the Castle, how much he loves these people next to him. About how stupidity, blindness, arrogance, and desperation had combined to create something that by any odds shouldn’t exist, but does anyway, like rain in the desert, like victory against the Galra, like something that in the right light might be called a blessing. Maybe he’s just seeing miracles where they don’t exist, like the Virgin on toast — but maybe it doesn’t matter, he thinks, because he wants to believe. He knows that it’s just burnt bread, but he’s seeing her face anyway.

 

“I dunno,” he says. “Maybe we should start over again. There’s gotta be something that we missed.”

 

 

*

 

 

He tries to break the news as gently as he can to his mom. Their relationship may be touchy at times, but he thinks that if anyone might have some useful advice about what the hell he should do now, it’d be someone who had gone through the process six times herself, and he’s not too proud to admit that maybe he wants comfort more than advice. Instead, she just stares at him.

 

“I know everyone has their separate grieving process,” she finally says, “but this is over the top, even for you.”

 

Beside her, his sister Yanitse starts laughing.

 

“Only you, baby brother,” she gasps out between laughs. “Jesus fucking Christ.”

 

“It’s not about that —” Lance starts.

 

“Oh really? Then tell me, what exactly is it about? What the fuck were you thinking?” his mom asks. “Please, enlighten me.”

 

“I didn’t plan it!” he protests, and that sets off another round of increasingly hysterical laughter from Yanitse even as his mom leans forward and hisses, “That. Is. Worse.”

 

“Can we not do this?” Lance demands. “Can you just be happy and supportive and cry about getting a grandchild?”

 

“No, because it is my job as your mother to stop you from doing stupid shit —” his mom says.

 

“Like getting knocked up as a teenager,” Yanitse says, but Lance snaps back, “I’m not a teenager anymore, I’m twenty-fucking-two and I’ve been a soldier for the last four years, I’ve killed people,” which shuts Yanitse up fast.

 

His mom is still going, though. “— I don’t want you to do something you’ll regret because you weren’t thinking, you know how you get —”

 

“No, I do not know ‘how I get’ —” Lance says, even though he totally does.

 

“— Look at your cousin Yoani and that no-good boyfriend of hers, she got so swept away by the idea of a child that she didn’t listen when we told her that she didn’t actually want the reality of a child, and we were all right, she didn’t, and now Olivia is living with her grandparents after Yoani fucked off to God knows where —”

 

“I’m not Yoani and the other dad is actually gonna be there, and my friends are going to be there, and you’re going to be there if you can pull your head out of your ass —”

 

“This is a bad idea!” his mom yells, and he yells back, “Too bad, I’m doing it!” and hangs up on them, which is a hell of a way to realize that he’s made his decision after all.

 

 

*

 

 

The Castle medical equipment cheerfully informs him that he’s about two months along, which explains the nausea. It’s not too bad, at first. He’s a little queasy, he breaks out something fierce, he takes a lot of naps. A quick perusal through Castle medical texts reveals that although Alteans may look humanoid, they’re far from it, and their reproductive processes are distinct enough from humans that any medical materials pertaining to them are basically useless to Lance. Instead, Pidge downloads a whole library’s worth of pregnancy ebooks over a data connection that they somehow rig up to an Earth satellite.

 

Lance doesn’t read any of them. It’s not that he thinks that he knows best or anything. He’s just trying not to think about this at all, because if he thinks about this he’s going to lose his mind, or worse, his nerve.

 

 

*

 

 

Lance spends most of month three and four making friends with toilets, sinks, bowls, and anything else vaguely receptacle-shaped that can be cleaned out afterwards. Hunk frets, but Lance’s Tía Sonia pitilessly informs them that is typical for Espinosa pregnancies and he’s not special at all, so stop fishing, Lance.

 

If Lance was hoping for any sympathy from any his blood family, in fact, he was dead wrong. His uncles are uncomfortable, his aunts are gleeful, his dad is kind but hapless, and his mom seems to view all of this with grim satisfaction, like a little bit of morning sickness is a sign from the universe that she’s been right all along, not that it feels like ‘a little bit’ of anything. He’s not sure how it’s possible to want to devour everything in the kitchen and throw up even water at the same time, but he’s living on that edge, eating only to puke it all back up later, like some sort of perpetual motion vomiting machine.

 

Even when he does manage to keep food down, it doesn’t satisfy. Lance had thought that if he did end up with pregnancy cravings, it’d be something funny, like pickles or dirt, something he could laugh off with Hunk and Pidge, but his traitorous body kicks him when he’s down, as it were, and the meals he starts dreaming about aren’t funny at all. He’s managed to avoid missing any of the food from home over his long years abroad and then out here in space, but his stubborn cosmopolitanism has finally caught up to him with a vengeance. He doesn’t miss some foods from home now — he misses all of them, so vividly he can almost taste them on his tongue. Hunk tries to recreate some with what ingredients they can find, but they never taste right, and Lance ends up crying in the kitchen and making Hunk feel terrible, even though he’s only trying to help.

 

In some grubby, instinctual part of him, he knows that this is not right, that he should be home for this. He’s a strong independent dude who don’t need no man, fine, but he needs his mom, he needs his dad’s arroz con pollo, he needs the ocean and the sun and even the stupid tourists that swarm over everything like loud, dumb locusts. He has his video calls with his family, but it’s not enough, they’re just a cruel saucerful of water to a man dying of thirst.

 

“So what you’re saying is that you’re a sea turtle,” Pidge says.

 

“I know you’re teasing me right now, but yes,” Lance says, “exactly.”

 

People have been doing this for literally as long as there have been people, he reminds himself when it gets really bad. What, like he’s the only person to go through a pregnancy somewhere new and difficult? He’s not even a refugee, or an orphan, or too often both: one of those hard-eyed people he meets all the time who tell him that yes, their family are all dead or missing, they own just as much as they could carry running, the other parent is gone too — or worse, they never even mention the other parent, coldly dodging the topic, as if the baby had just magically appeared in their body. Lance hears them, comforts them, loudly admires their baby bump or egg sac or nest or clutch, promises them that the paladins of Voltron will avenge them, and then he goes back to his warm, dry, defended room in the Castle, where he always has enough to eat no matter how much of it he throws up, and wonders if these people can tell he’s carrying a child too, if they think he’s as much of a fraud as he feels.

 

Keith, predictably, is no fucking help at all, unless Lance feels like measuring ‘help’ by ‘enemy body count’. Lance mostly does diplomatic and humanitarian missions these days, or missions that will be potentially fraught but not devastating, and they’re all pulling his weight when it comes to the harder stuff. Keith actually volunteers for the worst of the worst, the kind of missions that usually leave Lance blood-splattered and shaking, but Keith never seems satisfied, barely hears the people he saves, and he comes away from humanitarian trips even worse, snappish and cruel.

 

Lance has nightmares about all the places Voltron is called to. He thinks they all do, even Keith, assuming Keith ever sleeps at all, which Lance isn’t sure of — Keith throws back mild stimulants like they’re candy, maybe sneaks some of the harder stuff when Shiro isn’t looking or is too tired to care, and he’s a hardcore insomniac, wandering the Castle halls like King Hamlet’s ghost almost every night. It used to be that whenever Lance couldn’t sleep, he’d go find Keith, and they would just… hang out, buoyed by that easy camaraderie they settled into when they didn’t have anyone else to compete for. They’d play simulator games, or have sex, or just argue about stupid shit, and sometimes Lance would swing his legs up into Keith’s lap and wave his arms around and say something funny, and Keith would laugh, and it was… really good. A sweet suggestion. Like hearing someone play your favorite song on a radio all the way down the street, so faint the sound barely makes it to you, and being able to sing along perfectly anyway.

 

Now when Lance has nightmares he tries to get through them alone.  (Or as alone as he ever is these days, ha.) He’s taken up knitting again, and crochet, and tatting, all the things Abuela Aurelia taught him to do to keep his mind a just a little bit quieter. The Castle 3D-prints him the tools he describes, and he unravels some things he thinks he probably won’t miss. He always has a thousand projects going and he never finishes any of them, but he doesn’t care. What would a baby do with a piece of lace, anyway? What good is a piece of lace anywhere in this galaxy? They need guns and food and medicine, not a pretty piece of knotted thread.

 

Even with their careful planning, Lance ends up in a firefight when a small Galra force sweeps in low over the refugee camp he and Hunk are about to leave. At first Lance hopes that it might just be reconnaissance; then the Galra start dropping bombs. There aren’t any shields in the camp. There are barely enough shelter pods that stay upright in the rain. Lance and Hunk hop into their lions and engage, trying to draw the fight up into the atmosphere or at least over nearby open water, but they’re only two against thirty, and it’s chaos on the ground.

 

The last Galra turn tail and flee when Allura shows up with the Castle, about forty dobash later. He and Hunk managed to shoot down five of the Galra fighters, and he thinks the people on the ground may have brought down another — he’s pretty sure he saw an EMP gun flash by at one point, and while an EMP only disables the ship, not the pilots, downed pilots don’t tend to have good chances against a vengeful mob. Even if the Galra manage to get off a few shots, the mob will literally tear them apart. He’s seen it happen.

 

Lance is no medic or first responder, so as the aftermath unfolds, he mostly stays out of the way of the people who know what they’re doing. He drags a few corpses over to the dead line, although it makes his back hurt something awful, and then he stops — they’re probably going to need heavy machinery to clear the field, and most of the bodies are in pieces anyways, too small and far-flung for the corpse crew to do anything with but work their way across the field with baskets, gathering up all the bloody bits like his mom picked up his little siblings’ room, ragging on them about dirty underwear on the floor, and that’s when Lance has to go find a piece of rubble to vomit behind, because he’s barely kept breakfast down anyway and that dogfight had featured way too many spins.

 

One of the medics spots him puking his guts out, and her quiet sympathy is almost worse than the carnage around them, so Lance tells her that he’s pregnant, not blood-shy. Before he knows it he’s been packed off to the makeshift infirmary tent himself, shoved into the lowest-priority triage section. After ten dobash he thinks he might actually start chewing off his own fingers in boredom, so he starts doing the Hi-I’m-a-Paladin-of-Voltron-How-Ya-Doing? rounds with the closest patients, figuring he can be useful as a distraction if nothing else. Some of the medics give him dirty looks, but he knows from experience that it really does help to give people something else to focus on so that the medics can keep working unmolested while everyone unloads their feelings on him instead. As many times as he gets spit on or screamed at, he gets whispered thanks, blessings in a thousand tongues, a few wailers who grab onto him and won’t let him go.

 

There’s even a baby born that evening. Lance gets to hold her before she dies. She’s tiny in his cupped hands, green like light flashing off a dragonfly’s wing, too weak to do anything but nuzzle against his hands and try to breathe, and later that night they get word that the mother has died too, crushed by one of the Galra fighter planes shot out of the sky.

 

Sometimes he hates this galaxy so fucking much.

 

 

*

 

 

After the bloodbath at the refugee camp, the team agrees that Lance should probably stick to diplomatic missions for the time being. The numerous refugee camps and refugee planets cropping up across the galaxy with the resurgence of resistance against the Galra are in dire need of — well, basically everything, from blankets to basic legal systems — but they’re universally unstable and dangerous. The best funded and protected of them are fighting off the Galra; the poorer, more desperate places are fighting off angry locals or each other.

 

Lance knows that he should feel angry, or protest — this is what Voltron is for! — but mostly he just feels relieved. Does that make him a coward? Keith would probably say yes, but Keith isn’t saying anything right now. He’s suspiciously quiet, in fact, and still in a way that’s so unnatural for him that it makes the hairs on the back of Lance’s neck stand up.

 

Lance has never been afraid of him, exactly, but he knew from the very beginning that Keith was a predator, even back when Keith was still wearing his human suit. The Red Paladin is all fuzzy and cute now, like a purple barn cat, and all of the Voltron crew spend a lot of time and effort trying to convince the rest of the galaxy that he’s harmless, really!, but it’s moments like this that Lance remembers that Keith isn’t harmless at all.

 

“Are you and Red going to go after them?” Lance asks when he catches Keith studying the tactical map after the debrief. “The group that hit the camp?”

 

It’s the first time Lance has spoken to him in a month, and Keith looks up at him with surprise before nodding slowly.

 

“Yes,” he says.

 

“To kill them,” Lance says.

 

“Yes,” Keith says.

 

“Good,” Lance says. “But do it quickly. And then come back.”

 

Keith snorts and salutes sarcastically.

 

“Don’t worry, Red won’t be gone for long,” he says, and before Lance can even sort out what the hell that’s supposed to mean, Keith is gone.

 

 

*

 

 

By the time he hits month five, Lance is ready to kick the everloving shit out of anyone who’s ever told him that pregnancy is a magical, wonderful process, because so far it’s just been a slow slide from nagging discomfort to downright misery.

 

No one can tell him exactly why he’s getting hit so hard by every damn side effect in the book. They’re all worried that it’s because of Keith’s dubious species status, that there really is something going horribly wrong inside Lance, but every single medical scan the Castle does is totally human-normal, so they’re left to throw up their hands and guess. It could be thanks to the hormone rollercoaster, or long-term ADHD meds, or combat, or exposure to radiation, or a druidic curse, for all he knows. His mom tells him it’s because he’s too skinny and he should eat more, but they’re Latinx, that’s her solution to literally everything from headaches to sucking chest wounds.

 

At least she can’t lecture him about the evils of pharmaceuticals anymore. He was already off his meds on account of the drug compounding scare they’d had a few months ago, when they found out that Lance was allergic to one of the components in the fancy alien Concerta the Castle whipped up for him when he popped the first pill and immediately swelled up like a mylar balloon. Withdrawal sucked hard, even worse than it did his first year out here, and there’s a teeny tiny chance that it contributed to some of his less-than-stellar decision making around that time.

 

If that was the case, he’s definitely paying for it now. There’s no way he’s mixing his weirdo brain + baby + Keith’s genetic question mark + alien meds that nearly killed him, even if Coran says they’ve fixed the formula — so he got through withdrawal-induced sweating, binge-eating, vomiting, and sleep disturbance just in time to enjoy baby-induced sweating, binge-eating, vomiting, and sleep disturbance. It’s been a nonstop party in his body and his brain, and not the fun kind, but the kind of party where the police are coming, multiple people have vomited on the stairs, you’re passed out naked in the sink, and your no-good cousins are upstairs doing heroin.

 

“That’s an oddly specific hypothetical,” Hunk comments.

 

“Middle school was an interesting time,” Lance says.

 

The spawn has started to move around now, making its presence known in a way that makes Lance uncomfortably aware that there is actually a tiny stranger being assembled inside his body. Because it’s his and Keith’s kid and therefore a contrary, hyperactive little shit, it seems to delight in moving around when Lance is trying to rest. Two weeks ago it was gentle, like butterflies in his stomach; now it’s flip-turning like it’s practicing to go to the fucking summer Olympics.

 

“What a scam,” Lance says sourly as he stuffs another handful of the weird nut cookies he found in the back of the fridge into his mouth. “I was promised a glow, but there is no glow, there is no magic, there is only eating and crying and swelling and weight gain in weird places. I’ve been pretty much everywhere you can go with hormones by now, and I can safely say that this is the absolute worst.”

 

“I’m sorry, buddy,” Hunk says. “I know I can’t do a lot, but hey. Here to help any way I can.”

 

“Also, I’m incredibly horny right now,” Lance adds.

 

“Yeah, I’m not going to help you with that one,” Hunk says.

 

“I know,” Lance says angrily, “that’s what I would have used Keith for if he was here and behaving like he should be. There’s only so many times you can masturbate before even that begins to get old,” and then he picks up his knitting again so he doesn’t do something horrifying like hunt Keith down and fling himself at him anyways, because that is reinforcing bad behavior, and Keith is awful, and oh look, more crying.

 

With Hunk’s help, he manages to pull himself together long enough to finish the cookies and watch one of the Altean soap operas that they discovered archived in Castle storage, which Lance really likes because there’s enough secret babies and evil twins to be like the telenovelas he grew up watching. That gets him through until lunch (at least the nausea has gotten better), and afterwards Pidge discovers him in the giant window room marathoning season eleven and furiously trying to knit out all of his sexual frustration.

 

“Are you seriously knitting baby booties?” Pidge asks.

 

“Don’t judge me,” Lance says, “this is a delicate time. And I don’t have enough yarn for a blanket.”

 

Pidge rolls their eyes, but that night, Lance comes back to his room to find a box full of neatly rolled skeins of yarn in a rainbow of colors. He recognizes the green of Pidge’s favorite sweater, the purple of Shiro’s cold weather scarf, a shimmering blue that he thinks might have come from one of Allura’s shawls. At the bottom of the pile, there’s a tiny ball of black yarn that Lance knows came from a pair of winter gloves, because he was the one who spotted them at that market years ago and bought them for his secret holiday exchange recipient, back when Keith was just that asshole who got everything without even trying, perfect and untouchable, and not some lonely, messed-up guy who sleeps with his shoes on and accidentally knocked up his rival/friend/partner/maybe-sort-of-boyfriend.

 

Lance knows that it’s stupid, but he puts the black yarn ball in the bottom drawer of his dresser where he doesn’t have to look at it. Then he puts his headphones on and spends the rest of the night knitting until his fingers cramp and his mind is full of nothing but knit/purl, knit/purl, knit/purl.

 

“You didn’t have to unravel all your stuff,” Lance tells Pidge when he corners them in the corridor the next morning. “We could have just bought yarn the next time we resupplied.”

 

“I know,” Pidge says. “Will it work anyway?”

 

“It’s gonna be the ugliest fucking baby blanket,” Lance says. “All different weights and clashing colors,” and then he hugs Pidge until they tell him that he’s grinding their ribs together and he lets them go, and he doesn’t even bother to hide how hard he’s ugly-crying as they pat him awkwardly on the arm and make their escape.

 

 

*

 

 

For all that Lance talks — “Whines,” Pidge says; “Overshares,” Allura grimly adds — to anyone who will sit still long enough about all the evils and indignities that this baby has wrought upon his body, he doesn’t talk a lot about the baby itself. This is clearly disappointing to some people — his dad has taken to wistfully sharing Lance-and-siblings baby stories on every video call, and his aunts have definitely started a betting pool about the baby’s gender, even though Lance points out from experience how stupid that is — but for the most part everyone defers to his wishes and doesn’t say anything, although some of their silences are loud with pity.

 

Yanitse is the worst. Of all his siblings and cousins, he’s always been closest with her, but as of now he’s officially dumping her straight to the bottom of the list, because she’s acting like she’s just humoring him when she knows exactly why he’s afraid to speak about this kid out loud. Lance is pretty sure this is total bullshit, because he himself doesn’t even know why he’s avoiding this.

 

It’s not like he’s in denial about having a kid, no matter what his mom might still think. He’s going to be a dad. His entire life is going to change — as much as becoming a paladin; maybe even more so — and he has no illusions that it’s going to be easy, or pretty, or really anything other than an unmitigated disaster, a future just barely held together with spit and love and duct tape.

 

Allura thinks it’s because of the war, the terrible faith required to bring a child into a world as fucked up as theirs. Hunk thinks it’s because Lance is afraid the kid is going to come out with some genetic defect and die. Shiro agrees with Lance’s mom and thinks that Lance doesn’t even want to be a parent. God alone knows what Keith thinks. After a lot of arguing and furious chain-smoking, his mom says that he’s doing it to protect his heart, and maybe that’s true, because he doesn’t ask her, Protect it from what? He doesn’t want to know.

 

“You know, neuroatypicality frequently runs in families,” Pidge tells him. “Statistically, your kid is probably going to favor one of you. Or both.”

 

“Cool,” Lance says. “I’ll teach ‘em to multitask and be awesome and Keith can teach them to punch birds and wear the same clothes for a week.”

 

“You’re still pissy about the bird thing, huh?” Pidge asks.

 

“You try running from an angry forty-pound monster while five months pregnant,” Lance says. “So yes, I am still pissy, I am so pissy, there are entire reservoirs of pissed-off-edness that I haven’t even begun to tap into.”

 

“I hope you’re self-aware enough to realize that the bird is a metaphor for your relationship with Keith,” Pidge says.

 

“What — ugly, mean, and stupid?” Lance asks nastily.

 

“Hey now, that’s no way to talk about your baby daddy,” Pidge says, and Lance flips them off.

 

“Oh look,” he says. “A bird metaphor for our relationship.”

 

 

*

 

 

Between the refugee camp and the incident with the bird, everyone agrees that they’re really overdue for a break and a safe planet to dock on while they wait out the rest of this pregnancy and probably at least a few months after that, providing that nothing horrific happens in their absence.

 

“That’s… uh, optimistic,” Hunk says.

 

Because Hunk is right, even if Lance desperately wants to pretend otherwise, their R-n-R planning is punctuated by a serious strategy meeting that even Keith attends. Unfortunately, Keith’s helpfulness there isn’t particularly helpful, because he stubbornly refuses to even entertain the possibility of signing off on any plan that isn’t just him cowboying off alone in Red to murder to death anything that even threatens to breathe in his unborn child’s direction. A+ parenting instincts, Lance supposes, even if he gets a D- in tactics.

 

Despite what he said in that first fight and the few times they’ve clashed since then, he doesn’t actually think that Keith would be such a terrible parent. His soft skills could use some work, but he’s got the rabid protectiveness down pat, and God knows that not caring enough has never been his problem. Once Keith forms an attachment to someone he’s practically impossible to shake off, like a baby duck, or a burr lodged somewhere uncomfortable. Not even death can pry him away. In fact, he seems to view situations where any sane person would have given up hope as somewhat of a personal challenge. Shiro died, and Keith just blithely ignored it and hand-over-handed himself down that rope of love back to him anyways. Twice.

 

Beloved as he may be to Keith, Shiro doesn’t win himself any points with Lance when he puts his foot down about Lance piloting Blue in combat until after he’s had the baby. “It’s too dangerous,” he says. Lance duly informs him that he needs to pick that foot right back up again, because if worst comes to worst, they can’t afford not to be able to form Voltron, and Allura backs him up.

 

“I know the risks,” Lance tells him. “I know they’re really bad, and I know I’m not just risking myself, but I would never be able to live with myself if Voltron fell or people died because I sat it out, even if…” He makes himself finish. “If I don’t die but the kid does.”

 

“Lance —” Shiro starts, but Allura cuts him off in her Princess voice, proud and sad all wrapped up around a core of iron.

 

“Lance is right, Shiro,” she says. “We won’t discuss this any further.”

 

Shiro looks angry, but he backs down when he looks to Keith for support and Keith stays oddly silent. When they get up to leave, though, Lance sees that Keith had dug his claws into the underside of the table so hard that he left visible gouges, and the floor underneath the table is dotted with tiny specks of what might be blood; at some point, Keith left off on punishing the table so that he could go after himself instead. Lance wonders how many times Keith has hidden bloodstains with his black clothes. Then he has to go discuss spawning planet choices with Allura and Hunk before he accidentally has a feeling.

 

The planet that they eventually decide on is friendly, peaceful, cosmopolitan, and has a great set of overlapping shields and backup ballistic missile systems. The governing council informs them that they’ve duly considered the risks of hosting the paladins of Voltron in such a vulnerable time and that they’re still absolutely ecstatic to do so, which really does seem to be the case and not just typical political pap. Shiro, Pidge, and Coran move into guest quarters in the fancy capitol building as a diplomatic gesture so that everyone else can stay in the Castle without offending their hosts; at this point Lance’s nesting instinct is kicking in hard and the thought of staying somewhere unfamiliar gives him the heebie-jeebies.

 

He still ventures out, though, albeit with Hunk as backup and his bayard at his hip. He’s not going to cloister himself just because he’s spawning, and planetside time is precious and desperately needed. The Castle is great, he loves his team, but space offers a serious lack of stimulation and new faces.

 

Thankfully, this planet provides plenty of both. The city that they’re docked just outside of is a cheerful jumble of species, ethnicities, and nationalities, and everyone he meets seems friendly but not uncomfortably worshipful, although he’s vaguely aware that Hunk glares away a few people who are not down with the paladins of Voltron. There’s always a few, but for the moment, Lance is content to bask in the loving protection of his friends and pretend that the world he’s bringing his kid into really is as safe and kind as it seems. Even Shiro seems to unwind a little, which is a minor miracle in itself.

 

The only person missing from this happy tableau is Keith. Maybe he’s shut himself up in the Castle, maybe he’s secretly stalking them on their adventures from a distance, like a jungle cat; honestly, Lance doesn’t give a fuck, or at least that’s what he tells himself. It’s month six, and they’re still not talking.

 

The whole crew gets invited to a big diplomatic dinner when they arrive, of course. They’re all used to it by now, and Lance really does enjoy them, as fraught as they can occasionally be; by necessity he’s had to get comfortable being a political figure as much as a military one, although naturally Allura takes center stage when it comes to the actual business of it. He’s still surprised when she pulls him aside a week afterwards to inform him that their hosts would also like to throw him a parade, “or a festival, at the very least.”

 

“For my long list of heroic deeds?” Lance asks hopefully.

 

“No, for your general fecundity and the promise of new life,” Allura says.

 

“Please tell me that’s not a direct quote,” Lance says, and Allura grins and says, “From their lips to mine,” because she might be a living remnant of a long-dead empire and a savior of the galaxy, but she’s also a complete troll.

 

“I’m not sure how I feel about being honored for not bothering to use a condom,” Lance says.

 

He’s expecting more of the teasing he’s gotten over the last few months about his less-than-planned lovechild, but troll Allura abruptly disappears, and she gets that I-am-royalty look on her face that means that this is suddenly a no joking zone and Lance really does need to listen up to whatever she’s going to say.

 

“It’s not about you, Lance. Really, it’s not even about your child, either,” she tells him. “You’re a symbol to them, you and Keith both. They see that you’re starting a family and it gives them hope, because we’re not just running and fighting and trying not to die anymore. It means that you think that you have a future beyond the war. They see this child as a promise of peace.”

 

She sighs. “And it’s not insignificant that Keith looks more visibly Galra these days. It’s been a long time, and as much as we may not like it, the Galra are quite embedded throughout the galaxy. There are a lot of mixed Galra running around; a number of places where the Empire didn’t conquer as much as blend. It’s not an easy thing to untangle, and there are some who say that in those cases, we shouldn’t even try.”

 

“As awesome as my kid is going to be, I don’t think they’re going to bring about peace to the galaxy,” Lance says. “Or peace for us. We’re still paladins. I don’t even know if I’m going to make it to this kid’s first birthday.”

 

“Yes, I know,” Allura says. “But these people need to believe otherwise.”

 

“Fine,” Lance says. “I concede a festival. And if there’s a parade, you have to make Keith ride on the main float.”

 

“We have an accord,” she says, and they share a grin. Thank God he stopped hitting on her like a creep, he thinks, because he’s really enjoying being her friend.

 

“I see you enjoyed our last Earth-movie night,” he says.

 

“I don’t approve of pirates — unless they’re pirating from our enemies, of course,” she says. “But I do love sword fights.”

 

The city doesn’t put on a parade, to Lance’s disappointment and Keith’s obvious relief, but it does throw a giant, city-wide, week-long party. Every business that doesn’t serve alcohol or drugs shuts down, there’s heaps of great food and music and dancing, and everyone but Lance gets super drunk. It’s great, except for the part where there’s a teeny riot in one of the mixed-species districts so hey, maybe not so kumbaya after all, but no one dies and Lance considers the entire thing a success and worthy of the child he’s bringing into the world. Maybe they can do this again for the spawn’s birthday if they’re in the neighborhood next year. He bets that the people here would be happy to have a standing excuse for a vacation and a party.

 

A few days after the festival, he and Hunk stumble across the train station just as it spits out a number of sandy, slightly waterlogged passengers. It turns out that the ocean is only a few dozen miles away from the city, and there’s a giant bullet train that heads straight there, because beach culture is a thing here. Lance blames baby hormones for how teary he gets when he finds out, even though Hunk informs him from his research that Lance is probably past that.

 

Pidge pleads off on account of guaranteed sunburn. Shiro says something about looking through the royal library for cross-cultural parenting texts, but he looks slightly shifty as he says it which, huh, maybe means that Keith is being minimally social but moderately responsible after all. Their hosts push a pile of chairs and rugs and umbrellas on them, and Lance, Hunk, Allura, and Coran are off to the beach along with what seems like half the city, although Lance does manage to snag a seat on the train on account of celebrity, pregnancy, and pointy elbows. Allura may enjoy pretending to be a plebe and getting knocked into every time the train abruptly stops, but he actually grew up a plebe, so he’s had his fill, thanks.

 

He’s a little worried that the beach will be disappointing — or God forbid, actually toxic to humans, that’s happened before — but it’s amazing, and it does more to make him feel at home here than any parade ever would. Nobody asks them to bless their firstborn child or anything, but people let them cut in lines and all the vendors force piles of dubious street food on them for free. Since he’s eating for what feels closer to twenty than two, Lance gobbles it all down, and then immediately prays that his fancy Castle nanobiotics will hold up to whatever that was on a stick that he just ate, like, ten of.

 

It’s good that Voltron has never had to save this planet, he thinks. The inhabitants here like them, admire them, maybe even love them in the theoretical, but they don’t really care about them as people, and he doesn’t need the weight of anyone else’s expectations on him right now; he’s already carrying about four pounds of his own.

 

“We really lucked out, dude,” Hunk says as they spread out their stuff. “Look at this! And the city is great too — their markets are huge, and the head cook at the diplomatic residence is so nice, she’s even giving me an ingredients stipend in exchange for some of my moms’ recipes. I’m going to cook something new every day. I only wish —”

 

“— that Shay was here,” Lance finishes. Hunk grins ruefully.

 

“I wish Shay was here,” he agrees. “Although she doesn’t really eat and who knows if she can even swim. Maybe she’d just sink like a rock.”

 

“Only one way to find out,” Lance says.

 

“Why do I feel like ‘ask her’ was not the method you were thinking of,” Hunk says. “Seriously though, it’s just like home. Do you think Allura picked it out on purpose?”

 

“Dunno,” Lance says absently, more concerned with the gaggle of kids working their way towards them. Probably pickpockets who pegged them as easy targets, obviously foreigners. He and Hunk don’t have anything valuable on them other than their bayards — “paladins of Voltron” and a flashy bayard trick will basically get you anything, and Allura views pocket money as something that happens to other people — but he still doesn’t particularly want to get into a pissing contest with a bunch of locals, even if they are preteens and Allura could kick all ten of their asses with one foot. “Hey, shoot your scary face over there.”

 

Hunk raises an eyebrow, but does as requested. The skuzzy pimply one who’s probably the leader does an abrupt about-face, wandering off to harass someone else.

 

“What was that about?” Hunk asks.

 

“Eh, maybe pickpockets, maybe bored preteens looking for a chance to be shitty,” Lance says. “Remind me to end up ‘accidentally’ stranded in another galaxy when spawn turns thirteen, for like, four years. Maybe five.”

 

“They’re not that bad,” Hunk says. “I never had any problems.”

 

“Of course you didn’t, you probably helped old ladies cross the street,” Lance says. “I, however, was a total shit who fought with my parents every day and spraypainted my teacher’s house, and whatever Keith was up to at that age, I guarantee you it was some kind of trouble.”

 

“Not everyone becomes their parents,” Hunk protests.

 

“Sure they don’t,” Lance says. “Now go get me another thing on a stick.”

 

Hunk lounges around with Lance for a while, but eventually he wanders off too, striking up a conversation with some people clustered around a water fountain, and before long he’s playing around with the local equivalent of a surfboard while the alien surfer bros cheer him on. He only falls over a few times, and by the end of the day he’s riding the waves like a pro.

 

Hunk may be pining for Shay and her sweet rocky embrace, but a good portion of their fellow beachgoers and definitely some of the surfer bros are feeling the Hunk thirst, Lance notes with amusement and a teeny bit of envy. Or, well, fuck it, a lot of envy. It’s not like no one but Keith has ever found Lance sexy, but he’s an acquired taste, whereas Hunk is almost universally liked and widely drooled over. Or secreted over. Or one time, worthy to throw a small boulder at. They meet a lot of different species, is Lance’s point, and a lot of them think that Hunk has got it goin’ on.

 

At least Lance isn’t alone in his apparent sexual invisibility today. Coran once confided that he was considered somewhat of a beauty in his youth, but the Altean bathing costumes that he and Allura had insisted on are modest to the point of frumpy and frumpy to the point of ridiculous. Even fifth-month-horny Lance would probably have been put off. Then halfway through the day, Allura apparently gets tired of getting cooked like a prawn, because she disappears off to one of the stands clustered farther up the beach and reappears wearing something closer to a bikini, which is, well. Inspiring.

 

Lance wades out shin-deep every half-hour or so, but mostly he does his best impression of a beached whale back on the mats their hosts gave them, lazy and sun-drunk, occasionally graciously accepting whatever non-boozy drink that got shoved at the others any time they ventured too close to the vendor stalls. He feels like royalty, but without the responsibility and overwhelming pressure, and maybe he gets a little too carried away with it, because at one point he orders Allura to fetch him another blue drink and she dumps it on his head instead.

 

Before he knows it, the sun is sinking beneath the horizon, streaking the sky with an impressively technicolor sunset. Coran and Allura are still spiritedly trying to drown each other in the oncoming waves, but Lance and Hunk wander away towards some tidal pools Hunk spotted so that they can harass some local sealife and Lance can actually get into deep-ish water without being terrified that he’s going to be knocked down by one of the giant-ass waves and drown.

 

Hunk wades right in with him, throwing seashells and laughing when Lance falls over anyways, and later, when the wind starts to pick up, he sits up on the edge with Lance and pulls him in so that Lance can cuddle up against his warm bulk and listen to the steady beat of Hunk’s heart thump against his ear. Lance looks up at his best friend and thinks about how every day he thanks God and Jesus and the Virgin and whoever else he can think of that Hunk ended up on this crazy ride with him, because there’s no one he’d rather be launched into space with, and Lance honestly doesn’t think that he could do any of this without him.

 

“You’re gonna be the kid’s godfather,” Lance tells him. “You knew that, right?”

 

“Yeah, I did,” Hunk says, and meets Lance’s fist bump with a grin. “Who’s the other one?”

 

“I don’t even know if Keith wants to name one,” Lance says, idly kicking his feet in the water. “But if he does it’s probably gonna be Shiro.”

 

“I could do a lot worse for a godhusband,” Hunk says. “Are you still not talking to Keith about all of this? I thought he was down to co-parent, even if… uh, you know.”

 

“He isn’t down to be with me?” Lance asks.

 

“Well, yeah,” Hunk says.

 

“Mister Abandonment Issues doesn’t want to be a deadbeat dad,” Lance says. “Shocking.”

 

He fiddles with a shell, running his fingers over the ridged edge. If he presses hard enough, it’s almost sharp enough to bite into his skin, and he deliberately loosens his grip, rolling the curl of the spiral against his palm instead.

 

“I honestly have no idea what’s going on in his head,” Lance says. “But he’s going to be a parent soon, so he’s got to grow up and deal with it, and it’s not on me to chase after him and deal with all my own shit at the same time. He wants to be a part of this, fine. But he actually has to show up and do the work.”

 

“That’s… surprisingly mature of you,” Hunk says, and Lance shrugs.

 

“I’m having a damn baby,” he says. “I kind of have to be.”

 

 

*

 

 

Lance can fill his days up with the beach, the bright whirl of colored awnings in the market, the music from the busker on the corner, Shiro’s steady assurance and Allura’s smile and Hunk’s strong arms and even the mice playing guessing games with him when he’s bored. Nights are harder. No matter how tired he is by the time he goes to bed, more often than not he just lays there awake, with the dark whispering questions to him that he has no way of answering.

 

One of the perks of being a paladin of Voltron is that the on-call doctor team at the diplomatic residence is remarkably understanding when you waddle down to the medical wing at three in the morning and request another ultrasound, again, because you’re sleepless with worry that something is wrong. The nurse who always ends up dealing with him patiently plugs everything in and spreads the cold gel over his belly and lets him follow with his fingers as she points out head and knees and hands and “an unfortunate lack of a decent tail”, even though he leaves fingerprints all over the screen. They’re all patient with him, and he gets the sense that they think he’s young for this, even though he really isn’t, he’s not nearly as stupidly young as he feels. Abuela Aurelia was seventeen when she got married and barely eighteen when she had Lance’s mom — a little scandal in itself, the scant five months that passed between the wedding and the baby — but he can’t imagine her as anything less than totally prepared, because that was how she lived her entire life, with the kind of bedrock certainty in her own decisions that you could build a city on.

 

Lance isn’t like her. Never has been. Of all the decisions you make, this is the one that you’re supposed to be one hundred percent sure that you’re making right, but Lance has never been a hundred percent sure that he’s doing the right thing, not once in his life, and he’s still not sure now.

 

“You’re so young, baby,” his mom says on their next video call. “Younger than I was, even.”

 

“Older than Abuela Aurelia,” Lance says, and his mom rolls her eyes.

 

“My mother was already eighty when she was sixteen, God rest her soul,” she says. “And your boyfriend? How old is he?”

 

Lance doesn’t bother to correct her; some things just aren’t worth the argument. “My age, basically. A year older.”

 

His mom shakes her head. “And you’re truly happy? You really do want this?”

 

“I’m like 10% happy and 90% terrified,” Lance admits. “But I want this. I didn’t expect it, I’m not ready, but I really, really want this. I just don’t know if wanting it is enough.”

 

“No one is ever ready to be a parent,” his mom says. “Some people are more ready than others, but no one is completely there, no matter how much they try to prepare, not even people like your grandmother. I certainly wasn’t. You know, when I was pregnant with your brother, I would wake up in the middle of the night and think my God, what are we doing, you know, I’m barely an adult myself. I think I prayed more during those nine months than I had in my entire life.”

 

“What’s it like, being a parent?” Lance asks.

 

His mom thinks for a moment, propping her chin up on one of her elegant hands, bracelets jangling softly. People always talked about similar they looked, Lance and his mom, first admiringly and then with confusion. Why do you want to dress like a boy, niña? Why did you cut your hair so short? Your mother is so lovely, you look just like her, you could be so beautiful if you tried.

 

“Well, for starters, whatever you’ve been thinking in that head of yours, you’re definitely wrong,” she starts.

 

“Wow, Mamá, super helpful,” Lance says dryly.

 

“Shut it,” she chides, “I know you,” and then continues. “The honest truth? It’s brutal. You lose a part of yourself. You’re not living for you anymore, you’re living for them. Like your heart is walking around outside of your body.”

 

Lance swallows around the sudden lump in his throat. There are so many things he wants to ask, but —

 

“How did you get through it?” he asks. “When you thought I was dead?”

 

“Lance, I woke up every morning thinking that was going to be the day that I broke apart,” she says. “I have no idea how I survived.”

 

“Well, I’ve officially crossed over to 100% terrified,” Lance says, and his mom laughs wetly.

 

“It’s not as bad as all that,” she says. “There are good parts too, amazing parts. And God willing, this fight that you’ve gotten yourself tangled up in will end soon. Or you can retire,” she adds hopefully. “Pass it on to someone else?”

 

“We can’t, Mamá,” Lance says gently. “The lions haven’t shown any signs of choosing new paladins and this galaxy needs Voltron, so I guess we’re just going to plan as best as we can and… well, pray.”

 

“Every day, my love,” she says, and then promptly ruins the moment by adding, “And this boyfriend of yours, when do we get to meet him?”

 

“Uh. He doesn’t really speak any Spanish?” Lance tries, and his mom snorts rudely.

 

“He’s from Texas and he doesn’t speak any Spanish?” she asks incredulously. “What is he, a total idiot? Anyway, it doesn’t matter, you can translate for us.”

 

“I didn’t want to freak you out,” Lance says, “but he’s also… not entirely human?”

 

She stares at him.

 

“He’s a little bit purple,” Lance adds.

 

“You said he was from Texas,” she says accusingly.

 

“He is,” Lance says. “I mean, he grew up there, but his mom was an alien from this galaxy that ended up on Earth somehow, and I guess she got with his human dad and did the do and had him and then disappeared, but Keith didn’t know because he looked human growing up, and then there was something about a psychic knife and then he was captured by evil druids in this galaxy and they basically force-fed him something called quintessence and look, it’s complicated, we still don’t know all the details, but now he looks more mixed, like a muppet. But a hot muppet. A sexy muppet?”

 

“Well, you always keep life interesting,” she says, finally. “Astronaut school, turning into a boy, lost in space, magic lion robots, and now sexy muppets.”

 

“And a baby,” Lance adds.

 

“And a baby,” she agrees. “Now. Your aunts want to talk to you, so get ready. You might want something to squeeze.”

 

 

*

 

 

“How’d your call with your mom go?” Hunk asks.

 

“Great,” Lance says. “Fantastic. We had a touching heart to heart and then she and all my aunts spent the rest of the time telling me every single childbirth horror story they’ve ever heard.”

 

From his uncomfortable-looking slump against the wall, Keith scowls and straightens up, presumably ready to go fight Lance’s relatives millions of light-years away. Then he apparently remembers that he’s still pretending Lance doesn’t exist, because he immediately looks down and starts fiddling with his stupid Galra orphan knife/sword again, like Lance doesn’t see through him like fucking cellophane.

 

“It’s how they show their love,” Lance assures Allura, who’s also frowning. “And maybe a little bit of payback for everything I put them through as an infant.”

 

“I was an easy baby,” Pidge says smugly.

 

“And you’ve made up for it ever since,” Lance says.

 

 

*

 

 

Part of the deal Allura made with the planetary council when they decided to bunk here was that Lance gets a kickass medical team to help with this whole miraculous spawning adventure. As if to make up for the somewhat slapdash planning in the first two trimesters and the general air of improvisation that wafts off Lance like a fine perfume — or as Pidge informs him, a noxious stench — his shiny new medical team seems determined to plan everything out to the last detail, including details that Lance is sure can’t actually be planned out at all.

 

(Sure, he’ll just go stand on that red X on the floor for the next two months so that he can be in the pre-approved place when his water breaks! That’s not totally unreasonable and borderline fascist!

 

“That’s not what fascist means,” Pidge hisses at him, and then they both have to pretend that neither one of them were talking during the medical team planning session and definitely not zoning out in mutual horror when one of the doctors started expounding on rectovaginal fistulas.)

 

Even with all that, he’s still surprised when his medical team asks him about religious preferences in case he wants to incorporate them into his birth plan. Lance has encountered plenty of religion in this galaxy, from the Arusians to the Balmerans to the Olkari, but he’s never even gotten a hint of religiosity from Allura or Coran, and he had the vague idea that religion was something that happened to peoples out here when you had little technology, little hope, and a lot of Galra overlords. When he asks Allura about it, though, she looks at him and says, “No, we did,” emphasis on past tense, and then refuses to say anything further.

 

He ends up telling the team no preference. His family is nominally Catholic to varying degrees of sincerity, and he grew up in that vague haze of lip service, communist holdovers, and true devotion; he thanks God when good things happen, but he doesn’t mean it as anything other than a figure of speech. His mom is actually religious, but has some slight problems with her faith community that are maybe mostly his fault. When Lance came out as bisexual and trans, so take that, haters, he got into a friendly FAQ with their priest that escalated into a loud shouting match in front of the bodega, and his mom very publicly sided with her son, which surprised no one. The real surprise was that Abuela Aurelia sided with him too, causing a minor civil war to erupt in the flock of Catholic grannies who were the true arbitrators of their parish’s religious life.

 

He’s still not entirely sure of the details — he was at the Garrison by then, only home for a few days when he dropped that bomb, and he probably wouldn’t have dropped it at all if his priest hadn’t accosted him on the street and demanded to know where his boobs had gone. Things Were Definitely Said, his mom was politely invited to never darken the doorstep of that church again, his little sisters may have thrown a rock through their former priest’s bathroom window while he was on the toilet, and the winning faction of the League of Grannies got the priest reassigned to another parish away from Varadero. Love wins, or something. The point is that organized religion hasn’t really been part of Lance’s life for a long time, so when he hits his eighth freak-out of that week on a Wednesday and decides to see if God can give him a little help, he doesn’t have the greatest handle on how to ask.

 

There’s a beadworker that Shiro told him about who has a stall in the covered market with the tiny translucent bird-things that flit about reflecting the sunlight streaming through the windows, casting rainbows on the faces of the people below, and also shit on your head if you’re unlucky. When Lance asks, Shiro assures him that xir wares are well-made and fairly priced. He doesn’t say what it was that he bought, exactly, but Lance can have a guess, judging from how often Allura touches her new blue necklace and smiles absently, staring off into nothing. Ugh.

 

Lance has enough money to go to an actual jeweler, but the thought of dropping serious cash on this when his grandma’s rosary was plastic and gold paint seems… wrong, somehow. Instead, he manages to track down the stall after puzzling his way through Shiro’s absolutely terrible directions and gets halfway through an explanation of what he wants before he looks at xir increasingly confused face and draws xir a picture instead. The sketch clears things up right away, especially because he left off the little dead (question mark?) man (double question mark?) hanging off the cross, which had been a definite stumbling block, although in retrospect he desperately wants to see how an alien would depict Jesus. He pays half up front, wanders off to find lunch, successfully dodges being shat upon by any bird-things, and when he leaves to return home to the Castle, he’s got something close to a rosary burning a hole in his pocket.

 

That night, when he inevitably shudders awake in terror, he digs through his pants pockets until he’s got the rosary clutched in his fist. He has a vague idea of what he’s supposed to do, but if he gets down on his knees right now he’s not getting back up without a crane, and anyways he has extremely specific associations involving being on his knees in this room, associations that are so far from what he’s supposed to be praying about that he’s probably sinning just remembering them, in full technicolor and surround sound, because Lance is weak and maybe a little bit lonely. He tries to get through a full recitation, even though he only remembers half of the words, but he mostly just feels stupid and dishonest so he stops after the Apostle’s Creed, and then he feels even stupider for spending the money, so he drops the entire pious act and just starts talking freeform.

 

“Look, if you’re real and you’re listening, you probably don’t even care about all of this,” Lance tells Him. “One little group of people on one little planet in this whole universe? Who the fuck cares what we have to say, right? It’s the thought that counts, I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible.”

 

He keeps the rosary, though, coiled up in his pocket where he can get to it if he gets nervous or fidgety. More often than not he finds himself pulling it out during meetings or odd quiet moments, fingers rolling from bead to bead, even if Keith gives him weird looks over it and one time Shiro corners him and awkwardly asks if he’s having the baby because he feels that he has no choice, which nearly makes Lance throttle him with his own turtleneck. He settles for giving him a serious earful about religious and doctrinal diversity among Catholics and throws in a few invasive questions about Shiro’s religious practices until their esteemed leader looks suitably embarrassed and chagrined.

 

Maybe it makes him a shitty Catholic to do it this way, or even an ungodly wretch, and his grandma would probably roll over in her grave if she knew that he was using a rosary as a fidget toy, but he figures that’s between him and God. And if God spills the beans — well, hopefully he’ll have a while before he meets up with her again to have that conversation.

 

 

*

 

 

About a week after they hit the seven month mark, Lance wakes up to find Keith hovering about six inches from his face, eyes glowing faintly in the dark.

 

“Gah,” Lance flails, clutching at his chest. Keith moves back, but just barely. “What are you doing, you creep?!”

 

“We should talk,” Keith says seriously.

 

Lance scowls at him. He’s tired and cranky and he can’t get comfortable no matter what position he lays in and every fifteen minutes his kid kicks him in the kidneys, but in the dim light from the desk lamp he left on, he can see that Keith’s usual resting bitch face is overlaid with anxiety. He’s rocking back and forth slightly, in the particular way that usually signals unhappy-and-uncomfortable Keith rather than pleased-and-excited — and it’s a gift, Lance knows, for Keith to share these vulnerable parts of himself that were kicked down so mercilessly for most of his life. It’s a blade in his hands.

 

“Please?” Keith adds. “I brought you tea?” He gestures hopefully to a steaming mug on Lance’s bedside table.

 

Lance sighs. He’s still mad, but at this point, he’s also tired of being mad, so he lifts up the top layer of his blanket nest to let Keith wiggle underneath the covers with him. Keith tries to lay down with his head on Lance’s chest, their usual position in bed, but Lance shoves him off with a wince and Keith flops onto the pillow next to him instead. Lance doesn’t even have to look over to know that Keith is looking at Lance’s abdomen instead of his face, presumably trying to laser stare his way into Lance’s uterus like some sort of uncommunicative and emotionally vexing ultrasound machine.

 

“So, talk,” Lance says.

 

Keith nods and doesn’t say anything. Lance groans in frustration and turns over so he can flick Keith gently on the ear, but then the turning over becomes an entire process in itself, leaving him winded and a little woozy by the end of it. God, he thinks, it’s like steering an ocean liner.

 

“Hey. Fuzzball. I’m pretty sure telepathy isn’t on the list of Galra abilities,” Lance says. “You’re gonna have to talk to me with, like, actual words. I know that it’s hard for you. But we’re running out of time to practice before, you know, go time.”

 

“I’ve kind of been avoiding you,” Keith starts.

 

“Believe me, I’ve noticed,” Lance says.

 

“I’ve been working through some shit,” Keith continues.

 

“Uh huh,” Lance says. “Any thrilling conclusions?”

 

“That I’ve been a total dick,” Keith says. “And I’m sorry.”

 

“Yeah, you have,” Lance agrees. “Care to explain why?”

 

“I freaked out really hard, and I took it out on you and —” Keith waves a hand vaguely.

 

“Spawn,” Lance supplies.

 

“— spawn, and it was wrong and I shouldn’t have and I’m going to do better,” Keith says, in a suspiciously practiced rush. Lance squints at him.

 

“Did you talk to Hunk?” he asks. “Or did you just rehearse this a bunch of times?”

 

“Both,” Keith admits.

 

“Okay, don’t get me wrong,” Lance says. “What you’ve been doing is not okay and I expect some quality groveling in the near future, but I’m too tired to fight about this tonight, so: apology extremely grudgingly accepted.”

 

“Thank you,” Keith says.

 

They lapse into silence, just the quiet rustling of sheets and the sound of their breathing in the semi-dark. After a while, Keith scoots closer and sort of nudges at Lance hopefully, like a cat asking to be stroked, and with some difficulty they manage to rearrange themselves so that they’re pressed together, Lance on his side with Keith curled along the curve of his spine, knees tucked up behind his and sighing heavily into Lance’s hair.

 

“I’m really fucking terrified,” Keith confesses, almost a whisper.

 

“You think it’s any easier for me?” Lance asks. “I’m the one growing our offspring. There is an entirely separate person growing inside of me, Keith, and it is not a comfortable process. And I’m the one on the hook if anything goes wrong.”

 

“I’m not going to let that happen,” Keith assures him, fierce as anything, and Lance laughs a little sadly.

 

“I don’t think you can really promise that,” he says. “I mean, that’s what you always tell your kids, right? But it’s not really true.”

 

“See, that’s what I’m talking about. You know things,” Keith says, significantly.

 

“You’re gonna have to be way more specific, dude,” Lance says.

 

“About - how this is supposed to work,” Keith mutters. “You know. Parenting. Family.”

 

“I don’t know where you got this idea that I’m some parenting expert,” Lance says tiredly, “but you know what, I’m really fucking sick of it, I am just as clueless and terrified as anyone else, I know absolutely nothing about parenting or raising a family or… anything, really —”

 

“You know what it’s like to have one,” Keith says, and the rest of the rant building up on Lance’s tongue just sputters out, like a sad deflated balloon.

 

“So that’s what you’ve been freaking out about,” he says.

 

“That and other things,” Keith says. “I mean, mostly that. But Lotor’s still out there somewhere, and it’s not like the galaxy is a peaceful place to begin with. I looked it up in the Castle databases, back when you first told us, and paladins of Voltron don’t tend to have long life spans. We die young. And I was okay with that, I was fine, but then —”

 

He cuts off.

 

“So this whole situation is probably bringing up some pretty uncomfortable stuff for you, huh,” Lance says, after a moment.

 

“Yeah,” Keith mutters.

 

“Okay, alright, up, come on,” Lance says, struggling into a sitting position. “Cuddles are great but I want to be able to see you because this is, like, a serious moment and shit.”

 

Keith reluctantly complies, settling cross-legged as Lance flails himself mostly upright and props himself against the headboard and his mountain of pillows that he systematically stole from the other paladins over the last few months.

 

“So here’s how it’s gonna work from now on,” Lance says. “Instead of fighting and ignoring each other, we’re going to talk through your myriad family-based issues like actual real adults who are about to take care of something that’s totally and completely dependent on them, and then the next time I wake up in a cold sweat because I’m going to be pushing a fucking human out of my body through a terrifyingly small opening and the process might actually shatter my pelvis or give me seizures or I don’t even know, whatever horrific thing my aunts tell me about next, you’re going to be there to help me work through it, also like actual real adults. Deal?”

 

“Deal,” Keith says, and then actually reaches out to shake Lance’s hand, the weirdo, and for the first time since this whole stupid thing started, Lance doesn’t slap down his rush of affection for this man like a malaria-riddled mosquito.

 

“Cool,” Lance says. “Now give me my tea.”

 

 

*

 

 

To his credit, when Lance intercoms him the next night at three in the morning to half-yell in a panicked rush, “Keith, I’m freaking out, it’s freak out time, oh my God” and then mostly devolve into Spanglish obscenities and incoherent noises, Keith appears at Lance’s doorway barely a dobash later with his shirt on backwards and breathing hard, like he’d sprinted the whole way, and rubs Lance’s back and makes what Keith probably thinks are soothing noises and reminds Lance about healing pods and Lance’s entire cadre of childbirth specialists, “and a lot of the species here are kind of humanoid, so it should be fine!” and then reminds him again about healing pods, healing pods, healing pods when Lance nearly hyperventilates.

 

All in all, Keith’s not particularly soothing, but Lance hadn’t signed up for soothing, he’d signed up for Keith being there, and he is, so. It’s a start. It’s something they can work with, and God willing, they’ll have enough time to make it even better.

 

 

*

 

 

“I like the people on this planet. Do you think they have, like, couples’ counseling?” Keith asks him a few days later.

 

Lance laughs and then actually takes a moment to think about it.

 

“You know, that’s not actually a bad idea,” he says.

 

It turns out they do, and the one they settle on is happy to do video calls even after Lance pops this kid out and they pack up to go fight evil and unrest elsewhere in the galaxy. This is a good thing, because they’re gonna need way more than a few sessions. Yay issues! They both have a lot, because it turns out that a few late night heart-to-hearts aren’t enough to heal a lifetime’s worth of papercuts and uglier, long-festering wounds, but Lance still feels lighter, somehow. A little more prepared, or maybe just a little smarter. Maybe everyone passes their trauma on to their kids, like a disease in the blood, but their counselor says yes, this is inevitable, but you love them and you do your best and then try to do better than that anyways. She’s got three kids and her wife just laid another clutch. Lance likes her.

 

“We’re gonna be the most well-adjusted parents ever,” he tells Keith.

 

“Eh, no, we’re definitely not,” Keith says.

 

In these last few weeks, when his doctors start muttering about due dates, Lance finds himself calling back home even more than before. He and his mom still aren’t seeing exactly eye to eye about this whole situation, but they’ve both unbent enough to meet in the middle, and she’s apparently strong-armed the rest of the family into being equally supportive, his uncles included.

 

She and Abuela Aurelia drove each other crazy, he remembers, to the point where Abuela actually lived in her own apartment over his father’s garage instead of in the main house, but he kind of gets now why his parents invited her to live with them when they were expecting their first child. None of the people he’s made his home with now have children of their own, and anyway there’s something uniquely comforting about being able to get advice from someone who’s seen at you at your absolute worst, who’s seen you grow from an idea to a real person, and is there to guide you through as you start on an idea of your own.

 

He and his mom still yell at each other occasionally about co-sleeping and the inferiority of baby formula and why Lance had to go ahead and get top surgery when he apparently wanted to give birth some day — but he signs off on those calls now with a frustrated, hair-pulling love, not in tears.

 

In month eight he finally spills the whole story of Keith and their extended cold war to her, and after she gets done going on about how Keith is a no-good boyfriend while Lance defends him but privately kind of agrees, she announces that the family still wants to meet him, not later but now.

 

“You mean you want to grill him and threaten to find a way to travel to this galaxy so that you can cut off his testicles if he screws up,” Lance says.

 

“Exactly,” his mom agrees. “I know Sonia has been working on some especially good threats.”

 

“I think you should,” Lance says. “Not the threatening part — well, okay, maybe the threatening part a little bit — but meet him. But maybe one by one? He’s not really very good with groups, and we can be pretty overwhelming. You know, like Tío Ramón?”

 

“Oh, yes, I see,” his mom says. “Sure. We’ll work it out.”

 

Lance considers himself to have pretty good people skills, thank you very much, but he’s starting to admit to himself that as much of a clueless dick Keith had been and occasionally still is, Lance had perhaps been a little clueless and unkind himself. He hadn’t really thought about it at the time, but getting to be friends and then whatever they were eight months ago and whatever they are now meant that Keith had shown Lance some of the cracks in his armor, one shy glimpse at a time, and Lance had unerringly stuck him in all of them right from the very beginning — a little too intuitive for his own good, or Keith’s.

 

It was his mom that had taught Lance how to throw a punch. He’d been, what, eight? Nine? Old enough for other kids to notice that he was different in some fundamental way, and they’d started to pounce on it with the usual viciousness of children trying to understand the rules of the world. She’d taken one look at his red eyes and tear-streaked face and dealt with it as best as she knew how, which was to steer him into the backyard and gently show him how to shape his small hands into fists while his dad looked on somewhat bemusedly from his chair on the porch.

 

From the stories that Abuela Aurelia told, Lance knows that his mom’s impressive brawling skills came from a childhood of kicking the absolute shit out of anyone who tried to mess with her little brother Ramón, who didn’t make anything but noises until he was six and has to go outside when the family gets too loud and talks incessantly about the trains that run by his house, and in her book, calling him anything close to autistic came under the umbrella of “messing with”. She still doesn’t really like to admit that Lance actually has a differently-assembled brain and isn’t just “his own person”, whatever the coded hell that’s supposed to mean, but she conceded enough that she put a stop to anyone getting mad at him for forgetting things or not sitting still in church or that one time that he almost burned the house down because he wandered away from the stove, although in Lance’s opinion he deserved anger over that one because Jesus, his younger siblings were playing in the basement.

 

Lance and his uncle have never been particularly close. Lance is loud and almost pathologically social where his uncle is quiet and retiring, and to be honest, trains bore the absolute shit out of Lance. It’s not like all neuroatypical people are the same, as these last eight months have so pointedly driven home. But Lance has never once felt anything but absolutely loved by his family, even at his worst and weirdest, even when he wasn’t too sure about loving himself, and he’s pretty sure that his uncle feels the same.

 

And, look. Lance is trying not to be weird about this, or at least any weirder than he and Keith are usually. Keith is one of the toughest people he’s ever met — which is saying a lot — and the guy’s managed to come out of a hard place and a hard childhood mostly still intact. Lance respects that and admires that and maybe he’s even still a little envious of how Keith always comes up swinging twice as hard when anyone tries to knock him down. But Lance is trying to learn how to communicate better, and some things just don’t get over the translation barrier when you try to say them out loud; some things you just need to see for yourself.

 

His mom claims dibs on being the first to meet Keith, of course. Predictably, Keith comes off the call looking a little wild-eyed and has to go hit the training simulator for a while, but then his mom makes sure that the first of the aunts and uncles to talk with him is Uncle Ramón. They don’t talk long — actually, they don’t really talk much at all — but that night when Lance heads off to sleep Keith follows him and gets right into bed with him, even though he usually avoids co-sleeping like the plague.

 

“You know that whoever spawn turns out to be, they’re gonna love them,” Lance tells him. “Just you wait, my mom may seem composed now but she is going to lose her shit when she actually sees this kid. This is her first grandchild.”

 

“I’m going to love this kid too,” Keith says. “No matter what. I know I’ve said it a million times already but I mean it, I already love them, Lance, I love them so much and I haven’t even met them yet.”

 

“Me too,” Lance says, and they share an honest-to-God foreheads-pressed-together-breathing-the-same-air-capital-m-Moment, which Lance thought only happened in movies, before said kid gets comfy right on top of his bladder and Lance breaks the moment to get up to pee, again.

 

 

*

 

 

He and Keith start spending more time together outside of the Castle, venturing out into the city. Apparently Keith was stalking him like a jungle cat, albeit one that’s uncomfortable in crowds, suspicious of strangers, and avoids continuous loud noise, which are basically Lance’s top three favorite things about being in a city, so they each have their own favorite spots to show each other. Lance brings Keith to the indoor market with the crystal birds, the city square where the buskers congregate to charm tourists out of their money, and even drags him along on the team’s next beach day, although between the sand and the saltwater Keith’s fur ends up a clumpy, gritty mess. Hunk’s surfer bros give Keith the local equivalent of a high-five when he manages to stay on a board for more than a few seconds, though, and Keith loses a modicum of the tension he carries around these days when he’s around anyone but the team, anywhere a crowd might turn ugly on him for his new body that he didn’t want and still hates, which Lance can sympathize with, although maybe not as much as he used to.

 

Lance has always talked a good game about not being afraid, and he’s been lucky. Among other humans he passed as cisgender like 90% of the time, and that other 10% he usually had Hunk watching his back, but he didn’t realize how much fear he had still carried around on a regular basis — that little part of him that was always paying attention for trouble, always listening, always watching, always ready to run — until he got shot out into space where no one even knew how many limbs Lance was supposed to have, much less what plumbing, and everyone he met considered his pregnancy about as normal as dirt, uninteresting except for his position as a paladin. Maybe it’s finally that universal indifference, maybe it’s that the gender dysphoria of being a pregnant guy was so low on his list of freak-out priorities that it hasn’t even registered, but he’s… well, he feels good. Probably not good enough that he wants to go through this whole process again, because pregnancy is some seriously weird shit, but good enough that when he looks in the mirror these days he just sees himself, not a collage of all the ways that he doesn’t measure up.

 

Meanwhile, Keith has been flung in the opposite direction. Keith started out as a guy who saw his body as a vehicle instead of a statement, something to fuel and maintain and occasionally kick at until it runs properly again. It’s not like he didn’t have any body issues at all — he was an autistic mixed-race Korean-American orphan plopped in the middle of rural Texas, for fuck’s sake — but he dealt with them with the same muleheaded avoidance that he applies to every problem he can’t attack head-on. And then the Galra happened.

 

Keith still refuses to tell them the specifics of what went down during the time that he spent in the druid base. All Lance knows is that there was quintessence involved, that Keith was human-looking when he went in, and when they dragged him out of the base three quintets later, klaxons blaring and flames roaring through the labs, Allura nearly cut his head off before she realized who it was they were carrying.

 

Keith can’t pass anymore. Keith stands out anywhere they go. To most people they meet, he’s not even a person anymore; he’s a wound in the fabric of the world, a reminder of everything they’ve lost and everything they’re afraid of. Lance tries to run interference as best he can, but it’s not enough, it will probably never be enough, and Lance hates it. It seems so fundamentally wrong, that someone like Keith should be afraid to move through the world.

 

Unsurprisingly, the favorite spots that Keith shows Lance in turn are quiet, isolated, often hidden — a hunter’s trail through one of the giant municipal parks, a dried-up fountain in the middle of a tiny courtyard, a corner fruit stand run by a suspiciously lilac-tinged woman. They’re all so peaceful that they drive Lance a little bonkers, to be honest — he’s always been a sensory seeker, doesn’t understand anyone who doesn’t thrill at being in the center of the maelstrom — but he tries to love them because Keith loves them, same as Keith has been doing for him.

 

They arrived in the city during the dry season, but in the last few weeks, the feeling in the air has changed, strange and heavy, and the energy on the street has changed too. A storm front is coming in. The city is ready for rain, and inside him, Lance can feel that this child is ready too.

 

Despite what Allura says, most people here probably couldn’t give a shit about this baby, but the timing still feels like a good sign. Like the whole city is holding its breath with them.

 

“Do you think spawn will be purple?” Lance asks Keith.

 

“I hope not,” Keith says.

 

“Okay, but people look at you and see an adult Galra, not a tiny little baby,” Lance protests. “People wouldn’t be mean to a baby, right?”

 

Keith snorts, tossing the pebble he’s been playing with in lieu of replying. It bounces off the face of the statue in front of them with unerring accuracy, because Keith is carelessly perfect sometimes, and Lance narrows his eyes and throws his own pebble at the statue, and things devolve into a pebble throwing contest that they have to put a stop to when Lance picks up a rock that’s a little too big, misjudges his throw, and nearly brains a passerby with it. Lance blames his weird center of gravity, and anyway, a pebble isn’t a sniper rifle, or any of the other bayard forms that he’s mastered, shut up, Keith, I’d like to see you make any of the shots I do on a regular basis.

 

“Once I pop this thing out, I’ll be back to fighting form in no time at all, so stop giggling,” Lance says, and then they both get quiet and a little sad, because it was nice to pretend that they were going to raise their child here, in this bright city on a planet so far away from the war, but it’s a lie, even if it is a nice one. Lance is going to have this baby any day now, and their time here is coming to an end. Keith pulls Lance into a hug, eyes closed and nose buried in Lance’s hair as the sky hangs heavy above them both, and Lance curls into him and wonders if it’s possible to mourn something you never even had in the first place.

 

 

*

 

 

To Keith’s sad and obvious relief, their daughter isn’t purple when she comes out. She’s not human-looking either — she has Keith’s eyes, cats-eye golden; she’s furrier than most babies Lance has seen; and when they clean all the goop off of her, Lance sees that her ears are slightly pointed. Hunk cries, which he expected; Pidge cries, which he did not. His mom physically shoves his dad out of the way so she can rush up and stick her face as close as possible to the webcam, and then she gets shoved out of the way by his Tía Sonia, and so on and so forth. Lance finds out later that Keith’s Blade of Marmora buddies send a ceremonial knife/sword as a baby gift, which Hunk immediately confiscates, thereby cementing his position of best choice for godparent. Shiro mostly stands around uselessly and looks by turns proud and terrified, clearly trying and failing not to imagine tiny Shiro-and-Allura babies in place of Keith-and-Lance’s.

 

“You can have your own beautiful brown babies but this one is mine, so hands off,” Lance tells him, clutching her protectively to his chest.

 

“What?” Shiro asks, confused.

 

Keith rolls his eyes and elbows Shiro out of the way so that he can sit on the edge of the bed, even as Lance tries to push him off so that he can keep staring at Shiro suspiciously. It’s possible Lance is still a little high from whatever drugs his docs pumped in him before they sewed him up, which, eugh, not going to dwell on that.

 

“Buddy, it might be easier not to dwell on it if you weren’t talking about it out loud,” Hunk says. Beside him, Pidge is looking a little green.

 

“Miracle of life, dude,” Lance says, and zones out for a while after that, slipping into a haze of exhaustion and painkillers.

 

Later, after they’ve kicked everyone out and signed off out the video call with tearful goodbyes and promises of a Catholic baptism that Lance has absolutely no intention of fulfilling, even if he has found God a little bit during this whole process, Lance scooches over so Keith can snug up next to him and they both stare down at this tiny wrinkly thing that they made together and now get to nurture and love and teach and shit.

 

“She kind of looks like brown Winston Churchill if he was also a werewolf,” Lance says.

 

“I think all babies look like that,” Keith says. “Well, not the werewolf part, that’s all me.”

 

He smiles and carefully reaches out to touch the very tip of her nose, and Lance’s heart does an Olympic-level backflip.

 

“Baby Kogane-McKlane,” Keith says softly. “Wow.”

 

“Wait, no,” Lance says.

 

“What do you mean wait, no?” Keith demands. “Do not tell me you’re having second thoughts, Lance, because it is a little late for that.”

 

“No, all mine, no one else can have her except maybe you. But Kogane-McKlane sounds ridiculous, we can’t saddle her with that,” Lance says. “Look, I’ll flip you for it.”

 

“Kogane-McKlane,” Keith counters stubbornly, “it should be both of us,” and Lance says, “Yes, very touching, but Spawn Kogane-McKlane is still a terrible name,” and then they both pause and look at each other and then down at brown werewolf Winston Churchill.

 

“First name,” Keith says. “We forgot a first name.”

 

“Oops,” Lance says.

 

 

*

 

 

They don’t end up naming her Aurelia. His mom gets it, but Lance can tell his dad is more than a little pissed.

 

“We want her to be her own person,” Lance tries to explain to him, “not some sort of living memorial.”

 

This only makes his dad more pissed. Things eventually escalate to mustache twitch level, which is basically his dad’s version of being ready to throw down, but Lance is sleep-deprived and ready to throw down too, because this is his kid, not his parents’, and no amount of Cuban nonsense is going to get him to budge. Oddly enough, it’s Keith that intervenes to make peace, assuring Lance’s dad that they’re going to choose a new first name but will definitely consider Aurelia for one of her middle names, which appeases him enough that he drops the matter for the rest of the call.

 

“I still don’t like it,” Lance tells Keith later.

 

“Why not?” Keith asks. He’s got Name-Undecided cuddled up to his chest in some sort of brightly-colored woven baby sash like they’ve been doing since literally the moment she was born because she starts screaming the instant anyone tries to put her down. They’ve gotten maybe five hours of sleep between the two of them over the last two days, but Lance thinks that Keith would still be happy to never put her down for the next five years, maybe even the rest of her life, even if he did have to beg Pidge to rig up a pair of noise-muting headphones that would fit over his ears.

 

“It’s creepy,” Lance tries to explain. “Like we’re trying to shove this piece of a dead person into her. I love my grandma, but I’m not expecting my daughter to replace her.”

 

“I think it’s nice,” Keith says. “It’s not about replacing her, it’s about continuity. Reminding her that she’s part of a history. Family stuff.”

 

“You say that about literally everything,” Lance says, but he admits that when Keith puts it like that, it doesn’t seem that bad.

 

Then Keith has to ruin it by adding, “And your grandma was kind of the inspiration for her happening, so,” which makes Lance wail, “Why would you ever put it like that, oh my God,” and then Name-Undecided decides that she wants to join in the fun and start wailing too, and Lance makes Keith calm her and rock her and feed her and burp her and change her in revenge for scarring Lance for life.

 

Now that they’re a family unit or whatever, everyone clearly expects them to move into a blended love nest, preferably far enough away from the other paladin quarters that 2AM baby screeching just wakes up the happy new parents and not everyone else too. Neither Lance nor Keith want to give up having their own space, though, and Keith is a stubborn insomniac who can barely fall asleep if someone else is in bed with him, much less stay asleep — something about hypervigilance and probably some of the trauma that Keith is still stuck toting around with him like an inconvenient suitcase, although he has managed to lighten it a little bit lately, Lance is very proud, etc.

 

Privately, Lance thinks that falling asleep horizontally will hardly be an issue any time soon, as the demands of an infant not yet operating on an adult circadian rhythm have both of them falling asleep vertically, diagonally, and once, notably, upside-down. Even with the help of their friends, Xiomara Aurelia Espinosa Kogane-McKlane is selfish and demanding, and clearly prefers Keith over anyone else but Lance, mostly demonstrating this by screaming to be picked up and then yanking on his fur as hard as she possibly can. Keith adores her.

 

“You know she’s going to be teased for that last name,” Lance tells him. He’s still grumpy that Keith snuck it onto her birth forms while Lance was out to lunch.

 

It’s not like they can’t change it, but for all his irritation, Lance finds himself oddly reluctant to do so — perhaps because it gives him something harmless to rag on Keith about until the day he dies.

 

“I’ll beat anyone up who tries,” Keith says as he tries to dislodge her fist from his ear fluff, wincing.

 

“Sure, beat up a bunch of children, that’s a good way to handle it,” Lance says. “Very mature.”

 

“I’m not the one who gave her enough middle names to juggle with,” Keith grumbles.

 

“Just be thankful I didn’t do the usual Cuban thing and name her Yuneisy or Onedollar or something,” Lance says. “And I had to squish my matronym in there so she that has something to go by when she gets old enough to figure out that you gave her the worst last name ever.”

 

“Says the Cuban guy who named himself Lance,” Keith says. “What, was Justin taken?”

 

“Excuse you, it was a painful, soul-searching process,” Lance sniffs, although in reality it was him showing up in Hunk’s room with a bottle of terrible vodka and a list of every single name he liked the sound of, which they pinned to the wall and drunkenly used as a dartboard until they hit something not too ridiculous.

 

Abuela Aurelia had absolutely hated it. It was too ugly, too American, too many consonants, why couldn’t he just have named himself after a decent saint, or better yet, let her choose, since no one else in the family had any sense or taste at all.

 

They may not have gotten along fabulously in the day-to-day, but Lance and his grandma loved each other with the fierce devotion than runs through his family like salt in the sea. He still misses her. He wishes that she could have met Xiomara, just once, even for just a glimpse, a single breath — but as Keith promised, it is starting to get easier. It doesn’t hurt as much to remember things like this, the good and bad of the woman whose story will always be some part of him, even when she herself has faded past memory.

 

She probably wouldn’t approve of their domestic set-up either, but Lance is a bad Catholic living in sin with his gay half-alien maybe-boyfriend and their illegitimate love child, so he doesn’t put too much stock by it. For now, Lance finds himself a bigger set of rooms and has Shiro set up a cot for Keith in the corner. Xio wails especially loudly for a straight week — “It’s probably the new place smell,” Keith informs him — but Keith is close but not too close, the sound of his breathing comforting in the dark instead of stifling, and they agree that they’ll figure it out when she gets older, like literally everything else about this weird and wacky ride they’ve found themselves on, including riding it with each other.

 

 

*

 

 

As Keith predicted, even with actual professional help, they’re still not the most well-adjusted co-parents. They may be busy nurturing their communication skills along with their baby, but they still squabble over a lot of things, with the terror of new parents who don’t know exactly what they should be doing but know that they definitely shouldn’t be doing that.

 

After the first few fights about how Lance literally cannot get Keith to put Xio to sleep anywhere but against his own chest while he’s walking around and rocking her, and how this will result in Keith’s death by exhaustion, you dumbass, Lance asks his mom for advice on co-sleeping and how not to accidentally suffocate your new little miracle, since as he tells Keith, she’s 6-0 in the not accidentally killing her kids department, so she might know a little bit more about this than they do.

 

“Mamá, tell Keith he’s being stupid,” he orders. “I’m a stick, I can’t suffocate anything.”

 

“Not with all that baby weight, you’re not,” she brutally points out.

 

The plan was to calm Keith down a little bit, but this definitely backfires, because Keith spends most of the call unhappy-rocking, wide-eyed in horror at yet another danger lurking somewhere unsuspected. Murderous warlords ain’t no thing, but coolers full of melted ice and small choking hazards have been enough to give Keith daily wake-Lance-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-by-looming-over-the-baby nightmares. Instead of freaking out with him, Lance has Coran find a firmer mattress somewhere, he sacrifices some of his pillows to stitch together a little baby nest, and Shiro gets Keith to put his head between his knees until he stops hyperventilating over SIDS.

 

“We’ve checked for holes in her heart, right?” Keith asks, reaching out for her even though he’s still upside-down with Shiro’s metal hand on his back.

 

“Yes, Keith,” Shiro says, “five separate times. Please stop menacing the medical staff.”

 

(“Who knew that I’d be the calmer parent,” Lance marvels.

 

“Just wait until she starts crawling,” his mom says fatalistically.)

 

Even still, when Lance wakes up one night and she’s missing, Lance’s first thought is ‘Lotor kidnapped my baby!’ Then more of his brain comes online and he replaces that with ‘Keith kidnapped my baby.’

 

When he asks the Castle, it informs him that Keith and Xio are in the lion bay, and when he gets there Keith is walking her around, pointing to various places on Red and explaining how she works and little anecdotes from their adventures together.

 

“— and that scratch is from when Shiro exploded Zarkon’s ship and we all thought he was dead,” he’s whispering to her, already expertly avoiding the grabby hands she’s making at his ears.

 

“Returning to the scene of the crime?” Lance asks wryly, and Keith spins around, startled and murderous, then relaxes and just looks confused.

 

“Crime?”

 

“The place where we did the do and accidentally made a baby?” Lance explains.

 

“Lance, we had sex in here so many times before that,” Keith says, and Lance says, “Point,” and hops up onto the a stack of parts crates to perch there, albeit not as easily as he would have ten months ago. Considering the genetic die they were rolling with Keith’s dubious species status, he got pretty lucky that he didn’t come away with any serious complications, but his body is still healing, getting used to being a person again and not just a walking meat cabinet for another human.

 

“So what are you two doing?” Lance asks.

 

“She met everyone else,” Keith says. “Even the Weeple ambassador, and I don’t know him for shit. I wanted her to meet Red and the rest of the Lions.”

 

“Barely two weeks old and you’re priming her to be a paladin,” Lance jokes, but Keith shakes his head vehemently.

 

“Of course I’m gonna teach her to fly, but she can do anything she wants with it. She can be a paladin, or a cargo pilot, or stay on the ground. It’ll be her choice.”

 

“Also, let’s be honest, you’re never going to retire,” Lance says. “They’re gonna have to pry you out of the cockpit with the jaws of life.”

 

“Maybe I will retire,” Keith says absently, “we’ll see,” which is possibly the most shocking thing he’s said during this entire process, and then he looks up at Lance’s gobsmacked face and adds, “After we kill Lotor,” and there’s his bloodthirsty boyfriend again. Good. That was getting weird.

 

“Are we boyfriends?” Lance asks him, curiously.

 

“Fuck if I know,” Keith says, eloquent as ever. “But we sort of live together, we’re raising a baby together, we have an actual couples’ counselor, and we’re having sex. Are we going to keep having sex?”

 

“I’m jumping your bones as soon as I can be sure that my body won’t actually fall apart,” Lance assures him, and Keith grins.

 

“You’re assuming that you’ll be doing any of the work,” he says.

 

“So how soon do you think we could make Hunk babysit?” Lance asks. “What about today?”

 

Then he sees Keith’s unhappy realization that rocking Lance’s world would require letting someone else hold his daughter for more than a few seconds, and Lance sighs. “Never mind. Rain check.”

 

“Rain check,” Keith agrees, with a sweet and promissory smile, and then Lance nearly falls off his crate when Blue and Red decide that they’re bored with the sex talk and wake themselves up to meet the baby.

 

Keith, the bastard, barely startles at all, and when Blue and Red stomp their way over to nose hello, shaking the walls even with their grav-resistance on, Keith actually lifts Xio up to meet them like it’s the goddamn Lion King. Lance expects her to start screaming bloody murder, but she just quietly examines the enormous war machines looming over her.

 

From the ebook copy of A Thousand Days of Wonder that Pidge had somehow managed to pirate from Earth, Lance knows that she can’t even see blue yet, or purple. To her, Keith just looks like a giant grey blob, albeit with a pair of floating yellow blobs somewhere in there, and so does Blue. Xio probably doesn’t even see colors as much as she hears them, synesthetic like all young infants are, and most of what’s guiding her through the world right now is smell, which Keith had found especially interesting — he confided in Lance that even as an adult he mostly told people apart by scent anyway, even before he got all Galra-fied.

 

From the wistful tone in his voice, Lance can tell that Keith wants her to stay that way — a little more of a bird than a fish, a little bit more him than Lance. Lance probably would have flipped out about it ten months ago, but he gets it now, that it’s not a territorial thing, or a judgment on who Lance is; it’s just Keith being a parent like any other, loving and fearful, terrified that one day their child will need something from them and they won’t be able to understand. But they’re going to keep trying, Lance thinks — a promise to himself as much as to his daughter. They’ll do their best, and then do even better than that, so that when those inevitable moments do come, when love still isn’t enough, they’ll be able to talk to her, no matter who she turns out to be: fish, bird, or even — God forbid — totally normal.

 

“What do you think we sound like to her?” Lance wonders, and then amends when Keith just frowns at him, confused: “Visually.”

 

“Oh, yeah, the book,” Keith says. He considers this for a moment, absently bouncing Xio when she begins to make disgruntled noises. “Well, Hunk is that sound that a heavy blanket makes when you move it, you know? And Pidge is pencils.”

 

“Shiro: clearly a tire swing,” Lance says. “Coran is… hmm. Birds? Wait, no, cutting an orange.”

 

“Allura is beads,” Keith says. “But the nice kind, glass ones like your rosary beads. Not the gross plastic ones.”

 

“You’re an air conditioner,” Lance informs him, and Keith snorts.

 

“Sure,” he says.

 

“And I’m —” Lance continues.

 

“A fart,” Keith supplies. “One long continuous fart. Like a whoopee cushion.”

 

“— popping bubble wrap,” Lance finishes. “Jerk.”

 

He squirms and readjusts on his crate. Ow. Damn baby.

 

“So what about the lions?” he asks Keith. “What do you think they sound like?”

 

“Something good, I hope,” Keith says.

 

“Music of the spheres,” Lance suggests, and Keith actually laughs at that, looking at Lance and then down at their daughter with a smile that promises everything, everything, even the things neither of them can really give.

 

“Music,” he says. “Yeah. I like that.”