The last thing he hears is his own voice biting out, “Oh, shit.”
Half a second later, the bomb goes off.
He doesn’t quite remember the explosion. He remembers a sudden, tremendous pressure, squeezing every part of him all at once. He remembers a flash of nearly unbearable heat, light scorching behind his eyelids. But he doesn’t remember exactly how he got here; that is, halfway across the room, laying on his stomach, cheek pressed to the floor.
He’s having a little trouble breathing, but he’s pretty sure it’s because his heart is beating at five hundred miles per hour because, oh yeah, he just got exploded. Or, close enough. At least it’s not as bad as the last time, with Coran and Rover and the Castle being invaded. He fucking hurts, though. Last time he was too out of it to really have to deal with all the life-threatening consequences of sitting in a bomb’s splash zone, but that’s not the case this time around. His entire body aches, and he’s pretty sure his insides are nothing but one big bruise. There’s a stabbing pain in his back that makes him think that the debris littering the floor around him might’ve struck home at least once. There’s a terrible pain in his ears. But he doesn’t seem to be seriously hurt, in that he doesn’t think he’s going to die. Small blessings and all that.
Lance takes a deep, calming breath, bracing himself, then levers into a seated position. He can’t quite bite back a cry as the sudden movement jostles his entire body and reminds him that, hey, he’s just been blown up, in case he forgot, except he guesses he did a better job suppressing it than he thought, because he didn’t hear it. Actually, now that he thinks about it, Lance can’t hear anything. At all.
Yeah, if his heart was beating too fast before, now it should be getting a speeding ticket worth half a year’s salary. His hands shake as they move upward, the pain that comes with it dimmed by the panic freezing his veins, and he reaches under his helmet to touch his ears carefully.
His fingers come back red and wet, and he isn’t able to hear the pained noise that he lets out as his stomach contracts. In a second, he’s leaned over to his side coughing up bile and mostly-digested food goo. It hurts, like his chest is being pulled apart, and the rest of him is all locked up like being shocked. When there’s nothing left to bring up an the vomiting stops, he just leans over, holding himself as tears and drool drip onto his lap. He’s panting, knows it because he can feel the heaving of his chest and the burn of those deep breaths on his tired lungs.
But he can’t hear it. Jesus.
“Shit,” he whines, squeezing his eyes shut. The word rolls off his tongue emptily. It’s a weird, awful sensation, so he shuts his mouth promptly, swallowing a few times. Okay. Okay.
He has to get up. He can’t stay here. Not only is it a generally bad idea to hang out where he just set off a bomb, he won’t be able to hear if his friends need him. Or if a Galra comes for him, for that matter.
Without another thought, Lance pushes himself to his feet. He immediately tilts to the side, balance blown, but manages to stay standing by swerving into a wall and leaning up against it while the world stops spinning. As soon as it does—and it takes a little bit, where he can do nothing but force himself not to barf again—he takes a few hesitant steps forward, keeping a hand on the wall. When the ground doesn’t immediately fall out from beneath him, he walks forward more confidently, eventually abandoning his support to move across the destroyed room and out a gaping hole that’d been blown into the wall. Great. Mobility, check. Out of his almost-grave, check. Next up, finding Keith and getting the fuck out of here.
It’s disconcerting to have an entire sense taken away. Terrifying, if he’s completely honest. Every flash of light holds a hidden enemy, every explosion rumbling through the floor is happening right on top of him. It’s a long journey down the next few halls with him stopping to panic and point his gun at a shadow every few seconds, but eventually he makes it to what he thinks should be the hangar Keith left Red in. Thinks being the key word. All the Galra bases look the same, and all the doors inside those bases are inconveniently identical. In his current slightly-less-than-subpar state, Lance can’t remember the way back to where he came for the life of him. The door in front of him is as good as any, though, so he shoots the control panel and wrenches it open. If he whimpers a little at the pain it causes to do so, well, not even he could hear it.
He gets the doors open, and it’s not the hangar Red is in. It’s not even a hangar.
No, it’s some sort of security room with three flesh-and-blood Galra soldiers turning from some sort of control panel to look at him. For a moment, all anyone does is stare, obviously surprised.
Then, Lance turns around and runs.
If he had his bayard, he would’ve taken them down. He would’ve, uh, shot their knees or something, then made them tell him where the hangar is. But he lost his bayard when he got blown up, and he forgot to look for it after because he got blown up. As it is, he’s weaponless, injured, and running blindly—no, deafly—down a hallway of a Galran warship that he can’t distinguish from the next one over.
He can feel the thundering of running feet all around him, and his heart is beating way too hard in his chest, and he’s skidding around another corner, and—he runs smack into some reddish blur, ending up on his ass on the floor.
He’s thankful for his helmet even as he groans soundlessly, because he’s sure that collision would’ve hurt about a thousand times worse without it. Not to mention he’d probably have died earlier. Lance tenses, then, remembering exactly why he’s on the ground, but as he looks up relief blooms in his chest like a fire. Keith scrambles up directly in front of him, mouth forming what Lance is positive are insults, and he’s never been so glad to see that stinky mullet in his life.
He musters up a grin when Keith glares at him and gets yanked to his feet as a result. Lance then is suddenly holding his bayard, covered in soot and sparking a bit, and he figures that now Keith is explaining how he went back to search for his body or something and found this instead, and he’s so glad Lance is alive, bonding moment numero dos. It’s all very ripe with emotion in his head. Then Keith grabs his shoulder, yells… something, and starts running, so Lance just assumes he told him to follow because that’s what he does. He runs behind Keith, thanking God for giving him long legs because otherwise he’d have lost him in seconds, and after a few minutes of swerving down halls and taking down the few sentries they come across (well, okay, Keith slices the sentries in half and Lance holds his broken bayard and swears that he could’ve done it faster), they finally make it to the hangar. In Lance’s defense, the door looks the absolute same to him.
He doesn’t need to hear what Keith says in order to know to jump into Red’s open mouth. He flings himself in, sliding into a seat somewhere near the lion’s neck while Keith slides into the pilot’s chair, and they’re off. Lance let’s a tired smile grace his face and slumps back, leaning his head on the metal wall and closing his eyes.
His moment of peace doesn't last long. There's a mad rush away from the base—there almost always is at the end of a mission, successful or not—that Lance straps himself in for, but he keeps pushing against the belts holding him to lean over and see what's happening in the cockpit. He can't tell if Keith has asked him to do anything, but every time there's a particularly rough explosion that reminds Lance that every muscle in his body is strained, he makes sure to call out "I'm okay!" in what he's pretty sure is a loud voice.
Eventually, they pull land back in the Castle, and it's such a relief Lance could cry. His lip actually trembles for a moment, but then he remembers Keith just a few feet away and manages to suck it up and push it down. He jumps out of his seat, only barely wincing, and saunters out of the red lion with Keith on his heels.
The control room is where they always meet after missions to debrief and determine who needs medical attention (if no one has already been whisked away for an emergency), so Lance starts up there. Before he can make it a few feet, though, Keith grabs his shoulder and whips him around.
Keith's face is all twisted in annoyance. His eyebrows are furrowed, cheeks a bit flushed, and his mouth is biting out words fast and indecipherable. He's probably mad because Lance has been ignoring him, but there's not much he can do about that right now.
"Wait," Lance says, mouth a little unwieldy. "Slow down."
Keith rolls his eyes and throws his hands up in the air the dramatic way that Lance sometimes does. He doesn't repeat what he says, just snaps something that Lance is pretty sure started with a 't' and stomped on in front of him. It's probably better that he didn't try to talk to Lance again. A frustrated Keith is never a particularly nice one.
God, Lance aches. He could really do with a nice long shower. Maybe a few hours in a healing pod, if the itching, stabbing pain in his back where something got lodged is anything to go by. And his ears. Yeah, he'd like those to start working again. The walk up to the main room is no longer than usual, but it certainly feels like a marathon as all his injuries display themselves in their entire painful glories due to the adrenaline of battle finally washing away. He's close to giving up by the time he stumbles into the control room, and lets out a grateful groan when he can finally stop walking and moving his pained muscles.
The good news is that no one else seems seriously injured. Pidge has a small cut on her cheek that's already clotted over, and Hunk is putting most of his weight on his left leg so that he thinks the other might be sprained, but otherwise everyone is perfectly intact. Exhausted and sweaty, but intact.
That leaves Lance, then. As usual. He opens his mouth to announce that medical attention is something he is going to need, but Allura beats him to it. As soon as he sees her mouth start moving, he snaps his own shut and hopes he gets a chance to speak soon.
But Allura looks angry. Specifically at him. Lance doesn't know what he's done wrong and can't at all hear what she's saying, so he just looks around to his friends and hopes one of them speaks up for him. After all, they heard the bomb go off, right? They must have some idea of what's happened. But none of them come to his rescue, instead looking at him with varying degrees of disappointment and anger. He can't quite tell which is worse, but both make him shrink in on himself a bit as he resigns himself to Allura's silent tongue-lashing.
When it ends, and Allura stands there with her eyebrows raised and her eyes narrowed, Lance's tongue feels thick in his throat. He tries to explain, managing a, "I'm sorry, I—" before Shiro starts in on him.
There's something unspeakably awful to have his hero looking at him like that. Like he's some sort of let down. Like he's a problem. He can't tell what the words coming out of his mouth are, but he can imagine them. "I'm sorry isn't enough," and "You're putting the team at risk." He doesn't know what he's done, but it must be awful, because even Hunk is looking at him reproachfully.
His throat is embarrassingly tight and hurts a little, not from the bomb but from choking back tears. He just—he can't hear them. He's sorry. His arms are wrapping around himself, mouth twisting, and he's sorry. As soon as Shiro stops, Keith starts in on him, which Lance can only tell because he gets in Lance's face a little before Shiro tugs him back gently, though he doesn't make him stop talking.
It's—It's too much. He didn't mean to fuck up the mission, but he didn't see the bomb until it was too late, and he barely had time to put up his shield before it was going off. He should've been faster, or smarter, or something. Now something is wrong and Lance doesn't know what, so he can't apologize and he can't fix it. It's all his fault.
Suddenly, someone grabs his shoulder. It's Keith, and he's visibly seething as he demands—and Lance can read the words off his lips, this time, because he's been waiting for them all along—"Are you even listening?"
Lance swallows roughly. "I can't hear you," he says, the soundless thing making his throat burn. Keith's face contorts in confusion, as do the rest of the team's. Lance says again, trying to clarify, "I can't—I can't hear anything. I don't know what you're saying. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
He thinks his voice broke halfway through, but he doesn't know. He doesn't know much at this point, besides the fact that the mission's failure is his fault, everyone's mad at him, and he's crying. Like a child. As in, big tears rolling down his face, eyes squeezed shut, sobs that rip through his entire body. It hurts, actually, so eventually his arms around himself are less for comfort and more for keeping himself from yanking on his sore body too much. He can feel his team staring at him, and he's embarrassed. If his face wasn't already red from crying, then he's positive it would be from the humiliation of having them watch him break down like this.
Then, someone is taking hold of his shoulder, but unlike before when it was Keith grabbing him out of anger, this is gently and reassuring, squeezing a little until he opens his eyes. Shiro's sitting in front of him—he must've gotten on the floor at some point, but he doesn't remember when—mouth moving slowly and face concerned. Lance still can't tell what he's saying, but he's pretty sure he's not mad anymore. It's enough to have Lance relaxing, and Shiro gently lifts him up, letting him bury his face in his chest as they walk somewhere.
Every step is jarring, and it makes the thing lodged in his back shift and cut, but it's almost worth it to have Shiro offering him comfort like this. Even if it's only going to last until Lance can hear again, when he can understand what they're saying as they yell at him for what he did wrong.
He lets his armor be taken off him. He keeps his eyes closed, because he doesn't want to have to deal with anything right now, and if he opens his eyes he'll probably start sobbing again and he's only just calmed down enough to just be hiccuping every thirty seconds or so. The person—people, actually—taking care of him don't seem to mind so much. They just move his pliant limbs the ways they want to maneuver him out of his dusty, dirty armor, and it mostly works. There's one bit when they start trying to get the bodysuit that goes under the armor off, and they get to the spot on his back where that thing is lodged in. A metal hand squeezes his shoulder gently until he opens his eyes, and Shiro holds up a tablet.
It says, Metal in your back. Have to remove it before pod.
Lance nods, shutting his eyes tight again, and Shiro squeezes his shoulder once more. Then, the other person, probably Coran, rips the metal out in one solid stroke. Lance can't hear the sound he makes, but it leaves Shiro frantic, petting his hair gently and cupping his face a bit.
Soon after that he's put in the pod, and there's a sense of relief that comes with his unconsciousness.
Waking up from the healing pod has become an alarmingly familiar experience. First, with the feeling of lead sliding into his limbs, suddenly heavy where he was just weightless. Then the slide of the glass wall and being released, sending him careening forward. Finally, landing in someone's arms, having them say his name anxiously.
Lance's eyes snap open. Someone is saying his name. And he can hear it.
"Lance? Can you hear me?" Keith repeats. Lance's face is pushed uncomfortably against his collar bone, a result of having to be caught without any prior warning.
He sucks in a breath, loves the painless way it goes down, and says, "Does this count as another bonding moment?"
Keith scoffs, arms tightening around Lance's back, and probably is about to respond when Hunk comes barreling towards them.
"Lance!" he shouts, eyes a little wet as he pulls him out of Keith's arms and into his own. Pidge trails behind him, mouth tugged into a small, relieved smile as she watches them. "Oh, man. I'm so glad you're alive. I was so worried. Can you hear now? Do you hurt at all?"
"I'm okay, Hunk," Lance reassures, smiling. He pats him on the back sluggishly, pressing his cheek up against Hunk's. "I can hear just fine."
"Thank God," Hunk says, shoulders losing some tension. Pidge lets out an audible sigh of relief behind him. "That was so scary."
Lance snorts. "Tell me about it."
That must've been the wrong thing to say, because suddenly his teammates are silent. Hunk releases him and backs up, allowing him to watch them all shift and avoid eye contact. Lance feels like an idiot. He'd been hoping they would've forgotten about his big screw-up on the mission in the time he spent in the pod, but it's obvious that was an idiotic hope to have.
But then, Keith surprises him.
"I should've known," he blurts, eyes widening like he himself hadn't expected to say it. Lance watches him, confused, and Keith swallows harshly and continues, "I should've. I knew the bomb went off, and I even picked up your bayard from the site, but—I don’t know. When I saw you walking around later I figured you were okay." Keith looks down, clenching his fists. "Which was stupid, since you'll run around with two broken legs to finish a mission."
Lance blinks. "My legs were broken?"
"What?" Keith shakes his head like he's exasperated, though his mouth twitches a little. "No. It was just—your legs are fine. Were fine. The rest of you was pretty messed up, though. Did you realize you had a fucking shard of metal sticking out of your back the entire time?"
Lance's face breaks out into a grin. "Aw, Keith, you care about me," he coos, stumbling forward to draw him into a hug.
"Whatever," Keith grumbles, but surprises Lance by hugging back, and even buries his head into his neck. He then says something that Lance can't quite make out, mumbled into his neck as it is.
Keith tenses for a second, then pulls back from Lance to clear his voice and repeats, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have treated you the way I did."
Lance's eyes widen, and his lips part in confusion.
Hunk jumps in before he can ask for an explanation, though, saying, "I'm sorry, too. I should've known there was something wrong. You're my best friend and I couldn't even tell when you couldn't hear us. I'm so sorry."
Lance furrows his eyebrows as he turns to Hunk, but as he does, Pidge speaks up from the edge of the room where she's been watching, “If we’re all doing it now, then I apologize, too. I—there were a lot of signs, but I ignored them all because I just assumed that—well. I know you better than that. I shouldn't have thought the worst of you. I'm really glad you're okay."
Lance stares at them for a moment, shocked. They squirm under his eyes, like guilty children, and it's only then that it really connects that they think they're the ones in the wrong. Not him.
He hurries to say, "No, guys, it's okay. It's not your faults. I should've said something—"
"You tried, though," Pidge argues, glaring, but it's more at herself. "But we kept bulldozing over you."
"You couldn't have known."
"Yeah, Lance, we could've." Hunk's voice is gentle but firm. "You weren't acting normally. We should've checked to see if you were alright before jumping to conclusions. I should've been on your side."
Lance hates the way Hunk sounds, so downtrodden and frustrated, and he hurries to say, "I mean, it makes sense. You were mad at me for messing up the mission, right? Me going deaf doesn't excuse that."
His friends blink at him, disbelief painted across their faces. Keith asks, "You're kidding, right? We were mad because you wouldn't answer any of us on the coms, but you—“
But before he can finish his thought, Shiro enters, making everyone's mouth snap shut. He looks… small. That's the only word for it Lance can think of. His shoulders are slumped, head angled down, hands grasped onto each other and kneading anxiously. He's nervous. He doesn't look like their infallible leader of Voltron.
He clears his throat, eyes flitting up to land on all of them, then finally settles on him. He says, "Lance."
Lance doesn't mean to. He doesn't. But he can remember the hard look on Shiro's face from earlier, watching him like he's some kind of garbage, and he flinches. But he regrets it right after when Shiro winces and nods to himself, like Lance just confirmed a suspicion he held.
Lance is kind of terrified. He doesn't know what he must've done to provoke this sort of reaction out of Shiro, but it can't be good. He's not sure what's waiting for him. He hopes he's not being kicked off the team.
With a voice slightly more high-pitched than usual, he manages a careful, "Shiro."
Keith, Pidge, and Hunk watch the hesitant interaction like a tennis match, eyes moving back and forth. There's a sudden, stifling tension in the room that leaves them all itching to do something, whether it's escape or incite some sort of conflict varies upon each person.
It's no surprise which one Keith ends up doing. He rolls his eyes. "Shiro, you wanted to do something?" He says it with a fairly obvious nod at Lance, and Shiro starts a little, agreeing.
"Yes. Um. Lance, can I talk to you?" he asks. Shiro looks at the others carefully, then adds, "In private?"
Lance's mouth suddenly feels ridiculously dry, but he nods. Shiro offers him a shallow smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes, then starts down the hall towards their rooms. Lance follows, feeling shaky on his feet and cold in nothing but the undersuit that's worn in the healing pods, and eventually they arrive at his room.
Shiro gestures at the door before they go in. "I figured you'd want to change."
"Uh, thanks," Lance says. "Yeah. I'll do that."
He does, throwing off the tight white spandex and pulling on a pair of blue sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt. He's not sure why he suddenly feels so vulnerable, but his skin feels raw and unprotected where its left bare. Shiro enters when he calls out to him and takes in Lance's outfit with a quick glance and a deep sigh.
"So," Lance starts, fidgeting. He's trying to be casual, sitting on his bed and smirking up at Shiro like he always does, but it falls a little flat. "What do you wanna talk about?"
"I'm here to apologize." Shiro's eyes fall to the ground, but then he seems to force them back up to Lance's face, like he's making himself look at him. "I was extremely unfair on you during the last mission. I didn't listen to you or even consider any alternate reasons behind your actions. I jumped to conclusions that weren't true or characteristic of you, and ended up hurting you as a result. I failed you as a leader and a friend."
This is—not what Lance had been expecting. He thought he was going to get chewed out, not apologized to. But it looks like everyone is defying expectations today.
So Lance, a master of social grace, squawks, "What? You didn't fail me!"
Shiro blinks, eyebrows furrowing. "I tore into you after a mission for something you couldn't control when you were clearly in pain and not understanding what was being said. And I wasn't nice about it."
Lance waves that off. "I couldn't even hear you."
"Exactly!" Shiro says, finally losing his withdrawn posture. "You couldn't hear me, because your ear drums burst after nearly being killed by a bomb. And I knew about the bomb. I knew you were within its vicinity when it exploded. But I was so distracted by the mission that I didn't even consider that you'd been hurt."
"I was walking around, it's not like I was bleeding out or anything," Lance says, feeling defensive of Shiro. Which is dumb, since he's only defending him from himself, but.
"You had a shard of metal in your back."
"A small shard of metal."
"That's—not the point, Lance," Shiro says, rubbing his flesh hand over his face. "You didn't deserve us yelling at you. I am so, so sorry."
Lance licks his lips and curls in on himself, just a little, as he says, "I messed up the mission, though, right? That's why you guys were mad? Because I couldn't hear you guys when you needed my help, and the mission failed?"
Like he's been holding himself back the entire time, Shiro finally surges forward, planting himself on the bed next to Lance and pulling him into his arms. He says, vehemently, "No. You did not mess up the mission, Lance. The rest of us messed up the mission when we failed to work as a team. The mission failed, but it's not your fault. You got hurt. You couldn’t have done anything more.”
Lance can feel himself tearing up. He was so scared, so convinced that Shiro hated him for it. He feels like a child as he asks, "So you're not mad? And Allura?"
Shiro closes his eyes for a moment and takes a sudden breath, like he was just stabbed. Then, he puts a hand on the back of Lance's head and tucks him into his chest, burying his nose in the soft brown hair and saying, soft and sure, "No, I'm not mad, and neither is the princess. We're just so sorry that you were hurt and we didn't realize it."
Into Shiro's chest, Lance murmurs, "It's okay. I'm fine now."
Shiro's grasp on him tightens just a little. "Yeah. You are."
Lance knows that this isn't the end of the conversation. Shiro is probably going to want to make sure that he's completely alright, and Allura will want to apologize, too, if Shiro's correct, but he's so comfortable. Shiro's arms always feel so safe, and healing takes way more energy than one expects. So he lets his eyes slide shut, snuggling in closer, and Shiro holds him tight as he sleeps, a heart thudding audibly beneath his ear.